I want to write about something I’ve been wrestling with lately. This is definitely somewhat related to my looking back post, but a somewhat different take on it. Namely, the relationships I do still have but which I question the overall desirability of keeping.
My heart keeps coming back to this place of tension due the fact that I am someone who generally values relationships, probably because I don’t build them easily, but there are several relationships in my life which no longer feel healthy for me to be in. Some of these relationships are with people and some are with institutions, but the common denominator seems to be that I have changed quite a bit over the past five years especially and can no longer relate in the same ways.
My natural inclination has been to see if there is some way the relationships themselves can be adapted. If I have changed and they haven’t, is there some way in which the way we interact can also change so that all parties can move forward, albeit with different expectations?
This feels like the right way forward… except I am not sure it is a way forward at all, when you get right down to it. By their nature, relationships rely on at least two parties, so if there is only one party attempting to make adjustments and the other party doesn’t seem to even register a need for such an effort, can the fundamental nature of any change be mutually beneficial?
In the places in my life where I have noticed this tension, it has begun to feel more and more as though the onus to adapt to the new paradigm is only on me. This does not strike me as fair.
An example, since this feels abstract: I have several long-term relationships with various people of the friends and family varieties While we’ve probably been drifting further and further apart ideologically for some time, the advent of the pandemic has really thrown a lot of the changes into stark relief and in a way where it’s not always possible to just accept we don’t agree and avoid the topic. I no longer feel comfortable being physically around these people, because they not only won’t wear masks if they don’t have to, they won’t get vaccinated and they associate with a whole lot of other like-minded individuals.
I cannot ignore this. So the nature of the relationship has changed such that I will not put myself or my equally cautious loved ones at risk for the sake of spending time in person with this segment of my relationships.
This is all bad enough, in my opinion, but what makes the whole equation feel even more unbalanced to me is that I don’t even feel like I can have an honest exchange of ideas with any of these people.
Shortly after I got vaccinated, I was on the phone with a friend and mentioned I had gotten the Moderna and – honestly just assuming she would be getting the vaccine – asked if she had gotten hers or was planning on it soon. It didn’t even enter my mind that she wouldn’t.
You know what they say about making assumptions.
In one conversation that quickly turned very uncomfortable, I learned that not only would she and her family not be getting vaccinated, she is generally against vaccines and a whole bunch of other things I am not going to get into here because I don’t think it’s right for me to get into that level of detail about someone else’s beliefs.
I will say that it wasn’t a productive conversation from there. Anything I had to say was met with a barrage of anecdotal evidence or statements that it appears I was meant to take as factual even though they lacked supporting evidence. My opinions on anything to do with regard to COVID-19 were – it became clear to me – uninformed, misguided and just wrong. (And, you know, I will absolutely admit I am not a scientist or a doctor and I am by no means an expert, but I do make the effort to have my opinion informed by those who are doctors – including my family doctor – and scientists and experts, not by random people on social media or pundits on the news. So there’s that.)
After getting off the phone, I talked to Casey, and caught him up on the overall gist of the conversation. The only conclusion we could draw was that there doesn’t seem to be any chance of our getting together with this friend or her family any time in the near future, if ever.
Then there’s my family. They mocked me to my face at my father’s deathbed for wearing a mask while they did not. Every time I insisted I would not eat at all or would eat outside in the Minnesota winter, I was met scorn and derision. “What is it about you that makes you so afraid of this?” my mom asked me at one point.
What is it about me?
There are layers of emotional response I am having in the wake of these encounters.
I’m annoyed that I have to be the one to set boundaries with friends and family because somehow being asked to wear a mask in public is the most horrific infringement of human rights that has apparently ever happened.
I’m really hurt and saddened by the fact that my health – whether it is physical or mental – doesn’t matter one iota to people who have told me to my face they love me.
I’m frustrated that there doesn’t appear to be any attempt on their part to demonstrate an attempt to understand or show empathy for me or my point of view when I feel I have tried to extend that courtesy to them.
I’m livid that all these people talk about God and their not-at-all-Christlike Christianity and think they have all the answers but honestly don’t seem to understand the really basic idea of love your neighbor. Even the one who you disagree with. (More on this in a future post.)
Tension. It’s very present in my relationships right now, and I think the worst part is that somehow I am expected by all these various parties and entities to be the one who has to navigate it all with some modicum of grace. Doubtless this is because I am the one who changed.
I reject that. Emphatically.
At the start of this post, I said I wasn’t sure that the relationships are worth trying to salvage. I still don’t know that there is a way forward. I don’t think it’s worth my time or energy to try to accommodate the incurious, the close-minded, the people who think they have found The Truth. There is literally no reasoning with such people.
Several weeks ago, Casey and I were on the couch in the living room, winding down for the evening as we so often do with a drink and a selection of short clips on YouTube. While we mainly stick to clips from various late night shows and commentators on the news, we do occasionally find something else that looks interesting or funny enough to watch.
On the evening in question, a video about the different sounds cats make popped up and while I honestly don’t remember what prompted us to watch it, we did.
Heimdall (these days his name has been warped into Memers) was on the couch with us and as the video went on, I noticed him move. He did so gradually, rising from where he had been settled with Casey, and slowly, slowly made his way across Casey’s lap, headed towards the edge of the couch closest to the stairs. As he moved, his gaze was locked onto the wall-mounted television.
