"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

When anxiety hits


My anxious past
I've been prone to anxiety, in various forms and degrees, since I was quite young. I grew up in Tasmania, in an apple-growing district in the south. In early 1967 our part of the state was ravaged by bushfires, including areas around our town, which was essentially surrounded. I have little recollection of that awful day, except that we were holed up in what I remember as a dark house, curtains drawn against the awful heat of the day. And I remember fear. I know my mother must have been frightened that day, uncertain of our safety, unsure of how my father would get home. I was 3 and a half. For years after that, if I saw smoke in the distance I would feel panic rising.

As a primary school child I got incredibly "homesick", an anxiety that manifested as physical symptoms - dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, jitters. I struggled with sleeping over at a friend's house, and declined to attend a ballet camp because of the anxiety of being away from home for a few days.

By the time I headed off to university at the tender age of 17, I'd managed to overcome my homesickness and quite happily set off for my adventure far away from home. But exams would cause me anxious grief until I actually got into the room and got started, at which point the anxiety would dissipate and I was able to get on with doing the exam.

Fast forward into adulthood, and my first recognisable panic attack occurred the night before my ex-husband and I were due to fly to Melbourne for a weekend - just the two of us - our small boys staying with their grandparents. My very real fear was that we would die in a plane crash, leaving behind two grieving orphans. I almost didn't get on that plane.

A few years later, my dad informed me that he had cancer. That night I spent several hours in crippling anxiety, the symptoms so reminiscent of my old "homesickness" that I finally realised this was what I'd been experiencing, to greater or lesser degrees, almost my whole life.

Cascading circumstances
Sometimes it's completely unsurprising that we respond with anxiety. Other times it seems to be inexplicable and confusing, but probably not if we look closely enough at the cascade of circumstances that lead up to the onset. For me, the cascade has come on more than one occasion - a prolonged period of undiagnosed health issues, a move across the country and the grief of leaving loved ones behind, an unexpected and unwanted separation and divorce. I've made friends with the necessary anti-anxiety medications that have accompanied these times in my life, but I'm thankful that for the last few years I haven't needed these, and I hope not to in the future.

If nothing else, in midlife I've developed better boundaries as a result of these experiences. I'm much quicker to say "no" to added pressure, and I'm unashamed in my self-care. As a Christian, I know the Bible verses about anxiety, especially the one that is quoted so quickly to anxious types like me:
"Do not be anxious about anything........." (Philippians 4:6). Yes, I KNOW!!!!! But when anxiety hits, it comes almost instantly, without time to even think of "do not be". And at those times my frustrated heart cries out "But what would DO NOT actually look like right now??"

What I'm learning about anxiety
This is what I'm learning about my anxious heart. It's actually not so much about "do not be anxious" because to me that too often feels like a platitude that comes too late. As in "easy for you to say, if you're not an anxious type like me." No, for me it's got to be more about "It's okay because I can trust God no matter what the circumstances." Even when I'm anxious, wrestling with all my "what ifs", God is NOT. Although anxiety may sweep in and take me by surprise, and while I may feel like my world is swirling out of control, God has not changed and I can trust Him. He knows the end from the beginning. So for me it's about letting go (sometimes excruciatingly hard).

My assurance
Even if the worst happens (say, for example, my husband suddenly leaving me........) I will be okay because God will sustain me. I know this, because He has done it before.

He is the creator and sustainer of life.
He is faithful.
He has engraved me on the palm of His hand.
He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
He will never leave me nor forsake me.

But............ even if I do die in a plane crash - it's okay. More than okay. Because of all these truths, and because He has promised that I am His, and my eternal life is safe in His hands, no matter what happens to me in this life.

4 comments

  1. I'm sorry that you have had so much anxiety in your life. Anxiety is very real. Have you ever studied the Enneagram? I am guessing you are a 6, The "Worrier". If you haven't looked at Enneagram, it is an ancient Christian based study of the different types and personalities. There is a lot of information to help you understand your type and your struggles and ways to work within your nature but not be held back by it. There are free online tests you can take and a lot of good information about it.

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    1. Thanks for your kind thoughts Michele. I definitely haven't enjoyed those anxious seasons in my life, but I know that through it all God is sovereign, and more and more I'm learning to trust Him even when it's really hard xx

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  2. Your post resonated with me Sue as I have also experienced times of severe anxiety and am prone to worry. I laughed at the bit where you said "I KNOW!" to the oft quoted Phillipians verse on this topic. It is one thing to know we mustn't worry, it is another thing to carry it out. Knowing our God is sovereign goes so far in helping us to "let go" as you put it, and trust that whatever happens, he has got us in his hand. I pray that the next time a stressful period hits for me that I will be able to trust him more than I have done in the past.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, it's a challenge to let go and trust. I'm with you there!! I know that God is faithful and will keep on moving each of us forward as we continue to rely on Him xx

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