Worrying makes you wary. Meaning, the more you worry, the warier you become – of everything. For the sufferers of anxiety, fear, and the darkest worry – panic attacks, there is nothing more difficult to overcome. We live in a world where people and the media thrive on bringing terror and fear-filled news to us on a constant basis. With the latest scare being the CoronaVirus for those who are on the edge of darkness, it is easy to fear going over the edge. For some, I fear their anxieties have taken them to a place that is getting darker and darker. How does one avoid allowing the dark feelings of worry from reaching that darkest stage?
- Note this is a timely update from the original post from Feb 2017.
The make-you-think series ‘This is Us’ has several powerful scenes of the main character suffering panic attacks. To some it is a ridiculous situation, just pull yourself together and get over it, thus says an insensitive buffoon. I have to admit, I was one of those insensitive buffoons when my daughter at the age of 15 lay on the floor in what I saw as an ‘over-reacting, childish, attention-seeking, moment.’ Prior to her manifestation, I had honestly never experienced a panic attack nor seen someone go through a heart-wrenching episode of a panic attack.
For those who have never suffered a panic attack or witnessed one, or for those who have suffered through a few episodes – so you can see you are not alone – I encourage you to watch this short video sung to the tune of “I can feel it happening.“
Aside from watching the video to gain a softer heart towards anyone suffering or dealing with panic attacks I strongly recommend gaining some education on How to Prevent or End a Panic/Anxiety Attack. It is no joke for anyone that suffers through such a dark personal episode. In my role as Director of the Men’s and Couples program at the Help Pregnancy Center I have been astounded that nearly every visitor of ours I have counseled with, both men and women, state they have experienced or currently suffer through these attacks regularly. Better understanding needs to be gained by our society to help with this epidemic (or maybe it is a pandemic?)
To point out that I am not the only one that has had a bad view on it, read this excerpt from today.com. Well, actually, it isn’t that bad, as it brings to light an issue that many people are not aware of for those who ridicule anyone that has suffered from an attack. The issue I have is the number one recommendation is to ‘go see a medical doctor.’ In some cases, that may indeed be a necessity, but unless there is an actual medical issue all a doctor will recommend is anxiety medication (which some are addictive) and/or to go see a therapist. The other issue I have is the statement, ‘anxiety is so treatable if people just present themselves for treatment’. Treatment? If you think that a doctor’s treatment or pill will solve anxiety problem, I’d say good luck. Please make sure you read the rest of the story, for most of us, it is a serious matter that takes a lifetime of daily choices to overcome. That is not a bad thing, it is a good thing as we all want a wholly filled life, not a momentary fix.
The article mentioned 6 million people (U.S. stats) suffer from panic disorder. What they failed to mention is forty million have some variation of anxiety disorders (see full list) I have come to the belief that worry and anxiety can affect anyone at any time and can become worse if circumstances arise in your life bringing on exorbitant amounts of stress. For some, our genetic make-up results in many of us carrying around worry – always. I’d like to point out there is nothing wrong with you fellow worriers, like any particular hindrance, or as one great writer calls it a ‘thorn in the flesh’, it is something we can learn to handle and overcome. The remedy (along with strong support if needed) is prevention and preparedness to ensure the ‘dark’ does not become darker.
A few nights ago, I had my usual bladder awakening call at four in the morning. (Sorry to you millennial’s scratching your heads, wait until you reach middle age, and you’ll see what I mean). I carefully walked through our very dark bedroom, shuffling my feet slowly to avoid tripping over or bumping into anything along the way. As I returned, I took the same path back, much more confidently, knowing my path was clear.
Little did I know, as I headed out of the bathroom and in full stride, that my all-black 140-pound giant schnauzer had changed sleeping positions and plopped himself outstretched in the middle of the bedroom. Totally unsuspecting such an obstacle I found myself flying across the room. In one second I was flung onto the floor landing on my face. There were shouts of me screaming at the dog causing my wife to have a panic attack of sorts, wondering what caused the tremendous explosion at the foot of our bed. Fortunately, my face landed on the scrambling dog posterior, but I obtained some very large bruises on the left elbow and right knee.
