Chapter Six: My Spiritual Center *a straight up excerpt from my so-called memoir, but with pictures

The Isle of Skye is probably the most breathtakingly beautiful place I’ve ever been in my whole life. I suspect it may be the pinnacle of all earthly creation and I say this despite how fond I am of the mountains in my own back yard. I’d recommend everyone go there if they ever the chance, but I’d also say that you might need to love the rain or you might need to be the owner (or married to the owner) of a magic umbrella.

Casey owns a magic umbrella, so our trip to Skye was perfection.

We had debated for quite a while whether or not we would even go to Skye. At this point of our UK Adventure, we had arrived at Loch Tay in Scotland, the leg of our trip I had been most looking forward to. I think we were all a bit tired of being in the minivan and considering only Casey and his father were supposed to be driving, the idea of making it from Kenmore up to Inverness – to see Culloden Field, which was the one thing I absolutely had to do – and then cut all the way across to Skye was a bit daunting.

In the end though, we agreed that although it would be a long drive, we were much closer now than any of us would be in a few weeks and come on. It’s Skye.

To make the logistics a bit more difficult, we knew that we would have to try to find lodging once we got there. The gentleman who sold us some lunch supplies near Invermoriston on the banks of the Loch Ness told us we were crazy and that we should have made some sort of reservation a few weeks ago at the very latest.

aka: best picture Alas has taken in her WHOLE LIFE

We didn’t let that sort of pessimistic talk deter us and continued on our way. The closer we got, the more epic the scenery became. It’s truly the kind of beauty that could kill you with the longing to see it again. I don’t know how the people who live there cannot all be poets and photographers and painters. Or maybe they are. I didn’t get to meet any of them to talk to them about it.

Once we’d crossed over the bridge onto Skye, we all whipped out our cell phones and got down to the business of trying to find a place to stay. As our friend from the shores of Loch Ness had cautioned, it wasn’t looking too promising.

But God was watching out for us, because I eventually discovered a place in Carbost called the Old Inn, which claimed to have a bunkhouse attached. I called to see if they had enough space for five adults and the answer came back that they did, but that we would all have to be split up amongst three separate rooms. A hostel is hardly my idea of staying within my comfort zone, but after all, I had signed up for adventure. And there was no room at the Inn, Old or otherwise.

The rest of the drive to Carbost was filled with gorgeous scenery and a familiar sense of disquiet. It didn’t take any figuring to reach the conclusion that we weren’t going to have anything in the way of cell reception. If the medical emergency I’d been waiting for since October the year before finally decided to strike, I figured I was probably toast.

I just have a cheerful outlook like that.

Arriving in Carbost, we found the hostel was conveniently located a mere stroll from the only distillery on the whole Isle of Skye. We’d had no idea it was there when we reserved the remaining bunks, but it was quite fortuitous that things turned out that way. If the one thing I had to do was walk Drumossie Moor, well, the one thing Casey pined after was a chance to see how real Scottish Whiskey was made. And, you know, to have a free tasting. Priorities.

We secured our bunks, split up among three rooms as promised. My sister-in-law had begged and wheedled from the initial phone call all the way there to be permitted to stay in the room that only had one bunk. I think of myself at any age and in any state of mental health and know that I would never have wanted to be left alone in a room full of strangers. Either I’m not independent enough or my introversion really can be crippling. I admired Tori though, and was secretly pleased for her when she got her way.

The Old Inn boasts a pub, so we all headed over for dinner after getting settled. The place was surprisingly packed for such a tiny little scrap of a town on the edge of the western coast of Skye, but we managed a table and the food was really excellent. There was to be live music later, but we decided on a walk after eating and meandered down to a pier and back, taking our sweet time about it and reveling in the beauty.

And the weird signs.

As we walked, we firmed up plans for the following day. We’d kick things off with a tour of the Talisker Distillery because who doesn’t want a dram of Scotch first thing in the morning? After that, we decided we would head out to Neist Point, which – insofar as I have one – turned out to be my spiritual center.

If I could force people to listen to certain music as they read these words, this is the section where I would insist people listen to “Mightier” by Aaron Strumple, who doesn’t even have the decency to put out the best version of his own song that I’ve ever heard. Sorry, Aaron. It’s true. The worship team at The Fellowship often does it better. But you wrote the words and for that? I will give you everlasting credit. And profound thanks.

Plus, “Mightier” came out in 2015, and that was the same year I stood on the shores of Skye and felt all the things that are in this song echoing in my head but without the lyrics to put voice to them. I wish I’d had those lyrics then. I was with my husband’s folk, and they are almost all musical and we could have had the most beautiful and amazing worship service there on the rocks of Neist Point had we had the words, the talent and soft hearts. Probably, mine was the only heart that needed softening before that day and before I found my spiritual center.

