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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Imagine what life would be like without worry.   I remember that heady freedom I felt as a child  riding in the car with the windows down, long before child restraints became mandatory, my nose stuck out the window smelling the freshly cut grass, the wind rushing through my hair and a big smile on my face, ready for anything.

I thought that by this stage in life I would have worry all figured out.  I recall jumping onto a plane as a young woman full of nothing but excitement, anticipation and wondering whether I’d order a red or white wine once we took off.  I loved listening to Midnight Oil and Angels songs throbbing on my big old Walkman as the plane soured into the air. Taking off was my favourite part of the trip – so thrilling to feel the plane’s  power, energy and oomph as we climbed into the big blue sky.

These days flying is a very different matter.  The loud rock songs and delicious beverage decisions have vanished from my mind, and in their place are whispers of:  that guy in front of us looks a bit shifty – he could be a terrorist;  what was that grinding noise in the plane’s engine;  what if my son vomits all over the smart-looking woman next to him; my ankles are feeling puffy – I hope it’s not deep vein thrombosis;  did I switch off the iron before leaving the house?  And on and on it goes, relentless and immobilising.  Tapping my toes to Peter and Doc has become an exquisite and bittersweet memory.

Worry can act as a giant eraser, rubbing all the colour and beauty out of life.  I noticed this at the end of the school holidays when I visited a local café with my sons for breakfast.  After a long summer holiday I was feeling unusually relaxed and virtually worry-free.   We sat at the same table as last time – the very first day of the holidays – and I was amazed at the striking coloured graffiti on the wall in front of me.  I commented to my sons and one responded with: “It’s been there all along Mum”.  I disagreed as I’d never seen it before…  So when the waitress came along laden with cappuccino and milkshakes I told her how much I loved the new artwork.  “Oh, that was done before we opened the Café, it’s been there for quite a  while…”  Last time I was in the café I was so tired, stressed and full of anxiety that I didn’t even see all of this colour, movement and artistic expression, right in front of me!  It was an eerie moment of self awareness.  My worry was robbing me of all the best bits in life – the beautiful, special and the meaningful bits.

Yet when I reflect on the times I’ve had to face something really challenging, such as a medical diagnosis that could be fatal, I realise that hiding beneath the heavy layers of shock and despair was a tiny glimmer of hope.  Whether it was a line in a song on the radio,  a conversation overheard in the hospital lift, or simply the uplifting presence of a friend by my side – I caught a little glimpse of light that ignited something in my spirit. I knew I would get through this dark valley – there was a way through and a wellspring to sustain me.  Surely, this little glimmer can be ignited now too, when worry springs up uninvited like a weed threatening to strangle all the joy and colour out of life.

Big problems aren’t always solved with big solutions.  Do you know that a mustard seed is only 1-2 mm in diameter?  A wise man once said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move a mountain. It sounds like a crazy concept, I know, but there’s something in it.

So when those worrying whispers start up in my mind I look for the mustard seed of faith, wrapped in whispers of:   all will be well, you will get through this, things will get better – nothing stays the same, God loves you and nothing can separate you from his love, nothing is impossible, you have a purpose, don’t give up, never give up, just put one foot in front of the other and keep on going…

Seeds have an uncanny knack of taking root and growing.  If you dare to have that first little bit of faith and take a look a few years later, you realise that the seed has taken root and it’s growing taller, green shoots becoming stems and branches.  I’ve heard that in ideal conditions a mustard tree can grow to 3-5 metres tall.  Pretty impressive for a 1-2 mm seed.

So never underestimate small beginnings.  The wise man who told this story knew exactly what he was talking about.  He faced insurmountable challenges of his own with remarkable courage and grace.  Moving mountains seems easy compared with what this wise man actually did.  He transformed sickness into health, despair into hope, pain into comfort, oppression into freedom, prejudice and hate into compassion and love, and ultimately, life victorious over death.

I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be truly carefree again – window down and the wind in my face – strands of hair getting stuck in my teeth.  Maybe I’ll even take to the skies with the Oils or the Angels throbbing in my ears – wondering whether to order the white or the red – worry gone at last and freedom firmly in its place.

