A History of Anxiety, Part 3: Engagement

Image by gingerbeardman via Flickr

Part 1: Origins

Part 2: The Onset of Freaking Out

I was on cloud nine when I returned to Iowa for my second year of grad school. Early that September, as I sat with eating lunch with music geek friends in between wind ensemble rehearsal and an afternoon homage to the practice room, I realized something. “Guys, guess what?” I said. “Today is my pre-anniversary!”

My roommate laughed: “How many ways can we come up with to celebrate our love and unity?”

Very shortly after that, I met a new student, and felt attracted to him.

Now, one of the things that carried me through the first three years of anxiety about whether I was supposed to be with Christian was the fact that I never, ever found anyone else remotely interesting. Not even movie stars. That singular attraction had given me some fragment of confidence that I was, indeed, where I was supposed to be. And now, three hundred miles away from my fiancé—I didn’t even own a car to be able to go visit—that confidence was gone.

Cloud Nine dissipated instantly; I plunged headlong into sheer terror again. Only this time, the stakes were way higher. Marriage is forever. This is not a commitment you enter with even the remotest possibility that you’re making a mistake.

And how on earth could I talk to anyone about it? In the first three years, I’d had a very good friend who practiced across the hall from me, and we spent hours talking while she made reeds (she’s an oboe player). I had a couple of people in the church choir at Newman that I trusted. But now, I didn’t have any of that. You’re not supposed to freak out once you’re engaged! If I told anyone, it would feel like I was betraying Christian, and besides, I had learned that talking about it all the time gave the fear more power.

So I kept it to myself, and I felt alone, and horribly fake as I had to keep answering questions about wedding plans, asked by people who cared about me. Because I wasn’t even sure I was going to go through with it.

And yet, if I didn’t, what was the reason? It wasn’t that I didn’t want Christian. I wanted to be with him so badly, it hurt. But that irrational voice kept poking me in the sensitive part of my brain: What if you’re not supposed to?

I had snapshots of me in my wedding dress, which I laid on my music stand while I did tone studies and scales and arpeggios every day. So for that hour of practicing every day, I had it before me. Usually, that helped—because it was concrete, visible sign of what I was really preparing for, something that stood in direct opposition to the ephemeral, darting, irrational fear.

Yes, I knew by now that it was irrational. But doubt is insidious, even and perhaps especially when there’s no reason behind it. After all, if there’s a reason, you can wrestle with it and make a decision. When there’s no reason, it’s just this screaming voice of panic.

I kept hearing stories of people who got signs. Why hadn’t I gotten any signs? God, I could really use a clear sign!
Of course, even then I knew no sign would have been enough for me. If God put a billboard in my path that said “YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO MARRY CHRISTIAN!” I would doubt whether I was misinterpreting it. Ridiculous. Irrational. And unfortunately, true.

The only way through this was forward. I had to step out in faith that the journey I had been on for the past several years was indeed the journey I was supposed to be on. It felt wrong to me—stories of faith are always about people who do irrational things, like quit their jobs without knowing why, only to have their faith rewarded by the opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Like Abraham, taking a knife to his son before God stops him. These are the stories of faith we hold up: acting on faith when the action seems irrational.

My act of faith was to cling to something that made sense in the face of doubt that didn’t. It made me question whether I was wrong to cling. Finally I just had to say, “God, if this isn’t what you want me to do, don’t let me go through with it.”

Even in retrospect, it seems like a ridiculous prayer.

I’ve written another 500 words, and I simply can’t foist the whole works on you in one day. So I’ll continue tomorrow.

For the conclusion, click here.