My hands were bloody.
I was lying on the side of the road, in the middle of the night, covered in mud. An hour earlier my attempt to fix my tub faucet had gone awry. I snapped something that made water shoot out of the knob like Old Faithful. My upstairs was on the verge of flooding, and I ran down to the street in front of my house to turn the water valve off.
But it was stuck, buried, and rusted shut. I tried for an hour to dig it out, scratching and clawing until my knuckles bled. My wife tried to get me to stop, but I kept going. It’s as if something else took over me, something almost animalistic.
And that’s when it happened. At about 11 p.m., sitting on the curb, I curled up in a ball as the anxiety turned into a fullblown panic attack.
If you’re reading this, maybe you can relate? Maybe you’re even desperate? You want, or really need, answers. You’re sinking. Those around you are “walking on eggshells.” You fear going out or engaging. Some days staying in bed is the best or only option, and hope seems elusive.
Not only have I been there, but I also am there. And I want to help you. This can be a lonely, scary time where the only answer feels like giving up. That’s a lie. I’ve been introduced to the truth: there is hope, there is relief, you can find rest.
How did I get there? Below are three truths that helped me wrestle control away from my uncontrollable anxiety. If you’re looking for a change, read on.
1. Name what’s going on inside of you
If you can name something, you own it, you gain control over it. Think about it. It’s present from the Bible to the birthing room, where you give your baby a name and by doing so commit to taking responsibility for it forever.
The same is true with your mental health. For nearly three decades of my life, I didn’t name what was going on inside of me. Sure, I knew something was different, but I never tried to go deeper than that. I avoided talking to anyone about my debilitating fears that led me to irrational actions (or inactions).
It got worse and worse. Several years into my marriage, it was imploding. My constant anxiety about the littlest things, and my inability to stop thinking about them, was pushing my wife to the brink. She didn't know what to do. When a tiny argument over sweetener in my coffee led to a day-long “episode,” I stared at the woman in front of me breaking down and knew I needed to get help.
So I did.
Shortly after, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. And it was one of the most freeing days of my life. Why? Because I finally knew what was going on inside of me.
Listen, we can’t battle something we can’t see. By naming our disorders, we can face them and fight them.
Make the appointment. See the doctor. Talk to the counselor. Approach the pastor.
2. Medication is OK
I grew up around the idea that taking “psych meds” was unwise. It labeled you. It probably meant your faith wasn’t strong enough. It doomed you to a life of more psych meds. Tough it out, pray a little more, and make it through the hard times.
All of those things are wrong.
If you had a broken arm, you wouldn’t think twice about going to the doctor. If you have a broken brain, you shouldn’t think twice about going to the doctor, either. We have to stop believing this lie that taking medication is a sign of defeat. One of the strongest things you can do is admit you need help.
I thank God every day for my meds. They’re a gift he’s given you, me, and all of us. Take advantage of it, and don’t be ashamed.
But there’s a secret: Medication is only part of the answer. My faith is the other part.
The roots of my anxiety actually run deeper: lack of trust, lots of pride, and the need to control everything. Here’s how that breaks down:
Trust: I’m a person of faith. In fact, I’m not sure how I would get through any of this if I wasn’t. And that faith teaches me that God is in control. Yet so often, while I say I believe that, I don’t act like it.
Control: When I don’t trust, I then try to step in and control everything. And you know what? When I do that, most times I just end up making it worse.
Pride: All of that is ultimately a pride issue. I think that I know best in every situation — know better than you, know better than my friends, and know better than God. I don’t. I’m still learning that, sometimes the hard way.
While medication is foundational in helping me address the physical issues, it’s only my faith that enables me to get to the roots. Addressing just one is impossible. Addressing both is imperative.
3. God is working it out
If you read one point, I hope it’s this one. Because it’s been the most important realization of my life.
Maybe you believe in God, maybe you don’t, I don’t know. I do. In his love letter to the world, the Bible, he reassures me time and time again that the pain, the hurt, the heartache, the struggle, and all the messed-up crap in my life is not in vain. He tells me that he’s using it to refine me, to make me better. In fact, he says that all that junk in my life produces endurance, character, and even hope.
And, remarkably, I’ve found that to be true.
Are there days that I wish he’d just take it all away? Hell yes. But there are also a lot of days where clarity reigns over fear, and I can see how my anxiety has actually formed me into a better person — a person that looks a lot more like Jesus. And the more I look like him, the better off I am.
My favorite quote in history is from C.S. Lewis. He lost his wife, so he knows what pain is. He says that, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
I’m awake. I’ve heard God in the midst of my anxiety. I’ve experienced him. And I know he’s working not just in spite of it, but because of it.
We like things that are black and white. We like clear beginnings and endings. We’re linear.
My anxiety is not linear. Is yours? That means that even though I’ve named what’s going on inside of me, even though I’m on medication, even though I’ve turned to Jesus to address the deeper, spiritual issues, I still struggle with my anxiety and OCD.
That shouldn’t frustrate you, that should give you hope. If I can stand here and say, “I’ve found relief, I’ve found rest, but that doesn’t mean a complete absence of struggle,” it means that any setbacks you — we — encounter are not a sign of failure, they’re a sign of progress. The triathlete that sits at home and never works to improve will never be sore. But the more work he puts in, the more pain he endures, the better he becomes.
In other words, this pain has a purpose. Keep going.
What does “keep going” look like? Well, it actually looks a lot like giving up control to the one who controls everything. That’s how I wrestle away control. That’s how I find true rest.
I don’t always do that perfectly, like when I ignore my wife’s request to leave the faucet alone and instead take matters into my own hands so I can stop thinking about it. And that’s when I end up on the side of the road, bloody and muddy, curled up in a ball at 11 p.m., just fighting to take the next breath.
I need to give up control. You need to give up control. I just hope to introduce you to the one who actually has everything under control.