I have, in my lifetime, experienced both panic attacks and anxiety attacks. I’m not talking about nerves, the rumbly stomach before stepping on stage or into the pulpit, but the real thing: an impending sense of doom that is completely out of control. A fear of nothing and everything. A heart pounding so hard I think it might explode. A sense that I might die. It is excruciating.
The first happened while I was in seminary during a guided meditation, which you would think would be a pretty safe place to be. Not that day. Another happened a few months later while driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, something I’d done dozens of times before. Bridges have been hard ever since. The attacks are a rare occurrence nowadays, partly because of age and partly because of work I’ve done to manage them.
I find myself using those anxiety-managing techniques again these days. I don’t experience that impending sense of doom from nowhere, but I do experience a high level of worry about many things. I worry about funding for programs for people on the margins. I worry about war. I worry about economic collapse. I worry about people never speaking to each other again. I worry about the state of the world.
As a person of faith, I am well aware of the many, many things Jesus said about not worrying and right now I find them – and him – annoying. I also know that constant worry is not good for me or the people around me. I’m keeping an eye on my eating and my sleeping. I’ve started coloring postcards, an activity I find relaxing. I cut myself off after one too many articles from the New York Times, Washington Post, or the Atlantic.
I pray that God will lift my sagging spirit. I pray more regularly. I practice deep breathing. I read daily things from Father Richard Rohr (you can sign up for them here – today’s was particularly helpful.) I turn off the tv and computer. I look for the good, and hold fast to it.
Every night before we go to sleep, my husband, our daughter, our dog, and I all sit on our bed reading (except the dog). I tell them it feels like we’re on a life raft, this big bed of ours, all together, safe, for the time being amidst the chaotic currents of the day’s events. They laugh at me, in the good way. Still, they are my life raft. And that helps me to worry a little less.
Until the next day comes.