Then the video ended and in a blur of motion with the sound of scrabbling claws on the floor as he tried and largely failed to gain purchase on the hardwood flooring, he was gone, puffy-tailed and obviously freaked out.
We laughed. Of course we did. Both because of the suddenness of it and because Memers is still pretty small and because our interpretation of events was that he had just seen some kind of giant monster-cat who was somehow perched above the whole room and who had recently been saying something that was perhaps in some way menacing or untoward.
Immediately after laughing, I felt a little bad, but figured that he would soon be over it since nothing ever seems to keep his adventurous spirit down for long.
It being late, we turned off the television and began to go through the stages of our bedtime routine. It was then that I noticed Talisker on the landing of the stairs, crouched low and half hidden around the bend of the stairs. He had caught Memers’ terror and I immediately felt far worse for him than I had for Memers, since Tal is nothing if not perpetually jumpy. We often wonder what happened to him in his early life to make him so wary and the caution that we noticed in him so early on has not left him in the 18 months we’ve had him. I don’t think it ever will.
I’ve learned, over time, that Tal does not find it soothing to have human contact on any terms that are not his own, so I simply sat on the other couch, where I could watch him as he crouched on the stairs, obviously torn between his fear of whatever had just taken place downstairs and his desire to come down and take advantage of the fact that part of the bedtime routine is feeding the cats and Casey was even then refiling their bowls.
For his part, Memes was hiding behind the other couch, between it and the wall, giving me a clue just how spooked he was. Memers is nothing if not a little pigger come feeding time.
Because I somehow ended up being the one to completely fall in love with these two cats, I delayed going to bed for a while, even as Casey concluded filling their bowls and headed upstairs to brush his teeth. Talisker disappeared for a while, running away when Casey started up the stairs, clearly convinced that he was the motivation of a human heading in his general direction.
I called him, pointlessly, because he never comes when called unless he can see you have a special treat for him.
Memes continued to hide behind the couch, only his face barely visible, his entire posture somehow expressive of his readiness to retreat further, should any giant demon cats emerge from nowhere.
Eventually, Tal had gotten so brave as to make it down to the penultimate step before hitting the main floor. He paused for a long while, grandly ignoring me as I made small coaxing noises. With aching slowness, one paw touched the ground and then another, both back paws remaining on the step while he ascertained what he could of the room.
And then? Then my sweet little Tal Tal, who so often seems afraid of his own shadow, crept into the living room. He circled to the left, still ignoring me, but craning to get a good look at the rest of the couch I was sitting on. No demon cats there.
Staying low, he continued past me, scoping out the various new angles of the room as they came to him. Nothing under the coffee table. Nothing on the coffee table. There was a long hesitation as he tried to see the top of a tall cabinet that sits underneath the television, but he kept going until he had circled around the coffee table and back to where I was.
I understood as he made this circuit that he was simply gathering information for himself. Was the room safe? Was he safe?
He seemed a bit more relaxed as he came back to where I was sitting, and didn’t bolt when I moved to scoop him up. From my arms, I showed him the top of the tall cabinet and then took him past the stairs and into the kitchen, where we circled the island and then I put him back down.
No demon cats here, buddy. It’s safe. You’re safe.
I sat back down on the couch, watching as Tal went to where Memes was still hiding behind the couch. They sniffed at each other cautiously, they way they sometimes do, when there’s apparently some need to verify on an olfactory level that their eyes don’t deceive them and that other cat is who it appears to be.
I told Casey all about it and I am telling the story here, because I was so moved by it. Living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as I do, I have often said that if I were a cat, I would be Tal – or that if he were a person, he would be me. He gets scared and runs to hide whenever he hears someone coming down the stairs (even though it’s always just me or Casey) in the same nonsensical way I get scared of trying a new food (even though I have never shown signs of having any allergies to anything other than pollen in my entire life).
To see him confront the danger of the unknown in such a practical way was another kind of parallel. I often badger Casey to Google things on my behalf (hypochondriacs shouldn’t look up medical information on the internet, I’ve found), and it’s for exactly the same reason. I need to understand the lay of the land and have information so I can have some assurances I am safe. I need to clear my mind of my own demon cat fears.
And I think there was good lesson in there for Casey, as well. It doubtless seems ridiculous to him that I am, in Talisker terms, afraid of him coming down the stairs, even though every time I run and hide it’s always for no reason at all.
“I can’t control this,” I told him. “But I can be brave, like Tal was brave, and I can seek out information until I feel like I know enough to feel safe.”
Just because something doesn’t appear to be brave doesn’t mean that it isn’t.
Just because someone doesn’t appear to be brave, doesn’t mean that they aren’t. You never know when something that may seem ridiculous to you is, in fact, something that requires great courage on the part of the person – or cat – doing it.
I wanted to say, “Hello!” all Hannah Hart style but, uh, it’s been a while. A long while. A long while made longer by the fact that I am constantly starting posts and never publishing them.
So here we are. March something or other and a few months down the road from what is usually my annual post about #OneWord365 and I am just as scattered and incoherent as ever I was back in those good, old KMA days.
I bring up KMA, because I miss that time so desperately as of late. I miss the person I was and the freedom that I had to talk about anything I wanted and in pretty much any manner I desired. I miss Alas and find this Lesley person to be a grave disappointment in many ways.
