I have been aware, this past year, that my medical anxiety has been spiking — any time the children are unwell, or a loved one or I encounter even a mild health issue, I tie myself into a knot of worry. I am prone to catastrophic thinking, but it always seems to cluster around matters pertaining to the well-being of myself and my family members. This seems to have developed (or, perhaps, escalated) after my friend Elizabeth passed away in her 20s, and the connection between the two is self-evident. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that perhaps the discourse around and protocols relating to COVID have intensified these patterns of thought. Nowadays, it feels as though you must disclose even the slightest ailment, and that even if you do not end up having the virus, you set off a chain reaction of cancellations, testings, alerts, text threads, Plan Bs. I am not saying anything about the validity of these new protocols, but I am aware that they are digging into and exaggerating grooves of anxiety into which I already burrowed. Having a cold is no longer having a cold. It’s a — could it be? who do I alert? who needs to test? what will happen if I’m positive? — domino effect. The amplification of what might be “just a cold” mandated by the current COVID context feels eerily similar to trains of thought that come barreling through my mind no matter the circumstance.
I am sharing this perhaps niche insight because it was helpful — relieving? — to forge that connection. It helped me get a grip on why I have been so worried about every last symptom that has come through our household this year. It has given me a new perch: “OK, you’re worried. But you are probably disproportionately worried because of the current context.” I immediately feel a bit of a release, as if the room has grown ever so slightly bigger. Then I turn to my tried-and-true strategies, which usually involve discussing my worries and observations with Mr. Magpie, who has an impossibly even keel, and who helps me lay out a practical, tactical plan that hinges on making the child as comfortable as possible and then waiting 24 hours to see if things are improving or not. I must say that a good measure of ailments in our home go away or improve in 24 hours — an accounting that itself provides relief.
More recently, I have found that one thing that can really help me if I am up late fretting along these lines is a very simple, almost unremarkable line from the Bible. I recently learned that it is one of the most-commonly repeated phrases in the Bible, appearing 365 distinct times:
“Be not afraid.”
Its simplicity brings to mind the quote I repeated to myself during my son’s c-section: “Focus on me / not on the storm.” Any time I am able to actually maneuver myself into a receptive headspace (sometimes difficult in the middle of the night, in peak worry zone), and I repeat the words “Be not afraid / I go before you always,” I feel as though the knot in my stomach disappears. I imagine myself as a steward of what is meant to be versus someone out there on her own, either overestimating or underestimating a symptom. I am able to edge out from underneath the weight.
What helps you when you are worrying? Has anyone else experienced a similar escalation perhaps influenced by the discourse around COVID?
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16 thoughts on “Be Not Afraid.”
Chiming in a bit late, but the morsel that “Be not afraid” is one of the most repeated phrases in the Bible lodged into my brain this past weekend, and I recalled that I came across that in your post. I completely relate to the medical anxiety and the constant vigilance around cold symptoms — our daycare still requires daily symptom reporting and it’s almost become kind of a mind game. (“I don’t know, does she ‘have’ a cough or did she just… cough?)
More so where this post spoke to me: I am approaching my due date and have been somewhat of a wreck for the past month (terrible virus in December just before Christmas for the toddler and me, preparing for Christmas, a lovely holiday indeed but also lots of baby prep and now trying to wrap up everything up at work). And yet my main spiral-inducing source of anxiety is about the logistics of going into labor and how my 2.5 year old will do with the couple of days I’m in the hospital, followed by the massive change I’ll bring with me when I come home. To say nothing of the fact that labor & delivery is, in and of itself, a huge medical undertaking about which to be anxious! Sigh. I am going to hold onto “Be not afraid” for now — thank you, as always, for sharing <3
Oh Susie!!! I so relate to everything you are describing. I remember that “spiral” so well in the days leading up to my son’s birth. I was agonizing (weeping, honestly) over how my daughter would fare without me present for a few days, fretting over all of the imminent changes, wanting to squeeze onto our time as a family of three just a little tighter. Gosh, it is really a LOT to work through. Almost too much! Hang in there. I promise you will eventually get into a new stasis, and your toddler will work through it — it requires such forbearance, though. Just know I’m thinking of you and have shared those EXACT sentiments, thoughts, woes, worries…
You got this. Be not afraid. One foot in front of the other. One minute at a time! All the ways to slow down and take a breath…!
Ohhhhhh yes. I have asthma, and I also have an autoimmune disorder. The meds for the AI disorder make me more likely to get sick, which then exacerbates the asthma – and if that happens enough, we’ll need to rethink those meds to see if the juice is worth the squeeze, so to speak. It was SUCH a struggle to get both these issues under control (women’s care in the medical industry is really something else), and now I feel such a tenuous grasp on both – that even a hint of a cold or a sniffle or a cough sends me into a spiral. Not to mention watching aging parents continue to age in a (post-ish?) pandemic world, and the worry there… these last few years have been a LOT and I’ve spent more time than I really care to admit in some sort of anxiety-induced late night Googling. Thank you for being so honest here – I hope you feel what we do, which is that this aids in us all feeling less alone in this crazy world.