 

mountain

 

 

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On my bedroom wall as a teenager I had a poster of a baby chicken with broken shell scattered around his feet, his confused beady eyes gazing at the camera and the words: ‘Now What Do I Do?’ emblazoned underneath.  It captured the uncertainty of youth perfectly and I smiled knowingly whenever I looked at it.  

Long after the poster became torn around the edges and tossed in the bin, I remember it fondly.  There have been many times in my life where I’ve felt just like that chicken, bewildered and wondering: ‘Now What Do I Do?’

One day in particular stands out in my memory.  I lay under a scratchy hospital blanket staring with unblinking eyes at the newborn baby in the crib beside me.   My beautiful baby boy.  My emotions swung between passionate protective love and panicky terror.   I was terrified he would cry and I would need to take action.  But what type of action was needed?   I couldn’t work out which type of cry meant hungry, which meant tired, which meant too hot/cold and which meant he needed a nappy change.  The nurses seemed to know straight away, and they immediately flew into action in their firm and assertive way.   They knew my baby better than I did.   He was glorious but I felt so ill-equipped as a Mum.     I stared at him wide-eyed asking myself silently:    ‘Now What Do I Do?’

Landing in Hong Kong on my first solo overseas trip many years ago, I felt a mixture of elation and fear.  Scanning the crowded airport lobby I felt I had landed on another planet, rather than another country.  How would I tell the taxi driver where my hotel was?  Where did I have to go to find a taxi?  Should I just take the first flight back to Sydney?  ‘Now What Do I Do?’

Another ‘chicken moment’ happened on the leafy balcony of my first home unit.   I had collected the keys from the real estate agent and shared a bottle of champagne with a few friends, but now they had left and I was finally alone in my new little home.   The unit was empty except for my second-hand bed, and I had nowhere to sit except on the floor.    I gazed into the night sky and asked breathlessly: ‘Now What Do I Do?’

There have also been darker times.   One of the worst was the evening the doctor called to say I had cancer.   With trembling legs and a frozen heart, I gazed at my two little boys playing on the floor beside me.  The only coherent words that came to me that evening were: ‘Now What Do I Do?’

I also recall lying on a cold trolley bed outside the operating theatre before my first hip replacement, staring at my toes poking out from the hospital blanket.  Somebody had ‘helpfully’ told me that the surgery involved the surgeon basically cutting off your leg and putting it back on again.   I imagined my toes being disconnected from my body.  Would my leg ever work again?  What would major surgery be like?  Was it too late to escape?  ‘Now What Do I Do?’

Most recently, I’ve started a new job in a school after many years working in a legal firm.   Each day I face new challenges, meet new people and learn so much.  My pulse races and my head spins and I hope one day soon all the ‘newness’ will feel comfortable.   I constantly ask myself:  ‘Now What Do I Do?’

It seems to me that change is inevitable.  Life is a process of perpetual motion.  Travelling through life takes us through deep valleys of pain and breezy hilltops of joy.   When we keep moving, we keep growing and we stay fully alive.   Challenges keep us young in heart and mind.   Perhaps it is only when we refuse to keep moving that we finally grow old.  Change isn’t comfortable, and at times I hate it, but it is necessary.

When I reflect on the times I’ve asked: ‘Now What do I Do?’ I realise I have eventually figured it out.   Each time I’ve despaired over the injustice of my situation, or worried about my inadequacies to face the challenge,  I’ve gone on to learn another valuable lesson.

Through the difficult times, when cancer visited and major surgery loomed, I’ve had to dig deeper.   ‘Now What Do I Do?’ has been a cry to God who, true to his word, has always given me the comfort and strength to carry on.  My favourite verse from the Bible, which I discovered around the same time as I had the chicken poster on my wall, is:   “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and it has always been the perfect antidote for those frightened ‘chicken’ moments.

