Living Anxiety…and the many ways we fail to kill it [Part III: Depress]
I have to say that out of all the four strategies I use to not deal with anxiety in a healthy way, this fainthearted strategy is the one I use least and am less intimately acquainted with. But when I woke up in the middle of the night yesterday and realized I had a plumbing problem that couldn’t wait for the morning, I quickly adopted this strategy as an effective little way to combat the anxiety that was upon me at once. Fully engaged in this fainthearted escape, I went back to bed to pretend to sleep. Unfortunately, I laid awake unsatisfied thinking about a handful of things: (1) how angry I was that I wasn’t sleeping (2) how actively I was running away from an immediate problem (3) how this was a perfect blog illustration about depressing anxiety (4) and how similar this felt to other childhood experiences I felt growing up which I had long forgotten about. I was not expecting the last thought (it wasn’t a willful act of remembering or anything), and in fact there wasn’t even a distinct memory attached to the remembered feeling at all.
That’s how stored feelings and emotions happen sometimes. In some instances they are attached to a distinct memory and at other times they will come back all on their own if necessary. In some extraordinary circumstances I have experienced physiological manifestations of emotions when I was unable to remember a circumstance and my “feelings” were numb from overuse. In those cases I learned to pay attention to what my mind was trying to alert me to through my body. In those times of prayer, I would start to feel my body overheat, and I would take that as a clue that I was touching on something real and didn’t have the emotional capacity to alert me through normal means like sadness, nostalgia, fear or tears. I had to do the manual work of processing what I was dealing with in prayer instead of what would otherwise be done through the automatic work of existential engagement.
In addition to memories or physiological signs, anxiety is another way for feelings to be brought to our attention. Anxiety is a very helpful vehicle for memory recall, especially emotional memory recall. Time travel is one of the great benefits of anxiety that we miss out on when we do not give it a proper role in our life. Anxiety has the ability to transport you back 20 or 30 years in a millisecond of the subconscious. It has the ability to put you right back in your 1st grade classroom and feel things only a six year old can feel, things that your developed adult reasoning doesn’t allow you to feel anymore. This is God’s gift to you. To go back in time with Him to experience scary, confusing, and even traumatizing events to a child with the safety of an adult-reality and with a forgiven and accepted conscience.
I was never very athletic growing up. I loved playing sports but wasn’t very good at them. I was a much better spectator than participant. Things seemed easier and natural for other kids and I had to work much harder to be just average. I don’t find that to be true anymore. I would consider myself athletic, and now think that I am a better participant than spectator. I’ve always wanted to go back to my Little League days with my developed motor skills of an adult. I’d be so stinking good. I’d be the Babe Ruth of my team. Those 10-year-old fastballs would have nothing on me.
So today in the pitch black of the early hours of the day thinking about my plumbing problems, I laid in my bed feeling like the world just crapped on me again. I didn’t want to deal with what I knew needed to be dealt with. I was presented with feelings of inadequacy, helplessness and irrational young fear. I was trying to depress my anxiety by avoiding it, but God was using this too as an opportunity for greater freedom and relationship with me. He gave me the opportunity re-engage with unresolved childhood emotions, not by myself but together with Him. The plumbing was ancillary, the meaning behind the plumbing was central. There is a way I could have made the plumbing central, but that too would have been an unhealthy way to deal anxiety (I’ll go in to that strategy next Blog Entry). God was with me last night, and He was thinking about how to offer me greater freedom. He presented me with a paralyzing childhood emotional-response that still affects me today into adulthood and asked if I wanted a different result, if I wanted to be a Babe Ruth.