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Monday, February 1, 2016

Yes Sandy, there is a reason for everything!

Having bipolar disorder I am often plagued with false fears and handle anxiety differently from most. For example, when my children will little, we lived in a house located just a few feet from a four-lane highway.     Trucks would speed up and down the road with little regard to the children who lived and played in the neighborhood.    My son was always full of mischief and perceived it to be great fun to run from me while we were outside and then squeal and giggle as I frantically chased after him.  

One day as we were leaving the house, he broke free from my hand and ran towards the road.   I immediately ran after him in terror as I saw a semi-truck racing towards him, all the while he was looking back at me laughing.   I grabbed his arm, pulling him out of harm’s way just as his little foot hit the edge of the road.   The panic I felt was a legitimate fear; the kind of horror any mother naturally feels when the life of her child is threatened.   A “reasonable” person would experience the fear, process it, learn from it and then move on.    

Now, let’s look at false fear.   Following the incident with my son, I began to obsess about the possibility of him getting hit by a truck.    I installed hook and eye locks high up, on all the doors in the house so that he could not open the doors and run out into the road.   Sounds like a reasonable solution, but my anxiety didn't stop there.       The feeling of panic I experienced in that single moment continued and carried over to my second child.    The thought of bringing them outside to play filled me with extreme terror.   What if they should run and I'm not able to catch them in time?  What if they fall and crack their head open on the cement?  What if someone traveling on the road abducts them?   I stopped bringing them outside to play, even in our fenced in back yard.   I would check the doors every ten minutes to make sure I remembered to lock them.    I never took my eyes off of them, even in the house.   I had trouble sleeping for fear that they would slip out of bed in the middle of the night.    Due to that one incident, I lived in constant fear for years.     

When I became involved in Al-Anon, false fears ruled my life.   I not only had anxiety around raising my children, but I also had fears about my husband's alcohol use.     What if my husband never quits drinking?  What if he gets a DUI?  What if he kills someone in a bar fight?   And then when he got sober the fears changed.   What if he begins drinking again?   What if he demands a divorce once he sees me through sober eyes?   The false fears led to crazy behaviors on my part.   I was constantly trying to control my world and everyone in it.    Fear is a natural God given instinct; a defense mechanism meant to protect you.  Imagine how exhausting it would be to your body, mind and soul to live in a constant survival mode.   

I learned in Alanon that most of my fears were false.   Alanon is known for their slogans and they taught me that FEAR is False. Evidence. Appearing. Real.   

“In Al-Anon, the answer to “What if? Is: “Don’t project! Don’t imagine the worst; deal with your problems as they arise. Live one day at a time.” I cannot do anything about things that haven’t happened; I will not let the past experiences make me dread the unknown future. “It is a vain and unprofitable thing to conceive either grief or joy for future things which perhaps will never come about.” (One day At a Time in Al-Anon pg. 193).  

This simple acronym for FEAR allowed me to stop and examine the emotion before it consumed my life.    A simple replacement for a defense mechanism that I no longer needed.

When I came back to the church, I implemented another FEAR coping tool…scripture and prayer.    I found great comfort in Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?   Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.   If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’  All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness and all these things will be given you besides.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

These tools help me differentiate between false and real fears and better allowed me to accept God's will for my life.  

Last Thursday, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist at 7:30 a.m.    My psychiatrist’s office is about thirty minutes from my house so I left at about 6:45 just to give me a little bit of a time cushion.   I hate to be late for an appointment!     I had visited her office on two previous occasions so I was familiar with the route.   When I pulled into the medical complex I started to panic, I couldn’t remember which building she resided, they all looked identical.    I parked the car and rummaged through my wallet for her business card.   After a frantic search, which felt like hours, I found she was in building "H".   Whoever designed this medical complex must have been on “crack” because they had a Blue "H" north section and Green "H" south section.    So I drove around the stupid parking lot for ten more minutes looking for the correct building!     I’m sure my GPS thought I had lost my mind because with every wrong turn it was kept repeating, "You have reached your destination! You have reached your destination!"   At 7:31 a.m. I finally found the building and rushed in like my butt was on fire!   Luckily my doctor was very understanding and by 7:45 I was out of her office and on my way home.   

As I turned to merge onto Route 11, the traffic was at a standstill.    Immediately I was filled with anxiety.   I don’t do well in traffic jams.     My back and neck became stiff and my hands gripped the wheel tightly as panic began to rear its ugly head.    Suddenly I started thinking of  the scripture reading from Ecclesiastes 3:11  

“God has made everything appropriate to its time but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.”   

I thought to myself....there is a reason.   So being bipolar the song by the Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn” popped into my head and I started singing along with the jukebox in my mind “To everything –turn, turn, turn, there is a season – turn, turn, turn and a time to every purpose under heaven.  A time to be born, a time to die…” You get the gist.   So as oldies were softly serenading my fears away, I was able to maneuver calmly through the traffic.   When I arrive at the source of the traffic jam, I saw a wheel from a car in the middle of the road, the rubber from the tire a few feet further down and then a car slammed up against a cement barrier.   The police had not yet arrived so the accident must have just occurred.   I couldn’t help but think that if I had left my appointment ten minutes earlier, I could have been in the middle of that accident.    Was this a coincidence or was it, God?   

Although this incident may have been insignificant, it reminded me that I am exactly where God wants me to be in my life journey.  A year ago, I thought my husband and I would continue to save money, retire in fifteen years and spend our golden years traveling in a motor home across the United States.    I never expected to find myself unemployed at forty-nine.  I firmly believe in the old adage; if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!    Again I say, my plans are not necessarily God's plans but I am confident His way is best!  He hasn't let me down yet!    So I continue to trust and tell myself "Yes Sandy, there is a reason for everything!"

I'll leave you with this prayer from St. Teresa of Avila that I often turn to in times of anxiety.   It helps to center me and be more open to God's will for me.    He alone Suffices!   

Let nothing disturb you,
Nothing frighten you;
All things are passing;
God never changes;
Patient endurance attains all things;
whoever possesses God is wanting in nothing;
God alone suffices.

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