Tag Archives: Anxiety

Night Verses Light

Our daughter has always had fun with words. She twists them, turns them and creates new ones that make more sense. When she was about three she told us she smelled a “Stunk”.  Skunk is a great word but, my goodness, stunk is better. No wonder she grew up to be a very good speech pathologist.

When she was young, she would tell me things her “Sleep Brain” was telling her. Not dreams really but crazy, untruths. She somehow knew, even as a girl, that her awake brain and her sleep brain had two different points of view.

Because of her use of language, I’m able, even now, to examine a thought or perception that happens in the night as just my “sleep brain” talking. Every once in a while, in that state between wake and sleep my brain will be insightful, useful or come up with the answer to a problem from earlier in the day. “Oh, my headphones are in my hoodie pocket!” “Her name is Mary Ann!” I always marvel at my brain to work on something long after I forgot to think about it anymore.

But most of the time my sleep brain is not logical. She magnifies and distorts reality. She makes me worry and dream about pointless problems. Because I gave my heart, soul and career to the church for thirty years, my sleep brain still does a stunning amount of church work even though I let that go almost two years ago. I’ve spent many a night trying to organize sermon notes, make it to the sanctuary on time and find my clergy robe.

Basically, there is a huge difference between night thinking and light thinking. I try to keep my thoughts exposed to the light of day. I journal every day so I can be real with myself. I write down night thoughts and dreams. Sometimes I’ve even recorded my “Night Thinking” and listed right beside it my “Light Thinking.”

The Bible is redundantly about light. Ephesians 5, selected verses from The Message translation, You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer, you are out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get with it! The good, the right, the true–these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours….Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busy work, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham that they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on…the darkness…see how attractive everything looks in the light of Christ.

Night verses Light. Which one do you choose?

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace and a breast cancer survivor who loves God’s Light.   

      

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The Teacher

Life is clearly a series of transitions. We should be used to that by now. So many I know are in the midst of some achingly abrupt and difficult transitions. The hardest ones seem to the be the ones no one asked for.

I have friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Some are grieving breaking or broken marriages. Some are agonizing over the painful transitions of their children in trying to launch into the real world or who are struggling with addiction, anxiety, learning differences or depression. People I know keep getting difficult diagnoses. I know some right now who are transitioning from this life to the next or sitting near a loved one who is.

I have two sets of friends who are literally going through everything they own in order to move to different countries for a work season. I know some who are in the midst of big job changes, some they didn’t ask for.

My family has been wrapping our hearts around my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis which became official last June after revealing itself slowly a few years before that. She does not like to call it that. She believes she has normal “old people forgetfulness.” We try sometimes to gently remind her that it is more than that but I don’t suppose it matters.

My mom was an elementary school teacher. She’s still teaching me, even through her own transition. As Alzheimer’s erases her memory, she is forced to stay anchored in the present: the this day, this moment, present. Her disease has made her more attentive, more reflective even. We spend Wednesdays together. One of her favorite topics is for me to tell her about my childhood. I’m a storyteller anyway and not that many people are asking about my childhood these days, so I find it delightful. She hangs on every word. She’ll say, “I remember that!” Or, “I was a good mom, wasn’t I?”

She gets more caught up in the moment we are in. Last week, at a restaurant, she said she loved me and asked if she could kiss me. One kiss led to more all over my face. With the business lunch crowd looking on, she kissed and loved on me as if I was 9 months old. I just let every single kiss soak right in.

She stays in the present. She savors things, gratefully. She loves playing Tetris and beating me, every time. She loves a nice cold glass of Chardonnay. She loves peppermints, iced coffee, ice cream, playing Solitaire and Words with Friends on her Kindle. She will look at pictures of her loved ones all day long. She often names the things she likes, like a Holy litany.

Almost every time we are together, she tells me to look at the sky. “Can you believe how blue it is?” “Look at that tiny cloud over there!” “I’ve never seen the sky look so beautiful, have you?”

I do not romanticize her disease or what is coming for all of us. I know how hard and long and ever changing our journey will be.

But for now, in this transition-no-one-asked-for, she’s still teaching. I think her lesson points can work for anyone going through a hard season.

