She is young, golden, blushes easily, bright solar eyes, with graceful speech, not rushed or loud. Like so many others, she doesn’t believe her beauty. She came to me to get help. Crippled by anxiety that hits out of the blue, like a hooded man grabbing her in an alley. She feels during those times like she is dying or going crazy. She started avoiding public places and became fearful looking over her shoulder for the next attack. She was humiliated on all accounts by her uncontrolled emotions and thought people could see how crazy she was just by looking at her. Branded and tortured.
When Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, he made plain the cultural pressure to define what is apparent, seen, and interpreted. But more importantly he made plain the ability of an individual to define themselves on their own terms regardless. Hester Prynne wore her letter A at first by mandate and then by choice, letting it represent who she was, where she came from, and where she was going. She wore her letter and when people tried to change its meaning to something culturally less scarlet, “A” for “Able” she made it clear that she is the one who will decide the meaning of her life’s events. Her and God and no one else.
When anxiety hits, we are scrambling to understand why. We think, “What could we have done that is so terrible to have brought this kind of torture on?” As Hester Prynne began her scarlet letter days bewildered by the force of emotion behind her angry neighbors, so victims of anxiety are bewildered by the level of shame and wild fear they presume must be linked somehow to this judgment upon them. It becomes their life’s work to determine the meaning of a life with this.
Nathaniel Hawthorne writes,
The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not to tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong…
Suffering is a schoolhouse for the courageous.
After some months of medication therapy this twenty-something woman said
I’m not so uptight about things. …I didn’t know my anxiety was that bad until I got out of it.” What amazed her even more was how better the rest of her body felt. “Even physically I feel much better.” No more chest tightness, body aches, and shakes.
She has the rest of her life to figure out how to say what this disease means and how it plays into the way she defines herself. She will decide I hope. Not her family, future husband, church, or Brook Shields. I hope she will take what it teaches her and let it make her strong.
Self Care Tip #57 – Let it make you strong. Be a friend to yourself.
Question: What do you think? Please tell me your story.