the blessing of anxiety…

Anxiety has been a struggle for me as long as I can remember. I remember being little and it presenting itself as separation anxiety whenever I was separated from my mom. I got stomachaches a lot for no apparent reason, and I would often refuse to eat. It really became a problem though, when I was in middle school. My anxiety would cause me to become physically ill and I began missing an extensive amount of school and failing my classes. I was 14 when I started taking antidepressants for anxiety.

The medicine helped tremendously and I was able to manage my anxiety through high school and my first year of college. I was beginning to consider what it would take for me to wean myself off the anxiety medication. Then, suddenly, I became a hot mess in the fall of 2017.

I had just moved into an apartment with my best friends and I was so excited. Life was going so well. But, out of nowhere my anxiety started to take over again. I couldn’t eat. I would sit in my apartment and outwardly it appeared as though I was relaxing, but on the inside my heart was racing. I would let out a breath of air I didn’t realize I was holding. My back and neck would ache from being tense all the time. I would sleep excessively because that was the only way I could escape my constant fight or flight mindset. I would sit in my classes and try to catch my breath because my chest was so tight and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I would suddenly start crying without any real reason. I aimlessly groped for any sense of peace but there was none to be found. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had such a good support system. My parents and siblings offered wise words and my roommates tried their best to understand, but I still felt so isolated. The thing about anxiety is that it is completely irrational. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s difficult to relate, because, honestly, anxiety still doesn’t make sense even if you have it or have experienced it. I made the tough decision to give up my pride and pursue Christian counseling for a few weeks.

A week or so later, at the end of September I went to the clinic for my yearly physical and filled out the anxiety/depression questionnaire they’ve given me every time I’ve gone to the clinic since I started taking medicine for anxiety. My heart dropped as I found myself checking off the “all of the days” box for “loss of appetite”, “feeling as though something bad might happen”, “sleeps excessively”, “has no desire to engage in enjoyable activities”, etc., etc. because it became apparent to me that I was not okay. I blinked back tears while my doctor went through my questionnaire with me and explained what my answers meant for my mental and physical health. I avoided her pitiful gaze. I broke down when she told me she was going to double my anxiety medication dose because it was obvious that I was suffering. “But I’m trying to get off this medicine!” I thought to myself. “I want to be better. I don’t want to need this medicine to function.”

However, probably one of the most frustrating things I had to deal with was my own guilt for struggling with anxiety. I had respected people tell me, “You just need to trust God,” and it honestly broke my heart. It was as if people were telling me that this hell I was experiencing was due to my lack of trust in God.

I know some of you may be reading this word vomit and referring back to the title “the blessing of anxiety” and thinking, “Alright, Victoria. But where is the blessing in this?” It took me a while to figure that out, too. First, let’s look at the last sentence in the previous paragraph. Would a gracious God really be punishing me for a lack of trust? Well, according, to John 9:1-3, no. God’s Word says this: “As he [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” The passage goes further to describe how Jesus healed this man and restored his sight and how the power of Jesus was glorified through his healing. So, could it really be that my suffering from anxiety was a blessing and not a curse? During this time I fell in love with another passage, a passage I actually wrote on canvases and have displaying in my living room, and that is this:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it [the figurative thorn in Paul’s flesh] away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 8-10

My anxiety is one of the thorns in my flesh. It is a huge weakness. But it is not for nothing. My suffering is not in vain.

I have a powerful quote to share from Max Lucado’s book, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World. I know that taking medication for anxiety can be a controversial thing among Christians, but what Max Lucado says in his book gave me so much peace and eased my guilt so much because I felt so much guilt for needing to take medicine and pursue counseling for my anxiety. He says, “It [meaning overcoming your anxiousness] will require some work on your part. I certainly don’t mean to leave the impression that anxiety can be waved away with a simple pep talk. In fact, for some of you God’s healing will include the help of therapy and/or medication. If that is the case, do not for a moment think that you are a second-class citizen of heaven.

I personally believe that God has equipped those who counsel and those who create medication to do what they have done. If there is something wrong with your ankle will you refuse to take pain medication? Why then, if your heart or brain is hurting would you not take medicine to help ease the pain in your heart/brain? (Thoughts for another time).

Anyways, eventually my upped dose of medicine began to kick in and I was able to use some of the coping techniques my counselor taught me. I was able to function, I was able to eat, and I was no longer constantly on the verge of tears. I could breathe again. I do not look back on that season in disgust, like, phew, glad that’s over! but with fondness. What a sweet season that was for me! My soul rejoices with how much my faith grew through that suffering and I was able to experience raw dependence on God that I had never experienced before. I gained a new understanding and insight into why Christians suffer. See, popular opinion seems to often think that Christians never face hardships because of our faith in God. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! Being a Christian does not mean that you are exempt from hardships, but you are guaranteed that if you let Him, God will use those hardships. We live in a sinful, fallen world, but God has the power to turn the bad things into good things. God used that season to teach me more about Him and to draw me into a more tender, personal relationship with Him. I was able to see His love and affection for me more clearly. My prayer is that God is glorified through this story, and that He will be glorified in this blog post!

Another blessing that has come from this is that God has allowed me to experience this to all the better reach His people! Anxiety is so, so common, but as I mentioned earlier it is a very isolating experience because not everyone understands it. But I do. I get it. If you suffer from anxiety I understand and I empathize. I am not “all better” from anxiety. I’m not currently in a crippling state, but anxiety is still a daily battle. God gifted me with this story to relate to His children and to you and show that, “hey, this really sucks. But God is good, and He loves you and He will use this.”

I truly do hope that you were able to take something away from my story, and my vulnerabilities. Thank you for reading to the end, and I want to leave you with one last passage of scripture that is one my favorite verses:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in EVERY SITUATION, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:6-7

P.S. If you struggle with anxiety or anything else, please feel free to reach out to me! I would LOVE to talk with you!!

{The photo featured above is of the tattoo that I got towards the end of this season of life. I got a cross as a constant reminder of what the Lord has done in my life, primarily when He sent His one and only Son to die for me on the cross, but in my day-to-day life as well. I want to remember how God has blessed me, what He has taught me, and how He has been faithful to me.}

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