Those of us who tend to be highly sensitive, especially if we also have any compulsive or obsessive tendencies, and perhaps also especially if we also tend to depression and anxiety, can run into some challenging situations with our thoughts, feelings, and interpretations of situations.

I think we’re the ones most likely to have those compulsive fears like we’re going to suddenly veer off the road, or deliberately crash the car, or jump off a cliff or bridge or out a high window, or stick our finger in the blender.

I think sometimes we also get in trouble because, the more we focus or concentrate, the more sensitive we get, and everything gets magnified until things loom over us.

One example — tuning my dulcimer.

I used to use the typical digital chromatic tuners like most people use, but a) they don’t sample continuously at a fast enough rate so they sometimes have delayed responses, b) sometimes they get confused and think you’re tuning a harmonic instead of the fundamental tone, and c) they have a surprisingly large margin of error. So sometimes I would be tuning, and the tuner would seem confused, and so I would keep plucking the string and looking at the tuner and listening hard, trying to figure out the reality of the particular string I would be working on. And the longer I worked at it, the harder I focused, the more my ear seemed to go crazy sensitive haywire. I couldn’t trust my ear, I couldn’t trust the tuner, and therefore I couldn’t tune anymore at all. When I got a ridiculously precise real-time continuous-reading mechanical strobe tuner, I no longer had to trust my ear or listen so hard, and I could depend on the tuner to really be close enough, instant, and steady.

I am currently (still) dealing with some particular and some vague fears — about God, about myself, about thoughts and feelings and desires, about other people, and so on. Some days, and some moments of some days, the fears loom over me like the huge crashing indoor waves I sometimes dream about. There’s all sorts of meta-level stuff that goes on, too — judging myself for the fears and for the things that trigger them and for the shame I easily feel crashing over me, and for judging myself, and for not being able to get over it all faster and just be at peace, and so on.

And then there’s a sort of frantic or fearful effort to do the psychological work involved in addressing and resolving and healing various things. To be open to thoughts and feelings and desires and listen to them without judgment. To not be ruled by them. To love and embrace my whole self, including the parts that have the thoughts and feelings and desires and the parts that are afraid and ashamed and the parts that judge and the parts that analyze and criticize all the other levels. To believe in God’s love for me and his mercy and advocacy for me and his redeeming and sanctifying and nurturing work in my life. And the effort gets rather like the old way of tuning — my focus, my concentration, my ardent desire to do the work as well as I can, magnifies everything out of proper proportion, exhausts my energy, and makes it very difficult to exercise any discernment, interpret anything accurately, or trust any intuition or any supportive person (professional or otherwise).

Tonight I remained kneeling after mass for a while, in a vague or open sort of prayer-space, in silence. (Silence is one of the spiritual disciplines I have been feeling the call to explore… I am too quick to turn to words and especially to conversations…) And a thought came to me, perhaps from the Spirit, that what I am dealing with in my current situation, and in the work it involves, which involves old stuff as well, is a lot like those compulsive and intrusive thoughts of veering off the road.

Most of the time if you tell someone you have a recurring compulsive and intrusive thought about veering off the road, they respond with some assurance that they know you won’t actually do such a thing, and that the issue is the compulsive and intrusive thoughts, not with their substance. They probably wouldn’t tell you to stop driving.

I think perhaps the message the Spirit might have been giving me was that, in my current psychological work, being open and accepting and listening doesn’t have to mean concentrating all the powers of my sensitivity at every moment. That I could step back a level or two. That I could trust the “tuner” — Jesus, my intuition, my support network. And that I could let the work be more about the intrusive and compulsive nature of the fears and other stuff, and not worry so much about their substance / content and what it might all mean or imply.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. And, Lord Jesus, thank you for your mercy.


3 thoughts on “Veer

  1. This is honest and heavy and raw. I resonate with much of it. I had Post-Partum Anxiety and intrusive, obsessive thoughts were very much a part of it. Yes, the problem is the thoughts, the fears. I agree. Or at least, I think even the fear is okay but the thoughts do get us in trouble, right?

    Hugs and respect for your openness here,

  2. I am thinking, too, of many times in high school and college when a depressive episode would hit me, and I would think it was a spiritual problem or personal failing, and I would stop everything to sort of frantically work on trying to resolve it — to learn the lesson, to repent of the right thing, to pray the right way, or whatever — and then, despite all that work, the depression would just gradually lift, leaving nothing actually resolved.

    I had learned that, when you’re depressed or anxious, you can usually identify a number of perfectly sensible things that it could be “about,” but that it might not really be “about” those things at all, or not in the expected way.

    I am still learning that about psychological work — it is not an intellectual thing, not a thing that is accomplished by the will and by focused effort.

    It’s funny, though, how flexible fear and shame can be, how compelling, how reasonable and righteous they can appear. And, of course, it is possible to unwisely dismiss or ignore a realistic fear or a guilt that IS genuine. And it can be confusing to interpret symptoms — am I feeling more miserable because I am ignoring a clear warning, or because I am beset by false guilt and fear? Signs can always be interpreted both ways, as the first part of Lewis’ The Last Battle demonstrates.

    Reaching for faith and trust — that Jesus is my advocate, actively supporting me, and blessing even the tiniest bits of my obedience and willingness and looking to him, and not likely to hurl me headlong when I fall.

    ETA: It’s also reminding me of Lewis’ The Silver Chair. It is not always easy to know which is the true essence and reality — the time in the chair, or the time out of it.

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