It was April 2012, and I was having trouble breathing.
I sat at my desk, staring blankly at the computer screen, reminding myself to breathe in and then out again, and slowly.
And then I was okay for a day or two, because some little thing would buoy my spirits or make me think this panic was gone for good, and then it would wash over me again, and I would breath again and push down this anxiety so I could keep living and trying to walk forward.
I told one of my friends how I was feeling, and she commented that anxiety and fear often come into our lives when we are not believing the gospel, and maybe was there something off in my relationship with Jesus?
I thought about this. Then I wondered, "How would I even know? I don't remember what he sounds like." It occurred to me that if Jesus was trying to tell me something, I wouldn't have been able to hear it anyway.
And the author of a memoir I was reading at the time mentioned her spiritual director, and I thought, "That is what I need."
So I Googled "Toronto spiritual director" and found a directory of sorts and immediately dismissed the people with weird emails like "email@example.com", and Googled the names of some of the others, and found one person's bio and liked her bio and emailed her.
I knew within 5 minutes of meeting Monica that this was going to be a good thing.
When she told me, "Anxiety is a gift, because it tells you to pay attention..." I was willing to believe her. We looked at my anxiety, and what it was telling me. It dissipated, but we kept meeting. Because I am not meant to live my life alone, and safe people are a blessing, and wise people are rare, and finding them both in the same soul is amazing. PLUS, she laughs with me (and sometimes at me), and that makes me happy.
I started re-learning how to hear from Jesus, and how to notice God in places I'd never thought to look.
Last month, the same waves of paralyzing fear came crashing over me. I held them at bay for awhile, but eventually wound up lying on the floor, crying in the dark, consumed by the inevitable and imminent implosion of my life. In my calm moments, I can laugh at this. But in that moment, it felt terrifyingly convinced of it.
I talked with Monica late in the week. We discussed what had triggered these feelings, my anger at God for not taking them away, and she helped me see the gift in all of it - if I hadn't felt so weak, so unable to hold myself together, I would have kept trying to do it all* on my own. Instead, I had to let people in. Friends, herself, and most terrifyingly, the man whose love I most feared losing.
There isn't really a conclusion to this story, except to say that love is scary as (all the expletives) and fear is a beast but there is a verse somewhere in the Bible (let's say 1 John, maybe chapter 4?) that says, "Perfect love casts out fear." And I'm beginning to believe it's true.
Before some of you get all eye-rolly, I will clarify that I don't simply mean romantic love. I mean any love where your heart is open and you are not hiding and someone sees you as you are. As you really and truly are on the worst and most distressing of days when you can't pretend to be a better version of yourself. And they say, "I see you. I love you. I am not going anywhere."
It doesn't fix everything. But it makes me realize that some things are more important than having it all together. That maybe anxiety can be a gift, and falling apart can help, and looking at the semester knowing you cannot do it all* is the right place to start.
*This is a constant struggle for me. Being in a relationship has made me realize many things, and one of them is this: I can't do it all. And also, I try really really hard to do it all. I think I'm finally ready and willing to see that change. Which could make this a very interesting (difficult) semester. I will (maybe) keep you posted (If you never hear from me here, it's safe to assume that the semester has indeed been difficult. But that does not mean it won't be GOOD!).