Sunday, April 15, 2007

What The Body Knows

Still Waters
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
I knew something was wrong, or off, yesterday when I sang almost an entire concert from somewhere not quite in my body. Every third or fourth song, I would look into the audience and really connect, but most of the time I was smiling and energetic but on some deep level I just wasn't home.

Partly it is this time of year. I go into reveries and while I'm technically in 2007, my mind is living 25 years ago. A smell can cause this time travel, or a song, or a quality of the rain. April is the cruelest month, as the poet wrote. For me it is the most nostalgic.

I watched a father and his elementary school-age daughter snuggling at rehearsal on Friday night, she sitting in his lap, he absent-mindedly kissing her forehead, and I felt absent of words, just a little mouse in the hidey hole with the other mices. Very tender, very vulnerable.

Another person at the rehearsal is hugely pregnant and due to give birth any day now. I watched her prepare a little piece of French toast for her firstborn, so grounded in her big, extravagant body, and I felt like I was floating out of mine.

I put 100 miles on the car without having any real sense of where I had been.

I slept 8 hours most nights this week with no real sense of the days being different from the nights. My mojo is looooow. I re-read my Easter sermon and couldn't remember having written it. When did I write that? Was that me? Did we really dedicate that beautiful baby girl that morning, our living evidence that God loves us enough to keep inviting us to the party even though we've been such a bad guest at Her house?

It should have come as no surprise, then, when I was hit with a major panic attack yesterday evening. When my mind, body and soul slip apart like that, my body is usually processing through the accumulated stress and trauma of the past few months and deciding what to do with it. If I have not been consistent with exercise, prayer, quiet time and intentional healing work, I fall prey to anxiety attacks, or just chronic sense of anxiety that sits in my chest, back and neck and holds me in the kind of bear hug granted by an overly-needy participant in a men's spirituality retreat.

If you've never experienced a full-blown anxiety attack, it's hard to explain. For me, as I've described before, there is the textbook sensation of "fight or flee," a quick spreading heat all over my body, tingling extremities, blurred vision and a sense of "losing it." I literally can't see straight. I can't focus my thoughts. Every bit of energy is occupied with the struggle to remain calm, remain in the body.
My thoughts come in big block letters: "YOU ARE NOT DYING."

I talked with my mother as it hit, and she was good, allowing me to put the phone down and stretch and walk as I needed. She did not panic herself. She knows I'm fine.

Sleep came only after much effort and stern admonitions to self ("WE HAVE CHURCH IN THE MORNING. GO. TO. SLEEP."). When I awoke with slight fluttering and trembling, I shot out the back door into the cold yard and walked firmly around it, telling myself all the while to "CUT IT OUT, NOW."

It was so good to be with my church. The service went well. The music was beautiful. My congregants were healing to me, with their fine energy and their humor and their warmth.

The struggle continues. I talk about it because I believe that chronic anxiety is an extremely common ailment of our time, and because I believe that creative and spiritually-oriented folks need to know that someone like them -- someone whose very life blood is in the work of ministry, pastoring, writing, witnessing and living as deeply as possible -- is willing to speak honestly about the ways we can skid off the road and into high weeds if we do not care for ourselves as tenderly and in as much detail as we care for others.

Oh, it's not worth beating ourselves up over. I've done that and I'm here to tell you that it doesn't work. What does seem to work is just accepting what is, getting help that I need from whatever sources seem promising, and talking truth about it. In my experience, having an anxiety disorder is less exotically stressful the more honest and plain I am about it. It is simply an extreme fight-or-flight response that happens out of context, shocking the respondee and causing more fear and alarm.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. And yet, it is a challenging responsibility to be the best stewards we can be of these marvelous instruments within which we experience the miracle of incarnation.

I wish you health, and a peaceful heart.


Anonymous krs said...

I wish you the same, PB. And appreciate that you shared this.

Blogger juniper68 said...

Thanks for this post, PB. Here's a gently appropriate hug for you, too.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing this. I know that April is a month of death for us- we've had several close relatives die at this time and the sights and smells of spring bring the loss back each year. I also think it is a time to take stock of last year and the coming summer, and see where you are- always sobering. You are brave to share and wise to take the time to get the resources and down time that you need. Being a minister at this time of year has got to be tough- lots to do before GA and planning for next year. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you for the ministry you do via your blog.

Cincinnati mom

Blogger robiewankenobie said...

this may not be you, but it was me.

i had chronic anxiety. i didn't know how bad it was, until it was gone. my doctors had prescribed the wrong medicine for me, thinking that i was depressed. i was on a tightrope between depressed and anxious. turns out? a milder form of bipolar, called bipolar II. they put me on lamictal...and i've only had one panic attack since.

it has changed my life.

Anonymous Godguuurl said...

Thanks for sharing PB. I've been struggling with depression since palm sunday. lots of things personal and professional slapping me upside the head. Nice to know that other pastors hit walls too.

Anonymous Mary Ann said...

God be with you, and help you to remember to breathe.

Blogger Juanuchis said...

Oh, I so hear you! I can empathize with you and Robie. I'm usually awash in some degree of anxiety and depression ... since October, Lexapro has been a salvation.

Peace be with you and all of us.

Blogger Rev Cindi said...

Your honesty is a blessing...and a challenge for me to be as transparent. May you find peace in the midst of the panic attacks. Just keep breathing, my friend.

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I haven't been to Blogger or posted in a while, though I've been meaning to almost daily. This morning I woke up after having a dream in which I ran into you at a conference. You were very statuesque and looked happy.

I hope the anxiety attacks become fewer in number; they are pretty awful. I think for those of us with milder mental stuff, it's important to remember that these incidents don't have to be defining characteristics, anymore than a person with once-in-a-while asthma attacks has to be "an asthmatic."

Blogger Wally Nut said...

Blessings to you PB and thanks for your beautiful description of panic. So much is changing around us and there is much re-balancing of energies that must occur. Perhaps your work at balancing the fear will have some benefit on all of us in the long run.

Blogger Stephanie said...

Thank you for writing this. So many of us are suffering similarly and (all too often) silently.



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