Stressing in the shadow of the moon

Traveling to see the total eclipse of the sun this week meant spending time with extended family. Now I love the members of my family. We get along well with each other, probably better than the average American family. But spending time with family still is stressful. It includes sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, eating on a different schedule, eating different foods, and being exposed to television programs I prefer to avoid. I am an introvert, a highly sensitive person, and am subject to bouts of anxiety. Not every member of the family understands my situation or has any sympathy for my problems.

The first problem was travel. Over the past five years, I have endured increasing dread over road trips. I wake up the morning of a road trip anticipating that something will go wrong with the car, leaving us stranded on the side of the road. In this case, the dread began building two days before the time of departure. I responded by praying that we would be kept safe throughout the trip. We were in fact kept safe, but not in the way I had hoped.

About halfway into the trip, stopping at a gas station, we heard a noise from the front of the car. To me it sounded as if something was scraping against the tire. We first heard it only while steering through turns. As we approached our destination, we also heard the sound when stopping, even without turning. I got out of the car and inspected the wheel well, and nothing was even close to touching the tire. We arrived at the house without further incident, but we knew that someone would have to look at the car before we did any more driving.

Our host knows more about cars than I do, so he went out and looked at the car. He noticed rust on the brake rotors, an indication that the brake pads were not coming in contact with the rotors as they should. He suggested that we visit a local mechanic to have the brakes checked. He also noticed that the front tires were badly worn and indicated that the mechanic would probably want to replace those as well.

The next morning I took the car to the recommended mechanic. He had a lot of customers and said the repair would not happen until the next day. He did say that he would look at the car the same day and let me know what work needed to be done. That meant that I spent the entire day waiting for a telephone call—not a good situation for someone prone to anxiety and in someone else’s house. When the call finally came at the end of the day, the news was not good. Front and rear brakes needed to be replaced—not only brake pads, but rotors and drums as well. All four tires needed to be replaced—the front pair were worn, and the back pair had been cut by failing shock absorbers. The noise we had heard was not from the brakes, though. That noise was from a ball joint in the front of the car. The total repair amounted to hundreds of dollars, although they threw in every discount they could find, including a one hundred dollar reduction given by financing the repair through a credit card supplied by their company.

In short, my feelings of anxiety about the car excursion were accurate. We were in danger of brake failure, which would have been worse than being stranded at the side of the road. My prayers for safety were answered; it may well have been miraculous that the brakes did not fail at any point of the trip.

Meanwhile, we had a second day without the car, a day that had been set aside for a visit to another city. We ended up making that trip in a borrowed car—one more unfamiliar situation to aggravate stress and anxiety.

Then came the actual day of the eclipse. My daughter and I were already energized in anticipation for the event, a feeling not far from the usual anxiety of life. Fortunately, the moon and the sun were not affected by our feelings, and we all enjoyed the show.

The final stage of the tour was driving home in a newly-repaired car. The night before that scheduled drive found me very unsettled. To make matters worse, the dinner menu that evening contained several foods that irritate my digestive system. I tried to limit my intake to small servings of those foods, but the combination of all of them—along with the building stress over the long drive—left me in severe discomfort. This experience is a vicious cycle—anxiety makes digestion worse, while bad digestion makes anxiety worse. The unexpected noise of a vacuum cleaner sent me over the edge. Our host tried to make things better by saying, “J., calm down, we don’t need this drama.” Of course that did not help at all. I needed to get away to another room, be alone for a while, focus on my breathing, and regain control of myself.

It would help if more family members understood what anxiety means. Too often they do act as if anxiety is a choice, something that can be controlled, and therefore a cause for blame. I know that if I showed up with my leg in a cast, they would not ask me to walk normally and blame me for being different. Because anxiety is not visible, it does not gather the same sympathy and understanding as a broken leg, or even a common cold. Even though that makes family events more challenging, I still love the members of my extended family and am glad for the time we are able to spend together. J.

