Dear Anxiety (A Conversation with Anxiety)

In mid-August, the sudden onset of severe panic attacks landed me in the hospital for several days.  Since then I've continued to struggle with generalized anxiety, although medication is helping.  Walking through this experience I continue to reflect and wonder about the roll of anxiety in my life.  This post is a result of some of that work. 
        After the hours of careful listening, my therapist offered 
        an image that helped me, eventually to reclaim my life. 
        "You seem to look upon depression as the hand of an 
        enemy trying to crush you,” he said.  “Do you think you 
        could see it instead as the hand of a friend, pressing you 
        down to ground on which it is safe to stand?”

        Amid the assaults I was suffering, the suggestion that 
        depression was my friend seemed impossibly romantic, 
        even insulting. But something in me knew that down, to 
        the ground, was the direction of wholeness for me, and 
        something in me allowed that image to begin its slow 
        work of healing. - Parker Palmer in "Let Your Life Speak: 
        Listening for the Voice of Vocation"

Dear Anxiety:

I don’t want to talk to you, deal with you, or look you directly in the eye.  The fact is, at this point, I’m scared of you.

But I also realize that you are nothing.  You are absence, the open, empty space between.  Or maybe that’s just where you dwell, like a dark shadow creeping through cracks, the chill winter wind finding its way in, always.  

That’s where we’ve met most often – as I step from one thing to the next, you rise up in the pause between inhale and exhale, in the moment between departure and arrival.  I learned a long time ago to watch for you, warily, in times of transition.  On occasion I’ve fended you off, outwitted you and though you stalked, I felt no fear. 

Maybe that’s because, in those times, I know the game’s afoot and I accept you as part of the process, the way shadows and deepening night are not their own phenomena, but are only an indication of the earth's movement in relation to the sun.   

Enough, though, you’re here and you know how you work, I don’t need to explain it to you.  Have your piece, will you?  What is it you’re trying to say?


Anxiety's Reply
I saw you, dear one, hanging like a spider on its silken thread, blown by the slightest wind as you journeyed.  Hang on!  I wanted to shout.  Be careful!  Take ease! Your soul is in transition.  Though your outward life is settled, your soul is undergoing a transformation.  

It was as though the ground shook and you did not notice, as though the sun was blinded and you continued walking, unaware. 
I became afraid for you.  I saw the chasm between what was and the destination – what will be – seemed but a blurr.  I tried to wake you up to the danger, but you shut me out, pushed me down, so I cried out louder, Be careful!  Take care!  Your soul is in transition!

Forgive me, please, I only wanted your attention.  

I only wanted you to slow down, to rest.  

I was afraid for you. 

I did not mean to frighten you.


My reply:

I see.

You're here because I'm again passing through the valley of the shadow of death on my way to new life, but I was unaware.     

I hear you.  I will listen.

Let us both lay down now, here in the grass, here where the earth beneath us is solid or there on the living room floor where the old oak holds steady.  

Let us sit awhile in silence . . . 

Yes, my friend, my soul is in transition and you are here with me as I cross the great divide.  Let us hold hands, shall we?  And lying here, let us remember that we are held, for though you creep in through cracks and empty spaces, so also does the light.  

I was afraid because I thought you were the voice of darkness and behind you I sensed the deepening night of fear itself.  Maybe you also thought the same.  I can see now that you are but a mist, a fog, and behind you also dwells the light.   

Darkness is nothing but the absence of light, fear is nothing but the absence of love. But love endures forever, there is no absence, only waxing and waning in our awareness as we travel.  

Love endures forever.

Don’t worry, I will remind you of that.  

I hear you.  I will rest, let us lay here together for awhile as we rest in love.  

I will not miss you when you depart, anxiety, but while you are here, let us be friends.  Let us converse about our fears, about the shadows and spaces between, but let us rest also in the love that is always, always breaking through.  
This post is linked with Playdates with God hosted by Laura Boggess who's lovely book Playdates With God: Having Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  Also linking with Unforced Rhythms.


  1. Kelly... this is breathtaking, what you've done here. It reads to me like an excerpt from what should be an old classic sitting on my shelf, which I pull down and read for comfort, hope, truth, to light up shadowed places. You write here with a depth of compassion, this softer (not easier, but less harsh) perspective of anxiety. I am moved, deeply moved, and I know I will return to these words as if they were that classic on my shelf. I'm grateful you are finding a way from the ground, toward wholeness. Thank you for letting us in on this journey.

  2. Oh my, oh my. This is SO powerful, Kelly. I struggle with low levels of anxiety, so I don't know how it feels to the extent you do, but I've seen in others how debilitating it can be. I'm so proud of you for getting treatment for it. May the Lord continue to bless you as you accept what is as he works the changes. You're awesome.

  3. i tried to publish a post but don't think it happened. anyway, I just want to quickly say here that your conversation with anxiety is really touching. I struggle with my own version of anxiety and have done a lot of work around it and where it originated and how to listen to it, and respond in a different way. I want to say I think what you are doing is amazing work that is being done when you are young, rather than the way it has happened with me, when the "safe" world I managed to create crashes ... blessings

  4. There are no words I could add to this, Kelly. So Thank you. Just Thank you.

  5. Acceptance certainly has no peer as the ally to our soul. What a tender, personal, and yet highly instructive post, Kelly. Thank you for opening your brave heart wide. Befriending fear is not the action of a coward.