Posted in anxiety, Emotions, freedom, God, health

What My Dog Taught Me About Anxiety

“I need you to love me a little louder today.”  (Healthyplace.com)

This past year, our dog, Autumn, tore both of her ACLs and we made the very hard decision to put her to sleep.  She was an absolutely beautiful dog, a loving dog, an active dog, a mischievous dog, and a highly-anxious dog.  At our first vet visit when she was just a puppy, we were told that she probably had neurological issues (because we made the lovely decision to buy a pure-breed).  Little did we know then, but soon found out, that this dog was one nervous-nelly.

Life marched on and she had all kinds of typical dog anxiety related to thunder, strangers, and loud noises (like Allen and I yelling at the TV during Steelers games).  But she also had “not-so-typical” dog anxiety where she panted and paced often for no reason, snapped at the air like she was catching flies even when she was alone (it’s called fly-biting syndrome) and tried to climb out of our home through the fire place.

Needless to say, you get my point.  Like her loving owner, this dog had some serious issues with the dreaded monster of anxiety.  As the years went on, I learned some very valuable lessons from my Autumn, many that I remind myself on the days that anxiety rears its ugly head in my own life and the lives of those I love.

#1  Anxiety can come out of nowhere.
There are times that I find myself in a place that only moments before was nowhere to be found.  I am going along just fine and out of the blue, I have thoughts that are absolutely ridiculous and filled with fear.  (I haven’t heard from Josh today.  I wonder if he’s okay.  He is, Esther.  You are ridiculous.  But he could have fallen in the shower and all his housemates are already at school.  He might be laying there bleeding or worse, he might be dead.  How will we deal with this?  I will be wreck.  Stop it Esther.  This is nuts.)  This may have come on the heels of enjoying a nice breakfast out with a friend while drinking chamomile tea.

#2  Anxiety usually passes.
After years of observing Autumn’s and my own anxiety, I have come to realize that it doesn’t usually last.  The same way it roars into my life, it often makes its way out.  This is a lifeline for me in the throes of it.  On a very bad day, I remind myself that it will eventually pass.  It might take some time, but it won’t be like this forever.  It seems to be cyclical.   Shalom (meaning completeness, soundness, peace) is a life-long journey, with many fits and starts along the way.

#3  Anxiety isn’t about trusting God.
One day, Autumn was just beside herself.  It might have been a thunderstorm.  She was pacing and panting, wide-eyed and whining.  In a moment of clarity, I said to her (very tongue-in-cheek), “Autumn, you just need to trust God more.”  You are probably thinking to yourself, “That’s ridiculous.  She’s a dog.”  And you know what, it is ridiculous.  For years, I added to the shame of my anxiety by berating myself about not trusting God enough.  I memorized verses about fear, the “do not fear” ones especially (and yes, I do know that here are 365 verses about fear, one for every day…I would imagine you might sense the sarcasm).  I promise you.  If memorizing these verses and trying really hard to “trust God more” would have done the trick and that formula could have worked, I would be all over it, preaching it from the mountaintops.  If it were only that easy.  But the hard truth is it’s not.

This is a message for all of us.  Anxiety is a neurological disorder.   Anxiety is when a person’s central nervous system is telling them there is an emergency even when there isn’t one.   Anxiety comes from a place of fright without solution.  Yes, we can feed it and make it worse (learned all about those neurons firing and giant pathways being created in my Physiology class in college).  I am an expert at feeding it.   And yes, new pathways can be formed that bring calm to the nervous system.  I am in the process of feeding those new pathways now and have been for many years (which has helped tremendously).  In the end, it’s all very complicated and I am not an expert in the field.  But that’s not the point.

Here is the point.  For those of you who don’t struggle, please don’t tell the person in the middle of it to “trust God more.”  I promise you it won’t help.  It may just heap more frustration and shame on the person and send them deeper into hiding.  And for those of you, like me, who have this monster hounding them on many days and during many seasons, think about my dog.  Give yourself some grace.  Tell yourself some truth.  It’s just as ridiculous to say “trust God more” to yourself as it is to my dog.

#4  Anxiety dissipates by being “held.”
The best thing we could do for our dog, when she was at her worst and visibly shaking with fear, was to hold or pet her, come close to her, and speak gently and kindly to her.  That’s really what those of us with anxiety need.  We need someone to listen to our fears, be gentle and kind to us and most of all, hold us until it passes (this can be emotional or physical).  My favorite words in the whole world are, “It’s going to be okay.  You (the real you) are going to be okay.”

The big question that nags is what if there is not someone tangible to hold us?  Can we go to God?  Will He calm our hearts?  It’s not magic and certainly not a quick-fix formula, but I promise you that He cares for you.  He loves you.  He will listen.  He will be kind and tender to you.  He will hold you until your heart and mind calm.  A verse that I reprimanded myself with for many years got flipped on its head one day by our counselor.  I Peter 5:7.  Instead of “cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you,” it is actually the reverse in the Greek.  It really says, “Because He cares for you, you can cast all your anxiety on Him.”  God is the initiator here.  We ARE cared for.  He holds us.  To that truth, I cling with my life.  Shalom.

