anxiety attacks and the fallacy of linear progression

IMG_0913Exactly a year ago, up here in the mountains, I fell upon reading Katharine Welby’s blog, and began to admit to myself that I wasn’t “just blue” or “tired” or “having a tough week”–I was depressed.

Katharine Welby-Roberts had been suffering anxiety and depression for many years, and wrote with such clarity and compassion that I was both horrified (at how much I identified with her experiences) and comforted (there was actually something wrong, but it was something at least somewhat treatable which I was suffering, and which millions of others suffered too).

In the ensuing year, as has been cataloged in this very space, I’ve started medication, sought healing through less work and more prayer and yoga, and continue to pursue honesty along the path I trod.

So, a year out, I had my first anxiety attack in several weeks just yesterday. I’d had a remarkably easy and happy November, though as the holidays approached at the end of the year, anxiety and depression snuck back in around the edges of my mind and heart and body. Though a change of scenery is soothing–and the mountains especially healing–the plethora of people and the precious short-ness of time here (and, who knows? the moon’s position, and what I’d had to eat the day before, and the level of anxiety in my heart over nothing at all) conspired to produce a feeling of powerlessness to the anxiety that swept over me. I went back to the car even while J continued to take in the stunning overlook, I pulled out my Book of Common Prayer and started reading psalms, I pressed my hand into the top-center of my rib cage (I’m sure there’s an anatomical explanation as to why I find pressure on my chest right below my neck to be so soothing).

Later as we hiked along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was reminded again of the fallacy of linear progression.

Linear progression–as far as human life experience goes–says that a person continually gets better. Like, if you aren’t always continually “on fire” for God, then you’re backsliding and there’s something very wrong with your spiritual life. Or, a person begins a weight-loss regimen, loses a pound a week for a few months, and then–poof!–is a new, thinner person. Anybody snorting yet?

Life very rarely–if ever–works out that way. Indeed, God shows us in nature that this is a completely ridiculous way to expect life to work out. Stomping millions of leaves underfoot yesterday, I thought of the cyclical pattern of seasons. Seasons change, but they do so in a repetitive, circular way: spring leads to summer, which leads to autumn, which leads to winter, which leas back to spring. Around and around.

Just because I’d had fewer attacks and been able to do more chores in the last few months it doesn’t mean I’m–poof!–done with depression and anxiety forever (would that it did!). And when they come back, it doesn’t mean I’m failing and backsliding; various situations and events just affect me differently on different days. Lives are so much more complex than a linear progression toward some pinnacle.

This weekend, I met some friends for breakfast, and they shared how each move, job change, health problem, and relationship shift has been an opportunity for an adventure. Looking at everything as an adventure avoids the narrowing trap of seeking life that looks like some kind of graph boasting an upturned arrow. This same friend encouraged me to think about depression and anxiety as little children who have come to visit in your head/body-house: “Hello, anxiety. I see you are here today. Let me stop my busyness and pay attention to you.” Because, like little children, depression and anxiety just get all the louder and more insistent and more destructive the longer you leave them alone.

Perhaps it is more important and useful to learn how to respond to and live with our struggles than it is to banish and sweep away those life struggles. Our “progress” is really made in being transformed by clarity (truth) and compassion–transformed by God through trials–rather than shoving our way through obstacles and gaining the badges of accomplishment.

2 thoughts on “anxiety attacks and the fallacy of linear progression

  1. Good post.

    I think that linear progress is only true in hindsight.

    It’s a sort of heuristic metaphor we use to help us reach our goals, while recognizing that it won’t be what we actually experience at any given time.

    I like to think of progress in life as being like the progress of the ant gathering food (Proverbs 6:6-8) or of a tree growing that has to survive fires, wind, and drought. After enough time of working at it as often as we can, we’ll find that we’ve grown so much, but at any given moment along the way we might seem behind or stuck.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Pingback: Another Week Ends: Prophetic Music, Curious Hair, The New New Perspective, Hidden Elves, and Anxiety Attacks | Mockingbird

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