Sunday, April 09, 2006

Strangely Grateful

I got into bed last night at 10:00 p.m. with my beloved friend Carl Scovel's lovely little book, Never Far From Home. I read it for about half an hour and then fell asleep until 7 a.m. at which hour the cat threw herself full length against my side, which she only does when I'm having an anxiety attack. I woke up and felt the familiar tingle starting at my legs, and the sensation I refer to as "the breathing thing." I reassured her. "This is going to be a short one, my little Psych Nurse. It's Sunday morning and we have to get ready for church."

So I sat up and let the little waves of anxiety crest and break, and talked to the cat about how it was likely to be like this until after Easter, and summer vacation was coming and we would lounge around a lot and watch movies and read books and play the banjo. She stayed pressed against me until the discomfort passed. It was very minor. There is a curious part of me that always finds these episodes strangely fascinating.

But I just want to say that I RESENT this. I deeply resent that I have this physical reaction to simply over-doing what I love most (lately, studying and writing and thinking Deep Thoughts). I resent the sensation that millions and millions of little ants are swarming around inside my legs. I resent that what feels best and most truly anxiety-reducing is a hard work-out at the gym, because I happily existed for years as the Girl Who Hated To Sweat. I was determined to maintain my exercise phobia! Now I'm one of those people who has to go to the gym all the time. NB: this is not making me svelte and muscular. It is just making me sweaty. So far.

My maternal grandmother, who died some years ago, had anxiety. She frequently referred to "her nerves." We were not close. I judged her as being querulous, negative and petty, even though she loved us as best she was able. She was a great cook-- the best pierogies ever-- and although she watched her own figure carefully, she pushed food on everyone else (even plumpster moi).

I find myself reaching back to her these days and understanding her better. When anxiety symptoms start it helps so much to know that these things are genetic, I inherit them from my Type A father (who was a zoomy, wired guy if there ever was one) and from my Baba. I compare my life with theirs: freedom, comfort, privilege, wonderful education, love and support from all sides, a terrific family, healthy food on the table every night (well, okay, it COULD be healthy every night! and it COULD be on the table and not eaten on the run), a totally thrilling and fulfilling professional life, the joy of living in beloved community with a congregation I adore, a lovely home, a good manicurist and hairdresser (c'mon, we have to count ALL our blessings).

Do we ever count so-called disorders among our blessings? How about when they lead us into better stewardship of our bodies, a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of how we are "fearfully and wonderfully made," and a closer, more compassionate relationship to a long-dead grandmother?


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