Friday, October 14, 2016

14. Saying "Don't Worry" is Not Helpful

I've always had a problem with fear. Reading those old journals has made that abundantly clear. It was actually kind of sad to read page after page of, "I know it's so stupid. Everyone gets so mad at me. But I can't help it! I'm terrified!"

For about 10 years, I had a crippling fear of tornadoes.

I don't know how it started. I had never experienced one in real life. But it became an obsession. I was a freak about watching the weather to make sure we weren't under any kind of "severe weather risk." I have journal entries as a 12 year old detailing the high and low pressure systems, cold fronts, and thunderstorm chances. It practically reads like an almanac! I started to get nervous at the first sign of rain. Rain! I was afraid of rain! Because rain led to storms and storms led to tornadoes. Wind was my worst enemy. Which was especially unfortunate, because we lived in the middle of a huge field and the wind frequently whipped across it and battered our house.

I drove my poor parents crazy. If it was ever windy or rainy or stormy in the middle of the night, I would creep down the stairs and stand at their bedroom door like one of those possessed children in a horror movie. I can't tell you how many times they would say, "There's not going to be a tornado, Sadie. Stop worrying."

When I was younger, I would sleep on the couch - somehow being closer to my parents made me feel safer. When I got older, I would stay up all night monitoring the weather on the little 13" black and white TV in my bedroom. The middle of the night storms were the worst because I felt like it was my responsibility to worry for the whole family while they were asleep.

But it was also embarrassing and debilitating when I was in public. I had panic attacks at school. I cancelled plans with friends because there were storms in the forecast and I couldn't let them see me freak out. Over and over people told me it was a stupid fear and nothing to worry about. Over and over pastors and authors and devotionals called my worry a sin and told me to trust God. Over and over I begged and pleaded with God to take away my fear. He eventually did, with the help of something I'll write about tomorrow . . .

For now, I just want to make it clear that the antidote to anxiety is not irritation and insistence that worry is unnecessary. If I could have just "STOPPED WORRYING" don't you think I would have?!?! Do you think I liked those feelings of terror? Do you think I enjoyed the stomach pains and heart palpitations and hot flashes? Do you think I relished the raised eyebrows and whispers about my weird fears? It was horrible. I wanted to "just stop" with everything in me, but it doesn't work that way.

And I'm not really blaming anyone (especially my parents) who did tell me to stop. I find myself telling my kids the same thing all the time. Actually, the night I wrote this entry, I was putting Lucy to bed when a mouse scurried across her floor. Justin chased it downstairs, but she was terrified to go to sleep. We kept telling her, "It's gone. Don't worry about it. Even if it was in your room, it's not going to hurt you." But that didn't help. And I remembered my feelings of helplessness and fear and something that actually did help me: having something concrete to hold onto. I grabbed a box of dryer sheets and told Lucy to follow me back upstairs. I started shoving dryer sheets into nooks and crannies around her room and told her matter-of-factly that mice hate dryer sheets. I really did read that somewhere once. I'm not sure how scientifically accurate it is, but it gave Lucy some kind of relief. She went right to sleep.

Another thing that helped me as a kid was not having to bear the responsibility of worry on my own. I'll never forget one terrible night of storms that I kept appearing at my parents' door. At 2 am, my dad finally got up, built a fire in the fireplace, and sat next to it with me. We played games. We made some kind of dessert. We talked until the sun rose and storms abated. Having him there with me made all the difference in the world. As an adult, I marvel that he would give up his sleep to sit with his addled daughter. Haha. But I remind myself of that often when my kids are scared - often my presence is all they need.

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