People often confuse anxiety with worry. They mistake anxiety for fear. People say, “Stop worrying so much,” or “Don’t get so worked up over nothing,” like anxiety is a choice, a result of too much brooding on life’s problems, a consequence of being too negative of a person. In the church, anxiety can be misdiagnosed as a lack of faith.
In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.
To battle my way through the worst of my anxiety, I have to be a more positive person than I ever would have had to be without it. I have to put so much more effort into hoping to keep myself from drowning. I didn’t choose to have anxiety. What I did choose was to seek help and treatment because anxiety is an illness, not a character flaw.
My ability to deal with the stressful, the unknown, and the scary has grown and been strengthened by my battles with anxiety. I learned to survive with feelings that weren’t mine, intense surges of panic seemingly without relatable cause, extreme physical reactions to ordinary things, and intrusive thoughts. My brain is an encyclopedia of coping techniques gleaned from counseling, reading, conversations with others, and my own experiences.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about my anxiety and depression, and how my medication has been managing my symptoms pretty well for about 8 months now. Despite those positive things, I’ve found myself starting to slip into worry. It’s a vastly different experience from the anxiety I remember. What if my depression comes back? What if my meds stop working? What if I have to go back to the hospital? What if I can’t keep up with my work? What if I just keep cycling through new meds and bouts of mental illness for the rest of my life?
In times like those, God lays on my heart reminders of how He carried me through the worst of my anxiety and depression in the past to calm my worries and guide my focus back to Him. If a relapse of mental illness is in my future, God has a plan and can work through it. And as scary as mental illness can be, I can work to maintain my mental health and do my best to prevent future crises without needing to live in fear of it. I hit bottom and God provided the help and support I needed via medical treatment and brought me through it. Was it awful? Yes. Do I ardently hope to avoid that pit in the future? Yes. But knowing I’ve experienced my own “worst-case scenario” in the past, I can count on God to bring me through whatever the future holds.
“Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me.”