Odd title, right? Well, you’d be surprised just how many Christians deal with these very issues. For many people of faith, the topic is taboo and leaves them wondering, “why is God allowing this to happen to me?” or “is my faith just not strong enough?” Sadly, others in the Christian faith have condemned fellow believers for their bouts with anxiety and depression…claiming that it must be their sins, lack of meditation/prayer, and/or their inability to cast away their cares which in turn leads them to a life filled with anxiety and depression.
From the perspective of one that has been through this battle off and on in my life, I can honestly say that I do believe a certain amount of the battle is spiritual. However, I believe the spiritual nature of the battle is often invisible or less obvious until physical and mental struggles are allowed to fester. We were intelligently designed by our Creator with these amazing bodies that are built with bells, whistles, and alarms that, when listened to, can tell us when we need to pay closer attention to our health or maybe cut back on the stresses and/or behaviors that may lead to anxiety/depression. However, that’s not to say all anxiety is conscious – a great deal of our anxiety can stem from subconscious thought as well.
My anxiety story started about midway through college. I had just left home with a little bit of savings and this grandiose idea of how life was going to be on my own. No more rules, no more worries, etc. Life was finally mine! It didn’t take long to realize that money definitely does not just appear when you sneeze, and I was going to have to find some sort of alternative to continue what I felt to be a necessary lifestyle. My, my, my…the naivety of youth. Along with the financial burdens, I was finding it hard to balance a social life while earning a degree and desperately seeking for a soul mate as well.
All of these things led me to the point where I could literally start to feel my body tense, my chest tighten, bouts with shortness of breath, etc. Quite literally I felt as if I was losing control. I saw a few doctors and nothing could be pinpointed or diagnosed. So, I just chalked it up to stress and kept trucking through life and school.
The following year things continued to get worse. Financial burdens deepened. Some friendships and relationships became convoluted, stale, or meaningless. I began to learn that people were not always who or what you thought they’d be or were. It became apparent that this new life and being independent was not so easy. Life away from home was not the fantasy it was supposed to be. In a nutshell, Life was hard and it wasn’t going to get any easier.
In December of ‘99, it all came to a standstill. It happened. Shear panic fell across my body and mind. My heart raced, my chest felt as if it was collapsing, I couldn’t think straight, I was gasping for air, and I told my roommate – I need to go to the ER… NOW! By the time we got there (about a 10 minute drive), most of the attack had subsided. However, the tremors of the experience were still fresh and lingered for hours, if not days. This was the beginning of a 3-4 month battle with panic disorder. Numerous trips to the ER, different appointments with several doctors, and the opinions of everyone under the sun. Everyone thought they knew what was wrong and wanted a shot at diagnosing the issue.
While many of my Christian friends were supportive, others claimed that they had been through the same scenario, yet their faith and walk with God was so strong that he had pulled them through (without meds or any other human intervention). It was if to say, “God is punishing you…but He healed me. So, there must be something wrong with you!” While this was never verbally said, the implication was evident and these select individuals made it very clear. I was the problem and the only saving grace would be to repair my walk with Christ.
I ended up on Paxil and after about 2 weeks things started to level out. It was one of the toughest experiences I’ve ever had to endure. However, it was my faith in God that helped me through the journey. For me, the experience was not whether or not I needed meds to get through the task. After all, illness of any kind may require medication to help correct the problem. It was having faith and knowing that the actual healing process does not take place unless you allow God to intervene. I remember reading scripture and my desperate prayers during that time asking for the pain and uncertainty to go away. And I remember hearing a still, small voice telling me, “I have not abandoned you.” I held tight to those words and that promise. And my faith grew as that promise was kept.
It’s been almost 16 years since my first extensive bout with Anxiety. There’s been low points and high points. Some valleys have required medication to help endure, others haven’t. But that promise remains, He has not and will not abandon me. During that time, I’ve also learned more about the disorder and learned I am not alone. I’ve read about and met both Christians and non-Christians that deal or have dealt with anxiety in some form or fashion. (Check out http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2013/winter/anxiety-attack.html?paging=off for an in-depth look at this pastor’s bout with anxiety)
God has also helped me notice that this is not a crutch. He has given me a tremendous tool to use when witnessing and talking with the people I meet. Commonalities open doors and allow us to trust, better know, and learn from one another. While the human experience is not a perfect one, we have been given the perfect vessel by which to share that experience. That vessel is the Love of Jesus Christ – an unconditional love that meets us where we are and allows us to do the same for others. So, my challenge to you is this – don’t look at the events of life with a “why me?” attitude…ask the question instead, “how can this be used for His glory?” And know this – HE WILL NOT ABANDON YOU!