teadog1425: (Maze)
[personal profile] teadog1425
"Without fear, we wouldn't even know what it is to be brave."  Martha Beck

Somewhere in my head is a long and thoughtful post about fear, and me, and riding, and I'm almost certain that this post isn't it.

But, on the grounds that performance anxiety is the main thing that stops me from posting here - sometimes I write whole blog posts in my head, and then never manage to commit them to the screen - I'm going to hash together this not-a-post about fear, and maybe it can be a bit messy and that will be ok...

So.  I've been thinking about fear a lot recently.  Not just thinking about it in an intellectual sense, but physically grappling with it.  Turning it over and over in my head, in my actions, like a rubiks cube that I'm trying to solve - believing that if I can just find the right sequence of moves, I will be free. 

I don't know whether that's true (the being free bit), but I do know that not grappling with it isn't an option.  I've tried avoidance as a solution before - and I know from experience that avoiding the situations that cause the fear is only a short-term win.  You think you've avoided the fear itself, but, in fact, all that happens is the fear occurs in more and more places, and your comfort zone gets narrower and narrower, until almost all your actions are controlled by this attempt to avoid being jumped by the fear-feeling and you look up one day and realise that you are in a narrow, dark place and the fear is still all around you.  And you think, this is not a life.

I can't remember when I first started having panic attacks, but I think I must have been about 10 or 11 (I'm a lot older now, lol!).  And for years (maybe decades, actually) I would never have described them as panic attacks.  I always thought that  a panic attack was something loud, dramatic - with shrieking and flapping arms, clutching at your chest, unable to stop talking...  What happened to me was silent, locked in, paralysed - the fear would hover above me like the shadow of a hunting hawk, and all I could do was to freeze, to make myself as small and as still as possible, and pray that it would let me go.  A lot of my triggers involved food, or becoming ill, or feeling out of control - and it took me a very long time to work out that the fear was not about the thing it seemed to be about, that it had nothing to do with the particular event that had triggered it, but that its occurrence was a reflection of how happy (or not) I was generally in my life.  The panic was a message from my sub-conscious - pay attention, all is not well here...   And realising that was the first step to being able to work through it, because if the trigger wasn't the problem, then it wouldn't help to avoid it. 

The second stage (not that these were linear, but you get the idea) was realising that the panic always wore off - however bad the feeling was (and if you've ever felt a full-on, ice-cold body panic, you know that it can get pretty bad), but the severity of it would always ebb - I could come out the other side, and I could be OK.  So, I worked on desensitising myself to the triggers that were most entrenched, and I worked on sorting out the reasons why I was feeling unhappy with myself in the first place, and the panics came less frequently and I got more techniques to help handle them when they did come, and the next thing that happened was that, about three years ago, I took up horse-riding! 

From the beginning, I was always a nervous rider, but I usually felt much better once I was on and riding - the anticipation was worse than the actual doing of it.  And from the beginning I knew that this was just...  addictive.  Despite the fear, and the disadvantages of being an un-fit, unbalanced, unathletic, overly-intellectual adult starter, I knew in my gut that horse-riding was somehow essential to the core of who I was - I still don't understand that, but it is still true.  And I worked hard at getting better - I took lessons and went on courses, I read books (obviously!), and I wanted with all my heart to be effortlessly good at it.  I outgrew the riding school horses (mostly because I craved more horse-time than was possible in that format), and I started taking a share in horses (a part-lease).  The first horse I shared was a difficult, overweight and unhappy cob, whose history as a riding school and trekking pony had left him cynical and jaded about humans (particularly beginner riders) - he was too much of a handful for me, and I looked around again and found my current share, an Icelandic gelding, who is not above the odd cheeky moment, but who is a real gentleman, and who I love utterly and completely.  And, although I was never a brave rider, I thought that I had worked through to a place where I could get on and ride without feeling anxious.  I was starting to think that I had got a few skills under my belt.  I was having lessons on a few different horses, and I felt like maybe I actually knew what I was doing. 

So, of course, what happened next was that this new-found (and pretty uncharacteristic!) confidence took a knock after a couple of (pretty minor) incidents - a friend's horse bucked and spooked and I fell off, and my safe, sane Icelandic got spooked by other horses and took off with me.  Somehow the combination of these two events, tipped me into the same panic-feelings of old, but now the trigger was the thought of hacking out.

And so, now here I am again, wrestling with the same question of how to manage these feelings of panic - and it's complicated this time by the fact that it is not helpful to freeze when you're on horseback - I have to find a way of still being able to function even when the fear feeling strikes. But the difference is, this time I've told people how I'm feeling - rather than struggling with it on my own, and feeling deeply ashamed about it - and I've discovered that almost all other riders struggle with their own fears and anxieties, even though theirs might be triggered by different events.  Horse-riding is a scary thing to do, and it can be dangerous, but if you love it, and you want to do it, you have to find ways of managing that fear and keeping going. 

And I wanted to talk about the things people have told me that have helped, but this is already really long, so I'm going to save it for another post!

Date: 2010-03-10 01:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glenatron.livejournal.com
I didn't have my first panic attack until my early twenties, I was quite surprised when I discovered what was going on, but I've been having them from time to time ever since. A lot in this last winter, probably as a consequence of many changes in the way I see myself and the world and general background not-quite-healthiness. Better since I have seen more sunshine, so maybe things will be brighter later.

Funnily enough I don't tend to get them on horseback- I have so much focus and attention to what I'm doing then that my brain is working too hard to flip out as far as I can tell. Certainly if Zorro ( or any horse I'm riding ) starts reacting strongly to something I'm far too busy staying with them and trying to sort it out to get scared and after that I'm usually either sorted or on the floor, in either case it's not a big problem...

