The week leading up to our trip to Kenya almost broke me. I was so focused on getting my boys, my dogs, and my blog ready, I didn't realize the bothersome earache I carried for over a week had morphed into a full blown infection. I am already a resistant flyer, but with an inflamed ear canal, feeling drained, and a total breakdown of my coping mechanisms, fear avalanched and buried me.
Nothing happened that I did not recognize. My lifelong dance with anxiety has, in some regards, enlightened me to an intimate familiarity of its symptoms. Racing heart, sleepless nights, terror-filled what-ifs running non-stop untouched by reason, loss of appetite, and the unsettling nausea of losing touch with my physical form; dissociation at its finest.
Due to care-taking muscle memory, I kept going. John said it would get better once he got me on the plane. Get me in the air and on my way, and all would be well.
You know how there are those moments where crap is hitting the fan so hard you are certain there is no way it could get any worse.
It got worse.
Our tickets, for no reason, had been canceled. Yes! Canceled! The boys' tickets were fine, but this didn't really work for us. I was terrified what might happen to them under our watch, there was no way I was sending them on a plane to Kenya without me. We still don't know what happened, but before we could even think about safari adventures, we had two tenuous hours of not knowing if we were staying or going. John remained stalwart throughout, leaning against the ticket desk, doing his best to stay positive. I went in the opposite direction and continued my spiral into a jagged-edged anxiety episode.
The boys did their best to anchor me. If you ever want to test the mettle of your teenagers, teeter on the edge of a panic attack in a public setting and see how they respond.
They were perfect. J.R. walked with me to help dispel some energy and distract me, and Keaton assured me summer would be awesome even if our trip was delayed or canceled.
Thank you to my three guys, I could not have got through this all without you.
A small, quiet voice assured me it was better to freak out and still go to Africa (if the airline allowed us of course) and show my boys what it means to face your faults and fears head on instead of folding. It took a lot of willpower to not run back to the safety of our vehicle and scrap the whole trip.
Somehow, in the eleventh hour, our tickets came through. We jostled our way through security, settled at our gate, my nervous system fried beyond recognition.
All that remained between me and Kenya was 17 hours of flights.
I'm toasting, but my shell-shocked eyes tell another story.
I did the only thing I could.
I surrendered to my terror, my shame, my sadness. I surrendered to my feelings of unworthiness, my disappointment in my inability to thwart dissociation, I let myself feel it all again and again to a point I figured I would disintegrate and disappear forever.
It was a hellish experience, burning me from all angles and forcing me into survival mode where I disassembled time into slivers of moments, getting through each one breath by breath.
After we landed in Nairobi, I felt like a ghost floating through customs out into the parking lot. I could not get tethered to anything real. Throughout I continued my surrender in-total practice, in any way my exhaustion would allow. Maybe my exhaustion propelled my surrender. Either way, I kept handing over control to something greater than the sum of all my crunched up thoughts as my mind fought for solace.
Despite all of this, as we arrived at the Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens and Cottages, gratitude bubbled in my heart though the fire in my mind kept trying to boil it away.
After our first official family dinner in Kenya, in this mystical place where Karen Blixen coaxed her coffee plants to harvest and blazed a trail for women everywhere, I sat John down outside our cottage so our boys wouldn't hear and apologized, tears streaming down my face, that my fragile state of mind had ruined our trip. Because I married the right person, John said all the things I needed to hear. It was obvious he couldn't change my experience, but he could love and accept me through it.
That night, as the jet lag kept sleep out of reach, I surrendered to anxiety all the way through to the bottom of my soul and through to the other side. What met me there was a peace so profound it swallowed me whole, suspended me in time, and wrapped my battered and bruised heart in a cocoon of love. While the anxiety still pulsed through my being, I only had love in my heart for the experience and the brave, small, self suffering her way through it.
Starting to catch a little hope in my heart.
This was enough.
Every day got a little bit better as did my anxiety. Something unspoken showed me even if everything fell apart, my mental health included, I would survive it.
I am never going to be fully okay. Humanity has too many surprises, too many shifts for me to ever feel the purity of surefooted safety. The only certainty I will ever have is the knowledge nothing is certain.
Yet, we go on, the dawn breaks over darkness, the light finds a crack in our brokenness and begins to heal us from the inside out with wonder and delight.
This is how we learn to walk with our fear beside us and still choose love. Love will win the day if we let it.
In every day and in every way.
Let Love win.
Inward & Onward
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