“I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety” — 2 Cor. 11:28

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…

17 comments on ““I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety” — 2 Cor. 11:28

  1. Louise says:

    As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I very much appreciated this post. I have begun mindfulness practices and meditation and it helps but anxiety still rules my day at times. I agree – it would be helpful to talk and pray with other people who struggle with this dis-ease. In my own experience, I have realized that underneath my anxiety is the desire to control everything in my life. I am working on trusting God now :). Prayers for you, Tom!

  2. Katy says:

    Wow. This is great, Tom. I sure appreciate it. Your sharing reminds me of a beautiful quote by Marianne Williamson “as we let our own light shine, we give others permission to do the same.” Same goes for sharing what bothers us. By sharing, you declare we are not alone, and give us all permission to do the same. Thanks for sharing this, and for floating the idea of a support group. Let us pray for each other.

    Once, my spiritual director shared with me: In that “forest of interior angst”, it’s helpful to remember “we’ve been here before.” Emphasis on the “we” (God and I). Big relief to see that “being here again” is not the end of the story. No biggie (even if it may feel enormous). Satan hates to be mocked.

    Jesus, you know how to navigate resistance. Jesus, you see my heart, not a locked door. Jesus, when evil seems to have you cornered, you slip through crowds with ease. You can always find a way to me, and speak to me so that I know it’s You. With you is relief, grace, life, redemption, a new morning, and the immediacy of salvation. You have promised to be with me always. That’s the only “plan” you speak of, and that is enough. Amen.

    • This prayer really moved me, Katy. Thank you for sharing it:

      Jesus, you know how to navigate resistance. Jesus, you see my heart, not a locked door. Jesus, when evil seems to have you cornered, you slip through crowds with ease. You can always find a way to me, and speak to me so that I know it’s You. With you is relief, grace, life, redemption, a new morning, and the immediacy of salvation. You have promised to be with me always. That’s the only “plan” you speak of, and that is enough. Amen.

  3. clowfamily7 says:

    This really spoke to my heart today. Thank you!

  4. Br. Joseph Donovan says:

    Holy Goodness! That TOP tune is a gut-wrencher. Great idea about a Catholic support group. WE could use that on every college campus…..

  5. oneview says:

    St. Francis de Sales has been helpful to me, especially this quote: “The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering or give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”

  6. amyansaturday says:

    I so needed this! Im on my second attempt at replying so my original post may show up! Some days anxiety rules my life. Music (at least an hour a day) is my go too in meditation. I wish I had some deep theological statement to share, but I am weary! Thank you Doc….you are a Saint in the making! AMY T

  7. amyansaturday says:

    We need a support group!

  8. Catching up from a trip on the postings. Yes, the anxiety can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, the person suffering from the anxiety is frequently “blamed” in the sense that we can be told, “just calm down”, “have you tried praying about this”, “just relax” or “you should be more grateful”. Support could be far better than platitudes.

    • True! This is the case for really everything people don’t themselves understand from the inside. They mean well, mostly, and offer facile answers precisely because they don’t know what to do—or are afraid of getting too invested. I have to catch myself from falling into that trap, especially when people present to me issues I am uncomfortable with, annoyed by or afraid of myself. And I try to appreciate whatever people might share with me out of good will, even if I think it misses the mark. But, as with your quotes, some of them can be dismissive of the depth of your suffering and struggle. In our culture, mental illness, even with all the enormous progress we have made, still ranks high on that list of stigma, discomfort, misconception and fear. THANK YOU for sharing your frustration here. Like your post-name which conjures the image of one who takes what is scattered and gathers it into prayer, may you be for others that gift of compassion, beads2rosaries!! +

  9. Ben Patterson says:

    Thank you Tom for the post. There have definitely been times in my life where anxiety has been debilitating. It is always inspiring when you hear of someone fighting the good fight. I appreciate you and all the good work you do.

    Ben

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