Anxiety Goes to the Monastery

Photo on 8-4-17 at 8.41 PM


Oh.  That’s the problem.  Not the panic attacks, the anxiety, the what happened and didn’t in New York, the what does it mean to not be a New Yorker or to leave.  Not any of that.

My sister friend asked what I was afraid of, and I said, “I’m not worthy.”

Nuns again for the win. “You’ll take that to Kansas City, or New York, or wherever,” she said.  I knew, so much that I cried, because it sucked.

She gave me sound suggestions for feeling my feelings and befriending them.  I knew it was all very true, very scary, and not at all what I wanted to do.

One part of my visit to the monastery is always raising the demons.  First I rest, then I feel great, then I raise my demons, and I gotta work with them, and it’s hard.

Usually I stay long enough to make peace with them, and leave in peace.  This time I left with my demons still actively eating at my stomach.  And ready to do some google searches for images of demons.  How do people


“I’m the only person to sit in your office who actually is unworthy,” I said, though I knew she would say, “No.  And you’re not unique.”

She meant that in a good way.

My anxiety is a dark slate blue and enormous, goes on forever.  It’s a black hole at my solar plexus.  I remember when I learned the sun would go out someday.  It was the first time I was really afraid.  It is negative infinity.  Its enormity means I am alone like last human on earth alone.  Last human in the universe alone.  Last human ever.

It sends out black insects that fill my mind and my heart and my lungs and I can’t see or think properly.

If you had meditated more.  If you were more friendly.  If you worked out.  If you did yoga every day.  If you ate more vegetables.  If you didn’t sneak out of work 10 minutes early.  If you didn’t spend so much money.  If you watched less TV.  If you called people you should call.  If you opened your mail.

Not thinking, though, she said, not storytelling, feeling.  Feeling and describing and holding.

I’m really good at thinking.  Really good.

My Christian tradition tells me that I am not in charge, that I am limited by my humanity.  I only have certain talents, a certain amount of time.  It tells me that shortened, broken, disastrous-looking things can move into resurrection.

That’s all very nice in theory.  I’d rather be perfectly happy all the time, never worry again about having a panic attack, or feel like I’m about to shake apart and burst with anxiety.

I’d rather be madly in love, have had all my dreams come true immediately, have yummy meals every meal, great exercise, a steady, rewarding career, and have already won a Nobel Prize for writing.  Yep.

How are you Christian and anxious?  How do you have a very deep and real faith, and still lose it all in terror?

It happens.  It happens just as much as it happens.

My sister friend said, “It’s because you want to be such a good person that you worry.  If you didn’t care, it wouldn’t matter to you.”

That does sound good.  But you don’t know me.

I leave work ten minutes early!  I ignore the trash hoping someone else will take it out.  I don’t open my mail because it scares me.  I buy things until my card gets declined because I’m too scared to keep track of my money.  I watch so much television.  No one watches more television than I do.  No one runs away from her problems more.

No one runs toward challenges that are too big, and too scary, in spite of having a definitively diagnosed anxiety disorder.  Why do I do that?  Of course I have to take medication to go into Manhattan.  IT’S MANHATTAN.

I’m a terrible, terrible mess who can’t remember anything good or nice she’s every done, and is convinced I have caused another round of wrestling with the black hole.

I’m not enough.  I don’t have enough, I can’t control enough, I can’t be enough.  I try, and I can’t, and it makes it worse.  I have to try, though, right?

Sister prayed with me and hugged me, and I returned to my room at the monastery.

I curled up in a ball on my bed.

I drew my black hole, many times.  I wrote for my demon.  Hello, my name is HELL.  Hello, I SUCK AT EVERYTHING.  Hi, I’m BROKE.  Good morning, I’m DESPONDENT.  Hello, there, I’m STRANGLED BY GRIEF.

Then I wrote something weird: “How brave are you?  I learn.  How smart are you?  I’m curious.”  I liked that.  That sounded right.

I folded it up, took it down to the chapel, put it on the altar.

I still felt awful.

I bought a vial of holy water.  To go.

I was not ready to go.  I felt shaky and exhausted, though I had slept and eaten.

I was supposed to stop, breathe, and then focus on a positive thought.

Had I felt and held my fear enough?


I was not enough.  My hunger to make myself enough only gets bigger and bigger.  It only raises the jumps every time I pass, and it doesn’t care if I fell, or if I fell twice.

I left anyway, with my pictures and the book I got, and the handouts, and my journal, and all my quotes from all the books I read.  And instead of watching TV when I got home, I would tell my parents what I had learned about myself, they would shrug reassuringly, like, definitely, we’ve all been there, and I would write a little, because that’s one way I can feel my right size, not so small I can go down the drain, or so big I will blow up.  Just right.


2 thoughts on “Anxiety Goes to the Monastery

  1. “It’s a mistake to think that we have to be lovely to be loved by human beings or by God.” -Fred Rogers
    I have to believe that it is in learning to love the worst in ourselves that we come to understand who God is and what love truly is in all its pain and fear and grace and joy.

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