Anxiety in my Handwriting

At The Aspen Way, we talk a lot of becoming more aware of our physiological responses as we move through a healing journey. Almost always, our bodies are telling us about situations before our brain has logically observed and put the pieces together. By being more aware of how our bodies are responding to environments, people, and situations, we are better able to support ourselves in one of two ways: 1) Notice an oncoming trigger and implement strategies of self-calming before it hits us. 2) Learn to trust our bodies to tell us if a situation is not safe for our well-being.

I have learned to notice my breathing: fast and shallow or slow and full? I have learned to notice my stomach: tense and achy or peaceful? I have learned to notice my shoulders: Up to my ears with tension or relaxed yet firm? And recently I have begun to be more aware of my pace in walking. But I had never even considered one aspect of myself I could also be observing.

I was the House Chaplain, which meant I was paged to every emergency call in the 38-bed emergency department and 7 floors of the hospital. My job was to help with identification of any incoming patients that could not give us their own information, and also get connected with any family that might be at the hospital or arriving soon. I never knew what I was walking into when I received a page. With every page I felt urgency, high energy, fast paced. And I brought that energy with me into the situation. Had I been a nurse, doctor, or first responder, that energy might serve me well. But, I am the chaplain, the calming presence, the comforter, the guide to others in scary and highly emotional situations…

When I was first oriented to chaplaincy, I remember hearing a staff chaplain say “Just remember, you never have to be in a hurry to any call. You will get there when you get there.”

There is relief in hearing those words. It is a reminder that I am not in charge of the medical response.

And there is also responsibility in those words. I cannot offer to others what I do not practice or hold within myself. If I enter a room with high energy, I may inadvertently escalate the emotions being processed.  

I often found myself walking quickly until I got to the hallway, where I took a deep breath and prayed for peace and presence with the patient, staff and family that may be a part of this response. This practice seemed to be enough…

Until the other day when I decided I would change my entire pace of walking throughout my whole shift. My slower pace was intentional, rhythmical, soothing to my own soul. And I arrived in situations with an entirely different presence. But I also noticed something else. My handwriting was different.

The notes I took before were hurried, scattered, barely legible. Now my handwriting was certain, clear, ordered and easily followed. I realized the correlation to my presence. When walking calmly I arrived to a scene clear, ordered, and calm which communicated to family and staff that despite the current emergency “All manner of things shall be well” ~ Julian of Norwich. Even in the intense, crazy, fearfulness of emergency, the patient, staff, and family are not alone. It is my job to companion everyone in a time of suffering.

Until this experience I never even thought to consider that the product of my body interacting in this world, one of which is handwriting, can also inform me of my physiology. I wonder what could change for me if I began to take my handwriting as another signal about my well-being?

What about you? Any other outputs that might be a signal for you?

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