anxiety and elephants

August 6, 2012

Last night, my symptoms flared up and brought on the most severe pain I have experienced since the treatment began. This morning, I woke with hurt dissipated, a new phase of illness begun. How do you describe this period, these moments between episodes, this pause between pain that may be for a moment, that may last for a lifetime?

People keep checking in, trying to find my head in all of this waiting. I’ve transcribed some of the most recent conversations and divided them into a handful of posts. But this feeling that’s creeping in now, this creature that’s dripping drool on my toes and panting in anticipation of my standing up and dealing with it?

I can only describe it this way :

Imagine a woman. A woman who walks into a room. A woman who walks into a room, a room that’s less than ordinary, a Pinterest portal: Anthropologie meets Martha Stewart meets HGTV meets Barbie Dream House.

(I digress.)

Imagine a woman walks into a room: she steps onto cold hardwood floors and feels a dark presence, a deep shadow, wrap around her shoulders. She looks toward the hallway, but the shadow has passed.

The owner of the house walks into the room and takes no notice of the woman’s startled demeanor. He beckons the woman to pay special attention to the new piece of art flown in  from one of those European countries that everyone considers the authority on paint splattered in the shapes of circles and squares.

The woman stares at the owner of the house, watches the owner’s face for some acknowledgement of what is looming outside the room, but the owner smiles and nods in the direction of the canvas. The woman blinks and follows the owner’s outstretched arm to the finger tracing the patterns placed before them. The two stand together before the wall, heads nodding to a rhythm as rehearsed as society itself, until the shadow returns, falling across the picture before them.

The woman pales. She drops gaze to the ground as the shadow covers her toes. A piece of glass hits the floor and flies at her ankle, fragments of a vase knocked off a shelf by the creature stomping in behind her. Her hands fly up to her face and start waving frantically back and forth as she tries to catch her breath. She places one hand against the wall to steady herself and turns slowly to look the creature in the face.

She inhales at the sight of it, and her hand moves from the wall to the painting. As her weight shifts to rest against the frame, she stutters, “It’s… it’s –“

The owner brushes glass aside with his foot, exhaling annoyance. “Ma’am, could you please keep your fingers off the painting?”

The words don’t make it to the woman before she takes her hand off the painting and steps toward the creature. She tilts her head and leans in closer. She turns back to the owner, “It’s a –“

“This piece right here has always been one of my favorites.” The owner moves to a sculpture in the far corner of the room. Behind her, the creature winks. The woman looks at the owner, and then back at the creature looming above her, and then towards the owner’s turned back.

The woman stops the conversation and puts a hand on her hip. “Yes. It’s lovely. Now could you tell me about the pink elephant in the room?”

"Oh, you saw that?"


This over-sized monster known as fear that waddles in as soon as the possibility of pain approaches?  Right. About that... I had planned to ignore it, but it's hard to miss, inconspicuous as a neon behemoth standing in an empty room.

But did you see the sky today? I think it might rain.

And those strawberries in the fridge are finally ripe.

The Olympics? You’ve been watching, right? Phenomenal. Really.

And that pink elephant? Yeah, I guess it’s still there. Staining the rug. Keeping everyone from sleeping.

I’d like to think it will find its way back out the door if I sort of walk away from it and just let it be. Let it stay for now.

But it’s in the stillness of the night that its presence drapes over my body, and I close one eye so that it appears to move farther away - then I close the other eye – nearfarnearnearfarnearfar -, but then it sits on my chest, and it sure does weigh a lot, and it seems like that petting-zoo smell might get trapped in the sheets, so I sit up, and here we are.

I’ve been here before.

When pain starts up, everything within me begs for God to make it stop. When the pain stops, I celebrate. It’s in this place that I am able to catch my breath, but I don’t take off my shoes in case I need to run again. But it's not easy to sleep when you don't take off your shoes.

This fear of the pain returning buries deep: it’s become a disease fed by my illness. It wraps greedy fingers around my heart and festers with promises to kill, steal, destroy the steady peace God so readily supplies.

This fear, it’s multifaceted, but it's more than a mere dread of facing a hurting body once again. Bruises and blood, suffering, stress: I’ve survived enough to warrant breaking into a Kelly Clarkson song every now and then. Sure, God alone sustained me, but my pride would have you know I’m a survivor. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Strong-er. Me. Myself. and I.

This fear, it showcases how much I depend on myself and how little I depend on God. God, who runs an entire universe. Katie, who can’t remember where the car is parked.

And I’ve noticed that this fear hides itself in church-talk. It can be seen in reluctance, a heavy-hearted submission when it’s time to address the trials in life. Like, when people say they’re accepting their suffering because it’s what God has planned, but they say it slow, and you can see them in the middle of their situation, comforted as a cat in a car wash?

An enormous difference exists between begrudgingly submitting and willingly accepting what God wills.

And the pink elephant returns.

This fear of what my future holds, this fear of pain coming back, it doesn’t even live inside the “begrudging submission” bucket. It corrodes the edge, discontent and unbelief spilled over and out, building disgusting rot.

This fear shows where my heart is, exactly what I’m thinking about God. It shows the mistakes in my mindset: the errors that encourage me to believe that God lacks the resources to carry me through another bad night, the lies that like to make my Lord out to be a God of scarcity instead of abundance.  

This fear, it tries to trick me into thinking that God does not know what is best for my life and that He won’t be near when troubles start again. This fear, it feeds on the idea that God will draw near in my trouble, but when the pain comes, He won’t be able to handle it.

These fears, they’re overwhelming in the dark. Their shadows worm their way into my room and stretch to the ceiling in overwhelming greatness. Lights turned on, they disappear. The substance of the Light absorbs them: not one shadow is left to dance over me.

My God – He is removing all of my anxiety this way. In gracious love, He illuminates His Word so it glows with the truth of who He is. When my fear begins to make shadow-puppets on the wall of my heart and when dread argues that God will not be able to deliver me from upcoming battles, God shines light and the shadows disappear and He whispers, “Oh yeah? Try me.” 

I called on Your name, Yahweh, from the depths of the Pit. You hear my plea: ... You come near when I call on You; You say: 'Do not be afraid.' ~ Lamentations 3:55-58

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