What I Have Learned Living With Chronic Anxiety
Honestly, I have been living with anxiety nearly all my life. But it wasn’t until seven years ago that a doctor finally looked me in the eye and said, “You have an anxiety disorder.”
It comes and it goes. Sometimes I will drift through life for months happily, and I feel totally normal.
Then out of nowhere, it will come back. I have often said I would rather deal with almost anything than anxiety. It is dark, lonely, and crippling. My thoughts run wild. My stomach churns. My hands shake. I feel exhausted, yet can’t sleep. The early mornings are the worst. Parenting is so difficult. The littlest thing can make me break down in overwhelmed tears, or lash out in anger.
I hate myself when I am anxious. It feels sinful and weak, yet also totally out of my control. I talk to God more, but somehow he seems farther away. It is a very lonely thing, because even your kindest friends and sensitive spouse cannot truly understand.
If I were to speak back to my twenty-year-old self, just on the brink of Adult Anxiety, I would have a lot to say. Because Anxiety, praise the Lord, has not stamped the final word on my life. It wears me down, but has not crushed me. (Can I say it again: Praise the Lord.)
I believe I will always struggle in some degree with anxiety. But I have come light years in my knowledge of it. Here are a few things I have learned. Perhaps you can relate to some of these, if you too suffer from anxiety?
I have come to accept that we all have struggles - this one is mine. We live in an imperfect world, and each of us bears the mark of fallen humanity in our person. “We all have something,” is how my husband says it when I feel like the World's Biggest Failure. “We all have something.” Unfortunately, it is just not an option to be perfect and almighty. Not this side of heaven. When in the throes of anxiety, it is easy to feel like you are the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who has troubles. This is a lie from the pit of hell. This anxiety is my burden. The one that in his providence the Lord has allowed into my life, and I can choose to deal with it in a way that brings glory to God. It is a waste of time to throw a pity party about my struggle, because we all have them.
I CANNOT CONTROL whether or not I feel anxious. I used to try to FIGHT anxious thoughts and panicked feelings. “AHHH!! I’m so anxious!! Stop feeling anxious, Jessica! Push it down! Stomp it! Fight it!!” This didn’t work at all, and actually made me feel more tense. Now, when I feel the “waves” of anxiety - the uncontrollable rushes of panic, fear, and tummy-sick worry - now I just step back, and note what’s happening. I distance myself from my anxiety. There it is. I am dealing with anxiety and panic. That’s what’s happening. And I don’t freak out (even more).
While I cannot control my feelings, this does not mean I am powerless to help my anxiety. On the contrary, I have enormous power - over my own actions. I will give you a real-life example. Just recently, I was experiencing chronic panic and anxiety. My husband and I were driving the kids to visit family states away. I could not make the feelings go away. But I made positive choices. I chose to play car ride games with my kids. I chose to make small talk, even though my stomach was in knots. I chose to read. To try to engage with others and accomplish things. Not only did I do things I was proud of, that served my family, but guess what? Every once in a while those panic feelings would get distracted away. (And I know this is hard. Trust me - for this one success, I have dozens of times where I mope in self-pity. But we mustn't give up!)
See, being focused ON your anxiety is a dead end. Focusing OUT on other things heals. Distraction helps. I know this is not a very spiritual-sounding point, but it is true. If you're knee-deep in panic, I know what you may be thinking: “But I am so anxious right now, I cannot focus on anything else.” Oh, I know that feeling. But Yes. Yes you can. You can try your best. You may only get through organizing the closet for 12 minutes before you give up. But you can try. You are training your brain to live in a different way. I made a list of of 20 Things You Can Do When You're Anxious. You can probably think of many more! I have learned focusing on others, or tasks doesn't always cure my anxiety, but is worth the effort.
I have also learned that sometimes, I need help beyond myself. On my blog, I have addressed the issue of anxiety medications. I have spoken out about the powerful role that counseling played in my healing. I have realized that it is not weakness that calls out for help, but Strength. I pray today for anyone struggling deeply with anxiety, that you would know where to reach for help!
And finally, and this is the very most important part. I know in a deeper way than I did ten years ago, that no matter how bleak things may feel, THERE IS HOPE. Not just in a Pollyanna, rose-colored glasses, "It-will-get-better-tomorrow" sort-of-way (although it will.) But no...It's more than that.
THERE IS HOPE BECAUSE HE WILL USE THIS, TOO, AND REDEEM IT IN YOUR LIFE FOR GOOD.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor. 1:4)
As Christians we have the profound assurance that our sufferings are not meaningless. Nothing is without purpose. I cannot tell you, dear friend, why you are suffering as you are. But I can promise you that if you are His, He will use it for good.
If you are struggling with anxiety, see my guide on The Ultimate List of Anxiety Resources, a compilation of the practical tools I have found to be helpful.
Has your story been shaped by anxiety? Share with us what the Lord has taught you!
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