I really struggled with what to write about this week. Nothing was coming to me naturally and every time I tried to force something out on paper, it was just that, forced. And then it occurred to me why: my anxiety is pretty high these days, which makes me want to “go ostrich” and bury my head in the sand. (Though, now that I’ve googled that particular phrase, I am well aware the way we use it is highly inaccurate. I trust you get my point.)
So…here I am. Anxious. My heart is racing. My blood pressure, I’m sure is up, though testing it seems like wasted energy. Depression levels are sinking. I’m overwhelmed, under-rested, and would rather be in bed with my favorite blanket and the remote control.
This isn’t terribly uncommon.
In fact, if you’ve ever suffered from depression or anxiety, chances are you can relate. Likewise, if you’re a Christian suffering from either of these or a whole host of other mental health issues, you’ve also been told all the reasons you shouldn’t ever be depressed or anxious.
You’ve heard it, too, I’m sure…
It seems to me, the most-oft quoted scripture I hear is Matthew 6:27, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” This is, of course within the context of a much larger portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus gave his magnum opus in the preaching world.
To be sure, there is great wisdom in that verse and the ones surrounding it in regards to trusting that the God who created us will also care for our needs. I dig that. A lot.
But here’s the thing: anxiety and depression have little to do with those concerns. When someone says they suffer from anxiety, they’re probably not talking about worrying about how the bills are going to get paid. That can certainly be a part of it, don’t get me wrong.
Anxiety vs. Worrying
Anxiety, though is less about ‘worrying’ about things and more about being paralyzed to do anything about what causes normal worry. At least, for me.
Most people, when they worry about bills getting paid, they find a way to increase their earnings, through a second job or selling some goods. Likewise, most people, when their homes start to get messy and cluttered, they take a day and whip things back in to shape.
Sometimes I can do those things, too. A lot of time, though, I become completely overwhelmed and unable to see what next step to take. That leads to frustration because I know I should know the answer. You know?
Instead, I pace the house, seeing clutter and mess all around and I can’t figure out how to make it go away. I get jittery and snappish with the people around me. Even if they try to help in one way or the other, odds are their help will feel threatening and they’ll still get snapped at, anyway. (It’s a barrel of laughs, yeah?)
Christians Suffer, Too
It’s just not enough to tell Christians that they shouldn’t suffer from these issues. It’s not fair to say that because we’re Christians we shouldn’t need medication or therapy and even then, continue to battle with it on an on-going basis. To suggest, in any way, that followers of Christ are supposed to somehow be happy and content at all times, is dangerous and needs to stop.
The fact is, we live in a fallen and broken world. If you turn on the news or look at social media for five seconds, it’s pretty clear just how broken and fallen we are. It’s easy to find 100 things that cause stress on a daily basis without even trying hard.
When we look through scripture, it is riddled with people of faith who suffered greatly and wrestled with their own falling societies and cultures. Moses, Gideon, Jonah, Ruth, David, Esther, Paul, Jesus himself. They all lived in times of serious upheaval and societal pressure. Only one of those listed (and the list is quite a bit larger, just read your Bible), was perfect. I imagine Jesus, though He grieved at the knowledge of what He was being asked to do in His final hours, didn’t succumb to worry or anxious thinking.
But I do. And so do lots of other people of faith. You might even be one of them. You’re not alone.
Stop the Stigma!
The more we address this very real and growing epidemic that is ravaging the people in our churches, the less stigma there is surrounding mental health care. We are bold to pray for healing for people with cancer, but mental disease is the modern-day plague of Biblical times and we run around crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” as though depression were highly contagious. (Hint: it’s not.)
So, here I sit with this anxiety weighing me down. I’m able to stave off an anxiety attack; I’ve learned pretty well how to fight those back. But the general sense of overwhelm and lack of motivation is a very real battle I fight almost daily.
Look, I know where my Hope is. I know who I am and to whom I belong. I know that God has my present and my future safely locked in His hands and my eternity is secure. But that kind of knowledge still won’t help me get my To-Do List done.
So, if you’re feeling like I am today, let this be our plan: one foot in front of the other. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Repeat as many times as needed. Take a nap if possible. Do the next thing.
And at the end of the day, find that cozy blanket and remote. You did amazing.
It came on suddenly and without any warning, in the middle of the local grocery store with my cart half-loaded.
