Practicing Practicing Mindfulness


I have a thing that happens sometimes in the middle of the night. Had it only just started over the past couple years, I'd call it a hot flash. But it's been going on longer than that, and it's always attached to a sort of mini-panic attack.


What happens is, I sort of startle myself awake -- maybe I'm already half waking up and my brain starts to work -- then I find myself feeling a bit panicked, tense chest, shallow breathing; similar to as if I'd just heard a door slam shut, -- and then an intense flush of heat especially, for some reason, across my back, but generally all over. No matter the room temperature, I throw the covers off to cool down, sometimes even get out of bed to go stand in the backyard for a moment, to cool off that much more quickly.


It wouldn't bother me, except that over the years I've come to associate that flush of heat with an impending urgent need for a bathroom, to be suddenly and acutely ill, which I am, not infrequently. Food allergy, IBS, anxiety disorder ... who knows. Or cares. All I know is sometimes I need a bathroom, like, right now. And privately. And maybe repeatedly, sometimes, in a period of an hour or so, maybe longer.


This isn't terrible when it happens at home, but in public -- like a restaurant, for example, especially an upscale one in California wine country, with fancy tablecloths -- it's a nightmare.


Or on an airplane, where, let's face it, everybody is already not having a great time, much less having cram past each other for the two or (if you're lucky) three tiny bathrooms in the way back of the plane.


Which adds to the anxiety. Which adds to the illness. A lovely vicious circle, that one. A hilarious comedy sketch if laughing at another person's mortification and abject terror at crapping one's trousers in a crowded public place is your idea of a laugh.


So this morning, when I felt that urge to throw off the duvet -- knowing full well the room temperature was plenty cool enough -- I "sat with the feeling." This is something I'm not especially good at. Is anyone? I'm not even sure I know what that means, to be honest. All the mindfulness mumbo-jumbo talking about "sitting with" something then letting it pass. It never seems to work for me. The letting it pass thing, pretty difficult in my experience.


But this morning was the lowest risk I could think of. If I *am* sick -- and I almost certainly knew I wasn't -- then I'd be sick at home, in the privacy of my own bed. And if not. If I did nothing, including remaining under the full set of covers, and it passed, well that's helpful. You see, one can't really strip down in the confines of an airplane, so this was good practice, letting myself feel as if I'm too hot and need to remove clothing (or blankets) to feel "better."


In case you're just tuning in to this blog, I should probably mention I'm about to take what might possibly be the most challenging plane ride of my life, across the Pond, from the west coast of the US to my new home in the UK. About ten hours, which I've done before (and then some) but "with consequences." I will be worried about my dogs. And COVID (which I sincerely hope future readers are saying "What's 'COVID'?" at this point in the story). And my visa & immigration paperwork. Coordinating transportation from the airport all the way to Wales, in the midst of a global pandemic and local lockdown, no less.


So the last thing I want to add to all that is a complete meltdown of my GI system as I enter the airport or am standing in long lines at immigration. Nausea, heat, malaise when everyone is already wearing face masks and other personal protective equipment? Yeah, that's not a good scene.


Not surprisingly, lying in bed this morning, the hot feeling passed. It took about fifteen minutes but the flare-up eventually dissipated. The real trick, however, will be repeating it, on command, under truly anxiety-provoking circumstances, not just the ones running around my amygdala at 3am.


I've tried a lot of the recommended stuff. Apps like Calm or Headspace. Yoga with Adriene. Therapy. Still, however, when the chips are down, it's hard to make my body not feel there's a bear chasing me. Or that I'm about to crap my pants in a public place, which, in my opinion, might actually be worse.


All I can do, I guess, is keep practicing. Use some of these low-stakes situations to practice for the high-stakes ones coming -- inevitably -- down the path. Because, as we all know, even if a person isn't uprooting their life for a Big Adventure for the first time in their life at age fifty-five, there will always be high-stakes anxiety-provoking situations waiting for each of us, somewhere down the path.


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