I, like almost everyone around me, am a mess.
I feel exhausted.
I feel exasperated.
I feel anxious. SO anxious.
Every morning, I wake up much before I hope to and feel awake. Not awake in a refreshed sense, but in a nervous, jittery, need to run off the energy awake. My stomach feels upset, my neck aches, even my breathing feels shallow. I end up reading or scrolling through Instagram in bed, which only entertains for so long. Sometimes after literal hours of tossing and turning, I get out of bed, rush through my morning ritual, and head to work on a crowded sweaty train.
I remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom: When you are in a rush, slow down. Seriously, we need to slow down.
In the past couple of weeks as this sleeplessness and anxiety has really started to affect me, I have noticed another feeling creeping up. It directly relates to anxiety: it’s called helplessness.
Helplessness, as if losing agency, power, the ability to control anything in a situation. That causes anxiety. I have been in several situations this year that felt completely out of my control. In these situations, I find myself wishing things, like, “I wish this person wasn’t here.” Or, “I wish I knew more than I do.” I find myself begging. Who, I’m not sure.
In my sleepless mornings I have sped through several books. My “to read” pile is diminishing. This past week I finished Brian McLaren’s We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. The book offers 52 chapters of “lessons” for spiritual formation, to be divided up into each week of the year. As an instant gratificationist, of course I couldn’t save the lessons, I wanted them now. So I read the book in 2 days, and learned some fascinating perspectives on biblical narrative and how McLaren defines spirituality, calling it “the quest for aliveness.” I began to think about how I cultivate aliveness- running, writing, reading, and resisting. These activities bring me joy, challenge me, and allow me to see growth in myself. Aliveness. Perhaps the opposite of anxiety.
As I continued through the lessons, toward the end of the book I read this:
My anxiety is more dangerous to me than whatever I am anxious about. My own habit of condemning is more dangerous to me than what I condemn in others. My misery is unnecessary because I am truly, truly loved. (McLaren 143)
And suddenly it was clear: I have been my own worst enemy. I have been completely in my own head, and frightened myself to the point of insomnia. I have blamed others. I have felt miserable. I am miserable, and there is absolutely no reason for me to do nothing about this misery.
I am a mess. But I don’t need to sit in filth forever. In fact, I could do one thing today that would make me feel empowered. And celebrate that empowerment. I could be more congratulatory about finishing a run- not just feeling like I had to. I could write for the pure joy of writing, and not worry about it being terrible. And I could start thinking along the lines of what I can control, and focus on those things.
It sounds SO simple and easy, but it’s so easy to feel frozen in anxiety and misery. It’s hard to name for ourselves what we can’t control. I think aliveness is making peace with this, and learning to hold the things that give us our uniqueness. I’m done being a mess, at least, in my own head. It’s time to start assessing what needs to float there, and what can drift away.