I was so glad to read this morning that Ryan Reynolds, the actor in Deadpool, admitted to having battled anxiety all of his life. I have been there and it is no fun. I struggled with it for years, never going to the doctor because I thought I was “crazy,” and that I would be placed in a mental hospital. Anxiety feels like constantly being in danger of being swept away to one’s death by high tides that never seem to diminish enough to get to safe ground. But I have learned that through medication and, for me, my faith, the tide eventually will turn.
The constant worry that you are not going to survive the day plays havoc with one’s physical, mental, and spiritual health. You try so hard for no one to realize that you are suffering, appearing as “normal” as possible, mainly because too many people fail to take the illness seriously. In my hometown, there was a mental hospital called Moccasin Bend, and when people wanted to tease or taunt you, they would say you need to be in Moccasin Bend or that the men in white coats were coming to take you to Moccasin Bend.
I remember once as a teenager being afraid to leave the house, and the way my aunt dealt with it was to ask me if I wanted the men from Moccasin Bend to come and get me. Well, that was scarier than leaving the house, so I was out of the house in a flash, sweating profusely with my heart rate at about twice or three times the healthy rate all the way to our destination. I came to understand that I could not to let anyone, even the adults in my life, know when I was super anxious and so scared that my vision would blur and white spots would be in front of my eyes. Through the years, I simply learned to hide the anxiety, which may have contributed to the heart problems I have today.
But, like any other illness left untreated, anxiety gets worse if ignored. I have no clue what contributed to my anxiety, but in the article I read on Reynolds it said that genetics, brain chemistry, life events, or personality can be some of the mitigating factors. I don’t know if genetics would be it, as both my parents as well as my paternal grandmother, grandfather, aunt and uncle were alcoholics. If they were anxious, they washed it away with cheap bourbon, and nothing seemed to scare them when they were drunk. Instead, they became the source of fear. But, I realize now that maybe the alcoholism was at least for some of them a way of self-medicating against anxiety.
I did not use alcohol to medicate against the anxiety, because I found that it was easier to feel the anxiety than to risk becoming an alcoholic, but the day came when I had to do something about the problem. I have written before about spending 28 days in a mental facility to overcome panic attacks. It was there that I learned that when I allow situations and people to stress me beyond a reasonable point, panic comes. The first two weeks here in Portugal, when I was feeling overwhelmed at the language differences, the thought of being so far away from my children and grandchildren, and the the cold in an unheated apartment, I woke up screaming and thinking that I was about to die.
I knew at that point that I had to relax and remember the words that have been my help and comfort every time I feel anxious. Philippians 4:6-7 states, “Be anxious about nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” I simply repeated the words and prayed. My heart rate went down, my breathing became normal, and I kept repeating to myself, “You are not going to die! Everything is going to be just fine!” Finally, I was able to get back to sleep.
It is so important for people with anxiety to get help. Often people of God feel that to go to a doctor or psychiatrist is a sign of lack of faith, but God has imbued certain people with the medical skills necessary to help us. Remember that one of the gospel writers was Luke, a physician! How medicine and lack of faith became synonymous with each other is a mystery to me. But, if anxiety is the result of brain chemistry, there are prescriptions medications to help, and if anxiety results from life situations, talking to a psychologist will help pinpoint the stressors in your life and teach you to deal with them in a healthy manner.
I don’t take any medications today, because I have learned how to de-stress my life and to know the signs when I am in jeopardy of high tides in my life. I know the difference between normal anxiety and abnormal anxiety. When I am about to go into the pulpit to preach, I am so nervous that people can hear the trembling in my voice in the first two or three minutes.
But, through prayer for the Holy Spirit to speak for me and through me, I relax and present the words that God has given me for His people. This is normal anxiety, so I know that when I get to a place where I am so arrogant and not nervous any more, it will be time to stop preaching, as I will have stopped trusting in God and started trusting in myself.
But if you are afraid to leave home or walk out of your house, constantly fearful of death, or always worrying that something bad will happen, YOU ARE NOT CRAZY; you have a medical condition that needs to be addressed. The high tides in your life will eventually turn for your good, with assistance from qualified people who can help you to reduce the stress and teach you to recognize the triggers in your life.
I was once where you are, and thanks be to God, I finally got help. My situation got so bad that I had no choice but to cry out; yet, I could have avoided a hospital stay if I had not been afraid of what others would think and had reached out for the help I so desperately needed. It is time that our society deals with the negative stereotypes of mental health, so that people feel free to reach out and get the help they need. Then, and only then, will the high tides turn and the low tides will allow people to escape into a better life.