I’m not entirely certain I can convey what I mean by that, but I’ll take a run at it anyhow. Maybe it’s that I’ve always seen God in his creation, and most particularly in the rocks and mountains. Maybe it’s that the whole day was basically a microcosm of the lessons I’ve been learning ever since my trip to the UK. Maybe it’s just the sort of place that feels holy, despite being covered with sheep dung.

Whatever part or parts of any of that it might’ve been 1, it is still the shore of Skye that seems to resonate with me on some deep level. It is the mental picture I hold in my times of closest intimacy with my God.

Funny how when I was there, I had absolutely no idea how important it would become for me. Which is not to say that it didn’t impact me. It did, and profoundly so. I had just imagined that the impact was all cerebral and not spiritual. But Neist Point is where my heart started to soften a bit and where so many of my spiritual cairns mark a path out of darkness and into the light.

It was drizzling by the time we arrived there, and everything was shrouded in a wispy fog. I was cold at first, but between a borrowed extra jacket and the long walk we had from the parking lot down to the shore, I soon warmed up. Even had that not been the case, I think the wild beauty of the place would have soon distracted me from any physical discomfort. I know I forgot to be afraid the whole time we were there.

How can I convey the magic of this place? They say a picture is worth one thousand words and I have dozens and dozens of pictures, some of them quite spectacular, and even they fill me with a vague sense of disappointment. A picture can’t capture the bracing breeze or the scent of the sea. A picture can’t tell you anything about the slipperiness of the path or the constant bobbing everyone’s necks did as we focused one moment on our feet to make sure we weren’t about to land in a steaming pile of sheep dung and on the next moment had to look up, had to look around, had to draw everyone else’s attention to that cliff, this view, that unearthly clear patch of bright blue water.    

There’s a collection of older buildings there, one made to look like a lighthouse. They are painted gold and white and are striking against the endless green of the hills and the pale blue of the ocean. They are also abandoned, a melancholy end to what must have once been a rather charming B&B. The very remoteness of the place – not to mention the walk down to it from the parking lot – makes this understandable.

From the looks of things, there used to also be a place where guests or perhaps supplies might arrive via boat, and from there it was just a moderate tromp through the soggy mixture of grass and mud and, yes, sheep poop to arrive at the buildings. I keep mentioning the poop because you have never in your life seen so much sheep poop all in one place unless you are a sheep farmer. I just want that to be clear.

Beyond the decrepit former B&B was the rocky coast, and that was something else again. Again, I find myself frustrated with the lack of words to adequately describe how it was.

There was an absolutely massive tumble of rocks, none of which looked as though they could possibly be natural or original to the area. They were so largely uniform in size and general shape, all squared off, as though they had been shaped and used to build some sort of structure.

For all I know, that’s exactly what happened. They seem to have a great fondness in that region for dry-stacking walls. Why not buildings without mortar?     

Probably nearly every visitor before and after us had taken the time to stack a few of the rocks, one atop another, a beach full of cairns leading nowhere and signifying nothing other than that their makers had been there.

We didn’t make one, but that was probably only because my father in law had the notion to build a mini henge and that was enough fun to engage most of us in its making and subsequent photography shoot.

Beyond those stones was another type of rock, this one obviously more natural and rumored to be part of the Scottish side of the Giant’s Causeway, the more famous half of which is in Ireland. But it was unnatural in its own way. Closer to shore, all the terrain was grey. Further out, where the waves sighed against the stones, they were a stark black. It’s the sort of place that can make rocks interesting enough that you understand why some people major in geology.

We climbed all over the rocks, out to the ocean and looked out over the waves. Watching the mindless surge of the water against the pillars of stone, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the rock formation had been worn away by that endless striving. Jellyfish were occasionally visible and the seabirds wheeled overhead, raucous and wonderful in that setting in a way seagulls just aren’t around dumpsters in a parking lot in Salt Lake City.  

Overcome by the beauty of it all, I found a place to sit, sheltered from the wind by an outcropping and with a good view out over the water. Time stood still while I sat there, watching the skies clear from the mist that had enshrouded them. Eventually, I could see small blurs of land on the horizon – other islands – and the distinct line on the horizon where sky meets water.       

Eventually, we had to get going. Our stay on Skye was only ever meant to be the one night and we had a long drive back to Loch Tay before nightfall.

