Two weeks ago I drove five hours round-trip, and spent another five hours in a doctor’s office, all in search of answers.
The day was long, but not nearly so long as the months leading up to that appointment. I’d been procrastinating, hoping to wait out my symptoms rather than open a door to the anxiety I knew would come if I acknowledged them.
This blog series is, in part, my way of working through that anxiety. If not for the time I’ve spent contemplating God’s sovereignty, goodness, and love, the past few months would have been notably harder.
[box] This post is the 3rd in the No Worries series. I’m creating this series partly for myself—to process lessons God is teaching me about battling fear—and partly for those fighting similar battles. My prayer is that these thoughts would offer encouragement and community. To read post #1 in the series, click here. For post #2, click here.[/box]
But instead of fretting, I’ve been thinking about momentum—how we’re designed for it, but not always so great at aiming it the right direction. I guess you could say an object (or person) in motion will stay in motion unless something (or someone) gives it a swift kick in the pants and says, “Enough is enough!”
Momentum carried me through months of unexplained maladies without doing anything to fix them. It often propels me into repetitive, unhealthy thought patterns, and keeps me from changing bad habits.
Momentum seems to work in tandem with a sort of emotional gravity; it’s much more powerful when it’s dragging us down than when it’s lifting us up. That’s why it’s not enough to simply think about taking a step in a new direction. We have to be committed to changing our momentum, and we have to go about changing it with intentionality and planning.
1. What’s the Problem?
Defining the problem might sound straightforward, but in my experience it requires no small amount of introspection. Often the root problem is buried beneath a mess of thorns, brambles, and dirt, any of which might look like the culprit.
This is where counseling helped me most. I initially defined my problem as hypochondria; I was obsessed with imaginary health problems. My counselor’s gentle, insightful questioning helped me recognize that hypochondria was just an offshoot of something deeper. The root of my health anxiety was a fear of death, and the root of my fear of death was insecurity in my relationship with God.
2. What’s the Plan?
(For those down deep in the trenches, who can barely get out of bed, let alone outline a path to healing, skip to #3.)
Remember momentum? It builds faster going downhill. Eradicating the problem identified in #1 is an uphill battle. Without a plan, coupled with intentional action, we won’t make progress.
When I left the doctor’s office two weeks ago, I felt like I’d tried to drink from a fire hydrant. My brain was addled with jargon, my arms full of supplements I couldn’t pronounce. I began the drive home in total silence, too overwhelmed at first even to call my husband.
As I drove, I realized my entire body was rigid, as if braced for impact. Tears threatened, though I knew they were merely from stress. I intentionally breathed out, releasing tension that had probably been building for weeks.
Relief rushed in to take its place. I’d finally done it. I’d identified, and confirmed, the problem (late-stage Lyme Disease), and taken a step toward the solution. It was scary and hard, but now, at last, I knew how to fight back.
I had a plan. I had hope.
3. What’s the Next Thing?
When I hit emotional rock bottom in 2008, I was scared of everything—scared of my bedroom, scared to leave the house, scared to sleep, scared of being overtired. The prospect of choosing which clothes to wear or what to make for lunch elicited bursts of adrenaline and anxiety.
In short, I was nonfunctional, until my mom shared some enduring wisdom:
Do the next thing.
Those four words became my mantra. They enabled me to get out of bed (pull back blankets; sit up; feet on floor; stand), take a shower (undress; turn on water; shampoo hair; rinse), and limp through my days. At the time I thought I was just surviving, but now I realize those were acts of perseverance. And they were building momentum.
First steps, and next steps, are incredibly significant, but that doesn’t mean they have to be grandiose. If you’re fragile, this isn’t the time to aim for the moon and hope to land among the stars. By all means, don’t be afraid to underwhelm yourself. There’s nothing wrong with baby steps, as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other.
As Dory would say, “Just keep swimming.” And swimming. And swimming.
That’s how momentum begins.
If there’s an ocean in front of you
You know what you’ve gotta do
Take another step and another step
Maybe He’ll turn the water into land
And maybe He’ll take your hand and say
Let’s take a walk on the waves
Will you trust Me either way
And take another step
~Stephen Curtis Chapman