Stay in today. It is all we really have.

If you love someone, tell them and kiss them all over their face.

Savor little things, gratefully. Name what is good in your life over and over and give thanks.

And, for God’s sake, and yours, look up. Look up.

The Under Toad

I’m finding comfort in reading John Irving novels. Currently, I’m reading The World According to Garp. I like Irving’s writing even though I’m sure I don’t understand parts of it. His work always intrigues and challenges me.

In this novel, the Garp family talks to their young sons at the beach every year about the under tow. They describe what it can do to you. One of their boys becomes particularly afraid. Finally, they get to the bottom of his fear. He believed all along they were saying, “Watch out for the Under Toad.” He was picturing a massive frog-like toad, lurking under the dark of the water, big-eyed, slimy, ready to grab him by the legs and steal him away.

After that, whenever anxiety popped up in their family, they called it the Under Toad.

I’m seeing quite a bit of the Under Toad lately, are you? I see it in the news, in my Twitter feed and other forms of social media. I see it in families and friendship circles. I see it in schools, churches and in the community. Last week, I had a conversation with a relative over politics at her initiative that sent me rushing out the door, emotional, sweating, uttering bad words and covered in Under Toads.

One of the ongoing lessons I have learned in my adult life is that the Under Toad does not help anything.  It is bad for marriages and parenting. It is bad for leaders and followers. The Under Toad moves us from being thinking, calm people to overly emotional, reactive ones.

I hate it because it is so much fun to blame others, but the truth is we cannot manage other people’s Under Toads, only our own. When anxiety is high, all you can do is manage your Toad.

Sometimes our fears are real and based in fact. There really is, for example, an under tow out there which we should know about and respect. But, it is not a huge, amphibian-like monster plotting to get us. Millions of people do not die each year because of Under Toads. In fact, no one has even been hurt by one, ever.

How do we manage our Under Toads?

Everyone is different, of course, but here’s my list of anxiety-busters:

Establish some spiritual touch points and routines that anchor you like prayer, journaling, meditation, scripture. Do these whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait until inspired. That is not how it works.

Engage with nature. Creation feeds our souls. The colors, the smells, the wonder of outside eases anxiety. Sunrises and sunsets are my favorite twice a day Toad repellent.under-toad

Music works every time.

Comedians. Thank God for the funny people. Did you know, laughter cannot co-exist with Toads?

Babies. Children. Find some. Rent some. Volunteer near some. According to Psychology Today, 4 year olds are reported to laugh 300 times a day. 40 year olds? Only 4. Find a small person, play and just laugh when they laugh.

Disconnect. I’m beginning to think our media feeds our hungry Under Toads and when our Toads are large and scary, we keep going back for more. When they see what sells it is like supply and demand. Maybe we should take a little break.

Breathe. Mary Oliver, the poet, writes, “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget to breathe deeply, especially when being pursued by Toads.

Exercise. It is amazing how we are made. Exercise is good for us and breaks the anxiety chain. It helps us feel better, look better and sleep better. I walk. Every day. Outside, in nature. I breathe there. I disconnect there.

Act. Do something. Go ahead and act. Today, I spent a couple of hours with some amazing women strategizing about how we would help serve the economically disadvantaged students in our public schools with school supplies and other resources. It kept the Toad at bay.

Love. Love people. Love strangers. Love your family. Love those who feel differently than you do. Try to listen but also take care of you. Learn to say, “Can we change the conversation? I’m having an allergic reaction to a personal Toad problem right now.” I promise they will stop talking.

Thank you, John Irving, for your writing. You showed me the power of the Under Toad…and more than that, you showed me it is not even real.

 

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Six Days Later

I’ve wanted to write since last Tuesday’s momentous election.  I really have. I’ve had so many thoughts and concerns, just like you.  I’ve read too much, watched too much, seen so much since that time. I’ve disconnected a little bit. I’ve walked a lot. I’ve talked to friends and relatives. I couldn’t find the words to write. Or, I had too many words, some of them not appropriate for a blog, so I knew that wouldn’t do. I just needed to let some things simmer until I could articulate something.

