"Back in the Howl"

Sometimes I struggle with anxiety that is so strong I almost feel paralyzed by it. This is when I can't even have a normal conversation with my husband without being nervous and scared. This is when I am so tense that my neck and shoulders feel like iron, like if you knocked on them, they would sound like bells. This is when I try so hard to just get my mind to stop, stop, STOP already. This is when I start to panic.

Anxiety often seems to overwhelm me when I feel like I've been doing really well for a long time. I feel like I've become free of it, like I can participate, now, rather than just watching other people make normal decisions without feeling like the end result will be everything in life crumbling around them. And right when I'm participating with all that's in me, when I feel like I may even get a ribbon, it hits me. And I'm startled and confused.

It always makes me feel as though I've lost all the ground I gained.

I think this time I was holding a lot in, over the weeks that Chinua was gone. I felt strong because I needed to be strong. I felt victorious. And then he came back and I turned into the little girl, the small one. All the weakness that I'd been keeping under wraps came stumbling forward and I found myself no longer able to think clearly, apologizing for every word, every thought. Everything made me afraid. I had a really bad day yesterday, which ended with me driving home at 10:00 at night, my van full of Land groceries, crying uncontrollably on the phone to my husband while he tried to calm me down. The lady at Winco had yelled at me, had told me that my check raised "red flags," had made me feel stupid in front of all the other customers. It was just too much, after a day of trying not to listen to the "Destined to Fail" speeches in my mind all day. I fumbled my groceries into their brown bags, and wheeled myself and my baby out the door, crying.

On days like this I turn into everyone's teenaged step-daughter, angry and defiant at all of my surrogate parents. The lady at Winco is no longer just a grumpy late shifter, she now gives me identity, gives me definition, and she has decided that my checks are no good. Not only that, she has implied that I'm a liar. She must know. She must be right.

Everything is confirmation of what I've always feared. That I'm not going to be able to participate. That I'm not a good girl. These ideas I can usually fight off. But sometimes, when anxiety grips me, it's like my white blood cell count has fallen drastically. And the viruses win. I like how Anne Lamott describes it: "Then the grief and craziness would hit again, and I would be in Broken Mind, back in the howl."

This is when I am utterly flattened, in Broken Mind. Sitting shapelessly and wondering if I'll ever stand back up. I'm like the photo above, which I took a few days ago, a dead leaf by some old unused tracks. They asked, speaking about Jesus, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" But this is what they forgot, that God likes people from little tiny shabby places, that He makes broken things new. At times when my mind is so cluttered that I can barely see through the weeds, this is about all I have to stand on. And it is enough.