We all have our crazy-makers. Mine is email, and phone calls, and thank you notes—basically any communication that I’m expected to follow through on. Sometimes I do alright with those things. I make lists. I set goals: Return four emails before bed! But sometimes I torture myself. My deepest weakness is a longing to please people. I want to be liked. I want you to not be mad at me. I want to be polite. And so, when an email sits in my inbox for two months, even when my excuse is pretty legit (my baby won’t stay asleep when I lay him down…the time I used to have during August’s naptime is now a distant memory I recall as I’m bouncing a fussy baby), I feel crushing guilt. The unwritten email(s) runs through my mind all day long and if I don’t turn those tortured thoughts into prayer, I become a brain wreck.
So, when Chris came home yesterday to a kitchen full of dirty dishes, a bedroom full of unfolded laundry, and a wife in tears bouncing a crying baby while pretending to be Angelina Ballerina with her almost-three-year-old and all I could say when he walked in the door was: “I just need to return emails! I just need to write thank you notes!” it was all too familiar.
The first time I realized I have a problem with anxiety came when Chris and I were engaged. I’m an ENFP. Planning is not my strong suit. (Making friends with people who I can’t possibly keep in touch with is…) So, I was a total disaster as a wedding planner. I was stressed and I cried every night. (At least that’s how I remember our engagement. Poor Christopher.)
After we were married, when I expected the anxiety to fade into a pretty wedding album, it was still there. This time it was found in email and phone calls. I couldn’t return them. I was paralyzed by the thought of dialing a friend’s number so instead I spent the time I could’ve spent calling crying in my bed, hating myself for the steadily building list of uncalled friends.
When I finally went to therapy, a whole world opened up. It was a freedom to recognize that I was actually kind of a crazy person, not simply a terrible friend. And anxiety is my natural inclination when I don’t believe the truth, when I don’t set boundaries, when I allow my brain to believe that all I am is what I can accomplish.
And so, when Chris came home yesterday and found me in a panicked state, bouncing our baby like some frantic bird, trying to pick toys off August’s floor with my feet, he recognized The Anxiety Monster right away. We sat in our room while I rocked T-Rexy and I said the same thing over and over again: How I didn’t have time, how the people I love don’t think I love them, how a truly grateful person would never let her friends go for months without being told of her gratefulness. Then he told me he loved me, told me he was going to go pick up the world’s best dumplings from Shanghai Dumpling King (which he did). I stuffed my sadness with the incredibly juicy crack-laced pot-stickers, and eventually calmed down. Then we sat on the couch and walked through my 135 unread emails, flagged the ones I needed to return, and set a course of action.
You know what else happened? My husband got up with my kids this morning, fed August, entertained T-Rexy, put T-Rexy back to sleep, and let me sleep until 8.
And, I woke up to the same house, the same reality of my own failures of communication, the same crying children. But I remembered that God loves me and that I don’t have to live all bound up by my mind and my guilt.
Then I made a list.