Wednesday, August 4, 2010

That Fear May Be Transformed...

Let me tell you my woes. I was one of those "sensitive children" prone to worry and shyness. As an adolescent, I became depressed and flirted with eating disorder. As an adult, I continued with bouts of depression and debilitating anxiety even as I forged ahead with marriage, college, and graduate school. As a young mother, I had post-partum depression. I have an obsessive compulsive personality and multiple phobias. I have a license but haven't driven anywhere in years. I shake at the thought of having to call people on the phone and become panic-stricken at the thought of having to be near medical doctors. I am particularly nervous around male doctors and men I don't know well. I can't shop on my own and when I do shop or eat out, I avoid male salesclerks and waiters like the plague. I won't ask for directions and become agitated when anyone who is with me does. I live with general anxiety disorder and clinical depression. Most uncomfortably, I'm a hypochondriac which means that for me, every physical symptom, real or imagined, signifies my imminent death- and worse, my separation from my beloved family. In the past two days, I've been weepy as I calculate that if I survive for five years, my youngest child will not be quite 11 years old and may not remember me. Maybe it would be better for him if he didn't.

A bad spell of hypochondria puts me in crisis mode. My entire existence settles around the fear and the process of alleviating that fear. This might involve cruising the internet for evidence that I'm not actually dying (this generally backfires as the internet is full of horribly sensationally-phrased and worrisome "medical" advice that boils down to "whatever bump, tingle, discoloration, ache, or fatigue you have is cancer. Contact your doctor immediately, but it is probably already too late."

During an episode, I can't sleep well. For hours or even days at a time, my throat feels constricted, my stomach unsettled. I shake and cry. I am distracted and unsettled in my routines.

During these times, I drink calming teas and practice Qi Gong and meditation. I exercise and take extra supplements. When I am not too distracted to eat, I try to become even more mindful than I already normally am of my diet to avoid foods that trigger or exacerbate anxiety. Thankfully, over time, I have learned multiple ways to address the stress of "my condition" as we sometimes call it, but everyone in the family knows what is meant by the polite phrase, "She isn't feeling well."

In between these bouts which have been occurring more and more frequently this year, I turn my thoughts to mortality in general. Increasingly, the focus of my spirituality is in trying to reconcile myself to the overwhelming fear of losing my loved ones and myself to the inevitable obliterating process of catastrophe, disease, and death.

It is important for me to also share that there are moments of joy and laughter too for me even in the midst of anxiety attacks. I am still here. Contrary to the wretched commercials for anti-depressants one sees on television, I do not live in a world of muted grays barely aware of life around me. I still can laugh at life and at myself. I can still think thoughts that transcend my fear. I am still capable of loving, and hoping, and dreaming and all the good stuff. I am still productive, motherly, curious, and even happy. There is so much stigma and well-meaning misunderstanding about psychological difference that one fears disclosing one's "mental illness" (how I detest that term)for fear of losing the respect of friends and colleagues who may begin to see a disease rather than a person. Like living with a physical limitation or chronic pain, one who lives with chronic psychological limitations and pain also lives a full life. It may be quite different from others' lives, but I do love it and I am thankful for it. It has given me insights that would have otherwise remained hidden. I have become more attuned to others' suffering, and I often sense others' secret pain before they tell me. My dark thoughts are very dark indeed, but the joy of my life is far more brilliant as a consequence. I weep with joy at least as often as I weep with fear and sadness. Little things- light on a blade of grass, the silver underside of a leaf, a stranger's smile, are exquisitely beautiful to me. In my sometimes unsettled mind, I am almost always dying or overjoyed at being alive. For me, life is very raw, very miraculous, very tenuous. I take fewer things for granted.

But I do apologize that I am so needy and fearful and melodramatic. It is tiresome, I know, to those who love me and look after me. I am a "high maintenance" human being. Even though I know myself to be a reliable and competent worker long-used to navigating responsibility in the midst of fear, I have hidden my weaknesses as well as I can from most people (who would want to give responsibility for teaching and writing to a nutcase like me?) But I've chosen not to hide it from my readers. Spiritual writing that is not honest is also not effective. So I write this despite my discomfort. This is neither the first nor the last blog entry I will share here that exposes my inadequacies, weaknesses, and absurdities (although I will try to make it funnier next time).

