Thursday, September 26, 2013

choosing joy

So, I hate to travel.

When it comes to my anxiety disorder, there is nothing worse than being in a new place, with new people, where I don't have a car, don't know my way around, can't make my own food... Basically, where I feel like I have no control.

I just took an 11-day trip to the east coast with my boyfriend. I don't even know how to begin writing about how amazing, exhausting, wonderful, emotional, anxiety-producing, joyful (etc.etc.etc.) it was. I feel like I've been gone for months. It started in Boston for his roommate's wedding that we were asked to sing and play at.

The first night in Boston, I had a huge panic attack. I got off the plane and was already upset about who-knows-what, got into the rental car with Michael and barely spoke a word, and once we parked at the hotel we would be staying at, I started sobbing hysterically saying, "I hate traveling. I don't want to be here. Why did I come here. What am I doing. I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home." And thus began the panic attack.

When I have panic attacks, I usually end up on the floor because I can't handle the weight of my own body and the floor is the only thing that feels sturdy enough to support me. So I wound up on the hotel room floor, sobbing and stuck on my tape: "I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home."

(I'll tell you more about how my brain plays "tapes" on repeat another day.)

I will be honest with you.

The rest of the night I was a total brat. I don't need to go into details, but suffice it to say I made the night awful for Michael, because in my selfishness, I didn't want to suffer alone.

The next morning, I had the realization of what I had put Michael through and I cried all over again, apologizing profusely over and over and over, even though Michael had already forgiven me. (This is what I call the PMDD hangover: realizing the morning after how awful you behaved the night before and feeling guilty, disgusting, and unable to forgive yourself.)

Michael forgave me and hugged me and told me it was time to make a choice: Was I going to make this trip a great one or a horrible one? I had the power to choose. 

I realized the best way to say "I love you" to Michael was to be the radiant self that I know I can be and that I know brings Michael so much joy. We were about to go to his roommate's rehearsal dinner and wedding the next day, and I could choose to be overwhelmed by all of these people that I barely knew and be miserable all weekend, or I could be the chatty, larger-than-life, bright and joyful woman that I know is really me, when I am not clouded by depression, anxiety, fear, sickness. And I chose it. I chose that girl.

But I didn't choose her for me. I chose her for him. I chose her for Michael. I chose her out of love and selflessness, not to feel better. Because love is an action and a choice, not a feeling. So even though I was feeling anxious, panicked, overwhelmed and more selfishly - that what I was going through was more important than anything or anybody else - I still chose joy.

I want to be selfless. I want to love. To actually love. Not to love when I feel the emotions of love, but to love when feels the most impossible. Because he loves me when it is the most difficult. It is when I am the most unloveable that he loves me the most and the hardest. (Sounds like what Love is supposed to be, doesn't it?)

It was this night when I realized what it actually meant to be selfless and love Michael: to choose something I didn't feel like choosing for the sake of his happiness and wellness.

And what joy when that choice ended up making us both feel more in love, happier, closer, and more alive. Praise God.

"In the first reading of the Eucharist today I heard: 'I am offering you life or death...choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live in the love of Yahweh your God, obeying his voice, holding fast to him' (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
How do I choose life? I am becoming aware that there are few moments without the opportunity to choose, since death and life are always before me. One aspect of choosing life is choosing joy. Joy is life-giving, but sadness brings death. A sad heart is a heart in which something is dying. A joyful heart is a heart in which something new is being born.
I think that joy is much more than a mood. A mood invades us. We do not choose a mood. We often find ourselves in a happy or depressed mood without knowing where it comes from. The spiritual life is a life beyond moods. It is a life in which we choose joy and do not allow ourselves to become victims of passing feelings of happiness or depression.
I am convinced we can choose joy. Every moment we can decide to respond to an event or a person with joy instead of sadness. When we truly believe that God is life and only life, then nothing need have the power to draw us into the sad realm of death. To choose joy does not mean to choose happy feelings or an artificial atmosphere of hilarity. But it does mean the determination to let whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life.
Maybe this is what is so important about quiet moments of meditation and prayer. They allow me to take a critical look at my moods and to move from victimization to free choice.
This morning I woke up somewhat depressed. I could not find any reason for it. Life just felt empty, useless, fatiguing. I felt invaded by somber spirits. I realized that this mood was lying to me. Life is not meaningless. God has created life as an expression of love. It helped me to know this, even though I could not feel it. Based on this knowledge, I could again choose joy. This choice means simply to act according to the truth. The depressed mood is still there. I cannot just force it out of my heart. But at least I can unmask it as being untrue and thus prevent it from becoming the ground for my actions.
I am called to be joyful. It gives much consolation to know that I can choose joy."

--Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

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