Warning: may trigger anxiety (writing this triggered mine)
My eyes bolt open.
What little light exists in the darkness of my bedroom is frantically devoured by my eyes. My heart beats at twice the speed of my clock.
Tick. Thump thump. Tick. Thump thump. Tick.
My hands are cold, clammy.
I’m late for work! That’s why I’m awake!
I work at 7:00, I need to leave at 6:00 to get there on time. I check my phone. It’s only four o’clock. Plenty of time left to get to work on time. But no, I’m going to be late. Something is going to happen today. I just know it. I can’t be late.
I brush my teeth, throw on some clothes. No time to take a shower. I can’t be late. I comb my hair (pretending I washed it). I glance at my phone.
“Caleb, what are you thinking? You’ve never been ready this early. You have plenty of time to get to work.”
I can’t be late.
I throw on my coat. Where are my keys?! I can’t find my keys! I can’t leave the house without locking it up! Someone will break in. Why today?! I can’t be late. I rummage through my hamper, yesterday’s socks flying as I search the pockets of dirty trousers. Nothing.
Drawers fly open. Flyers strewn across the table. I can’t find my keys! I needed them to get in the house. So they must be here. Somewhere.
I can’t be late! I’m going to be late. This is ridiculous I can’t manage being late.
“Okay Caleb, deep breathes. You’ve got lots of time. Have a glass of water. Calm down.”
No! No time for that! Stupid! There’s the keys. On the counter, where I always leave them.
Door’s locked. Waiting for the elevator.
Ground floor. Ground floor. Ground floor. Why isn’t the door closing?!
This is ridiculous. I have so much time. But something’s going to happen! I’m going to be so late. I can’t even explain this to my boss. I have so much time. There’s literally no excuse for being late. I’ll get fired. I’m going to get fired. I have rent to pay! Where will I live? I have bills to pay! I can’t pay my phone bill if I don’t have a job. If I don’t have a phone how can I go job searching?
This is stupid. Nothing’s happened yet. Just walk faster. Just make it to work. Breathe. Just breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. BREATHE! Okay, slower. Breath slower. You’re running to work, not running a marathon.
Okay. I can see my building now. I’ll be fine.
Nope! Something’s going to happen. I won’t be able to make it.
I walk into work.
My heart pounding, chest heaving.
I walked into work a full hour and fifteen minutes before I was supposed to leave home. A full two hours and fifteen minutes before I was actually supposed to start work.
This is how I experience anxiety. It’s nonsensical. Nothing makes sense. My fight or flight response is triggered and my body and mind go into overdrive. I can tell you point-blank that I’m overreacting, but that doesn’t keep my body from overreacting. It’s annoying. It’s incredibly frustrating. When my body refuses to cooperate with your mind, I find few things more infuriating.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Often this is turned into a bludgeon for those suffering from clinical anxiety. “You just need to trust Jesus!” But what happens when you already do trust Jesus?
I can’t talk myself out of an anxiety attack anymore than I can talk myself out of a poison ivy rash. I can’t talk myself out of being scared of being late when I’m two hours early. My body is just a little messed up.
This is one aspect of my mental illness. My body is broken. And it is here that the salve of the Gospel meets me. I worship a Lord whose body was broken. And it is in my brokenness that my God meets me. It is in every Eucharist meal, that I am reminded by the bread that my God meets me where I am at, broken, yet loved.