Here is where I am radically honest. Here I expose the truths of my life. I have no patience for a spirituality that glorifies the Light of the Ineffable but ignores that S/He exists also in shadows. I still have great hope that my fear will be transformed into a deeper Love and Peace. So I offer my fear and lay it bare, ashamed as I am, with faith that this too can be transformed.


Morgaine said...

You are beauty in this world, Hystery! Truly, you are.

Blessed be!


Nellie said...

Don't be ashamed. That was a very brave post.
I have experience of what you're talking about and so can imagine how hard it was to be open and frank in this way, even when you remain anonymous.
I 'flirted' as you say with an eating disorder in my late teens and suffered horribly from low self esteem. Then in my early 20's when my dad became ill I was there to look after both my mum and dad in an emotional sense, during which I was absolutely fine. But as their lives started to get back to normal and my dad recovered I fell to pieces. I lived in constant fear of something and would be dying of multiple problems at any given point. Even worse should my small son catch a cold and then I would be driven into such a state of anxiety that there was no coming back from it. Often as it progressed I wouldn't even be sure what I was so afraid of happening only that I was terribly afraid something was going to happen. It was a long, dark and difficult journey for me and took everything I had and the understanding of my family to pull myself out of that hole. It's been maybe 3 years now since I pulled clear of it, but still every now and then something small or big, it makes no difference, will occur and I'll be thrown right back there and will be controlled by the anxiety. It's awful and when it happens I struggle not to feel like a failure for not controlling it.
I've come to accept that this is actually part of who i am and that it isn't ever going to go away. I know I just have to be on the alert because it's a sneaky little demon, you almost don't realise until it's too late that it's got you. I know that at least for a whole lot of years and possibly forever that it's just a case of controlling the fear and not letting it control me.
There are so many people who experience this, but because it's so taboo to talk about you end up feeling like a freak. Don't be ashamed, there are so many others out there that are going through exactly the same thing. It's far more common than most people realise.
Well done for talking about it. I hope you escape the dark cloud soon.
Nellie x

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that you have such a troubled life, Hystery. But I am at least pleased to know that someone else besides me has a telephone phobia. I seldom answer the phone unless I know who it is (and even then, only if I'm in the mood to speak to them). But I really have to wind myself up to *making* calls, and find myself 'rehearsing' before I pick up the instrument.

Love and Light,


Lone Star Ma said...

I feel privileged to read your honest, spiritual writings.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Good morning Hystery,

Thanks for your "radical honesty." Such honesty in a person committed to Truth helps so many others who also struggle more or less with their own problems and trials.

And it gives encouragement to not give up on their own overwhelming problems, since they more deeply understand how your own giving as a wife and mother and friend, and your writing, teaching...all happen despite difficult trials.

Yes, like the proverbial sand to pearl in the oyster:-)

Thanks for sharing from your heart.


Dogaroo said...

More than once while reading your posts I've thought to myself, "Wow! She just described what it's like to be ME!" Funny thing is, it's usually when you're writing about things that make you seem "different" from others. This latest post of yours is no exception.

...And now that I've told you that you sound very much like me in so many ways, I'm trying to figure out how to say this delicately, so as not to offend you....

Aww, to heck with being delicate! I've never been good at it. :-/ I'm autistic. It's really not such a bad thing to be, though neurotypicals often find us a bit... bewildering. ;-) Anyway.... Autistic or not, your sharing of yourself has made me feel less alone, and I want to thank you for that.

Dogaroo said...

Three things about Morgaine: It's nigh unto impossible to deceive her, she's VERY good at seeing into people's hearts & souls, and she's impeccably honest. Therefore, when she says "you are beauty in this world" you can accept it as an absolute fact. :-)

Hystery said...

