Confronting My Heart

Photo on 9-27-14 at 5.15 PMOpenness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Mix these five ingredients, psychology says, and you have the human personality. Add intersections of relationship and environment and the impact of each trait lessens or heightens. And none are all good or all bad, either, although the word “neurotic” has never been a favorite of mine. Much to my surprise, I recently learned that because I have, at times, suffered acute anxiety to the point of panic, that’s part of my personality. And the phobias that have been part of my life for so long are part of being neurotic, too.

Everyone suffers from anxiety. Neuroticism, like all the traits, is a spectrum, everyone falls somewhere on it. I just happen to be left of center. Way. Or I was. I’ve been getting better and that’s because without understanding why or even what I was doing, I was working on it, intuitively.

My wedding anniversary was this past weekend. There I am in a photo on “the day” happy not to be cooking but not really looking all wedding anniversary happy. That’s because my marriage has been going through some changes. It seems that as my anxiety lessens, and I confront each of my fears and face them down, my marriage takes another hit. Which is ironic because my husband is the one who first led me to seek help. We were driving and I couldn’t catch my breath. I was telling him I was scared and could he slow down as I held my hands in front of my face. “What, do you think we’re going to die?” He was really angry. “YES!” I said. “I think that. It feels like that.” A beat of silence. “Well you’re just crazy. You better go see somebody.”

Neither of us knew I was having a panic attack brought on by a phobia related to driving. He just knew crazy when he saw it. So I made an appointment with my doctor, who referred me to a psychiatrist. Lovely woman. She gave me the information, and the help, I needed for that particular phobia. I also learned that it’s really not crazy to be afraid for your life if someone is driving drunk or high, if there is black ice or a blizzard or a severe rainstorm. Those are pretty natural reactions to driving in dangerous conditions. Beyond the pale, I had those kind of reactions all the time, for no reason. But I kept at therapy, and I got better.

After psychotherapy, I started to crave calm. I’ve always been impatient and anxious, busy and social. Those things didn’t feel so right anymore, so I took up, and have kept up, yoga, meditation, prayer, visualization, nature walks, vegetarianism, periods of retreat, alcohol moderation, and yes, medication for when the panic gets severe. After 25 years, I have crossed several former phobias off my list. I am no longer afraid of speaking in public, flying, or heights. I drive with very little anxiety except for brief flashbacks due to a recent accident that totaled my car and bruised my body and mind.

That’s my history of anxiety. What I didn’t know was that my problems took a toll on my husband. And my marriage. He is not a nurturing type. He’s not given to huge emotional gestures. He really doesn’t get it or me and even after all these years I cope alone, which is fine. He never asks me for help with his personality issues. Or anything else, for that matter. He actually likes being in charge of stuff. Which has led to some problems now that I’m sliding more toward normal on that neuroticism spectrum. Because now that I’m less focused on my own wellness, I want to help decide the wellness of our future.

Neuroticism never defined me. I have other, better, stronger traits that have led me to follow my dreams and do some things I never imagined. Persistence is part of “conscientiousness” which really just means you finish what you start. Like that novel. Or you do what you say you will, like send the finished novel to publishers. I have that persistent thing in vast quantities, which helped me publish my books way more than my writing skills.

Twelve years blogging? Again, that’s just me following through. Seeing something to the finish. I’m pretty open to new experiences, too. Yeah, funny for a fraidy cat. But I never jump in the water fearing sea serpents. And I’ve never met one yet. So, I’m not an extrovert. I do a great imitation of one. Even I didn’t know I was an introvert until Myers-Briggs told me so. And it’s a good thing I am, because writers need a lot of time alone. Those words take time to put on paper.

You might thing agreeableness is a wonderful trait. I have a lot of that and it’s caused me as much trouble as the phobic stuff. Because when you always say yes, some of those things you are yessing to are things you should be no-ing. And my Mr of 29 years now doesn’t much like the word no coming from the lips of his formerly compliant wife. He doesn’t much like some of my ideas for changing things up in this relationship of ours. And I can’t believe how long I lived with things the way they were. Bet he wishes he never called me crazy.

19 Comments on “Confronting My Heart

  1. I’ve often been called neurotic. I never thought it might because of a non-nurturing hubby! Good on you for being proactive and taking steps to deal with your phobias! Jan

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  2. Well, can’t blame all my anxiety on the Mr and sorry it came off that way. Some of his actions and remarks make me anxious, I admit. But truly, I sprang from the womb with a worried frown.

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  3. So many similarities here that it’s a bit spooky ~ I first sought help for anxiety/panic attacks 28 years ago and nothing has been the same since. It’s not as if I get better all at once; it has been a process and I’m not through yet. We just celebrated our 37th anniversary and have had our share of ups and downs. The transitions are the hardest times, when I figure out one more thing and have to make a change to stay healthy. Fortunately for us we’ve both changed, though I’m the instigator for moving forward. I think sometimes that we’re lucky to not be happy to stay the same. Change, while not always easy, is never dull.