Oh Joy, I’m so sorry to hear about your conditions and how tricky they are with your medications, and how that relates to the medical anxiety so many of us feel even WITHOUT those pre-existing conditions. That must be a really challenging situation, and my heart goes out to you. Sending you love and peace. Thank you so much for sharing!
Yes! Just had to cancel a family gathering today because of illness. The mental gymnastics involved in weighing the risks and making a decision is just exhausting! Especially when you know in the back of your mind that it could just get canceled again on the rescheduled date. And this wasn’t even Covid-related! At this point, I feel like Covid is the least of my worries, compared to the flu, strep, stomach bugs, even bad colds, etc that we’ve dealt with this year.
And re: fear not – I actually chose “fearless” as a word/theme for 2022. And not in the “wow, she’s fearless for skiing that black diamond” sense, but in the way you spoke of above. I just felt there was so much fearmongering in the media (and everywhere) and I just didn’t want to be involved anymore. And once you see how often it is mentioned in the Bible, eventually you think – huh. God really doesn’t want us to be afraid, I guess! Haha. Not that knowing that we need not be afraid stops the worrying, but it does bring comfort. This was emphasized for me when our school/church did a bible study called Be Still and Know early this year. But as a parent of a cancer survivor, you can bet I still have a very hard time not freaking out whenever she’s sick or hurt!
Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much for chiming in here, and I completely relate to everything you’ve said, especially your comment that “The mental gymnastics involved in weighing the risks and making a decision is just exhausting!” Yes!!! This adds to the intensity any time someone is unwell, especially now that we’re so many years into this pandemic, and we no longer want to miss out on things and instead would prefer to barrel on ahead but know that we can’t always do that without upsetting others, or being too risky, etc. It is a total mental drain. I feel like I was white knuckling it until we got to Christmas Eve because I kept waiting for one of us to get sick and have to “cancel Christmas.”
Thanks for chiming in.
If anyone has been able to get through the last 2.5 years without feeling frayed by the state of constant vigilance that covid has forced us into, then they should get their brain studied, truly. We’ve all been through a lot, and that’s not even considering other health conditions and medical situations layered on top. December has been a really tough month for me, health-wise, and it just keeps on coming. When it rains it pours, etc. Sometimes I wish I actually was more religious? But I manage to find sources of comfort elsewhere. “No feeling is final,” etc.
Hi, Anna – Wishing you “calmer seas” in 2023 on the health front. Oof, I’m sorry you’ve had so much happening this month, and it feels cruel for that to be taking place after 2.5 years of constant worry and medical fracas related to COVID. Hang in there – you are not alone, and your feelings are totally valid.
LOVE, love, love that adorable black jacket with the pearl buttons. AMAZING!!! So versatile and will go with jeans to gowns easily. So glad you’re ordering. It looks like you.
Yes, yes, and yes. I’ve suffered some traumatic events over the past 2 years, which heightened my catastrophic thinking around illness and raised my medical anxiety to levels that were some time crippling. The smallest health event would have my mind spiraling to worst case scenario and obsessive thinking. Doctor visits and preventive tests were riddled with fear. Staying away from google helped, avoiding sad medical news stories, and leaning into my faith. Be not afraid. You are not alone. What also helped was improving my sleep habits. My worry led to increased anxiety, which led to insomnia and made things worse. I upgraded my pillows, invested in room darkening window treatments, and other measures that helped tremendously. Found my thinking to be clearer and anxiety far more manageable when I was well rested.
Hi Anne — First, thanks for your vulnerability here. I received so many notes, emails, DMs, along the same lines — so many of us spiraling and worrying over the first tickle, twinge, etc. I’m so glad you mentioned sleep as a useful tool/antidote — that, exercise, and water often make me feel a LOT better in general about everything going on.
You are not alone!!
Thank you for this post/others’ comments! In mid-Dec I told two close friends I was considering exploring anti-anxiety meds in the new year, my medical anxiety had gotten so bad. Every minor ailment or pain related to my family or myself was sending me into a daily spiral of catastrophic thinking. Immediately within telling them I felt the knot in my chest start to loosen and have felt progressively better by letting people in. Reading your thoughts and others has helped as well (so sincerely, thank you!).
I try to remind myself this a result of what the world has been like the last three years. Sometime last year I read a book where the father was a Russian KGB agent based in Paris. He explained the phenomena where by, living in a constant state of, sometimes paranoid, vigilance, the mind starts to imagine the worst is lurking around every corner. I’ve also found comfort in all the usual tips and tricks — praying, going for a walk, staying well rested, and drinking an ice cold glass of water.
Hi Elizabeth — Thank you so much for coming forward to share this. I am so moved by how many of us are in the same boat and have felt isolated in these anxieties. I’m so glad you were able to find some release in talking with your friends about it, and in coming here, too.
Bless you!! xx
Your posts have a way of validating how I feel at times and offer new perspectives. I think most worry more about those we’re closest to and a death most often colors the way we look at things and how we react. This phrase also evoked memories of high school religion classes and watching and reading things re Pope John Paul II.
Happy New Year Jen!
I’m so glad this resonated with so many Magpies. Thanks for chiming in, Michelle!