I still overthink ( but less than I did ) and I get nervous when I'm getting on a new horse, but as soon as I'm actually working I have too much to do to get worried. If I ever get good enough I can ride without having to think really hard about everything I'll probably be in trouble, mind.

Date: 2010-03-10 02:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
I think they must be much more common than I ever thought - when I was little, I always believed this was some flaw specific to me, it never occurred to me that other people might get this feeling too! And I sympathise because it is a truly horrible feeling.

It's interesting that you don't get them riding - I think that part of the puzzle that I'm groping towards is to do with attention and focus in the now, as opposed to letting my mind run forward to possible (negative) futures, and it sounds like you've got a strong present-ness when you ride, perhaps?

I think the other part of it is that for me I tend to lose brain function to a greater or lesser extent when things go pearshaped (which I think is a side effect of fear), and this then really limits the extent to which I can react effectively - the times that I've fallen off, I often experience the initial buck (or whatever) but then I almost effectively black out until I'm falling, which is a) freaky, and b) not conducive to being able to do anything useful. So, Marco's charge-off to the horizon the other day was actually fine because I still had enough awareness to be able to act... I think if I can lower my fear levels both generally, and in the specific high-intensity moments, then I can start learning how to act when things go pear-shaped, and then that should be a virtuous circle... This is still a work in progress, however!

PS: the owners of the fjord pony found your input helpful, and are definitely interested in sharing any future visits from you!, so we'll have to put something in the diary - I'll send you an email at some point, but I can't do the next couple of weekends!

Date: 2010-03-10 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glenatron.livejournal.com
I think maybe understanding that fear, both in it's rational and irrational forms, can help us see what our horses are going through when things are difficult for them.

When things are more intense, like you possibly saw with the pony at the weekend where I was constantly having to change my presentation to keep him coming back to my program rather than wandering off with his own ideas, you just need so much adjustment in what you are doing the whole time that it's very hard to think about anything much else. It's like at that point I'm really on the horse's payroll and it's my job to make things right for them. That is where I think the presence is important. There's so much to be doing that I really don't have mental space for anything else.

Fortunately when I get anxious I tend not to lose brain function so badly- it's mostly an emotional and physiological response so I start feeling really weird and then I get worried because I'm feeling weird ( and so far as I can tell it's something you never quite get used to ) or because I'm suddenly rammed full of adrenaline but once I rationalise what is going on I can usually bring myself back down.

Date: 2010-03-11 03:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
"I think maybe understanding that fear, both in it's rational and irrational forms, can help us see what our horses are going through when things are difficult for them."

Yes. I agree. I'm hoping that this is its benefit!

I didn't get a chance to see too clearly what you were doing on Sat - but hopefully next time I'll be able to watch more closely!

I think that one of the issues underlying everything for me, is not feeling like I'm the one that's allowed to set the agenda, which in my head I try to chalk up to lack of experience, but I think now that that's actually a cop-out, and it has more to do with not feeling 'allowed' to take charge. This is not just a horse-related thing, and it will be interesting trying to shift it.

Date: 2010-03-11 05:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] glenatron.livejournal.com
By who or what do you feel you aren't allowed to take charge? It's interesting how the world seems full of ideas all set to disempower us if we let them.

One thing I have found to really helpful in my mental picture of how things happen is not to think of myself as an actor, but also not to think of myself as passive. Particularly in my horsemanship, but it has come from that to many other places, I like to carry this idea of being part of the scenery, like rocks on the coast, not perturbed by waves crashing around them. I don't back down and I don't give up the place I have chosen to be but I also don't get emotional about it. These are just things that happen around me and all I have to do to be doing my job is not to be moved until I choose to move for myself.

Date: 2010-03-10 10:44 pm (UTC)
pjthompson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pjthompson
Some really good thoughts here.

The panic was a message from my sub-conscious - pay attention, all is not well here... And realising that was the first step to being able to work through it, because if the trigger wasn't the problem, then it wouldn't help to avoid it.

Wow. That's always the hard part, admitting to yourself that the fear is not about the surface, but about something in the depths. It's what's hardest for me, anyway.

Like you, my panic attacks take a less melodramatic form than most people associate with this. But that freezing feeling, even if it doesn't show as much on the surface, is still devastating. Like you said, you do work through them eventually, and knowing that makes things marginally better.

Date: 2010-03-11 03:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teadog1425.livejournal.com
Thank you!

It's funny, isn't it, how hard it is to see that truth (that the trigger is not the problem)... For instance, I wrote that whole post, and it was only last night while I was falling asleep that I suddenly realised I was doing exactly the same thing again about the panic feelings re riding out!

I've _again_ conned myself into believing that the problem is the riding out, and I've been looking for solutions to it there... So the question then is: what is the underlying problem that the panic feeling is trying to draw attention to - and the answer to that is not clear... though I think perhaps it's something to do with issues about control, or maybe about being 'good/bad' at the skill...? Which is going to need further thinking about...!

It's frustrating, because I have that feeling that I'm really close to something important, and I just can't make it out... It will come, it's just not in focus yet.

Date: 2010-03-11 07:30 pm (UTC)
pjthompson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pjthompson
Yes, very frustrating. I never seem to be able to come at it directly. I have to first admit that my panic isn't about the thing I'm panicking about, then I have to do this oblique dance with my psyche trying to get down through the layers to what's at the core. Sometimes it takes a good long while and it comes to me while I'm doing something else. Or sometimes when I'm reading some book that hits on something close to the core. If I have a strong negative reaction to a book, movie, TV show sometimes that lets me know that it's getting a little too close to Issues. Very drawn out process.

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