I remember smiling politely when Joe used an image of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to describe my fight with anxiety. It was a funny image – the Black Knight losing one appendage after the other and still fighting with all he had. He had called Sir Arthur the pansy when he finally rode away from the ridiculous knight, when the real loser was the Knight who didn’t know when he had been beaten. I didn’t give it too much thought, though, until the next time Joe brought it up in conjunction with another one of his clients, who had taken the idea further. This client imagined coming across the Knight himself while on a walk, described his confrontation with him, and his ultimate dismissal as he walked along the path and left the Black Knight behind. I was intrigued. A very vivid picture of the Black Knight standing alongside a dirt path began to appear in my head, and I wondered if I could use him in my own journey against the anxiety that plagued my days, disturbed my nights, and began disrupting my relationships at home.
When I closed my eyes and did the obligatory deep breathing that was supposed to bring me to a more relaxed state, I began to form my own picture of the Black Knight. I imagined a wide, flat, barren land. I too pretended I was walking along, and there was no choice but to run into this Black Knight, standing on my plateau, letting me know that I couldn’t pass. He did this in a number of ways. The Black Knight, for me, represented every possible medical worry that could occur to me in a day. The Black Knight was the one who caused me to feel like I couldn’t breathe, like I had a headache, my limbs were numb, and my mind was racing. He smiled sarcastically (yes, I know he was hidden behind armor but I could feel it) as I spent countless hours on the Internet researching MS, tumors, cancer, hypochondria, etc. He was the one who made my ears ring, my stomach hurt, my vision go blurry. And when I ran into this Black Knight, I saw it all. I saw the pain he inflicted on me every day; the frustration he caused my husband who didn’t understand what I was worried about all the time; the look on my baby girl’s face while she sullenly said “Mommy sad” while watching me cry. And I was pissed. In my mind, I stood up straight and I told the Black Knight that he did NOT have the power over me that he thought he did. I was going to fight him. I knew the power of my unconscious mind was superbly stronger than his pitiful, low-life offenses toward me. I knew that I would not let him dictate my feelings for me any longer, and I had not only my own strength, but the strengths of my loved ones to support me. With that I turned, and there was my husband. As I walked toward him, he put his arms around me, gave me a kiss, and said, “I’m so proud of you.” I needed that. I needed the assurance that not only could I do it, but that he saw that I was really trying, and he was thankful for that. As I turned to my other side, I looked down upon my daughter, giving me the biggest, silliest grin, her curly blonde locks falling in front of her face – my favorite picture of her memorialized – and I picked her up as all three of us walked away, and the Black Knight could do nothing but look on in silence.
I used this image every time I felt overwhelmed and every time I experienced panic symptoms. It did a number of helpful things for me. First, it gave ME the power. I was in charge, and the Black Knight knew he didn’t have it anymore. Second, it took my mind off of the silly symptoms, and I could see them for what they really were – panic symptoms. Not symptoms of whatever disease I could find on Yahoo Answers. Third, I envisioned the support of my family, and that gave me double the strength I needed to face my problems head on.
But let’s not kid ourselves. If you’re in therapy, you’ve probably had anxiety for a long time- as long as I can remember in my case, and nothing is going to come that easy, that quick. The Black Knight didn’t always listen; sometimes I didn’t use the image fast enough, and I had myself completely wound up before I tried to envision the Knight. By then, he smirked, and he even crossed his arms in self-appreciation (yes, I gave him arms sometimes- this wasn’t a perfect vision). So I took the next step. I fought him. I didn’t pansy out, I took what little he had left….
On those days, I was usually so tired and overwhelmed by my anxiety and hypochondriac worries that I angrily brought myself into a trance and would see myself marching up to him. Yelling. Swearing. Kicking him over so his torso hit the ground with a violent thud. No more talking; no more polite explanations on how I knew I was stronger and I would get through this and “Bla Bla Bla.” I called him a “loser,” “worthless,” “stupid…” all the names I called myself when I couldn’t get out of my funk. My anger towards my own failings to rise above anxiety were directed toward him. After a few days of reacting this way, I realized that the ending of my vision had changed. Instead of my husband and daughter meeting me and assuring me of how proud they were, I would turn around and grab both of their hands and say “Let’s go!” We laughed and ran as fast as we could, no longer needing that ridiculous Knight and his pitiful attempts to derail my progress.
