I must have only been 10 or 11, but I clearly remember sitting on the floor of a friend’s van (we could do that 20 years ago if the seat belts were all occupied) and one of the children wouldn’t stop crying. I didn’t get it. We had just left his cousin’s house, not far from his own. He could visit anytime he wanted; he could see them again the next day. WHY was he crying? Let me re-phrase: Why was he SCREAMING? He happened to be sitting on the seat directly parallel to my spot on the floor, so my left ear received the full extent of his piercing, screaming sobs. My eyes were wide. I stared straight ahead, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why this 4-ish year old wouldn’t shut up. In only a matter of, I’m sure, a few seconds, I could no longer hear my own thoughts, and I lost it.
“(Insert child’s name), SHUT UP!” I shouted. It only seemed logical to shout so he could hear me over his own screaming. Immediately, both his mother and my mother shouted my name, scolding me. It’s somewhat humorous looking back on the situation now, but it also serves as the earliest memory I have of “too much input”, a phrase my psychiatrist terms, “ADHD”.
A large part of ADHD, for me, is the complete inability to process my current surroundings/situations in the same manner or at the same rate that most people can. For example, most people I know can drive a car and listen to a screaming child in the backseat, simultaneously. Heck, some people can even do it while carrying on a conversation with another adult or listening to incessant, repetitive, and very annoying children’s music. But I can’t. No, really! I’m incapable of processing those things. My brain turns to fuzz. Imagine, if you will, using the old “bunny-ears” antenna and the channel you wanted just wouldn’t receive or come in clearly. The channel would be an annoyingly loud, scratchy sound and the screen would flicker a black/white/grey mess. That is what my brain does when more than 2-3 things are happening around me at once. I don’t “recept”, or process. I shut down. That’s when anxiety takes over.
Skip back to age 8 or 9. My head hung over the toilet bowl while I vomited. No stomach flu. Just “nerves”. I knew my dad was on his way to come pick me up for the 9 hour drive to his parent’s acreage for the week…over the Christmas holiday…yet again. It wasn’t that those visits were terrible; sometimes they were OK. But let’s just say my fondest memories of those visits were the late night cups of tea and endless games of Skip-Bo (or Scrabble) I played with my Gramma. To this day, I don’t know why I was so nervous for those trips, nor do I care to over-analyze the “why” behind it, but I believe that trip in particular accounts for my earliest recollection of anxiety.
Fast-forward to today. I have good days but lately, it seems, that the bad days tend to be more often than not. “Bad days” are the ones filled with anxiety. So much so, that the simple thought of driving to the city (only 20 minutes away) is enough to keep me at home. Even when we are out of the grocery essentials, we stay home. And what if the kids don’t behave picture-perfectly while in public? We should stay home.
Let me paint the picture clearly for you: My children do get along sometimes, but for the most part, each wants what the other has and when they can’t have it, a melt-down begins, usually by both children, crying or screaming at each other. Hair has been pulled, faces have been hit, skin has been pinched, tears have rolled. On a good day, I can process what is happening and put a stop to it immediately. But on the bad days, all it takes is for that one blood-curdling scream to be voiced, and mommy loses it. Again, the only logical thing to do is shout over the noise in order to be heard. “STOP SCREAMING! STOP PINCHING! DON’T PULL HAIR! STOP PUSHING! PUT IT BACK! LET GO, NOW!” My almost-daily vocabulary. It’s exhausting…and loud. When you stay at home all day, every day, shouting the same things over and over, you tend to get…anxious. To keep my sanity and to keep the peace (and quiet), I have allowed (too much) t.v. and screen time over the past few weeks. Let’s just call that a coping method. But you see, in today’s society, you can’t allow your kids to watch even a small amount of television without feeling some measure of guilt, because every mother knows (and has probably been told a few times) that the “American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges parents to strictly limit screen time…It will fry their brains, they aren’t ready to handle it developmentally”, bla, bla, bla. Yes, we know! So even in our attempt to get some guilt-free sanity, there’s still an inkling of guilt. It never really goes away, so neither does our insanity…or anxiety.
It’s been in our “too much screen time” weeks that we have had a re-surge of the movie, Frozen. Since hearing Elsa’s song, Let It Go, when first released in 2013, I’ve often wished I could be like her. For the few of you who haven’t seen the film, let me paraphrase: Elsa has magical powers. She turns things to ice. Get it? Frozen? Anyway, she can use her powers for fun and for good, but when she uses her powers (or when they escape her) out of fear, damage occurs. She kept her powers hidden for years until they escaped from her (out of fear) on her Coronation Day, in front of everyone. So she fled. When she’s leaving all she’s ever known to be “free”, she willingly uses her powers and sees what she’s actually capable of doing – creating beautiful winter-wonderlands, a magical ice-palace, Olaf (a snowman which comes to life), etc., and all the while, she sings the famous song, Let It Go. For some reason her words resonate with me:
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation
and it looks like I’m the Queen
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried
Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know
Well, now they know
It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway
I’ve always wished I could “let it go” when it comes to things that have caused seemingly unwarranted anxiety, worry, or stress, but apparently I don’t posses the same powers as Elsa, nor can I simply run away from my responsibilities, become a hermit, and do what I want, when I want…although I have certainly tried at times.
