Stop the Car!

stop signAs soon as I promised to write about real help for anxiety in my next blog post, I had a panic attack because I was afraid I couldn’t deliver. I thought to myself, what on earth was I thinking??? I don’t have any answers! I have no idea what helps me, let alone what would help others, with real anxiety issues. As I’ve just let the idea simmer in my mind for the past few weeks (oops), a few thoughts have come to me. Like all thoughts worthy of being captured in writing, these elusive impressions flit through my head while I’m driving, teaching, in the shower, or in the middle of church, which leaves me anxious that I’ll forget to say something really important. You see my dilemma?

First things first. If you’re having a full-blown panic attack, and you’re driving a car, stop driving! Seriously. Just pull off the side of the road or into a parking lot and let the panic attack finish its torrent. Don’t endanger yourself, your passengers, or other drivers. The panic will eventually subside enough for you to continue your journey. I promise.

Next, if you’ve suffered from overwhelming, debilitating anxious thoughts for more than several months in a row, consult a professional. I’m pretty sure I had a panic attack while I was dialing the phone the first time I made an appointment to talk to my doctor about my anxiety. But to my great surprise, I did not die. Actually, while I had suffered from mild, generalized anxiety pretty much my entire life, I didn’t even recognize these newer, more severe symptoms as anxiety.

We’re all guilty of self-diagnosing ourselves (WebMD anyone?), but sometimes we’re just too close to the problem to know what’s wrong. And besides, most diagnoses are best left to the professionals. Just attaching a name to my feelings, however, gave me a measure of calmness that maybe I could be treated, healed, or at least helped now that I knew what it was.

If you’ve never talked to a professional about your anxiety, start thinking about it. Ask for physician referrals from friends. Pick up the phone and make an appointment. There, don’t you feel a sense of relief now? If you want to talk to someone who’s been there—and is still there to a degree—let me know.

After I got going on writing about real help for anxiety, I wrote over 1,800 words in an hour on that topic. I guess I had more ideas than I realized. So, I decided to break them up and dole them out over a few weeks.

Next up, the Christian answer. My thoughts may surprise you.

Let’s Talk about Anxiety

Let’s talk about anxiety. I don’t mean being a little bit nervous or worried. I mean being sick to your stomach anxious. Locomotive circling the brain nonstop anxious. Blurting out irrational thoughts anxious. Can’t breathe anxious. Can’t hold a cup of relaxing lavender tea without spilling anxious. Racing heartbeat anxious.

According to Dictionary.com, anxiety is “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.”

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Anxiety is an officially diagnosed chemical imbalance in the brain. When the serotonin, norepinephrine, and gaba are out of whack, a person cannot control her anxious thoughts any more than someone with a blockage in his heart can control whether/when he has a heart attack. Anxiety can also be caused by poor adrenal and/or low thyroid functions. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, PTSD, OCD, and social anxiety are all in the same family.

Sometimes people with anxiety need medical intervention—prescription or natural herbs—in order for their minds to calm enough so that they can focus enough to pray and have faith. Taking medication does not mean people don’t have faith. Medication helps to heal people’s chemical imbalances and calm racing thoughts just as a stent in an artery prevents another heart attack.

How do you know the difference between sinful worry and medical anxiety? Talk to a professional; don’t try to diagnose yourself. Here’s my definition of the difference between being a little worried (sin that can be controlled) and being medically anxious (not a sin, can’t be controlled): sinful worry is being upset about and thinking about not having enough work as an adjunct and a freelancer to pay my bills for the rest of the year. It’s wondering now about how I’m going to adjust my schedule to add more classes to the fall semester (8 months away). Medical anxiety is being unable to stop obsessing about my finances, being so overwrought about my bills that I feel sick to my stomach and can’t focus on what my kids are saying to my face. It’s the Same. Exact. Irrational. Thoughts. Over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And being incapable of stopping or changing those thoughts. It’s trying to pray, but all that comes out is Those. Same. Anxious. Irrational. Thoughts.

As long as we’re being honest here, I suffer from a medical condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Occasionally I suffer from some pretty severe panic attacks. Some days are better than others although the past few months have seen a resurgence in my anxiety levels. Yes, I pray. Yes, I try to have faith. Yes, I read my Bible. Yes, I try all sorts of self-care techniques. Yes, the anxiety is still there.

If you suffer from anxiety, know that you are not alone!

Next time: Real help for anxiety.

Brokenness Made Beautiful

                                                                                 “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

     I’m broken. What good is broken? A broken bowl lands in the recycling bin. A chipped glass loses its place in the cupboard.

     Broken is ugly.  I kick a broken seashell aside instead of adding it to the sandy collection in my pocket.

     I’m so glad that God doesn’t have the same attitude. Instead of casting aside broken people, he lovingly gathers up the pieces and brings them into his workshop.

     Gold, on the other hand, is valuable in all its forms. It can make even ugly things beautiful. But before gold can become useful, it has to be refined. The refining process cleans away the dross and makes the gold malleable. The refining process is painful for the gold, but it’s necessary. It’s the same way with our lives. We’re a rough nugget of gold, and in order to use and beautify us, God has to refine us. The painful trials and challenges we go through in life have the potential to make us pure, malleable, and beautiful, if we allow them to.

     God then takes our broken pieces  and refined gold and turns them into something even more beautiful, strong, and useful than before. This process is beautifully illustrated in the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, which means golden joinery. The gold adds value and strength to the ceramic piece. The vessel then becomes more valuable and desirable.

He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the Lord An offering in righteousness. ~ Malachi 3:3, NKVJ

     Life’s trials and challenges, while seeming like a hammer swinging in a china shop, will eventually turn us into vessels of beauty for God’s glory.

     Lord, help me to remember that your purpose is to take my broken pieces and to perform kintsugi with them.