I have anxiety. That’s not always been easy for me to identify or to say. I’ve had it for years and didn’t know or realize it. You’d be surprised by the amount of people who don’t know that I have anxiety because I do socialize and can strike up conversations with people I’ve just met. For example, when I was on the Women’s Track & Field team at my alma mater, you could say I pretty much got along with everyone, even tracksters from other teams. I made quite a handful of friends that I competed against from other teams despite being an introvert and being anxious in new places with new people. Or, in my current profession, I meet new people often and am able to have meaningful conversations with them. I’ve learned to curb my anxiety in these spaces with the help of a therapist and other coping techniques I’ve picked up over the past few years. But these things still can make me nervous; meeting new people and wondering if what my brain says is what my mouth says. All the time. But once I’m comfortable and feel like I can trust you, I’m not nervous anymore. I might even talk your ears off!
Why? Growing up, I had to constantly work hard to show people that I was smart. That I was capable of learning and doing things other people my age could do. That I was a good human. I grew up in a predominately non-Native town. Although I lived on the reservation, most of my time was spent off of it. I let perceptions of other people impact me. I let the oppression settle in and get to me. And it was extremely exhausting. In fact, it was so exhausting that by the time I was a senior in high school, I had fatigued my brain and my body so much that, at least from my perspective, I ended up with the worst, most disappointing performance across my fall, winter, and spring seasons.
When I gained the knowledge and skills to begin wrapping my head around all of this, I was almost out of high school. It’s not that I didn’t know what racism or microaggressions looked like or felt like. It was that I didn’t have the words or descriptions for them at the time.
When I started to work on me, meaning, surrounding myself with things that filled my spirit and made me feel whole, I was an undergrad in college. I had taken some classes on land tenure precontact to present day learning about treaty law and federal indian law, boarding schools, and finally reached a place where I had verbiage and examples of what to call these things. This is when I started to see how much I let that oppressive narrative in and how much it fogged my thoughts. I began to see how much I had suppressed over the years. How far away I was from myself. How being disconnected with my language and my culture made me feel lost, confused, disappointed, and angry. Then, I began to let it go.
If you’ve been fortunate to participate or attend a ceremony or inipi you know how good you feel afterwards. The weight that you’ve been carrying lifts off of you. How your home care following it reminds you of love, care, rest, and what it means to be anishinaabe, lakota, dakota- indigenous. That’s the feeling that kept me moving on from the weight of carrying the oppression. I didn’t want to go back to that and wanted to feel whole. This has helped me with my anxiety. I often find myself turning towards my culture, our traditions, our teachings when I get lost in my thoughts or anxious about something. Questions I ask myself are What would you want to hear your grandmother to say in this situation? How can I make good relations here? Am I doing things in a good way? If not, how can I make sure I do?
In times of heightened anxiety, I have learned how to recognize myself going down the rabbit hole of those old oppressive narratives, seeing through those old foggy glasses, and challenging them. For the most part, they are triggered in highly stressful circumstances which for me can include drastic changes within a short amount of time, when there’s too many people talking at the same time, it’s too loud, there are too many people in one place, and others I’ve noticed over the years. That last one made me hold my breath. These all are really draining for me and my energy. That results often in my anxiety kicking in. And when my anxiety kicks in, you might not realize I have anxiety because on the surface I appear calm and undisturbed. But my mind and my body can become overwhelmed with a million thoughts running through my head and it makes it hard to be present. When it’s extreme, again on the outside I can appear very calm, but my body is very tense (i.e. blood is boiling, heart is pumping, breathing fast, probably sweating). Afterwards I am so tired. (Side note-sleeping at a regular time aka my son’s bed time and napping when I get the chance have helped keep my anxiety under control which I will share more about in another post).
Knowing about my people’s history and being 4 to 5 generations removed from our country’s malicious treatment of all my relations, also puts my anxiety into perspective. Being in a new place and understanding that I carry those painful memories in my blood, knowing that they are triggered or brought to the surface when a new setting or place probes them, gives me more reason to continue to work through my emotions and accept my anxiety as an awareness of what has happened, and an opportunity for renewal and growth.
