What an Enormous Crashing Tree Reminded Me about Anxiety

What an Enormous Crashing Tree Reminded Me about Anxiety

It was five minutes before six. The sun wasn’t even up yet, but my three boys chattered in their rooms. Suddenly the entire house shook. My immediate thought was someone knocked a dresser over. Anxiety overcame me.

I quickly jumped out of bed and ran to the boys. They were all stunned asking, “Mommy, what was that?” My oldest peered at me through eyes wide as saucers from the top bunk. He pointed to the ceiling just inches above his head. “It sounded like something hit right there.”

Facing anxiety head on

I ran to the front door. When I opened it, the smell of pine overwhelmed me. All I could see out the door were pine needles and branches.

My view at 6:00am our our front door

It could have been so much worse. The enormous pine tree in my neighbor’s yard that had been leaning towards our house came crashing down in the early morning on September 11th. The tips of the tree hit our roof, smashing our gutters, some shingles, some blueberry bushes, and part of my favorite dogwood tree before landing in our front yard.

But we are so blessed because had it been a few feet longer, the morning would have gone in a tragically different direction.

It can happen so fast

The night before, I’d though about all the people whose lives dramatically changed on September 11 eighteen years ago. They went to bed with their life a certain way. And woke up to a day filled with horror and loss. It can happen that fast. Everything can change in a heartbeat. 

It got me thinking not just about the victims and families of 9-11, but of all the ways people’s lives are changed suddenly. Instantly. I thought about the babies who are torn away from their parents. The mothers who lose sons and daughters to gun violence. So many people devastated by cancer, mental illnesses, accidents, and substance abuse.

In Kindergarten, my boys are taught how to hide and be quiet in the event a shooter enters their school. Just thinking about this turns my stomach. I feel knots at the pit of my being.

It would be so easy to allow myself to sink into the fear. It would swallow me whole. 

The nature of anxiety

And this is how anxiety works. I jump ahead into the future and all the possible ways it could go wrong. And there are infinite ways really. So many things that could happen in any given minute. Too many to even predict.

Anxiety tells me: I must try to predict every possible impending crisis so that I can either prevent them, or prepare for them. 

The catch: there are so many variables, possibilities, and unknowns that are simply out of our control.

And NO amount of worrying can keep “bad” things from happening. 

ALL worrying does is rob the present of joy and peace.

If I allow myself, I can easily visualize what could’ve happened if that tree had been a few feet longer. I could replay the images in my head over and over again. But I have to very consciously and repeatedly stop my mind from going there. Because right here, right now, in this very moment, that didn’t happen.

Right now, my boys are all safe. Right now our home is safe.  Right now in this moment I am sitting at my computer in my air conditioned home. I have a loving and supportive husband and three beautiful rambunctious and sometimes very aggravating little boys.  And I have so much to be grateful for. 

All week I had neighbors and friends call and text me to make sure we were OK and to offer help.  Some kind firemen came to our house before the sun was even up to make sure the situation was safe. The city sent two extremely hard working men who immediately cleared our driveway first before they began chopping up the enormous tree blocking the road.  Later an entire crew of 16 men came to chop up the logs and clean up the area.  

So much to be grateful for

We cleaned up the remaining debris as a family. My husband wore a hard hat and used the chainsaw as the boys and I gathered load after load of pine cones and branches. Our boys smiled with pride as they helped out, chattering about all of the ways they could use the pine cones. 

The first night of clean up, my husband and I worked in the yard until the sun went down. And standing outside of our home, the glowing almost-full- moon shone down on us brightly. And I was filled with gratitude for all that I have. 

For years I used my eating disorder as a way to cope with anxiety. Fighting for recovery and healing from an eating disorder has taught me so much about myself, about life, and about the kind of strength we all possess inside. I realize now that the eating disorder was a way I coped with (and avoided) anxiety. Rather than focus on all of my fears, rather than sit with anxiety, and rather than admit there is so much out of my control…. instead, I focused on my body. On what I ate. On my exercise. On my pants size. Living with an eating disorder can be awful, painful, lonely, and exhausting. But it can also numb you to the real feelings you are experiencing.

Choosing recovery has meant learning to have faith and trust in a power larger than myself. It has meant letting go of obsessive thinking, letting go of ruminating, and using other ways to cope. Learning to focus on gratitude and using self compassion are the two skills that have helped me change my life.

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