Story 20

My Friend, Anxiety

Hi, I’m Octavian, the human behind this issue of Upstairs. I am a conscious explorer, balancing working as a trainer with working as a DJ. And with having a personal life. And balancing myself while riding my mountain bike through the green forest. And…

I woke up in the middle of the night. Sweaty. Just enough to notice it. My heart is pounding. Heavy pounding. Fuck. It’s that feeling again! That shitty anxiety in the middle of the night. I am used to naming it. I am familiar with it. But this doesn’t change anything when it comes to relating to it. I take a deep breath. A slight form of relief happens—too little relief.

I want it to go away. I want it to vanish. I learned that every emotion is a precious messenger that wants to tell me something. But with anxiety, it’s so hard to just stay with it and listen to what it has to whisper. I want it to disappear. I wish not to feel it. It’s the “check engine” light that I would so much like to cover with a piece of black tape and pretend I didn’t see it.

In a few minutes, the rational part of my brain also wakes up. My breathing returns to a less uncomfortable pace. My body starts to relax a little.

I am surprised, again. Just acknowledging it reduced its intensity. It happened hundreds of times to know that it works, but it’s still hard as fuck to do it in that particular moment.

“Thank you for appearing, anxiety. I guess you want me to see something. What are you trying to tell me?”… I don’t get an answer. Oh, if it were so easy. I know I have to begin the translation process. Part of me is opened and thrilled; part of me is frustrated about it. Again, that translation process!

I had felt so good for almost two months. And in the last ten days, the anxiety crept in again.

What changed? Nothing changed in a bad way. I did so many things that serve me well: I took my tent and went to the mountains; I exited more than half of the projects I was currently in to focus on the ones that matter the most to me; I (re)started doing sports, four times a week. It vitalized me, and my body looks better already. I have more free time.

And yet, this crappy anxiety.


With the help of a good friend, I installed the filming setup (lights, camera) on my home walls. It’s a permanent setup now. There is no going back. On the 13th of November, I will release the first YouTube video to the public. That’s it—the anxiety, it’s about this!

Another deep breath happens organically. I found the stimulus; it wasn’t something that happened before. It’s the perspective of something that is going to occur. I will go “butt-naked” and expose myself to the public. On YouTube! Me, the almost introvert.

One part of me is scared as shit at the thought of this kind of exposure. I will be rejected. People will say bad things about me. My video won’t be good enough. I am not good enough. I am flawed. Deeply flawed. People will see this, and they will reject me.

The intellectual brain can look at this construction and see it for what it is. My emotional brain is still partly frozen from the perspective of being judged and rejected.

Another piece of me wants so much to publish videos consistently. I can reach so many more people via YouTube. I can contribute so much more, and I can, at the same time, grow by doing this. I can know myself better.

At the same time, I acknowledge that I need support. No one can deal with this kind of challenge alone. And even if someone could, I know from past experiences that it’s more manageable and fun when I have supporting witnesses. My body starts opening a little more. I can really breathe now. I go back to sleep.

The next day, I called Raluca, my closest empathy partner (a relationship in which we only hear each other, without giving advice or trying to “fix” each other). I have complete trust that she can hear me. She’s been through worst and can hold space for herself in this kind of situation, so she can stay with me without trying to fix me, without wanting to get rid of my anxiety and fear. She can just witness it.

We talk over the phone. I am sharing what’s alive in me. She reflects it back. Over and over again. I am going deeper and deeper into the layers of my inner world. After every reflection that I hear from Raluca, a relief happens in my body. After about 20 minutes, I have the perception that I was deeply heard. Nothing changed, and yet everything changed.

I take a coaching call with Petra, the best Solution Focus Coach in Romania. In 18 minutes, with her support, I become aware of two strategies that I can use: The “What stops me from … ?” process that I designed about two years ago to approach my inner blockages with compassion and care, and “Nonviolent Communication Dance Floor,” which I have used a few dozen times in the last years. What struck me the most is that, although I have used them in the past and I am also using them with my clients, I was utterly blind to the possibility of using them in this challenge!

Also, with Petra’s support, I have increased the connection to what motivates me to do this. I have worked professionally as a DJ for almost 20 years. And in the last four years, I have slowly transitioned from DJing to working as a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) trainer. By doing this through live courses and workshops, I can only touch so many people. As a YouTuber, I can reach many more. Maybe not as deep, but I have the chance of exposing them to Nonviolent Communication, the method that brought to life my emotional world almost ten years ago.

