Recently I was talking to a friend about anxiety and how we were currently feeling. She was in the process of getting on medication while I carefully weaned myself off* (*I cut it to half dose and then stopped cold turkey after three days). As we sat there comparing our reactions, she told me she was in the ‘impending doom phase,’ and it immediately made sense to me.
My entire life I’ve dealt with feelings of impending doom. As a child, something in me snapped too early and I realized just how fragile human existence is. Literally anything and everything can kill you. It’s horrifying.
One time I was going to take a bath as a child but stopped because I was sure lava was going to come out of the faucet. I’ve set alarms for various points throughout a night because I was sure the strange pain in my chest meant I was going to die. Sometimes I would go into my parent’s room and sleep on the floor because I was too afraid of everything that could happen.
These are just a few of the many ways I let this kind of anxiety get in my way. For a while, I believed this gut feeling of something bad is coming was a sign. Like maybe God was trying to warn me so I could be okay if I just listened.
This thought is reinforced by stories you hear of people who die tragically after telling someone they have a weird feeling. Relatives and friends will say they told someone to not do this or that because they felt it was a bad omen, and then the worst happened. We’re taught to believe in these feelings of impending doom.
What I’ve learned in 28 years of being afraid is that it doesn’t matter what that feeling tells me. I’ve stayed home from outings because I was sure I would die in a car wreck and I’ve fought through the fear and gotten on a plane. I have no control either way and my anxiety isn’t based on anything real. It’s my lack of control sending me spiraling.
As I write this, I’m on a plane from Pittsburgh bound for LAX. After five hours in an airport, I’ll take a quick flight to Vegas to celebrate my brother’s birthday. I picked a bad time to stop taking my Lexapro, let me tell you. I also just moved into my own apartment. Naturally, I was sure my plane would crash and my apartment would burn down. Plus, there was a guy at my gate who kept suspiciously staring outside and I’m still not convinced of his innocence.
Granted, in this moment, all of this could still happen, but I’m being optimistic.
If I listened to all the lies filling my head, I would never have boarded a plane. I wouldn’t leave my apartment because of what could happen in my absence, not to mention what will happen to me in the world.
As my faith has grown, I’m able to recognize that God doesn’t have a special button He pushes to keep me safe through these feelings. Jesus is sneaking a text to my soul while God and the Holy Spirit are talking. God’s plan doesn’t depend on my interpretation of feelings. Can you imagine if that’s what we had to rely on? That living or dying was all a matter of properly discerning a feeling of impending doom.
It’s absolutely nuts.
I believe you can have a feeling about something and that something can happen, good or bad, but it’s probably just a coincidence. I’m not sure statistics for this exist, but I will reasonably assume that the impending doom feeling to actual doom ratio is pretty low.
The feeling of impending doom is like a cloud of dread that fills your body and sends little cloud tentacles into your brain to reinforce the idea that the worst is yet to come. It can and has been paralyzing in my own life. I don’t know if I’ll ever live without it, but I know I won’t let it keep me from actually being alive.
That sounds cheesy, I realize, but it’s true. If I do end up dying and this laptop/story is recovered, please read it aloud at my funeral for inspiration and then play ‘Ironic’ by Alanis Morrisette. Lighters in the air are encouraged.
Anxiety is a real mental illness. I have a real imbalance that causes my emotions to malfunction and send me over the edge. Recognizing this is empowering. Even if I can’t stop the feeling of impending doom, I can remind myself it’s nonsense and get on the plane even with the guy who might be a terrorist.