First off, let me explain: I love Jesus. I love my church. I love the people. But here it is Sunday, and I am having my usual anxiety about going to services this morning.
One of the reasons for this is that I have social anxiety. This is in addition to regular anxiety. And in addition to my generalized anxiety disorder.
What’s the difference?
Well, anxiety in and of itself is not pathology. Maybe I’m running late. Maybe I don’t know what to wear. Maybe I don’t know who I am picking up. Even extreme anxiety is not abnormal. It can occur when you haven’t started your Christmas shopping and it’s December 21st. And the in-laws are coming, and you haven’t even planned the menu. A “normal” person who celebrates Christmas would feel that way. It is not a disorder and in fact can motivate the person to get the work done.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is another story altogether. Per The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it is “characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things.” It’s when you are feeling as if you haven’t started your Christmas shopping and as if it’s December 21st, and as if there is a Mac truck bearing down on you at 100 miles an hour. Then again, this feeling would more likely invoke a panic attack. Symptoms can be “shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, vertigo, feelings of unreality, numbness of hands and feet, sweating, fainting, and trembling. Some people describe this experience as feeling as if they’re losing control or going to die.” (AADA)
Anxiety disorder can be of any varying degree in between; not necessarily extreme. But the point is that your body is acting as if there is a real danger. That feeling can exist whether you are merely showering, or working at a routine job, and there is no actual threat. You feel nervous x 1000, but there is no particular reason to feel that way. Anxiety provoking situations can exacerbate or trigger your anxiety disorder symptoms, but sometimes your body just doesn’t care if there is anything there.
Social anxiety is one aspect of generalized anxiety disorder, although I imagine sometimes it could be the only aspect. The ADAA says that social anxiety is “the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations:” It’s when it is nearly impossible for you to bear one more second at the Christmas party, or you can’t finish your shift at work. It’s not necessarily that Mrs. Snowflake is talking your ear off, or that the boss is giving you a hard time. It could just be a normal, everyday interaction, and suddenly you feel like the ground is going to swallow you up.
Some of us can’t even bear to leave the house to perform the activity. Or we sit in the car outside, talking ourselves down. I have even driven by my workplace, though I was dressed and ready to go in. I just could not do it, no matter how many times I had prayed or how well I had prepared. Social anxiety is one of the main reasons I am unable to work, although I have other mental health issues as well.
How does this translate in light of my faith? As I’ve said before, there is a verse that says “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). And doesn’t that apply to things that are within God’s will? After all, He’s not going to give me the strength to sin, obviously. So how could it be that I could be hampered from even attending church? That’s within His will, isn’t it?
Well, there are days! I get up for church, even get ready, and still I can’t get in the car. Or, I get in the car and I can’t drive off. I have even picked up people, dropped them off at church, and gone home. I just can’t do it, no matter how nonsensical it is that I can’t. And talk about being “scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations:” Who is in more of a position to judge and scrutinize than God? It makes me feel so ashamed.
Oh I suppose that I could take a chill pill and still be able to do it. Or call a friend and say “this is the situation, please walk me through it.” But I have addiction issues, so the chill pill is not an option. Call a friend? Supposedly that whole church is full of friends! And I still can’t sometimes.
I do have ways that I can adjust my situation. I am in the choir, so sometimes that is a major source of anxiety. But I can opt out if I must. I can just listen from my seat in the sanctuary. Sometimes that is a real treat! And stepping back from it is enough to help me bear the symptoms I’m experiencing, and still attend church.
If I’m unable to go to services at all, I can watch them on my computer. Or maybe I can only attend the evening service, which is not so populated and more than likely just my church family. I feel like I am copping out, but at least it’s something.
And sometimes prayer and preparation is enough.
But I tell you what, come Monday, I have what I call “my Saturday.” It’s a time to recover and recuperate, take deep breaths, and thank the Lord that once again I was able to do as He asks, and something that I actually do enjoy. It is just hard, sometimes.
Should I feel ashamed? or less than? I hate to say it, but I do. And I know I shouldn’t. It is just another thorn in my flesh, I guess. Unfortunately, too, this pricks my pride. After all, I “should” be better than this. I “should” be just like everyone else.
Oh, really? Boy I could write a few more blog posts based on that paragraph alone. One thing I have learned since becoming a Christian is that there is no place for shame when I belong to God. I am His child! How about pride? That would be worth two blog posts. What does pride mean in everyday terms? How can pride be a true sin against God? But as to having my mental health issues? It is the bane of my whole recovery that I don’t accept that I have them, and that I feel ashamed of them. If I could jump that hurdle and be at peace with it, I’d be golden.
And there are good things about having this disorder. For example, having it does make me more dependent on the Lord. And, there are ways to minister to others who have my condition. I do, when I’m able. And that’s a huge blessing!
Currently, I can get to church and stay through the services without major symptoms. Often it is a source of peace and comfort, and provides a place to worship Jesus, and be with His children. When it is difficult, I have DBT skills I can use, along with exercising my faith.
And isn’t that what Sundays are all about?
But it’s not just about Sundays. I can exercise my faith throughout the rest of the week, as well: To be where He wants me to be, to do as He wants me to do. And when it seems that it’s not working, I can remember that God says to “Be still, and know that I am God …” (Psalm 46:10). He is with me, He cares for me, even when it feels like that Mac truck is bearing down upon me. He is always with me, whether I feel Him or not. Whether I “succeed,” in my own eyes, or not.