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Entries in Anxiety (6)


Don't be afraid of the big bad medication

There is a particular shame in the Church when one has depression or anxiety. When I was under the weight of a very bad bout, I was afraid to tell anyone. I remember distinctly sitting in a class of women, ready to teach, and struggling with the fact that the pants I was wearing that day had become baggy due the weight I had lost without trying. What did that mean? Was I dying? The anxiety overwhelmed me, and all I could do was pray that I would make it through the lesson. No one in the room knew what was going on inside of me. Even telling some family members was something I did not want to do.

When people know we have anxiety, we get labelled. When my son was married in August, two days before his wedding, I had a very bad gastrointestinal virus. There I was, two days before the wedding, wondering if I was going to end up running out of the church auditorium in the middle of the service to toss my cookies. When I mentioned my illness to someone who knows I struggle with anxiety, her automatic comment was "It's anxiety." She even recommended I go back on my medication.

Yes, I took medication during the worst of my anxiety. That is also something one must be afraid to admit. When people hear that you're taking medication, they may react negatively. There are some who believe that by taking medication, we are denying God's sufficiency; that it is admitting that we don't trust God. Some Christians want to say that all mental illness is false; that it's just our sin. I thank God today that someone suggested I go on medication. It was the difference between cowering in my house, afraid to leave it, and being able to have people in to visit. It meant not being afraid to drive somewhere. It meant my husband didn't have to work at home many mornings because I hated being alone. Praise God that I have been able to wean myself from my medication, but I'm thankful I had it. 

I'm also thankful for voices like Shona Murray's. She, along with her husband, David, has written a book called Refresh. I recently bought it for Kindle, and when I have some downtime from school, I want to read it and review it at Out of the Ordinary. Shona has written an article for the Crossway blog where she talks about what she learned during her struggle with depression and anxiety. I was so grateful to her for sharing that she is not afraid of taking medication. 

We need more women like Shona who will share these things with us. It helps to remove the stigma of this struggle. If we're ashamed, we might not seek help, and that can't be good for us or our families. For many weeks, I denied that I was struggling with anxiety. I was ashamed and embarrassed. When I was able to share those details with someone, it was a huge relief. 

I am thankful for the men and women who will share their experiences.

NOTE: In the original post, I drew a comparison between how people suffering anxiety are treated more harshly than those who may suffer from weight management issues. I received feedback, suggesting that the comment was insensitive, and upon reflection, I agree, so I have removed the comment.


Because he doesn't want me to grow

On my first day of seminary, I woke up and did not want to go. Despite wanting this for a long time, and despite the fact that I had support from my husband and closest friends, I cried, because I did not want to go. Even as I drove that morning, my stomach was in knots. My first seminary class occurred right in the middle of the worst part of my first really bad bout with anxiety.

I've always tended toward being anxious, but this was much worse than what I'd known before. There were many physical symptoms, and it was simply beyond me. I made it through that class and only through God was I able to get the work done. The class was on writing Bible study curriculum, and one of the studies I wrote had to do with what Scripture said about being anxious, so it was therapeutic. 

I don't know if I'm much wiser than I was two years ago, but I am on the other side of that time. I am not a fool, and I know that I cannot be complacent. I must recognize what triggers my anxiety and deal accordingly with it. Interestingly enough, in the past couple of weeks, I have felt the weight of burdens encroaching on my heart; the kinds of things that can trigger anxiety. And it's the beginning of another semester of school.

Two years ago, a very good friend who understands anxiety well, shared with me that she really believed that Satan does not want me in seminary. He does not want me to have a theological education or growing in the things of God. I thought about that recently when I was studying my Greek vocabulary and my mind began to wander to things I cannot change. I have to learn is how to shut the door on things that are simply going to drag me down.

I've always wanted to fix everything. It bothers me to leave things unresolved. I don't like arguments festering. I want resolution now! That isn't always possible. Sitting and waiting is difficult. We feel powerless; or, rather, we confront our powerlessness. Shutting the door on things goes against what I really want to do. That is probably a good thing. As I sat at my desk, allowing myself to be distracted, I had to mentally picture myself shutting a door to the burdens that I can't resolve. I don't pretend they're not there, and I do have to acknowledge them, but not every day, and definitely not when I have other things to do.

