As I looked in the mirror, admiring the tiny streaks of purple and blue glistening in my hair, the first thought I had was “I love it!”. The very next thought was disturbing… it was “Gasp! I cannot go to church like this!”.
My first marriage left me with high levels of anxiety. I was at the point before our divorce where I trembled all of the time. The constant trembling caused a lot of pain in my joints. I still have instances when I become anxious where I literally cannot speak because the joints in my jaw become too tight. It is painful and embarrassing and makes the anxiety worse.
I have successfully left the trembling behind with the combination of prayer, probiotics, aromatherapy, horses and limiting triggers. As wonderful as it is to be released from the paralyzing hold of constant anxiety, I still found that I was still fearful of a great many things, which would then trigger an anxiety attack. I do not wish to be a prisoner of fear, so I decided to move forward via anxiety exposure exercises.
Battling Anxiety by Moving Out of “The Comfort Zone”
I started small with practical exercises like:
• walking around the block on my own
• crossing the street alone
• being left alone in the grocery store
I am legally blind, so each of these actions has its own difficulties. Once I became (mostly) comfortable with these actions, I decided that I wanted to do something a little more creative. I wanted to dye my hair. Not the typical black, brown, red or blonde, but… Purple. Blue. Pink. Maybe even neon green!
Dyeing my hair was to be another act to move out of my comfort zone… a step toward conquering anxiety by exposing myself to situations that I am not comfortable with. I thought it would be a fairly simple one, but it has turned out to be more complicated than I expected.
You see, the conservative views of my brothers and sisters in Christ include women being modest at all times and not drawing attention to one self. Dyeing one’s hair in unnatural colors is seen as a direct violation of these long held traditions. To many, it would not matter why I did it. It was an act of rebellion and should be strictly condemned in order to save my soul.
I do not know why the opinions of church people had even crept into my mind. It had been ages since I had been to a church, having spent most of my adult life worshiping at home. Plus, I know that God does not look at the outward display, but is more concerned about the heart. The people on the other hand… their biting remarks were my concern.
The Surprising Results of Dyeing My Hair
While I was considering the consequences of dyeing my hair, I went shopping and noticed something very strange. Random people were greeting me with a “hello” or a smile!
I found this to be strange because I am used to being practically invisible when I go out. Being a natural introvert, it has seldom bothered me to be overlooked. In fact, for the 20+ years of my first marriage, I was “the wife” or “the mom”. Most people did not even know my name. I was, for the most part, ok with that.
After my divorce, I met a wonderful man who has been patiently watching me slowly become restored in mind, body, and spirit. I now call him “The Greatest Husband in the Galaxy!”
We moved to Madison, South Dakota a few years ago. It is a friendly community. This was apparent right away because my son and husband have received greetings nearly everywhere they go from day one. Sometimes, a random conversation gets started. I was never left out when I was with them… I always received a smile and nod. However, if I was by myself, I was invisible again. I felt like I carried a giant sign that read “Unapproachable!”.
However, with streaks of purple and blue, all of that changed. I found it fascinating.
Although I appreciated no longer being seen as unapproachable, the attention made me uncomfortable. But, that is exactly what I was aiming for, right? I had wanted to place myself in an uncomfortable situation and move out of my comfort zone. Success!
The Next Step in Subduing My Anxiety
The next step was to actually speak to people I do not know. Our friendly mail carriers and the grocery store staff have, unknowingly, been quite helpful to me in this step – thank you!
I am fine online (most of the time), but person to person verbal communication is quite the challenge for me! For example, during our first year together, my primary mode of communication with my loving partner was written. I told you he is patient!
After nearly a year of trying various streaks of color in my hair, my close family encouraged me to be more bold. So, I dyed my entire head of long hair. It was shocking to see myself in the mirror that first time! Who am I kidding? It is still shocking!
The Best Part of These Anxiety Exposure Exercises
The best part of this journey is that my husband loves this bolder side of me. In the past two years, he has not had to endure very many written conversations. Nor does he have to wait days for me to finish verbally expressing myself on difficult topics just because I can no longer speak. He may have to wait for me to gather my thoughts… but, that is another story!
What is the Next Step in My Journey?
I have been thinking about going to church again… with my colorful hair. I thought I was ready. But, my daughter showed a picture of me with my neon green hair to her church circle and the response was: “Wow! We will be sure to pray for her!”
Yeah, it was the response I expected. But, it made me realize that, although I have made great strides in dealing with my anxiety, no, I am not ready to deal with that condemnation yet. That type of judgmental attitude is exactly why so many people avoid going to church! Whatever happened to loving your neighbor and “the Lord accepts you as you are”? We all have a personal journey to make and it is not ours to judge the path of another.
I will have to choose some other way to interact with people instead. We have been invited to a couple of small groups. I just need to gather the courage to actually go. That is the next step.