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Coffee

In my life I have participated in most of the legal substance-abuse vices, with the exception of tobacco. I’ve been around smokers frequently, but I’ve not been interested in smoking. Some other time I might address the abuse of sugar, salt, and oils, but today I want to write about coffee.

My parents had the habit of drinking a cup of coffee with each meal–breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They drank it black–no sugar, no milk or cream. As a child, I didn’t like the smell of coffee and didn’t want to drink coffee. Even when I went to college, coffee held no appeal for me.

That changed my last year of college. I took a course in art history which met three afternoons a week, right after lunch. The professor turned off the lights and showed slides of paintings and sculptures on the wall. He had a quiet, monotone voice. His quizzes were very difficult. To keep awake in class, I started drinking coffee with my lunch those three days of the week.

By the time I started graduate school, I was in the habit of drinking coffee every day. During my internship, I even learned to drink Cuban espresso, which absolutely requires a lot of sugar because it is so bitter. Also during my internship, I learned that drinking a cup of coffee during Wednesday night Bible class was a bad idea. I was often awake for hours after Bible class, until I learned to stop drinking coffee that late in the day.

When I graduated and started working a steady job, I had one day off each week. After a couple of months, I began to wonder why I always had a headache by lunchtime on my day off. I finally realized that my headache was a symptom of caffeine withdrawal. Rather than giving up on coffee the other six days of the week, I started drinking coffee on my day off as well, and the headaches went away.

My habit became two cups of coffee a day: one with breakfast and the other with lunch. Most of the time I drink it black. On hot summer days, I sometimes prepare a cup of iced coffee, which includes sugar. On some winter days, I treat myself to a mocha, stirring a package of hot chocolate mix into a cup of coffee. I always fix my coffee at home, because I do not want to pay the coffee shop prices to soothe my addiction. I have been careful not to have coffee in the mid-afternoon or evening, because I want to be able to sleep at night.

This was not a scientific study with proper controls, but I have played video games while mildly intoxicated with alcohol, and I have played the same games while “buzzed” with caffeine. In matters of coordination and in matters of judgment, I found that caffeine created more problems for me than alcohol.

Over the years, I have given up alcohol for Lent, and I have given up caffeine for Lent. I found caffeine to be the harder substance from which to fast. Withdrawal symptoms, the desire for a drink, and the rush to return to the substance when Easter arrived all were stronger for coffee than for alcoholic beverages.

My doctor suggested that I cut my coffee drinking in half to help control my blood pressure. At first I resisted his advice, but after I was diagnosed with anxiety, I was willing to cut back to one cup a day. I still drink a mug of coffee after breakfast before I leave for work.

Some web sites list the dangers of caffeine, while others insist that caffeine is safe except in extremely high doses. Some mornings I savor my cup of coffee, while other mornings I worry about my addiction to caffeine. I sympathize with people who struggle with addictions, because I know how powerful my own addiction is in my life. J.

Jim

When I was growing up, one of my neighbors was a boy I have decided to call “Jim.” Jim was four years older than me and was three grades ahead of me in school; he was also large for his age. Not only did we attend the same school: we also went to the same church, and our parents were friends.

I have always thought of Jim as a bully, although I can remember only one occasion when he was unkind to me. I was about eight at the time, and he offered to take me out on the river in his rowboat. When we were over the middle of the river, he started making the boat circle in the water. I was scared and begged to be taken back to the shore, but he just laughed and continued circling. I don’t know why I would have gotten into the boat of someone I feared and didn’t trust. All the same, my friend and I thought of Jim as a monster. When no one else was watching, we dropped rocks into the aforementioned boat. Aside from that, we were careful to keep our distance from Jim.

It occurs to me today that we may have feared Jim purely out of stereotyping. He was big and loud like the classic American bully. For all I know, he may have been very gentle at heart. Remembering Jim is painful for me, because I remember him with fear whether or not he deserved to be feared.