The walk back up to the parking lot warmed me so thoroughly that I was almost wishing for the mist and the wind again, but sunshine had arrived and burned off the clouds and spread a gentle warmth over everything.

As a result, the landscape was even more spectacular on the way up than it had been on the way down.

“Oh come on!” Tori blurted at one point, her eyes fixed on the cliff opposite of a small inlet of water from where we stood. “There was a waterfall hidden over there the whole time?”

I knew what she meant. It was just too much.

Since that day, I’ve looked back and back and back again. I can’t get any of it out of my head, and nor do I want to.  

I said earlier it was a microcosm of my life since then, so having said all of the above, let me now try to explain that statement.

I arrived at the most beautiful and peaceful place my soul has ever known in the midst of a shroud of rain and clouds. Kind of like how I arrived back in an active relationship with God, my beautiful refuge, in the midst of a shroud of anxiety.

I descended down a slippery and treacherous path that was covered with poop, finding even hidden beauty along the way until I came to the water. Sort of how I descended through the layers of myself, headed towards bottom, still finding some good things but mostly just blinded by the fog until at last I came to the end of myself and was faced with the waters of change.

And though others were with me on that day and though certainly others have been with me on my personal journey back towards wholeness, my contemplation of the sea that day was just as solitary as my spiritual journey has been at times. Solitude can be either peaceful or just lonely and I have been both, but I have also been brought to a deeper understanding of the fact that I am never truly alone for my God is always surrounding me, inside and out, and this truth has been one I have clung to through many fearful nights since.   

Lastly, in many ways, coming back up the hill was so much more difficult than going down could ever be. Burning muscles, shortness of breath, exertion. In my spiritual journey, putting my whole trust in God to keep me often feels like one step forward and two steps back. I stagger and fall a lot. I try to recall how loved I am, and I feel abandoned. I often want instantaneous healing, not this gradual process of recovery.

I’m not there yet, but I can’t wait to hit the summit of this spiritual journey and to turn my face to the Son and to see everything that was hidden from my sight before.     

  1. Probably not the poop part

three word

I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions.

For the past several years, I’ve chosen a word for #oneword365, the details of which can be read about here. 1 I’ll be the first to admit that I often don’t quite focus on the word I’ve chosen all throughout the year, but I do find enough to mediate on and enough to challenge me that it seems worthwhile anyhow.

This year? This year, I have no damn idea what my one word is going to be. It’s annoying me, like woah.

I’ve certainly had words occur to me. In no particular order, three have stood out:

Immanuel.

Humility.

Kaizen.

I started with Immanuel, but something about that seemed too safe. God with us. God with me. Very comforting and certainly a needful reminder on a daily basis and most particularly when panic attacks strike, but I’ve spent the last few years bogged down in my anxiety and how it’s affected me and I am just over it. I want to move on. 2

Humility. Okay. Less safe. More, um, humbling. Not a bad dose of medicine for me, all in all. But it dovetails too much with Immanuel only in a “more of you, less of me” sort of way. 3

And then I landed on kaizen, which got me fairly excited. For those who don’t know, kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement? Sign me up!

As I look ahead into 2017, there’s so much I want to improve, some of which has already been in a state of improvement. I’m going back to school. I want to improve my mind, and yes, my socioeconomic status. I am – and have been since well before the turn of the year, thankyouverymuch! – determined to get back on track with healthy living and eating. As of this writing, I can honestly say that working out has become a regular part of my routine several days a week. I want to improve my relationships, to get to know my new friends on a deeper level and to rediscover my old friends, getting to know them as the people they’ve become in the years of our separation and to allow them to get to know the person I’ve become in the meantime.

Even if that person is sometimes usually a neurotic, self-absorbed mess.

I felt pretty good about kaizen, from the time it occurred to me on December 31, right up until I went forward after the church service on January 1, and received a word of prophecy. I babbled something, not about my #oneword dilemma, and the woman I was speaking to just looked at me and said, “You’re not a mother, but you have this incredibly comforting nurturing presence. Just by being in the room, you bring comfort to people.”

And then she prayed over me. “Immanuel. God with you. God within you. God all around you. God as your rearguard.”

And I was like, dang, maybe Immanuel is my One Word?

The upshot is that I still don’t have a single One Word for 2017. As the proud recipient of not only a Generalized Anxiety Disorder diagnosis, but also an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder diagnosis, this does not thrill me. I feel like I haven’t got 2017 nailed down in my mind and at this point, we’ve lost a whole five days and how many more of the remaining 360 will I spend feeling all untethered and incomplete?