(By the way, I loved my dog and I miss her very much.  I wouldn’t have traded her for the world, fly-biting and all.)

 

 

 

Posted in anxiety, Emotions, Family, freedom, God, health, Sabbath, sacred

The Myth of Scarcity (and the Hope of Acorns)

“We must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity.” (Walter Brueggemann)

It’s happening again.  Acorns are falling from trees.  They are everywhere.

I believe wrong things.  The myth of scarcity is one of them.  It comes pouring into my newsfeed.  My television streams it.  It permeates conversations with family and friends.  My own thoughts teem with it.  Many of my decisions are made because of it.  And it’s downright wrong.  A lie.

The myth of scarcity is the idea that there isn’t enough to go around.  The world (and the God who created it) is lacking the resources to meet our needs.  There’s not enough _______ (you fill in the blank) for me and those I love.  At its root is the monster of fear.   And as we all know probably better than we would like to admit, fear is a slave-making emotion.  My reaction to its demands cause me to hoard, fret, close up and off, control, and protect myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Acorns speak something completely different, something that has been true from before the dawn of time.  As I walk down my tree-lined street in these months of the fall, they are strewn everywhere.  They crunch under my feet and get in my way as I try to get my 10,000 steps (see FitBit post).  It’s almost ridiculous how many there are.

One morning, I was fretting over the lack of ________ in our world, and in my own family, and I saw with new eyes these acorns.  They were abundant.  There weren’t enough furry little creatures to gather, store up and eat these acorns in the coming months.  There was a plethora of them.  I was gently reminded again from my loving God about how the world began and how it really works.

The creation account in the beginning of the Bible is the story of God’s generosity.  God’s force of life is loose in the world.  His creation is endowed with fullness of vitality, encouraged to “be fruitful and multiply.”  God’s goodness overflows from His creation.  There is so much abundance and generosity, the time must end in a period of Sabbath rest (my most favorite part).  The myth of scarcity is ultimately debunked.

In the last 24 hours, I went right back to believing the myth.  I became caught up in the lack of personal safety in our world and specifically wondering (okay, looping) whether Rachel will be okay through Hurricane Irma.  I told myself, “my 17 year-old daughter is by herself living in an apartment (well, her two 18 year-old roommates are with her…but that is not helping) 1100 miles away and a big storm is coming.”  At midnight, I went right to “how can I fix this?” and my actions quickly followed.  I scoured the internet for hotels and flights for hours.  Talk about slave-making fear.  I fell back into a fitful sleep hoping for different news in the morning.

The news was the same as I woke, but that didn’t matter to God.  He provided an initial text from a good friend saying Rachel could come to Atlanta and stay with him and his girls.  An acorn.  Another text came from a friend in Sarasota saying their home was open and they have water and a generator.  Another acorn.  A third text came later from the same friend that she went to Costco and loaded up for the weekend with more than enough food and water.   More acorns.  (This was not what I was seeing on the news.)  And now I have come to find out, it’s her husband’s birthday on Saturday.  There will be a celebration in the middle of it all.   A whole oak tree.

It doesn’t matter what the news is saying in Florida right now.  It’s the myth of scarcity: “Not enough food, not enough water, not enough gas.”  But God has spoken what’s true.  He’s got all the acorns in the world.  He is filled with abundance and generosity.  He is never lacking.   And He will do “exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or imagine.”  And you know what, because of His generosity,  I might just be able to take my own Sabbath rest in the middle of it all.  I needed these acorns today.  I hope you have some too.

(One caveat.  I know this is not Family Friday worthy.  I’m sure you can forgive me.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in anxiety, beautiful mess, Emotions, taboo

“I Just Had to Pee” and other Half-Truths (Fighting the Monster of Anxiety…A Day in the Life…Glimmer of Hope)

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  (Desmond Tutu)

“Are you doing okay?” my husband asks at 3:30 am.  “It seems like you are having a hard time sleeping.”  “I just had to pee,” is my response.  Half-truth.  Statement that quiets the other’s worry.  Words designed to make everyone (including myself) believe that “I’m okay.”  This happens often with the struggle of anxiety.

I have fought with what’s best described as Generalized Anxiety Disorder since my late 30s.  More than 14 years.

If you knew me growing up, in my 20s and early 30s, you would have told others I was independent, strong, and care-free.  I was the teen who drove to Canada to see my boyfriend and slept in the back of my beat-up Ford Pinto without any thought to the dangers of a young woman alone at a rest stop.  I was the young adult who left home after college, delivering pizza while looking for work, and sleeping at friends’ houses with only about $20 in my pocket.  I was the young mom who allowed her preschool children to play in our cul-de-sac without supervision, never hesitating to think they might be snatched, hurt or fall into the river that was only 50 feet into the woods behind our house.  Not someone you would classify as anxious.  Far from it.

