June 5th, 2018

“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.”

from Paulo Coehlo, author of The Alchemist

Karrin and I sat with Jane in the Daily Dose coffee shop. It was very early on a Friday morning. Karin and I showed up right when the cafe opened at 6:00 AM. Jane arrived shortly after we did. Jane is a busy woman. She is attending classes at a seminary, she is helping to run a sober living house, and she is working with people in recovery. We were having coffee together at an ungodly early hour, because that was the only hour that Jane had available.

Karin and I wanted to talk to Jane about a girl. We care about a young woman who is currently in jail. She will be released in a couple weeks and her future has a lot of question marks. She does not know where she will live, how she will get health care, what she will have for transportation, or how she will find a job. (I don’t know either.) This young woman calls us when these questions become overwhelming. When she phones us, she usually starts by saying,

“I’m feeling really anxious!”

Understandable. After a few minutes the anxiety seems to diminish for this young woman. Her voice becomes calmer, and she sounds a bit more relaxed. Generally, we can’t completely answer any of her questions, or solve any of her problems. Somehow, just talking about things ease her mind, at least for a little while. Somehow, it helps for her to know that we are at least trying to help.

Jane talked to us about her experiences with anxiety. She mentioned that, at one point in her life, she self-medicated in order to make the fear go away. I am very familiar with that technique. It is a short term solution that creates long term problems. Jane explained that eventually she learned to deal with the tension and the uncertainty. There are problems that simply cannot be fixed, at least not right away. Jane told us that she became aware of her feelings, and she found that she could handle being uncomfortable with a situation. She could exist in that moment. She didn’t like it, but she could accept it.

I understand that anxiety and frustration. I have spent almost all of my adult life as a problem-solver and a trouble-shooter. I’m good at it. I am not good at situations that unsolvable for me, especially situations that involve people I love. I spin my mental wheels, and I can almost smell the clutch burning inside my head. Even fixing a problem only brings temporary relief. There is always another riddle to solve. There is never a time when everything feels okay.

So, what to do? That depends on the individual. To reduce my anxiety I sometimes meditate, or take the dog for a really long walk. Jane helps other people, and that gives  her a different perspective on her own issues. Some folks pray. Karin knits or spins yarn on her wheel. Some people play a musical instrument. Some people paint or draw. Some people write, like I am doing right now. Finding a effective method is all trial and error. A certain program may work for a particular person, but be absolutely useless to somebody else. Learning to handle anxiety is a lifelong process, a unique process.

We live in a scary world. It’s hard to trust. It’s hard to have faith. It’s hard to keep going.

We’re all anxious.






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