I doubt that most of us escape the moments of self-doubt and confusion which change invariably brings.   So if you find yourself feeling like the chicken, asking ‘Now What Do I Do?’ remember that change is good for you, give it time and you will figure out what to do.    If you’re facing something really difficult, God will be there to comfort you too.  Just ask him ‘Now What Do I Do?’.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear”   Mark Twain

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Have you ever wondered what difference our thoughts make?   We are often encouraged to ‘think positive’, but what does this really mean?   Unless you are a teenager or have attended lots of self-help seminars, you’ve probably realised, as I have, that we don’t always control our own destiny or have a lot of choice in the way our lives unfold.   Life can be challenging and tough.   But despite what is happening around us, do we still have a choice to own and manage how we think?

I’ve been meditating on some thought-provoking words over the past couple of weeks.   These words encourage us to focus on the positive, the life-giving and the beautiful, rather than the toxic slop the media like to dish up daily.   The last time I watched television I was treated to a mad-eyed serial killer justifying her seven murders, a graphic forensic investigation of a murdered corpse and a series of news updates of teenage road carnage, terrorist threats and the continuing chaotic unrest in the middle east.   I trudged off to bed, heavy with the weight of the gloom and doom I’d just emotionally ingested.  Surely somewhere on the planet something positive happened?  I was reminded again of the words which prompted my meditation:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.*

Last weekend I escaped with a group of friends to the South Coast of New South Wales.   We all yawned and lay around, relaxing after weeks of rushing around.  The soft breeze embraced  us, as we drank in the pure beauty of the beaches with aqua water and white sands, the dolphins jumping and playing in the waves beside our kids, squealing and splashing on boogie boards. We walked on the cool sand which massaged our tired feet as the salty air evoked childhood memories and hopeful dreams.

While I was away I pondered the quality of my thoughts.   A few days immersed in the beauty of nature helped me to shrug off the heavy bundle of anxiety and worry that was gathering on my shoulders.

But now, only a few days after returning home, I’m faced with an unexpected challenge.  On Wednesday I went to see my doctor expecting the big green tick of approval, and some happy chit-chat.   But instead I’m told that something is amiss.  Two days later I am sitting in St Vincent’s Hospital for more tests.  I wasn’t expecting to hear the words ‘don’t panic yet’ and to feel dizzy with dread. This wasn’t in the plan.  As a ‘cancer survivor’ the news has been sobering at best, terrifying at worst.   The ‘what ifs’ are building steadily, and the burden of worries is growing heavy again on my shoulders.

So how do I cope with my thoughts as I wait to find out the truth, when the future turns from bright and exciting to uncertain and grey in a few moments, and my worst fears loom like monsters hiding under the bed?

I’ve had a few days of telling God exactly what I think about this latest bump in the road of my life.   I’ve been threatening him, and bargaining with him.  At the same time, I’ve asked a bunch of good people to pray for me, as I know their prayers will make a lot more sense than mine at the moment.   Prayer has always been the invisible warm mother’s lap that I climb onto when my world falls apart.

While I wait for the verdict next week, I’ve been reading a lively novel, with authentic characters, a good dose of humour and some teary moments.  I’ve been drinking lots of tea and sitting in the warm sunshine.  I’ve been watching my boys perform their own rap songs, written today, and feeling the depth of my love for them.  I’ve spent time with good friends, drinking champagne and laughing.  I’ve noticed my husband’s thoughtful gestures.  I’ve indulged in some new clothes. 

I’ve been acknowledging the good things in my life, my family, my marriage, my kids, my home, my friendships, my job, my work with the women’s refuge, and the list goes on… As I focus on the positives, I look to the future, to the hopes and dreams we are working toward and I hope and pray that they will happen.   I want to walk the streets of London again with my family by my side, eat cheese with crusty bread and drink red wine in Paris, ride a gondola in Venice and discover all the magic of Disneyland.   I want to joke with Valentino Rossi and have a chat with Casey Stoner as we follow the MotoGP around Europe.   I want to see the joy on the faces of Chris and the boys when they discover how amazing the world really is.   And more and more, I want to write.

So I will think on these things –  the true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.   I’ll admit how little control I have over my life and what will happen tomorrow, no matter how much I love to organise and plan.  I will also hold tight to my belief that God wants the best for me and for my family, not the worst.

