Some nights I just couldn’t fall asleep and it felt OK just to lay there. But the nights I felt terror anxiety never felt OK. My skin crawled. My blood felt like it was boiling. My mind raced a zillion miles an hour. My thoughts were jumbled and I just couldn’t organize them. Sleep was far away on those nights. A zombie day was ahead of me.
More times than I could count I asked my counselor if it was OK for me to lay on the floor. He always said yes. I don’t know why I asked. It’s what I always did when I felt overwhelmed. I don’t know why it felt strangely comforting. Curious how laying on the floor somehow let the reality of the intense feelings seem more OK.
I spent almost three years in constant anxiety. I never thought it would leave. But the waves of terror anxiety were the worst. I became so familiar with the anxiety that it gave me the luxury of thinking about it all the time. Hard as that was, it finally allowed me to process and figure out why the anxiety arises in me.
In 2005, my company announced it was moving from Orange County, California to Orlando. I might as well have been forced to move to Mongolia for how far Florida felt to me. A decision was being forced upon me…move with the company or find a new job. That night a new wave of terror swept over me.
Over the three years as I became well acquainted with the anxiety, I noticed regular levels and heightened levels. It was weird to be able to start assessing the stressors that contributed to the heightened levels. When I was able to identify the stressor situations I was then able to make categories of anxiety producers.
I would start to feel heightened anxiety when:
- I felt like I didn’t have a choice
- I felt like I didn’t have a voice
- I felt like I was being made to do something I didn’t want to do
I didn’t want to move to Florida. I loved my home state of California and the people in my life that made it feel like home. I don’t know why that felt like death to me. The anxiety never seems to have rational beginnings.
Anxiety isn’t rational. Dictionary.com defines it as “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger.” Or the perceived fear of danger. Was my life really in danger by moving to Florida? What was I so deathly afraid of? Leaving what was comfortable and familiar? Yes, deathly afraid of leaving.
More than that, I was being made to do something I didn’t want to. Terror anxiety dawned. Multiple laying down on the floor sessions with my counselor.
It didn’t matter whether it was real danger or perceived danger, my anxiety wasn’t rational. And it couldn’t be assuaged by simple reasoning. You can’t just change the feeling. You can’t just “Stop it!” like Newhart is so famous for saying. Other simple platitudes were equally unhelpful.
I tried stopping it. Middle of the night reasoning sessions with my self did very little. I couldn’t convince myself to stop feeling the terror. Helpless, exhausted, distressed, resigned, incapacitated…I couldn’t stop those either.
My “go to” solution was calling friends and talking it out. I had a few very patient friends that let me talk about it over and over. That helped a little. Thank you friends.
What could I do about it?
I learned a lot from my counselor. Thank you Lord! But it wasn’t instantaneous…it was agonizingly slow in coming.
He helped me realize that change was a process. We want an instant solution, like instant mashed potatoes. But the instant ones never taste as good as the mashed ones from real potatoes. Those take time.
I learned that saying what I’m feeling out loud actually acknowledged and validated what I was feeling. That was showing myself kindness, giving my feelings dignity. Extending myself the grace feel the feeling was more healing than trying to tell myself to stop feeling that way. Validating the feeling is healing, whether from a friend or yourself.
My counselor encouraged me to find healthy distractions. Go and do the things that help me forget AND things that help me feel. My friend Andy was up for spontaneous concerts any time. His songs shared longing, hope, and humor and helped me forget for a little while. Can’t tell you how many times I heard the same songs. I reveled in each occasion.
Taking my camera out and looking for beauty helped me feel. It put an image to my longing for a better place emotionally. Walking to the end of the pier in San Clemente, California gave me time to process and heal. Combining those for maximum effect yielded a lot of great images.
The glacier speed of God’s help during my anxiety seemed unnecessary, but I still asked for help. My idea of help would have been a lot faster. I had to frequently remind myself that God’s timing is a lot different than mine. But it doesn’t mean He is disinterested or uncaring. Abraham endured years of waiting for what God had promised. The process is the purifying of our faith. Patient trust developed through the struggle and waiting.
The lyrics to Night Song by Ellie Holcomb perfectly sum up the struggle of many of those terror anxiety nights.
Morning feels so far away, questions keeping me awake
Will you sing, sing your night song?
All these lies that are owning me, all this fear makes it hard to breathe
Will you be, be my night song?
The truth that sings into my darkness
The melody of love that leads me on
The voice that comforts all my sadness
Oh, even when the suffering is long, be my night song
The suffering was long. The mornings felt so far away. Fear so overwhelming I felt trapped. But God’s truth did sing into my darkness. I am loved even though I suffer. God’s promise is still true even though there is waiting. His comfort remains even if I don’t see it.
I do have a choice. I can voice what I’m feeling. I can be a victim of the anxiety, or I can embrace, feel, validate, show myself kindness and trust the process. I can find a park bench and think through what is contributing to my anxiety. And give myself grace to know that anxiety can diminish in an hour, a day, or several, and that I will be OK. As irrationally as it starts, it irrationally diminishes. Just hold on.
Headline blog image is from Perthes, France. It perfectly illustrates the night time need to find a place to sit and ponder the anxiety, and the process of coming through. | shot digitally, Canon A620, 2006