The Mind of Anxiety

The other day I started a fire in my house. I simply just wasn’t thinking. 

I have some cast iron skillets that I take great care of because I just love cooking and I love cooking in them over anything else. I had recently reseasoned them (a process of baking oil onto the metal for a non-stick surface) and was determined to continue building on that seasoning, thus making them better, by taking care in how I wash and store them. 

Well, I set the pan on the burner in order to dry it out, lest it rust. I figured high heat would dry it faster. I walked away for a few minutes and it had gotten too hot and the seasoning I worked so hard on was burning off. I panicked and immediately threw some vegetable oil on while it was piping hot. Needless to say, carbon started forming and it was smoking badly, telling me that a fire was about to start. I panicked more and grabbed the pan to run it under water. The movement of the oil caused it to burst into flames! The water was running but the flames just kept getting bigger. 

I jumped back, screeched, and watched the two-foot flames expecting my kitchen to start catching on fire. Eventually the water did it’s job and the fire was out. However, the resulting smoke set off my smoke detector. 

My four-year-old son was startled, “Mom! What’s that? It’s hurting my ears!” I threw open the doors, turned on the fans, opened the upstairs windows and the beeping ceased. 

I had to explain to my son what happened. He was still upset that the beeping was so painful. I showed him the smoke detector in his room and chose to use this as a learning opportunity, so we had a little fire drill as I showed him what to do if there was a fire in the middle of the night. He thought it was fun.

Later that night I was lying in bed thinking of how dumb I was to do what I did. I started imagining if there really was a fire at night. I thought about all the ways it could go wrong. 

My husband and I could get trapped in our room. Arthur would be too upset to remember what to do. Or, he would remember to go out of the house, but now in the middle of the night, he’s outside not knowing what to do. Or, maybe I should tell him to go to our neighbors house and bang on their door so that they could call 911? He would be too upset to talk, but Curtis would wrap him up into his big chest and walk over to our house, see the fire, and call 911. Maybe he would watch his parents get burned up in the fire. 

Or maybe, there would be roaring flames outside his door and he couldn’t get out. He would die. Or he would have to climb out of his second story window onto the roof. Or maybe the roof would collapse and he would go down with it. 

Or maybe we would all get out and he would be extremely traumatized and carry it with him the rest of his life. 

I felt an anxiety attack coming on. My breathing was rapid and I started sobbing. I couldn’t close my eyes without running through various scenarios. 

I dipped into my tool box.

I started with tapping, breathing deeply, in and out. Tap my forehead, “We’re ok, we’re ok, we’re ok.” Then my chin, “We’re ok, we’re ok, we’re ok,” Tap my palms…I go through this three times, but I couldn’t keep my breathing slow enough or deep enough.

I started EMDR while still tapping my palm. However, I couldn’t keep the fire image in my container. I would throw it over the mountain cliff and there would just be more fire and another box.

I finally went downstairs and got my anxiety medication. I came back up and started tapping again. I turned on the deep sleep rain track on YouTube music while I prayed and waited for the medication to take effect. I even considered sleeping in my son’s room to make sure he was ok if there was a fire.

Then I tried to imagine another scenario. Even with the flames roaring in front of my son’s door, my husband quickly soaked himself and a towel in the shower. He put the towel in front of him and opened my son’s door. He ran in, wrapped the child in the towel, and we all went to safety. The fire engine came. My son was sitting on the edge of the ambulance, covered in a blanket, snuggled in our laps. But he was ok and we were together. We were safe.

Eventually the fire was gone. Eventually I was able to calm down and go to sleep. 

Lately this is how my anxiety has been manifesting itself. My son and I are in danger, we get hurt or killed. I see a car doing something reckless in front of me and I imagine all the ways it could have gone very wrong. My mind spirals down deep into “what if’s” and I struggle to break away from the cycle. 

This is the mind of an anxious person.