A few things got me worried (ironically) as I read Adam4d’s guest post at challies.com recently. As someone who has had clinical anxiety in different forms (and depression also), I felt the need to address some concerns that the article brought up. This is not meant to be an attack but a thoughtful assessment of his conclusions based on experience and all that I’ve learned in my process of experiencing anxiety.
First, I love the overall positive tone that Adam takes. He acknowledges the truth, and sincerely wants people to understand more about those who are struggling with anxiety, even as Christians. I also love that Adam does give the disorder its fair shake of the sauce. Anxiety is a powerful thing as a disorder and can indeed bring doom with it for no apparent reason. And it’s often not the fault of the individual! We all would do well to acknowledge this and realize that there can be issues we really just don’t understand.
But as someone who has gone through crazy periods of anxiety and depression and come out the other side with a lot of healing (emotionally, physically, spiritually and so on) I think there are some things going on that Adam is ignorant to, and so he may mislead us in some ways. It also appears that he has not achieved much healing or learned a lot in this area except for coming to a point of embracing his reality (which is important, properly understood). I sincerely believe that although brains can malfunction and patterns can be hard to break out of, we have the abilities to heal (most of the time), change our brain patterns, and that there are often life issues or patterns that we might not even be recognizing that can lead us into even physiological anxiety. I also want to note that a lot of what I am sharing I have learned not simply by experience but through good Christian counseling and psychological education (with names like Dr. Henry Cloud). Finally, I will always leave room for the cases that are indeed something we cannot fix and may even always need medication or the like for. We don’t know it all, and though I think the majority of strong anxiety cases are treatable (holistically), I can’t say that all of them are. I encourage all of you to at least believe that it can be treated and worked through, however! There is no point in hanging up the towel and being satisfied with where you are.
I was thankful to the “Letters to the editor” that Challies posted, and agree with some of the statements said there. Maybe check them out for some balance.
I will start how Adam ends, because I believe he exposes a root of the problem while enabling it further, and this is a great danger.
We know you’re not blowing us off… But it doesn’t matter
He says, “When we’re struggling… Tell us “it is finished.” Tell us what He accomplished on our behalf. But please, don’t call—a text or email will do just fine. :)” Do you see it? It is a fear of true interaction leading to avoidance of that interaction that surely leads to further alienation and isolation… And at the root of almost any depression or anxiety, as I’ve been learning from Dr. Henry Cloud, are those very things. Adam, you would do well to not only take real phone calls but make them. You would do well to fight through the pain of real interaction and relationship in order to overcome your paralysis. Trust me! You need friends. You need interaction. You need laughter. And you won’t get those things, really, without relationships that don’t just consist of text messages.
Those invites you declined? The plans canceled? I don’t think you should have done so! I know you can’t do it all at once, and there are times you might need alone. Baby steps. But even if you’re actually an introvert, you still need people and strong relationships and true intimacy. Period. We are all human, introvert or not, and we are prone to insecurity if we are without intimacy. Anxious Christians are biblically mandated, also, to love people and also be loved… If you do not have genuine and deep relationships, are you really obeying that command? And so I advise any of you struggling with even slight anxiety – go and do relationship. Real relationship. Not social media, not texting… Real relationship. Start with baby steps if you have to, and maybe start on those relationships you already have that could be quite easily strengthened. Spend time with friends, people you enjoy. Go to parties, or out for a drink or video games with friends. Big groups, small groups, individuals – it doesn’t matter (though you should get all three eventually). You need people.
It might be more of a Matthew 6/Philippians 4 issue than you think.
As I said above, isolation could be your biggest problem (and often is at the root of anxiety and depression). But along with relational and emotional problems, it is very likely in anxiousness one may have thought patterns that are enabling or propagating the anxiety. I’m not saying it’s the main issue, but one might do well to learn some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to help the mind slow down and stop going down certain paths. Like any neural pathways, they can be learned and unlearned. Biblically, we are responsible for seeking renewed minds, and we help ourselves if we do so! Basically, I want to tell any of you stuck in an anxiety rut that you might have more control than you think, and you are still responsible for your thoughts and thought patterns, even if you have dispositions that you can’t escape from on your own.
Coming from my own experience, I found such practices invaluable. I found that I was feeding my own anxiousness every time a trigger came my way. I learned that anxiety in its nature is illogical, and that if I really wanted to deal with a problem, I needed to hit the stop button whenever a trigger came (sometimes literally telling myself “STOP” in my mind or out loud) and refusing to think about whatever issue it was for the time being. Then, when my generalized anxiety was lowered or when I wasn’t in freak out mode because of the trigger, I could more helpfully assess whatever issue was at hand.
My own Journey
For me, panic attacks and constant freak out mode plagued me for months. Depression right there with it. I had suicidal thoughts, kept fearing that my girlfriend would break up with me, felt like I was completely alone, and had major insomnia which prevented healing. Even little things took me to extreme thoughts thanks to the patterns I was in. Eventually, I saw my doctor, saw a naturopath, got counselling, and read some really amazing books from experts on these issues. I decided to take medication for a season and try some simple supplements to help my body heal and recover.
Very soon after taking the supplements and medication, I started to feel more normal again. I was able to actually sleep so that my body could recover and I had the brain capacity I needed. It was time to address the issues at hand, and a counsellor helped me work through some major areas that were affecting me at both deeper and more surface levels. I learned how to control my thought life more effectively, and I learned how to understand anxiety and how to deal with it. The seemingly unstoppable monster that was anxiety had been dealt a crippling blow, and it was now more at my mercy than I at its.
Thanks to Dr. Henry Cloud’s book “Changes that Heal” and some reflection on my recent seasons of life, I realized that my relationships and social life were struggling. I didn’t really have friends close to me that I was interacting with regularly or relying on for help, and had let my stronger relationships from University weaken. In a way, the anxiety was a red flag or alert that these things were issues, but I didn’t know it. Now that I did, it was time to work on my social life and support system. Simply put, I needed friends and I needed fun. I had to learn to actually enter in to relationships and allow myself to be vulnerable again, even though the gut reaction was to respond as Adam4d appears to be – further isolation. This is normal, as in the moment it feels like the right thing to do. The temporary relief, the lack of social obligation or fear of what people might think, or of being vulnerable. But we must remember that strength comes through training – periods of being weakened because of a healthy stress followed by healing. In this case, the vulnerability of relationships was to lead to greater strength. I don’t think I’m completely where I should be yet, but the point is I’m not isolating myself at all. I am building my support system, growing in intimacy with good friends new and old, fighting anxiety and isolation with real relationships with God and others.
And that is my biggest issue with Adam’s post. He appears to excuse the anxiety more than is necessary, and excuse the further isolation which worsens the problem. And he speaks nowhere of healing, perhaps because he is not there yet. Adam, I pray you get there and find health again! And I pray that any of you reading this see the hope that there is and take some practical steps towards greater emotional and spiritual and physical health. It is available. Do whatever you can.