*This is post I talk about my experiences with anxiety as a medical condition. I do want to preface that I understand how broad and varied anxiety presents itself. I am not a professional, a doctor, or an expert in the matter. But I do experience anxiety quite deeply and in a very specific way. So if you don’t have anxiety, that’s fine. But if you do, I’m really writing to you. It’s your attention that I want, and it’s you I hope I do not offend or prescribe, but encourage.*
I haven’t always had anxiety. I certainly walk with it now, like an unwanted and highly on-edge companion that can’t shut-up, but we haven’t always known one another. Growing up, even until college, I thought anxiety was a sign of weakness, of instability or lack of moral fiber. I had a rudimentary reaction of disdain and judgment often found in the midst of cold ignorance. I couldn’t relate. I just didn’t know Anxiety.
And then Anxiety introduced herself, quite abruptly I might add, hyperventilating as she tried to explain between haggard breaths that we were in danger, that we were not safe, that we had to run and run as fast as we could, and that she was here to save me. The problem was, I had never met her before; well, maybe once or twice. After I had gotten into a really bad car accident, I think she would occasionally slip into my passenger seat and whisper frantically that the car behind me was going to kill me, but I never paid her much mind. No cars ever killed me either, obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this.
Regardless, my best friend, Logic, and my other pet, Independence, didn’t think much of Anxiety. We silenced her, mocked her, belittled her; I mean she sounded like a little child, always freaking out from her bizarre imagination. But…here is the problem, here is how Anxiety became such an integral part of my life: this time she was right. I was in horrible danger. But I didn’t listen to her, and I ended up really hurt, more hurt than I knew was possible. And I’ll never forget -I woke up one morning with her weeping uncontrollably on my chest over what we had just been through, and I realized instantly that my world had been completely shattered. And just like that, I didn’t find Anxiety so foolish anymore.
Anxiety was a humbling emotion for me, an eye-opening one at times, because I think before I met her, before she prophetically swept into my life like a torrential hurricane, I thought of myself as a strong, independent, nearly invincible woman. I was the girl who punched guys who called my friends b*tches or took on challenges just for the thrill of it. Logic and Independence helped me accomplish some pretty awesome stuff. I owe them a lot, and admire them deeply. But the truth that Anxiety showed me in the shattered glass around me is that they couldn’t tell me everything about the world; maybe she was crazy sometimes, but sometimes they were naïve. I was living by a set of rules that didn’t apply to the world around me anymore; or maybe they never did and I was just realizing that, which they say is part of adulthood. Some of us just…experience it a little more dramatically. I’m not the standard you should measure your life by, but it felt dramatic, and I think that gave Anxiety a much more persuasive pulpit to preach from, and therefore a deeper influence in my life. The world is dangerous. Horrible, awful things happen here. There were moments, that as a Christian, I wanted to rage at God – and did. I cursed Him and kicked Him and screamed every sufferer’s deepest ache – “Why?”
And as is consistent with the God who is infinitely beyond us yet deeply bound to us in mysterious devotion – He hardly answers the questions we ask the way we intend them to be answered.
After that day, Anxiety and I spent a lot of time together. I think it’s been about 7 or 8 years now. I will be honest, I do not like Anxiety. She’s loud and controlling. She’s hyper, persistent, and impatient. But she’s incredibly perceptive and intuitive. She’s caring, protective, and loyal. But I didn’t always think those things about her; I hated her for so long because she robbed me of all my Logic and Independence. Because of her there were so many things I couldn’t do, couldn’t say, couldn’t try. I remember one time in college, she kept me from walking into a classroom because we thought someone might try and hurt me. Another time I couldn’t breathe or move for almost an hour because we thought I saw a car that we believed to belong to someone who we feared more than anything.
She turned me into a ‘basket case.’ For a long, long time, I blamed her for shattering my world and lodging the broken pieces deep into my chest to stab me from time to time. But as the God of emotion, the God who made the world, began to engage with mine, I felt something shift – fury gave way to contemplation as God began to ask me about the brokenness I felt, about it’s sharp edges and twisted sides.
Was it real? He asked.
What an odd thing to say.
I envisioned myself often looking into this shattered mirror, to where you can almost see a picture come together, but it was distorted; the mirror was fragmented to the point that nothing could be reflected as it truly was. Was the reflection still of something real?