If life is a journey of seeking to walk wisely in the light, it does not take much to get us off track and cause us to stumble in the darkness.
While we wish to remain calm, anxiety-free, depression-free, anger free, or whatever thorn in our sides that get in the way, it does not take a lot to ruin a perfect flow. A phone call from an unhappy customer, an unexpected break-down of a car or appliance, a bad diagnosis from the doctor, a job loss, the wi-fi going out, tripping over the dog, worries, and negative vibes can bring on the dark blues. Soon we find ourselves with a mind wandering off into worry, fear, and doubt; it is like walking in the darkness. All can seem impossible.
We can pull up our bootstraps and tough it out. And strong people can do that for a short while. The real secret to defeating the inner darkness is not by boosting the outward showing, it is boosting our inside fortitude. We tend to concentrate on the outside of things, how we look, how we sound, and having all our stuff to show that we look good on the outside. However, if the light is not shining on the inside, it will not take us very far for very long.
For everyday life, the very same recommendations made on how to prevent anxiety can help any darkness we experience to not become darker. A few key ones recommended by ‘The Calm Clinic’ are:
- Regular Exercise
- Sleep Enough
- Eat healthily and avoid hyper causing foods (sugar, caffeine)
- Research Your Thorn in the flesh (whether it is anxiety, depression, anger, alcoholism, know what you are up against and work hard to defeat it)
- Practice good Breathing and Relaxation
- Have strong people relationships with positive influences
- Know when you have reached the max and take a break or needed vacation
In other words, live right, and your life will be bright. When you feel the darkness creeping in, make sure it does not get darker. But our issues of anxiety darkness also take on a spiritual aspect.
My primary goal in this story was to lighten the stigma on those who deal with anxiety and to give a little insight to those who get-on the case of others. I also carry a burden for those who toe the line of spiritual guilt because ‘you should never worry.’ If you care to explore the inner struggles of a church-going-worrier and guess what, many in the church secretly suffer from anxiety, then dare to enter the portico…
If this is your first time visiting Average Joe’s Portico, every post is written in two parts. You have just read the portion challenging the mind, body, and soul. In The Portico, I seek to tap into your spiritual side, but only IF YOU DARE. Tap the Red Line Below to hear the Part 2 Spiritual side of the story. (For additional info – read the ‘Do You Dare’ Tab)
If You Dare, Click to Enter Into Joe's Portico (To See Part II of This Story)
I have heard several famous preachers make a blanket statement; ‘to worry is sin’ because the Bible says ‘be anxious for nothing.’ Having helped people and dealt with it myself understand all worriers know Philippians 4:6-7 please don’t over-use it on us – “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus“)
I heard another share that he had always taught that people who are depressed simply lack faith. He later changed his mode of thinking and teachings when he himself battled depression, saying, ‘now I understand differently.’ He later was found to be drowning out his depression with alcohol. The Elder board of the 10,000+ church he started was removed from his lead Pastor’s role because of his sin problem and failure to confess it. I find it sad that some Pastors have to personally experience a problem before understanding others’ struggles. It is just as sad and dangerous that Pastors have to hide their inner struggles for fear of losing their job, which will cause others to think twice before sharing with anyone what is happening in their private life. (That is a whole different topic, I believe a major issue in some churches is a lack of accountability; thus I do not condemn the decision that was made, it is sad on both ends) The thinking is similar to my own experience with my daughter’s panic attack, I shamefully needed to gain understanding before changing my view.
