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.