My Anxiety Doesn’t Make Me Less of a Christian
I usually enjoy following Relevant, a millennial Christian publication. They often provide new perspectives on faith and current events I’d never hear in my conservative town. It brings me hope seeing there are other Christians who enjoy thinking outside of what they were instructed (and aren’t automatically deemed as being influenced by the Devil). Typically, Relevant does a great job of publishing thought-provoking pieces, and I suppose the one that disappointed me wasn’t any different. Their article “Worrying is a Spiritual Issue” by Jade Mazarin made me skeptical the moment I saw the title, but I gave it a chance to surprise me.
Allow me to explain: I have an anxiety disorder. I spent the majority of my life wondering what was wrong with me, why my faith wasn’t enough to stop the physically draining and destructive panic attacks that first plagued my adolescent body. I tried not to be infuriated when people told me to “just pray about it” when I brought up my disorder. Their comments (hopefully) stemmed from good intentions, but only made me feel worse. Going into situations that triggered my panic attacks felt like my brain had waged war against my body, and instead of enjoying things that would be exciting to everyone else (such as the view from the Empire State Building or a high-energy concert or show), I loathed and dreaded it. It felt like my brain was trying to murder me.
Let’s start dissecting some of the statements made by Mazarin:
After all, being afraid and worried does not prevent problems or make us more able to handle them. But it comes from a part of our thinking that isn’t quite rational. It’s the emotional, instinctive part of us that reacts to threats, perceived or real. Our self-preservation instincts can hijack our rational mind and tell it what to think.
This is where I had hope the article wouldn’t turn into something problematic because it’s correct. My own self-preservation instincts love going into overdrive. They love telling me I’m going to die from a panic attack (even though no one ever has).
Truth be told, we hold on to our habits because we believe we are benefiting from them. We might be sick of worrying and want nothing to do with the behavior, but if we’re still doing it, we won’t fully let go unless we convince — and I mean fully convince — ourselves that we don’t need to anymore.
I suppose somewhere deep down in my psyche, I believe avoiding situations benefits me (for the short term at least). But I 100 percent don’t believe I benefit from my excessive anxiety in any way, with the exception of it sometimes helping me get work done.
We may have heard it before: “Fear tolerated is faith contaminated.” And it’s true. Too often we tolerate worry. We get concerned over other more “sinful” habits, while we forget to recognize the seriousness of worrying. In actuality, this persistent little habit is a far greater sin than we realize. It’s fear that actively doubts God’s goodness and power. It comes from a mentality that we’re alone or God is just at the sideline, and we have to self-preserve.
This is where I started getting irritated by the harmful rhetoric of this statement. My faith is not “contaminated” by my anxiety disorder, nor is it a sin to have a mental disorder. To say so implies I haven’t tried being completely faithful to God or that me praying to God every time to release me from a bad streak of anxiety is just me begging to be released from a grave sin. It is also not a “persistent little habit” but an illness that should be treated as such. This is to not excuse and avoid treatment — I am finally going to a counselor after a long overdue period of time. Which is another disappointing aspect of this article, since Mazarin says she is a counselor. I hope she does not tell this to any of her clients struggling with an anxiety disorder. If so, it could do more long-term harm than good.
Now, this article may have been directed towards those who do not have anxiety disorders. Regardless, if I had been younger and still confused as to what was “wrong” with me, this article would have made everything worse. It consistently implies anxiety is equivalent to broken faith. It’s true, we’re all broken in some way, but our brokenness never makes us contaminated enough to stay away from God. Mazarin does not know everyone’s individual faith or their relationship with God. Mazarin never watched me pray before each drive for safety, write in a prayer journal, sing in praise band, or consider that naturally anxious people can still have a strong relationship with our Savior.
You can give me advice about how to lessen my anxiety or remind me of God’s goodness for comfort. But do not tell me my faith is broken because of something I never asked for.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
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