In these moments of high stress for me, I’ve had to work extremely hard to be okay with some discomfort. Discomfort are those things that trigger my anxiety (not to be confused with discomfort of boundaries- those are two separate things.) It’s been a challenge. Sometimes it’s been fine and I’ve accomplished a small win. Like responding by taking a brisk walk around the office, sitting in silence by myself, taking a deep breath in and blowing out an imaginary birthday candle, listening to some music, texting my sis, or straight up crying. Crying for me has been necessary to let go of things that cause high stress or bring up past experiences that were stressful, traumatic or extremely sad.
I’ve had to work a lot on my self talk and the narratives I create in my mind. Undoing. Unraveling. Unlearning. Letting go. It’s a continuous process to work through. I owe a lot of my coping and letting go to the people who have helped me with various ceremonies and to my therapist, you all know who you are. And, I also owe it to myself for putting in the work and believing in the traditions of my people as a way to move away from the oppression and towards feeling whole.
Also working with my therapist for the past year and a half has indubitably made me more aware of my anxieties, my beliefs about myself, and how I talk to myself because of these life experiences. Because of the work I’ve been doing on in my life to reconnect, heal, and relearn for the past several years, I’ve had to find ways to cope and understand my past so that I can be my full, best self today and into the future. In a nutshell, all of this is what decolonizing my mind, my views, my beliefs, and how I walk through the world looks like.
It’s not always clear as a sunny cloudless day or perfectly cleaned glasses.
It’s bumpy. It’s difficult. It’s hilarious and awkward. It’s healing. Moving. Inspiring. Heart warming. Reconnecting. It teaches you over time to be patient with yourself.
To recognize when others are experiencing something you have in the past or meeting them where they’re at. It teaches you to remember what indigenous love looks like, feels like, smells like, tastes like. It reignites all of your senses and wraps your spirit up in a warm, loving hug. It transforms you on the inside and starts to radiate outwards.
As I continue to work through the subtleness of my anxiety, I ask you to be patient with me. I ask you to be patient with others who you know have anxiety and others who may be struggling. Especially during this time of social distancing and the rona as it may be digging up traumas or painful memories of the past for our people.
I ask you to be patient.
With yourself and to those around you. We often do not know about all of the places, traumas, or experiences people carry. No matter how joyful or dreadful they walk through the world. Hopefully after reading this, I’ve shed some light on different ways to think about anxiety and the ties it can have to historical or intergenerational trauma.
Again, this is my experience and my story.
I’ve had many people and resources help me on this continuous journey of healing. I’ve put together a small list of ways that have helped me stay connected, grounded, and cope during this time in case you’re looking for something new (even though I’ve shared some of these in the past).
Reach out to your elders and knowledge caretakers by calling/texting them to make sure they’re okay. If you’re not sure who they are, ask around. Someone you know probably knows someone. Remember to stay a minimum of 6 feet from them if you’re having to exchange goods.
Connect with your friends and family members often. Share or ask how their day is going, connect on social media apps, texting/calling, or writing letters.
Join a support group or group with similar interests e.g. book club or beading group (online for the time being).
Read the local tribal newspaper or your tribal newspaper.
When you feel comfortable doing so, have ceremony. An example that you can do with items you probably have in your home are to pray with tobacco, water, and smudge. Ask your cultural keepers or people you know who do ceremony about the protocols if you’re not sure. We’re all working on relearning these ways, people are often more than willing to help.
When you are in a place to share what you’re going through, share. It’s highly likely that you’re not alone and will have loads of support.
Creating that helps me cope
Creating a Bullet Journal
Movement that helps me cope
Yoga with Adrienne
Hip Hop Yoga with 612 Jungle
Onnit6 Bodyweight program
Running, intervals, and/or sprinting
Going for a walk around our neighborhood
Laying. Doing nothing.
Websites that help me cope
Instagram Accounts that help me cope
Podcasts that help me cope
The Polyvagal Theory
All my Relations
Well for Culture
How not to Travel
Books that help me cope
Inward by Yung Pueblo
The Healthy Mind Toolkit by Alice Boyes
For Indigenous Minds Only: A Decolonization Handbook
Color Your Style by David Zyla
The Sun and Her Flowers by Raupi Kaur
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
Music that helps me cope
Create your own “resilient” playlist on your favorite music streaming app
Indigenous artists: Calina Lawrence, Brooke Simpson, Frank Waln, Fawn Wood, etc.
Your favorite drum groups
Instrumentals like Lo-Fi beats, instrumental study, or a focus playlist
90s alternative rock
You know the music or songs that make you feel good, make a playlist of those
Take care of yourself so you can take care of those around you.