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    • Sharon, like finds like and that must be how we found each other! You are very lucky in your mate. And I’m encouraged when you say transitions are the most difficult because I have been anything but encouraged lately. I’ve been very, very saddened for “us” but also happy for “me.”

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  4. Cindy, this post takes my breath away. How brave you are to face your fears and deal with them head on, knowing that not only are you changing, but by default your marriage must change as well. No matter what, you have to go where your heart – and your muse – leads you. I am both scared, yet excited for you…

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    • Dear Roberta, Thank you for posting such a lovely compliment to my writing. I didn’t say it in the entry, but writing has been my lifeline more than any other coping mechanism. And it has given so much more back. I’m glad you agree I must follow my heart, because that is what I intend to do. Thanks for your support!

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  5. I’m sure wanting more peace and calm in your life can’t mean you are crazy. There isn’t enough peace to go around and the more it shrinks, the more we crave it. If this leads to crazy behaviour, I really don’t care… All we can do, is what is right, for us.

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    • Jenanita, I have friends with mental illnesses that would be upset with the way I throw around words like “crazy” — it demeans them and I don’t want to do that. It’s just a word I hear about me. We live in a country that loves extroverts and workaholics and party animals. The virtues of the busy and the social are praised while the quiet and the calm are looked on as weird. One of my friends said “you’re no fun anymore” because I went home from a party early, before I got drunk and danced on chairs like I used to:)) That hurt. Another acquaintance recently said “oh why do you always have to go so deep, no serious conversation today!” So … you are in the minority, my dear! And I like that. Also, neuroticism has been called “mental stability” in other lists of the five traits. I used the more loaded word because it has been leveled at me so often.

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  6. I find the best way to get over phobia about driving is not to do it. I have passed my test but found it so nerve-wracking I knew it was not meant for me. If you don’t have to run a car, you can afford taxis and train fares!!! As for speaking in public – again, I can’t think of anything worse. I know that your work necessitates you doing a certain amount of it, but apart from that, why put yourself through it? Not everyone has to be confident about everything, and it doesn’t make you neurotic, etc, if it’s not for you. In short, don’t give yourself too much of a hard time! xx

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    • You are a lovely pal, Ms. Tyler and thank you for giving me permission to be a bit easier on myself. ❤ Living in England, you might not know this, but taxi cabs and even busses are very hard to find where I live. Detroit "The Motor City" thrives on CARS and driving. I would love to live in a place with a local pub, shops I could walk to, and people out on the street going about their day. As it is, right now, I have to drive to my day job (I'm a teacher) if I want to collect a pension. And I do. Because I'm worried (there's that word again!) that I will need the money when I'm old. Good news: I'm retiring very soon and I'm looking for a place (some do exist in America) where I can find just the kind of localized walking oriented community I described above. I loved walking the hills of the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle and hardly drove at all while I was there.

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  7. I really feel inspired by your post, Cynthia. Change is never easy but somehow it’s so often better than the alternative. I think it’s great that you have overcome so many of your fears. I too have a phobia of driving and, like Terry, just avoid it as something that’s not for me. I can’t help but think though that if I’d just faced up to it my life would probably be a lot easier 🙂

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    • E.L. thanks so much for your kind words. You are so right about change. I’ve been working on this stuff for 25 years! And other problems come to replace the ones you deal with, that’s just life. I think of you and Terry, and I’d be right there with you if I lived where you do. Your outlet is writing. Your world wanders your wide mind. You can enter anywhere you want to with your imagination. Driving and so forth would just be a bother:))

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  8. I’m inspired by the way you face the tough stuff head on, Cindy. All of it, even the relationship stuff, which a lot of people tend to deny or ignore. I totally get that “craving for calm.” It’s building in me, too. I realized the other day how infrequently I turn on the radio when I’m driving now. I much prefer the silence. It’s very weird for me, because I’m a big music lover. But when things shift in us, they really shift! xo

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    • Thanks Laura! I did not always…used to just have another shot or whatever. That was the “agreeable” part of me, wanting to be liked and “fun” — so not worth it. Music in the car, after a long time, is finally coming back for me. I know what you mean, though, because sometimes that’s the only silence in the day.

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  9. Oh you look so sad 😦 You have done so well, you know. Who is really to say what makes a behaviour ‘crazy’? Everyone is different and as long as it does no harm to self or anyone else then let it flow. I think you are an amazing lady and I’m proud to know ya! Lots of people are nervous of driving or being driven. All sorts of random things can bother people. My other half absolutely hates polystyrene, can’t even touch it but I don’t think he is crazy, it just is what it is and it doesn’t matter. Each to their own! You have achieved so much and continue to do so…girl power at its best, m’dear xx

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