What are they doing here, I thought, crossing the room and looking back over my shoulder.
The figure stood in the corner, but the presence seemed to fill up every space.
I looped my arm through Greg’s and smiled so big that my eyes closed up.
Take slower breath’s and ignore it, I told myself, taking a seat at the table. The peaks you’ve climbed and the summits you’ve reached this past year will not be wasted. You’ve made leaps and bounds. Let that matter.
My hands shook folding my napkin in my lap. They took a seat a few tables down, and I caught every slow movement, every glance towards me, every cough that covered up a low whisper.
The icy stares I could feel from where I sat brushed against my cheek and reminded me of the way the cold tile in my bathroom felt on my face.
My chest heaved as the words in conversations around me danced across the table, tiptoeing along in my train of thought like I wasn’t even sitting there.
Greg’s hand on my shaking knee– he was there. Shouldn’t that make the breathing easier? His eyes smiled at me and I thanked God.
Except my head hurt, and I was thinking about the way I was breathing too much.
The figure, dark and tall, moving quickly now, strutting around the room like this party was thrown in their honor.
With clammy skin, I rose from my chair. Everyone was a cloud spinning around me. I hugged my frame, trying to find something that would materialize beneath my fingers– trying to find something that held weight in my mind, something that held meaning.
The figure was real. Staring at me from the doorway now, I knew it was the only thing more real than the lump in my throat.
Every sound tuned out. Every question was asking too much.
My friends received short and snippy answers, and I weaved through the crowd to stay alone, clinging to the solitude instead of the moments happening around me.
The figure loomed.
It was there in the bathroom when I stood at the sink, splashing water on to my face as if I could have scrubbed the bad feeling off of my cheeks.
It was there in my words, broken and halfhearted as my thoughts kept returning to the figure.
Why now? After all this time? They had all this time.
“Because anxiety doesn’t shrink,” I heard them say. “You do.”
Anxiety was standing in the corner of the room. It’s presence filled up every space. It made my hands shake at the dinner table and made it hard to grab onto anything tangible. Greg couldn’t snuff it out, and I couldn’t stop staring at it. I couldn’t clean it off of me, it white knuckled my shoulders so tightly that its fingernails dug deep into my collarbones.
The past few days, it has greeted me in the morning when my alarm goes off, and it follows me to bed each evening. It reminds me of the times I slept on my bathroom floor just to stop the hot shakes. It reminds me of how I have responsibilities now, people I love, a life I’m building– how I can’t leave those things to run from it.
Anxiety rolls back down my throat like cigarettes smoke into my lungs. The words I write are tally marks on the walls of my mind, counting the days I’ve been trapped inside my own self.
And no job or sense of belonging leaves me feeling fulfilled and satisfied. No wedding planning hushes the dark words. These things are sweet ebenezers of God’s goodness in the midst of the battle, but yes, there is still a battle raging. I cannot ignore the clashing of swords happening around me or the gaping wounds in the pieces of me that have fallen beside me as I walk.
After all this time, there just comes a point where you come to terms with the sense that anxiety leaves a hole that cannot be filled by success or love or crowded rooms full of people asking how you are and meaning it.
So I sit. I rest. I look around to see, to search. I listen in the quiet or in the noisy. I breathe– I take very intentional, deep breaths. And I rise.
I rise because I’ve got holy bones that have new breath on them. I rise because I’ve got heaven wrapped around and inside of me. I rise because I call my demons by their real names now so that I can point at them square in the face when they fill up their favorite hiding spots. I rise because I know there is such a place where anxiety cannot linger, a place where I will bow in the light instead of shrinking in the shadow.
Today, anxiety tells me that it doesn’t shrink– I do.
And I thank God that this life is promised to only be a vapor. Because the anxiety can only last that long, too.
And that’s how I’ll breathe today.