If you follow me on social media you may have seen these photos of me and my beloved from a wedding of a friend this weekend.
We look happy. And we are.
But a friend called this morning and was like, “great photos of you and Eric this weekend!” and all I could think was, you have no idea what shit-show this week has been for me. I mean, as happy as we are and as beautiful as those pictures are, those photos are of a bright moment in a partly cloudy week.
Bravery Is Relative
And if you have followed my career at all you know that I often am on stage in front of hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousand of people. For many, this would be a hyperventilating mess of a worst case scenario. Public speaking tops most folks lists of “things that terrify me”.
Not me. My heart rate barely rises.
But you know what I have SO MUCH anxiety about that I sometimes have to be medicated just to get through it? You know what most people can do but that makes my entire body think it is dying?
Getting dental work done.
Driving on mountain roads and/or in winter conditions (or honestly even rainy conditions). In fact, if you’d like to listen to my MOTH story about having a full blown panic attack in front of 20 super nice Lutherans from Wisconsin on the road between Jericho and Bethlehem, click here.
I suppose that no anxiety disorders come in the “convenient” variety (I have a friend who can’t ride an elevator without breathing erratically and crying a bit) - but my two little winners are especially exciting since I live in beautiful Colorado and with naturally weak teeth. (I mean, at this point I have very little human tooth left in my mouth - I’m mostly working with fillings, crowns and implants at this point. Not to be ungrateful, though - access to modern dentistry has prolonged and indeed enriched my human life. I mean, raise a glass to still eating cheeseburgers at the ripe old age of 53).
So what made this a partly cloudy week for me in which I spend an hour shoveling the snow in front of other people’s houses?
Nothing monumental like a cancer diagnosis, or the loss of a job - just one thing after another that felt kinda hard. The details aren’t important, I’ll just say that it involved a professional disappointment, over two hours of torture IN THE DENTIST’S CHAIR, a nasty week-long head cold, and My Beloved is out of town right now on work. As I said, not that devastating. All totally deal-with-able, but our beloved dog, Gertrude Stein, had surgery Friday morning and her recovery has not gone well. At all. She’s needed several drugs, an ER visit and constant care from me and none of it was working to get her to keep food and water down like we’d hoped and as of today, it had been five days of trying.
And this morning, she was even worse, so I (and her vet) knew it was time for her to go to the hospital. But the specialist wasn’t there for a couple more hours and I was emotionally eating my hands off.
When You Need A Break From Yourself
A friend told me that there’s a small, prestigious liberal arts college on the East coast that has adopted a fascinating modality for treating the nearly 25% of their student body who reach out in need of emotional support. (Those with acute symptoms are of course triaged to mental health professionals). But those who are mildly anxious, or depressed or just having a hard time, before being prescribed drugs or encouraged to take the rest of the semester off, are told to try something first. They are handed a list of volunteer opportunities in town; animal shelters, elderly care centers, food banks. In other words, they are encouraged to do what every sponsor I’ve had in AA has told me to do after compassionately listening to my litany of grievances about shitty bosses and being broke and having to visit the free clinic again: Nadia, sounds like you could use a break from yourself - go find someone to be of service to. Best way to get out of your head.
So this morning, bummed out about being awake since 3a and having a sick dog and a waning head cold and no partner at home, I stepped out into the bright 5a snow and got to work. And for one blessed hour, as I cleared 6 inches of snow off the sidewalks of an entire city block - I may not have been an altruistic angel because I was trying mostly to help myself - but I was free.
And then, reader…I had to do a very brave thing.
I HAD TO DRIVE 10 MILES IN A SNOW STORM to get Gertie the help she needed. There are precious few situations that would merit me driving on I-70 in a blizzard, but a very sick dog in need of critical care is one of them.
It was terrifying. Cars were sliding around and I was SHAKING and taking deep breaths and praying the entire time. But I got us there right when the critical care team was signing in for the day.
Then, having bravely driven my dog to a hospital and having bravely handed her over to a medical team, I thought, I cannot face driving my little Subaru back home in a blizzard. Could. Not. Do. It.
So even though I could hardly speak through my sobs, I picked up a 100 lb telephone. I had just enough bravery for one more thing: to ask someone for help. I called my friend Russ who has a really big truck and a really big heart. And I know for a fact the man has some of his own shit going on in his life, but for half an hour, on a snowy drive that bothered him not at all, he got to be of service to a weepy friend just recently drained of her daily bravery, and for that 30 minutes, he was free.
Friend, if you are anything like me, I hope you have opportunities this week to get out of your own head and selfishly be of service of someone else. And that others get to escape their own self-obsessions for a few minutes by being of service to you.
Regardless, be gentle with yourselves.
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The hospital called and said Gertie is responding really well and they are hopeful that they helped her get over the hump! Hopefully she can come home Friday morning! Thanks for all the well wishing, friends.
I spent the shittiest Christmas of my 70 years just a few weeks ago. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, in the midst of worship, I collapsed as I strode to the pulpit to preach. Of course, in a small congregation like ours, a majority of the worshippers quickly surrounded me. I assured them I was OK. I even shouted, "This was the best sermon I have written in my 32 years." But, wiser heads prevailed, an ambulance was called and before you know it I was on a gurney heading up the aisle for a ride to the hospital. I left the church to applause. Was it gratitude that the service would be drastically shortened or relief they didn't have to endure my sermon? I spent 19 hours in the ER of a local hospital which was filled to capacity. So, I lay on a bed in the hallway. I had Covid. I had home tested myself that morning, after a night of chills, and the results were negative. I was held at the hospital for my first two infusions. Everything about Christmas services had to be revised and I had to quarantine myself as my family celebrated in the rest of the house. I felt guilty for letting down my congregation and not be a part of the family's festivities. Thanks for posting this, Nadia. It is only partly cloudy, after all. I'm still alive and back in the pulpit!