Someone help me.
I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.
There is no space for silence. For reflection.
I chase my tail from morning till night.
I’m hitting a wall.
I can’t be sure what’s going on actually. For the past three or four weeks, I feel like I’m drowning. Suffocating, actually. I don’t really think it’s the school. I don’t think it’s work. It sure isn’t my family. So what is it?
There feels to be a set of hands growing around my throat gradually getting tighter without my even noticing. And by the time I do notice, it’s when as stressful event has happened and the restricted breathing room suddenly makes itself known.
It could be a panic attack. Or an anxiety attack. I guess I don’t know for sure. This hasn’t happened to me in years.
Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of it all. Too many early mornings. Too much school. Too much work. Falling behind on other important things. Relational stressors that percolate on the sidelines that I can’t do much about other than try to weather till it gets better. Not enough sleep. Too much caffeine. Not enough time for social interaction. Too many gloomy days.
Who knows really?
I’ve tried to get a hold on it on my own. I’ve focused my thoughts on positivity and uplifting things. I’ve let certain duties slide to give myself a break. I’ve tried to get out more. But it’s not really working.
So this is embarrassing. I’m on the bathroom floor with my clothes half off, a migraine tearing my face off, and suddenly, the inability to get in adequate air. Sure it was a stressful day, but this response seems way out of proportion. What the hell is going on?
My family is literally feet away on the other side of the door, but I don’t want to cause them alarm.
I feel like there should be some thingI could attribute this to. Some THING that happened. But I can’t really trace it.
It passes. All but the piercing headache. I wonder if my face will give me away. Are my eyes bloodshot now? I mean, it’s just a random Wednesday night, after all. I don’t really want it to turn into something more than that. I don’t want to need silence and darkness and a handful of Advil. I don’t want to wonder if I’m going nuts.
I come out to make dinner and am met by a set of eyes that immediately notice the pain in mine. I’m quickly taken to my bedroom and tucked in. He rubs my feet and asks what happened and tries to make it better. He makes the dinner so I can sleep. He tells the kids to be quiet because my head hurts. And all of this is like being wrapped in a warm bandage except for the fact that I’m still embarrassed. I don’t even know what happened to make me lose my shit on the bathroom floor and even require this sort of assistance. But here I am… tucked in to warmth and safety. Resting in silence. Contemplating and seeking. Feeling thankful for the dearest man I’ve ever met. Pillow damp from unwelcomed tears. But calm. Finally.
Within a week, it’s ramped up even more. And I don’t know why. I don’t know what. I don’t know how to make it stop.
All the self-medication in the world isn’t keeping it at bay.
All of my best tricks aren’t working.
And then the sleepless nights start.
Memories of years of severe insomnia bring me quickly to a state of panic. There’s a reason this sort of thing is used to torture a person, to break them. Because it’s so dang effective.
I feel like I’m standing in a pool that is filled to just over my nose. Death and drowning need not happen if I stand on my very tippy toes or bob up and down for air. And so, I dutifully do just that. I know how to manage the beast called insomnia. I know how to see morning light without having arrived at sleep for even a moment. But it’s hard. It’s work. And it does require constant effort to not slip into The Scary Place. If I drop off my tip-toes or stop this continual effort of reaching up for air each second, the first domino will fall. And when it falls, it will begin the falling of a thousand more that I cannot stop.
Some nights I make it. Others, I don’t.
All I know is that I’m hitting a wall faster than I have ever hit a wall before.
And I need to make this stop. Fast.
Months ago, I planned a weekend getaway with some of my favorite girls. When the time finally arrived for us to go, it happened to be after three solid weeks of this stuff. To say that I no longer wanted to go is a massive understatement.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the entire host of hell seemed bent on me not going. Every single catastrophe that could have happened in the days preceding my supposed departure indeed happened. Even the morning that I left was filled with frivolous little challenges that I would normally have had no trouble working through. But in my somewhat disabled state of constant headaches, chronic pain, sudden onset anxiety, and desperate sleep deficit, I wasn’t managing well.
