Monday, August 20, 2012

Anxiety Part 2

I received a lot of feedback to my post on anxiety, which reminds me that we live in anxious times.

I'm not sure that they're more anxious than other times, but the pace of life, and the expectations of western culture, are anxiety producing in and of themselves. Since the days of the Baby Boomers, we have been told to do more, produce more, cram in more work, overschedule our kids to the point where it is stressful just to get through a "normal" day. (I am in receipt of the knowledge that normal is just a setting on the dryer).

I keep trying to find ways (aside from medication), in which I can simplify my life and reduce things that I know cause me anxiety. If anyone wants to adopt my annoying pug dog that wakes me up every morning, crying to be let out, then barking incessantly to be fed, let me know. Every single day, the first whimper out of her mouth starts my stomach roiling, my heart speeds up, and I can feel my anxiety level rise as I begin to think about what the next 10 minutes will entail. I will race all three dogs down the stairs, fight my way through the pack to the back door, try to keep my balance and not fall into the back yard as they bum rush me and each other for the chance to be Alpha that morning. Then they will pee as fast as possible and crowd back at the door, whining and scratching piteously as I prepare their bowls of food, as if perhaps they have not been fed in weeks and weeks. I try. I try to make them sit quietly, so that I'm not being bullied by my own dogs, who are supposed to bring me joy and calm (and who do, much of the time). But often, my anxiety just tells me to rush through the process so they will Shut T.F. Up and eat already.

Then, as I begin to find the parts to the coffee maker, buried in the dishwasher (why does the lid to the coffeepot always seem to be missing?), the cat is yowling, demanding that I turn on the faucet so she can drink out of my (my!) sink. Where did she get the idea that this was an acceptable manner of behavior, when she has a perfectly good bowl of water both upstairs and downstairs (which she often tips over in protest, because, dammit, she deserves running water fresh out of the tap, you idiot humans). I then wrestle the cat off the sink. Several times. Forcibly. I get the coffee started, and if I'm lucky (which I rarely am), the small people that reside with me are still asleep and I can get a decent amount of caffeine into my system before they begin clamoring for breakfast (much like the dogs, actually).

It's not even 8am yet people.

But my point is that these children, furry and human, are joys in my life too. It is not always simple to simplify. The very things that we love and desire also mean work and growth and collaboration and cooperation. Some things are easier - I can get rid of "stuff" so that my house is less cluttered, which makes my brain less cluttered. But even that is not simple. There are five other people who might resent me if I get rid of their stuff. So it has to be negotiated, or done carefully, under cover of night, with clandestine trips to Goodwill.

Even the up and coming workers of today - NextGen, are demanding that there be more balance between work and personal life. But will they get it? With the economy in the toilet, on a global scale, my guess is no.

Anxiety is present in our daily commute, our neighbor's yappy dog (or our own), our faltering grip on getting and keeping a job, or what happens when you don't. It's present in being in a relationship, or parenting, or caring for aging parents, or worrying about your neighbor. It's the challenge involved in getting your oil changed, or making a doctor's appointment during work hours, or dealing with the DMV, or applying for health care benefits.

As I have slowed my life down to a crawl this summer, and actually enjoyed hanging my laundry out a a leisurely pace, eating cereal for dinner (just once, actually), and playing board games and watching Breaking Bad (anxiety producing in and of itself), I find myself thinking a lot about my upcoming year of chaplaincy.

There are certain places that are more stressful than a hospital for sure, but there is a constant tension at a trauma center. There needs to be quiet for healing, there is frantic activity, there is life-saving going on, there is dying happening. There are unanswered questions, or answers we don't like. There is the question of insurance and paying for treatment. There is always the awkward family stuff that crops up when someone is sick or dying. It is a veritable hotbed of seething anxiety there.

I once wrote a sermon about clinical pastoral education, and the crux of it is what I learned from my co-chaplain, Joy.

1. Make lots of room.
2. Be curious.
3. Our own emotion is a barometer for what is going on in the room.
4. Stay in the moment.

These are the tools I use every day in managing my newfound anxiety, and trying to put it back where it belongs - as a survival tool that keeps me focused and reasonably safe in an uncertain world.

I mean the reality is that if I did these four things when I wake up, I'd start out my day with compassion instead of anxiety (if I were perfect, which I'm not).

I'd allow lots of room for realizing the dog has to pee and is hungry and feels anxious about that, which is why I feel anxious.

And if I stay in the moment, and am not swept away in a tide of furry need, I can manage the next 20 minutes with patience and joy in their happiness with food, in exploring the weather I see outside my window, in being curious about the hiding coffeepot lid.

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