When the Soul Cries WHOA!
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Funny how our body sometimes seems to know things before we do.
I’m curious about your take on this.
Whenever I experience an over-the-top visceral response to something that really shouldn’t be that big of a deal, I have learned to pay attention to my emotional reaction/over-reaction – such as intense anxiety, overwhelming dread, unreasonable fear, etc – because my emotional response could be my soul trying to tell me (via my body): “Whoa, Nelly!”In my experience, ignoring anxiety, dread or fear is not particularly effective or wise. Click To Tweet
Since I am not usually a person who is prone to, for example, extreme anxiety or panic attacks, when I do experience intense and/or persistent anxiety, I have learned to pay attention. More often than not, the knots in my stomach are an indication that an important lesson (or message) could be lurking…one that I would be wise to learn (or listen to), for future reference.
Case in point was a panic attack I experienced more than two decades ago.
The week before, my police officer husband, John, had died on the job (he stepped through an unmarked false ceiling, while investigating a break & enter, and died of brain injuries). Understandably, my anxiety since his death had been extremely high.
But the panic attack I experienced over a seemingly small thing, about a week after his funeral, was over-the-top. At the time, my reaction didn’t make sense. Yes, it could have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back…one too many stressful moments piled on top of the broken heart and sagging shoulders of a traumatized and overwhelmed gal.
Or, if we look at it from the soul’s perspective, there could have been something else going on, as well.
This is the excerpt from my book, “A Widow’s Awakening,” that describes the panic attack (I am “Adri,” my husband is “Sam,” the founder of Sam’s memorial fund is “Charlie,” and my brother is “Harry”):
This evening, there is a meeting about Sam’s memorial fund to discuss ideas about where the money, that was raised by police officers, should go. But just as I’m about to leave the house to go to the meeting, Charlie phones to tell me that the men attending tonight aren’t actually involved with the fund.
“Well then who are they?” I ask.
“Senior officers and one of Sam’s old college instructors – there’s talk of using the money for a scholarship. But I don’t think we should move so fast.”
Judging by what I feel inside at the moment, neither do I. For in a matter of seconds, my anxiety has become unbearable. I hang up, creep over to my big chair and curl up into a quivering ball, which is how Harry finds me moments later.
“I can’t go to the meeting!” I hiss.
“This isn’t how Sam’s fund is supposed to play out.”
“Should I call and tell them you can’t make it?” he asks.
“Yes. And remind them NO decisions are to be made without us!”
“Holy smokes, Adri. Relax.”
“I can’t relax,” I say through gritted teeth, “because I can’t lose any more friggin’ control than I already have.”
Harry stares at me. I glare back. Then he goes into the kitchen and makes the call. When he returns, I’m curled up into an even tighter ball, shaking my head – sending a resounding ‘no’ out into the universe.
“I think it’s time I talk to you know who,” I say. “His card is on my desk.”
“I was wondering when I’d hear from you, Adri,” says the police psychologist a few minutes later.
“Here I am.”
“OK…what are you thinking about right now?”
“That I can’t handle this.”
There is a pause. Then: “I’m going to have to ask you a question now – more for ethical reasons than anything else, OK?”
“Are you having thoughts about taking your own life?”
Surprised, I sit up. “No. I mean, as much as I’d like to throw in the towel, I know I can’t take the chance of screwing anything up.”
“Seeing Sam again. Suicide isn’t part of the deal – I know that.”
“Good. So what made you call me tonight?”
His question is akin to pulling the plug out of a bathtub; all the words rush out. “I’m just so incredibly anxious because too much has happened too fast and I miss him so much and I can’t stop thinking about stuff and everybody wants something…”
“What do you mean?”
In a wave of half-finished sentences, I tell him about tonight’s meeting.
“You have to say no, Adri. You can only handle so much and right now, you’re likely not in any shape to be dealing with Sam’s memorial fund.”
“I just want to make sure everything gets done right.”
“I don’t blame you. What’s the rush anyway?”
“I don’t know.”
“Relax,” he says. “Take it slowly – one hurdle at a time. As for all the other things on your mind, I think you better come in and see me.”
I did have several sessions with the police psychologist after that. And, eventually, I learned how to handle my anxiety in healthy ways: plenty of exercise, deep breathing, yoga, recognizing my boundaries and learning to say no, etc.I also had the wisdom to pay close attention to my body’s intense visceral reaction I had in the chair that day. Click To Tweet
I took the time – amidst the chaos, shock, and grief – to ask myself what was really bothering me about the idea of giving the money that had been raised in the wake of John’s death to a college scholarship. Why had my body reacted so strongly against that?
And the answer was this: that money had been donated to John’s fund by police officers. So I knew – or rather my soul knew, and my body was the messenger – that that money needed to go towards the police community in some way, not college students.
In hindsight, that panic attack was an indication that a course correction was needed. The police psychologist was right: I wasn’t in any shape to deal with John’s memorial fund so soon after his death. But I could say no to making a decision too quickly. And I did.
More than two decades have now passed since John’s death and his memorial fund is still going strong.
The John Petropoulos Memorial Fund raises public awareness about workplace safety issues facing first responders. We educate people why and how to make their workplaces – and the roads – safer for everyone, including emergency workers. And yes, we also eventually gave money to two college scholarships in John’s memory.
In hindsight, that extreme anxiety I experienced in my living room all those years ago was a gift of sorts…a warning cry/reminder to slow down.
Whether it was my body, mind, heart, soul and/or some sort of higher power communicating that message to me doesn’t matter. What matters is that I listened – and took the time I needed to get myself okay again before making important decisions (that COULD wait) about the future.
How about you?
Have you ever had an over-the-top emotional reaction to something that really wasn’t a big deal at the time…but later on, your response made more sense?
Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive her blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.