I think Satan wants me to open the door to that closet more often, because then I can start to feel hopeless and discouraged. Then I can start to blame others for things that have happened, or I can blame myself, and make it seem as if I'm the centre of everything. Yes, he wants me to do that because that distracts me from simply trusting God. Fortunately, learning Greek is very methodical and demands memorization. Translating sentences, even the small ones we're beginning with this week, is like solving a puzzle, and that re-focuses me. I will stay in seminary if only to keep my mind from wandering to places where it ought not go. If I'm still having trouble concentrating after Greek is done, I'll just take Hebrew.

God's ultimate goal for me is to be conformed to the image of his son. Burdens have a way of making that happen or they can be a way of ensuring that it doesn't. We don't often talk about Satan in the church these days. But he's real, and he likes it when we're weak. I feel like it's no co-incidence that these burdens are plaguing me now. I must remember the truth: greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world.


Anxiety and Scaffolding

Last Monday, Adam Ford wrote a guest post about his experience with anxiety. It was well-received (as someone who struggles with this, I appreciated it), and Tim shared some responses to the post this morning. Some of those responses elicited a nod of support from me, and some of them led me to say aloud "wow, wow, wow." I am not here to respond to the individual responses, but I will say this: the connection between the physical and the emotional is more complex than we know, and to accuse an acutely depressed person of not really being ill because there is no blood test for it reflects ignorance and a lack of mercy. There is no blood test for stupidity, either, only behavioural evidence, but we know it exists. 

The issue of using medication for mental illness is still rather controversial. There are people who would shame those who use medication. I suspect those who would do so have never struggled with crippling anxiety; the kind that makes you afraid to be alone or not want to leave your house. A number of years ago, when I was teaching a ladies' bible study, there was a woman who struggled with anxiety and depression, and I made a comment that reflected my ignorance and lack of empathy. She called me on it, and I will always be grateful for her courage to confront me. In our conversastion, she shared with me a useful analogy. Medication is like scaffolding. It gives individuals support as they engage in the work of repair. How can someone who can barely get out of bed meditate on words of Scripture? She told me that medication helped her see things more clearly, so that she could identify how her patterns of thinking were contributing to her situation.

Every case of anxiety is different, but we tend to paint everyone with a broad brush. I think that is unwise. I have never struggled with being overweight. If I have put it on, I have been able to take it off again. Not every woman is the same. Some have different physical conditions, predispositions, and metabolisms. Every anxiety and depression sufferer has a different situation. There is no "one size fits all" approach to the matter, and we need to remember that if we're going to be remotely understanding.

If you can deal with your anxiety without medication, then praise God for it. But don't condemen someone who needs it. I suspect that those who take it already feel a certain amount of defeat as it is. No need to kick a brother or sister when they are down.


Before you advise someone with anxiety . . . 

. . . ask yourself if he/she is ready to hear what you're saying.

This past week, I read an interesting article about anxiety, written by Justin Taylor at the Gospel Coalition. The title, 8 Arguments for Why You Should Be Anxious Today, was provocative, so I clicked on it. For some people who struggle with anxiety, it would be an excellent resource. For some, it would only drive them to being more anxious.

I found the approach, speculating (albeit facetiously, I assume) about whether or not anxiety is "worth it" a little perplexing. Notions of "worth," whether serious or not, don't enter the mind of someone struggling with anxiety. It just happens. Believe it or not, people don't choose to feel anxious. They choose how to cope with it, but even then, it's not always as easy as some (probably the people who have never struggled with it) make it out to be. Anxiety is like a lion inside, waiting to roar, and we often don't know when that's coming.

I have had out of control anxiety. I suspect that I will continue to be sensitive in this area. This time, last year, had I read Justin Taylor's article, I would have thrown something through my monitor. The truth is that anxious Christans, those who struggle on an ongoing basis, know those truths. We've read the Bible. We've underlined verse after verse, written them in our journals, put them on index cards on our desk or refrigerator. And we still struggle. We know anxiety is not worth it. Anxiety is not something everyone can turn on and off like a switch. And everyone's situation is different. As my good friend Persis commented recently, human beings are much more complicated than we want them to be.

If you know someone who struggles with anxiety, be cautious about sharing articles like Taylor's. We all like to help, and it's easy to just send someone a well-meaning article. However, if the person's anxiety is out of control, it may be like talking to a wall. They may think you are not very sympathetic, that you don't understand. Whereas I can read the post today, and appreciate it, when my anxiety was out of control, I would have only felt worse.

Anxious people feel anxious about everything, including their anxiety. When we read the biblical exhortations and feel as if we've gained no success in our struggle, we feel anxious about our anxiety. It gets worse. We feel defeated. We feel like lousy Christians. We need biblical truth, but we also need to get a hold of the emotional roller coaster we're on, and for some, physical conditions are crucial. 

