Hummingbirds and Anxiety: what the heck do they have to do with one another?

Dedicated to my beautiful, fellow hummingbird, Julia. I’ll be your branch (you’ll get it later…keep reading). xo

 

I am sitting at a friend’s house in San Diego right now soaking up the sunshine and enjoying some much needed R&R. Kev and I have been playing: circus school for him and the heavy bag for me, swimming in a pool that no one native to California would dream of diving into (go Canadians!!), waking to the sunrise over the mountains, hot tubbing in the moonlight, yoga overlooking the stunning skyline, and lounging in the sun…watching the hummingbirds. I cannot tell you how much I have needed this mini-vacay! Gratitudes to the “other” parents for keeping three of the kids occupied and the grandparents for having the fourth. #silverliningofdivorce

I have always been in love with hummingbirds. I think they are one of the most graceful little beings I’ve ever witnessed. And this trip I have seen something in them that feels so incredibly familiar and relatable. I am a person who experiences anxiety. I do not like to say that “I am an anxious person” or “I have anxiety” because that feels like far more ownership of this condition than I would like to have. It is not part of who I am. It is simply something that comes in and out of my life. It’s akin to a distant relative; one I’m not terribly fond of, shows up on my doorstep unannounced at super inconvenient times and that I’m still trying to find good qualities in. Ok back to hummingbirds…

These little miracles of engineering have the fastest wing beat speed on the planet. They are so freakin’ efficient. And while the hummingbird is hovering above the stunning tropical flowers around here, and poking her long beak into the orange blossoms to draw out the nectar, she creates the illusion of stillness. She looks calm, peaceful, graceful and STILL while she is hovering. But you can hear the vibration of her wings. She is humming. And here comes the anxiety metaphor.

When I am experiencing anxiety I am much like the hummingbird. I often give the illusion of stillness and tranquility but inside I am absolutely vibrating. The feeling can be subtle, like little, gentle butterflies in my stomach, like I’ve drank too much coffee or it can be crippling with actual, real belly pain and nausea, tightness in my throat and solar plexus, making it feel impossible to make decisions and take action of any kind. But probably the most consistent symptom I notice when I am experiencing anxiety is the constant rumination going on behind my forehead. Anxiety takes many forms in my mind. The way I can turn every action into a personal attack. I can become paranoid, believing that every person I run into is trying to manipulate or trick me or ruin my day. Anxiety can make me withdraw from my friends, activities and even my children and husband. It can make me come at you swinging, looking for a fight, looking to move this energy that I feel is out of my control, somehow, anyhow, out of my body. But I think the worst form that anxiety appears in for me is hopelessness. It happens when I am driving the kids to activities. I will miss the turn and forget where I’m going. I will wonder if this running around and exhaustion will ever end. It happens when I’m sitting at the dining room table going through bills that need to be paid and I have visions of losing the house and all 6 of us living out of our Dodge minivan. It happens when my husband reaches across the bed and pulls me into him I push him away and wonder why does this man even want me? I imagine that his patience will eventually run out, and then he will run out too. I will be alone and lonely. I know this all sounds super melodramatic but these are actually thoughts I have had. And this is only a short list. Sounds super dark to be around, eh? Well, the truth is it’s not that fun in here either. So back to the hummingbird…

Often we are told that we operate a certain way in the world. In this case, I’m the hummingbird. And someone says to me that being a hummingbird in this world is simply just not working for me anymore. I agree with this outloud and I believe it intellectually. And then, in the next moments I feel incredibly threatened and I start to freak out, feeling completely ill equipped to be anything but a hummingbird. I mean, how the fuck does a hummingbird not be a hummingbird? The only way that I have ever been is a hummingbird. And now, with all the things I’m worrying about and afraid of and envisioning, I also have to stop being a hummingbird. And then, I remember…

The hummingbird does not actually DIE if she stops beating her wings. She needs the slightest, most delicate of branches to sit on for a minute to rest. She is able to switch gracefully between flight and stillness. She can go from beating her wings 80 times per second to not beating her wings at all. And I need to be able to switch between these modes with some grace. I need to make the switch from flight to stillness before the switch is turned for me and I’m simply incapable of flight anymore.

For myself, I am surrounded by not only delicate branches, but some of the strongest branches I have ever known. These branches are my resources. I have tools. I have tribe. I have people that are more skilled and educated than me to help me see that it’s time to rest. And even if they aren’t more skilled or educated, these people are outside of my suffering so their vision isn’t quite so obscured as mine. I simply need to remember to rest and to lean on them when I need them. Even better, preferably BEFORE I need them.

So if this resonates with you, I think I just want you to know that you are not alone. I am with you. There are many more with you. And I would love to be one of your branches to rest on. We all need branches. Much love and stillness to all of you hummingbirds.

Compassionately yours,
Cathy

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