Jim died a few years ago of heart disease. I know that he was helpful to my parents several times over the last few years of his life. My father would probably be astonished to learn that I remember Jim as a bully, especially since I can offer only one example of anything mean that Jim did to me.

On occasion at work I cross paths with young men who remind me of Jim. In general they are hefty and have loud speaking voices. For a while I puzzled over the question of why these young men make me uncomfortable, until I realized their resemblance to Jim. When I am around these young men I feel threatened, even though they are doing nothing even remotely threatening toward me or anyone else.

Fear is not rational. Anxiety does not always make sense. I’m sorry to leave such a blot on Jim’s memory–I hope that somewhere on the internet someone else has written nicer things about him. J.

A Day in the Life

One day last week another worker in my department declared a “hot dog day” and brought lunch for all of us—hot dogs and buns and condiments, and two of us provided potato chips. We sat together and visited while we ate, which was the reason for the gift of hot dogs. Generally, we are all introverts, focused on our tasks, more inclined to strive to complete a task than to stop and visit with each other. I know there have been days that I walked in the door, headed straight for my desk, and got to work, speaking to no one for most of the day… and I’m not the only person in the department who behaves that way.

The food was good, and I was able to take part in the conversation in spite of the fact that I started experiencing a panic attack as we were lining up at the food table. I would rate this attack at S2.5 on the SAPS.  My shaking hands made it hard to serve myself, and when I sat, I had to rest the hand holding my plate in my lap to keep from dropping it. I don’t think my voice sounded strange when I spoke—nobody looked at me as if it did—but I definitely felt all my muscles grow tenser through the course of the meal, as my insides churned. (And, no, nothing was wrong with the food.)

If I was writing a story about Carl, I suppose I would have to find some explanation for the attack. Maybe the morning traffic was bad because of a construction project which had just started. Maybe he snuck a look at some pictures of Rosa, his old flame, which he has hidden in a file on his work computer. Maybe he sat through a meeting about improving customer relations with the firm’s clients and wondered how much of the advice was being targeted personally at him. Or perhaps I could work in a problem with Number Seven—is she snubbing him now, avoiding conversations with him?

I am not writing a story about Carl, though. I am writing about myself, and I know enough about myself and my panic attacks to know that they do not always have an obvious trigger. Loud noises can make me nervous, but that was not a problem this noon. Anyhow, they would not be attacks if their origins were obvious.

All afternoon I wanted to talk to someone, to tell them what I was feeling. The truth is, I have never told anyone at work about my struggles with anxiety and depression. No one knows that a saw a counselor every other week for more than a year or that I have been taking medication for almost two years. If someone had asked me, “how are you feeling, J?” I would have answered, “I feel as though I drank six expressos about an hour ago.” After lunch, we all went back to our desks and focused on our own tasks as usual. No one had any reason to ask me how I was feeling.

I don’t even have a fitting conclusion to this post. Just another day in the life of Salvageable. J.

A day without coffee

A day without coffee is like… well, I’m not entirely sure what it’s like. I’ve had so few days without coffee recently, I don’t remember what they are like.

When I was growing up, my parents drank coffee with every meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sometimes in the summer they’d switch to iced tea with lunch and dinner, but otherwise, the coffee was always there. As a child I didn’t care much for the smell of coffee. I didn’t hate it; I simply didn’t think I’d enjoy drinking it. As a result, I had very little coffee throughout my formative years.

My last year of college, I took an elective class in art history. The class met after lunch, and the professor’s voice was calm and soothing. He turned off the lights and showed pictures of important pieces of art. His quizzes were hard. I tried everything to keep awake in class—grounding the heel of one foot into the top of my other foot, clenching my fists to drive my fingernails into my palms, even answering the occasional questions the professor asked. Nothing worked. Out of desperation, I began drinking coffee with my lunch, and I managed to survive the class and even earn an A.

