My head is pounding. At least, I think it is. I can’t really tell through the dull mental fogginess that marks many of my mornings. Every part of me feels tired. I’m exhausted to the core of who I am. Which is ridiculous, because I haven’t left the house today, let alone my bed. I know that I should get up. There are a hundred little things I’ve been putting off, and the weight of them is crushing me, pushing me further into the recesses of my bedcovers.
I feel on edge. Miserable and irritated. The only cognitive thought I recognize through the onslaught of feelings that come over me is, “This cannot be normal. When will I get better?”
Welcome to the life of an anxious person.
There seems to be some debate going on about whether anxiety experienced by Christians is considered mental illness or mere lack of faith. ‘Anxiety is spiritual warfare! The devil, attacking your mind’s eye!’
I don’t know about that. It’s quite likely. But that’s not what I’m thinking when anxiety comes calling. In that moment, all I can think is how very, very real the fear is. And how very, very human it feels.
Are sane, normal, healthy people allowed to have occasional panic attacks? By writing about them, am I unknowingly inducting myself into the unspoken hall of crazy? Those who “need help.” As if there’s anyone in this world that can make it through without a little help.
I always know the moment I feel a panic attack rising. They come in waves, some more unexpected than others. Shortness of breath followed by an overwhelming feeling of sheer and utter loss of control.
Each attack is a little different.
Some are driven away by slowly repeating scripture and God’s promises, until they sink into my spirit and release a feeling of God’s peace. Some are more easily expelled, by a laugh, a joke, a change of song, or a warm hand placed on my arm. Some attacks hover; seeking to oppress, and pressing to find a way in. These must be told to leave, vehemently and in Jesus’ name. Sometimes once, sometimes twice… sometimes over and over, in a choked up voice, with a face full of hot tears.
Some attacks sit. They join me in my bedroom and loom noticeably in the corner, like a black dot caught somewhere in the edges of your peripheral vision. Not fully visible, but always kind of catching your eye.
My constant cry when writing is this: Am I the only one?
Whether anxiety is mental illness, or a lack of faith seems to me, an irrelevant question. Humans are cohesive beings. Our mental/emotional/physical/spiritual components are not separate from one another. We are not dualistic in nature.
Our physicality is not separate from our emotions, nor is our spirituality separate from the condition of our hearts and minds. Not that we are slaves to our mentality or physical shells, but the condition of one part of who we are does not leave the other parts unaffected.
When you’re feeling sad, the body responds with watery eyes. When you’re nervous, the stomach often refuses food. When someone kicks you in the shin, your mood tends to turn a little foul. Our “parts” are not exempt from one another and shouldn’t be viewed that way.
How should we handle anxiety as the Church?
People are longing for permission to struggle. They are longing for a safe place to be made whole, amongst the crowd. For all that humans are, we aren’t created to overcome, or even manage life’s trials alone or in hiding. The Church is commanded to carry one another’s burdens, not mask or ignore them.
Let’s start by actively removing the stigma of anxiety and allow people to admit fear without fear of being admitted. Rather than quoting scripture, let us live out scripture with the anxious. Perhaps it is a faith issue. Maybe it’s a mental one. Chances are, it’s a mixture of both.
So, grab the hand of the one seated in fog and pull them out and onward; together toward better.