Don’t worry. I know how ridiculous that sounds. I mean, I still feel that way, but I get that it sounds a bit unhinged.

I have written and subsequently deleted several iterations of this post, hoping to find clarity through writing as I often do. And I have told myself what I recently told a friend: “Do whatever you want! Your One Word is for you and no one else’s opinion matters!” The problem is that my opinion very much matters to me and in my opinion, I should have a One Word and it should be a One Word, not a three word.

And now I’ve just sort of blown my own damn mind, because “three word” just reminded me of part of what I read to the husband today during our commute:

“Note this for now: the principle of one is lonely; the principle of two is oppositional and moves you toward preference; the principle of three is inherently moving, dynamic, and generative.”

Fr. Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance

So maybe it’s okay to have a three word. Maybe I can embrace humility, Immanuel and kaizen all in the same year.

At this present moment, that’s the first thing that has made total sense to me in this whole exercise. And with that frayed and unglued corner of my mind feeling a bit more settled and secured, I think I am for my rest for now. Doubtless I’ll have something to write about any or all of these words in the future, but that will come when it will, if it does.

Just now, I feel a bit more whole. And I will take what I can get.

  1. the details of OneWord, that is. The details of my past words are scattered across the interwebs, but to summarize: focus, hope, adventure, abundance
  2. Wanting to and actually being able to not being the same things. I do get the sense I have a lot more to process before it’s all said and done.
  3. Give me any topic and I can probably find a way to relate it to my mental illness in about half a second, flat. It’s a gift. A terrible, pointless gift.

tentative faith

A few years ago, when my Generalized Anxiety Disorder first became A Thing, one of my few defenses against a panic attack was, of all things, the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.

I’m not a Dune fan. Like most of the epic fantasy/SciFi novels of yesteryear, I feel it lacks a great deal in relatable characters, respect for women, plot and pacing. Not necessarily in that order.

But I like the Litany Against Fear, not least because of the power of this interpretation from the ever marvelous Zen Pencils. I did and do resonate with the words of the Litany to a certain extent.

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to think. I’m not one of those people who is always quick on her feet and can debate a point at the drop of a hat, but when given time and space to mull things over, I tend to arrive at conclusions I have no trouble defending because I’ve thought over every angle I’m able to conceive of. (My friends with quirky minds who arrive at places I’ve never considered and make points that have never occurred to me probably think I’m hopelessly slow, but that’s beside the point.)

Anyhow. I’ve lived in my mind for the whole of my life and was rather smug in my pre-crippling-anxiety days about my ability to process with logic rather than emotion and with facts rather than feelings.

But fear is the mind-killer.

That’s true. I hate it. But it’s true.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I’ve been obliterated. A lot. It sucks. A lot.

I have raged against this more times than I can count, for all the good it does me. I have cried out that my mind has always been a place of order and reason and it’s really just not comprehensible that I have zero control over the primitive fear side now, no matter how logical I am still capable of being.

This solves nothing.

I’ve tried to embrace the rest of the Litany Against Fear. Tried to face fear and to permit it to pass over me and through me. I think the implicit lie is that fear can’t really touch you if you have this acceptance of fear passing over you mixed with a rejection of the fear even as it’s passing through you. Like you should be able to endure fear without it leaving any lasting marks. Or maybe there is a perfect mix and I haven’t mastered it.

Fear does touch me as it washes over and through me. As much as I’d like to be so, I am not immune.

And so I’ve started holding to a different creed. One that relies less on my own strength of mind and will.

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior

The most difficult but also probably the most beautiful thing about this to me is that it’s a choice and an invitation. Not from a loving God to me but from me to a loving God.

Letting fear pass over and through me is like being pummeled by waves and hoping I can somehow weather it. Allowing God to have control over the situation and having faith that he really does have control of the situation is walking on the motherfucking water.

I said I’m a sinker and that’s true. Left to my own devices.

I think that’s pride. I think that’s self-reliance, and I’ve been humbled over and over with how weak and not in control I really am, so to that end, let me drown! Let me sink until all my struggle is gone out of me and all that’s left to me is the hope of salvation.

It’s not comfortable imagery. Not peaceful. But it takes one giant leap outside my self and my unwarranted pride and that’s probably going to be the thing that salvages anything worthwhile I might have within me to offer to the world.

Not me. Not my mind. Not my logic. Just my hope and faith. Just my tentative faith as I try to keep my eyes above the waves.

o come, o come

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is my favorite Christmas song of all time.

Maybe it’s the sweet and plaintive melody. Maybe it’s the chord progressions which I don’t know all that much about musically, but which I can totally appreciate as a non-musician.

