Most of us are not hoping to wake up every morning and feel intense panic or desperate fear. If we could ask for anything, we’d probably ask for peace. Peace for others, peace for the entire planet, and peace within ourselves. Yet, when we face health problems and physical pain, peace seems impossible. Fear and panic are driving our lives, and our emotional states can vary wildly from depression to high anxiety.
If fear is in your driver’s seat, it is time to take back the steering wheel and connect with your own inner navigation systems. Fear is a terrible driver with an awful sense of direction. You, on the other hand, are a brilliant driver with a personalized GPS installed inside you. All you have to do is learn how to use it.
The first important step to taking back your steering wheel is to realize when fear has ripped it from your hands. This sounds simple, but it is not always easy. Noticing your own thinking and realizing you’ve been hijacked by repetitive, anxiety-creating thoughts takes a little practice. First, you have to notice your own fear, panic, or anxiety. Then, you can take a minute to step back and look at the fear as separate from your true self. Notice that it comes from a different part of you than your intuitive, relaxed self. In her latest book, Steering by Starlight, Martha Beck explains that fear, panic, and anxiety have their roots in the very animal part of the human brain. She calls this the “lizard brain.” Recognizing your lizard brain as soon as it starts taking over can immediately give you a chance to grab the steering wheel before fear shoves you aside.
I spent a great deal of time in complete lizard-based fear mode when I first began dealing with the chronic pain of interstitial cystitis. I gave fear the steering wheel and didn’t even bother to watch the road. Let me just tell you, that was not a wise decision on my part.
My lizard brain was so certain I would never recover normal bladder function and would suffer IC symptoms for the rest of my life that it went completely nuts. I imagine it literally, as an actual lizard, reaching out with little lizard claws in every direction, grasping and scrabbling at everything it found. It researched like crazy, becoming very obsessive and intense, and spent hours combing the Internet and reading books. Then, it decided to try every single therapy option available, be it medical, holistic, dietary, or just a rumor. It tortured me with one cystoscopy after another to confirm that yes, my bladder was a mess. Then it pushed me to try various infusions of drugs flushed into my bladder and held inside for an eternal thirty minutes. It urged me to take various medications.
Finally, after little success, it took the advice of a doctor and decided to take a couple Tums daily. This seemed to help the symptoms, so without seeking medical advice, my lizard brain decided that if one Tums helped, a zillion would be better.
Fast forward three months to the results of that experiment: me, writhing in agony on the emergency room floor, a kidney stone lodged in my body. Too much calcium, it turns out, is not a fantastic idea. That stubborn kidney stone required emergency surgery, which then had to be repeated twice. I spent the next six months dealing with infections and horrific kidney pain. All of this, I must say, was far worse than any of my IC symptoms.
Sadly, I could give you more examples of ways my lizard brain took over and wreaked havoc in my life. It took me a long time to learn the lesson I am sharing with you now, in the hope that it will save you at least a little mental or even physical suffering. When I learned how to notice my own fear and see it as a separate part of my mind rather than regarding it as absolute truth, I was able to recognize the thoughts perpetuating the fear. These thoughts ranged from, “I have to try everything, because otherwise I might miss the one medication that helps,” to “Oh, God, I cannot take this, make it stop NOW.” Recognizing anxiety-causing thoughts and realizing they may not be true is the second step to regaining the driver’s seat.
My own thinking, stuck in lizard mode, took me in all the wrong directions. When I learned to stop, take a few minutes to do deep breathing exercises, and allow calm to have a fighting chance, I discovered my inner GPS, which I like to call my Inner Healer.
Simply stopping, becoming still, and breathing allowed me to tap into this amazing navigational system within myself. I noticed that when I did this, I could make decisions about everything based on my own GPS guidance. I knew, intuitively, which medications were worth trying and which weren’t. I knew which doctors to call, which alternative medicine routes to explore. I even knew which books to read and which Internet sites to peruse. If my Inner Healer signaled “no” to a resource, I dropped it and moved to something else. Listening to your GPS gives you the courage to stay in the driver’s seat, certain you will always know which way to turn.
I now sit firmly behind the steering wheel, my GPS calibrated to peace. It directs me flawlessly, every time.