But I went anyway. Mostly because I was driving and people were riding with me.
We arrived to find the world’s sweetest farmhouse. The food was wonderful. The talk was deep. The beds were cozy. And the laughter came straight from the belly.
The next morning, we agreed to spend some individual time in solitude. And so, off we went in our own directions.
After I’d walked about a half mile down the dirt road, I realized that my brain was still in 5thgear, revved up and working hard.
Willing away the thoughts crowding in, I could feel the familiar control begin to take form.
Slowing my feet from breakneck speed to a slow and gentle meander, my blood pulsed slower.
I smelled some purple flowers that grew on the side of the road. I kicked a rock and then walked a few more paces to do it again.
I looked up at the great expanse above my head. Limitless and infinite. Sometimes even hard to look at without squinting.
Wind rustled through the corn and a sharp cold wind penetrated my thin pants. But I welcomed the sting.
By now, my mind was slow. Controlled. Empty. Tiny white puffs were sent forth from my nose with each breath.
I assess my current state of affairs briefly. Not enough to become enveloped in it, but an acknowledgement just the same.
Why am I feeling so… overwhelmed? So overloaded?
Is it really that I can’t bear this much burden or is it something else?
I feel like I’m drowning and nothing in my circumstantial world merits that sort of distress.
Memories of recent moments of panic flood over me. Emotions swirl in the air. My breathing falls shallow, and I can feel the sting in my eyes and the lump in my throat.
I really can’t keep doing this. It’s not that it’s been three bad weeks, it’s that I’ve done this before. Done this thing where something physiological takes over and holds me under. I know how bad it gets. I have spent the year on bedrest and have taken the endless pills. I’ve already walked this road and my entire being groans at the idea of walking it again. But I don’t really know what’s causing it. I don’t know what’s bringing me to my knees like this.
A bird swoops past me and stops on the ground just a few feet away. I stop. I come low to the ground. I stare.
Such intricate patterns on her feathers.
She looks me in the eye – or so it seems.
So empty of care. She just is.
The words flash through my brain like a lightning bolt.
Consider the birds of the air. They do not sow. They do not reap and gather. Your heavenly Father knows their need. And are you not of much greater value than they?
The weeds bend in the wind. Already brown from the early cold. I pull my clasped fingers across the length of one and gather the seeds like a small shrub in the tops of my fingers.
All around me is beautiful. A picture worthy of a postcard. A foggy fall morning. Distant barns hide under the enormity of oak trees. The wind whistles past my ears, but other than that, the world is quiet and peaceful. So much unlike the one I live in with its loud noises and heavy demands. All there is for me here is fresh air, contemplation, and zero agenda.
I start to walk again. In the beauty of the moment, I can still feel the emotion within pressing hard against my skin. Asking to be acknowledged. Aching to be relieved.
What would you have me do?
I need to hear from you.
Sometimes I wish it were easier – that I could just look up and get a word from you.
It’s not that I’m unwilling. This time, it’s that I really don’t know.
What is off? What needs changing? What is causing this strangulation?
I work hard even still to keep my mind quiet and present. I practice the art of solitude. The forceful pressing out of frivolous thought and the disciplined stillness of being in that empty space. The intentional listening while silencing the pseudo voices created within my own head in a seeming response. A self-inspired answer. Not really the kind I want right now.
Around the time I was beginning to wonder if this time in solitude would prove different than the other times, I decided it was time to turn around and return back to the farm so I didn’t end up lost. I looked around me to see if I could still spot the tiny white house and the neighboring log cabin. Not five feet in front of me was one word. One word. In all of the earth that was presently available to my eyes, only one word was available.
It sat neatly in an octagon of red.
I stared at it for a while. For several minutes actually.
It’s always a difficult thing to decide if perception or imagination are at work.
Is that for me?
Is that what I’m doing wrong? Going so hard?
Or am I chasing something I’m maybe not meant to chase?
And just like that, I was back at the farm drinking tea with the girls and wondering quietly what on earth I might need to stop.