Maybe it’s Emmanuel.

God with us.

God is with us!

Even when this song calls for rejoicing, it’s subdued, and I think that’s how my life is. I think that is why I relate so much. I have been called forth from captivity, but that doesn’t erase the time spent captive. A trial is at an end and all things are made new, but it doesn’t erase where I’ve been and what I’ve endured.

O come, o come, Emmanuel.

Come to the exile, to the lost, to the lonely. Come and be God among us.

Today, I listened to a message about God incarnate and it… it was more than I could properly take in. Part of that was a surge of anxiety at a really inopportune moment. Part of it was my own preoccupation with my after-church plans. I want so badly to be a good and generous host and for my home to be a place of comfort and replenishment. Not a bad thing, but perhaps the wrong thing to be focused on when I was.

Despite my split focus, God incarnate is powerful. O come, o come, Emmanuel. Be that in me. Let me be Christ in my world to those around me.

Then You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free
I’m going under, I’m in over my head
And You crash over me, I’m where You want me to be
I’m going under, I’m in over my head

Whether I sink, whether I swim
It makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head
Whether I sink , whether I swim
It makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head
I’m beautifully in over my head
I’m beautifully in over my head

In spite of my own distractions and my own preoccupations, in spite of my own ability to sink or swim (I’m a sinker), in spite of everything, this song still echoes in my heart and mind. Emmanuel. God with us.

It is humbling and a comfort. So much of both. What am I that God is mindful of me? My human struggles that God should care? (Psalm 8, paraphrased like whoa)

David said that 1, and David had far more right to do so than I do. I don’t have any idea what Jesus was subjected to in his time on earth, but today? Today, I doubted and felt chastened in my own heart for doubting. I have no idea whether the Christ dealt with mental illness. I somehow doubt he did. But there must be something there that can give me that common ground. Right?

Casey/At says I need to ask whether Christ is living within me enough to tie him to my experience. I don’t know. I feel adrift here, because even at his most terrified of what was to come, I feel like it wasn’t unknown to Jesus. Where my biggest source of terror is that I don’t know. Anything. What was. What is. What is to come.

I suppose that’s where faith comes in. In so many ways. I have to believe that he knows not only where I am but that he will also be Emmanuel. God with me. Through whatever valley of the shadow of death I am walking through. Emmanuel.

God with us. God with me. Please.

  1. I think. Whatever. I don’t know who wrote every Psalm, so it’s a good guess, okay?

guys, I’m in my 30’s

I am recently returned to civilization after a long weekend spent camping up in the mountains of southwest Colorado. At more than 9000 feet, it was cold, especially at night or when it rained, which was pretty much all of the time. I think I am reaching the point of my life where I am definitely too old for this shit, because we cut our trip short by a day and I am still trying to recover from the whole ordeal, especially in terms of catching up on sleep.

Molas

I returned to work Wednesday, expecting to settle back into my routine and to do so without a fuss. But about 15 minutes after settling in at my desk, my supervisor asked me to meet with her in the conference room. My first thought was that I was in trouble and then my second thought was that she was probably just going to catch me up on whatever announcements I had missed by having the previous day off and so was unable to attend the team meeting.

But it was neither of those things.

She started with a comment about how we had talked in my last one-on-one meeting with her that I wasn’t destined to remain on her team for long. The follow up was that I had been moved to another team and another process. Effective almost immediately, because a person on that process was moving to another position within the university.

My first reaction was to be flattered, because come on. I’ve been there two months. I am not even off my three month probation and they want to freaking promote me and hand me a raise. Not a small raise as I found out a day later. A $2/hour raise, bringing me back up to what I had been making at my previous job, only including benefits and really freaking good benefits at that. It’s a financial win all around.

But. But. HOWEVER.

I’ve been working the new process for a few days now and not only do I think I will quickly grow bored with only dealing with one thing, but I think I will hate, hate, HATE dealing with that one thing for any length of time.

They’ve put me on readmissions, so it’s basically my job to look at anyone looking to come back to one of the four colleges we have, and decide whether to approve, conditionally approve, or flat out deny them re-entry. A previous version of myself might have relished the chance to have that kind of power, but the current me, who has felt so called to love even the least worthy because that is what my God does, is sick over it. I cannot be making these decisions. I have no idea where the lines between mercy and judgment lie these days.

In fact, for the last month, this song has been stuck in my head non-stop. Which is weird for me, because it has nothing to do with me and my struggles with anxiety, so there you go. It’s been a place outside of myself and my selfish ways.