So even though it’s March and I’ve been AWOL for quite some time, I wanted to spend some time talking about my #OneWord2018 and I also just want to spend more time here in general. I am not sure that will happen, seeing as how I am stretched oh so thin these days what with school and work and a social life and MOAR school, but the desire is most definitely there.
Unlike last year when I agonized over my #OneWord and then ended up settling on three words, this year came easily and dropped outta nowhere. (Not quite nowhere. My husband has some Gordon heritage.)
As you are supposed to do, I have been spending a fair amount of time contemplating my #OneWord and it’s been a very different kind of experience for me, this year. I’m not 100% sure why that is, but I do have some thoughts.
I think part of it is that my #OneWord is kind of a big word, with a lot of different directions that I am able to associate with it. I chose – or it chose me – bydand, which is a Scots word and the motto of the Gordon clan. It means ‘steadfast’or ‘abiding’ or even ‘stand and fight.’
I’ve been thinking about how I don’t fight enough these days. I have been more inclined to shrug and think that people can have their opinions, which is true. But I am also entitled to my own opinions and even to sharing them with people who I know won’t necessarily agree.
On the flip side, a quote from Bosch (the TV show, not the books) got me thinking about the corollary. To paraphrase wildly, Bosch said he had gotten some “squid” tattoos on his knuckles: “Hold Fast.” His partner asked a question about “Hold fast to what?” to which Bosch replied, “To everything good, to anything that matters.” (Still paraphrasing. Wildly.)
YES. All the yes.
I have done a poor job of this in many ways. There are relationships I let lapse and I bitterly regret that. There are aspects of myself I have buried in what is commonly acceptable and this is just as bitter to me, because giving up who you are is always a tragedy (unless who you are is a raging asshole. I hope this is not true of me, but… y’know… let me know!).
Likewise, there are things that are not worth keeping around. So, yeah, hold fast to the good things that matter, but if you have toxic shit in your life? Throw it out as fast as you can. Like, yesterday.
Hold fast and let go.
Two sides of the same coin.
I think more about holding fast, mostly because these days I am holding fast to only one or two things when I would like to be retaining a dozen. I also think about it the context of my mental illness and the fact that I am so insanely good at believing terrible things but instantly scoff at the idea of anything good happening in my life.
This, despite all the arguably amazing and wonderful things in my life.
It makes no sense, but when have I ever?
Stand and fight.
I am not sure where bydand is taking me in this year. I do know I have already been challenged in many ways and that the outcomes are going to be mainly positive for me (or at least, I hope so), if only I can step outside of mental illness and discomfort and into some kind of positivity and hope.
I want to talk about it more, and I hope I can find the time and space to do so here. Y’all know I’ve always processed through writing. Whether or not anyone ever reads this is somewhat immaterial because I need to bleed my thoughts in order to analyze them.
If you’re here, if you care or don’t care, thank you for reading. I appreciate it.
The Isle of Skye is probably the most breathtakingly beautiful place I’ve ever been in my whole life. I suspect it may be the pinnacle of all earthly creation and I say this despite how fond I am of the mountains in my own back yard. I’d recommend everyone go there if they ever the chance, but I’d also say that you might need to love the rain or you might need to be the owner (or married to the owner) of a magic umbrella.
Casey owns a magic umbrella, so our trip to Skye was perfection.
We had debated for quite a while whether or not we would even go to Skye. At this point of our UK Adventure, we had arrived at Loch Tay in Scotland, the leg of our trip I had been most looking forward to. I think we were all a bit tired of being in the minivan and considering only Casey and his father were supposed to be driving, the idea of making it from Kenmore up to Inverness – to see Culloden Field, which was the one thing I absolutely had to do – and then cut all the way across to Skye was a bit daunting.
In the end though, we agreed that although it would be a long drive, we were much closer now than any of us would be in a few weeks and come on. It’s Skye.
To make the logistics a bit more difficult, we knew that we would have to try to find lodging once we got there. The gentleman who sold us some lunch supplies near Invermoriston on the banks of the Loch Ness told us we were crazy and that we should have made some sort of reservation a few weeks ago at the very latest.
We didn’t let that sort of pessimistic talk deter us and continued on our way. The closer we got, the more epic the scenery became. It’s truly the kind of beauty that could kill you with the longing to see it again. I don’t know how the people who live there cannot all be poets and photographers and painters. Or maybe they are. I didn’t get to meet any of them to talk to them about it.
Once we’d crossed over the bridge onto Skye, we all whipped out our cell phones and got down to the business of trying to find a place to stay. As our friend from the shores of Loch Ness had cautioned, it wasn’t looking too promising.
But God was watching out for us, because I eventually discovered a place in Carbost called the Old Inn, which claimed to have a bunkhouse attached. I called to see if they had enough space for five adults and the answer came back that they did, but that we would all have to be split up amongst three separate rooms. A hostel is hardly my idea of staying within my comfort zone, but after all, I had signed up for adventure. And there was no room at the Inn, Old or otherwise.
The rest of the drive to Carbost was filled with gorgeous scenery and a familiar sense of disquiet. It didn’t take any figuring to reach the conclusion that we weren’t going to have anything in the way of cell reception. If the medical emergency I’d been waiting for since October the year before finally decided to strike, I figured I was probably toast.
