Three Little Voices

“Oh hey there, Miss Anxiety,” I say as she pops her head out from behind Fear and Abandonment. “It’s you making that funny feeling in my tummy and chest when things change, isn’t it?”

That little voice is quiet in me–she huddles behind the others, making her presence less obvious. Fear and Abandonment have always been rowdy little voices, running rampant through me.

Anxiety stood with me on the train platform in England, the first time I took the train alone to see my family there. “You can’t do this you can’t do this you can’t do this” she hissed in my ear. The blood rushed to my head and I felt dizzy. I can’t do thiiiiiis! I thought. What am I doing? I could be lost foreverrrrrrr!! My heartbeat was rapid, my hands were clammy. My chest was tight.

I had recently read an article saying that anxiety and excitement have very similar body responses, so I tried talking back: I’m simply excited to see the family, I can ask questions, I will be fine…and got on the train.

What was going on with Miss Anxiety?? Why did she try to make me believe I am incapable?

Protection. She only wanted to protect me. Keep me safe from harm…

Like she did when I was 5 or 6, sitting on that couch in the living room, knowing I was stuck waiting while my father waved his gun and droned on about how he could “put us all in the ground.”

She wanted to take me away to my bedroom to play and ignore the grownups who made me sit still and be scared.

She wanted to keep me safe from anything bad that might happen while he waved that gun around, slurring his words.

She wanted to protect me by moving me away from my mother who made me stay put and not even wiggle my leg.

Instead I learned to hide Miss Anxiety close in my body. But she came out to visit, oh did she come out to visit–

Sometimes by taking my mind away when I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, in my childhood, or in my marriage. I would lose time. Be absent from the present entirely. Too unable to process the sight of my parents’ violence toward each other or my siblings, too unable to handle the badgering, berating words of my husband, the present would be erased for a time.

Sometimes Miss Anxiety visited at school when Fear said “No! We will fail! We will disappoint!” Anxiety would say “We will freeze until they forget we are there, then we will flee.”

I missed a lot–overnight trips, chances to be recognized for accomplishments.

I had learned in those early days to Sit Still and Take It, and wait for a chance to get away to a safer space. As an adult I knew only to wait till I could get away and spill my feelings onto the pages of my journal. I talked to no one outside the family about my emotional pain and fear.

Anxiety would say “We will freeze until they forget we are there, then we will flee.”

Sadly, this meant I didn’t know how to teach my children how to listen to their instincts or deal in healthy ways with their problems, or deal with their anxieties.

I’ve dealt with this lack of earlier learning by monthly therapy over the past 21 years, plus practice, practice, practice.

I had learned in those early days to Sit Still and Take it, and wait for a chance to get away to a safer space.

It’s been an ongoing process learning to listen to my body, my instincts. To appreciate what those young parts of me want for me–safety. Protection. To thank them for tirelessly working to take care of me, and letting them rest at last. And to cloak those needs in a more grown-up perspective: self-care that doesn’t mean simply freezing or fleeing.

Regularly now I place my hands on my heart and check in with those younger parts: “You must be so tired from working to keep me safe! You can rest now, I’ve got this. Thank you for taking care of me for so long!”

I find they are growing quieter.

It’s never too early or too late for you to learn to listen to the wisdom in your own body and mind. A licensed therapist can be the best guide for the journey.

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