At the same time, I am recalled to how I felt when I first was offered this job, like I was being specifically granted favor for a purpose. And now I am being given even more favor. For the first time in my life, I have been promoted based off my merits and performance. And I am in my 30’s y’all. And I have never been a slacker.

So perhaps this is where I am meant to be. Perhaps this is what I am meant to be doing. Perhaps I have been granted this favor for a reason.

I have no idea.

I only know that it’s the weekend and I am so afraid to go into work on Monday, because I know they are going to demand I do some part of this new job at some point that day. I know I don’t feel ready, no matter how well I’ve already mastered the process so far as the technical “click this thing and then this thing and also this box” process is concerned.

So here I am, crying about a promotion and a raise when I feel I ought to be happy, but instead feeling sick. Perhaps this is the very first of all first world problems, but I don’t think I want this, not if it’s going to be so much anxiety and stress for so little reward. On the other hand, there’s a chance I can take my new heart for mercy and apply it to people who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance. I have no idea.

Here’s where I am though. Please send help. Or prayers. Or the force. Whatever you want, really.

memoir

Without getting too much into the details of it, I’ve started to write something like a memoir. It began as a defense against a really bad day last week, where my anxiety spiked for reasons I still don’t comprehend. I have no idea what triggered it. I just know it was bad.

Writing helped, and it’s been interesting to me to start to put everything down on paper, to try to pin things down and dissect them and to look back to see how and when and where things went so wrong and then so right.

Because that’s been taking what little writing time I have, I thought I would start to share it here. I think all three of my readers have an idea of the journey I’ve been on, but I am still curious. For those willing to give feedback, do you find this compelling in the slightest or is it narcissistic in the extreme?

Be honest!

xoxo

-Alas


As I begin this draft, I’m not certain it’s a good idea. I think I’ve been building for some time towards writing about the past 19 months and what little I’ve learned along the way. I suppose I do so partly out of a need to make more sense of it all myself, but also with some thought towards the possibility that somehow, someday, my own journey might be of some use to some other benighted soul who is engaged in the same struggle that I have been: anxiety.

I suppose I’ve always had the tendency to worry about things that have been wholly out of my control. I’ve always had a touch of the hypochondriac about me. In retrospect, it seems obvious that some thirty odd years of cultivating those seeds was destined to lead to a bumper crop of issues. I only ever needed the exact wrong conditions to push it from the manageable but annoying tendency to forecast worst case scenarios at the slightest provocation – forecast, but not truly believe – to have it become something that is not only out of my control but which also tends to control me. Now do I not only absolutely believe that the worst case scenario is going to happen, I believe it against all logic, reason and previous experience.

It’s exhausting.

So I’m tired and angry as I write this. Tired because I feel defeated after more than a year and a half of anxiety defining my days as either good, bad or Really Bad. Angry because I’ve always tried to let logic rule over my thought processes and how I view the world, but all the logical thinking in the world does piss all when I’m in the grip of irrational fear. I know that it’s right there in the adjective I’ve chosen that this fear is not rational, but I still feel I should be able to talk sanely to myself and just stop freaking out that I’ve suddenly developed an allergy to eggs where none has ever existed before and so the breakfast my husband lovingly made me isn’t going to actually be the thing that kills me.

Things that also probably won’t be the thing to kill me but which I totally lose my shit over anyway include going to the airport, sitting in a crowded theater, yogurt and that one time a red ant bit my foot. Which was nine months ago, but I remain vigilant! Against my will and against all reason, I remain vigilant.

The day on which I decided to start writing all of this down was a Really Bad Day. One of the (thankfully) increasingly rare ones, where I’m not even sure what triggered the massive amounts of panic and so I have even fewer ways to try to deal with it. At least when I know what the underlying issue is, I can talk to my husband and together we can talk about how unlikely it really is that I have throat cancer. When I just feel panic and my body goes in flight mode but I have nothing to flee from exactly, it gets a bit more tricky. Generally speaking, on days like today, I flee in various ways until I’m too exhausted physically, mentally or emotionally to do anything other than shut down in some gruesome sort of surrender, where it becomes all about endurance.

If I can get through this minute, and then the next, and maybe through the day and then the night…. I just might make it.

Anxiety is the thunderstorm that rolls suddenly and violently over the landscape of my days. Those torrential downpours and even weeks of persistent drizzle have changed the contours of my life, to the point where I don’t recognize any of my personal landmarks most days. I have been flooded and battered by these waters, unfamiliar, cold and dark.

I am not an optimist. Anyone who knows me would attest to it. Probably loudly and at length.