I looked into the basket and couldn’t recognize any of the items resting at the bottom. My eyes seemed to glaze over as I tried to piece together where I was and what I was doing.
My heart was racing, I was getting hotter and hotter. Looking around, all I could see was a sea of people and it seemed like they were all crowding in. My defenses on high, my first instinct was to lash out at the women passing by with their own carts full of goods. I wanted to crash into them. To knock them over, out of my way.
What was I even doing here?
Coming into some sense of awareness I realized that I had to finish my grocery shopping and get home. But if I’d had a grocery list in my hand at one point, it certainly wasn’t there now. My brain kept shouting, “Just get the groceries and leave!”
With no ability to regulate my thinking, I simply started grabbing items from the shelves. All I knew for sure was that we had no food at home, we needed food, and this was the place to get it. What kind of food didn’t matter.
It took amazing effort, but I was able to convince myself that I had to wait at the check-out line and pay for my groceries. All I wanted to do was running, screaming,”Tawanda!” through the doors, but not in the funny ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ kind of way. More in the panicked, I-may-just-run-someone-over-spree-killer kind of way.
Groceries paid and bagged, now all I had to do was get to the car and navigate my way home. But even getting through the parking lot was an ordeal. Everyone seemed determined to hinder my progress. Meanwhile, my heart was still pounding loudly in my chest, my breathing was shallow, my vision was blurry and death seemed imminent.
I’m not sure the exact order of things after this point. I know I ended up at the University’s theater where Matt was working on the production of an upcoming show. Sitting at the light booth in the middle of the auditorium, he listened as I recalled my flash of crazy while grocery shopping.
I was beyond worried. Dad had died from a sudden heart attack just a couple months before. I didn’t know exactly what the symptoms were, but it seemed entirely possible that’s what I’d just experienced.
Later that week as I sat around the large oval cherry conference table, staring into the faces of others who’d also lost a loved one, I shared my tale with my grief group. Death. Loss. Sorrow. These were the only things we shared in common.
Our counselor listened intently as I recounted my experience then quietly assured me that what I’d had was not a heart attack, but in fact, a panic attack. She then proceeded to share different strategies for coping with the symptoms as they present themselves. She talked of deep breathing, visualization, and the simple mantra, ‘This won’t kill me.’
Years and countless panic attacks later, I think I understand better. They still come on sometimes. But now, rather than managing the symptoms, I am able to recognize their onset and head them off before they become crippling. Deep breathing, visualization, and mantras are still my most-trusted tools.
But why am I sharing this story?
Because on a regular basis I meet people who are dealing with anxiety and panic attacks and they don’t have any idea what’s going on. All they know is they feel like the fight, flight, and freeze responses have all kicked into high gear at once and it is terrifying. I honestly believe it is by God’s grace that I didn’t literally run people over with my car that day, 20-some years ago in the grocery store parking lot. Because everything in me felt like that would be my best course of action.
I’m sharing this because if you deal with these or similar feelings, I want you to know that you are NOT alone. You are NOT crazy. This does NOT have to overtake you. And for sure, this does not have to be something you suffer with alone or forever.
Please, if you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide, seek help. We are created to ‘do life’ together. We’re not meant to go it alone.
If you see someone who is hurting, scared, isolated, anxious, depressed or any of the hundred other words we use to convey our burden, please reach out to them. Depression is rooted with fear. Fear keeps us paralyzed and unable to seek help from outside sources. Sometimes we need those outside sources to reach in and gently draw us out.
Friends, be well. You are too wonderful to lose. And you are never – not ever – alone.
It seems like we are hearing about more people dealing with depression and anxiety every day. People are lonelier, more isolated and overall increasingly fearful every time they hear the news. While the stigma is losing traction, depression continues to be something of a taboo.
Listen in as Matt and Brandy share their journeys as they navigate through their own depression. Matt shares the struggles he’s faced as his career path veered far from what he’d planned and Brandy talks about generalized depression and anxiety along with postpartum depression, grief, and adrenal fatigue.
It’s a little heavier of a subject this week, but one that’s important to talk about. If you or someone you know is or has struggled with depression of any kind, you will surely relate to today’s conversation. Read the Full Transcript here
BUT, before we get into all that, let’s talk about road trip music!
We share some of our favorite jams when traveling down the road. Here are some that we talk about: