Hope is an Anchor
My mind cracked again, leaking like a shipwreck on the rocks. This time it was bad. I was going to have to start all over again. Somehow, I’d lost my way, lost where I was going. Too fast, everything was too fast. It was out of control. So, I hid away in the quiet, thinking I was safe in this bubble. I gave up trying, letting myself become trapped. The bubble was my enemy and all hope was gone. I was shipwrecked on a wilderness island and the question became— how did I get here? In this barren and empty place where was God? I couldn’t see Him.
Going out grew slowly harder and harder. I had been able to hide it all before but not anymore, it was surfacing, bubbling up and bursting out. The shops had started to evolve into dark and dangerous places where it wasn’t safe anymore. The noises were so loud, the sensations twisted and exaggerated in my mind. Every noise felt like it was piercing my skull. The lights felt like hospital lights, too bright and burning my eyes.
I started to sit at the very back of the Church, still hiding away. I would watch, almost enviously, as others freely express themselves in worship and song to God. One lady would be gracefully dancing in the corner, her arms floating through the air, leaning the full weight of body back as she would outstretch her whole self to God. Another found joy in the swishing and whooshing of a brightly coloured flag, waving the banner of the Lord. I wanted to do that. But I couldn’t. How could I dance when I felt so sad?
I remember the day that it started again back in the hot, long summer. We were going to Sainsburys. I felt the usual rush and buzz of the shop’s car park, my mind buried in a list of ‘to dos.’ I could feel the tightness running through me like sparking electricity. Shopping had never been my favourite thing to do. I had always treated it like a mission, armed with my lists, pen and the magic coin that allows you to rent your shopping tank— the trolley.
As usual, Jason, my husband trailed behind me as I regimentally marched through the sliding doors. It was busy that day, so many people everywhere. I internally groaned. My eyes struggled to focus on the blurry words of my list. The tightness clenched its crocodile jaws a little bit tighter. Sweat began to prickle my palms. The people becoming a faceless sea around me of noise. Dodging shopping trolleys, small energetic children, I raced ahead but Jason wanted to look at the technology section. I sighed following him there, temporarily distracted from ‘the mission’.
Whilst standing and waiting for Jason to look at all the latest technology, the tightness grew tighter. I tried to say as forcefully calm as I could, “Come on Jason, we need to get the shopping” but there was a razor-sharp tone in my voice. Jason was lingering and I felt the irritation grow like an itch that you really must scratch. “Come on, we haven’t got time”, my voice grew louder. Something in my tense voice caught his attention, looking up troubled he asked, “Are you alright?” “I’m fine”, I snapped sharply.
Moving up the busy aisles, we grabbed each item, never lingering but pushing forward. Sometimes Jason would come up to me with something and say, “Should we get this?” or “Do you want this?” The hesitation, the indecision grated on me even further, “It doesn’t matter, just get it” I would say and once again I was off to the next packed aisle. Pen tightly in hand I would cross each item off. The cracks in my mind were widening. The crocodile jaws tightening.
As we got to the final item on the list, which I remember was in the freezer aisle, we couldn’t find it. I was pacing up and down looking for it, like it was the end of the world if we never found it, when something started to change within me. A moment ago, I was fast, fast, fast. Hurry hurry hurry! Must keep up! When suddenly the jaws snapped one final time. It was as though I was going into rewind. Everything started to slow down around me, as I was more and more aware of my agitated body and my cracking mind. A shift had taken place, my external surroundings were fading and all I could see was me.
Every single step was starting to feel like I was walking through deep snow, heavy and slow. Jason’s faint voice tried to reach me but I was lost in a fog. I tried to control my breathing, slowing it down but it wasn’t working. My palms were covered in cold sweat and I felt a sudden rush of prickling heat that hit my face. My erratic heartbeat rocketed through my chest. The words rang in a frenzy through my head, “What is happening?” I tried to grip onto something, anything in my mind but it was all at sea. Then the worst of all— the explosion of panic.
This was new to me, I had never felt it like this before. It was as though I was sitting on a bee’s nest, trying to contain the buzz, the building hum of the bees before they exploded out of the nest. My head swam. Panic roared through my chest and up to my throat. I needed to leave right now. “Jason. Please. Give me your keys”, I held my shaking hand out in front of him. Jason was so confused, “Why? What’s wrong?” snatching the keys from his hand I turned around walking in the direction of the door.
My eyes were pricking and stinging with tears. The roar of the sea of people faded, evaporating from around me. It was just me now. I felt a calm beginning to settle upon me, like a layer of fresh snow as our car came in sight. I slumped into the seat, weighed down heavily, despair started tumbling out. I cried so hard that my throat burned. After the tsunami of tears subsided, I rested my head back on the hard headrest. All I could feel now was two things, my head thumping violently and the covering of cold that settled over me.
Then I saw Jason’s figure coming towards the car. I stung with shame. How could I speak to him like I did? How could I just walk out? By the time he got in I was like stone, cold and empty. He touched my hand which felt like fire on ice. We sat in heavy silence for a bit, as though invisible clouds hung between us, puffing and veiling the way back to each other. I felt more tears welling in my eyes and rolling down my icy cheeks.
I could barely look at him but when I did I saw the mixed pain and confusion in his eyes. “What happened?” He asked. My mouth was so dry and my throat so sore I just about managed to croak, “Anxiety”. “I know you’ve had anxiety before but I’ve never seen you like this”, his voice was cracking with unspoken emotions. I had no answers for him at this point. I had crumbled. Sunk. All the way home, I sat in silence, too exhausted to speak and too empty. Rocked by the soothing motion of the car, my sore eyes closed, and I could have escaped into sleep. I felt barren. I felt hopeless.
After that defining day, I started walking out of shops, public places and church. I gave in to fleeing. I gave in to hiding. There had been so many cyclic tears and meltdowns, where day after day merged together into one panicked blur. I lost sight of the days, the months, and all I began to know was how each moment was becoming so painful. How was I going to do it anymore?
Until one day, I was back in the bubble, sitting in the quiet. When I heard that still small voice, a whisper from Him— what am I so afraid of? He let me know that its okay and I saw then, in my heart, that I had to stop running away. His peace settled on my tired and weary heart, and the vast black sky that had stretched before me never-ending, started to light up and explode with bright stars. I had to believe then that my broken mind would be created anew. So, one shop at a time, one place at a time, I started to face it again and it became a little easier. Even though I still get scared, I keep going out and I’ll keep going one step at a time, and with every step I become new.