There are four things you must know about Christians with anxiety. For seven years I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety. It has completely changed my life. I have written and drawn about these things before and the response has proven to me that there are tons of Christians with anxiety who relate to my story. This probably includes people you know. I also know that many are hesitant to tell others about their struggles. So for them, based on my experience, I compiled a little list of things you should know about your friends and family who are Christians with anxiety.
For Christians With Anxiety, It Changes Us
Before I had these issues I was an outgoing, type-A extrovert. I fed off social situations and loved being the center of attention. Today I’m a serious introvert who struggles mightily with social situations, unfamiliar settings, having any attention on me, meeting new people, talking on the phone or even writing an article like this one. More often than not, I just can’t do it. I’ve been unable to leave my house for stretches of time. I’ve almost crashed my car while having a panic attack. I hate going to the doctor or the barber shop. I can’t do small groups with people I don’t know. I’ve tried so, so hard to go to conferences (I wanted to go to T4G so bad this year!), but I’ve never been able to go through with it. I’m a mess, really. If you’re in the same boat, professionals such as online therapists are your allies.
It’s not a Matthew 6 or Philippians 4 issue—it’s a physiological issue.
Pre-anxiety-me would probably have scoffed at this. But having an anxiety disorder is not the same thing as being a worrywart. Most people with anxiety don’t go to the doctor and say, “I dunno doc, I can’t stop worrying about stuff.” Most of us go to the doctor with troubling physical symptoms, and only then do we learn that anxiety is the cause. In my case, I went to the doctor thinking I was having a stroke or some major brain issue. In reality, I was having my first panic attack. When the doctor told me it was anxiety I thought he was crazy or that he was not taking me seriously. I was convinced I was experiencing medical trauma! My entire central nervous system was telling me so. And then this guy tells me I have anxiety. It was surreal. I’ve had tons of people tell me that this is their story as well. This is not the same type of anxiety that manifests mainly as nagging worry. We have a mental disorder, not a control problem.
We know it doesn’t make any sense.
It doesn’t make sense to you—or us, most of the time. It’s called a disorder because it is a disorder—our brains are malfunctioning. We know our thoughts are illogical. We know there is no good reason for our adrenaline to be pumping like we’re running from a T-Rex. We know it’s just the anxiety messing with us. But knowing that doesn’t help a single bit.
Having anxiety doesn’t make us overly concerned about things as much as it makes our brains short-circuit as a feeling of certain impending doom envelops us. Being in an anxiety pit is a feeling that can’t be explained, and in bad times it’s a feeling that’s with us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep. It’s our life.
For Christians with anxiety, the feeling of doom is very real to us. As real as anything else.
You can tell us everything is OK, and sometimes we know it’s true. But the monster of anxiety will still assure us, louder than anything else, that everything is wrong, nothing is right, every bad thing that could possibly happen is certainly going to happen and there’s simply no other alternative. We are convinced we’ve ruined everything we’ve ever touched, worked on or looked at. It’s so real, and in our state of panic, it feels more real than anything else. Have you ever been in a temporary state of seriously elevated anxiety? That feeling that your heart is in your throat and your stomach has dropped through the ground—it’s that real to us. It’s panic. When panic hits us, it takes over, and invokes an immediate and overwhelming need for escape. We have to live with it.
We’re exhausted all the time.
Think back to a very high-stress situation you’ve been in, when your fight-or-flight response took over. Adrenaline flowing, heart pounding, vision altered. You probably collapsed into your bed shortly thereafter, your body depleted from expending all of its energy reserves. That’s our life when we’re going through a bad anxiety spell. It’s utterly draining to get through even a non-eventful day. Many days we’re ready for bed by lunchtime. Our brains are clouded. We’re experiencing derealization. We can’t think straight. We can’t process information. We can’t focus. We can’t remember things. We’re sorry for sometimes being grumpy or irritable because of this.
Please know we’re not just blowing you off.
We know it seems like we are, but we’re not. We’re sorry for canceling plans. We’re sorry for declining invitations. We’re sorry for leaving early. We’re sorry for not following up. It’s not you, it’s us. It’s our anxiety. Upcoming events, even minor ones, can foster a serious sense of dread for Christians with anxiety disorders.