Used to be, when Jack was a baby, and Jane too, that I lived with near-constant anxiety. I woke up in the morning with a weight of anxiety on my chest, I carried it around with me all day, and I went to bed with it at night. Sometimes it was physically difficult to breathe.
When Jane was a few months old, I started seeing a wonderful counselor, who helped me search out the origins of all this anxiety I carried around like so much lead in my chest. After a dozen or so sessions with her, I found myself sitting at the dining room table one morning and I realized: I didn’t feel anxious. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life.
I am so grateful I don’t live with that kind of chronic anxiety anymore. But sometimes I still struggle with it, especially when the weather turns gray and chilly and damp. Or when I don’t sleep well. So it’s hardly surprising I’ve been fighting it more of late than I have for several years.
And I hate it. I hate that feeling of heaviness in my chest, the sense that I’m struggling to draw breath, and the tears that force themselves to the surface when I feel this way. I hate the way it robs me of life, of joy, of delight because I’m spending so much energy just trying to keep it from overwhelming me. I hate it.
About two weeks ago, as I fought to free myself of this weight, I read Psalm 63 during morning prayer, and these words leaped out at me:
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.
May those who seek my life to destroy it
go down into the depths of the earth;
let them fall upon the edge of the sword
and let them be food for jackals.
But I will rejoice in God.
Ordinarily, such invectives make me highly uncomfortable; I like to think I’m a peaceable person, opposed to violence and vengeance. (I’m fully aware that I’m both delusional and a hypocrite: I regularly indulge in revenge fantasies about all the agents who’ve rejected my novel, as well as vindictive thoughts about writers who, in my humble opinion, don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved. Nothing so violent as feeding them to jackals, but a little verbal swordplay in which I emerge the victor is always soothing to the ego.) But suddenly, these words were not about agents or writers or even about people. For me, just then, the enemy was Anxiety.
Anxiety seeks my life to destroy it.
I wept. Then I prayed these words, hard. I wrote them on a note card and taped it to my kitchen window. I read and re-read them. I memorized them. I kept praying them – my way, I suppose, of clinging to God, whose right hand holds me fast.
And the most amazing thing has happened: God is answering my prayer. I feel less anxious. I do. I still struggle some days. The weight still rests heavy on my chest some mornings. Tears still come.
But I pray these words and I start to number the graces the day has brought and the anxiety lifts from my chest a little and I throw in a load of laundry and feed the babies and read to my children and go for a walk with them to the playground or the park and the anxiety falls on the edge of a sword and I pay attention to this moment, this place, this time, right here, right now and the anxiety goes down into the depths of the earth and I smile.
And today, twice, in the place where the anxiety usually sits, I felt something that I can only call joy bubble up, and I couldn’t help but laugh. It feels good to feed the jackals.