Over the following years I drank coffee sporadically, until finally I arrived at a full-time job with an actual day off each week. The day off happened to be Monday. After a few weeks, I wondered why every Monday, by lunchtime, I developed a headache that didn’t go away for the rest of the day. I should have been more relaxed on Mondays—I shouldn’t have been getting headaches. The only difference, I found, was that on Mondays, being off of work, I wasn’t drinking any coffee.

From that time on, I became a regular coffee drinker, two mugs of coffee every day, seven days a week. I didn’t dare have coffee after early afternoon, or it would interfere with my sleep. (I learned that during my internship, when I would drink coffee during Wednesday night Bible class and then be awake until the early hours of the morning.) Generally I drank one mug of coffee with breakfast and another with lunch. If I was at a meeting and had coffee there, I skipped the lunchtime coffee.

Twice, I gave up coffee as a Lenten fast. Both times, I wisely tapered off the strength of my coffee during the month before Lent to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Both times, I found myself returning to my coffee habit as soon as Easter arrived.

Two years ago my doctor suggested that I reduce my coffee intake to see if that would help control my blood pressure and my anxiety. Since I began taking medication to control anxiety at the same time, it’s hard to say if drinking only one mug of coffee a day makes a difference in the way I feel. There’s no sense paying a doctor and refusing to follow the doctor’s advice, though, so for two years I have had but one mug of coffee each day.

I’ve not learned yet how to brew just one mug of coffee. Generally I brew about two-thirds of a pot, drink the fresh coffee that day, the day-old coffee the next day, and the two-day-old coffee the third day. Microwaves make that very easy to accomplish. I’ve learned not to make a full pot of coffee and try for the fourth day. Especially during the heat and humidity of summer, some sort of algae or slime begins to grow in the coffee by the fourth day.

Last Friday I came home from work to an empty house—my daughters were away for a dance competition. When I began to get my supper ready, I noticed that the microwave was flashing a message at me: “Enjoy your meal.” That seemed premature, since I hadn’t yet heated my meal in the microwave. I assumed one of my daughters had heated some food and had forgotten it. (Getting ready for dance competitions can be a whirlwind experience, and sometimes things are forgotten.) No, in the microwave was my mug of coffee, forgotten since I left for work in the morning.

But what happened to my withdrawal symptoms? Driving home from work, I had felt some pressure or pain above my nose and between my eyes. I assumed that was caused by sinus problems, which I’ve been having all month. I had not been short-tempered during the day, or restless, or tired. I proposed several theories about my lack of symptoms, still not sure which of these is true:

  • My aging body is no longer as prone to addiction and withdrawal as before. Not likely, but worth considering.
  • My reduction to one mug a day has made me less likely to have withdrawal symptoms when I miss my morning coffee.
  • The medicine I’m taking for anxiety blocks symptoms of coffee withdrawal.
  • Something at work is so pleasant and distracting that withdrawal symptoms from coffee had no chance of getting my attention.

Whatever the reason, I made it to suppertime without my daily coffee. On the other hand, as soon as I found the cup of coffee in the microwave, my headache became worse. I finished the coffee while I warmed my supper, not knowing whether or not it would interfere with my sleep that night. As it happened, sleep came slower than usual, and I was on the point of turning on the light and reading some more (even though it was after midnight) when I finally drifted off to sleep. J.

Fear not

When God says, “Fear not,” are those words a command or a promise? I would like to answer, “Both,” or, “It depends upon the context,” or, “Why do you want to know?” This question is not easily answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

“Fear not” as a command from God relates to the first commandment—have no other gods—and the greatest commandment—love the Lord your God with all your heart and strength and soul and mind. We are to fear the Lord above all else. When something frightens us, we are to turn to the Lord for strength. When we remain in fear and do not draw strength from the Lord, we are allowing an obstacle to stand between us and God, and any such obstacle is sin.

Yet God gave us the emotion of fear for a reason. The surge of energy that accompanies fear gives us power to run away from danger or power to stand and fight danger. Courage does not mean a lack of fear; courage means doing the right thing in spite of fear. Many people enjoy the feeling of fear, which is why they ride roller coasters or watch horror movies. Other people are plagued by ongoing feelings of fear and anxiety, prompting them to take medicines and undergo therapy to escape those feelings. Telling either group of people that fear is a sin against God would be misguided and inappropriate.