But here’s the secret about my anxiety: It has had one profoundly positive impact on my life, even among all the destruction and devastation that it has wrought. It has been, to paraphrase Charles Spurgeon, “the wave that has dashed me against the Rock of Ages.” I have learned to kiss it, after my own fashion, even as I yearn for a life free from that pounding surf.

Having rediscovered the safety of that Rock, unyielding to the fury of the ocean storm, and steady under my feet as the firmest of foundations, I keep asking that this trial might reach its end. I have learned my lesson, God. I am lost without You. If I promise to follow You faithfully for all my days, will You make me sane again?

God doesn’t bargain like that.

But He leads me on, and I follow.

love, love, love

Love has been on my mind a whole lot this year.

I’m not talking about romantic love, really, although some of that does come into the mix since I am married to that one guy and after almost 13 years of marriage, finding the spice and romance can be something of a challenge.

Fortunately for everyone, I’ve been more concerned with something hopefully a bit closer to the heart and soul of what – and Who – love is. I’m talking about a love that is Grace and Mercy and Peace and totally undeserved. I’m not good at this kind of love, not in any way. I am slightly better at receiving it than I am at giving it, but that’s not saying much. I am rubbish at extending it and, like most humans I know, can’t quite wrap my head totally around the whole concept of being given something so perfect and unconditional and absolute.

This is a love that is worth chasing, that is worth trying to delve into deeply enough that it does become a more natural part of how I see and interact with the world.

As I pursue a better understanding of love, I am reminded constantly of Mark 12:30-31

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

-KJV

That’s one doozy of a bold call, and one that seems dang near impossible. Move beyond myself and deeper into Love?

To that end, I’ve been trying really hard over the past several months to love even shitty drivers.

This is not an easy thing. I ‘m not exactly a road-rage filled maniac, but I do get impatient with a lot of things. That deep part of me that cherishes the concept of rules and standards is tried on a daily basis whenever I see someone speeding or changing lanes without signaling or crossing over the solid white line to cut me off for the love of my brake pads.

It starts off with a gentle fume and builds up to my actually yelling out loud in my car, “That is not legal, you moron!” like it’ll actually change anything. It doesn’t make feel better, that’s for sure.

Even when I feel I am doing well and not yelling, I apparently bitch about bad drivers enough to where my friend recently informed me that I made her a more easygoing driver.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“You say things about all these stupid people driving poorly so that I don’t have to. I feel very zen when you’re affirming all my feelings.”

Glad I can help, I guess!

So the challenge over the past several months has been for me to try to remember that yes, even that guy who just ran a red light with his horn blaring as though everyone else were somehow to blame for the near-collisions he would have been at fault for, even that guy is loved by someone.

Not me, but someone. And if I knew him at all, wouldn’t I extend at least a little bit of the benefit of the doubt? Would I ask him why he were being a giant dick or would I ask if everything was okay at home? Maybe he has a kid who fell and and broke an arm. Maybe he really is just a dick on the road but has some lovable qualities elsewhere. The thing is, I’ll never get to know what the story is behind any of it.

And it doesn’t really matter what the story is, in the end. What matters to me is my attitude and my behavior. It’s the only part of this whole equation I can really do anything about1, so I’m working to change it.

Maybe it’s strange to call it love, to try not to get angry and to think of these other drivers as real people with real qualities. But to extend grace, I think you need at least a bit of love at the center of it. And I don’t think you need to know someone to be able to do that. Not when we’re all members of the same family we call humanity.

So yeah, it’s a simple enough concept but one that is terribly difficult for me to master. I mess up all the time. But I’m trying. Hopefully I’ll eventually see a difference in myself and not get too discouraged on my path there.

After all, the things that really matter don’t usually come easy.

 

  1. Unless I pursue my dream of becoming a traffic cop so I can at least write some of these people tickets!

so it begins

I had a really bad panic attack a few days ago.

I’m not entirely certain as to why it happened, although I had kicked off the morning with a mimosa and then several hours later had been the one to drive my two friends to the airport so they could return to their lives in Chicago.

Drinking champagne – excuse me, sparkling wine – makes me nervous. I do it anyhow, mostly because I want to challenge these irrational fears that so often spring up as a result of my generalized anxiety disorder. After Saturday’s excursion, I’m not certain that I ever want to do so again, because the panic attack was that awful.

But I also have to recognize that it wasn’t just the champagne sparkling wine. It was also the trip to the airport in extremely bad traffic with my husband unable to shut up from the back seat about what he thought I ought to do and which route I ought to take.

