If I were to describe my anxiety, as a doctor might, it might go something like this: “An overactive nervous condition when the brain predicts and over predicts and attempts to problem- solve with or without the victim’s consent and many times without concern of her best interests.” Lisa Delay
Anxiety–it can race over and through me like a speedy stream.
(This is a guest post from Lisa DeLay – enjoy)
My mother would clean when she was nervous and felt out of control. In fact, she still does.
Her house is spotless. She finds it perfectly satisfying to see a clean tub or dust-free figurines if there’s something like a family emergency, chaos or crisis among my kin, or a financial whirlwind destroying everything in its path.
I remember her fits of rage at my poor job of dusting and her incessant cleaning before houseguests arrived. It made me feel sick to my stomach with worry and helplessness.
When her and my father would fight late into the night when there was trouble about money or the mistress he found irresistible, I had insomnia even though their fighting wasn’t always that loud.
My thoughts would run in loops and I couldn’t calm them down.
I tried tricks, like counting up prime numbers or thinking up wild stories of fiction to distract my brain and hoping to drift into sleep, but it seldom worked so well.
There were times this anxious habit of hers made life hilarious in terribly awkward ways too.
When I first started seriously dating the man who would become my husband, she came into the room where we were watching a movie and nervously starting plucking bearly-noticeable pieces of lint from the carpet. Each time she bent over, my then-boyfriend had to dodge his head or he would risk getting hit by her bottom as she bent over again and again and again.
She was “on mission” and wasn’t thinking how strange and dodgy the situation was. I had to ask her to stop.
He was so red. We did all have a laugh about it, mercifully.
There were many things to feel anxious about as I grew up, so it was understandable for me to feel uptight and nervous.
But, I also felt guilty when those feelings weren’t appropriate. I felt overly responsible for all sorts of things I shouldn’t have well into my mid-twenties. I had many stomach problems and headaches as a consequence. From a young age, I was taught how to pray and I knew from that, that God could be my strength and relieve my burdens if I had faith.
My work toward finding peace was very proactive, so, my best efforts would only give me a short pause in the tumble of overthinking and psyche pain.
The speedy stream of anxiety and the bouts of depression,
that went hand-in-hand, felt like a way of life for me.
Until I wore out.
I searched for something else to have a sustainable life without the peaks and valleys. I was grieving my father and going deeper into more despair.
My extended family problems abounded and I was finding interacting with them unbearable and the worry unstoppable. Conversations with my extended family members often got me sweating, a racing heart, and a spiralling downward mood.
Was there a better way? How could a find it?
I couldn’t keep this up. I wanted peace. I needed peace.
I started looking deeper. I started asking hard questions. Finally, little by little I found a few stepping stones to cross this speedy stream.
It came by realising that my anxiety wasn’t ordinary worry. It wasn’t that I need to just “calm down” or “give it over to God to let God handle it.”
What had once started as a reaction to my toxic childhood environment couldn’t sustain me in my adult life. My anxious thoughts were actually connected to a sense that there was something deeply wrong and unlovable about me.
It was shame unabated.
Shame fed off itself, circled back, and streamed past like
unending white water in my heart.
The wonderful books of Henri Nouwen and Brené Brown (and others) began to crack open this hidden and wounded inner world of mine.
I began a journey. It was a fearful undertaking at first: I felt vulnerable, raw, and open to threats like never before.
Slowly, and with the help of a loving husband, a few kind friends (and some missteps along the way!) I gathered my courage and kept taking each new step. I began understanding my inner life better, talking about the instances (and themes) that made me most anxious and, yes, sometimes I was taking medication.
It made a big difference because medication gave me a chance to have some distance from my bodily responses and think deeply with a clearer head about difficult memories.
Over the years, I’ve made genuine progress. There is no doubt in my mind. I’m a better parent to my children for all this hard work too. The physical symptoms diminished when I would speak to my family or discuss difficult memories.
I might feel anxious and I might feel down at points along the way, especially if a batch of negative and difficult things happen all at once. I still find my path at the edge of speedy streams and I find myself wondering …
“How am I going to cross this time? I feel scared.”
I’m thankful that digging deeper within, and continuing along in that way of being, offered me some tools to see stepping stones when I find myself at the water’s edge. With this experience I’ve gained some valuable perspective; and realising the true triggers of my pain gives me a way to know that my predictive brain will want to protect me and overthink, in stressful or unfamiliar situations.
Knowing myself more deeply, I offer to myself (and hopefully others too) a bit more grace no matter what stream I have to cross.
Quotes to consider
- Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. Carl Jung
- If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days. Kris Carr
- The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking. Wayne Dyer
Questions to answer and leave a comment below or anonymously
- What do times of anxiety feel like, in a bodily way, for you?
- In what circumstances do you sense the onset of shameful feelings?
- Can you identify anything neurotic you do when you feel upset or anxious? (like cleaning, overeating, binge-watching movies, shopping, shutting people out etc?)
Lisa DeLay describes herself as a broadcaster, creator, writer, teacher, graphic designer, mother, wife, friend, techie/nerd. Her educational background is in visual art and graphic design and she has a graduate degree in Spiritual Formation. Lisa teaches Masters students at Gratz College and has written a handful of books (you can find on Amazon.com.) Each Wednesday, she releases a new podcast episode for her program called Spark My Muse Follow her on Twitter @lisadelay and say “hello”.
Note from Barry. I really enjoy Lisa’s podcast and would highly recommend it.
Image: Jérôme Prax