Entering the Home Stretch

by Jessica Smith

Seeing as this is my first blog post, you don’t really know me yet. Let me tell you a little about myself. I have high anxiety and that is okay. I have worked very hard to manage my anxiety. Along the way, I have had help from some fantastic counselors, ministers, and mentors who have taken time to work with me and help me understand my anxiety.This does not mean that I am anxiety free. Anxiety is still something I deal with on a daily basis and probably will continue to deal with it for the rest of my life. This is not a post about mental health (although mental health is something I hope to talk about at some point on this blog). I simply wanted you, the reader, to understand a little bit about me. There are many parts to me, and one part is that I have anxiety. Now that you have a little background, I can get started with the post. J

It is that time of year again – time for back to school shopping. Target is filled with moms holding multiple school supply lists and kids begging for the new, trendy backpack. When I was younger I loved back to school shopping. I got to pick out new pencils, notebooks, book bags, and awesome clothes to ensure I was ready for the school year. Now that I have to pay for all my school supplies, back to school shopping has lost its appeal. This year my back to school shopping list consisted of a pack of highlighters and ink for the printer. Oh, and about $100 worth of books, which I think it pretty cheap for grad school. Nothing special about my back to school list.

There is, however, something special about this school year. It is my very last one. I will graduate in May with my Masters of Divinity. And then that is it. No more school. No more research papers, exams, or piles of flashcards. I will be free of all-nighters and might be able to have something other than coffee in my diet. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I have been waiting for this moment since basically the second day of kindergarten. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning, but I am very tired of the student lifestyle.

I thought when my final year of school came I would be excited. Now that it is here, I am terrified. In roughly 9 months, I will no longer be a student. Being a student has been a huge part of my identity since I was 5! Now what? Starting in May I have to be a full time adult. I have no idea how to adult! No one has ever taught me that. There have been no classes offered on adulating. The closer it gets to school starting back, the more panicked I get. The only thing keeping me from completely drowning in anxiety is my wife. She is a much better adult than I am. For that, I am thankful.

Although my wife is a wonderful calm presence, I am still pretty terrified. What if no one will hire me after I graduate? What if I can’t be an out lesbian and a minister at the same time? What if I can’t support my family? What if I can’t find a job I like in an area that is safe for us? What if…AHHHHH! The idea of change and the endless unknown sends me into weekly panic attacks.

Last week I went to campus to get some things done before the semester begins and also wanted to have lunch with one of the administrative assistants. I hadn’t planned on unloading all my anxiety on her, but her office just has that power and before I knew it, I was telling her all of my anxiety and panic about being an adult in May. She looked at me

and said “I want you to listen very carefully. Do not get so anxious about what is coming that you miss your last year. Enjoy it. Live it. The rest will work out.” She is right. I am so worried about what will happen, that I am in serious danger of not enjoying my last year of school.

I wish I was the type of person that dove into prayer when my anxiety spikes, but I’m not. Anxiety drives the idea of prayer far away from my mind because my words get jumbled. When I tried to take my fears and concerns to God in prayer my mind ran wild and I started to panic even more. I got lost in my own thoughts. My brain learned to protect itself by not praying. In the long run that was much more harmful than helpful. Thankfully, I had someone who taught me a different way to pray. Several years ago when I was first learning to manage my anxiety, someone taught me how to pray a Breath Prayer. It is a short and simple prayer that helps you to slow your breathing and focus on one thing. This is the prayer I have had for the past week:

(Deep breath in) Creator God

(Slow exhale) teach me to be present

(Deep breath in) Creator God

(Slow exhale) teach me to be present

Repeat as long as necessary.

I have overwhelming anxiety about what the next year will bring. My two choices are to either a) allow the anxiety to overwhelm me until it is all consuming or b) try to focus on what is in front of me and enjoy it. I am trying to choose the second option. I don’t always get it right and there will be plenty of times this year when a big wave of anxiety will knock me off my feet. I also know prayer know will calm my anxiety rather than increase it. I don’t want to miss my last year of school. If I need to say a breath prayer during my morning commute to school, that is how I will start my day. I want to be present because otherwise I will miss learning important concepts in class. I will miss precious time with those I have built relationships with. Most importantly, I will miss God. Staying present this year is key. I know I will fail, but I my goal is to succeed more than fail. That is all I can hope for.

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