High Anxiety – Affliction, not sin

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“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ” – C.S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

Oh, C.S. Lewis. How I would love to go back (or forward) in time and pick you brain. Your thoughts so messy, yet austere. I just want to smoke a pipe (vanilla tobacco, please) beside a lit fireplace at a table for two – the kind of table that’s too small to eat a meal on, but too big to be a nightstand. And I want to say, “THANK YOU!” Thank you, that you did not regard anxiety as SIN (which seems to be, unfortunately, a consideration of the modern church proper.)

Dear readers, if you don’t already know, I suffer from anxiety, depression, ADD and OCD, and it’s been a life long issue.

I think I was born anxious.

When I was a five-year old frozen in fear just walking into the kindergarten class, I wasn’t sinning.

When I display compulsive behaviors, I have no evil intent. (Oh, and being diagnosed OCD was SUCH a shock – not because I knew it was true, but because I thought I hid it from the world so WELL.)

When my heart will simply not beating 125 beats per minute, it’s not a demon makin’ it tick.

When I cannot focus on one thing for 10 seconds, God is not disappointed in me.

When my brain confuses being chased by a T-Rex with emailing a resume, it’s not sin – it’s out of my control – fight or flight.

Anxiety is what led to my alcoholism. It took the edge off, eventually it took me past the edge.

I thought it was a wonderful thing because all of my mom friends drank wine – I just drank mine out of a Big Gulp cup. With a lid. And a straw. I do not suggest this method of anxiety quelling, it’s highly non-sustainable. I didn’t know when to stop, and that’s why I don’t do that anymore. Haven’t for 15 years, hallelujah!

But I still contend with depression/anxiety/ADD/OCD. I just do it sober now. And it can be very difficult. I really don’t care who knows it because it is what it is and I try to write authentically.

What does anxiety feel like to me?

It feels involuntary. SO involuntary.

It feels like asking Jesus to take the wheel, but being sure the steering fluid is low.

It feels like you are the only kid in class who forgot to get her permission slip signed, and now you can’t go to the museum.

My body reacts to a crowded aisle in Walmart as if I were a wolf willing to chew my own leg off to escape the trap. (For some reason, Walmart just does me in.)

It feels like I am too awkward to inhabit a planet with normal people who don’t have panic attacks on the regular. Plus, I forget what to do with my face a lot.

It feels like a stutter in your soul.

It feels like abandonment. Remember a time when someone walked away from you for good? That feeling. The first five minutes after it occurred to you that the person was never coming back. Now replay those 5 minutes in an endless loop.

It feels like I’m sorry for being this way!

It feels overwhelming. Worry, doubt, pray. Or is it pray, doubt, worry? See? I just can’t get it straight.

It feels like DOOM. Not just regular doom, but DOOOOOOOOOOM.

It’s being certain nobody likes you, because you are, well, weird.

I have been prayed over, prayed for, where two or more are gathered or two dozen are gathered. I have felt like a sub-par Christian because my healing didn’t ‘stick’ – and that’s a really crappy feeling, ya’ll. It is pouring gasoline on a fire.

So now, I’m anxiety-ridden AND my faith is too puny to do any good?

Nobody judges the diabetic whose insulin will not bow at the feet of the cross, but people will drown you in holy water trying to get depression to go. (By the way, I do believe depression can be a spirit, but I also believe early childhood trauma, genetics, or just plain chemistry can rile up a good baseline anxiety.)

I really fail to see how mental illness is any different.

I would rather not battle mental illness, but if I must, I will try to consider it from your point of view, Mr. Lewis (‘May I call you C.S.?”)

My Abba circuited my brain just as He pleased, and did so for a reason. There were environmental events that tightened the screws. He allowed things to shape me, just as He is shaping YOU. I believe that all of it – the janky humanity in us – I believe Jesus walks with us and in us, and that’s what His heart really longs for. It isn’t the ‘alphabet soup’ disorder that defines me, it’s that I’m His.

So sometimes I freak out, and its scary because I don’t even totally understand it, but always, always I feel God’s presence, even when I can’t calm down. My anxiety doesn’t scare Him away.

He is less concerned in having a vast army of perfect people – a master race of Christians who pray away anxiety, and never say a potty word. Followers who have gotten it ‘all together.’

I believe He loves all His misfits right where they are.

How much more passionate might we be with the mentally ill if we considered their affliction as sharing in the Passion of the Christ?

Kind of flips things up, no?

Our share of the passion.

Thanks, C.S., for the reminder.

God bless us, every one.

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How do you Pray when You Cannot Focus?

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The most important thing on my cork board. No matter how unfocused I am, this is my Jesus.

