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."
" YOU DO NOT NEED TO CALL 911"
"YOU SHOULD BREATHE DEEPLY AND SLOWLY."
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.