Hungry, but Donuts Just Aren’t Enough

magical donuts

I’m hungry.

But not for donuts.

Don’t get me wrong–donuts are great. My physics professor and I even have a running joke about donuts.

But this is a hunger for affirmation, and for that, donuts just don’t cut it.

It’s terrible. It’s a never satiated hunger. You get a little bit of affirmation here, a little bit there–and it feels really good, but it leaves you wanting more. You feel really good when you get it, and it’s all happy-day, happy-day. And the next day is a Very Bad Day–but why? What changed within the cosmos of the universe that made it into a bad day? What disaster? What loss? Nothing. Just–no affirmation today. And that’s as hard as missing lunch, with all accompanying grumpiness.

I was talking about this with myself yesterday. I got a physics exam handed back with a 96. And I was bummed. What the heck? About the test? No. About what? Nothing. Just miserable.

So I picked at it and picked at it and picked at it, and I realized, I didn’t really want the grade–I wanted the affirmation. Wasn’t the grade affirmation? Not for me. I wanted to see it in my professor’s face, hear it in his voice. When I got the 90 on the previous exam, you’d have been hard pressed to tell who was more proud and pleased of the result. That, I wanted. The number–it didn’t really mean anything.

Today, I went to his office hours, ostensibly to ask him if he would be a reference for me as I apply to graduate school. Then we chatted for half an hour, because we could, and it was pleasant. But–since we were chatting–my 96 exam came up. The pleased tone at how well I was chugging right along, perfect on every page. The minor disappointment that I didn’t manage to pull of the one-zero-zero, on account of being stupid with a calculator on the last page. Here, we shared the joy of my effort and the sorrow of my failure, and affirmed my existence as a person. And today, I am happy.

And tomorrow, I will be hungry again.

“The Fear Is A Lie.”

The fear is a lie.

The fear is a lie.

I’ve seen that many times, and many times dismissed is one of those “I act tough, because I’m not” sayings. I dismissed it, and passed along. The fear isn’t a lie; it’s a palpable truth. I feel fear, and I won’t deny it. I am afraid. If that makes me not tough, fine.

Something changed, though.

After sitting through a quiz–a quiz in which I knew–knew–the material, and curiously found that I was having trouble breathing; my heart was pounding so loud in my ears, so strong in my chest, that I could hardly even hear the scrape of the chairs as others got up to leave; and my hands, normally cool and dry, were damp with sweat and shaking so badly I could hardly write. What was wrong with me? I was literally panicking. I handed in my quiz and staggered out of the door. I had to hold on to the rail as I descended the stairs. I was trembling so bad, I wondered if I would fall down the stairs. It seemed like a distant concern, because I felt strangely disconnected from my body, like a dream.

I can’t do this.

I can’t.

It doesn’t matter how much I want to, how determined I am, how hard I’ll try. My body has drawn the line in the sand. This far, and no further.

I thought maybe it was a fluke, but it wasn’t. Quits!!

I found myself wandering into the office of a “Learning Specialist.”

“What can we help you with?”

“Um, I don’t know. I’m just having a lot of anxiety when  I take tests.”

“Oh! You have an anxiety disorder.”

What?! No, I don’t. Not me. I don’t. I sat in her office in a daze.

“. . .and you realize that this is double-ended exclusion, right?”

“What?” Is that even what she said?

“Learning disabilities means falling outside of the norm. That can be down here, having more trouble than norm at learning, or it can be up here on the opposite end–being so much more advanced than the norm. It’s still a learning disability!”

I stared at her. Being smart is a disability now?

“. . .I do recommend seeing a doctor; of course, they will go straight to medication, so you have to be ready for that. But don’t go to the walk-in to get anti-anxiety meds! I have some people doing that, and it’s just not a good idea. . .”

What am I doing here? This isn’t who I am. I don’t–why is she telling me these things? I don’t understand.

The next few days were hard for me as I struggled to make sense of it all.

IF she was right, IF I had an anxiety disorder. . .did that mean I was broken on the inside? I didn’t use to get anxious like this. Who wants to deal with someone who’s broken? I won’t go on medication. I don’t need medication! Why is my body acting like this? My blood pressure is too low, all the time. There’s the classic symptoms of difficulty breathing and pressure on my chest. This isn’t me! I can’t accept this.

I went to my professor and asked to be allowed accommodations for testing. It was humiliating. Not because he was cruel to me; because I had to admit I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I needed help. I wasn’t good enough to do it the way everyone else did.

I lashed out against it. Trying to figure out what made an anxiety disorder a disorder. Trying to get some kind of context for how bad I’d really allowed things to get. Refusing to believe it. Recognizing that denial is the classic response to any unwanted diagnosis–response to any confrontation of weakness. Reaching out to people in an attempt to talk it it away or “deal with it.”

One person told me, “The Fear Is A Lie.”

I don’t really know what she meant, but I know in that instant it clicked. Perfect love casts out fear. The deceiver tells you to be afraid. The fear IS a lie.

I slept horribly that night. I kept waking up with that tightness, that pressure, that difficulty breathing. The Fear Is a Lie. The Lord is Love. I chant it to myself until I fall asleep, and wake up again. The Fear Is a Lie. God is Good. I fall back asleep.

The next morning, I wrote:

I keep trying to remind myself, ‘the fear is a lie, the fear is a lie” and it keeps switching over to ‘the fear is alive, the fear is alive, the fear is alive.” Both feel true all at once.

Being told it was an anxiety disorder was a relief because it said this was a real problem. It was horrible, because it said it wasn’t anything outside of me, anything external. It was internal. It was me. I was broken. It would always be there, attacking everything, destroying me. It was huge and terrifying. [she] said, Fear is a lie.

