Note: This is a topic I’ve not shared a lot about on my blog. Anxiety and depression are very real threats and I’m here to say that everyone needs to look at it as real. I’m not a doctor or a therapist, so if you are a victim of these, please know that you are loved and deserving of help, particularly if feel your problem is life-threatening. Please contact a helpline or medical professional. You and those who love you deserve it.
I’m feeling better today, but let me tell y’all the past few weeks, anxiety has had me by the throat. I don’t ever really see it coming and I don’t know how long it will last.
I was an extremely anxious child. Everything scared me. Heights. Bugs. People. Sleeping alone. Bikes. Speed. Heck, I still struggle to ride a bike down a hill with my feet on the pedals.
But the anxiety I’m talking about is more than that sweaty palms before you have to talk before a crowd. It’s more than worrying about a big test. It’s more than the nervous energy before you walk on the stage or soccer field.
It’s a seizure of who you are. It threatens to take your reason away. I think of it as a battle between the real me and a person who is a shell of me.
The anxiety of which I speak is the thing no one wants to talk about. It’s the mark of shame for Americans. I often feel like if I admit I have anxiety that I’m messing up. I’m not put together.
I’m not doing all I can do. I’m not trusting the Lord enough. My faith isn’t there. I’m not being still and knowing that He is God.
But let me tell you something. That’s what my enemy is telling me. I’m not enough.
Because here’s the truth. I am trusting the Lord. I am often praying so hard I can hardly take a breath without crying out to the Lord for relief. My faith is strongest when I fall victim to this crushing elephant in the room. I’ll share more about the why of that later in the post, but I think you should hear how this elephant battles.
I’m running scriptures of stillness and peace through my head. Psalm 46:1, Psalm 34:4, Philippians 4:13 and others. And I believe these truths, but in the midst of anxiety, I’m in a war. A really hard war that no one understands. A war without reason. A war with a singular hostage and an ever-changing enemy.
Stormie O’Martian uses the acronym of FEAR to describe this warfare. In her book The Power of a Praying Parent, she called it “False Evidence Appearing Real.”
This war I’m fighting with myself is just that. False truths that I’m struggling to overcome with truth and reason. It often takes a release of pent up frustration and sometimes hurting those I love to get through the worst of it.
Another book I’ve come across recently shows how destructive this enemy is. I can think I have a handle on my latest anxiety attack and then BAM! I’m hit in another area of my life. Pastor and author Rhett Smith puts it this way in his book The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?:
“Anxiety is not content in just residing in one area of a person’s life, but instead forcefully invades as much of a person’s being as possible.”
My recent encounter with this silent enemy put me at odds over my worth as a mother, a wife, a daughter and a friend.
Anxiety is a ruthless enemy too because you often think it’s just a lot going on at once. It disguises itself as stress or a difficult week. But what is really going on is its pushing all your triggers waiting for you to fight back.
Recently, I’ve gone through some really hard times with one of my children. I look at this child and just get ready for battle. This child suffers as much as I do from this enemy, but this child doesn’t recognize the enemy. And when my child is facing this terrorist, I’m attacked even further.
I feel like I’m walking through a rain forest path lined with land mines. And all I can do is put one foot in front of the other and hope I don’t set something or someone off.
Often, when I do set one of the traps off, I’m left looking at a pile of hurt. Anxiety attacks your family. You’re trying to quiet this monster and communicate with your kids or your husband and something as simple as a dirty kitchen sets it off.
And it’s not fair for your family to be the recipient of this attempt to squelch the enemy. But one of the classic signs of the silent enemy is a blind attack. You rehearse the confrontation you’re about to have with your loved one and it turns into a real fight. It turns into a bigger deal than it has to be. And someone gets hurt. Not physically but heart hurt.
And you retreat even more because the enemy just knocked you down even further. You may feel the release of the tension, but you are far from past the attack. Now, you have to sort out the carnage and repair the wounds.
And sometimes those wounds don’t repair so easily. Sometimes it takes a few more rounds of conflict to get to the root of the anxiety. An apology becomes another disagreement. A normal weekend morning becomes a soul changing event.
So, how do you deal with the elephant in the room? It’s obvious that this is a recurrent battle for a lot of people. And here’s what works for me.
Keep the prayer lines open. Pray for yourself, but also ask for others to pray for you. It’s a key defense against this enemy to involve others in your struggle in a healthy way. Even asking for an unspoken prayer request on Facebook is often enough to get your mind focused on how you can overcome your enemy.
Put on worship music and take a shower. I often hop in the shower when I’m feeling anxious and start rattling off a list of prayers and get lost in the mess that is my mind. Then, I feel guilty that I’m not really praying for anything. But when I add the element of worship, I get more clarity. I may not be totally clear on what my anxiety is all about, but I do feel a little more focused and a lot more peaceful. The mindless task of getting clean both inside and out is often enough to short circuit a rampage.