Later that day, I lay on my bed and let my fingers expel the contents of my brain onto a recipe card found in the kitchen.
Cast your cares on me for I care for you.
Be anxious for nothing.
I see the sparrows and clothe the lilies; do not fear. I see you.
Search for simplicity.
Do not compare your troubles. Comparison is the thief of happiness. All have burdens to bear. Look inward.
Let go of the things that wrap their fingers around your throat. That strangle you.
I see you. I know you. I have always known you.
Guard against negativity. Think on things that are pure and lovely and good. Do not ruminate on your anxious thoughts and give no home to fear.
Actively trust me.
Help me to stop. Overloading. Comparing. Resenting. Fearing. Being an empty well. Fixating.
Help me to simplify. Focus on now. Forgive and trust. Fill and be filled. Let go.
It’s Saturday morning now. A week since my encounter with the stop sign and endless skies. I’ve taken a lot of drastic action to provide some relief for myself. I dropped my hardest class – the one that was literally giving me ulcers. I pulled back on my hours at work. I am forcing myself to bed an hour earlier. I reduced my coffee intake drastically replaced it with a special blend of herbal tea meant to relieve stress and boost immune function. I’ve also greatly tightened the reins of my mind. No longer is it allowed to run to negative thoughts or my present stressors and stay there in unhealthy rumination. No longer do I feel caught by the throat or the water rising above my nose. It’s only one bad decision away, but it is at bay.
I find that two of the very best remedies for most of what life has to offer is 1) active, deliberate changing of circumstances, and 2) active, deliberate changing of thought.
As a man thinketh, so he is.
I can’t be sure about the stop sign, to be honest. On the one hand, I do believe that God interacts with me and that hearing from him in the form of one lone word spelled out in front of my face in the midst of an otherwise wordless horizon is definitely within the range of possible. But I also know the endless creativity of the white blob in my head and how it seeks and searches constantly for meaning and for words to wrap meaning around and for happy story lines. So, yeah. I can’t be sure. But I chose to heed it’s advice, just the same.
Bill pointed out to me that stop signs don’t necessarily mean a permanent stop either. They are there so that a person applies the brakes when necessary and for long enough to assess and before proceeding.
Within my deepest being, for at least two decades, I’ve felt the pressure to write. To use this little knack that God gave me for something more than Facebook posts and a blog that is largely dead. But, for reasons that would be understood easily by most people who have a form of art to share, I just haven’t. It’s hard. It’s vulnerable. It’s tiring. And yet, I feel the pressure of twenty five books swirling around in my brain. Getting it from brain to paper is, as is most art, relatively awful. As they say, everyone likes to “have written”, but no one likes to write. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s time to face the music and put fingers to keys and just do the dang thing.
The first thing that occurs to me as I try to dissect the real tangible fact that I just experienced something of a mini breakdown and the fact that I do still very much want to go into this field of helping people navigate their traumas and griefs is to: Stop. Pause. Assess. Take a break. And then, when all signs are green, proceed with caution.
And in the meantime, let the dang book out. One of them at least.
Who knows what I’ll do with it or if it will be worth anything at all. But it’s time to listen to the voice that says “Don’t bury your talent.” Maybe later there will be time for seeking Heather’s ambitions, but right now, I think I need to seek this important task. Staying on the path I chose rather than the one that was clearly marked for me feels a little like heading for Tarshish when the message was clearly Nineveh. And no one likes being in the belly of a whale.
Please spit me out now so I can get back to the right path.
For now, my nerves are calm, and my heart is settled. I will do this thing. I will stop talking about doing it, and I’ll just make it happen. I’ll finish what’s in front of me first – this semester. But then I will take a break from the course I plodded for myself to do something long overdue.
And as I do it, I will be mindful of the moving pieces of my life. I will not be owned by anxious thoughts and all the bad things that come from them. I will not overload myself. I will not crowd out peace and tranquility in efforts of productivity. I will order my life right and make strong decisive action choices to remedy what’s wrong. I will pause at the red octagon. Look around me. Decide where I am and where I am meant to go. And then proceed with caution.