I will never forget that morning.   I woke up.  Just as I was getting out of bed, my left leg collapsed right out from under me.  I fell.  My heart raced and I panicked. I got up slowly and was able to walk normally, but called the doctor immediately. “What was happening? Did I have a brain tumor?” Not sure why that thought immediately came as I had never paid much attention to my health. I was crippled with fear almost in an instant. I was pretty sure I was going to die.

A battery of tests for brain tumors, lyme disease, and MS.  With each waiting period and diagnosis in the clear (my leg was probably just asleep when I fell), I thought I would have some peace.  I only got worse. The final diagnosis: a full-blown nervous breakdown. For three months, I lay in my bed, cried, couldn’t leave the house, and had what they call depersonalization, the feeling of being “out of body.”  I thought I was going crazy. It was the darkest time in my life.

Fourteen years of counseling, on-and-off medication, progressive muscle relaxation audios, my Headspace app, exercise, comforting Bible verses on sticky notes, deep breathing, prayer and begging God for relief, yoga, chamomile tea, close friends and a husband who shared my pain, changed diet, not watching the news or clicking on WebMD.  You get the picture.  Fighting it from every angle.  Seasons of relief and seasons of being back in the fight.  Fast forward 14 years to the past 24 hours.  I am back in the fight.

A day in the life of half-truths (the whole truth being said inside my head):

7 am “Good morning Allen.  I am glad Jared has work today.”   (“Will he get up on time?  Should I wake him?  He’s 23.  Don’t do that.  Bad boundaries.  But what if he doesn’t get up?  He will lose this job.  He won’t be able to pay his student loan.  He will get bad credit.  His future could be ruined.”)

8:45 am (knowing he is supposed to leave at 9) Send a text. “Want a smoothie before you leave?”  (“Hopefully he is awake and moving.  If he doesn’t respond, I can call him.  Don’t do that.  Bad boundaries again.  But what if….”)

9:45 am (“Sarah’s sonogram for the baby is right now.  They are rechecking some weird spot they found on his heart.  What if he has Down Syndrome?  It’s a soft marker for that.  Stop thinking that, Esther.  The doctor said it’s a super slim chance and all the other markers were fine.  You need to get over this.  Go to the grocery store.  And don’t text her.  Wait until she texts you.”)

10:45 am  Send a text.  “How did your appointment go?”  (“Is the baby alright?  Is Sarah going to have to quit her job to care for a special needs child?  Will she be able to handle this?  This would be horrible.  No, it wouldn’t.  Lots of people make it through and actually thrive.”  And on and on with the back-and-forth while I don’t hear anything for almost two hours.  Shaking at this point.)

12:37 pm Send another text.  “?”  Response:  “Everything is fine.”  (“Why do you keep doing this?  You are supposed to be over this.  See.  It was all fine and your worry was useless.  You have issues.  Maybe you should go back on medication.  Don’t want to do that.”)

12:45 pm (As you can see…relief was short-lived)  “Hey Rachel.  How are you feeling?” (said daughter had wisdom teeth out four days prior and had almost died of  a tooth infection as a young girl)  (“Does she have an infection?  Do we need to call the doctor immediately?  Please just say “better.”)

1:30 pm “Josh, did you hear from Uber yet?”  (“Why did we allow him not to get a real job this summer?  We should have been stronger with him.  Is that controlling?  He better start working.  I will feel so much better when he’s making money.”)

5:30 pm  From Allen:  “Any word about the truck selling?”  My response:  “Lots of people are looking at it and taking pictures.”  (“This truck is the death of me.  Why did we ever let Rachel buy it?  It will never sell.  We will be stuck with it.  I just need it gone.  This box needs to be checked off my list before she leaves for college.  Why isn’t it selling?  I will be okay when it sells.  What if it doesn’t?  I won’t be okay.”)

Dinner out with friends.  Distraction.  Bed time.

Fitful night’s sleep filled with dreams about above items.

3:30 am  Allen:  “Are you doing okay?  It seems like you are having a hard time sleeping.”  Esther:  “I just had to pee.”  (“If he only knew.  Don’t want to talk about it.  Maybe I should write a blog post to get this sorted out.  Would others read it?  Would they love it or stop reading all my future posts since I don’t have my act together?  Maybe it will bring this stuff to light.  Maybe someone will feel understood.  Is it worth the risk?”

As you can see, I believe it’s worth the risk.  I believe that I am not alone.  I believe that bad stuff thrives in the darkness, in the hiding.  So, here I am, bringing it into the light. A glimmer of hope arises in my heart that I have just taken another step towards healing.

You?  What do you need to bring into the light?  Where can you have hope?  Healing?