I just have a cheerful outlook like that.
Arriving in Carbost, we found the hostel was conveniently located a mere stroll from the only distillery on the whole Isle of Skye. We’d had no idea it was there when we reserved the remaining bunks, but it was quite fortuitous that things turned out that way. If the one thing I had to do was walk Drumossie Moor, well, the one thing Casey pined after was a chance to see how real Scottish Whiskey was made. And, you know, to have a free tasting. Priorities.
We secured our bunks, split up among three rooms as promised. My sister-in-law had begged and wheedled from the initial phone call all the way there to be permitted to stay in the room that only had one bunk. I think of myself at any age and in any state of mental health and know that I would never have wanted to be left alone in a room full of strangers. Either I’m not independent enough or my introversion really can be crippling. I admired Tori though, and was secretly pleased for her when she got her way.
The Old Inn boasts a pub, so we all headed over for dinner after getting settled. The place was surprisingly packed for such a tiny little scrap of a town on the edge of the western coast of Skye, but we managed a table and the food was really excellent. There was to be live music later, but we decided on a walk after eating and meandered down to a pier and back, taking our sweet time about it and reveling in the beauty.
And the weird signs.
As we walked, we firmed up plans for the following day. We’d kick things off with a tour of the Talisker Distillery because who doesn’t want a dram of Scotch first thing in the morning? After that, we decided we would head out to Neist Point, which – insofar as I have one – turned out to be my spiritual center.
If I could force people to listen to certain music as they read these words, this is the section where I would insist people listen to “Mightier” by Aaron Strumple, who doesn’t even have the decency to put out the best version of his own song that I’ve ever heard. Sorry, Aaron. It’s true. The worship team at The Fellowship often does it better. But you wrote the words and for that? I will give you everlasting credit. And profound thanks.
Plus, “Mightier” came out in 2015, and that was the same year I stood on the shores of Skye and felt all the things that are in this song echoing in my head but without the lyrics to put voice to them. I wish I’d had those lyrics then. I was with my husband’s folk, and they are almost all musical and we could have had the most beautiful and amazing worship service there on the rocks of Neist Point had we had the words, the talent and soft hearts. Probably, mine was the only heart that needed softening before that day and before I found my spiritual center.
I’m not entirely certain I can convey what I mean by that, but I’ll take a run at it anyhow. Maybe it’s that I’ve always seen God in his creation, and most particularly in the rocks and mountains. Maybe it’s that the whole day was basically a microcosm of the lessons I’ve been learning ever since my trip to the UK. Maybe it’s just the sort of place that feels holy, despite being covered with sheep dung.
Whatever part or parts of any of that it might’ve been [1. Probably not the poop part], it is still the shore of Skye that seems to resonate with me on some deep level. It is the mental picture I hold in my times of closest intimacy with my God.
Funny how when I was there, I had absolutely no idea how important it would become for me. Which is not to say that it didn’t impact me. It did, and profoundly so. I had just imagined that the impact was all cerebral and not spiritual. But Neist Point is where my heart started to soften a bit and where so many of my spiritual cairns mark a path out of darkness and into the light.
It was drizzling by the time we arrived there, and everything was shrouded in a wispy fog. I was cold at first, but between a borrowed extra jacket and the long walk we had from the parking lot down to the shore, I soon warmed up. Even had that not been the case, I think the wild beauty of the place would have soon distracted me from any physical discomfort. I know I forgot to be afraid the whole time we were there.
How can I convey the magic of this place? They say a picture is worth one thousand words and I have dozens and dozens of pictures, some of them quite spectacular, and even they fill me with a vague sense of disappointment. A picture can’t capture the bracing breeze or the scent of the sea. A picture can’t tell you anything about the slipperiness of the path or the constant bobbing everyone’s necks did as we focused one moment on our feet to make sure we weren’t about to land in a steaming pile of sheep dung and on the next moment had to look up, had to look around, had to draw everyone else’s attention to that cliff, this view, that unearthly clear patch of bright blue water.
There’s a collection of older buildings there, one made to look like a lighthouse. They are painted gold and white and are striking against the endless green of the hills and the pale blue of the ocean. They are also abandoned, a melancholy end to what must have once been a rather charming B&B. The very remoteness of the place – not to mention the walk down to it from the parking lot – makes this understandable.
From the looks of things, there used to also be a place where guests or perhaps supplies might arrive via boat, and from there it was just a moderate tromp through the soggy mixture of grass and mud and, yes, sheep poop to arrive at the buildings. I keep mentioning the poop because you have never in your life seen so much sheep poop all in one place unless you are a sheep farmer. I just want that to be clear.
Beyond the decrepit former B&B was the rocky coast, and that was something else again. Again, I find myself frustrated with the lack of words to adequately describe how it was.
There was an absolutely massive tumble of rocks, none of which looked as though they could possibly be natural or original to the area. They were so largely uniform in size and general shape, all squared off, as though they had been shaped and used to build some sort of structure.
For all I know, that’s exactly what happened. They seem to have a great fondness in that region for dry-stacking walls. Why not buildings without mortar?
Probably nearly every visitor before and after us had taken the time to stack a few of the rocks, one atop another, a beach full of cairns leading nowhere and signifying nothing other than that their makers had been there.