Some days, I didn’t have the time to sit down and get into a trance to attack the Black Knight. I’m a Mommy-on-the-run. On those days, when I felt my fears spiraling out of control, I would be walking through my kitchen, and I would stop suddenly, theatrically, and slowly turn toward a corner in the room. There, I would imagine the Black Knight peeking around to look at me, and I would pull out my imaginary pistols like a Cowboy and go “Pow! Pow!” I’d imagine shooting the Black Knight, right there on the spot, and he would disappear in a cloud of smoke. On one occasion, I had pretended to push him out of my moving car, imagining him tumbling down the road head over heels. This exercise, although slightly worrying to me at first, gave me the comic relief to move on with my day and not take my anxiety symptoms seriously.
As I moved through other issues in my past, my vision of the Black Knight became more acute. I usually approached him with some sort of anger as the weeks went on, since this made me feel like I was most in control. I usually began by marching up to him, grabbing a chunk of his torso and tossing it as far as I could. It would fly across the plateau, hitting a family member that I had previous feelings of anger toward in the gut, and both the family member and the torso morsel would fly off the cliff far away. I explained to the Knight that whenever he tried to take a piece of me, I would take a piece of him instead. The family member… well that was just fun, and that part of my vision didn’t last for long. As time went on, I realized that I didn’t need to rip him apart as much. The Black Knight would talk more. A conversation would go back and forth for quite some time:
Knight: Well, what about that dizzy spell you had earlier?
Me: You know that I had been playing on the floor with my daughter and I got up quickly.
Knight: And that headache?
Me: I have a history of migraines. It’s that time of the month. I’m stressed because of X, Y, and Z. Migraines are fairly common, especially for me.
Knight: And that ringing in your ears?
Me: I have hearing loss! Look, all these things are perfectly normal, and you have to realize that you’re not going to get me anymore. I have a fun job, a loving husband, the most beautiful daughter in the world. Today we had fun at the park, I read some of my book, it was sunny, and I accomplished a lot of cleaning around the house. It was a great day! Don’t ruin that for me.
Eventually, he became silent, as if he was slowly realizing that he really didn’t have anything on me anymore. I looked at this pathetic thing. His torso was mauled from all the times I ripped a piece from him. He couldn’t even stand up anymore; he had to lie on his back. I began to feel sorry for him.
And from that point came our final part of the vision. The weeks had turned into months, and I had found myself not needing the Black Knight to get me through that next panic attack. I visited him less frequently, and even then it was only as a reminder to myself, rather than a frantic grasp to keep myself from falling apart. I was thinking of forgiveness. How silly, right? This was my archenemy. His whole existence was based on ruining mine. But I realized he never had any real power – none that I hadn’t inadvertently given him every time I let my worries dictate how I was to live. I wanted him to know that I was over the hatred and anger now, and I was ready to heal him.
Music is my life, so music was my way of bringing this journey full circle. I kneeled down beside him , and because a song can mean so much, I sang to him a hymn from my childhood. It was sacred to me, and he said nothing as he slowly became whole again. I helped him back up on to his torso, but I noticed something different. I was always above him. I healed him, and yet, I was still above his power. Even when I kneeled down beside him, we were not at the same level; I was somehow taller, or higher, than him. I knew that I had won my battle, and that I was no longer a slave to anxiety.
It is never completely over. Just as Joe says, you can’t keep yourself from being happy or angry, and so you can’t keep yourself from being anxious occasionally. But whenever I tried to bring the Black Knight back in my vision, just to see if I could work out a particular problem, he would appear for a moment, and then shrink into nothing. Over and over. At first I thought I was doing something wrong, and then it became clearer that I had banished my overwhelming anxiety to a small part of me that didn’t need to be retrieved. I could work through my anxiety in other ways, knowing that the symptoms were just that; symptoms, ghosts of the Black Knight looking for another fight. The raw fear, helplessness, and pain that I thought were destroying my life are losing their sting every day. Turns out it was just a flesh wound.