Keeping My Faith With Anxiety
By Felicity Harrison
I have spent most of my adult life trying to keep my depression “under control”. In the last year I have increasingly added anxiety to the mix as well.
I’m on medication for both—which has been an enormous blessing. I don’t feel as if I’m fighting my body and my mind. But I have to be vigilant. Every day.
At first I thought that depression was a sign of a lack of faith: that if I had faith and hope, I would no longer be depressed. I also thought that I could reason my way out of it. I was wrong.
It took me years to come to terms with it that depression wasn’t a sign that I was weak or stupid. It was only when I learnt to breathe and accept that depression is not something I can overcome but something that I can manage, that things changed for me.
And then came the anxiety. For me it manifests in both physical and psychological ways: I have sweating, nausea, shallow breathing and a heightened heart rate. I feel horrible.
This is accompanied by racing thoughts about some aspect of something coming which is insurmountable and horrible, from which there is no escape.
And it has left me feeling hopeless, as if I am at the whim of my body and mind. No amount of prayer and positive thinking helps. I can’t think my way out of this. It isn’t a matter of willpower. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
Most days I soldier on and by mid-morning the symptoms have subsided, I’ve faced what I feared, and nothing is ever as bad as I imagined.
The loss of my job and subsequent unemployment only exacerbated the problem. In a weird way, the experience of having depression helped me with my anxiety. But it was still a struggle.
The thing I have learnt is to try to attach my struggle to the suffering of our Lord. It is comforting for me to know that he struggled with anxiety too.
The isolation I felt could be debilitating and to know that he understands is a huge consolation.
I know of someone who prayed for her depression to be cured and it worked. I am happy for her. But that has not been my experience. I need medication and therapy and hard work to manage my diseases.
I no longer see anxiety and depression as weaknesses but rather as ways to make me more compassionate and understanding of others in their struggles.
I see them as a way to keep my ego in check and to help me see my limitations. I see them as a tool to help me to ask others for help.
Some days, some weeks are harder than others. But I try to see them as a blessing. And in doing so they have less of a stranglehold on me.
I never have a day that I am free from them. But I am also no longer afraid of them nor a slave to them.
And I have faith that every day I will have sufficient grace to deal with what comes my way.
I have to fight the inclination to think that I am alone. I have learned that there are a lot of people in my corner.
I have also experienced the power of prayer and solidarity. The solidarity with others as well as our Lord.
In this struggle I know he knows what it is to be anxious. He sweated blood.
So I breathe. And carry on.
Felicity Harrison writes from Cape Town.