We didn’t make one, but that was probably only because my father in law had the notion to build a mini henge and that was enough fun to engage most of us in its making and subsequent photography shoot.
Beyond those stones was another type of rock, this one obviously more natural and rumored to be part of the Scottish side of the Giant’s Causeway, the more famous half of which is in Ireland. But it was unnatural in its own way. Closer to shore, all the terrain was grey. Further out, where the waves sighed against the stones, they were a stark black. It’s the sort of place that can make rocks interesting enough that you understand why some people major in geology.
We climbed all over the rocks, out to the ocean and looked out over the waves. Watching the mindless surge of the water against the pillars of stone, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the rock formation had been worn away by that endless striving. Jellyfish were occasionally visible and the seabirds wheeled overhead, raucous and wonderful in that setting in a way seagulls just aren’t around dumpsters in a parking lot in Salt Lake City.
Overcome by the beauty of it all, I found a place to sit, sheltered from the wind by an outcropping and with a good view out over the water. Time stood still while I sat there, watching the skies clear from the mist that had enshrouded them. Eventually, I could see small blurs of land on the horizon – other islands – and the distinct line on the horizon where sky meets water.
Eventually, we had to get going. Our stay on Skye was only ever meant to be the one night and we had a long drive back to Loch Tay before nightfall.
The walk back up to the parking lot warmed me so thoroughly that I was almost wishing for the mist and the wind again, but sunshine had arrived and burned off the clouds and spread a gentle warmth over everything.
As a result, the landscape was even more spectacular on the way up than it had been on the way down.
“Oh come on!” Tori blurted at one point, her eyes fixed on the cliff opposite of a small inlet of water from where we stood. “There was a waterfall hidden over there the whole time?”
I knew what she meant. It was just too much.
Since that day, I’ve looked back and back and back again. I can’t get any of it out of my head, and nor do I want to.
I said earlier it was a microcosm of my life since then, so having said all of the above, let me now try to explain that statement.
I arrived at the most beautiful and peaceful place my soul has ever known in the midst of a shroud of rain and clouds. Kind of like how I arrived back in an active relationship with God, my beautiful refuge, in the midst of a shroud of anxiety.
I descended down a slippery and treacherous path that was covered with poop, finding even hidden beauty along the way until I came to the water. Sort of how I descended through the layers of myself, headed towards bottom, still finding some good things but mostly just blinded by the fog until at last I came to the end of myself and was faced with the waters of change.
And though others were with me on that day and though certainly others have been with me on my personal journey back towards wholeness, my contemplation of the sea that day was just as solitary as my spiritual journey has been at times. Solitude can be either peaceful or just lonely and I have been both, but I have also been brought to a deeper understanding of the fact that I am never truly alone for my God is always surrounding me, inside and out, and this truth has been one I have clung to through many fearful nights since.
Lastly, in many ways, coming back up the hill was so much more difficult than going down could ever be. Burning muscles, shortness of breath, exertion. In my spiritual journey, putting my whole trust in God to keep me often feels like one step forward and two steps back. I stagger and fall a lot. I try to recall how loved I am, and I feel abandoned. I often want instantaneous healing, not this gradual process of recovery.
I’m not there yet, but I can’t wait to hit the summit of this spiritual journey and to turn my face to the Son and to see everything that was hidden from my sight before.
A few years ago, when my Generalized Anxiety Disorder first became A Thing, one of my few defenses against a panic attack was, of all things, the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear.
I’m not a Dune fan. Like most of the epic fantasy/SciFi novels of yesteryear, I feel it lacks a great deal in relatable characters, respect for women, plot and pacing. Not necessarily in that order.
But I like the Litany Against Fear, not least because of the power of this interpretation from the ever marvelous Zen Pencils. I did and do resonate with the words of the Litany to a certain extent.
“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to think. I’m not one of those people who is always quick on her feet and can debate a point at the drop of a hat, but when given time and space to mull things over, I tend to arrive at conclusions I have no trouble defending because I’ve thought over every angle I’m able to conceive of. (My friends with quirky minds who arrive at places I’ve never considered and make points that have never occurred to me probably think I’m hopelessly slow, but that’s beside the point.)
Anyhow. I’ve lived in my mind for the whole of my life and was rather smug in my pre-crippling-anxiety days about my ability to process with logic rather than emotion and with facts rather than feelings.
But fear is the mind-killer.
That’s true. I hate it. But it’s true.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I’ve been obliterated. A lot. It sucks. A lot.
I have raged against this more times than I can count, for all the good it does me. I have cried out that my mind has always been a place of order and reason and it’s really just not comprehensible that I have zero control over the primitive fear side now, no matter how logical I am still capable of being.
This solves nothing.
I’ve tried to embrace the rest of the Litany Against Fear. Tried to face fear and to permit it to pass over me and through me. I think the implicit lie is that fear can’t really touch you if you have this acceptance of fear passing over you mixed with a rejection of the fear even as it’s passing through you. Like you should be able to endure fear without it leaving any lasting marks. Or maybe there is a perfect mix and I haven’t mastered it.
Fear does touch me as it washes over and through me. As much as I’d like to be so, I am not immune.
And so I’ve started holding to a different creed. One that relies less on my own strength of mind and will.
Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior
The most difficult but also probably the most beautiful thing about this to me is that it’s a choice and an invitation. Not from a loving God to me but from me to a loving God.
