As long as I can remember I have been an anxious person. A person who was filled with worry. When I look at something, I can picture the worst thing happening in my head. My neck hurts, I must have meningitis–never mind that I had worked out in a weight lifting class yesterday that used muscles I didn’t know I had–I am definitely dying. This is how my brain seems to work. I read an internet meme the other day that said, “I’m Irish, we don’t do this ‘Keep Calm’ thing.” I laughed out loud because I am Irish, and my worries must be hereditary.
I had thought moving away to the south would rid me of panic, but after I had children, my anxiety exploded astronomically. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my first son. I had so much anxiety I thought I would die. I would literally stand over his bed multiple times in the night to make sure he was still breathing. I was exhausted. I felt crazy. I advised my doctor, and thankfully she was proactive and able to help me. I followed the best of the day’s medical advice–all of it–and it worked for me, to a degree. I went to counseling. I did the breathing techniques. Eat right, exercise, take medicine, I did all of these things. My anxiety became manageable. My frequent panic attacks became more controllable. Within a year's time, I became my normal self. My “normal” self was one that worried all the time, but if I ate right, exercised, and got eight hours of sleep (which was hard with a little one) I was no longer totally debilitated by my fears and anxiety. I could function. I thought, this is as good as it gets. I started praying more, but I would mostly plead. God was listening and He provided me with help to alleviate some of that fear. One of my biggest anxieties was that I would get into an accident while driving with my children. Before driving, I would close my eyes, plead with God, and before I knew it, in my head would pop the picture of four angels on the four corners of my car, touching it, flying next to my car as I drove. This enabled me to drive. I loved thinking they were actually there, that sometimes in our hours of greatest need God provides extra supernatural help for us. I do think our God is this good.
After my friend's murder I began to pray differently. I was having a conversation with God. He became my friend. The thing that overcame me the most, over and over, was the message, “Do you trust Me or not?” My answer used to be “no, not really.” I mean, I had faith, I believed in God, but I didn’t trust that I would be taken care of. I didn’t trust because of the suffering I had endured. God persisted, “Do you trust Me, or not?” I began to see that even with all my sufferings, my life was so blessed. I looked back on times in my life, and I realized that although I was suffering, there was a sequence of events that took place, that clearly showed He was walking with me. I remember asking the Lord at the time to be with me at the time of my suffering, and in reflection I see that He was. In my postpartum depression and anxiety, He had provided me with a mother and two sisters who, though they did not live in the state, relentlessly called to make sure I was okay. They would tag-team me. One would give practical advice, “put the baby in the stroller and go for a walk,” while the other would talk to me about how God was holding me in the palm of His hand. My mother and father came down, and my mom drove me to the doctor. God was in my midst. I know too that my brother was praying for me. God had placed me in this family–He was there in my midst acting through them.
I remember one day in 2011, still in the throws of my grieving, I had to take catechist classes from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation. I arrived at the church in town for the classes. I sat all day and soaked it all in. As we were wrapping up, the Sister told the class we were going to take a few moments to go to the adoration chapel. This particular church had a chapel that was built in 1871. It is one of those small historic chapels with great old stained glass windows. I remember closing my eyes, and telling God my heart hurts so much. I just want to know that you are there. In that moment, I opened my eyes and looked up. I was staring at the stained glass window, and there in the design was the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In that moment time seemed to stop. The Sacred Heart beats with the fire of love for me, I thought. The crown of thorns wrapped around the heart shows that Jesus bore my pain in His heart. His blood dripping from the heart, secured the forgiveness of my sins. This heart would transform me and purify me. God DOES love me!! It was no longer just a picture. It was a message for me personally. I had to stay in the chapel a few extra minutes as the tears flowed from my eyes. I went home and wrote a letter to the Sister thanking her for the classes.
I cannot tell you that I no longer have any anxiety. I think when you have an ingrained behavior, it is a journey to transform it. It doesn’t just happen instantaneously. I will say, that over time, when I pray, and Jesus asks me, “Do you trust Me, or not,” my answer has transformed. It went from, “no, not really,” to “I am trying, maybe I do,” and on some days, the answer is a flat-out, “yes!” I experienced about a three-week period where it was totally “yes,” and those three weeks were the most peaceful of my life. One of my close friends (also named Susan) told me that God gives you that glimpse of peace, the total trust, so you know what heaven is like, but you don’t necessarily get to keep it. The comfort is in knowing He is there and He is true. I continue to pray and build my relationship with the Lord. My writings are a result of me answering, “yes,” to Him. I hope my “yes” to this can bring joy and happiness and the letting go of fear to someone else out there.