By: Jana Greene

Over the weekend, one of my very dear girlfriends contacted me. Our friendship is a God Thing to the inth degree. A years ago, we became Facebook friends somehow, and then NAMASTE! – my spirit recognized her spirit the instant we talked. We have much in common health-wise, many of the same struggles. It was as if Abba said, “Hmmm….these two could really bounce things off each other.” And he was right.

She is going through a prolonged episode of ‘brain fog’ due to chronic health issues. If you are healthy (or your brain is young) the fog might be a foreign concept to you. It’s more than forgetting what you went in to the kitchen for. It’s like your thoughts are trying to gain footing on a very slippery rock.  It’s a dulling and jumbling of your mind, which can really do a number on your spirit.

“How does one keep a solid prayer/reading life with chronic illness?” She asked me.  “When you either oversleep (because you are sick and need the sleep, not because you’re lazy), or you truly can’t muster up a prayer, or read. Or your mind is all over the place, not stable like it used to be? Maybe a good blog topic?”

A very good blog topic.

I am worlds WORST with carving out quiet time/devotions. There, I said it. It’s OUT THERE now. And It isn’t because prayer isn’t important to me.

Between chronic pain, ADD (and OCD, which can be kind of severe at times)  and anxiety…there are times that the best thing I can offer is conversational prayer with God throughout the day. For a short while, I took medication for my ADD and the BIGGEST change I noticed was that I could pray like a regular Saint Augustine! HOURS. When I had to go off of it because it raised my blood pressure, I felt like somebody yanked the prayer rug from under me.

I still pray, of course. It’s a constant conversation, but often not terribly structured.

After I saw the movie “War Room,”  I was so stoked to make deliberate time in my bedroom closet. I covered one wall with cork-boards on which to pin my heartfelt prayers every day as soon as I woke up. FIRST THING. Maybe I’ll be so fervent I’ll go into the Prayer Closet several times in the middle of the night! Wow, I’ll bet I will REALLY hear from God then! My boards will resemble the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, it will be so jam-packed with my sacraments and epiphanies!

The next morning I did, in fact, enter it like the Holy of Holies. But the day after that I had a migraine and another day, my anxiety was too full-on to sit still, and other days I just forgot.

Mostly my self-crafted Prayer Closet just caused me to feel guilty EVERY single time I’d walk in to get a pair of shoes. Eventually it went like this: Enter closet for shirt, avoid eye contact with The Wall, feel massively guilty, avoid God because I can’t even hack this focus thing, emotionally self-flagellate. Vow to spend two hours solid in it the next day. Fail to do so and feel terrible. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But then I realized that I talk to God conversationally all day long. He knows my heart, he knows my pain, and my janky brain fog. In trying, trying, trying to be better, I set myself up for failure (it’s kind of a specialty of mine.)

But God, who created my brain and all the other miraculous workings of my body, is not going to withhold from me because of my limitations. That would be pretty freaking cruel. Instead, he caulks in the cracks and loves me like MAD.

My dear friend  is also frustrated with hearing from God the way she used to when she was brain fog-free. I get that, too. That’s the worst thing. But I think he – knowing our plight – compensates by speaking to us in our constant conversation with him. He is never more than a dozen thoughts from my heart, and he knows it.

When someone comes to mind, I pray for her. When I’m worried, I pray. When I see a pretty flower, praise the Creator and thank him for it. Thank him for my friends and blessings and hot coffee.

Especially, I tell him I trust that he is working on issues I don’t see evidence of yet, and ask him to help me trust when I don’t.

I ask for focus fifty times a day, at least.

But when I can’t get through the fog, here’s the cool thing: Grace!

GRACE is the caulk in the space between our best intentions and highest enlightenment. It fills in the cracks and expands in the crevices where I’m foggy or anxious, or even just lazy. We are not perfect but he holds us close to us still! No guilt required.

My sacraments and epiphanies don’t always come down from Heaven like a bolt of lightning when I’m having an Instagram-worthy moment of devotion with the perfect cup of coffee.

Sometimes they trickle in increments of A-Ha! moments that Holy Spirit doles out and pours into me. When I’m too pained or foggy to tune into his frequency, he reminds me that it’s okay.

I told my dear friend that perhaps we can meet this week and brain-dazed and janky together. Pray awkward, foggy prayers together, and trust grace to caulk in our rough spots. Listen for the bolt of lightning, but be okay with the A-Ha moments and roll with it as the Sisters in Christ that we are. Raise a War Room right where we are, where two or more are gathered.

God isn’t angry that we have unfocused seasons. He just desires that we keep the conversation going, and listen for his voice.

God bless us, every one.