“Fear not” as a promise from God relates to his love, his mercy, and his power. When God tells us not to fear, he is promising us that we have no reason to fear. God is stronger than all our enemies. He has already defeated all our enemies. The devil, the sinful world, the sinful nature we still possess, and death which results from sin: they have all lost to Christ, and he shares his victory with us.

A person who uses fear as an excuse not to obey God should be told that God commands us not to fear. We should love God more than anything else, we should trust God more than anything else, and we should fear God more than anything else. Fear of danger is no reason to disobey God. God says, “Take courage and do not fear, for I will never leave you or forsake you.”

A person who suffers from phobias or from generalized anxiety should not be told that God commands us not to fear. Adding guilt to that person’s troubles will not help that person—adding guilt is likely to move that person toward despair. That person instead needs to be told that “fear not” is a promise. He or she will not be punished for being fearful, but God will provide a way to endure the fear and to cling to God’s victory in spite of the fear. Fear itself can be frightening, and that creates a vicious spiral that only worsens when guilt is added to fear. The remedy for fear is faith, and faith comes only from the comforting promises of God’s Word. We have a reason not to fear, but that reason is not the command of God. Our reason not to fear encompasses the grace of God, the love of God, and the victory of God. J.

Thank God for Prozac!

It’s been a crummy sort of week. I haven’t even felt much like writing, which is not like me at all. A lot of reasons feed into that feeling: my disappointment last weekend, tension over a major test I’m taking next Wednesday, summer heat and humidity, and the ongoing onslaught of bad news about hatred, violence, and other such ugliness. I’m not the only one struggling: some of my friends are describing their struggles as well, both online and in person.

My friends have an additional burden that I have not needed to face this week. Their family members mean well, but they are trying to support my friends with the usual vacuous platitudes that are so popular at times like these. You know the type: count your blessings and you’ll feel better; be more active and you’ll forget your problems; just remember that Jesus loves you and everything will be fine; your problems aren’t real, anyhow—they only exist in your head.

My problems only exist in my head? An inner ear infection might exist only in my head, and that wouldn’t make it less real. Anxiety and depression are not solved by bromides: they need a stronger medicine. We are complex beings, and solutions that help one person will do nothing for another and may even harm a third person. Anxiety and depression are symptoms of some sort of imbalance among my body, my mind, and my spirit. Many things can cause that imbalance. Some are solved by better nutrition and more sleep. Some are solved by prayer or meditation. Some are improved by counseling. Some are improved by medication. No panacea covers all the possible causes of anxiety and depression, but well-meant remarks like those quoted above are almost certain to fail to help.

I am puzzled by people who speak against medications that help battle anxiety and depression. For the most part they accept the need for medicines that lower blood pressure or reduce cholesterol, they will swallow a pill for pain relief or freedom from allergies, and they have nothing but compassion for people on crutches, people in wheelchairs, and others whose problems are obvious. Mention an anti-depressant, though, and they begin to speak darkly of conspiracies between pharmaceutical companies and doctors meant to rob perfectly normal people of their money and their health.

I am not suggesting that any person should be allowed to ingest any substance that makes him or her feel better. I am saying that anxiety and depression are real problems that deserve real treatment. If a pill or two can give a sufferer relief, then who is entitled to criticize them? When Mrs. Dim decides to mow her grass before 7 a.m., and when drivers in traffic are doing fooling and dangerous things, and when my future career is very much in question, I’m grateful that a substance exists that helps me deal with my feelings.

