She’s a python
Binding me up tight
Hanging me upside down
And then blaming me
For not being able to breathe.
She’s a goalkeeper
Defending against rest
Punting stillness out of the park
Until I give up and keep moving.
She’s a circuit scrambler
Frying my logic and memory
Blowing out everything I’ve learned
About how to be grounded and return to joy
It’s true, I’m going crazy.
She’s a fortune teller
Spinning tales of calamity
Hovering pitch black over tomorrow
Somehow I’m supposed to
Ward off her curses.
She’s a pirate
Plundering all my capacity
To love, dream, plan
To produce, carry, laugh
Then leaving me stranded at sea.
If I cannot breathe
Cannot keep or give…
Why should I go on?
What good could I be to my family,
To the world?
I am lost inside myself
left with nothing but Anxiety.
Can I live in a different body?
A better world?
This is not
what God intended.
This is not His best for me.
I begin to do the work:
What purpose does she serve?
Where did she come from?
When did I invite her in?
Why is she in the driver’s seat?
This poem and the comments that follow are a bit of a departure from my usual blog-post voice, but today, after two-and-a-half years, I have the courage to share it so I’m holding my breath and clicking publish. Y’all know I’m all about vulnerability and soul-care, but this is next-level accompanied by strong opinions. On one of my scariest days, I remember reading a blog post by JJ Heller that felt like salvation. (You’re Not Going Crazy.) Just knowing I wasn’t alone was huge. So today I click publish to say to you, dear one, you are not alone. What is happening to you is not the end of the world. Many people have been right where you are today, and they are still going, and so will you.
I’m compelled to add a few strongly-worded comments. Please know this advice comes from a place of deep empathy and concern.
First of all, I’m doing well now! I got help. Looking back I can see the many confounding reasons why this all felt true on my worst days. I got help and I got better and I have so many wonderful reasons to keep going and I am so thankful for the empathy and tools I gained by going through (not around) this dark time. I wrote this poem as an assignment from my therapist: describe what anxiety is like for you.
Anxiety is not something to conquer. It’s something to manage. She’s still in my car, because I am an imperfect person raising three kids in a fallen world. My work is to listen to my body, because my body knows when Anxiety is making a move to grab the wheel again. My job is to keep her sitting in the way way back, because she sucks.
If you can relate to this, let me ask you one bell-weather question: Is this thing bigger than you?
If the answer is yes, that means you can’t manage this thing alone. PLEASE GET HELP. PROFESSIONAL HELP. Take the damn pills. Make the therapy appointment. You will be okay, but you are not okay right now, and you don’t have to fight this battle alone. It’s not just your thought life that is being affected right now. The chemistry of your brain and has been altered. Your entire body is responding physically. Neural pathways have been created and they will not magically disappear once your job gets less stressful. You were created as a whole interconnected being, body, soul and spirit. The whole thing is under attack right now, and you are not equipped to win this fight. Not yet. You can be, if you let professionals give you the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual tools you need.
Don’t use your spirituality as an excuse. You can do all things (like taking the pills and going to therapy) through Christ who strengths you. If you can really relate to the poem above, you’re past “taking every thought captive.” It’s not a fair fight. If you’re under this thing, let God pull you out using all kinds of rescuers: your friends, your therapist, your doctor, your yoga videos, your medication(s), your nature walks, your dog, your music, your confessions, your mentors, your mantras, your diet, all the things. This is the time for all hands on deck. Consider this: if you are fighting this alone in your prayer closet, you are hidden and isolated, which is EXACTLY WHERE THE ENEMY WANTS YOU TO STAY. Get out of the closet and get help.
This is not the end. You are not a victim. You are going to get better. I know how scary it is to not be able to trust your body, to experience betrayal inside yourself. There is still a beautiful life ahead. A professional counselor can help you get through this. Have I mentioned getting help?
And one final note to the friends and family of someone who seems to be struggling with anxiety: Anxiety is a real illness; it’s not just about worrying too much. Do some research about what is happening in your friend’s brain and body. It may be more serious than you think. Maybe, maybe not. Be nosey and find out. Check in on her regularly. Quietly start a GoFundMe to help him pay for therapy or time off. Take her on a walk. If he’s disappeared, don’t let him. If she says she’s okay, don’t believe her. The ship is being attacked by pirates; this is a time for all hands on deck.