Get regular exercise. So much anxiety is often pent up energy and frustration with this world. We live in a broken world and we’re going to struggle. And it’s even harder to see our kids struggle and to struggle alongside them. Just like an outlet for kids, exercise is an outlet to dump the energy that accompanies anxiety.
Get out of your routine. One of the hardest times I’m hit with anxiety is when I’m faced with a long time by myself with my children. This past week for instance, my husband was gone longer than his usual travel. My difficult child was REALLY difficult. So, we didn’t do our “planned” week. We let the house go a little and spent some time doing some fun things. It made this hard week a little easier.
Get a scripture stuck in your head. I think this is called meditating on a scripture, but I like the analogy of getting a song stuck in your head. My most recent struggle with anxiety has been insomnia. It’s hard to be awake and tired and anxious. So, one night I laid there and repeated Hebrews 13:6 in my head: “So we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
Get focused on someone else. When I’m really struggling, it helps me to help someone else. I go out of my way to find a person who needs a card or a conversation or a prayer intervention. It puts my perspective back in line. The blessing I receive from helping someone else gives my enemy a lot less of me to take away.
Sleep somewhere else. I don’t recommend this as a permanent solution, but when I’m really struggling to sleep, I go grab my sweet toddler and snuggle with her. She’s one of those people who can sleep through a tornado, so I get a little slice of heaven in my arms. Nothing makes me sleep harder than a little one in my arms. Sometimes I just go watch my babies sleep. There’s a peace in childhood sleep I long for.
Talk to someone. Ask the Lord to put someone on your heart who is prepared to help you talk through your emotions. It helps if this person has shared their personal struggles with you too. I also recommend rendering the services of a good counselor. An objective voice can do wonders for your perspective.
Write it down. In case you haven’t noticed, I share a big slice of my soul on this blog. Writing to get it all out there is hard. But I find the most comfort when I’m vulnerable and I’ve found from the two years I’ve had this blog that being vulnerable with my readers is a blessing to them.
Review your blessings and prayers. I’m a big believer in journaling your prayers. It helps me keep an accounting of the blessings in my life. I give each day a headline that describes my primary focus of that day’s letter to the Lord. When I can’t get a grasp on what to say, I just review my prayer journal and pray it back to the Lord. I love to write a scriptural prayer at the beginning of my page and often it’s just what I need on that day. Focusing on what He has done for me and his faithfulness help so much.
Read the Psalms. There were a few psalmists, but David really understood the struggle of anxiety. I love to just open my Bible and relate to him on how he struggled with where God is in a situation and how he is unsure but remaining faithful. That’s where I sit when I’m in the midst of anxiety. I sit at His feet and cry out for help.
Read the book of Joshua. I love the commandment in this book, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I often repeat the truth of this message my first grade Sunday School class chanted each week, “God is with you all the time. Joshua 1:9.”
I find the story of Caleb especially encouraging. Lysa Terkeurst writes about this story in her book, The Best Yes. She writes, “Joshua and Caleb didn’t report back on their confidence based on their confidence but their convictions.” Caleb waited 45 years to receive his blessing from this act of faith. I find comfort in knowing that I need to keep hanging on to the promises of God. If he delivered Caleb, surely He will deliver me.
Most of all, look for the hope. I went through a terrible tragedy as a child. I lost my brother very suddenly and grew up way before I should have. But I can honestly say with 100 percent of my being, God was in my midst every step of the way. He sat with me even when I didn’t really know who He was and showed me hope.
When I didn’t think I would ever stop crying myself to sleep, I did. When I doubted that I could laugh again, I laughed a laugh so deep from my belly that I still remember that feeling today, 25 years later. When a boy at my school told me my brother wasn’t in heaven, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was there. I got mad and it felt so good to be on fire for truth.
I held onto hope because that’s all I had. And that’s what always gets me through to the other side.
Paul says in Romans 5:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
I KNOW when I’m entering into a battle with myself that I’m going to come out on the other side of this scarred but better than before. I know that just like Caleb, I’m still alive and well and ready for battle.
I look for that hope even when I don’t think I’m capable of putting myself back together. I’m not the one who puts me back together. He is. He sends His Spirit to sharpen me and mend me.
The outcomes may disappoint, but His hope does not. His grace gives me protection and a new path. Maybe not the path I wanted, but a new one that’s been forged for me. I never fight this battle alone even when I don’t feel near to God.
This past week when I was fighting my hardest battle with myself, he showed up and showed out. I was in the middle of writing in my prayer journal and I couldn’t get anything on paper. I was a tangled mess of worries and doubts and frustrations and I was trying to pray through it. He sent a text message from a friend to my phone with a much-needed answer to one of my frustrations.
I started to see the light. I slipped off that path a little the past couple of days, but I’m learning to listen to the quiet, but clear voice of hope that’s speaking above the emotions clouding my path to reason and redemption.
So, if you struggle with the elephant in the room, please don’t step around it. Stare it in the face and know that hope “does not disappoint.” You are not a disappointment to God. You are a treasure and worthy of His love and grace. You just have to believe it.