Letting fear pass over and through me is like being pummeled by waves and hoping I can somehow weather it. Allowing God to have control over the situation and having faith that he really does have control of the situation is walking on the motherfucking water.
I said I’m a sinker and that’s true. Left to my own devices.
I think that’s pride. I think that’s self-reliance, and I’ve been humbled over and over with how weak and not in control I really am, so to that end, let me drown! Let me sink until all my struggle is gone out of me and all that’s left to me is the hope of salvation.
It’s not comfortable imagery. Not peaceful. But it takes one giant leap outside my self and my unwarranted pride and that’s probably going to be the thing that salvages anything worthwhile I might have within me to offer to the world.
Not me. Not my mind. Not my logic. Just my hope and faith. Just my tentative faith as I try to keep my eyes above the waves.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is my favorite Christmas song of all time.
Maybe it’s the sweet and plaintive melody. Maybe it’s the chord progressions which I don’t know all that much about musically, but which I can totally appreciate as a non-musician.
Maybe it’s Emmanuel.
God with us.
God is with us!
Even when this song calls for rejoicing, it’s subdued, and I think that’s how my life is. I think that is why I relate so much. I have been called forth from captivity, but that doesn’t erase the time spent captive. A trial is at an end and all things are made new, but it doesn’t erase where I’ve been and what I’ve endured.
O come, o come, Emmanuel.
Come to the exile, to the lost, to the lonely. Come and be God among us.
Today, I listened to a message about God incarnate and it… it was more than I could properly take in. Part of that was a surge of anxiety at a really inopportune moment. Part of it was my own preoccupation with my after-church plans. I want so badly to be a good and generous host and for my home to be a place of comfort and replenishment. Not a bad thing, but perhaps the wrong thing to be focused on when I was.
Despite my split focus, God incarnate is powerful. O come, o come, Emmanuel. Be that in me. Let me be Christ in my world to those around me.
Then You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free I’m going under, I’m in over my head And You crash over me, I’m where You want me to be I’m going under, I’m in over my head
Whether I sink, whether I swim It makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head Whether I sink , whether I swim It makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head I’m beautifully in over my head I’m beautifully in over my head
In spite of my own distractions and my own preoccupations, in spite of my own ability to sink or swim (I’m a sinker), in spite of everything, this song still echoes in my heart and mind. Emmanuel. God with us.
It is humbling and a comfort. So much of both. What am I that God is mindful of me? My human struggles that God should care? (Psalm 8, paraphrased like whoa)
David said that [1. I think. Whatever. I don’t know who wrote every Psalm, so it’s a good guess, okay?], and David had far more right to do so than I do. I don’t have any idea what Jesus was subjected to in his time on earth, but today? Today, I doubted and felt chastened in my own heart for doubting. I have no idea whether the Christ dealt with mental illness. I somehow doubt he did. But there must be something there that can give me that common ground. Right?
Casey/At says I need to ask whether Christ is living within me enough to tie him to my experience. I don’t know. I feel adrift here, because even at his most terrified of what was to come, I feel like it wasn’t unknown to Jesus. Where my biggest source of terror is that I don’t know. Anything. What was. What is. What is to come.
I suppose that’s where faith comes in. In so many ways. I have to believe that he knows not only where I am but that he will also be Emmanuel. God with me. Through whatever valley of the shadow of death I am walking through. Emmanuel.
Without getting too much into the details of it, I’ve started to write something like a memoir. It began as a defense against a really bad day last week, where my anxiety spiked for reasons I still don’t comprehend. I have no idea what triggered it. I just know it was bad.
Writing helped, and it’s been interesting to me to start to put everything down on paper, to try to pin things down and dissect them and to look back to see how and when and where things went so wrong and then so right.
Because that’s been taking what little writing time I have, I thought I would start to share it here. I think all three of my readers have an idea of the journey I’ve been on, but I am still curious. For those willing to give feedback, do you find this compelling in the slightest or is it narcissistic in the extreme?
As I begin this draft, I’m not certain it’s a good idea. I think I’ve been building for some time towards writing about the past 19 months and what little I’ve learned along the way. I suppose I do so partly out of a need to make more sense of it all myself, but also with some thought towards the possibility that somehow, someday, my own journey might be of some use to some other benighted soul who is engaged in the same struggle that I have been: anxiety.
I suppose I’ve always had the tendency to worry about things that have been wholly out of my control. I’ve always had a touch of the hypochondriac about me. In retrospect, it seems obvious that some thirty odd years of cultivating those seeds was destined to lead to a bumper crop of issues. I only ever needed the exact wrong conditions to push it from the manageable but annoying tendency to forecast worst case scenarios at the slightest provocation – forecast, but not truly believe – to have it become something that is not only out of my control but which also tends to control me. Now do I not only absolutely believe that the worst case scenario is going to happen, I believe it against all logic, reason and previous experience.
So I’m tired and angry as I write this. Tired because I feel defeated after more than a year and a half of anxiety defining my days as either good, bad or Really Bad. Angry because I’ve always tried to let logic rule over my thought processes and how I view the world, but all the logical thinking in the world does piss all when I’m in the grip of irrational fear. I know that it’s right there in the adjective I’ve chosen that this fear is not rational, but I still feel I should be able to talk sanely to myself and just stop freaking out that I’ve suddenly developed an allergy to eggs where none has ever existed before and so the breakfast my husband lovingly made me isn’t going to actually be the thing that kills me.
