Grace and Anxiety
Have you ever had your mental and emotional foundation rocked? Perhaps leveled to a point of what feels like no return? If you have, how did it feel – and please do yourself a favor and not stay in the reflective feeling, this blog is not to get you to re-feel those moments, only to relate to what I am going to discuss today.
Until 3 months ago, I would have said the last deep emotional and mental anguish I experienced was roughly 2006 when I confronted my fear of flying. Prior to the flying was getting sober in 2001 – we all have heard the term “rock bottom”. That is not to minimize any problems over the last 15 years which were upsetting, they just did not result in prolonged anxiety and panic attacks. What do I mean by panic attacks (panic feeling)? For me, breathing becomes short, anxiousness in my chest, and sometimes I experience light sweating. Feeling fear. It feels real, it feels factual. It feels like I will not mentally survive another moment. Then the thoughts begin – I have COVID, I have cancer, then follows the memories of the aches and pains – the symptoms. These thoughts add flame to the mental fire and physical feelings that then seem to be blazing out of my control. I hope it passes while simultaneously worried it will not pass. I try to pray but the fear is overriding the ability to even stay in the moment with a prayer. Then the doom surfaces – what if this shit does not end? What the fuck is happening to me? Why now? I have always been healthy? Is this menopause? Is this stress? Most recently, is this grief?
3 months ago, October 22, 2020 was a defining day. I made a defining decision. A decision I would not go back and change if I were given the opportunity. This is not about me regretting anything I have done but realizing that decision catapulted me into a whole new level of emotional and mental mindfulness. Or shall I say mental fuckedness. Yep, that is my made-up word for the day. My 80-year-old mother in Nebraska called (I live in a Seattle suburb) to say she drove my 80-year father to the hospital, and he was admitted for COVID and Pneumonia. The decision I made was to be on a plane and headed home within hours to arrive that evening. I quickly booked the ticket, reserved the hotel, and went home. My first thought after she told me was “we (my sister and I) could lose them both.” For if my dad was positive, I knew mom was positive. She was the one we were concerned about, not only was she 80, but she was also diabetic, high blood pressure, and on medications for a blood clot. Who would be there to take her to the hospital?
The weeks following that phone call were intense. Dad was placed on a ventilator within a week of the hospitalization and I had to figure out how to care for someone with COVID. This is when the initial fear began. My perception and way of doing things is specific to me. As your life is specific to you. Whether you believe in masking, social distancing, or even Covid is unique to you. I do believe COVID is real, and I believe in taking the steps necessary in protecting myself. I believe the virus can kill people, and I believe that it is capable of horrendous long-term effects. Because of my beliefs I act accordingly, as we all do. I am O.K. with this. I quickly found myself double masking, wearing goggles, a face shield, and gloves to walk into the house I spent my first 18 years growing up in, our family home. Two people who were COVID-19 positive had been living in that house the day prior and one remained. Mom. I was terrified of getting COVID. Terrified of not being able to be cared for myself as I was 1700 miles from my own family. I wiped down the entire house; the walls, the light switches, the doors, the toilet, kitchen sink, the toaster – I disaffected like a crazy person. I stripped dads’ bed where he had been ill for days, the laundry needed washed. My mom routinely came out of her bedroom, not quite grasping the magnitude of her status. I would watch as her mask fell below her nose, I had to yell to pull it up because she is hard of hearing. Then I would spray cleaner in the air to weigh down any remaining Covid particles floating in the air. Bleach cleaner. Hating the toxic shit, I was spraying yet knew I had to. I felt manic. I felt weak. I questioned what I was doing while I kept moving through it. The worst was not being able to hug my mom as she knew her husband of 57 years was extremely sick and might not live. As I cleaned and took care of her, I had the looming thoughts dad might not be coming back. This daily routine with mom stayed for 3 weeks. Why so long? She was asymptomatic. Yep, not one damn symptom from the woman we thought for sure would most likely die if she got it. I had an urgent care nurse tell me mom was safe to be around 10 days from the test. I had a nurse practitioner advise me to wait 2 weeks, and I had a hospital COVID unit doctor tell me 21 days, as they had seen it go this long. I went with 21.