For years I thought feelings needed to be ignored. As courage is not a lack of fear, but is doing the right thing in spite of fear, so I believed that virtue always consisted of ignoring one’s feelings and doing the right thing. Life is much easier now that I’ve been guided on a different path, and trusting a medicine or two to help me handle bad feelings does not mean that I trust God any less. I thank God for helpful medicine just as I thank him for doctors, nurses, counselors, physical therapists, and the many other ways he provides to assist the healing of bodies and minds. Whatever is good, whatever is beneficial, whatever is helpful, it all comes from the Creator of the universe who means it to be used for our benefit. For that, I can only give thanks. J.

 

Dealing with it

First, it’s Saturday. I always have greater stress and anxiety on Saturdays—I don’t know why. Second, it is a hot and humid summer day. Heat and humidity do not agree with me. Third, the neighborhood is noisy. The cause is not Mrs. Dim (for once!), but an airshow at a nearby airport. Fourth, the family desktop computer stopped working last night. (Murphy’s gremlins work extra hard on Friday nights. They must get overtime pay.) Fifth, I am a day away from being told whether or not a certain job will be offered to me.

Since the computer is not working, even though I have work that must be done, I take my work to the place where I work, even though the work I must get done is not related to my job. I’m not on the clock; I’m just borrowing my work computer. Before I do my work, though, I research troubleshooting for my home computer. The most probable trouble is dust inside the computer. I sprayed some air through the vent last night, but when I will go home I will do a more thorough cleaning.

Sixth, on my way home I stop at Walmart. I want to pick up a few items, including a frozen pizza for Saturday lunch. I go to the self-serve register with my seven items, and the second item I scan—a bag of frozen peas—brings up an error message. My peas are a restricted item. I must set them aside and continue scanning my other items. Something about Walmart makes me anxious, especially on Saturdays. I get the attention of a young girl working for Walmart, and she gets a manager, and the two of them agree that I cannot buy that bag of peas. Restricted means I cannot have it. An experience like that is bound to rattle an easily-rattled person like me. I let them keep their peas. I take the rest of my food, drive home, cook my pizza, and eat it.

After lunch, it is time to tackle the recalcitrant computer. I try three screwdrivers before I have one that fits the little screw that holds the side panel in place. The side panel pops off with a clatter and falls to the floor. I spray every surface I can see inside the computer until the dust is gone. Then I have to restore the side panel and the little screw. My hands are trembling. Sweat is pouring off my forehead and my neck. My arms feel clammy. This is anxiety with six triggers activated.

First I have to find the little screw. It disappeared when the panel clattered and dropped. Finally I find the screw—oddly enough, balanced on its head instead of lying flat on the floor. It requires some fiddling with shaking hands, but I finally get the panel aligned properly. Still, the screw does not want to drop into its place.

I take a break and towel my face and neck with a damp washcloth. I take a deep breath and return to the computer. With a little more effort, I get the screw installed properly. I reattach the power and all the other cables and test the system. I breathe a prayer of thanks as the monitor springs to life.

Since the problem was dust, I take some time to redesign the work station. The tower is three feet higher than it was, sitting next to the monitor rather than near the floor. The family will have to get used to the change, because this is better for the computer.

It is still Saturday. The air show is still happening. Mrs. Dim even joins in briefly with her blower, but it’s all good. My stomach is still swirling and my knees are still weak, but the computer is working again. Everything else will fall into place the way things are meant to be. J.

 

The rockets’ red glare

“So, J., did you enjoy the fireworks last night?”

“Actually, I was pretty tired, so after supper I read for a while and then went to bed early.”

It helps to plead exhaustion (and to say so honestly) rather than trying to explain loud noises, hyperacusis, crowds of people, and anxiety. I haven’t gone to a fireworks show in years, and those are the real reasons for my absence, but last night I was tired, and I really did go to bed early.

I lay there in the dark, hearing distant public fireworks shows in several directions as well as some nearer backyard pyrotechnics. As I drifted toward sleep and back again, my mind began to wander….

