Anxiety, judgment, and discernment in the social distancing era

(Disclaimer: this post is written so that others might not feel alone. It is not shared as a cry for advice. Advice does not help people experiencing anxiety. Just don’t. Empathize, share your own journey, but do.not.advise. Please.)

Photo by Elina Krima on

I haven’t posted here in a week. I just couldn’t. What can I say?

In the past week, death by coronavirus came to my community. My kids came home from school for a four-week online learning plan that I have already told them to expect to last until the end of the year. That way if we do get to go back to school, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

My family is wrestling with the loss of events we had our hearts set on. The loss of freedom. The panicky sense of lack of external structure, which you can handle for a week or two, but the idea of it stretching from now until late August is enough to invoke panic attacks. (Every blessed day exactly the same, nothing, not even going to church to break the monotony.) The gut-hollowing recognition that no matter what I do, I can never provide as much structure as my daughter with Down syndrome needs in order to learn successfully.

There’s the discernment of what things outside the home need to be done, and the reality of judgment when others think we’re discerning too loosely. The terror of a person whose anxiety molds itself on scrupulousness, thus making me think I’m not doing enough to “flatten the curve” unless I lock the doors and keep us totally isolated. The discernment of trying to weigh mental health against the reality that if the kids go outside, they’re going to encounter other kids.

The recognition that way too much of my anxiety has to do with other people’s opinions.

To say nothing of the fear of what happens if the virus does land in my household.

Only a few weeks ago I was looking at my life with great contentment. And, truthfully, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Things were going too well.

I didn’t expect what we’re dealing with now.

Photo by cottonbro on

I also didn’t expect the anxiety to hit. Because hit it did, roaring back into my life the middle of last week along with the arrival of my kids at home for Coronavirus Break. And unlike other flare-ups in recent years, this one has no expiration date.

I’ve spent a lot of hours lying awake lately with heart pounding, praying and praying and praying.

The one moment of hope coming out of all this is that, in the middle of one of my white-night prayer sessions, begging for clarity and discernment and peace, I remembered my spiritual director asking me, “Has there ever been a time when you were certain that what you were hearing was God?”

Well, of course there was.

“What did that feel like?” she asked.

Well, I answered, it felt like quiet, cool breezes by a creek. It felt like calm.

It did not feel like a maelstrom of lava pits and pounding hearts.

That recognition was so profound. And I am clinging to that reminder in the midst of these days full of anxiety I could never have anticipated.

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