This is not a particularly theological post, but it came to me and I felt I should write it.
As I’ve shared before here, I have suffered from various forms of anxiety disorder most of my life. For those who have this dis-ease as their daily reality, you know it is not a cross you shoulder but rather a cross inscribed deep within your body and soul. It can be sometimes irritating, sometimes debilitating. And it’s a cross that, for many or most of us, accompanies us the whole of our lives.
The real healing, I have found, is not in finding freedom from anxiety but in finding freedom within the limits it imposes — above all, the freedom to learn to love within those limits.
I had a breakthrough back in 1993 that substantially changed the way I approach my anxiety, and for the better. The doctor who finally diagnosed me with “panic disorder” set me on a path of growth and acceptance that, to this day, remains my daily bread. I pray for him often in gratitude.
He worked closely with me on developing strategies for cultivating emotional intelligence, healthy eating/sleeping/exercise habits, and a better time management by asking me to audit my commitments. When I brought my “report” with me to the next visit, he said (as I recounted in my journal):
You are doing too much. No, that’s not right. You’re not in control of what you’re doing, but letting things and people hold you hostage and run you into the ground. Then you play the martyr. That’s a prison.
You need to figure out who you are, what you in fact have to offer, what you can actually do or not do, stop trying to please everyone and learn the art of No. Decide what’s essential, and not simply what’s possible. Because the possibilities are endless, but you’re not. If you continue on this road of doing the possible, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself for your demise.
Those, in fact, were my issues, that was my unique path, my road to freedom and recovery. Over the years, I have met so many people who suffer from anxiety, and can now see just how diverse both the causes and the remedies are for each. Yes, there are common grounds among us, but each has to be discerned for both cause and remedy.
I have often thought to start a catholic support group for people who wish to talk about anxiety and faith, pray together, share their burdens and exchange wisdom. I could have used that in the beginning, years ago.
I love to use music to interpret my experience, and among the songs over the years I have found that allow me to voice to God my cross of anxiety, the Twenty One Pilots song Goner captures best the gritty guts of my inner despair seeking hope from a God who knows me well (Ex. 3:7).
In those moments when my inner world fragments into a thousand un-held pieces, and I can’t breathe well, I am able to see better the Ghost of the One who descended into Hell to be close to me, and to hold me in my own…