I thought about an article I read in the newspaper that morning. It described military veterans battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the struggles some of them face during celebrations that feature fireworks. During their military career, they were trained to react instantly to the sound of gunfire or explosions. In some cases that training saved their lives. Now, even years later, those conditioned responses still exist. Festive fireworks can bring strong and painful memories of combat events. Family members and friends need to be aware of the feelings these veterans face and know how to help them through the experience.

I thought about something I read in a book. A Confederate veteran of the Civil War had enjoyed a successful career after the war involving journalism, investments, and politics. In the summer of 1902 he was staying in a downtown hotel, and he borrowed a handgun from a friend, complaining about cats bothering him outside his window. During the fireworks show the night of July 4, when the sound of a gunshot was least likely to be noticed, he took his own life. He left behind a note mentioning, among other things, the Confederate losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg on July 4 almost forty years earlier. On other occasions this man had shown bravery under fire, both during and after the war, but through his successful career he clearly carried a wartime burden of hidden inner pain.

I thought about cannon fire in the Napoleonic wars and the American Civil War. I thought about the Battle of the Somme, being fought one hundred years ago this summer. I thought about German guns approaching Paris in 1940. I thought about watching the rocket’s red glare on television during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. I thought about recent events in Orlando, in the airport in Istanbul, in Bangladesh, and in Bagdad.

Perhaps some year I will be able to attend a fireworks show. It would help if we did not have American soldiers serving in a war zone anywhere in the world that summer. It would help if the world had gone a month without terrorist attacks or other kinds of senseless violence.

I am not suggesting that Americans should cancel fireworks displays until such a summer happens. I don’t understand the violence of boxing; other people feel the same way about American football, which I enjoy watching. We accept our differences, let one another enjoy their entertainment, and leave each other alone. So long as I do not have to go to the show, the cities can keep on shooting off fireworks when and where they choose. Meanwhile, a Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans. J.

Crawling in the fast lane

My drive home from work was a microcosm of the last three or four days in my life.

Generally, on a four-lane two-way road, I stay to the right, driving at the speed limit or as close to it as conditions allow. Those who want to exceed the speed limit can pass me on the left. The road between my workplace and my home goes past a lot of stores, restaurants, banks, a high school, and side streets into residential neighborhoods. With all the traffic entering and leaving the highway, it’s hard to make progress in the right-hand lane, so I like to drive home in the fast lane.

Today the fast lane was not very fast. A lot of people were turning left out of the fast lane, and a lot of cars were passing me on the right this afternoon.

All weekend my life has been unpredictable, filled with the unexpected, and for the most part unsettling. I don’t even know why it was that way. My big fight with Mrs. Dim was a week ago; I should be over that by now. Nothing unusually stressful has been happening to me or to the rest of my family lately. I don’t think that I’m fighting a virus: I have no fever, no headache or sore muscles, and no more congestion than is to be expected with seasonal allergies.

Yet since Friday night I’ve experienced waves of anxiety, some so strong that my handles tremble, making it hard to type. I have a constant sense of abdominal tension, like a tennis ball pressing on the back of my sternum. I go from place to place with a feeling of dread, as if I didn’t want to go there, or as if I thought something bad was going to happen there.

Through it all I’ve done my job, I made it to church Sunday morning, and I’ve been careful not to lose patience with people. I remind myself to breathe, and I focus attention on my breathing. I set aside time to read and to relax.

Then I go on the internet and read that some of my friends there are feeling discouraged and overwhelmed as well. Maybe they aren’t as prone to anxiety as I am, but they express feelings that match the way I’m feeling. Now, instead of wondering why I feel as badly as I do, I ask myself what I can say to them to help them feel better.

We need each other. We are sinners living in a sinful world, and sometimes our lives become chipped and cracked through contact with other fragile people. God could take away our problems, and sometimes he does, but other times he answers, “My grace is sufficient for you.” When we bear our burdens, and when we help one another bear these burdens, we grow in Christ-like mercy and compassion.

When the fast lane is crawling, other drivers are stuck in traffic too. We’re all in this traffic together. The best we can do is drive with patience and compassion, and eventually we will all make it home. J.