I could feel it happening. The familiar tension in my shoulders. The quickened step. The terse directives to my daughter to put her shoes on and brush her teeth already. My stomach knotted and I reached instinctively for my coffee mug, searching for something familiar to help me breathe.
We were running late, and for as long as I can remember, running late has made me anxious. I’m sure this is rooted in some DNA pattern or life experience I know nothing about, but regardless, it’s true. And my sincere apologies to my loved ones who have suffered my sharp words if I’ve been with you while also about to be late for something. I know it’s not pretty. And please know this–I don’t care if you aren’t on time. My sister’s been showing up late for every day of her life and I love her madly and will take her in my life late or otherwise. I’m just worried about me.
So yea, me running late makes me anxious. So does money. And so does any general unknown–like not being sure where I stand with someone, or the possibility of heartbreak, or not having a clear idea of what I’m supposed to do in any given situation.
Otherwise? I’m totally chill (insert self-deprecating laughter). I don’t worry about colds or someone stealing something from my car or running out of gas or a thousand-and-one other ordinary things one might worry about. I mean, we’ve all got our baggage, right?
(Please understand I am not speaking about the kind of anxious that spins out of a mental illness of some sort–the anxiety born of generalized disorders or depression is a whole ‘nother ballgame, and I know and love people who struggle mightily against this monster. And I watch them fight against it and I want so much to make it stop…because I know they are so tired, some days, of trying to silence it’s effects on their brains and hearts.)
What I know in my own life, and see in the lives of others, is the every day anxious that happens when we come face-to-face with the very real truth that we are not, after all, in control. Of very much at all. Sometimes not even showing up to school on time makes the list.
We can do our best to make good decisions. We can work hard to point our feet in the right direction on any given day. We can read books and attend seminars and talk with friends about what kinds of choices we want to make and what kind of person we want to be. But control–of any absolute sort–is a complete illusion, and our insistence on trying to grasp at it feeds, I think, a sort of anxiety that is rooted in a very well-grounded fear.
Fear of catastrophe. Fear of not being able to provide for our children. Fear of losing someone we love. Fear of loneliness. Fear, most of all, of not being enough.
Anxiety lies and bullies. I’m convinced of this. Whether situational or mild or not, it lies, and convinces us we do not have what we need to get through a particular moment or be in a relationship with a particular person or excel at a particular task. And so we reach for some imaginary control panel and try our best to reign in our lives so that they feel safer. More manageable. Less frightening. We go searching for security in things (always a disappointment) and we lose sight of what matters most and how it is that those things that matter most (like the scent of the very center of the top of my daughter’s curly head) are sometimes everything we need to get through.
Above all, the biggest lie anxiety tells us is that we cannot do it–whatever “it” is. We can’t survive the grief. We can’t excel at the new job. We can’t find a way past the anger. We can’t thrive past brokenness. We can’t…we can’t…we can’t….
And the thing is, we CAN. We absolutely one-hundred percent CAN.
It’s hard. Really, awfully, effing hard. But we CAN.
I was talking to a friend last night who told me that for the first time in a long time, he feels like his head is above water. Like many of us traversing the landscape of 40-something, he’s been through a divorce (and all the emotional and financial stress and feeling of failure that comes with it), and a job he wasn’t fulfilled in, and the every day drama of raising teenagers–the hard stuff of life. Rebuilding your life is serious and difficult business, and god, some days, you just want to give up. Wave a white flag and call a weak truce with what has undone you.
But you can’t. You have to keep going. Swimming up–because one day, eventually, your head breaks the surface and you can breathe again. Even if there is still hard work to do, you can breathe again.
And this what I want focus on. The breathing. The taking a deep breath of gratitude for all that has gotten me this far. And trusting that something is at work to lead me/us into what’s next.
(I just really, really want to be on time when “what’s next” starts!)