I want people who suffer from anxiety to know they are not alone and there is hope in a Savior.
Fear has been a theme in my life and it’s manifested in different ways. During my 20’s it was unusual for me to go an entire day without having a panic attack. For several years I would have multiple attacks in a day. Not knowing what was happening to my body (Was I having a heart attack? Would I pass out? Die?) I went to the Doctor a lot. I called 911 and took an ambulance to the ER on many occasions. I was sent home with an overnight heart monitor. I had tons of bloodwork and physical tests that all said I was “fine”. I certainly did not feel fine.
For those who don’t know what a panic attack feels like, it is exactly what it sounds like. Total panic. Even though it’s raging on within you, it feels like an enemy invading. Your own body betrays you and you become the outsider. Not all are equal but in times of extreme panic, I would lose feeling in my face and limbs. I would drink water and not feel the sensation of it in my mouth or traveling down my throat. Or a contrasting sudden and hyper-awareness of every sound and sensation. My heart would race. Teeth chatter uncontrollably. Body shakes. I was in desperate need of an anchor. It is like being tossed about at sea on a small life raft with no control over which direction the wind will take me, or if I would simply sink.
No control. I think that sums up a lot. Fear takes over with the realization I have no control over life, suffering, or death. I don’t get to book deaths appointment at 95 after I’ve rocked and raised my grandbabies. I don’t get to shield my children from all pain and suffering.
This fear of loss was not always apparent. I had absolutely no idea why I felt like I might die suddenly in the middle of an episode of Little Bear, or worse, upon waking from sleep. When fear returns, again and again, it’s never something you quite get used to. You begin to anticipate its arrival, but you don’t make a cup of tea, you lay awake at camp, ready to sound an alarm at the first sign of an intruder.
I had people tell me that fear was a demon, so I tried to cast it out and wondered why my faith wasn’t strong enough. I repeated Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer robotically, on autopilot, while thoughts of “what if” simultaneously occupied my mind. I don’t want to die. Or worse be contaminated or plunged into some vegetative state. I don’t want those who rely on me to suffer if I’m not here. I don’t want to be alone.
Eventually, I learned this was panic but identifying the problem didn’t change it. The struggle with anxiety became a nuisance to those closest to me. The ones who could actually see what I was wrestling with. Most often this was a silent disease. Please don’t suffer in silence. They didn’t understand. And neither did I. If you love someone who suffers from anxiety, please don’t tell them to “just stop” or “you’re fine”, or anything that assumes they have the power to fix themselves. Because seriously, if I could have fixed me, I would have. If there was some formula that would ensure the banishment of fear forever, no matter how absurd, I would have followed procedure. Actually, there is a formula. The pure, unadulterated Gospel that Christ has died, rose back to life, and defeated death and sin once and for all. I just didn’t really get it at the time. Also, this isn’t a one-time deliverance. It’s a daily returning to Christ.
Instead, I paced and pleaded for mercy. I worried myself into a stomach ulcer. I worried myself out of going to the grocery store. I began to notice several things that would trigger anxiety such as lack of sleep, too much caffeine, diet, fluorescent lights, being alone, driving, etc. and I adjusted accordingly. I found myself always teetering between a state of dread anticipating the next panic attack and recovery from the last one.
Over time, they eventually started to lessen until I reached a point that today it is very rare for me to have a panic attack. I don’t remember my last full-blown panic. It wasn’t until I begin hearing the truth of who God is and how he loves me and accepted the fact that I have anxiety (and I don’t know why), that my mental health improved. The “don’t know why” part is significant. Because I want to know the how, when, and whys of everything. Peace isn’t in knowing the future but trusting in God. It was not because there was a demon of fear attaching itself to me as I had been told. It wasn’t because God didn’t love me. Or because I didn’t love God. But I do need to rearrange my loves to place God at the top all the time. That’s not always easy for the Christian, surprisingly. I’m very in tune with my emotions and the experience of the world around me. This is real and now. God is just as real and now and although I know the Lord will never leave me nor forsake me, sometimes God feels far off. Also, deciding to do something isn’t always the trick. You can decide and fail many times. It does help, to see all that I love, my children for example, as belonging to God first. To praise him for blessing me with so much to love and enjoy and see God in every creation.
Fear returns frequently in worry, but along with it comes a reminder to turn back to the Gospel. To anyone who will tell me the good news again. To worship. To the Word. As much as I hate panic and anxiety, this prompting to run to the Truth (Jesus) has given me such precious times with my Lord.
As morbid as it sounds, embracing death has been the only way to life. But the key isn’t in just any death. But Jesus’ death on the cross. Knowing I share in his death and sufferings. He’s gone before me. He is with me still. If I embrace my death, what a pointless life it is. I may become reckless. YOLO. But when I receive my resurrected Savior! When I meditate on God’s love for me and the eternal home He has prepared for my family, I can rest in the infinity of God rather than be tortured by my limitations. He’s my hiding place; my solid ground to stand on. He’s the one that lays peace like a weighted blanket over me after a night of trembling. At times I’m too scared by the current fallen reality, because that’s what I feel in my body. The anxious are walking around, groaning as in pains of childbirth. Living in the reality of a broken world while eagerly awaiting Christ’s return.
This sounds counterproductive but I’m telling you to give up. True self-love can only come from loving the Creator of self. Yes, speak kindly to yourself because you belong to God. Continue to eat healthy and workout but give up trying to save yourself. Give up finding value in your job, children, gifts. Give up trying to cheat death and aging. Stop worshiping at the altar of health and wellness. Accept that our bodies are wasting away but our spirits are being renewed day by day. Fall at the feet of Jesus and let your tears be an offering to the Lord. All your fears of the temporal, of losing what you love. Let panic usher you into the arms of our first love, our eternal love, our Father and God.
Anxiety for the suffering Christian can be a call (again and again) to give up and lay at the feet of Jesus. And for this, I’m truly thankful.