Anxiety is one of my challenges.
"Normal" bodies always have a certain amount of white blood cells circulating to keep the body safe. Generally, if you have an above average amount of white blood cells, it is because your body is fighting an infection.
My body is always above that average range; it is like my body is always on high alert, even when I am perfectly healthy. My mind mirrors this, I am always on high alert and I battle with anxiety.
How do I deal with anxiety? I try to listen objectively to what the anxiety tells me and analyze whether there are any facts to support it. This process can take awhile and takes practice and sometimes I cannot do it. Maybe I have to go and investigate whether the oven is on or my kids are still breathing or if the door is still locked. When I can mentally acknowledge there are no facts to support my anxious thoughts, I practice calming techniques that work for me until I am ready to move forward again. I give myself permission to deal with the anxiety--this unseen enemy-- as a real, tangible thing, just like cleaning up vomit, or staying close to the toilet when you have diarrhea are real things. I let my body slow down and recover.
That is the pattern of coping that has sustained me for awhile, and it is not a terrible pattern, but I am starting to shift into a different pattern. In a process similar to mediation, I focus on being present and passively watch my thoughts without judgment. This requires a great deal of comfort with ambiguity, with not knowing the answer and acknowledging that I do not have the answer. This seems to be closely tied to the concept of humility, which I define as confidence in God, His timing, His purposes, and my confidence in His guiding hand in my life. Humility to me means I do not have to have the answers because I know where the answers come from and I have the confidence that He will give me answers as He sees fit. Humility requires trust. Trust develops from experience and from remembering experiences.
I have learned that anxiety causes real, tangible physical symptoms for me. When my brain sends those anxious feelings to my body, I have to wait it out. Wait and trust. Let my body slow down and recover. For me, this is the same idea as "...let your hearts be comforted... for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God." (D&C 101:16). I like the language of this scripture. He says, let your heart. The choice I have to make is to allow, to let. It is not me swimming against the mental onslaught; it is me letting go because I trust that God does want to comfort me. Then, I have to "be still". Being still, like letting my heart, is not my efforts to actively slay the dragon, it is passive, it is waiting to receive. When the dragon is breathing fire down on me, or the waters are threatening to pull me under, it takes trust, that I have developed over time, to "let [my] heart be comforted" and "be still".
I read a poem recently that I love, in the Deseret News.
It's relaxing to be humble
And exhausting to be proud
I saw an important man —
Center of attention,
Watched, looked to. Deferred to.
Earnest, trying to live up to it all,
Others giving him answers he wanted to hear
But couldn’t trust.
Weight of the world,
People depending on him
Hiding his secret fear of failure,
Of letting people down,
Burying it beneath his energy,
Always stoking up his can-do attitude.
He looked exhausted,
The exhaustion of proving himself
Over and over again.
I saw another man,
Smaller, humbler, happier,
Whistling in fact.
Somehow his load was light, though he led a church.
He’d learned not only to believe in
But to depend on Higher Power,
So he was a relaxed messenger,
A stewardship servant,
Full of love but without pressure,
A simple, can’t-do attitude
With a footnote:
“But he can”
He looked relaxed,
The escape of knowing it wasn’t
Anxiety is a mental health issue, and the key word there is health. We do not yet have good language or cultural understanding for talking about the needs of the mind. Those conversations are changing, and I am grateful to live in this time, but we still have destructive language and conversation for dealing with mental health.
Why do I need to write about this issue today? Well, I do hope that my search for clarity helps someone else gain clarity for their own situation. Writing has power, sharing with others has power. So, yes, this post is to help me organize my thoughts, but dear reader, it also for you. I have been blessed by listening to the experiences of others and using those experiences to better understand my own. I feel I am paying it forward by sharing my experience, contributing, in my small way, to the ongoing human conversation.
Anxiety is one of my challenges.
Anxiety is also one of my gifts.
Anxiety gives me the push to develop resilience, faith, and trust. Anxiety gives me the push to develop humility. My patriarchal blessing reads, "always feel secure in your strength, for it is the strength of the Lord". I think the "strength of the Lord" means, in part, humility.
God makes beauty from ashes. I know He does in my life.