The Good and Bad of Anxiety

Ten minutes after publishing the post about my challenge to write for 30 days, I went through this progression:
  • I should take that down.
  • What on earth am I going to write for 30 days?
  • No one wants to read things every day.
  • It doesn’t matter, this is for me.
  • I wish I was a less critical audience.
  • Yes, take it down.
  • No, don’t.
  • Yes.
  • No.
  • Yes.
  • Maybe I need food.
Later, as I lay in bed around 1:00 AM, my brain wound back up. Jolted awake, sweating, I don’t remember the dream. I remember the fear. I just need to sleep, my exhaustion is making this worse. But every minute I’m awake is a minute I’m not sleeping. What went wrong today? I thought I did ok. I wasn’t stressed, I got things done, and I read my book instead of watching hours of Netflix. My body seems to think differently though. My eye has been twitching, my face is breaking out, and the area between my shoulder blades feels consistently clenched. Toss, turn, kick the covers, shiver, bring them back, stare at the ceiling. Repeat.

This is the problem for anyone who struggles with anxiety—it lingers subversively regardless of our attempts to subdue it. I know it isn’t healthy to worry so much, and I know most of my worries are superfluous. But my logical self can’t win over the other side. And no matter how many times I argue with myself about that point, nothing changes.

I have wrestled with anxiety and depression for years. It sometimes wins for a night, or a day, or a week. It corners me into a hole of fear, convincing me I’m “crazy”. Even when I make it out, resolving to be stronger or hoping in the light God has promised, I still think I need help, I’m broken, and I need to get better.

The other day, I sat with some wonderful women who opened up about the anxiety in their life. One of them knew exactly where her anxiety was coming from after a strained relationship with her parents, but she was upset that she couldn’t get over it. She repeated the two questions I’ve asked myself over and over again.

Is it ok to still be feeling this way?
Will it ever get better?

My answers both started off as “Yes, and…”

Yes it is ok. And it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.
Yes it will get better. And it might not go away forever.

I needed this reminder too, but naturally it was easier to tell someone else before telling myself. Although it is true we are broken human beings, it is also true that we are redeemed in Christ. I don’t believe that God curses us with mental illness. I believe that it is part of our fallen nature, and God redeems mental illness. Whether you are a Christian or not, the takeaway is the same: you are still inherently good.

Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, makes a great point about how we reach a sense of self-confidence. Learning to love yourself is not about working hard to improve and convincing yourself that you are worthwhile; instead self-confidence comes from surrendering perfection to the power of grace. It’s like running a race and realizing you finished right where you began. You don’t need fixing, you are already whole in Christ.

Mental illness is rarely embraced in this way. We view it like a cancer that just needs a strong dose of radiation and medication to eliminate it until poof! one day it will just be gone. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work that way. “Getting better” doesn’t mean eliminating the problem, but it does mean looking at it from a new perspective.

Contrary to history, the best way to conquer an enemy is not to annihilate it through violent or harsh tactics. Criticizing yourself and getting angry about your anxiety isn’t going to fix the problem. That approach only leaves deep wounds and scars.

Instead, what if we looked at anxiety like any other injury? If you tear your ACL, you require some major surgery initially, but then progress through physical therapy and rehabilitation. You don’t just cut off the leg. If depression or anxiety tears at your confidence and security, a similar approach is called for. You can’t cut off the problem, but you can redeem.

I LOVED this article on Momastary on Why the World Needs the Mentally Different. The author sums up this idea of positively approaching mental illness perfectly when she says:
     “Help us manage our fire, yes, but don’t try to extinguish us. That fire that almost killed us is the same fire we’ll use to light up the world. And so we don’t want you to take what we’ve got, we just want help learning how to use what we’ve got for good.”

You may not have anxiety, but there are probably other areas in your life that you repeatedly criticize yourself for. Perhaps you are sick with pride, or racked by guilt, or overcome by a fear of rejection and not measuring up. You may be broken, but you aren’t beyond repair. You may need help, but you don’t have to destroy yourself. You may get better, but you don’t need to be perfect.

My anxiety has crippled me, frightened me, and left me hopeless. But it has also challenged me, motivated me, and left me stronger. Because of it, I’ve been able to relate to others who are anxious and need to know they aren’t alone. I’ve been able to encourage friends in dark places and empathize with the complexity of broken humans. My anxiety has forced me to face the hard questions about God and come out with a stronger faith because of it.

Next time something keeps you up at night, try considering how the problem can be redeemed for good. You might surprise yourself with the hope that shows up in those dark places.

Have you ever struggled with anxiety?

How have you turned your weaknesses into strengths?

4 thoughts on “The Good and Bad of Anxiety

  1. I’ve spent plenty of time with anxiety. It is my old friend. I did not know you suffered from that also. You are brave to share it. It’s always a help to your readers to know that they are not alone.

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