I remember thinking that I’d give almost anything to get rid of the anxiety. I would see people who seemed unaffected by turbulent events and I’d just wonder what in the world that felt like. I was pretty envious. No. I was really envious. And sometimes desperate.
But I feel a little different now. If I could magically get rid of my anxiety, maybe I would and maybe I wouldn’t. I think I see a few benefits wrapped in the pounding heart and pitted stomach. Let me explain.
First of all, here’s been my experience (the best I can describe it):
- I’d be laying there in bed, sometime after 11:00 PM
- I’d start a little “what-if” game about a situation that was unpleasant
- It wouldn’t take long before my mind would go to the “worst case scenario”
- I’d begin to kind of obsess this worst case and replay it in my mind over and over
- The worst case became the probable-scenario
- My heart would beat and my mind would race as I tried to figure out how I’d solve this nearly-unsolvable situation and the worry and dread would seep in
- I’d look at the clock and think, “Oh great. It’s 3:00 AM and I haven’t slept which means tomorrow is going to be terrible…and also, I have cancer or I’m going to get ax-murdered or my children are going to get abducted” or whatever the worst case scenario was
- Knowing that what just happened was irrational and that the thing I was anxious about was not, actually, probably going to happen, my mind would not let go and my heart would continue to race and, therefore, I couldn’t sleep
- It would happen again the next night…
And take that list and change it a little and add feelings of being overwhelmed, no desire to be around others, stomach and digestion issues, loss of confidence, etc.
Now, truthfully, much of that has relaxed a bit. I made one visit to a therapist and he was very, very helpful. I changed a few things, physically. Things have definitely eased up in this department, for which I’m very grateful. And I also know that my experience is just mine and how things have eased wouldn’t work for someone else, I suppose. But I still have little episodes here and there. I think I’m just a little better equipped to deal with them than I was five years ago.
With all that said, I can trace a list of blessings back to anxiety. And I don’t think I really want to give these blessings up:
- I’m almost never late. In fact, if I have a speaking engagement, I show up 30 minutes early or more (I like to see everything and solve any problems before they become problems, and pace around a little, nervously)
- I’m almost always fully prepared for whatever I’m doing. If there is a chance of something going wrong, I prep for it. And my imagination can think up plenty of things that can go wrong so I get really prepared.
- I think, a lot, about how others feel. Empathy comes much easier than it did a decade or two ago. I assume others are bothered or stressed or nervous or in some kind of emotional distress. I think maybe I’m a little more kind than I used to be (maybe others would say otherwise)
- I’ve learned to listen to my brain and body a little more carefully. I can feel stress and anxiety rising and am better at addressing it. I am better and going to sleep and working out and eating differently.
- Being in a good mood is a very “on purpose” thing for me. I choose it more directly now than ever. I know what helps me feel happy and I go do those things. It is kind of a pre-emptive strike against unneeded negativity. That has become like second-nature at this point. I feel genuinely happy almost all of the time.
- I’ve established a habit of not worrying about past things. I spend almost no time regretting things, no matter what they are. Learn a lesson and keep moving.
- I’ve had just enough experience in life to now see that things generally work out and turn out or get figured out. I’m seeing a pattern. If you address problems, get appropriate help from others, and trust the Lord, the worst case scenario is almost never what happens.
- Maybe the most important blessing is that I have practiced relying on the Lord more fully and trusting Him. That seems to help ease anxiety when it is coming.
Honestly, I slept on the couch a few nights ago because my tossing and turning would surely keep my sweetheart awake. I was worried that our basement would flood. I checked the sump pump numerous times, tested it, checked the weather (on three different apps), prayed for a dry basement, and spent a little time imagining what our flooded basement would look like. I talked myself out of it, then worried myself back into it. But then I realized that, due to my anxiety, we had built our home a little higher in the ground than I would have otherwise and we had a sump pump that was working properly. I also decided that a flooded basement would be miserable and maybe expensive, but that there were worse things. And I went to sleep. It was about 1:30 AM, so not too bad…
The anxiety isn’t gone completely. But things are better. I wish I knew how to help someone else, but I’m not sure my list applies to everyone. I do know that there have been blessings that have come because my anxiety hasn’t been taken, removed, healed or any of the other things I used to pray for. In fact, the best description may be this:
And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord. (Mosiah 24:14-15)
The anxiety isn’t gone, but I feel better about shouldering it. And for that I’m grateful.