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Imagine a woman turning slowly round and round and round, arms spread wide, face looking up, singing, radiant smile all over her face. As I listened to music the morning of the exam it slowly penetrated my anxiety and filled me with a smile.

Was so nervous. Always so nervous. Doesn’t matter how prepared I am, nothing helps. But time has told it’s story for me. Every year I freak out completely, lose control of my emotions … but something happens just before the exam. Those are precious moments. I sat on the floor outside the exam room, back against a wall, beautifully enveloped in the knowledge that my best friend loves me completely, he wraps me in love all the time, whether I feel it or not. He is always with me, behind me, before me, encircling me.

This is joy. My whole being is safe with God, so I have no need to fear anything, not even a scary exam. Of course, I have a lousy memory, so I always forget, but it’s brought back time and time again.

It doesn’t eclipse everything. The crap is there. The anxiety is there alongside the joy, they’re mixed all together, all the contradictions rolled into one. Bit like me.

Romans 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Joy, hope, patience, affliction, faithfulness, prayer. Mashed together. Stumbling through. Coming back to work so soon after the exam is hard. Massive amounts of adrenaline coursing through my body yesterday, slowing myself down to bring back memories of colour-coded notes:

The adrenaline wears off and the exhaustion sets in, which is where I’m at today. But I have to use my leave very carefully. Each day needs to be used very specifically. If I had taken today off I would have had to work the day after I submit my dissertation, and really, that day will be used for sleeping off a hangover. You’d think it would be enough to spend today at my desk feeling sleepy. But about an hour ago I suddenly started shaking, I want to punch something, scratch my skin off, curl up into a ball and wait for this to pass. None of which are acceptable when you share an office with a ‘normal’ person. For that matter, is scratching your skin off acceptable anywhere? I could at least retreat under the duvet there. I need my duvet.

I don’t even have any benzos with me. I left them in yesterday’s bag. The exam is over! It’s over and it went well. I should be fine. But this has always been my biggest concern. Sustained stress makes it so much harder to crawl my way back. Can I please cry? I knew I shouldn’t have put eyeliner on today.

The joy remains. It remains because it wasn’t the fleeting pleasure that comes upon realising that the worry was for nothing. It floated over me before the exam, while I was still scared out of my mind that I wouldn’t remember any Arabic words. It’s real. So it’s still here. The revolving woman with her arms spread wide is still inside my head. She’s shaking a bit now and her eyes have closed to block out the intrusions, but she’s still turning, still singing.

Yesterday and today I focus on a simple breathing meditation, given to me by LittleFeet two years ago.

Breathe in: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father.
Breathe out: Have mercy on us.

Over and over and over. It penetrates my speeding thoughts, my panic, it holds back the tears threatening to spill over. I can’t bring myself down, I don’t know how, I’ve never known how. I learned how to control panic attacks a long time ago, it’s rare for me to succumb completely. But this is harder, it’s some sort of overload and I can’t reason myself out of it. Which is why I’m writing now. Write, breathe, repeat the two simple sentences over again, and listen to music. 

Again, thanks go to LittleFeet. A song she has on repeat in her confusion and distress:

It’s beautiful and true, so true. It’s on repeat for me now too. I’m safe. I’m free. I’m falling in love, astonished by beauty, truth and grace and love.

Here I am before you
Falling in love and seeking your truth
Knowing that your perfect grace
Has brought me to this place
Because of you I freely live
My life to you, oh God, I give

So I stand before You, God
I lift my voice because you set me free

So I shout out your name
From the rooftops I proclaim

That I am Yours, I am yours

All the good You’ve done for me
I lift up my hand up hands for all to see
You’re the only one
Who brings me to my knees
To share this love across the earth
The beauty of Your Holy Word

So I kneel before You, God
I lift my hands because you set me free

So I shout out your name
From the rooftops I proclaim

That I am Yours, I am Yours

All that I am I place into Your loving hands
And I am Yours, I am Yours

Here I am, I stand with arms wide open
To the one, the Son, the everlasting God