Recently, I was thinking over how I have allowed my two-year-old (who throws a massive temper tantrum the very millisecond he doesn’t get what he wants) to control my life. I don’t go into town because I don’t want to listen to the screaming fit that occurs when he drops his teddy bear, gets mad about it, so I almost drive off the highway to retrieve it and hand it back to him, he gets mad, throws it down again, and screams and cries about that fact all over again. Because…I can’t be in a vehicle with a screaming child. Therefore, I don’t go to the city. I don’t dare volunteer at my daughter’s school. My social anxiety certainly plays into that, but I think the real reason is I avoid it is, chances are, my son would have a tantrum, and we would end up leaving anyway…so why go through the hassle, have the glares or stares of other parents and teachers, just to walk out in shame?
A few days ago, while driving to the city – a situation that causes anxiety to begin with – along with my two children (who were getting antsy in the backseat), I was already incredibly anxious about an upcoming health appointment – the necessary reason for the trip. I knew I wasn’t processing well that morning and needed to focus on driving (Saskatoon drivers…they’re crazy), so I popped in the only kid’s CD that I can handle, which also happens to be my kids’ favourite (and therefore, keeps them quiet-ish). The first song came on and immediately the fighting subsided. They started “seat-dancing” to the beat, and I started singing along (it’s weird…but sometimes that actually helps me to focus on my task at hand). Then it hit me. All of my anxiety had dissipated. It was gone! My situation hadn’t really changed though. I was still driving in the city, the kids were still making noise (thankfully happy noises at this point), and I was still going to a dreaded appointment. What changed?
Take a listen. Seriously! Do it! (This is the song to which we were bouncing along.)
I love Brad’s music (and I’m proud to say we attended the same college years ago) but this song in particular really changes your focus, doesn’t it? It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, because when you start praising the Lord even in the midst of your circumstances, no room is left for anything else. It was at that moment that some of Elsa’s Let It Go played in my head, “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all“. Silly mommy. My two-year-old hasn’t been controlling me, my actions, or even my re-actions. It’s been fear.
Anxiety is driven by fear. Fear of the what-if. Fear of the what-if-not. Fear of the can’t. Fear of success. Fear of unsuccess. Fear of the past, present, and sometimes, even the future.
Fear. It truly is crippling, isn’t it?
The funny part about Elsa is that, only a short while after running away to “freedom”, she found out that she really wasn’t free at all. When she fled, she left a wake of destruction. Her hometown was covered in ice and snow. Her people were freezing and starving. When told to come back and fix the problem, she refused (out of fear), stating she didn’t know how. She only knew fear and fear was her enemy.
In the end, she almost killed her sister because of her powers…because she allowed fear to take control. The only way to break the negative impact of her powers was “true love”…of course, because it’s Disney, right? But instead of a magical “true-love’s kiss”, only an act of true love was required. Even though Anna was dying, she used her last ounce of strength to save Elsa’s life…the action of true love.
John 15:13 (NIV)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
In that moment, the sum of Elsa’s fears stopped. In that moment, the swirling snow stopped. The howling winds stopped. Everyone just stopped. And Elsa wept. Her worst fear had come to fruition. She thought Anna had died. Only in her burden of grief and despair, in the absence of fear, did Anna slowly begin to breathe, and the world around them slowly began to thaw, because “only an act of true love could thaw a frozen heart“.
1 John 4:18 (Msg)
There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.
When our focus shifts to be on Him alone, the author of “well-formed love”, there simply is no room for fear. Focusing on Him creates that distance where everything else, the little matters of life, and sometimes even the big ones, become a lot more clear. “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.”
Philippians 4:13 (Msg)
Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.
Granted, there are times when my anxiety will take over, or should I say, fear? But acknowledging the fear and asking God for His help to take a stand against it, can make a powerful and impactful difference in one’s life. So that’s precisely what I did. Even on a “low-processing” day, shortly after having the stomach flu, I was determined that fear was not going to have the upper hand in my life on that particular day. I decided to pack up the kids, drive into the city, while it was snowing, and pick up an order from the bookstore – a task I had put off accomplishing for days…due to fear. But, I did it! And the kids may have screamed at each other for a bit in the back seat, and the snow may have been blowing across the highway, and my son may have had another disastrous diarrhea diaper in the bookstore, and I may have even met my husband for lunch (around naptime), and my son may even have had a massive meltdown when I went to order my lunch, and I may have encountered the stares of fellow patrons, and I may have had to take him outside the restaurant for a stern “talking-to”, and I may have had a crappy lunch when it finally did arrive, and I may have had cranky kids on the way home. But, I did it. (Insert sigh of relief and slight smile) I acknowledged my fear. I took a stand against it, and I would say, for the most part anyway, I kept my cool. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t even enjoyable. But it was an absolute refusal to allow fear to control my life. And it was only possible with (my daily dosage of medication, and) a full reliance and focus on Him. The results were amazing. My attitude and even my general, daily anxiety had changed for the remainder of that day. I was happier, more content, more confident, more fully alive.
Anxiety will take it’s toll on me again, I’m sure, and because it is a mental health disorder, there will be days where I will feel completely incapable of controlling the fears that drive my anxiety. And on those days, I might have to stay home. But you can be sure that the next day will be met with sheer determination from the moment I awake, to acknowledge the fear, to put my foot down, and take control of it, because my focus will be on Him. And if you find yourself ever in need of a little help in that area, be sure to crank Brad’s song and get praising the Lord. It will change your focus from fear to instead, the Perfect Love, Who casts out all fear.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.
Because He lives…I can face tomorrow. Because He lives…all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future. And life is worth the living, just because He lives.