One of the more amazing realizations of the last week for me has been a humbling understanding that not everyone sees the world like I do. It floors me that this is true. Not all Christians agree with me. We do not have the same values. Not all women agree with me. Not all white people think like me. I am humbled by realizing this. I sort of thought we were all one big happy family. We are not. I am now, six days later, feeling humbled by this.

No matter how you voted you have to agree we are in for some serious changes and that is hard for all of us. We do not know how this will turn out. Six days later, I’m aware that change is coming.

I was so stunned by the election’s outcome that it disoriented me for a while. On the day after, my daughter sent the Thanksgiving menu. I actually thought, “We are going to still have Thanksgiving?” I’m better now. Of course we will have Thanksgiving. Six days later, I’m still grateful for so much.

Six days later, I realize how much I need my touch points. I need to hang on to that which grounds me and gives me hope. I need to rely on routines and rituals: prayer, journaling, exercise, music, home, family, friends, nature. Thomas Merton put it like this, “If you yourself are at peace, then at least there is some peace in the world.” Six days later, I am working at being at peace.

Saturday started as a gloomy day for me, but I went ahead and tied up my tennis shoes, leashed my dog and headed out for a touch point walk. We found ourselves accidentally in the middle of a 5K to raise awareness for a disease. Once you are accidently in a 5K you can’t get out and so we walked. Little girls in tutus walked by followed by little boys in super hero capes. Old people ran by (how do they do that?) I saw people of all colors. Moms and Dads with strollers. I saw people who were clearly of different faiths. I marveled, “Look at them, all of them, out here raising awareness.”  Some had shirts on in memory of someone who had died from the disease.

Later, I engaged in another touch point, planning our family’s weekly menus and buying groceries. In front of the store, teenagers were collecting food items for the hungry. Shoppers were coming out of the store in droves with extra bags of food for those in need. It surprised me. I actually said out loud, “Well would you look at that” to no one at all except myself.

Then, the coach from my son’s high school football team sent an email with pictures. A third grade football team had disappointingly had their opponent forfeit the last game of the season. They had no one to play them. The coach called on his players to suit up and come “play the little guys to make their last game memorable.”  These big high school football players, who only the night before had played a play off game themselves, suited up, playing these little boys on a beautiful fall Saturday morning.

Six days later, I still have no good words. I feel humbled. I feel the changes coming. I feel the need to engage in those basic touch points. I am ready to have Thanksgiving. And, I still see good people who care, doing good things all around me.

Our country is torn and anxious right now but it is the same country where people do 5K runs for others, where the hungry are fed and where giant high school athletes care about little boys who just want to play football.  Thank God for that. Touch points.

Mammogram Monday

Yesterday I preached a sermon on anxiety. First though, I arrived at the church where I was preaching with 10 minutes to spare and then noticed I didn’t actually have my sermon notes with me. This is a very anxiety producing feeling. What occurred in the next 15 minutes was a flurry of me driving, texting and trying to gather sermon notes. I arrived late, sweaty, with notes in hand and a semi-entertaining  intro into the worship service theme. After the service, at home, I noticed the sermon notes in the crevice of my car-between the seat and console. So yes, I essentially, freaked my self out, driving around with what I needed right beside me in the car the whole time. I’m just guessing but it seems God is not finished teaching me funny lessons on handling anxiety.

Then this morning, I got another chance to experience a different kind of anxiety–the mammogram Monday kind. This kind isn’t amusing. It’s just real. Every six months, I am scanned for signs of change. It’s real because they are looking for any signs that the cancer is back. Today I tried the mammogram for the first time since surgery and radiation without a pain pill, which I mostly took previously for psychic pain.

My husband asked me on the way there how I was feeling about everything. He never asks things like that. I was caught off guard and said “I don’t know.” What I felt inside was a mixture of deep fear, palpable anxiety, dread and peace. That whole mixed ball of feelings made me want to cry.

I made it through the scans and the waiting, trying to remind myself of all the wise things I said in my anxiety sermon the morning before. When the doctor called me in to that dark room to look at my pictures, my heart was in my throat. “All clear, looks great, no changes.”

I didn’t cry until I got to the changing room and exchanged the little pink mammogram top for my street clothes. Happy tears, relieved tears. And, still so much for me to learn about anxiety.