My mom has a beautiful and powerful saying, “Don’t be the bird in the bush.” It’s a reference to a scene in Bambi. The hunters are coming through the woods and the animals run to hide. There are three quail hiding under a bush. Two of the birds remain calm and quiet while the third one starts to panic. One bird keeps telling the panicky one to remain calm and quiet. As the hunters draw near the panicked bird just can’t take it and instead of heeding the warning, flies out into the air in an escape attempt. Then you hear a shot fired and see feathers floating down. Oh little scared bird, if only you’d remained calm and quiet in the face of danger you’d have survived this scene.
I live with generalized anxiety disorder. There are many treatments and coping tools but my reality is that living with anxiety is like having a permanent, unwanted, roommate living in my brain. This roommate is a jerk too. She’s always telling me that the worst is going to happen, I’m not good enough, everyone hates me, and that above all I will never be strong/smart/good enough to handle whatever I might be facing in life. This roommate also has the most amazing imagination. Anxiety can act out the worst case scenario in my head with the full force of emotion as though it already happened. Hollywood writing and special effects have nothing on the horrors my anxiety creates. No wonder so many artists are tortured souls, without their anxieties their art might be nothing more than scribbles and blotches.
In essence, my anxiety causes me to approach daily life as the bird in the bush. When I encounter the typical setbacks and frustrations that happen to all of us, that nasty little roommate of mine tells me to panic and my default coping method is to start flapping my wings, making noise and commotion that just causes chaos and confusion.
My anxiety is having a field day with my shattered ankle. I’m constantly comparing myself to others, even those who have had very different injuries, just to judge and berate myself for my slow recovery. I must be totally wimpy and lazy that I’ve had all these complications and I’m not walking yet. I project thoughts into the heads of my family, friends, and doctors thinking that I’m a worthless slacker. People climb Mt. Everest after leg amputations and here you are crying over Plantar Fasciitis, and an SI joint out of place, my anxiety quietly tells me. I try to cling to the hope of a full recovery and then anxiety whispers in my ear reminding my of the last ten years I’ve lived with chronic hip pain that has never left me alone even after two surgeries. Just like the bird in the bush I want to freak out and give up without even trying. But just like the bird, that will seal my fate. My fear of failure will force my failure. I must conquer my fear of tomorrow in order to succeed in the tasks of today.
Anxiety convinces me that I’m a terrible person and that my mistakes are immense and unforgivable. My immediate inclination is to save myself. I want to send crazy texts and make phone calls explaining everything I’ve ever said to everyone I’m convinced hates me. But this too is the bird in the bush. All of us make mistakes. We all do and say the wrong thing. That is being human and we have to forgive and expect forgiveness. The number one reality is that other people are rarely thinking of us at all. If you start acting crazy, then they will think you are crazy. And if, by chance, another person really is mad at you, or truly doesn’t like you, then that is a choice they have made and there is probably nothing you can do about it anyway. I must focus on loving myself and not get lost in the fear of the opinions of others.
Anxiety tells me that any failure of my children is a reflection of a failure by me. A bad grade means that I didn’t teach work ethic or skills. An angry outburst is proof that I haven’t parented with enough love or support. Anxiety tells me that every bad choice or wrong move on their part will start the domino effect of unraveling their future success all because of my faults and flaws as a mother. I don’t blame my parents for my collection of poor decisions. We all lay out our own path and we are all responsible for following or straying and I know this includes my own children. But anxiety says that it’s too late and the damage is done. It’s never too late. Every day that I can spend with my children is a blessing and I can’t let anxiety steal these blessings away from me.
I was very young when I heard the first murmurs of self-doubt and was filled with the desire to flee from the hunters. In reality, the hunters only exist because anxiety tells me that they do. In the many decades that followed I have tried dozens of methods to evict this unwanted roommate. I don’t think I can. Some days anxiety torments me, but it also makes me empathetic, creative, and helps me boost the funny and comedic side of my personality for balance.
I have learned to quiet, cajole, work alongside, and cohabitate with anxiety. I have learned to listen to my mother, “Don’t be the bird in the bush.”
My favorite bible verse is no surprise:
Even scripture affirms my mother’s wise advice. “Be still.” No need to panic and fluster in the face of anxiety. God has this.
Be still. Be safe. Be blessed.