Things that also probably won’t be the thing to kill me but which I totally lose my shit over anyway include going to the airport, sitting in a crowded theater, yogurt and that one time a red ant bit my foot. Which was nine months ago, but I remain vigilant! Against my will and against all reason, I remain vigilant.
The day on which I decided to start writing all of this down was a Really Bad Day. One of the (thankfully) increasingly rare ones, where I’m not even sure what triggered the massive amounts of panic and so I have even fewer ways to try to deal with it. At least when I know what the underlying issue is, I can talk to my husband and together we can talk about how unlikely it really is that I have throat cancer. When I just feel panic and my body goes in flight mode but I have nothing to flee from exactly, it gets a bit more tricky. Generally speaking, on days like today, I flee in various ways until I’m too exhausted physically, mentally or emotionally to do anything other than shut down in some gruesome sort of surrender, where it becomes all about endurance.
If I can get through this minute, and then the next, and maybe through the day and then the night…. I just might make it.
Anxiety is the thunderstorm that rolls suddenly and violently over the landscape of my days. Those torrential downpours and even weeks of persistent drizzle have changed the contours of my life, to the point where I don’t recognize any of my personal landmarks most days. I have been flooded and battered by these waters, unfamiliar, cold and dark.
I am not an optimist. Anyone who knows me would attest to it. Probably loudly and at length.
But here’s the secret about my anxiety: It has had one profoundly positive impact on my life, even among all the destruction and devastation that it has wrought. It has been, to paraphrase Charles Spurgeon, “the wave that has dashed me against the Rock of Ages.” I have learned to kiss it, after my own fashion, even as I yearn for a life free from that pounding surf.
Having rediscovered the safety of that Rock, unyielding to the fury of the ocean storm, and steady under my feet as the firmest of foundations, I keep asking that this trial might reach its end. I have learned my lesson, God. I am lost without You. If I promise to follow You faithfully for all my days, will You make me sane again?
Ever since we moved into our house a bit more than a year ago and realized that we wouldn’t be able to knock the wall between the front room and the rest of the main floor down, I’ve wanted to get a barn door put in. This desire reached something of a fever pitch once we got the cats and it became my life’s work to keep an eye on them so that I could get them trained on which surface were and were not appropriate for them to be on[1. Dining room table and kitchen counters, no. Couches, fine. Floors, I suppose. If you must.].
The husband was not on board until just recently, when I was finally able to explain to him my desire that it be something of a work of art in its own right, and not just an elaborate means to herd the cats out of rooms where I don’t want them.
Once I finally had him caught up to my vision of the thing, he became very enthusiastic. Squabbles ensued as we debated what, exactly, we were going to do to make it beautiful. That we would burn something into the door was not up for question. Which images we would use totally was. I was initially in favor of using either some elaborate Celtic knotwork or the Aperture Science logo, as either of those things would fit with the existing decor[2. I guess we’re a little eclectic, but it works for us!]. The husband said no, we needed something to do with welcoming people to the house on the one side, since it’s the first thing they’ll see when the enter the house.
“Speak friend and enter?” I suggested.
In Elvish script, we agreed. And thus the project began with my trying to figure out how to get the Elvish script loaded as a font and then there was some more trial and error to actually get the correct sequence of things entered on the keyboard.
After that, we put together the imaged we wanted using GIMP and then saved the files to a flash drive before taking ourselves off to a local copy shop to get everything printed on a wide format printer.
Once that was done (and the boards and hardware for hanging the door were purchased), I set about cutting out a giant stencil using the paper print outs and an exacto knife. Thank God for audio books, because that part was a wee bit tedious.
While I was doing that, the husband was assembling the door, which also seemed tedious to me, but I don’t have any patience for that sort of thing at all, so I’m very glad he does.
Then, of course, it was time for tracing, which was probably the easiest part of the whole process, and the final thing to complete before we were ready to BURN.
Burning was extremely pleasant. Since the boards are a lovely blue pine, the smoke the wafted up was fragrant and even soothing. The burning itself was something of an aid in the constant struggle against anxiety. It was almost like having a really big, slightly dangerous adult coloring book (I may have burned my fingers once or twice, being careless with the tools).
We set up in our living room and would listen to either audio books or something on television that didn’t require any concentration[3. Did a Friends marathon for many of the hours spent burning, but also some comedians]. While our friends from Chicago were in town, we would all hang out and talk and take turns burning. Talk about your wild and crazy parties.
Once both sides were done – oh, have I not mentioned the other side? – the husband hauled it out back and sanded the whole thing, paying special attention to any areas where we accidentally got outside the lines. Then we gave it one more once-over to darken any spots that needed it.
About a month after beginning, we got the barn door hardware up (purchased as a kit from a hardware store, rather than making our own, though we considered that) and mounted the door.
BEHOLD the final product in all its glory!
Why yes, I am a big Brandon Sanderson fan, thank you for noticing.[4. Since the door is so light, the husband and I joked about cosplaying as Bridge 4 members, using the door as the bridge. Probably we won’t do this, but I feel like we would be forever known as the door people.]
