At my job, I have this client (nowadays they’re called “participants”) who’s unlike any other I’ve known. He’s got some sort of complicated cocktail of mental health issues going on. Whatever they are, they’ve come together to create the most agitated, anxious, hyper, manic, rapid-thinking individual I’ve ever seen.
He’s the kind of guy whose own thoughts race a million miles an hour in addition to the other voices in his head doing so as well. He craves attention and simply has to be the center of it at all times; the more people around, the more dramatic and performative he becomes. He acts out like a child in any way to get the attention he craves, all while his inside hums and buzzes with a constant anxiety.
He can easily talk non-stop for hours with random things setting off new associations and new lines of thought and one topic flowing into another topic that seems unrelated, save for a color, a location, or even a word in common with the prior one. The first time I met him, his thoughts became so fast and so loud, he started screaming and clawing at his head just to get them to quiet down.
He evokes little sympathy from those around him, including myself. He seems to thrive on the fact that he can so affect people–even if it’s in a negative, irritating way.
He was recently in jail for a brief period, where he was able to get medication into his system. When he’s medicated, he’s a completely different individual. This past week, I had the joy of spending almost an entire work day with him. He’d gone a few days without the medication, so he was starting to speed up again, but he wasn’t quite where he normally is.
As we drove through different parts of Philadelphia, it seemed every street brought up a new association of a story, a friend, an ex-girlfriend, or a family member. He seamlessly transitioned from one story to the next, and I began to notice a theme. I turned to him.
“You know, I’ve noticed that almost all of your stories are about people in your life that have died. Man, it seems like you’ve seen a lot of death in your life.”
“Yeah, I have.”
“If you don’t mind, could I ask: are you scared of death?”
“No I’m not.”
“Because I know that no matter what’s there on the other side, there will be perfect rest.”
Rest. What a word. What a longing, especially for this guy. What a hope to swallow one’s fear.
It was in that moment I realized a camaraderie I have with him. Rest is just as elusive for me. My mind feels like a homing missile that knows it’s supposed to be locked on something, but it can’t find it. Or like a dog searching for a scent. It bounces form thing to thing trying to find its direction, its guidance, its focus, its one thing to unite all things.
And I’m going on 28 years not having found it.
If I’m honest, I try to find a lot of it in the constellation of relationships around me. Much like this friend of mine, the stories I tell myself in the midst of my anxiety are often told in terms of the people in my life. When the constellation is out of order, or if there’s strife and discord in those closest to my orbit, all the planets get out of line. I latch on to things trying to fix, trying to mend, trying to understand and gain context, trying to shake the meaning out of them, only to find–quite often–that I’ve shaken the life out of them entirely.
My friend has few friends; few people that can stand to be around him for more than a few minutes. He called his mom on my phone when I picked him up. She didn’t answer, even though he knew she was home.
“Mom? Mom? You there? I know you are. Please pick up. Well, I was just calling to tell you I’m out of prison and my phone doesn’t have minutes. I love you, and even though he doesn’t want to hear it, please tell Dad I love him too.”
Unlike me, he’s grown accustomed to the distance, the “otherness” of others. He’s come to terms with the fact that he can never know all there is to know of someone’s mind and heart–and he’s fine with that. He doesn’t try too hard nor push it. In this, I think he’s reached a maturity I’ve yet to taste.
As my Facebook wall and this blog will attest ad nauseam, I’m reading a book I’m quite fond of, Theology of the Pain of God by Kazoh Kitamori. Last night, I read these words that offered me hope–hope for my friend and hope for myself–on this side of eternity:
“Our pain is actually healed when it serves the pain of God….By serving the pain of God–which is the glad news of salvation–our pain ends up sharing this salvation. By serving him through our pain, the pain of God rather saves and heals our own pain. When the pain of God heals our pain, it already has changed into love which has broken through the bounds of pain.”
In other words, when I experience the pain of my anxiety, my rest and healing isn’t found in my fruitless and aimless attempts to “fix it” or distract myself. It’s found in letting myself sit with it on my own, in solitude and silence; feeling the tension grow in my chest until it feels I might burst, letting it bounce and squirm and thrash in my mind until it can no more.
It’s by pressing all the more deeply into the darkness that we find our light, our healing, and our rest.
Because it’s precisely there where God dwells. He is in the wilderness, clouds and thick darkness surround him, he breathes over the chaos, he brings death into his experience, his heart yearns. In our restlessness, we join Him in His. We press into these moments to press into Him.
And yet he may elude us. He may stay silent.
But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me….
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.*
I’m starting to realize that Rest is a spiritual muscle. And I’ve got to believe that when we press into Him Who is found within our restlessness and anxiety, this trains us, disciplines us, and painfully carves us into a people who can get a taste of what my friend knows is waiting for him on the other side:
May we press on…