Anxiety: Looking the Tiger in the Eye

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Sunday, November 15, was an historical day in my world. Starting in September, the days leading up to it had been filled with excitement, anticipation and a good deal of anxiety. For weeks I awoke each morning to a speedy heart and racing mind, sometimes feeling a bit breathless, too.

Unease and worry had turned to tangible anxiety, an experience that is unfortunately not unfamiliar to me. This time, the anxiety was attributed to my decision to climb Cayambe, one of Ecuador’s largest, snow-capped volcanoes, known, in part, for its deep and dangerous crevasses. This begs the question: Why make a choice that brings about such angst? Part of my self-work has been to discern between anxiety and intuition. Is this feeling due to my gut’s understanding that this is wrong for me? or Am I feeling this because it pushes me way outside my comfort zone? If the latter, how far can I safely and wisely drive my limits?

As I am into staring down the predator that is anxiety, and uncovering my true grit, I do push myself far outside situations that make me feel nice and cozy, resulting in making Everests out of Cayambes, at times. When such apprehension begins to take hold, it is important to drop back into reality.

Fact Check:

Facts Cayambe Everest
Altitude 18, 996 ft 29, 028 ft
Time from base camp to the summit roughly 8 hours roughly…6 to 9 weeks
Most risky part of climbing crevasses avalanches, falling rock, falling off the mountain, acute mountain sickness

Having confronted such anxiety in the past, feeling all the more resilient for it, I knew climbing Cayambe afforded me another opportunity to be stronger than my fears.

Part of my preparation was in my yoga practice. This provided a space for me to mindfully feel discomfort and breathe into it, working not to wish it away, but just to sit in it. One of my favorite yoga instructors, Vytus, says, “discomfort is something we embrace in our practice, we neither run towards it or away from it.” Practicing also reminded me of my own physical strength. “You can do chaturangas all day long, Jame,” said Alli, one of my besties and assured climbing partner, with confidence. The subtext here: dicey rock scrambles ain’t no thang for you and those strong arms.

Alli was another element of my success. I am not a collector of friends so much as a seeker of soulful connections. Those whom I am close to are trustworthy people and wise decision makers. In this case, her encouragement gave me great strength as I knew she would not push me beyond my limits, but she would also not let me fall short of my potential.

And then reflection was a large part of not backing down, despite some heart palpitations and morbid, repetitive thoughts. I know enough now about how anxiety works, and how it works within me, to see through the falsehoods it creates. No, in reality, you are not going to have to do any Tom Cruise Mission Impossible like stunts, consoled my assured brain to my anxious brain. Yes, you take an extra risk on a mountain with crevasses, but you trust your guides and your own intuition, continued the conversation.

Anxiety can be a voracious beast, but I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be higher than me on the food chain.

It is often said that people don’t change, but I disagree. I believe we all have a deep capacity to evolve ourselves and that is an important part of our life’s work. I expected to still be quite nervous the day of the climb, but, while I did have butterflies, I felt centered, clear-headed and so ready to take on the challenge ahead. Even if I hadn’t reached the summit, the preparation that helped me confront my anxiety would have been worth a great deal. As it stands, Alli and I dug deep and did meet the pinnacle of that snow-capped volcano.

Now the question is: What is the next Cayambe?

Let us know!

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About Jamie Bacigalupo

Having first traveled from her hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to live in Quito, Ecuador, she decided to give the East a run and is now a resident of Shenzhen, China. She earned her degree in Communication Arts/Literature and Communication and Secondary Education from Gustavus Adolphus College and is enthusiastically exploring Asia by teaching abroad. She digs hanging out with her students by weekday, and relishes finding new restaurants to eat authentic Chinese food and finding new hiking paths on the weekends. In addition to sticking her nose in a book to recover from an intense workday, Jamie also loves exploring all manner of flavors in the kitchen, especially when she is whipping up some recipes for her friends and family.