It was also on top of a week of having two extra people under my roof and in my kitchen and wanting to get out and do things, all of which was perfectly reasonable but which also couldn’t help but be a strain on my introverted sensibilities.

By the time we arrived at the airport, I was shaking and sweaty. My hands and left leg had a pins and needles feeling. I proclaimed myself unequal to driving home and made my husband take over. We hadn’t gone a quarter of a mile before everything intensified. I felt dizzy and was gasping for air but not feeling like I could possibly get enough oxygen. In the irrational grip of panic, I figured I was probably hemorrhaging blood from somewhere, possibly internally, and was about to die there in the passenger seat of my car, out on the industrial northwest side of town.

“Jesus,” I said over and over, not a curse but an inchoate prayer.

My poor husband tried in vain to talk me down. “You’re okay,” he soothed. “This is all in your head.”

“Shut up,” I snapped. “Shut up, shut up, shutupshutupshutup. Shut. Up.”

I felt bad for it even as I said it, but couldn’t stop myself. We finally got to a likely exit and stopped at a shopping mall. Neither one of us needed a thing, but I bolted from the car as though it were on fire and the relief was nearly palpable. I wasn’t trapped. I could walk off some of the massive amounts of adrenaline that was coursing through me. I could maybe take one more breath. And then another. And then more until I ceased to be so conscious of the effort.

Eventually, I was able to find the wherewithal to get back into the car and drive home. The rest of the day wasn’t easy. My throat was so tight I couldn’t eat or drink without the fear of choking being perched on my shoulder, although I know from a year and a half of dealing with it that my dysphagia is an artifact of my anxiety, just like the pins and needles feeling in my limbs, or the tightness in my chest, or the headaches that last for days, or the nights where I wake to the sound of my own heart beating madly away and can’t drown it out enough to sleep.

Lindisfarne The reason I mention all of this as the maiden post of this blog is because of the next day. Sunday.

I woke up and felt more myself after a good night’s sleep, although my throat was still noticeably tight. After coffee in bed and laughing at the cats and their antics, I pulled myself together and we went to church. Somewhere in the middle of worship, which is always my favorite part of any church service, I realized that I’ve been spending the past several months asking God for a healing of my mind. I haven’t always been this person who gets panic attacks and struggles just to make it through a day, and a wholeness of mind is still something I hope to someday have again.

Somehow though, I never spent any time praying for release from the physical manifestations of my anxiety. So I did pray then and there and my throat gave a twinge and then… nothing. It’s been remarkably normal ever since.

Hallelujah.

After the service had ended, I didn’t bolt immediately for the doors as is my usual practice. The pastor came over and asked my husband and me if we would be interested in helping to run the media booth and we said we would be and then I fell into conversation with another woman and we fixed a date to have dinner together, which is sort of freaking me out a little, because I’ve never even met her husband. The last thing we did before going was to stop by and sign up to help out with a carnival that our church is putting on for the residents of the local neighborhood.

And to the point now – that whole weekend was a perfect microcosm of my life as a whole, and the best way I could think of to illustrate the syncopated rhythm of my days. In the background is that I spent many years being angry at the church and some of that emotion sort of splashed over onto God. If I had never needed Someone bigger than myself and capable of all things, I might have stubbornly remained in that state, because after all, it wasn’t as though I were rejecting the idea of God Himself or renouncing my belief in the path to salvation provided by Christ’s death and resurrection.

I just didn’t want to bother myself with the collection of broken humanity who would say in one breath that they were following Christ and then do anything but live by that example. My distaste for that hypocrisy was perhaps my greatest blind spot, for there was no meaningful way in which I was any different. Perhaps I was worse for all the moral superiority I felt but did not possess.

But now I’ve arrived through circuitous means back where I started, realizing that not only do I absolutely require God and a real relationship with Him, I also have a great need for community.

John Donne once wrote that:

No man is an island,
entire of itself ,
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main…

How right he was. How much more stable my life is becoming with the additions of people who are both immediate and accessible, who have loved me and allowed me to love them in return.

So, in part, this blog is about that. One can never just start writing and expect to have community happen overnight, but with patience and work,  it can be built over time. I was fortunate enough to do so before and I have hopes that I’ll be able to do so again. After all, I am an introvert and I find online friendships are the best supplement I can possibly have to the few people I manage to connect with on a personal level and face-to-face.

Isle of Wight

To me, my anxiety has been and is both a blessing and curse. It has been – to paraphrase Charles Spurgeon – the wave that has thrown me against the Rock of Ages. And in fetching up in that place, I have also rediscovered and am beginning to rekindle those needful human interactions as well.

Welcome to my deepest life.