Tuesday, 16 June 2015

My Experiences with Anxiety and Peace

A couple of days ago, I had a vivid dream. In it, I was hurtling forward in a plane that was trying to land, but couldn't find a place to stop, towards... wait for it... the end of the world.

Yes. Subtle, my dreams are not.

Over the past two years I've struggled with anxiety. Not just feeling worried, neither an anxiety that needs to be medicated, somewhere in the middle. An anxiety that affected my breathing, made my mind and my heart race, tightened my stomach into knots, given me indigestion, and made me lose my appetite and a lot of weight. Although it started off in my mind, my thoughts would start affecting my body. I introspected and read up a bit, and realized that it was related to avoidance, and fear. My mind would be in constant 'fight or flight' mode, and adrenaline would be coursing through my body (not in a good way) because everything looked like a potential disaster. Everything felt like an emergency. That I couldn't handle.

If I had to pick words to describe how I felt a lot of the time it would be:

Impending Disaster.

(Kind of how you feel when you watch Lost. Or 24.)

The thing was there wasn't really any big thing to be worried about. Maybe I had more responsibilities than I had had in the past, but nothing crazy unmanageable. But I spent a lot of my time feeling overwhelmed. Especially on Tuesday mornings when my work week began (my day off is on Monday).

When I took a break from all my commitments and slowed down, the anxiety stopped. But when I returned, as I had to, so would the anxiety.

I tried different things to deal with it. One of my team members taught me breathing exercises to slow down my heart rate. That helped a little. They prayed for me. I tried to delegate more, and accept that I couldn't do it all. I tried to face my fears, and think "What exactly am I afraid of? What is the worst that could happen?" That helped too.

As I recognized what I was going through, I was able to talk about it, and I found that many people I knew had gone through or were going through the same thing. I was able to be a lot more sympathetic than I used to be (thinking uncharitable thoughts like 'Just get over it') now that I knew what it felt like.

Some practical advice people gave me helped- don't eat spicy or oily food, get enough sleep and make sure I eat (without food and sleep it was a downward spiral of panicky overwhelmedness), make to do lists every day, and set small achievable goals. They also told me to exercise because exercise releases endorphins, the magic happy hormones that make everything better, but.. well... I didn't.

You know what helped the most? (I've actually mentioned this several times.) The book 'Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart'.

Now I realize no magic book can cure anyone's problems by itself. The reason this book is so powerful is because when I read it, I hear very clearly the calm, reassuring voice of God. Fr. Jacques Philippe is in touch with the same God I believe in. And he logically, beautifully, simply captures the essence of the peace God wants to give us.

It is logical, but beautifully logical. For me, posters of nature saying 'Just trust God' don't help. I need more. And the book gave me more.

'Who can guarantee himself the assured possession of any kind of good? It is not by making certain calculations and preoccupations that one is going to find a solution... To preserve peace in the midst of the hazards of human existence, we have only one solution:

We must rely on GOD ALONE, with total TRUST in Him, as your Heavenly Father knows what you need.

Jesus wants to deliver us from the worry that gnaws away at us and causes us to lose our peace. What useless suffering and torment they would save themselves, if only they would take seriously these words which are God's, and words of LOVE, of CONSOLATION, and of an extraordinary tenderness. 

Our great drama is this: Man does not have confidence in God. He looks in every possible place to extricate himself by his own resources and renders himself terribly unhappy in the process rather than abandon himself into the tender and saving hands of his Father in heaven...

All of our spiritual life consists precisely in a long process of re-education, with a view to regaining that LOST CONFIDENCE, by the grace of the Holy Spirit who makes us say anew to God: 'Abba, Father.'

How does one grow in this total confidence in God? ...Not only by intellectual speculation and theological considerations.. but by a CONTEMPLATIVE GAZE ON JESUS.

Would not the supreme love of Jesus on the cross- untiringly contemplated and captured in a gaze of love and faith, fortify our hearts little by little, in an unshakable confidence?

How can one abandon oneself to God and have confidence in God if one only knows Him from a distance, by hearsay? The heart does not awaken to confidence until it awakens to love; we need to feel the GENTLENESS and TENDERNESS of the Heart of Jesus. This cannot be obtained except by the habit of meditative prayer, by the tender repose in God which is contemplative.

Let us therefore learn to abandon ourselves, to have total confidence in God in the big things as in the small, with the simplicity of little children.'

Although my struggle with anxiety is not totally over (witness above-mentioned dream), I believe that my spiritual re-education has begun. I am learning to abandon myself in the big things and in the little, to let go of the control I clung to so tightly, and to taste the sweetness and intimacy of a Father who invites me to trust Him.

I'm jumping.

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