I’m off now to make another cup of tea and take my novel to my seat in the sun, and wait, hope and breathe.  Today I’ll live from moment to moment, then from hour to hour.   When the worrying thoughts arise, as I know they will, I’ll think about others who have walked this road before me, who found healing, strength and courage.  When the fearful thoughts knot my stomach with their intensity, I’ll think of the power of love and hope.  When the darkness threatens to consume me, I’ll think my way free.

* Philippians 4:8

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Have you ever done something stupid that makes you blush and cringe every time you remember it?   Yesterday I had one of those moments.  

It was my last day at work before a fortnight’s holiday, so I ploughed through the day, attempting to tick off my ‘to-do’ tasks and leave a clean slate.   I left work late and then headed to the local shopping centre for one of my least favourite shopping experiences – the quest for new swimmers.   The change room was as traumatic as ever, with the cruel fluorescent light enhancing all the wrong places.  I almost strangled myself with some cross over straps, got stuck in another very snug racing style number, and had to bite my knuckles to avoid laughing outrageously when I tried on a hot pink extravaganza.   Finally, I found a tasteful, comfortable, and unobtrusive navy blue one-piece and decided that it would have to do.

Feeling weak and wilted after this confronting experience, I staggered back to the elevator so I could slip out to my car and head home.   The elevator was empty, so I walked in and pressed the button.    The door closed gently and I felt the floor shudder slightly, wobble a bit, and then a red arrow began flashing,  indicating we were travelling up.   I watched the light.  I watched the light some more and it just kept flashing.   The wobbling had stopped but the flashing light continued.   All I could hear was the eerie howling of the wind.    The minutes ticked by and the realisation struck me that I was stuck in the elevator.

Swallowing back rising panic I read the instructions on the side panel.    In case of emergency, ring the alarm bell.   I pressed the alarm bell for five seconds, as instructed and listened to the shrill siren.  I heard a woman’s voice, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying.   I waited for a few more minutes and then pressed it again, for longer this time.   This time there was no voice.

By this stage, I was perspiring, trembling and could hardly breathe.  I wondered if I suffered from claustrophobia and just hadn’t noticed before.   All I could think about was my husband and sons, and how much I wanted to be home with them.  Would anyone ever find me in here?  How typical it was to be abducted from life just before going on holidays.    I pressed the alarm again, for much longer this time.   There was silence and the lift was perfectly still.

Then an idea struck me.   What if I try to open the door?   I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea.   What would it look like if I was suspended between floors?  Could it cause the lift to slip and crash to the bottom?  All the movies I have seen about elevator disasters seemed to suggest this.  Or did they?  I was panicking too much to remember.

I took a deep breath and pressed the button to open the doors.    The doors immediately opened helpfully and there I was, in exactly the same place  I’d started, outside the swimwear shop.  

Furtively I glanced from side to side, expecting to see emergency crews rushing to my rescue, but nobody had noticed me.    Quietly and avoiding all eye contact, I drifted out of the lift, and bolted up the stairs and back to my car, heart still pounding, and feeling utterly ridiculous.

It struck me that the feeling I had when I realised I wasn’t trapped was similar to a feeling I’ve had before.   Each time I stand at the bottom of a flight of stairs I hesitate, anticipating the pain I used to feel in my hips prior to surgery.  A part of me doesn’t want to take that first step upwards, but then when I do, the climb is so easy.   It feels like a miracle.

I’ve stayed in unhealthy and abusive relationships feeling that there was no way out, complaining, whingeing and letting the anxiety overtake me.    Yet each time I reach the point where I decide to stand up, walk away, and escape from the misery and hopelessness, the door miraculously opens for me.    Escaping the situation has never been as hard as escaping the mindset of being trapped.  It can be a shock to realise that the door has been open all along, waiting for me to walk on through.

My foolish moment yesterday led me to  wonder if I am still creating prison cells in my life.    One thing my faith constantly teaches me is the need to let go of fear and anxiety, and to allow God to mould me into a woman who embraces courage, adventure and freedom.    Only then can I live life to the full, and walk tall and strong.     Next time I’m feeling worried and fearful, I’m going to remember that crazy elevator moment, and reach straight for the button of faith to open the door.

Then you will know the truth, and truth will set you free.    John 8:32

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