I know I‚Äôm not the first to speak up, but right there in the middle of my struggles, I thought I was both alone and legitimately crazy. I have anxiety. Not the general kind when I worry sometimes, but the paralyzing, every mole hill is a mountain kind. Anxiety attacks like this look like racing thoughts, increased heart rate, tears, and total cessation of rational thinking.
And you know what? I‚Äôm in great company.
I recently bared my soul to a group of friends online. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm struggling,‚ÄĚ I told them, ‚Äúthe things that used to make me happy are insurmountable‚Ä¶I don‚Äôt know how I‚Äôm going to homeschool, write or stay on top of the house. I‚Äôm barely functioning.‚ÄĚ
It was a matter of minutes before my inbox was full of messages from friends in the same sinking boat. These people wrote to me, ‚ÄúI‚Äôve never told anyone this but‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ followed by story after story of their own struggles with anxiety. Eye-widening, personal, pained stories released from these friends just because one woman openly confessed difficulty.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve been on medication for years.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI totally lost it‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI needed my counselor.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThere was no hope in sight.‚ÄĚ
And those were just the messages online; I heard even more accounts from others, men and women alike, and quickly realized if any struggle is real, it‚Äôs this one. There are dimensions of anxiety that we‚Äôre afraid of, and there are antidotes. They may not dissolve our problems entirely, but they might calm the waves while we ride out the storm.
Anxiety is isolating
We closet our issues because we feel shame; shame because we‚Äôre not in total control, shame because we‚Äôre on medication, or shame because we‚Äôre experiencing difficulty at all. I kept it in because I was embarrassed. We want to look like we‚Äôve got it together and life is smooth sailing; but how many of us are struggling to keep our heads above water without saying a thing?
It‚Äôs a little terrifying to admit the challenge because we don‚Äôt know how others will respond. In my anxiety, I never wanted pity or friends to walk on eggshells around me, so silence it was. But while keeping quiet carries a sense of safety, I‚Äôve learned the power of letting it out.
‚Ä¶but it could be unifying.
After individually telling a friend or two in person, a few chimed in with their own stories. I had no idea any of them had experienced anxiety. ‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt want anyone to know ‚Äď friends or family,‚ÄĚ one told me. Even though hearing other‚Äôs stories didn‚Äôt make my anxiety vanish, I was strengthened. I felt validated. And that validation gave me courage to face the rest of the day. I wasn‚Äôt crazy. I wasn‚Äôt alone. Learning that any friend had the same struggles made us closer in our weaknesses.
The Lord uses us as channels of mercy and consolation for each other. We don‚Äôt necessarily have to shout our hardships from the rooftops, but entrusting a precious few with this sensitive information will give us an opportunity to be vulnerable like Christ, and give them the chance to love like Christ. Win win.
Anxiety is overwhelming
We glorify a packed calendar and praise anyone who seems to¬† ‚Äúdo it all.‚ÄĚ Though it is a blessing to know our missions in life, we put too much pressure on ourselves to deal with everything and anything, keeping our plates full even when something like anxiety comes knocking. Beyond immediate tasks, there are the demands of marriage and children, both of which call for ultimate giving of self.
‚Ä¶but it‚Äôs a reason to pull back for just a while.
So I stopped. Everything. I posted on my blog‚Äôs Facebook page that I wasn‚Äôt going to write for a while. I stopped cooking and stocked up on frozen pizzas. I stopped homeschooling and let my sons impress people with their PBS Kids education. Logged off Facebook. Barely checked texts.
Fragile and frail, I stopped everything nearly certain I‚Äôd never begin again.
I breathed and prayed.
Pulling back and saying no to further commitments freed me from where I was. I have to remind myself to keep my to-dos limited while the Lord affords improvement; otherwise I‚Äôll overdo it and go right back where I came from without giving due course to time and healing.
It‚Äôs ok if we‚Äôre not all better tomorrow or even next month, but in stepping back and clearing life, we‚Äôll be better than we were yesterday. Right now I have peace in slowly approaching obligations, like my baby learning how to walk. Tiny, uncertain steps are still steps.
Anxiety is scary
I was previously handling my life out of fear. I felt pressure to write for fear of letting myself or readers down. I skirted the topic of homeschooling, afraid my husband would be disappointed in me for not showing the day‚Äôs work. I made excuses for the unfortunate dinners I made. The fears came from anxiety and fueled my anxiety, coming to a head on Easter this past year.
With my issues increasing steadily over weeks, I suffered a complete meltdown after Andrew suggested we start getting ready for Mass. I tried to push through, but I lost my breath and hit the floor. I was out of commission for a couple of days.
That was the worst of it ‚Äď thanks be to God, but this one event combined with a stack of lesser episodes made me realize this was out of control.
And that scared me.
‚Ä¶but perfect love casts out all fear.
In the midst of writing this very piece, a friend sent me this line from St. Faustina, one of my dearest friends above:
‚ÄúO Jesus, today my soul is as though darkened by suffering‚Ä¶The storm is raging and Jesus is asleep. O my Master, I will not wake You‚Ä¶ I believe that You fortify me without my knowing it.‚ÄĚ
When we‚Äôre in the fog of anxiety, it‚Äôs hard to see anything clearly, especially God‚Äôs hand at work. He sustains. He provides. In the few moments of clarity, looking back at ‚Äúwhat God‚Äôs hand has wrought‚ÄĚ (Psalm 143) has given me at least the knowledge that this too will pass; even if I‚Äôm blind to hope, I know the Lord who has sustained me in the past will continue to do so.
With as much or as little faith as we can muster, we can take our hopelessness to Jesus. I saw no way out of my darkness, but he restores my soul and is loving me out of this slowly and carefully.
Anxiety doesn‚Äôt have to be as taboo as it is. Whenever I‚Äôve feared judgment, I‚Äôve been met with compassion. I thought I was alone, but I was caught off guard by ready solidarity. Sure that everything I had going was shot, I‚Äôm seeing it all with restored vision and hope in Christ.
As many the causes are for these crosses, there are aids. Medication, counseling, withdrawing from life‚Äôs demands, whatever avenue you walk for relief, couple it with prayer and dare to make yourself vulnerable to at least one trusted person. Take it to Jesus and show him the pain. Talk to a friend and know for certain you are not alone.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‚ÄėBe strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you‚Äô‚ÄĚ (Is. 35:4). ‚ÄĘ
by Katie Sciba