The Story I Tell

So for the next little bit, the blog is going to veer away from political posts (mostly). I know it’s been charged for the last few months, and part of that has been my own personal journey of owning who and where I am – even in the face of potentially convincing people that I’m a few fries short of a happy meal. I don’t regret the pull I felt to write them, though if anything I said in attempting to respond to that pull hurt you or made you feel like I have any room to stand in judgment against you, I apologize. It is never my intention to attempt to pick up the conviction that the Spirit has placed on me and try to use it to carve you up instead. If I’ve done that, please contact me and give me the opportunity to make it right with you – I can live with making people uncomfortable but wounding people is not acceptable.

So, back to the regularly scheduled program: let’s talk about anxiety.

It’s terrible.

It springs from situations that shouldn’t be debilitating and overwhelming, creating some new ugly thing that derails even the most mundane, comfortable activities. If you suffer from (or think that you might have) anxiety, I strongly encourage you to do some research and find a therapist. The good ones are worth their weight in gold, and you won’t believe the difference it makes once you start to work towards healing and healthy living. One of the things I have found to be the most helpful in pulling up from the spiral is a concept that carries over into regular life as well. It is the practice of sitting in your truth.

That sounds more impressive than it is, I think, but the actual act is kind of absurdly simple. Sitting in your truth requires you to stop and hold the fear, the panic, long enough to determine if it feels true or if it is true.

I spent a long time trying to plan and create lists when I felt the panic rising. I would write down everything that I had to do and there was catharsis until the next thing threw me for a loop, causing the whole process to start over. It was a snooze button for the panic, because it took everything I knew was standing in my way and let me find ways to individually try to accomplish it. It made me incredibly self-sufficient and resourceful…but it also made me unwilling to need anyone or anything else, with a heavy dose of pride in my own ability to save the day.

But it didn’t do anything to address the root of the problem. It didn’t, couldn’t, tell me if everything was going to be okay. If I would be enough, if I could survive it, if I would further my career and save my relationships. The lists were an attempt at combatting the anxiety with the truth. When it felt like I had too many things to ever accomplish, writing everything down helped put it into perspective and made it feel achievable. It had good intentions, it just wasn’t enough. It was too narrow an approach to be applied universally.

Enter, truth sitting.

When you are in the middle of a wave of anxiety and panic, or just feeling fear about something that seems exponentially bigger than you, things that are completely false can feel like truth. Some things that have felt like truth (but weren’t) from the last few weeks:

  • I’m slowly training for a half marathon, but if I go more than a week between days when I make time to run, I start to believe that I am incapable and that the 30 minute program will be impossible to complete.
  • If I go too long without working with a particular age group in the classroom and then pick up a job in that age group, I worry that I’ve forgotten how to connect with them and I’m going to somehow not survive the day.
  • If I spend too much time at home (shout out to all of the introverts out there), I catastrophize what will happen when I go back into social situations. I worry that I’ll not be able to put an outfit together without looking hideous or mismatched. I worry that I’ll say or do something stupid, or stand confidently on something and find out later that I’m wrong. This leads me to start to believe that I am bad at connecting with people and that I am incapable of carrying myself well without a ton of planning and preparation.
  • I’ve been eating healthfully and exercising pretty faithfully for the last few months, with evident progress, but when I eat meals that aren’t overtly healthy, I immediately worry that I’ve gained a ton of weight and everyone will notice.
  • Financially things are really tight right now, and I start to believe that I’m always going to be broke and will never have enough money to pay all of the bills I need to pay and still buy groceries.

None of these things were true, but in the midst of my fear and worry, they certainly seemed true. I can and do survive (and somehow mostly enjoy) every one of the times I go running. I don’t always handle classroom situations as well as is possible, but I always survive and usually walk away from the day feeling like I am good at my job. I love to connect with people and am usually able to carry myself well as long as I don’t get in my own way with worry. I have enough nutrition knowledge to know that one meal won’t undo the months of work I’ve put in, and that I just have to keep moving forward in healthy living. I am working towards the credential that is paving the way for a career. The struggle in this moment is worth acknowledging, and fully experiencing, but it isn’t going to last forever.

Sitting in truth is not a knee jerk reaction. It is not immediately instinctual, when you have spent years listening and buying in to fear. It is a retraining of the brain – a habit we practice and practice until we are able to catch ourselves veering off path, and are able to stop and course correct. There is still failure a plenty here. Sometimes you’ll catch it before you start to fully freak out, and other times, you won’t see a spiral coming until it’s knocked you completely over, and you’ve got to find your way back. The best way I’ve found to come back to calm and peace is to speak truth over myself. Something about these things that I know but don’t always remember coming out of my own mouth manages to make more of a difference than just hearing someone else say it.

For me, this sometimes look like repeating scripture, or prayers that probably don’t make much sense to anyone else. There is admittedly quite a bit of talking to oneself involved. My mantra often sounds something like this: “I am enough. I know that I am because of who God says I am. I am capable of change. I am strong enough to survive [insert specific topic here] and potential failure there. I am loved and worthy of love and belonging. I can do scary things. God is in control here. He is incapable of failing me. He has never deserted me. Even if this all ends in disaster, I am surrounded by people who will still love me, and are waiting to help me if I ask for it.”

It reads a little like every self-help book out there, but each of those hit on my biggest anxiety triggers. And though the results are not always immediate, saying things that I know to be constant truth breaks through the fog. It allows relief, peace and determination to settle down into my bones. It puts me in a head space to be able to work on the things I can change, and to not borrow worry for the things I’m not able to influence. It changes the story I tell about myself.

It reminds me that I am brave. That failure and relapse are a part of the process, but they don’t have to be the end of the story. That even when situations seem hopeless, there is always hope.

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