Sometimes our lack of understanding and compassion may turn into tragic results, such as when some well-known Pastors committed suicide. Some leaders need to learn about issues of the brain and understand that while we know everything has a spiritual issue included, there are other mitigating factors that need to be addressed for a person to be fully healed from issues of the mind. Is a veteran who is suffering from ptsd as he/she has daymares reminding them of their foxhole partner being blown to pieces, in sin? Is a woman who was physically abused and needs years to overcome the memories and thus is anxiety laced, in sin? Is an EMT, firefighter, or police officer who is unable to sleep from nightmares of incidents on the job which creates nervous shakes and other fear-filled symptoms, in sin? Is a missionary who witnessed natives having their heads cut off and has ptsd from the memory, in sin?
It is perplexing to me that when a leader is caught in a moral, financial, or pride failure, it was written off as ‘we are only fallen humans.’ Yet, some look down upon people who battle emotional disorders forever, dismissing them as too weak to lead. (Thankfully, many churches have recognized this error and have set up support groups for such needs.) I raise my hand in guilt over past wrong thinking as well but write today as one who has changed in my thinking towards people who struggle with what is deemed mental illnesses. I thank God He was patient with me in helping me overcome and gain understanding after several incidents that plagued me brought darker anxiety not only in my thoughts but also with physical symptoms. I, at times, get heart palpitations, eye twitches, and have rls perhaps from an agent orange leak that I sniffed while in the service or perhaps from the trauma of being held up at gunpoint or being cheated out of a bundle in business deals.
Thus instead, I look for signs of those who I recognize who need assistance. Of importance is eliminating ignorance, but more, providing hope and encouragement to those who are battling with mind related issues. Hope that they indeed can overcome the issues in due time. I’d love to say it happens in a snap of a finger, but for most people winning the battles of the mind takes time, hard work, and deeper relationship with our Father in heaven to overcome them.
Paul reminds us, do not look at us, look at the One who can remove and heal darkness:
“Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best! 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 (The Msg)
Sometimes we go through rough patches. Sometimes anxiety and worry set in on us (it even happened to Paul: apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches 2 Cor 11:28) – HELLO to you who say ‘worry is sin,’ so Paul had anxiety, which is a deeper stage of worry, what a wicked sinner he was. He also stated he had a fear of public speaking; ‘And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,‘. (See 1 Cor 2:1-5 for full context) And Jesus, when He was in the garden of Gethsemane sweating blood, He who knew no sin had a major stress attack, was that a sin? Sweating blood is a phenomena called hematidrosis, which is caused by ‘extreme fear and stress,’ read it from Healthline if you think not.
Sometimes we go through dark moments; the secret to overcoming is to first disallow the dark to become darker. At the point where we allow worry to overtake us, requires getting extra help. If it causes us to self-medicate like the mega-Pastor who had depression, yes, call it sin then. To do nothing about it and give up hope, at that point the preacher may also be right. Daily we must work hard to have a transformation of the mind and not give up, (Covered in a previous story) as Paul eloquently explains there is a better hope:
“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, 16-18 MSG
Having worked with many people and studied on this topic much, I am not an expert but speak as one who has made great strides overcoming a life-long worrying mind. In fact, when I wrote this blog originally in 2017, I was taking what most would consider a bold step of faith. I walked away from a great paying job partly to help people in overcoming anxiety and counsel in a number of life skills. I also made a choice to be on hand for the first year of college for my son, who needed some stress coaching at the time. I also came out of the closet to admit that the outgoing person I appeared to be on the outside had actually battled regularly to overcome anxiety. God in His grace took me from the stage of passing out from fear in grade school, merely because the teacher called on me to be able to make presentations in front of 100’s of people. I went from throwing up before meetings to whittle it down to a couple of butterflies. For me, it was not an overnight change, but I can confidently say that with God’s help, peace reigns over worry.
I found millions of other people had the same problem, especially men, but it is one of those keep-it-to-yourself issues. I vowed to be a voice and listening ear and defender for those who suffer because of the stigma, needlessly. I vowed to provide tips and help to those needing help, whether they need a little confidence or for ones that are in that dark stage too often that brings on anxiety attacks. We believe that as Christians, we are new people, born-again, free. But bam, sometimes in the middle of the night we wake up and find ourselves numb with worry about all sorts of things.
