Why I’m Grateful for My Anxiety

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F_Heather

I suffer from anxiety.

Early the other morning, I woke before the sun was up, as I sometimes do. I stumbled to the bathroom, hoping that would help me fall back to sleep, but when I got back in bed, my body was on fire. The stomachache that had plagued me for three days came back then, and it was as if I were being roasted on a spit like a chicken.

After five minutes of burning, I gave up on sleep and went downstairs.

On the couch in the dark, I clutched a pillow, willing the waves of panic to go away.

When they didn’t, I started praying. Help help help help help help.

The internal fire turned up higher for a second. The intensity of it made me start to cry.

But the tears were like magic. The burning cooled.

Oh, I thought, my mind finding clarity. This is what I’m supposed to feel.

My body had woken me up to lead me to this. It used the anxiety to show me reality: You are sad. You are grieving. You need to acknowledge that.

Having obeyed my body, my stomachache eased a little. Though I still felt anxious, I thought I might be able to go back upstairs and sleep another hour.

I did, still tense, but not on fire.

That night was my therapy session. On the couch, I kept yearning for it, almost panting for relief.

I was anxious that day because I was scared of what would happen in that session. I knew what I needed to discuss, and that I needed help to discuss it. I hoped the anxiety would die down with honesty. But desperate as I was for the anxiety to go away, I was afraid of the cost of truth.

That push and pull—truth, or seeming safety?—is what anxiety is all about.

Years ago, when anxiety stalked me, I always wondered what the hell was wrong with me.

I thought my weird panics were crazy. They were also sinful. After all, the Bible says DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING.

I thought I should be able to erase anxiety with prayer.

It never worked.

But I don’t try to erase my anxiety anymore.

Instead, I’m grateful for it. Because over and over, anxiety leads me to still waters.

Don’t get me wrong—staying in anxiety is not God’s best for me. The state itself is not blessing. It is horror and fear and slavery.

But here is anxiety’s hidden blessing: it forces me to figure out why I am panicking.

Now that I have compassion on myself for feeling anxiety, I see that it is like a barometer that warns me to find shelter because a hurricane is coming. If I pay attention and ask for help, God shows me what I must do to be safe. And I can tell I’ve heard correctly, because when I do, the anxiety dies down.

When I’m most cheerful about suffering from anxiety, I actually feel lucky. It’s like having emotional compass in my back pocket, telling me how to find my way home.

When I ignored anxiety’s warnings, when I explained them away, I would wonder why the anxiety never left. Why I could not heal. Why I felt estranged from people I loved.

Now that I have come to terms with emotions, now that I pay attention and take them seriously, I know why we are called to not be anxious.

It’s not because feeling anxiety is a sin. It’s because ignoring it is. It’s because staying anxious is consenting to living in hell.

Though I was scared about therapy, I trusted that God would keep me safe—really safe—if I was honest with myself and everyone around me. I knew that the hellfire I was in is not livable long-term, so I had nothing to lose, no matter how afraid I felt.

I was right. The therapy session went better than I’d hoped. Panic is always worse than the truth, no matter how much the truth blows up my life.

Anxiety shows me how desperate I am for salvation. When I wade into the reality of my suffering I find a clear, safe path. Period.

I have to laugh: how ridiculous that anxiety would teach me to trust God.

I used to think my anxiety meant I was damaged goods. I thought my anxiety meant I shouldn’t trust myself. I thought people who did not suffer panic were stronger, better, more worthy.

But I no longer see my anxiety as weak. I see it as a kind of discipline: God teaching me what the true cost is when I ignore my heart. God teaching me that, against all odds, I know the path to freedom.

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Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who loves British murder mysteries, advice columns, and hot breakfasts. She uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

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