Fear is a lie.

Fear is a lie, told by the father of lies. This not about physics, this is not about school. This is spiritual warfare. That’s horrible, because it feels like spiritual warfare. It feels like someone pounding metal stakes into your soul. But that’s galvanizing, because here is your reason for being sent back to school. To grapple with this. To grapple with him. To be tested and tried. To learn that the fear is a lie.

If God is for me, who can be against me? The fear is a lie. What are you afraid of? Nothing. No outcome. I’m just starkly terrified. The fear is a lie. There is nothing to be afraid of. God created you. God stands by you. The fear is a lie.

. . .

Hate me, then. God, my God, will rebuke you. In His own time. Maybe not until that final, everlasting rebuke, but He will rebuke you. And He will hold me.

. . .

The fear is a lie. Your mercy is truth. The fear is a lie, but You know me. The fear is a lie, but You are near. The fear is a lie, but You are in control. The fear is a lie, but You are smiling on me, on this day. The fear is a lie, but this is Your plan, and it is good. The fear is a lie, but You are full of comfort. The fear is a lie, and You hold me in Your hand. The fear is a lie, and You are love, peace and joy.”

Is this the happy ending? No, friends, a battle, a war, is not over that quickly. I had a quiz today, and was so pleased to discover that, while I shook, it didn’t interfere with my writing. Though I trembled as I left, I didn’t need to use the rail. Though my blood pressure can still be as low as 88/60 when I’ve been sitting, it is getting a little easier to breathe.

The stress won’t go away. If ever it does, I guess I’m the kind of person to chase it down, to over-commit until I’m stressed. The anxiety won’t go entirely away; I expect I probably will struggle with it for the rest of my life. I am broken. We all are. This brokenness drives us to Christ and His wholeness.

What I have now is context.

The Fear Is A Lie.

Defend Thyself

Don’t you hate that?

Don’t you really hate that?

You just want to talk, but you decide not to. Because you know your audience will expect you to defend it–defend you. Defend that you exist. Defend that you feel. Defend that you think life is not a rational, logical line, but rather the intricate doodles on the side of your notebook while you wait for class to start.

I have so much I could tell people tonight, but I won’t.

I tried. I started to talk about it. But even the tone in his voice made me shut my mouth. Okay, I won’t talk about it. This is me. This is my life. But I don’t want to share it with you, now. This is how I view the world, this is what makes me happy or sad, this is what overwhelms me or lifts me up. But you don’t want to hear.

To you, emotions are disgusting. To you, life is predictable. To you, nothing I have to say tonight is worth saying. So I don’t say it.

But I still feel it. I feel it, and now it is all tainted with shame. Shame that my day is  tainted with unjustifiable, irrational emotions. Shame that I’m not logical, that I don’t make sense. Shame that I’m happy about some things and shame that I’m so sad about other things. Shame that I can’t explain why certain facts are valuable to me. Shame that I view my entire existence through the lens of “how I feel.”

Sometimes, I try to figure out who I could talk to. It makes me realize what fractured existence I live. I can talk to this person about this, but they would never get that. This one would listen to me on that, but wouldn’t give me the time of day on this. This one would understand me, but scorn me. That one would never scorn me, but could never understand me. Who can really understand what I’m trying to say? Who really wants to hear it?

I was writing last night in my journal. . .the delight I wanted to share, but couldn’t, was how I actually enjoy the office hours with my physics teacher. Yes, even just as shallowly as being teased about my inability to perform basic arithmetic and at the same time hearing the pride in his voice when he says I did excellent on the last exam. One of the few who did. One who worked her butt off to make sure she did, and we both know it.

But the sobering undercurrent was that I connect better with my teachers than I do my classmates. The only ones who are on my side are my teachers. (The good ones, anyway. We’ll set aside the rants on the bad ones.) But my classmates–they can’t understand me. Can’t understand my work ethic. Can’t understand how I could make time for office hours every week. I can’t tell them my grade, because that would be gloating, rubbing it in. Yeah, I’m one of the 90s. You failed. I flew. My teachers understand. They laugh at my type A personality, but they at least understand me, and don’t shun me for being driven to doing a good job. I want to go have a good chat with my old Bio teacher, but the 2 year Civil Engineering kids are just creepy.

I know that I am a valid, valuable human being. But I am becoming increasingly aware that I am a valuable human being hidden inside a soft cage–one that I’m trying to lose myself in, but keeps deforming and exposing me. I keep trying to pull that shell over me and hide what’s  inside. Partly out of fear, out of defense. But partly because I don’t know what else to do. How do I not hide myself from the creepy 2 year Civil Engineering kids? How do I not hide myself from the girl who is terrified to see her test scores, but won’t go to office hours or tutoring, and plans on blowing off her classes to celebrate Halloween? How do you tell someone that you wish you had more time to write fiction and that you’re sad your camera’s breaking without sounding like you’re totally putting it on? Oh my word, I can’t even tell my physics professor that even if I can’t do basic arithmetic, at least I can bake. I can’t memorize more than three digits of Pi, but I sure as heck can make Pie.  It would just be such a non-sequitur.

I guess that’s one way of describing the problem. I feel like one great big huge non-sequitur. I can’t find anything I can follow after, and it’s all such an awkward starting up. It’s like I keep wandering around trying to find some part of the world, some story, some scene, some context I can drop into and finally make sense. Instead, I keep me and watch the world, and try not to tell people who I really am.  It doesn’t fit into their context anyway, so why should I say it? It’s lonely in here, but it’s lonely out there, too.