Out of nowhere, I lay with my rls (restless leg syndrome) legs-a-moving worrying if I had made a dumb decision. Or if I sent an email or wrote a Facebook post that I wondered I should not have hit the send button. I worry that people will think I’ve lost my marbles. I worry they think my writing stinks, why would I even try such a thing? I worry we will run out of money faster than calculated. That is when I remember tripping over the dog in the dark caused me to get up and take smaller steps back to bed.
In the next few days, I was extra cautious taking drag-steps to ensure I would not trip over my dog and bust up my knee again. That is similar to how I learned to deal with my anxiety issues. When worry and anxiety rears its ugly head, total peace does not always return overnight. It comes via small steps taken every day. All the little things that are necessary to overcome any problem are applied and dealt with – one small step at a time. And if we stumble and fall back a little bit, we get back up and try again. We start from where we fell and quickly (at least quicker than the last time because you have the know-how) get back to where we were and progress in steps to victory. All the physical things mentioned in part I of this blog that I need to beef up on or adjust on are evaluated and perhaps increased to whittle that darkness back down again.
Ted Dekker states, ‘Our journey isn’t becoming more than we are because we are already complete. Rather our journey is to awaken to, or align with, who we are already are in Christ. And as we do that, we find ourselves rushing to our Father’s table where His fruits of peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and power are built up in limitless abundance. ‘ As Jesus calls us to be the light of the world, even though we stumble at times, we learn to pull ourselves out of the darkness one step at a time as we learn to live right and win out over those inner battles. By living right, it includes using wisdom to deal with issues that are not solved by simply turning a switch off but by having body and soul disciplines adjusted to deal with the latest incident (or terror the world brought on us) to be sure we can handle the stressors.
The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine. Proverbs 4:18
The good news is we do not have to search for peace by following a bunch of rules (like in the old testament when the people followed the rules of Moses) but through a real live relationship with the Creator of the universe:
“Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become more like him.” 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 MSG Personal presence with God is where peace in the midst of darkness becomes 100% under control and leads to 100% victory. If you do not understand what that means, applying the steps in the post titled “How to Worship at Home” is a must!
The picture below is a day-time shot of the same waterfall and tree shown in the cover picture. It is from a previous home of ours where we built a serene setting for the heckuvva it. No, we as a family tried EVERYTHING possible to fight worry that came from our DNA on both sides of the family. It helped a little, but not a lot. It was beautiful, but the point is that the picture shows, you may not know that the brightest looking person may have fearful dark thoughts going on in their mind and brain. Our job as Christians is to help the fearful to not fear. I don’t believe God told us (as some point out with their Biblical knowledge) to ‘Fear Not’ 365 times, once for every day of the year to condemn us for being fearful or worried at times. I believe He points this out regularly, because we who admit our weaknesses and don’t carry the pride of our gifted personality, need to trust God for the strength to overcome worry and anxiety. It is by His grace and promised help during fearful situations that we defeat darkness. It is how we overcome anxiety attacks and prevent them.
We are the victors who can tell how we overcame, all to the glory of God. The final question for those in Christ who do have inner battles is not how dark is darker, but how bright is brighter.
If you would like to be notified of future postings, please submit your email address, and I would love to hear your feedback. Or start a conversation with others via the comment button (not ‘feedback’). This topic is certainly one I hope has created debate in your own mind, no matter where you stand on the topic. Yes, I know this one may conflict with what you’ve heard, and perhaps I am wrong, but perhaps those who boldly speak for a living because of not having to deal with such a thing as anxiety, don’t understand what those who fight it deal with. My goal is not to fight the condemners but to give hope and strength to those who feel condemned but are working hard to overcome. You can overcome, and every little step is a big one to bring you to total peace. Please feel free to comment and share your take.