It’s ‘just’ anxiety

On the Sunday before last I had a wonderful opportunity to preach at my church. Usually I only get this chance once a year but this last year I have now had the chance to do it twice. I’ve been working on my sermon for a few weeks and was really excited to deliver the finished piece. It all started normally enough but right in the middle of speaking on the sinlessness of Jesus, that’s when it hit me.

A horrible anxiety attack

Panic

My chest was tight, I had tingling in my hands, I was getting dizzy, I was breathing heavy, I could not drink enough water my mouth was so dry I wasn’t sure if I was going to pass out, die or run but I knew I had to do something.

Just a week before that I was in the ER at the hospital just down the road, again, for similar symptoms. The ER thought I was well enough to send home.

See I get these panic attacks from time to time, I can go months, even years sometimes without having one and then I can have 2 or 3 in one day.

You’d think I’d have gotten used to them and I guess in a way I have but when you totally feel like death warmed over it is hard to convince yourself that what  you are fighting is all in your head.

Or as the Doctors like to say “Oh, it’s just anxiety”.

I was diagnosed as having Generalized Anxiety Disorder back in 2008, when I was 30 years old. You have to have chronic anxiety symptoms for over 6 months to be diagnosed I went an entire year.

I spent a couple years on medication and never really liked it. Since coming off drugs 4 years ago I’ve gone back and forth with the anxiety. SOme days, weeks, months are good and some not so much.

Lately my life has been in the not so much catagory.

I’ve had some major stress in my life, my dad got a diagnosis of kidney cancer and he had to have a kidney removed and well that sent me on the latest spiral.

Since my fears always center around my heart health(because I’m fat) I recently went to a cardiologist and was reassured that, once again, it was JUST anxiety.

You hear that a lot when you have anxiety as a mental disorder.

Oh you’re fine you’re just anxious

It’s just anxiety

It’s just your nerves it won’t kill you.

Yes they’re right to a point, panic attacks and generalized anxiety have yet to kill anyone but it’s still very flippant to dismiss the disorder as simply being just anxiety

It was just anxiety that led me to leaving my band a year ago. There were other reasons but the panic attacks and feelings of dread I was having due to the confrontations and stress that I was having in that band were making it difficult to function much les stay in the band.

It was just anxiety that has stopped me from working out as much and as hard as I once was, and let me tell you what I miss it I really do but when a mile walk gets you feeling dizzy it’s really hard to enjoy yourself.

It’s just anxiety that has stopped me from going out and doing things I used to love doing like seeing shows and doing karaoke.

It’s just anxiety that is making someone who has always ad a fairly active social life become much more of a homebody than I ever thought I’d be.

Anxiety disorders may not kill you but they will rob you of your joy. They’ll stop you from doing things you love to do, they will keep you at home, they will make you scared to death to take risks and chances. They hurt your mind, body and soul. I feel chronic pain of one kind or another every single day, the types of pain that a guy my age should not be feeling and I’ve been dealing witch that for the last 6, almost 7 years.

At least a couple times a week I get to feeling so dizzy and foggy headed I wonder if I am going to fall over. My life is changing and a lotm of it is because of the anxiety I deal with.

I keep waiting to get better, keep waiting for the day that will come that I’ll be able to do things I used to do and enjoy them without fear again but those days seem very far away. If I take medication I’m weak and I have to deal with ridiculous side effects but if I don’t than I have days when I feel pretty miserable and I spent a lot of my time wondering just what the hell is wrong with me.

My church, my wonderful church was so amazing and encouraging after I melted down in front of them last week. They have even told m that the sermon was good, but trust me it wasn’t. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had, I’d be surprised if they asked me to do it again.

My hope and prayer is that anxiety will just be something that I can grow out of. My fear is I never will and someday, sooner rather than later, it will make me be a shell of who God really wanted me to be.

Somewhere between what I hope and what I fear is the reality that life is going really fast and I feel like I’m being run over by it. That’s a but the best way to describe it.

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Safe within the ark

No matter your background, your past or current religious affiliation we all know the story of Noah’s Ark. Humans finally mess up to the point that God regrets making them so he sends rain onto the earth for a full 40 days destroying everything that he had made and killing everyone and everything in the process. Everyone except of course for one man and his family named Noah. God loves Noah because he walked his entire life with God, he treated God as if he were a close friend and when the rest of the world turned away he turned towards him and God rewarded him by giving him an escape plan from the coming destruction. He instructed him to build an ark that would save him, his family, and 2 of every ‘kind’ of animal. He gave specific instructions as to the dimensions of this ark and Noah followed the directions to a T. The rains came and Noah and his family survived because of the grace of Gods grace towards them.

We all know the story, did it actually happen? Who knows, I am not concerned about that, what I love is the truth found within the story. It’s a truth that I can hold onto even now. It’s a truth that before, when I heard the story as a kid I didn’t latch onto but now as a man with the history that I have I can.

The story is that life with God is much sweeter than life without, because no matter what happens in this life you’re always safe in the ark.

Now what exactly is that safety? Does that mean that life is always going to go my way? I don’t believe so, do you think life always went Noah’s way? Do you think that he felt safe following instructions from an invisible God that he couldn’t see? Building a boat while on lookers mocked him and laughed? The story says they stayed in that ark for over 100 days, I doubt that felt safe. No dry land, no food save for what they were able to gather before the floods came, I’d probably wonder if I’d end up dying on that ark.