And that’s it! By far, it was one of the most enjoyable projects we’ve done since moving in (see the floors, paint [ALL OF THE PAINT EVEN THE CEILINGS], trim, ceiling fan and window treatments for examples of other projects that have occurred), and I’m planning on using some of the leftover pine scraps to create some smaller art pieces both for myself and possibly for other people.
I’m not entirely certain as to why it happened, although I had kicked off the morning with a mimosa and then several hours later had been the one to drive my two friends to the airport so they could return to their lives in Chicago.
Drinking champagne – excuse me, sparkling wine – makes me nervous. I do it anyhow, mostly because I want to challenge these irrational fears that so often spring up as a result of my generalized anxiety disorder. After Saturday’s excursion, I’m not certain that I ever want to do so again, because the panic attack was that awful.
But I also have to recognize that it wasn’t just the champagne sparkling wine. It was also the trip to the airport in extremely bad traffic with my husband unable to shut up from the back seat about what he thought I ought to do and which route I ought to take.
It was also on top of a week of having two extra people under my roof and in my kitchen and wanting to get out and do things, all of which was perfectly reasonable but which also couldn’t help but be a strain on my introverted sensibilities.
By the time we arrived at the airport, I was shaking and sweaty. My hands and left leg had a pins and needles feeling. I proclaimed myself unequal to driving home and made my husband take over. We hadn’t gone a quarter of a mile before everything intensified. I felt dizzy and was gasping for air but not feeling like I could possibly get enough oxygen. In the irrational grip of panic, I figured I was probably hemorrhaging blood from somewhere, possibly internally, and was about to die there in the passenger seat of my car, out on the industrial northwest side of town.
“Jesus,” I said over and over, not a curse but an inchoate prayer.
My poor husband tried in vain to talk me down. “You’re okay,” he soothed. “This is all in your head.”
I felt bad for it even as I said it, but couldn’t stop myself. We finally got to a likely exit and stopped at a shopping mall. Neither one of us needed a thing, but I bolted from the car as though it were on fire and the relief was nearly palpable. I wasn’t trapped. I could walk off some of the massive amounts of adrenaline that was coursing through me. I could maybe take one more breath. And then another. And then more until I ceased to be so conscious of the effort.
Eventually, I was able to find the wherewithal to get back into the car and drive home. The rest of the day wasn’t easy. My throat was so tight I couldn’t eat or drink without the fear of choking being perched on my shoulder, although I know from a year and a half of dealing with it that my dysphagia is an artifact of my anxiety, just like the pins and needles feeling in my limbs, or the tightness in my chest, or the headaches that last for days, or the nights where I wake to the sound of my own heart beating madly away and can’t drown it out enough to sleep.
The reason I mention all of this as the maiden post of this blog is because of the next day. Sunday.
I woke up and felt more myself after a good night’s sleep, although my throat was still noticeably tight. After coffee in bed and laughing at the cats and their antics, I pulled myself together and we went to church. Somewhere in the middle of worship, which is always my favorite part of any church service, I realized that I’ve been spending the past several months asking God for a healing of my mind. I haven’t always been this person who gets panic attacks and struggles just to make it through a day, and a wholeness of mind is still something I hope to someday have again.
Somehow though, I never spent any time praying for release from the physical manifestations of my anxiety. So I did pray then and there and my throat gave a twinge and then… nothing. It’s been remarkably normal ever since.
After the service had ended, I didn’t bolt immediately for the doors as is my usual practice. The pastor came over and asked my husband and me if we would be interested in helping to run the media booth and we said we would be and then I fell into conversation with another woman and we fixed a date to have dinner together, which is sort of freaking me out a little, because I’ve never even met her husband. The last thing we did before going was to stop by and sign up to help out with a carnival that our church is putting on for the residents of the local neighborhood.
And to the point now – that whole weekend was a perfect microcosm of my life as a whole, and the best way I could think of to illustrate the syncopated rhythm of my days. In the background is that I spent many years being angry at the church and some of that emotion sort of splashed over onto God. If I had never needed Someone bigger than myself and capable of all things, I might have stubbornly remained in that state, because after all, it wasn’t as though I were rejecting the idea of God Himself or renouncing my belief in the path to salvation provided by Christ’s death and resurrection.
I just didn’t want to bother myself with the collection of broken humanity who would say in one breath that they were following Christ and then do anything but live by that example. My distaste for that hypocrisy was perhaps my greatest blind spot, for there was no meaningful way in which I was any different. Perhaps I was worse for all the moral superiority I felt but did not possess.
But now I’ve arrived through circuitous means back where I started, realizing that not only do I absolutely require God and a real relationship with Him, I also have a great need for community.
John Donne once wrote that:
No man is an island,
entire of itself ,
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main…
How right he was. How much more stable my life is becoming with the additions of people who are both immediate and accessible, who have loved me and allowed me to love them in return.
So, in part, this blog is about that. One can never just start writing and expect to have community happen overnight, but with patience and work, it can be built over time. I was fortunate enough to do so before and I have hopes that I’ll be able to do so again. After all, I am an introvert and I find online friendships are the best supplement I can possibly have to the few people I manage to connect with on a personal level and face-to-face.
To me, my anxiety has been and is both a blessing and curse. It has been – to paraphrase Charles Spurgeon – the wave that has thrown me against the Rock of Ages. And in fetching up in that place, I have also rediscovered and am beginning to rekindle those needful human interactions as well.