Some months ago, I’ve became rather obsessed about anxiety. In “Moving Anxiety to Motivation,” I explored how God’s words “Don’t be anxious about anything…” (Philippians 4.6) indicate more God’s loving reassurance than God’s wrathful scolding. Certainly, God wants us to be anxiety-free, but He knows the best way to reach this goal is not to scare anxiety out of us, but instead to be Present with us, neither taking pity on our predicament nor trying to cheer us up with false platitudes.
One month about a year ago, I only left my basement apartment four times. For worship, and to pray with a brother in Christ. My hermitage existence hit me as I was putting clean clothes away. PJs. Underwear. Socks. That’s it. Friends asked me what I do as I lie in bed all day. Mostly, it’s less about what I do than what I avoid. I sleep. I’ve developed a knack for tuning out the anxious voices within and around me by numbing myself into a thoughtless state. Maybe this is the opposite of mindfulness. I don’t know. But this is what I do. And when I can’t sleep, I am bombarded by thoughts and images of things I’ve done wrong and the wrong I will do if I got out of bed.
“What does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but it empties today of its strength. It does not make you escape the evil; it makes you unfit to cope with it if it comes.” ― Raymond L. Cramer, Psychology of Jesus & Mental Health
Anxiety is not unique to mental illness, but many persons with mental illness have a disproportionate share of it. For some, pills can take the edge off it. For others, it seems the pills numb our sensations such that we lose our capacity to fully feel. Some measure of anxiety is essential. The world is a scary place. We are right to have some amount of fear. It’s only when our anxiety becomes crippling that we can fully benefit from anti-anxiety meds.
It’s easy for me to say, of course. Anxiety is not my primary diagnosis. I’ve only suffered from panic attacks maybe a couple dozen times in my life. I have the luxury of avoiding most stressful situations and hiding out in my basement apartment. Maybe I’m not the one to speak with any authority on anxiety. Maybe I need to look to classic writers who described their anxiety so well. Like C.S. Lewis:
“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ” ― C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
It gives me great consolation to know that a literary and theological genius such as Lewis saw beneath the surface of pop psychology and gave expression to the deeply rooted suffering of anxiety. It is even a greater boost to consider that the affliction of anxiety can actually lead us closer to Christ, not further away from him.
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I would like to hear from those of you who have an anxiety disorder, those of you who struggle daily with panic attacks, those of you who have benefitted from anti-anxiety meds as well as those who have found other therapeutic ways to cope. How has your struggle impacted your faith?