It was about a year ago. It had been a particularly stressful few weeks, with school, work, and extracurricular activities added to being newly married and some family/church crap.
It was the end of the day, and I couldn’t calm down. I was overwhelmed. It was a feeling of utter exhaustion, as if I’d spent all day climbing a mountain only to get to the summit and realize it was actually a little ledge a quarter of the way up. It was a familiar feeling, one I’ve felt many times before, when nothing I’ve done is enough and I’m consumed with guilt and I feel the need to do more, more, more, when all I really want to do is sleep. I sobbed and hyperventilated into my pillow while my husband tried to calm me down.
And then I had a sudden thought. “This is a panic attack,” I said through jagged breaths.
“Ya think?” Alex asked.
I couldn’t help but laugh a little, which helped me calm down. Of course, you dummy, I thought to myself. This is a panic attack. You get panic attacks. A lot of people do. You’re not dying; you’re not crazy. Why haven’t you realized it before?
It sounds silly now, but the thought that I got panic attacks had never occurred to me. I had passed off those moments of extreme overwhelmth as a personality quirk. I had let myself ignore it, tamping down my anxiety out of some kind of optimistic, overachieving guilt.
And then when I finally admitted to myself that I was a very anxious, fearful person, the anxiety came bubbling to the surface like a cyst. It’s like when you detox and all the systems in your body go to hell for a few days before getting really healthy. I found myself dreading car trips, dreading being in public, dreading any kind of unpredictability. I had to learn to admit that anxiety and push myself into it anyway, knowing that ultimately doing what scares the hell out of me is doing what makes me brave.
(My detox stage is ongoing.)
I was talking with a friend the other day. She mentioned Jesus’ words on worry in the gospels, and how significant it is that He stresses the importance of not worrying. Of course, those verses have taken on a deeper meaning for me lately, but I had not realized how true her observation is. God spends so much time admonishing us not to worry, and instead of working on that monumental task we instead spend our energy, well, worrying about doing other things right. It’s idiotic, really.
Jesus rather slyly asks in Matthew 6:27 : “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to the span of his life?” I love that. There are moments such as this when I feel God and I laugh together at my stupidity. Do I think I am somehow superhuman, the first of humankind to extend life by use of anxiety? No, of course not. So why do I act like my sticky, muddy blob of fears and anxiety will save me? Why do I cling to it as if it adds hours to my life?
I keep thinking that if I do cling to it, I’ll be able to clean up the mess, untangle the knots, wash out the stickiness, and everything will be peaceful again. As long as no unforeseen events mess up my plan or any new prickling thorns of panic and irritation join the blob, I’ll be fine. I can do this.
But I really can’t, and it’s futile to think so. (Also exhausting). So like a child who’s made a mud pie and stupidly tried to eat it, I hand the blob of sticky anxiety to my Father and say “here you go. I’m sorry that all I ever seem to give you is a damn mess.”
And with such love and beauty it makes me want to cry, He says “It’s really okay; this is what I do best. Everything you have is what I’ve given you, what I’ve mended and made clean.”
And at first, that seems really simple. “Okay sweet; you’ve got it. I’ll go about my life, and you work on the anxiety blob.” Until suddenly I find myself holding it in my hands because I took it back from Him without even realizing it. “Well crap. Literally. Here you go… again.”
And right now, that’s the stage my detox is in. Someday I’ll hand my anxiety to Him, and it’ll be the last time I ever have to hold it again. I can’t even imagine that.
But until then, I’ll just be honest that the sticky, shitty blob attracts me like a magnet, and as soon as I find it in my hands I’ll cast it on Him, because He cares for me.
Because He tells me to.
(Photo Credit Gabrielle Allman)