I'm sorry about the delay in replying to your posts. Thank you all for such kind and supportive words.

Morgaine, right back at you. I've come to expect wisdom and solace in your words. Bless you for that.

Nellie, I think so many of us, particularly women, have similar experiences. I am among the lucky ones inasmuch as I am able to express myself here on this blog and in my personal life with friends and family. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to observe that "that girl ain't right!" lol I have a team of loved ones who watch out for me at my despondent worst and enjoy me at my quirky best.

Thank you for sharing your story with me. What a world of difference it makes to know that others truly understand.

Sandra, you too? I hate telephones. I think it is because I can't see their faces while I talk to them and unlike written communication, the language one uses on a phone is not nuanced enough to read their emotional intent. I care a great deal about motivation.

Lone Star Ma and Daniel,
Thanks, guys. :-) It is not hard being honest when I know that my words will be gently and compassionately received.

Dogaroo, autism, eh? I've often wondered about that especially after taking one of those online tests that suggested as much. My entire family is full of learning differences and unconventional (although brilliant) brains. I don't think people always know what to do with us. Thankfully, having each other helps.

I've never heard the term "neurotypical" but I really enjoy it. It is helpful in describing the difference between my extended family of wacky, sensitive, eccentric oddballs and the "conventional" thinkers who surround us.

Dogaroo said...

*giggle* You didn't need to ask what "neurotypical" means. Add five points to your Autism Spectrum Quotient. Also, you get six points of extra credit for being a spotted zebra who can see music. ;-)

Elly said...

Thank you so much for writing this. A great deal of it rings true for me also, and it's wonderful to see anxiety (and "mental illness" in general) talked about so frankly, so beautifully, so well.

As others have said, please don't be ashamed. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Blessed be, and holding you in the Light,

A fellow pagan Quaker,


Jeremy Mott said...

Friend Hystery, This was a very brave post. I too have been mentally ill---depressed practically all my life, and manic-
depressed for about 17 years now.
In my case, it seems that powerful
drugs are necessary. Luckily,
Social Security and my dear wife (also disabled, by migraine) support me.
Here is some unsolicited advice,
even though others duplicate much
of it. First, you must not be
ashamed. Second, please continue
to keep a loving relationship with your family. Finally---and this
is especially important for someone as bright as you---keep on
thinking rationally.
A year or so ago you explained beautifully how you are not a
Christian but both a Pagan and a
Friend. I have watched for many
years as Pagans and Buddhists and
atheists among Quakers have made
liberal Quakerism an increasingly
incoherent religion, even though
all these folks (like you) have
much of value to offer.
I longed for the days when
liberal Friends were almost always Christians in the sense of people trying to follow Jesus, of in the
sense of people trying to live
a life filled with the Spirit of
Christ, the Inward Light. I think that I belong in both groups, and
therefore I call myself Christian.
You belong in at least the first
of these groups, yet you still
cannot call yourself a Christian;
and now I understand.
Thank you. It's high time
that you started publishing some
of your wonderful material among
Friends, not only in Friends Journal but even in Quaker Life
(which has had some fine pieces
on spiritual journeys recently,
and has published letters opposing the FUM personnel policy). I hope
that the editor doesn't get her-
self fired.
Not only this piece, but
your piece on trying to raise
pacifist children (especially boys)
are classics and deserve very
widespread circulation.
If it's not too late, please
when you read this send me, by
e-mail (jeremyhardinmott at your postal address,
so I can have Thomas Hamm's book,
and a couple of magazines, sent to
you. Thanks again.
Jeremy Mott

Hystery said...

Thank you for your kind words. That just made my day.

Regarding by non-Christianity...That's a funny one with me. Intellectually, I am clearly not a Christian, but I make a funny non-Christian since I sing hymns as I do my housework, teach my children about Jesus, and hold the teachings of Jesus as my moral guide. I just don't think he was the (only) Son of God. I do think that Message was of the Light and I cling to that Message and honor the dear Messenger with tearful thanks.