I would love to say that my experience with anxiety has been a one-time event – this is what happened and why I felt that way, what I did to fix it, and now it’s all better. It’s never easy to talk about anxiety, but at least there would be a start and a finish with a lesson in between. For me, it’s been more of an ongoing issue. I’ve had anxiety in different contexts through my adult life – sometimes not at all and at other times more marked. At times, it’s been in relation to a stressful life event – my father’s death six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, an accident that injured one of my girls, even the birth of each new baby in our family brought challenges. At other times, I have started to feel anxious and have no idea what could be causing it. It’s a sense of not feeling safe – that something bad could happen.
As I’ve read about anxiety and talked to others through the years, it has helped in many ways. First, to realize that I’m not the only one who experiences it. We all live with anxiety to some degree. And, let’s face it, some anxiety is good and necessary in life. If you ran headlong into everything you could hurt yourself or get into trouble. The question is how to have a measured response – some caution or reasoning without avoiding the activity altogether. Some people can do this easily. For others, like myself, the feelings of anxiety can try to take over to where you don’t want to experience them at all. You can then begin to retreat from things that trigger those emotions. That leads to the second thing I’ve learned about anxiety in my life – If I just do the thing that I’m anxious about, the feelings of anxiety lessen over time. For example, when I first started doing triathlons I had a lot of fear with swimming in the open water. I did not swim growing up and learned at age 26. It just wasn’t in my comfort zone to swim in a lake where I couldn’t touch the bottom or grab on to the side. Over the years though, as I have done this more and more, it’s gotten easier. I would not say I have no fear at all, but it’s much more manageable. Third, I’ve learned that as hard as it is to have anxiety in my life, it’s good for me. It keeps me humble and relying on my faith in God, not myself. Having a weakness like that also develops empathy in me for others and their issues – whether they are similar to mine or not.
I would say that the challenge in life is not avoiding our weaknesses, or pretending they don’t exist, but accepting them, and living a full and satisfying life in spite of them. Each experience is valuable – the positive and the negative – for growth and for helping others. One of my favorite Bible verses sums it up this way in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where Paul writes: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.