Get me out of here.
That is the alarm that screams in my brain 100% of the time that I have extreme anxiety. Or mild anxiety. Or really any kind of discomfort. I’m sure you’ve heard of the fight or flight response when someone is in a survival situation… well I’m about as far on the flight side of the pendulum as you can swing. Which is pretty funny, considering I am about as swift and agile as a potato. Still, when I start to feel that familiar prickling in my stomach that tells me that I’m in danger (even if I’m just sitting in a staff meeting or watching a movie), my first, primal instinct is to get up and get the hell out of there.
One of the benefits of being in the mental health field is that you are forced to self-evaluate, like, all the time. Even in school, going to therapy was made mandatory for our master’s degree. I’m in my own head a lot, so I actually enjoy diving deep into my psyche and figuring out why I function the way that I do. So, a long time ago, I realized that all of my phobias and all of the things that cause me anxiety are associated with escape – or, more particularly, feeling like there is no escape.
I could write and write and write about all the moments in my life where I panicked because I felt trapped, or the times my anxiety got worse because I couldn’t leave somewhere. My phobia of flying, at its core, is a fear of being unable to escape. I can pull my car over and get out. I can’t ask the pilot to pull the plane over and let me out. I’ve struggled with health anxiety a lot, and there’s nothing quite as inescapable as your own body. If I get sick, if I need surgery, if I die, I have to experience all of it. There’s no escape from it. I recently went to a concert and we had the highest seats in the building. While my best friend was talking about how high we were and how it was freaking her out, I realized that I was more worried about the fact that the exit was so far away. I like to be sitting near an exit or facing a door. I like to know I have an out. Even in my personal life, I’ve hated feeling trapped in a job or a plan. I like spontaneity and being able to bail any giving situation at any moment in time. While this is fun when you’re a teenager or a young adult, I’m 30. I have to force myself to slow down and commit, damn it. Living a whole and full life requires us to STOP and SIT and COMMIT at times. I can’t just bail anytime I feel uncomfortable. If I do, I only get the surface level of happiness out of everything and never get to experience the fullness and joy of sticking with something through the discomfort.
And so, be still has been one of the most profound phrases that has permeated my life. I had it tattooed on my foot in 2010 as a constant reminder. It meant something different to me then, though. Then, 22 year old me knew that I never really slowed down, that I often stayed busy and worried about the wrong things. 22 year old me knew that I tried to do everything in my own power rather than allowing God to be in control of my life.
Be still and know that I am God.
30 year old Haley has been brought back to that phrase recently in a whole new way. I avoid mental and emotional pain and discomfort at all costs. I eat, I drink, I am constantly planning trips and parties, I have a full time job and own a business and raise a toddler and fulfill my role as a wife and do whatever I can to avoid feeling bored or anxious or unhappy. In fact, as I’m writing this, I am at a coffee shop having a beer because I was in a bad mood and my wonderful husband told me to go somewhere because he knew I wouldn’t be happy sitting at home.
But what if I would have just said no and stayed home? What if I would have just allowed myself to feel whatever shit mood I was in instead of distracting myself with a different atmosphere and good beer? I read a really amazing book a few months ago, called First, We Make The Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson, and one of the main ideas that she emphasizes throughout the book is that we often experience anxiety because, as a society, we hardly ever just sit with ourselves. We hardly just let ourselves feel and lean into the discomfort of life.
And that’s been my focus the past few months. Lean into the discomfort. Sit with it. In fact, our small group had us come up with a word for 2019 and sit was mine. Which sounds lazy and dumb objectively, but for me it carries a lot of meaning. It means that no matter how loud my mind and body are yelling at me to get the hell out of there when I’m anxious or uncomfortable, I will choose to sit with it. To lean into it. To be still. Our small group leader got us all bracelets that have our 2019 word on them, and, unsurprisingly, she wasn’t able to find one that said “sit”, but she was able to find one that says “be still”. She had no idea that phrase was tattooed on my foot or how much it means to me. It was absolutely divinely arranged, as if God said, You don’t have to keep running. You don’t have to escape. You’ll learn so much if you just be still.
So, I’ll sit. I’ll lean into it. I won’t run or escape or avoid it. I’ll be still and know. And I’ll grow.