Unfortunately, I think there runs rampant in the Church the notion that there are no physiological issues related to anxiety; it's all just sin. At one time, I believed that, too. I've learned from experience just how much of an impact it has. Once I could deal with my health issues, I was able to benefit more fully from the regular biblical counsel I was being given. 

Biblical counsel is needed for someone struggling with anxiety, but before it will the most effective, the one struggling has to be approachable, and that may mean waiting. It may mean you help by simply sitting with the person while he's weak and trembling. It may mean praying with the person or just listening. The counsel in Taylor's post is great advice, but make no mistake, for someone struggling with anxiety, whether it's "worth it" or not never enters his mind.


The Gift of Anxiety

It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Ps. 119:71) 

It started with physical symptoms: insomnia, tingling hands, chest pain, and a racing heart. I chalked it up to stress. I began feeling uneasy, and it got worse. The unexplained weight loss sent me to the doctor. He said he thought I had a problem with anxiety.

I've always tended toward being a fretter, but this was beyond anything I'd experienced. And as a Christian, there was that immediate sense of shame: how can you be anxious when you're a Christian? I was reluctant to tell people, and hoped it didn't show. When a woman faces something like diabetes or arthritis, there is not a sense of shame. It's not always the case with anxiety.

Christians who struggle with anxiety know what the bible says about it. We know what the verses say, and we take them like little pills. Take a dose of Philippians 4:6; how about a little Matthew 6:25-27; perhaps some Luke 22:22-34. Everything is okay now, right?

The trouble is that the head knows things the body doesn't often want to co-operate with. We forget that even though we are born again by the Spirit, we are still trapped in bodies of flesh, and bodies of flesh do struggle with anxiety. The fact that we can't get our anxiety under control causes more anxiety. It's a vicious circle. Anxiety is an unwelcome invader who arrives when you least expect him. 

I call anxiety a gift because it was a huge wake-up call for me; a wake-up call about what is really important. We lose the fear of man very quickly when we're just trying to get through a day without a melt down. We turn to God and take stock of things. At least, that is what I did. I didn't know any other way, really. I lost interest in many things I enjoy, but when I let them go, and saw that there was life on the other side, I realized how much time I'd wasted on fleeting fancies. It was a gift because it drove me to my sympathetic high priest who can offer help in the time of need.

Anxiety has taught me a lot about compassion. It has taught me that mental illness is not as black and white as we think. And it taught me that the church has a long way to go toward understanding it and helping its sufferers through it. There is a lot of misunderstanding about it. When a woman struggles with impatience, pride, or selfishness, we want to help. We know it takes time. But when it's anxiety, it's as if we think handing out a verse and reminding her that anxiety is a sin will be an automatic cure. It isn't. I feel great right now, and when I ran into my family doctor recently he asked me if I felt as good as I looked. But another thing I learned was the fleeting nature of feeling good. As I said, anxiety is the unwelcome invader, and invaders don't tell you ahead of time that they're coming.

I'm not sharing this to get sympathy. And I even debated about writing about it because I know there are a lot of Christians out there who would immediately question my faith; I will be considered "weak." Believe me, I questioned my faith, and I am still hesitant about admitting my struggle. I'm sharing this because anxiety is not an uncommon thing for women; it's more common than you think. And I'm positive that there are women out there who are struggling with this silently because of the stigma attached to it.

Perhaps you're a woman who struggles with anxiety, and you feel alone. Perhaps you're afraid to confess it to anyone but your own family members. Perhaps you think you could not possibly be saved because you have panic attacks. Do not give into those thoughts. Satan wants you to doubt your salvation. And when we are weak, we are even more susceptible to believing lies. Find someone to talk to and get help. 

Here are some quick suggestions: 

  • Get out and get exercise. Even if it's only ten minutes, go out and walk.
  • Try to be with people. Being alone feeds the tendency to dwell on things.
  • See your doctor. There could be many things contributing to your anxiety.
  • Pray. Even when you don't feel like it, pray.
  • Read your bible. Read the Psalms. They are full of comfort and reminders of who God is. 

If you're a reader, here are some books I recommend. 

Running Scared, Ed Welch
Living Without Worry, Tim Lane
Anxiety: Anatomy and Cure, Bob Kelleman 

If you're reading this and you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I'm not an expert, but I understand how frustrating this can be.