I was at a birthday party at our local children’s museum, perched on a walkway in the middle of the three-story “play/climbing” area. I stood talking to another mom I had just met whose child was also at the party, while keeping an anxious eye on my 8-year-old daughter as she went down the slide and climbed back up the rope-ladder to where I was. It was very, very crowded at the museum and every moment Sophie was out of my sight and my reach was filled with anxiety. When she came back into my view, I let a relieved breath escape…and then held it again as she’d descend and ascend once more.
I have just a little bit of situational anxiety. I call it “leftovers” from an episode of depression I had 5 years ago that has never returned. I get anxious about being in crowded places, about not being able to see my kids in crowded places, and about elevators (I have been stuck in an elevator twice, once when I was dealing with depression). Not too much else bothers me.
But. As I stood there in that crowded museum trying to pick my kid out of the crush of children below, I was experiencing anxiety. One thing that helps me to deal with it when I am having it is to talk about it, acknowledge that it’s happening. I had to let it out. Let off some anxiety steam. So I said to the mom I had just met whom I had been chatting amiably with, “This place gives me a little bit of anxiety.”
Without missing a beat, she said cheerily, “Oh, I don’t claim anxiety any more ever since I became a Christian.”
Though she said it in a very perky tone of voice, I felt like she had slapped me in the face. One look and I knew she was dead serious. I was completely speechless. “Um, wow, ok.” I sputtered.
*Cue awkward silence.*
I don’t remember how I got out of there, I guess I quickly found an excuse to go fetch my kiddo. Though I know she meant no harm, I couldn’t be with that woman anymore. She might as well have said, and honestly what I HEARD her say was, “Your anxiety isn’t real.”
It made me feel like a piece of crap.
Because the truth is, I already feel guilty about my anxiety. I feel guilty about not being able to fully relax while I’m out with the kids in a fun yet crowded place. I feel guilty that we always take the stairs when there are just a few floors to walk up instead of the elevator. I feel guilty when I lose sight of them when we’re out and about and get freaky tense.
I don’t need some other mom at the birthday party to also make me feel like my anxiety makes me a bad Christian.
No matter what anyone else thinks, I cling to the truth about my anxiety: I know in my heart that Christ is with me, next to me, and inside of me when I am struggling with anxiety, just as he is with, next to, and inside a Christian who has cancer or diabetes. Anxiety is an illness. It’s your brain telling your body that you need to FREAK OUT when you really do not. It’s a malfunction. It’s my fearfully and wonderfully made body functioning in a fallen world.
And it’s real.
So is the Savior who helps me live with it.
Because my anxiety is infrequent and I can prepare myself for situations where I’m likely to have it, I manage it by prayer and talking it over with friends or loved ones. Steady breaths, acknowledging while it’s happening and memorized Bible verses help, too. This is one of my favorites, from Philippians 4:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“Do not be anxious” is not a command to not have anxiety, my friends. It’s a command not to wallow in worry. This passage a gives us a step by step way through anxiety, though: Rejoice – ask God to help me – Thank Him – accept His peace when it comes.
If you need to seek more help for your anxiety such as counseling or medication, Christ will be with you in the midst of that, too. But don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t real. It is real – and God will use it for good as He’s promised, if we let him.