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Entries in Anxiety (9)


I have no scientific proof for this

A number of years ago, my husband had a friendship with a young man who was on the austism spectrum. At the time, Asperger's Syndrome was the term used to describe this young man. On the autism spectrum, he was on the extreme end. After getting to know him and reading about austism, I came to understand that it is indeed a spectrum. And sometimes, my husband confesses that he sees himself on that spectrum in very mild ways.

I was thinking about the principle of a spectrum could be applied to anxiety. I have anxiety issues, and because I have had experience with it, and I know the shame associated with it as well as the often careless way people speak about it, I'm sensitive to the topic. I'm learning more about it by reading about it, and that helps. I can't help but wonder if anxiety exists on a spectrum, too.

We all have moments of anxiety. We all have stress which can set off anxiety. We all have ways of dealing with stress. Why does one person handle his stress better than others? Many Christians will tell you that it's because the one with anxiety isn't trusting God enough, or isn't praying enough. That's bunk. I think people are far more complex than we believe, and the physical, intellectual, and spiritual elements are interconnected in ways we don't understand. I wonder if some people are simply more prone to reacting intensely to stress.

I am particularly sensitive to smell, and it really bothers me if the laundry detergent I use carries a scent after the clothes are dried. I don't want to smell Tide all day. So I try to get unscented detergent. I once threw out my husband's new deoderant because I couldn't stand the smell of it when he stood close to me (I bought him another one). He is not so sensitive to smell; unless it's cat urine, and in that case, he could hire himself out as the guy who can tell you where your cat peed.

I would love to have the time and expertise to investigate the possibility of anxiety on a spectrum. As Christians, we are tempted to think that unity comes from behaviour, and that includes having a temperament that never struggles. We assume that the woman who is always smiling, hosting people in her home, and never gets angry, worried, or upset is the prototype of the Christian woman. The woman who is a little more scattered and may feel panic at the thought of having to go out in public to a large gathering of people certainly can't be godly. We talk about the diversity of the church at the same time as we wish everyone was the same. I don't know if we should be assuming that everyone's temperament is the same.

I'm hoping that some psychologist out there thinks about this possibility, does research, and shares it with the world. I'd read that book.


Anxiety may hit you at your peak

In 2015, just when I was about to begin seminary, I noticed myself feeling more anxious than usual. I have always been a worrier, but for the most part, after a few days of churning, I would settle back down again. Not this time. And then physical symptoms began to happen. It was actually my family doctor who suggested I had out of control anxiety.

It is easy to think that Christians become anxious because they are spiritually lazy; or sinful; or apathetic. But that was not the case for me. I was about to embark upon something I had been waiting for: going to seminary. That is not spiritual apathy or sin.  

At that time, I was active in my local church. I taught women regularly. I had a consistent prayer and Bible reading habit. That did not prevent anxiety from lowering me. And maybe, that lowering was not entirely bad. When we are in a place of spiritual growth, it is sometimes easy for our minds to tell us: "You are invincible." Those three words used in combination like that -- subject, verb, predicate -- are deadly.

I was thinking about that idea of lowering as I was working on my translation of Philippians. I'm doing it from my Greek NT, a verse a day; slowly. Here is my rather crude translation of Phil. 2:5-7:

Have this mind in you which is also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God did not consider being equal with God something to hold on to, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, made in the likeness of men.

Jesus lowered himself by becoming human. He was divine, yet he took on the flesh of humanity. That is a kind of lowering I don't think we will ever understand. When we are lowered, it can feel like we are being humbled into someone we don't recognize. I did not feel like myself when my anxiety was out of control. I railed inwardly at myself because I could not get it under control, and I felt guilt and shame. And of course, it made me cry out to God. Praise God, in time, I got better.

It is true that when we are spiritually weak, we are a target for Satan and his attacks. But there are also times when things are going well, that we don't see the weak spots, and we are open to being tempted. And when it comes to anxiety, we have to remember that there is a whole physiology accompanying it. We don't always understand why we have the reactions we do. I don't think we fully understand how the mind and body work together. That is both the beauty and the mystery of human creation; it is a combination of spirit and body, and each is influenced by the other.

When we see Christians struggling with anxiety, we should not automatically conclude that they aren't trying hard enough, or praying hard enough, or reading their Bibles enough. They may be doing exactly that. The anxiety Christians feel is not necessarily linked to a particular sin, although while we're struggling with anxiety there is ample room to sin in the midst of it. My anxiety sideswiped me at a time when I least expected it.

Having had a time when my anxiety was beyond my control was ultimately good for me for many reasons; one of them being that I have grown more sympathetic to others who struggle.


Honesty or indiscretion?

Update, 8:23 am: It occurs to me that this post may come across as an exhortation to remain silent about serious issues like abuse or mistreatment. That is not what I am talking about. Those things need to be discussed, and we ought to listen to those who want to be honest about those things.

When I got married, the man who did the toast to the bride, a man who had known me since I was born, made a comment: "Now, Kim can be quite direct." Laughter ensued. What was funny about that? That laughter made me stop and think, even as I sat there in my bridal finery. Of course, I didn't think long, but the reaction of people in the room, and the implication has haunted me ever since. Is what I think of as honest just indiscretion? I've thought about it a lot.

Discretion is more than knowing when not to speak. It includes knowing how to be honest without being a steamroller. It's a quality I admire in others, but I fear I don't have. I have a friend whom I trust implicitly. I can tell her anything (and I have in the over twenty years I have been friends with her) and I know it's safe. She's a safe friend. But am I? Does being too direct, and lacking discretion inspire mistrust in other people?

Ten years ago, I was at the beginning of one of the most difficult times in my life. And I talked about it. A lot. I said things on social media about it; nothing specific, but references to my sorrow and grief over the matter. I regret it so much today. My pain involved someone else, and I wonder how that person felt when reading those things. To me now, those comments look like they were coming from someone who didn't really trust God and wanted people to feel sorry for her. I was hurt, and I wanted everyone to know it. One of the reasons I visit Facebook daily is to take advantage of "On This Day," to go back to those years and delete my comments. When I read them, I think to myself, "Shut up, woman."

Three years ago, I was in the midst of another difficult time: anxiety. I didn't talk about it, though. I didn't open up a vein and let my grief pour out. With anxiety, there is a sense of shame, so I didn't want to talk about it. Even though that sense of shame was not warranted, I'm thankful it made me cautious. I didn't want to talk about it a lot. I did have two or three good friends with whom I did talk; friends who are in the flesh, up close individuals. I didn't tweet about it. I had trouble getting out of bed and facing a day alone in my house with my anxiety, so sharing was the last thing on my mind. What I did do is pray a lot myself. The people who needed to know did.

Lament is good, and it is necessary, but questions come to my mind: do we lament first and foremost to God or others? How much lament is too much? For those who promote lament and sharing of grief, is there a balance with rejoicing in God? Does our lament look like reading Psalm 13 and never getting to verses 5 and 6? Are we able to lament without social media? There will always be a place for lament, so learning to do it well is a good thing.

I want to grow in discretion. It's a good quality to have. Of course, I value honesty, but I'm learning that sometimes there are better ways to be honest. And there are quite simply times when silence is better. I hear people talk about how "brave" and "courageous" people are who share their grief, and it is indeed a brave thing to do. But there are times when it is just as brave to keep silent, to keep rejoicing in God's goodness even when we are dying inside and only God knows it. There are, after all, people watching. What do others learn from our example? That we should only lament and never rejoice? Especially when we have younger children, do they ever see our rejoicing or only our grief? 


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.