It took me a long time to answer this question, because the hard thing about Anxiety is that she doesn’t contemplate well. Actually, she doesn’t contemplate much at all. And no other part of me wanted to look at her because she was such a terror; but she was the terror that wouldn’t leave. She was more committed to me than any other part of me. And after five years of dealing with her, I finally looked back at my Creator and sighed – she must be real. But I think she’s wrong. I think she’s evil.
Is she evil? Or does she see evil? He asked.
What an odd thing to say.
I considered the mirror. Shattered into a thousand pieces. It represented so much. My life, the world, relationships, feelings, people, world views, and philosophies, but never once had I considered Anxiety to be a shattered mirror. Anxiety was wrong a lot, but she had also been right at pivotal, irreversibly horrifying moments of my life, of lots of lives beyond mine. She saw evil exactly as it was – breathtakingly and mortifyingly petrifying. Dark, disturbing, and deathly, worthy of our panic. Worthy of her screams to run, to flee, to hide. She was reflecting something very real to me, and she cared very deeply that I understood. It was then that I first looked at her, as she shivered by my side, and felt any warmth towards her at all. It was the first time that I had given her any value.
She was a broken mirror, shattered and distorted, but a reflection of something real, all the same. She was the ever-present evidence that I had within me that there was something truly wrong with our world. She was the undying cry of a broken, hurting creature looking unceasingly for a Savior. She was my reminder of the part of the Gospel I considered the least, but needed to remember the most: sin is everywhere and it’s destroying us. We need the God that we left, because without Him the terror will never stop.
She revealed so clearly to me where my idols were because when they were in danger she would squeeze my chest so tightly I wanted to scream.
She uncovered the brokenness of my own sin by freaking out and trying to hide me every time she thought I might be condemned.
And she was literally paralyzed with fear, dragging me down as she fell, when we were faced with anything she thought might hurt us – hurt me.
But here is where Anxiety is broken. I think she believes, or at least she convinces me that the Evil has the final say. She believes that nothing can be redeemed, nothing can be salvaged, that everything is destined for failure in the end, because there are times that that’s exactly what it feels like. Anxiety is looking for a Savior, but she can’t see Him, she doesn’t actually believe in Him. She’s a broken emotion, in the end. Her intentions are noble, but she drags me into a world that God is trying to save me from.
I had a counselor once that told me if I would just give my anxiety a safe, consistent space to speak more often, if I gave it a contained place to voice itself in my life, it wouldn’t control me anymore. I don’t know if it works for everyone because anxiety is more than just a feeling – it’s a product of chemical reactions in the brain or uncontrollable reactions to trauma – but it kind of made sense when I considered what my Heavenly Father had been trying to show me. I wanted Anxiety out. I didn’t choose Anxiety, and not everyone has to deal with her, so why, WHY do I have to deal with her? I wanted nothing to do with her, because I wanted to live in a world where everything was okay, especially me. But the reality is, I don’t live in that world…well, not yet. Anxiety had some valuable things to say.
And I don’t understand why, or how long, or to what extent Anxiety is here to visit with me. She may be a chemical imbalance in my brain. She may be a very real response to trauma. She may just be a part of my DNA or my personality or my environment. Or she could be any recipe of those. God didn’t say. He didn’t tell me. But He hasn’t banished her from me yet, and He is constantly using her to remind me of how much, how deeply and how desperately I actually need a Savior. She doesn’t tell me the whole Gospel, but when I take her before my Creator, and possibly hers, she is a shattered reflection of why I need Him. Because, she’s right. The world is evil. The world is broken, and so am I. There is a lot to fear, because nothing is as it should be. But when I look through her shattered reflection to Christ, I instinctively grasp for Hope, I grasp for the Gospel. As C.S. Lewis famously said, I was not made for this world. And Christ reaches back to save, redeem, and heal me of all brokenness, of all sin. And looking at her broken reflection rightly, that makes what Christ did on the cross, His perfect love for me, all the more unbelievable, all the more mesmerizing.
And looking from Christ back to her, I begin to see that it’s only from inside His arms that Anxiety can be reasonably relieved, right? When the danger is gone, when we are safe, when we are home.
Oh come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all
Let not conscience make you linger, not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth, is to feel your need of Him.
~ Joseph Hart, Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy