The other day, I was in a muck of anxiety. Just a swampy, muddy mess of it. And at the same time, I was supposed to go out and meet with some friends.
Sometimes, when the anxiety-demons are chewing on your brain cells, when they’re telling you all the things you should be afraid of and all the things that might go wrong, being with friends helps.
You can say: Here I am, and by the way, everything feels terrible. Here you are, and how are things with you? And they can say what they say, or not, but either way you told your truth and you were not alone, and that is something.
Other times being around people—even your right people, the ones you don’t ever pretend for—takes much too much energy and you might as well stay home.
Showing up for yourself doesn’t always mean showing up in the world. Sometimes showing up for yourself means closing the curtains and taking a nap.
I couldn’t tell which kind of showing up I needed to do.
I tried all my tools. I asked, How will I feel if I go? How will I feel if I don’t?
I asked, How will I feel if I stay home? How will I feel if I don’t?
I asked, What will I be glad to have done?
I listened for the still, small voice inside me. It was quiet.
I listened to my gut. It said nothing.
I thought of a prayer my friend Mathew taught me: You go before me, You are behind me, You are above me, and below; You are beside me, You are within me, and it’s Your peace I know. I didn’t have any peace, but I figured at least I wasn’t alone, no matter what I chose.
I decided being with my friends might remind me about that, about the not-alone-ness. I was feeling more alone than not-alone, even surrounded by people.
So I went, and it was not bad to go.
I took many, many deep breaths. When my friends asked how I was I did not say I was fine. I said: I am okay, but I am having an anxious week. Because that was true. I did not hide behind a plastic smile. That mask is so heavy, and it blocks the light. I need all the light I can get.
But I think it would not have been bad to stay home, either. I think the quiet and a nap and a good lunch would have been a signal to myself that I was paying attention, that I was listening and not ignoring the messages my body was sending. That is another way of choosing not to hide.
So the thing I want to tell you is not “When you feel terrible and don’t know what will help, other people are the answer!” I don’t think community is always the answer. It’s not always the next right thing.
I don’t think rest is always the answer either, though I am sleep’s biggest fan. I would wave a giant foam finger that said: “Sleep is #1!” I would wear the jersey. I would hang the pennant on the wall. But it’s not always the next right thing.
If I was looking for a rule to follow, it would not be “be in community,” and it would also not be “rest.” It would be this:
If you know what you need, don’t do the other thing.
Don’t stay when you know you need to go. Don’t go when you think you need to stay. Don’t do something that will make you feel worse just because you “should,” or because you planned to, or because someone expects you to. The most important thing is that you listen to yourself and then you trust yourself.
And you can listen to yourself, because you are a trustworthy source, and so is the still, small voice inside you. You trust that you will be able to find the next right thing to do. You prove yourself trustworthy by telling yourself the truth. Then you prove yourself trustworthy again by trusting yourself.
Moving toward wholeness starts with finding one little thing to trust.
(Not that it’s always easy. If it was easy, I wouldn’t need to mention it.)
When I started just now to type “you have to trust,” autocorrect filled in “you have to try,” and that is exactly right. You have to try. You have to try to listen, you have to practice telling the real truth all the time, and you learn to trust yourself by doing both.
And that is the next right thing.