Living Anxiety…and the many ways we fail to kill it [Part II: Repress]
The longest car ride I ever had was a five-minute drive from my friend’s house a short dash away from the driveway of my parent’s San Jose home. I was sixteen years old and I just received my driver’s license. For sixteen years I had only experienced car rides as a communal event. For most of that time I was the passenger in my parents large early-90’s silver and maroon-striped GM Suburban. For the most recent previous six month I was driving on a permit, which required I drove with someone more experienced than myself to help teach me the laws and subtleties of the dangerous road.
And so, on Blossom Hill Rd, in a car that’s radio didn’t work, I experienced solitude in a place I never had before. At first it was exhilarating to drive all by myself. But then I realized I had no one to share my joy and excitement with. Then my excitement turned to sadness, and my sadness, worry. It was not the silence or solitude itself that disturbed me, but the un-expectant nature of it – the surprise! I did not welcome it, it just happened upon me all at once. And there I was, me and my anxiety.
Last Blog entry, I talked about how anxiety is supposed to be a tool like hunger pangs are. But we have learned to misinterpret what anxiety is trying to tell us. For me in that Ford Taurus Station Wagon I interpreted the message of anxiety as: “it is not okay to be alone. Solitude makes me feel uncomfortable so I must avoid being alone.” The same way the cold makes me shiver, therefore I must avoid walking outside without a jacket. It goes without saying, fixing the car stereo became a number one priority for me.
After almost ten years of avoiding being alone I signed up for my first 48-hour long solitude retreat. The rules: no talking, no media, no phone, NO ESCAPE! (at least that’s how it felt). When I arrived at the beautiful scenic mountaintop home, I checked out all the rooms and amenities. I sat down in a comfy chair in the living room to pray. It lasted less than 30 minutes before I got antsy and grabbed a cup of coffee and sat in another room. For 48 hours it went on like that. I was chased from room to room by the anxiety that used to sit in the passenger seat of my car 10 years earlier.
For 10 years I had tried to turn off the “dummy-light” on the dashboard by repressing and distracting. That strategy was a complete failure, it wouldn’t go away, it wouldn’t die. Although, the retreat itself was not a total complete failure. The first night at the retreat house, I searched a small library in the home for some poetry or fiction to distract me. To my dismay there was none to be found. But then I heard a small prompting in my heart urging me to write my own. I am not a poet, nor a writer, but with little other choice, I put pen to paper and started writing.
For the rest of the day I wrote and edited my first poem, and an amazing thing happened. I heard God whisper, “I like it, write more.” I wrote another short four line verse, and I heard Him whisper again in my heart, “I like it, write more.” In between being chased from room to room by my anxiety I was able to sit long enough to be with God and feel him enjoy me. Although I knew God loved me, I hadn’t experienced him “liking” me. And the subconscious knowing of not being likeable was unbearable.
Four years later, I was sitting in a one-bedroom room of another hilltop retreat venue. I had been staring out the window for some time. My body felt tired so I curiously looked at my clock to realize I had been sitting in the same spot for eight hours, and it was now time for bed. As I got ready to turn-in I laughed to myself and wondered where my old companion was that used to taunt me from the passenger seat and chase me from room to room. I had failed to kill it, instead I had learned it can’t be repressed, it can’t be medicated, it can’t be killed, only welcomed; and that changed everything.
More on this story and the strategy of “depressing” anxiety in the next entry…