A couple of weekends ago, Boyfriend and I took a little trip down to Charleston. We took my car (read: my new car that I am hyper-protective of) and on the way down almost to our destination, my gas light came on. I’m normally a bit of an anxious person, so I requested that we pull over and get gas right then. Geoffrey assured me that we’d be fine and that we’d get where we were going just fine, and I trusted him, so I just sat on that anxiety. To make a long story short, by the time we did pull over for gas, we had magically entered the Land Where There Are No Gas Stations At All Anywhere. I mean, ANYWHERE. I pulled up Google Maps. No little red gas station dots. We finally got off the exit for the Tanger Outlets right outside of Charleston, which is some cousin of the Land of No Gas Stations, when we stumbled upon a Sam’s Club with – aha! – a gas station! Boyfriend told me that he was pretty sure that you had to be a Sam’s Club member to get gas there and kept driving. Driving farther into the Land of Nooooo Gas Stations. By this point, my smart little thing that tells you how many miles of gas you have left just said “Low” so really we had no idea. And we kept driving.
And that is the moment when I lost my mind. I mean, royally lost it. “PLEASE turn the car around, I will JOIN SAM’S CLUB, I DO NOT EVEN CARE.” I mean, total panic moment. Absolute hyperventilating with anxiety that we were going to run out of gas and be stranded which was NOT GOOD because we were in the LAND OF NO GAS STATIONS. Anxiety, churning through my entire body, worried, worried, worried – just a tunnel vision of worry. Somehow Boyfriend, in his graciousness, refrained from calling me a lunatic, and turned the car around and we went to Sam’s – where it turns out you do not have to be a member to get gas (insert praise hands emoji here) and I filled up that gas tank to the very last little drop. I got back in the car, signed a deep sigh of (kind-of) relief, and looked at Boyfriend’s face. It was like he didn’t know the woman who had just been in the passenger seat having the closest thing I’ve experienced to an anxiety attack for the last 20 minutes. And seeing that look on his face, I knew that this is something I absolutely have to get a handle on.
It’s been a good bit of time since then, and let me tell you, I have never struggled with anxiety like this before in my life. I have a total newfound respect for those who do. I mean TOTAL MAD PROPS to you guys for getting out of bed and being able to do things and be functional humans, because it is a HARD THING. WARRIORS, you people.
I still see my therapist once a week, and our focus the past couple of sessions has been relaxation techniques and mental imaging and breathing excercises and retraining my brain how to react to anxiety. I’ve never experienced this before, and think I may prefer being depressed and in the bed with no motivation to this hyper-vigilant high-intensity worry and panic and catastrophism. I mean, it’s from zero to “What if something happens to my mom? What if my dog dies? What if I never get a handle on this and it interferes with work? What if one more bad thing happens and I fall apart? What if it means I can’t get my phD? What if getting my phD means that I won’t be the kind of mother I want to be and I never reach any of my dreams at all, while we’re at it?”
Therapist interrupted me as soon as my babbling got to that point.
“You’re worrying about things that are years and years and years away. And if another bad thing does happen, because chances are that it will, what if another way of reacting to that is that you do what you’ve always done, which is reach out for support and connection and get through it?”
(Which was creepy, because I’d just had a pep talk with Boyfriend that was very to similar to everything she was saying: “You are capable. Think of all the difficult things you’ve walked through. You were down for a moment, but you didn’t fall apart, so why are you so fixated on worrying about something that might not even happen?”
I don’t know why, but I am certainly fixated on it, which is why I called in an extra visit to my psychiatrist to talk about possible medication changes. And I have even more anxiety about that, because taking time off of work right now means having to reschedule meetings with my juniors about building their schedules for next year. And then I have anxiety about driving all the way to Tennessee for that and it not even working: “What if even medication can’t help this and I’m just going to feel this anxious all the time forever?” I asked Therapist. “Why are you assuming defeat before you even give it a try?” she replied.
Therapist gave me a tool, then, to reframe my worry. It makes more sense to take the things I’m anxious about and do what I’ve always told everyone else to do, which is to look for what they’re trying to say, take the useful bits, and leave the parts that weigh you down. She asked me if I’d ever seen Captain America. I said no. She said this was a situation that needs to be rectified immediately. She pulled out her phone and showed me a picture of his shield, which has a bunch of concentric circles on it. “You need to figure out what your needs are. You need to figure out what’s at the core, what’s in the next circle out, and the next circle after that, and the circle after that. You need to train your brain to reframe your worry into that path instead of worrying about things that are 20 circles out or not even in a circle at all.”
We figured out that my core circle is connection with Christ. That’s classically where my security has come from. I was talking to one of my best friends, Kaitlin, on the phone the other day after I’d had an emotional prayer breakdown. I’d had a particularly anxious day, and so I came home and immediately opened one of my Ann Voskamp devotionals from Advent and started to cry-pray, saying, “I miss You, please come closer. Please come closer,” over and over again. Kaitlin and I talked about how one of our favorite seasons of life was the time during our freshman and sophomore years at Wofford where we had a weekly worship night at Wofford called United and a weekly prayer night every Sunday – we felt so connected to God and His people that it was hard to feel abandoned even when difficulties arose. I account much of my strength during my initial bout with depression to that closeness, that community, that connection to God.
My next circle out is connection with other people. I’ve felt so adrift spiritually since we lost Mags – still so many unanswered questions. If you’re there too, you understand. But it’s made it difficult to want to immerse myself in my new church with all the new people there. It’s held me back from going to Sunday night small group, where there are tons of people my age and life stage waiting to be connected with, which is what I so desperately need right now. And yet…
When panic sets in, I tend to see myself, not to mention the world, in a very different light than anyone else does. I see myself as weak and hunched over and burdened, unable to cope. The report from any other human is that I’m a strong woman who has endured a lot and will be able to endure the hard things to come. Why the discrepancy? I think it’s because anxiety and worry are deceptive. I think they literally taint my vision of myself and my capabilities, and encourage me to retreat inward and navel-gaze, when in reality, what I need to be doing is reaching out to people—to connection.
It’s just life. All of it. All of the messiness, all of the stress and panic, all of the “I’m-not-my-best-self-right-now” moments, and especially all of the “I need to rearrange an afternoon of meetings so I can get to the doctor and see if this is something serious because I need help” – it all builds up. And I lose my ability to see things clearly. And I forget important things, which is why it’s good to be around God and His people who can remind me that He’s good and worth believing even when it’s difficult.
It’s why those are my core circles in things I need to be concerned with Captain America shield. And it’s why Boyfriend is coming to church with me this week, because sometimes I get scared and need a nudge from other people. And it’s why I scheduled a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. Because it’s important to ask for help when you need it. And because anxiety is real, but mostly because I don’t want it to run and ruin my life.
So here’s to help and to honesty.
Here’s to connection, with God and others, and whatever else helps us.
Here's to the promise that He will be our peace, and bring peace season after season after season, even when the seasons don't get easier.
Yes. Here's to peace.