Through NVC, I have learned that no matter how well prepared I am, I am sometimes surprised. And that the negative, unpleasant feelings are part of life and of growing. And that “in NVC, we don’t try to be perfect, we try to be progressively less stupid. And anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly.”—Marshall Rosenberg.

On the 8th of January, I published the first YouTube video with a mix of excitement, anxiety, trust, worry, and wonder. My palms were sweaty when hitting the Publish button. My heart rate increased. “How would it be received? Will it help other people? I am so curious about the feedback. I want to do this again!” — all these sentences were flying organically through my mind.

Then, I started receiving feedback through likes and comments. And I got hooked to their flow. I was refreshing the page every two minutes like an addict. After about 20 minutes, I became aware that I am hooked, so I closed the lid of my laptop and went outside for a long walk with my phone on Airplane Mode. I made the first step.

As you might have noticed, time has stretched by almost two months! Remembering Marshall’s quotes, I would add: “In NVC, starting later is better than never starting.”

Dare to start,

Contributors of this story: Octavian Istrate wrote this story, Oana Filip edited it, Andrei Ungurianu put it all togheter, George Olaru designed it, Răzvan Onofrei was in charge with the development, Octavian Barnea took the photo.

A question by Octavian, the author of this story:
How do you manage high-intensity emotions without suppressing them completely?

Conversations 10 comments

Let's start a personal, meaningful conversation.

Example: Practical philosopher, therapist and writer.

Relevant commenter background or experience:No relevant background.

I can’t remember the last time I had such strong emotions of excitement for a project the way Octavian describes it. I am the type that flourishes in a routine, so I constantly seek it in my work to settle in as fast as possible. However, reading about Octavian’s experience, I get the feeling of wanting to seek a new project that can challenge me in similar ways as his project does.

Octavian Istratesays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Conscious explorer

Wow, I am very happy to hear about the way in which the article inspired you! And I want to acknowledge that also for me, new projects come with high emotional costs. I can do one new project from time to time. If I have 3 or 4 new things at the same time, I become chronically stressed and tired. It’s all about balance: in life, on the bike etc. 😀

Relevant commenter background or experience:A sometimes anxious human

Hi, Octavian! I finished reading Marshall Rosenberg’s book this morning (Nonviolent communication) just before discovering your story in my inbox.  🙂 So it all made sense even more.  Congrats on starting your Youtube channel, which I will follow, and thank you for sharing your story. It helps us all to start being kinder with ourselves. Cheers! 

Octavian Istratesays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Conscious explorer

Always happy to hear when the NVC virus is inoculated in someone and it spreads! I would love to see a pandemic of NVC hitting the whole planet. 😍

It was great reading your story and now I’m curious to learn more about NVC. Thank you for sharing! 

Through deep breaths and switching my focus from being the active driver to being an observer. Which are kinda like meditation and/or yoga tools for beginners. A guided meditation that I use as an exercise for the “switching” part starts with the following quote:  “When I look beyond the mind, I see the witness. Beyond the witness, there is the infinite intensity of emptiness and silence. And through this silence, we evolve.”  This perspective helps a lot in dealing with emotions in a useful way.

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  • Andrei
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Octavian Istratesays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Conscious explorer

Thank you Stef!

Relevant commenter background or experience:Gal interested in managing emotions and live authentically
Hi, Octav! Thanks a bunch for accepting the challenge of sharing such a powerful narrative. As a gal in charge of this community, I am beyond grateful for your contribution.

When it comes to high-intensity emotions, well, I learned a thing or two that helps me tremendously. First of all, I try not to run away and acknowledge how I feel and think. Usually, I write it down. Second of all, I reach out to people I trust who can lend a hand. It can be my therapist, or you, as you already know. Their clarity brings new perspectives that help me become a better human being, something I’m genuinely interested in.

Of course, sometimes I cannot manage such emotions and go with the wave, which usually implies a far more intense journey, full of frustrations, disappointments, and stomachaches. 

I guess it’s a common tango, but as long as I’m more on the healthy side, I’m fulfilled.   

Octavian Istratesays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Conscious explorer

Sounds very close to what I’m experiencing and doing: Acknowledge > Attempt translating it on my own > Ask for support. It’s a journey. And a process. The outcome of every situation is of course important, but persistence and practice are far more important. Seth’s style :)))

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