The tipping scale for me, the thing that really ignited the evening anxiety attacks after I returned to my hotel room, was the lack of concern for COVID from the community in which I was surrounded by. I did not feel safe anywhere. If I came out of my hotel room the housekeeping crew did not mask. Or if they had it was down around their chin. The people in the grocery store mostly unmasked. The gal at the gas station where I picked up moms’ paper – not masked. Believe it or not, the one saving grace I had was Starbucks. Yep, everyone at Starbucks was masked and I felt safe getting my food and drink from there daily. It was no surprise mom and dad got Covid. The ongoing fear of getting sick combined with performing daily mental gymnastics between talking myself into sanity and feeling the fear eventually kicked my mental and emotional ass. The body can only endure fight or flight responses for so long. Damn sure the cortisol levels were out of control in my body and my adrenal glands were completely taxed by the time I arrived back in Seattle.
So, where does grace come in?
Fortunately, I have spent years getting acquainted with my crazy. My crazy is unique to me, as much as yours is unique to you. Throughout my sobriety I have made it a mission to enhance my emotional and mental wellness through a series of action items. Action items such as prayer, mentorship, service to others, exercise, healthy diet, meditation, mindfulness practice (probably #1), therapy and counseling. Whatever it takes to keep sane and stay joyful. I spent years and will continue to spend more years feeling good, and when I feel good, I do a lot of stuff. I care for the kids, I show up for my employers, I am an active wife, I exercise 6 times a week, I read incessantly, I travel, I ride my motorcycle. I enjoy life. You get the idea.
But what happens when such an active life freezes in place because of anxiety attacks? Because of relentless fear? Grief? Health changes? What do you do when the world must be placed on hold – all those people who are used to depending on you need to be told no.? That is when grace steps in. If you allow it.
I have discovered over the last several months that becoming comfortable with vulnerability and saying no is one of the sharpest tools I have in my toolbox. My to do list is long these days. Whether my elderly mom needs bills paid, my kids need an appointment set, dinner needs made, my husband needs my time, my employer needs me working, or maybe I would like to contribute to creating my dream – writing my book, I must be ok with rebuilding myself and putting the breaks on. Although my dad passed away December 18th – my anxiety has stuck around. I have had multiple doctor appointments for various physical issues and yet to find a real answer. Today, it is imperative to ask for what I need from others and stand up for myself when I cannot go any longer. Grace. Grace with myself. To not add to the daily stress by beating myself up for some absurd expectation that I should be capable of more. So, sometimes dinner is not cooked, I must leave work early, and I do not worry about not exercising like I used to. I am so tired of hearing motivational slogans about how you need to burn it from early am to late pm if you want success. I have no need to compare myself to others and what their definition of success is, for I know mine is mental peace. Emotional joy.
In Jane Robert’s book The Nature of Personal Reality, Seth defines Grace. Natural Grace – “The state of grace is a condition in which all growth is effortless, a transparent (pause), joyful acquiescence that is a ground requirement of all existence”. He also states, “so to be effective, efficient, to emerge in the new focus of awareness, grace had to expand from the life of the tissue to that of the feelings, thoughts and mental processes”.
A substantial part of my healing during this time is allowing grace to infiltrate my awareness. To be in complete acceptance of my vulnerability. To be at peace with who I am even when I am having panic attacks. I have a responsibility to heal my unsubstantiated fear. That is foundational work for this person. That work takes a while, and while I am working, I will compliment my moments with grace. Grace with me, and grace with you.
For, this too shall pass.
Be safe, be healthy. Remember to enjoy the journey even when it seems overbearing because you absolutely deserve a life of creativity and expansion. It is who you are. May you find grace with yourself and others today.