In the middle of battling anxiety on a daily basis – morning, noon, and night – it occurs to me that this is an anniversary thing – the anniversary of us moving into our current home two years ago when we had such a hard wind-and-rain autumn in our porous log cabin that had a loose, squawking metal thing on the chimney outside our bedroom and a loose, banging roof tin on the porch of the cottage twenty yards from our bedroom; with black mold living and thriving unbeknownst to us in the center of our home, creating a felt sense for me that our house was haunted.
So, OK, yeah. I think the anxiety coming up for me these days could be anticipatory grief and worry that autumn in this house will have her way with me again. And it won’t be a pretty sight. What do I do about that? Well, I greet and welcome this nervous and apprehensive energy vibrating inside me and settle in for a good conversation. It goes something like this.
Hello, Anticipatory Anxiety. I love you for protecting me. Let’s look at this thing of anticipating something bad happening this fall. So, it’s two years later. Let’s begin with the black mold. It was remediated. That’s what they call it when they tear out all the ruined wood and bathe the remaining walls and floors in a powerful anti-fungal product. The leak and poor craftsmanship that created the environment for the mold to thrive in was fixed. New plumbing, wood, and stone were put in place by an expert craftswoman and expert craftsmen. The beautiful bathroom is a daily reminder that all is well now. And last year the chimney sweep found what was wrong with the chimney, got rid of the loose, squawking metal thing, and put in a new wood stove and chimney that are reliable, safe, and quiet. And Ben, while painting the cottage to get it ready for our first Airbnb guests, climbed on the porch roof and nailed down the loose piece of tin. All of those things got fixed!
Oh, but then there was last autumn, right? The forest fires in the mountains between our mountains here and Lake Lure. Firefighters from several counties fighting the fires, those women and men were like soldiers, so courageous and self-sacrificing. We kept hearing how one of the biggest problems causing the fires to spread were the mountain laurel, which act like kindling with their brittle, wiry trunks and branches and waxy leaves. Not only are our woods full of mountain laurel, our log cabin, surrounded on two sides by rhododendrons, the mountain laurel’s fancy cousin, made me feel like we lived in a tinderbox. We had to travel during that time, making arrangements for our cats and dog in case the fires reached our neighborhood while we were away. But the fires never got closer than 12 miles away, put out by all those brave firefighters who saved countless homes and people from destruction.No teenagers lit fires this year. And we no longer have Rhododendrons growing right next to our home. Remember? First of all, a previous owner planted them too close to the house. They couldn’t grow properly. They’d become leggy and were not healthy or happy. They, along with our log cabin, were directly affected by the powder post beetle that invaded our home. One of the first things Terminix told us while explaining the process of tenting our house in order to gas it with a fumigant that would kill the powder post beetles that had feasted on our log cabin, depositing their larvae in the tiny caves they made, was that we’d likely lose the Rhododendrons to the gas. And we did. As a result, our home is better protected from forest fires than it was before. And our home is free of powder post beetles.
You know, even though the tenting drama occurred during the final days of summer, I’d say if anything bad was going to happen this autumn, it already has and is behind us now.
So, dear Anticipatory Anxiety, as the 2nd year anniversary of our entry into our present home (which is actually our third autumn here) approaches, I suggest we move forward with the notion that we’re fine. (I stop talking and writing at this point, tuning in even more closely to the anxiety.)The anxiety has calmed down very much as I’ve written this. “She” calmed down dramatically with the acknowledgment of how challenging our first autumn here was for me. Her argument was that I needed to be afraid – very afraid – because it’s autumn in these mountains! It looks as though all I did was apply logic to her argument. But that isn’t what I did.
I didn’t talk anxiety down with logic. Instead, I fully entered into my relationship with her, became present with her, and engaged her in conversation that allowed the anxiety to be seen, heard, and felt in regard to how bad it was for me to endure the deeply unsettling things associated with our home that happened to occur three autumns in a row. I was able to drop into a natural conversation with her because at this point Anxiety and I are well acquainted. The first time I addressed her in conversation I told her who I was, gave her my age, and some details about my adult life so that she could become acquainted with me as an adult. In other words, she needed to know I was no longer a child she needed to protect. She needed to know that I am a mature adult capable of taking excellent care of myself.
At this point the anxiety is calm. She’s still present. She’s watchful, observant. But there’s space between her and me now. I’m comfortable in my body. I am relaxed and calm and curious. Laying it out like this and having my curiosity about it aroused, I can see that the past three autumns here have been interesting, wild even! Wild like the forest just outside our door! Living in a log cabin in a forest is an adventure. Apparently, it is an adventure I’m up for because my husband and I have handled all the wildness very well.It wasn’t in a vacuum that I learned how to recognize anxiety, treat it like a viable part of me with which to have a relationship and conversations in order to allow it to heal. I’ve been in psychotherapy for a year with a gifted psychologist who is an expert in the field of Internal Family Systems. He and IFS are a perfect fit for me. That’s where I learned and am still learning how to interact with the ego parts that fight so hard and so blindly to protect me that they wind up hurting me instead of helping me. That’s the background for this conversation with anxiety over this autumn anniversary idea that something-bad-is-going-to-happen, allowing me to change my reality from being beat up by anxiety to being able to be calm, quiet, and effective in my life by participating in my own healing. Internal Family Systems is an awesome way to be present – to practice presence – for the sake of greater compassion, self-knowledge and healing.
Good stuff, that!