Anxiety wakes me in the night like sand flicked on the beach from a neighbour’s towel. I resent the intrusion of thoughts on my otherwise blissful sleep. The granules sweep over my body and grains get in my eyes. I am awake with fears and imaginings, a thousand possibilities of what could go wrong. It’s just an unwelcome intruder. By day I am strong in faith and fear does not alarm me. There is a difference, I am discovering, between fear and anxiety.
Fear can be good, like the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:6-8), it brings wisdom and discipline but anxiety is useless. Anxiety is a shadow that envies reality. It wants all the attention. It wants the light. It presents its case of things you should think about, things that might never happen, things that probably never will. In the light of day it’s like a sand fly, just pesky and small, you swat it immediately but by the light of the moon it is bigger than it seems.
Anxiety is like hunger pain, it grips you to the core. You stand at the entrance to the pantry not sure what to eat, not knowing how to satisfy it or make it go away. Instead you roll over a thousand images in your mind, things that have gone wrong before, stories you have heard, family history, anything that is negative and instead of making it go away, its grown bigger and you can’t cope anymore.
In desperation I do what I know, I sing inside my head, I search for a melody. Then without warning I can hear my mum down the hallway with my brother on her lap. She always sang to him in the night time and the sound of her humming between the words she cannot remember, because it is late, because its past midnight, are carried through time to where I am now. I add my own words to her tune, ‘I will be anxious for nothing, I will trust in you…’
I began to find my prayer. ‘Thankyou God for the peace that passes understanding” and I am reminded of His words.
“Do not fret or have anxiety about anything but in every circumstance and in everything by prayer and petitions (definite requests) with thanksgiving continue to make your requests known to God. And God’s peace will be yours, that tranquil state of soul assured of its salvation through Christ and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot (of whatever sort that is), that peace which passes understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds.”
His words wrap around me like a garment preparing me for the day ahead. The day, when after an early grade meeting and a day of teaching, I find myself back in the car making my way through city traffic to St Vincent’s for blood tests. It isn’t my vein, they are not my 11 vials of blood but somehow that needle pierces my heart.
The blood didn’t come at first. So the nurse moved the needle around in circles, in further and down deeper. I watch in agony while Sam closes her eyes. “Sometimes it takes a bit of a nudge,” the nurse says and she massages the skin around the needle with her fingertips.
“Oh, its fine!” Sam responds, “honestly I’ve had so many blood tests I hardly notice it now.”
I swallowed and pressed my lips together and back against my teeth. This prevents me from crying in public. It’s an art form I’ve mastered when I am supposed to be brave.
When the blood finally flowed the nurse demonstrated that she is adept at collecting and changed the tubes with precision as the blood made its way down the spaghetti like tube. Then when all the tubes were sealed they were labelled and checked by us. I am fussy now checking every letter and number that is recorded to avoid going through this process again this week.
The tests are to examine the state of her liver, whether she is on the correct dose of thyroxin for her thyroid replacement hormones, to see how her kidneys are, to check her white cells, her haemoglobin, her platelets, her cyclosporine levels, the effects of the other drugs on her system and goodness knows what else. Everything is carefully monitored and repeated every couple of weeks and if nothing goes wrong we can maybe reduce some things.
Today we were back in the car to follow-up the blood tests, to see the specialist and to have a 3-hour infusion of anti-bodies to help Sam’s body fight infection while she is immunosuppressed.
I am grateful for so many things. For a team of staff that support me, for one who unexpectedly brings me a meal, for a delightful class of students who say they miss me when I’m gone, for parents that understand when I am not at school at the end of the day. Who say, “It’s okay” and they are “glad I returned to teaching anyway.”
All these kindnesses lead me to tears. A beautiful and timely quote is sent via text message from a kindred friend. It reads, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are a not a mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and of unspeakable love.” (Washington Irving)
So at the end of the waiting we sat with our amazingly gracious and softly spoken doctor. He tells us that she doesn’t need to have the anti-bodies infusion, that he will try to reduce the prednisone again and that we need to book a bone scan to check for osteoporosis. Sam is relieved. I am finding more reasons to trust and believe that her bones will be strong.
Another teardrop falls and I am reminded that perfect circles form from drops in still water. I will be still. With God at the centre, the circumferences of life will form around us. Each circle representing one chapter of this illness that has been left behind. Time and again we will find our feet on the shore. The garrison of faith encompassing us and though it may fall when the tide returns His grace will rebuild it and we will be safe.