Kind of like how life is when living with autism and an anxiety disorder

Life is not safe, I know this as well as anyone but there something beautiful that happens when you are safe within the ark of Christ. It doesn’t matter what happens.

For the last year I have dealt with one ailment after another. I’ve had unexplained dizziness, I have had chronic shoulder pain that comes goes but never fully goes away. I have had digestive issues and panic attacks and good ole fashioned generalized anxiety. I have had allergies so bad that it feels like I swallowed a golf ball. Some days are better than others but I don’t feel all that great. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been noticing knee and hip pain. less than 2 weeks before my 36th birthday and I feel as if I am literally falling apart.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because it is so much better than it used to be.

Back in my 20’s I didn’t feel like I had any major ailments. I was carrying 360 lbs on my bones, ate whatever I wanted to, drank whatever I wanted to, I gave into my every hedonistic desire and drank deeply from the cup of pleasure. It is probably because of some of the escapades that I am dealing with some of the things I am dealing with now. You can’t treat your body like a garbage disposal and expect it to hold out forever. But back in my 20’s I felt restless and fearful and disconnected and angry and unsafe. I felt like there was nothing to live for save pleasure, there was nothing real, there was only every individual moment. I had less pain but more angst.

If I had to choose between living free of pain but also free of God or the life I have right now with the ailments I’m dealing with but also with the peace of knowing God I’d choose this life every single time. It doesn’t even compare. It doesn’t matter what happens, I could lose my house, my job, life could fall apart all around me, I could even drop dead but it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter

I am safe within the ark

Jesus will see me through every trial, right on through till he calls me home.

Nothing that this world could offer me compares.

Christian Existentialism

I’ve been mulling around a lot of thoughts in my head about existentialism and how I as a Christian reconcile the way the world is with the faith I hold. I am a student of philosophy, I enjoy reading about and studying different viewpoints but I don’t think that’s what attracts me to existentialism, I think the way that my life has played out is what draws me to it.

When I talk about existentialism I am talking about the way that we view the world. How we as individuals deal with the absurdity of life. Things happen that defy explanation and we all have to find ways to deal with those events. This is what is called existential dread and there are 3 classically defined responses

1: Suicide. Every successful suicide has taken place because the victim has felt an overwhelming sense of the meaninglessness of life. They live out the realization that Solomon writes about in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes.

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

2: is Nihilism an acceptance of the meaninglessness of life. It is from this viewpoint that the New Atheist movement(Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al) has taken it’s root. Life has no meaning and no purpose so in order to avoid suicide one must assign his or her OWN meaning and purpose. It is also from this 2nd viewpoint that our biggest anxieties have grown out of. Before the 19th and 20th centuries anxiety disorders were simply unheard of. But in comes the enlightened age where more and more secular thinkers feel that we know enough about science that we can do away with thoughts of the divine. Religion is thought of as nothing more than a fairy tale told to make us feel good about our lot in life and everything in this world has come about by pure cosmic chance. Ernest Becker says this:

“Man is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with atowering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.”

3: Spirituality. Faith, not certainty pushes us toward this 3rd response. The Nihilist would claim that this is only the human assigning meaning where there is none but Kierkegaard, the father of existensialism, defines it more about finding the ONLY thing that holds meaning in an otherwise meaningless world.

How, then, shall we face the future? When the sailor is out on the ocean, when everything is changing all around him, when the waves are born and die, he does not stare down into the waves, because they are changing. He looks up at the stars. Why? Because they are faithful; they have the same location now that they had for our ancestors and will have for generations to come. By what means does he conquer the changeable? By the eternal, one can conquer the future, because the eternal is the ground of the future, and therefore through it the future can be fathomed. What, then, is the eternal power in a human being? It is faith. What is the expectancy of faith? Victory-or, as Scripture so earnestly and so movingly teaches us, that all things must serve for good those who love God.

In all worldviews there MUST be at least one eternal component. Either the universe itself is eternal or there must exist something outside of the universe that brought it into being. I understand God to be that agent. It’s not about my ability to be able to define God or explain how he did this or that, my answers would prove futile to those asking the questions, my only job is to trust and to have faith in that which I have found to be eternal.

So when faced with the absurd, or what might be better defined as the meaninglessness of life, when people I love die or when horrible things happen I can see the separation from that which is eternal(God) and that which is not(us, and this world) God, whoever or whatever he is cannot be defined by terms created by broken, non-eternal beings.  I feel that the reason that so many atheists are unsatisfied with the idea of faith is because they have yet to let go of their stranglehold on the material world. “SHOW me, PROVE to me” are their requests, because to admit that there was something that couldn’t be defined, scrutinized and understood is to admit that the world really doesn’t begin and end with the human and the material worldview. It is to relinquish  the throne with which we can sit on and the alter with which we can put our material possessions and pursuits on. It’s not only out of pride that we do this it is also out of fear, fear that “we’ve got it all wrong” fear that this God of which is being spoken of is nothing more than a tyrant. SO better to believe that this is all there is than to be faced with that possibility. So we live and die and our anxiety grows.

 

But the more I read scripture the more I am convinced that the God of this universe is NOT a tyrant, he is a lover. He is desperate to woo his creation like a courting male wooing his future bride. He wishes nothing more than to take this world into his arms and love us and enjoy us. It is only when one lives within that worldview that the anxiety and dread is erased. I will bet my entire life on it.

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