My Dear Son,
Anxiety is a thief. It sneaks in and robs us of peace, and the overall sense of well-being. It steals sweet sleep replacing it with hours of clock-watching worry. Sometimes it captures actual breath, replacing oxygen with a flood of adrenaline and a racing heart.
Anxiety is a bully. It lies in wait, patiently watching for a revelation of weakness before pouncing and exploiting the vulnerability. It twists the truth and leaves us confused and wretched in its wake.
Anxiety is an enemy, forcing us to draw up battle plans and research medicinal weaponry. It attacks from behind, slamming us to the ground leaving us gasping, clutching, writhing, and terrified.
Anxiety is a liar. It magnifies the mundane, convincing us monsters really do exist, the end is near, the crack is ever growing. It turns shadows into beasts, joint pain into cancer, whispers into pink slips.
In our home, there are two of us who struggle with anxiety disorder.
But it affects us all.
I struggle with panic attacks that often visit in the middle of the night if I’ve been awakened for any reason. After I reign in my breathing and convince myself that my pounding heart and aching chest are not the beginning of the end, I lie awake for hours and listen to the ticking of the clock. I mitigate the night wakings with a white noise machine, a silenced phone, black-out shutters on the windows, and strict instructions to you children to wake Daddy if you have a bad dream instead of me. Inconveniences that add guilt to the worry cocktail I find myself sipping in the throes of it.
You, on the other hand, struggle with outbursts and anger when you feel out of control or ill-prepared for some new event or change in routine. We’re often lulled by our own complacency and are caught unaware when a meltdown occurs, usually when we are pressed for time and ill-equipped to deal with the fall-out. The whole house is up-ended and you are left exhausted, sullen, and scared. We try to mitigate the meltdowns with calendars, daily schedules, and verbal notification of what’s to come. But, sometimes we forget.
We get busy and forget to put the checks in place. We set you up to blow. And blow, you do. As soon as your anxiety builds and the bomb is triggered, I realize what we’ve done and how we’ve failed you. I am so sorry, son. I have no excuse. The guilt washes in like a wave, triggering my own anxiety, and the cycle continues.
I want to warn you, honey. As you get older, there are those who will tell you anxiety is due to sin, some personal moral failure on your part. Others will be convinced your faith is weak. If you spent more time praying, seeking, reading the Bible, rebuking the enemy, repenting of sin, singing praises, and memorizing Scripture, surely you could lick this.
You’ll want to believe them. Sometimes you’ll think maybe they’re right. Maybe you’re not doing enough. Or, maybe you’re just not enough. It’s discouraging and demoralizing to think about. You’ll feel the weight of it becoming heavier, the shame of it almost as paralyzing as the condition itself.
The temptation is to minimize and pretend, to act as if you have conquered this. A past struggle is acceptable fodder for conversation, a testimony, a celebration. No one wants to be reminded of a continued thorn they’ve already prayed with you about a hundred times. The clear message will be that your inability to overcome must be your fault.
But it’s not.
It’s not your fault, son. In the words of Carlos Whittaker, those who would tell you otherwise should “Read the Bible. It’s filled with crazy people like me killing it for God.” Striving to do enough or be enough to vanquish your anxiety only keeps you focused on yourself and renders you ineffective. I don’t know why we do that to one another. Frankly, you don’t have time for that. Wallowing in the why and being ashamed is counterproductive to your purpose and a distraction you can’t afford.
Don’t let them steal your time.
There is a whole community around you with gaping wounds to be healed, people who are desperate to know the God who gets you through. Because God will get you through this. His grace is sufficient for you. His strength is perfected in your weakness. He has not forgotten you. He loves you. He knows you and He is on your side.
I hope this nemesis fades away as you leave childhood behind. I hope this letter is never needed. But if you do find yourself with anxiety as your foe, I hope we will have provided you with the tools you need to cope, to find peace, to love well, to leave this world a better place, and to shine. More than anything, I hope you know this:
There is grace for that.