[bluebox] “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
-Albert Camus [/bluebox]
Anxiety. It’s the plague of our age.
The conversation is changing. While there was a day when mental illness was never discussed and polite terms were used for keep it hidden, it is becoming more and more acceptable to share publicly about personal struggles in this arena.
My most popular new post of 2016 was the article I wrote about my own battle with anxiety, sparked in the middle of my family’s move to a new town. I heard from a number of people who I had not known were battling these demons themselves. The popularity of the post and the conversations it produced only further convinced me of the need to continue to write about this subject.
[callout] This article is the second in a series of four articles on subjects which are affecting millions of people today. These subjects are somewhat taboo but need to be discussed broadly. The first article explored burnout. If you’d like to receive future updates in this series directly in your inbox, enter your email below.[/callout]
In that popular post on anxiety, I wrote…
“If I’m really honest with you, I’ve been scared to write this post. I sat down to write it several times in the last week or two, but checking Facebook was so much easier. I’ve been wounded in the past few years when I’ve been transparent in sermons, articles or social media posts. I could be wounded again because of this post.
What has moved me past my fear is my belief that some people needed this post. I kept writing because I committed to make this place somewhere you could come and get empowered with new perspective. Like Jon Acuff said, you’re not going to let me in and trust me as a voice in your life if I don’t let you in and trust you too.”
Since writing that post, I’ve been encouraged to see other writers online sharing about their struggles with anxiety.
Meet Andrew Voigt
One of those writers who shares boldly about his mental health journey is Andrew Voigt. Andrew is a writer who currently lives in Charlotte. His website – is subtitled “Thoughts on God_Dreams_Creativity_&_Brokenness_”. (You can read his full bio here.)
After following each other on Twitter and conversing a few times on each other’s posts, I asked Andrew if he would be willing to collaborate on a post regarding anxiety.
We recently exchanged messages over email, exploring his battle with anxiety and other mental-health issues.
Anxiety Often Begins in Childhood
I asked Andrew when he began struggling with anxiety, as this common problem manifests itself uniquely in each person.
“When I was a child, I noticed that I had a tendency to obsess over certain behaviors and fears. As a teenager, my anxiety over spiritual matters was crippling, causing extreme panic and fear of how I stood in the eyes of God. I was diagnosed years ago with the anxiety disorder called “OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”. If I’m being honest, I’ve fought this war since I was a kid, but it wasn’t something I accepted with ease.”
Andrew became aware of his anxiety and OCD at a time when these words were not common, everyday vocabulary. He experienced a sense of shame both in the eyes of God and with other people.
This is one of the reasons we need to create space and grace to discuss mental health. Many of those who are suffering remain silent out of fear they’ll be rejected or condemned for something they did not choose, nor control.
Does Faith Protect You From Mental Illness?
When I started following Andrew via Twitter, one of his first posts I read was entitled, “Can A Committed Follower of Jesus Suffer with Mental Illness?”
Andrew didn’t pull any punches in his answer.
“We live in a fallen world full of decay, disease, and death. You are broken; I am broken; everyone is broken. Everyone is fighting a personal battle.
We all hurt. We all become ill. We all bleed. We will all face death.”
I love how Andrew reminds us that faith doesn’t insulate us from the brokenness of this world, but it does give a source of hope to draw from as we deal with our brokenness.
What Does the Future Look Like for Those Suffering from Anxiety?
Since Andrew has been battling anxiety for a lot longer than I have, I asked him about how it’s going right now.
“A decade ago, I began finding help for my disorder through meeting with a psychologist in Los Angeles who helped people living with OCD and other anxiety disorders. It was uncanny how this guy knew what I was going through without me having to struggle for words to explain the pain. After moving to Charlotte, I began meeting with another incredible psychologist who knew my disorder and knew how to help people in my situation. I still meet with him on occasion, even to this day. He didn’t ‘fix’ me, but he walked with me on the journey, giving me wisdom and encouragement.
My anxiety is nothing like it used to be, but that has not been an overnight transformation. Today, I would say that I’m feeling better than I have since being a teenager. Yet, I still have my moments of anxiety that meet me in unexpected places. I’m just better prepared for those attacks than I once was.”
When any of us are struggling (with mental health, anxiety or any other serioys challenge), we don’t need cliches and superficial answers. As Andrew has written about here, we need people who will show up in order to listen and love, not lecture and fix. People are creations to love, not problems to be fixed.
What Prevents People From Finding Healing?
Since Andrew described his current status (“feeling better than I have since being a teenager”), I asked him about his biggest roadblocks to hope and healing.
“Honestly, there were a few roadblocks that took me time to tear down. The first was talking about it as a ‘disorder.’ I once thought it was just me being a ‘more concerned’ human being than others. I didn’t want to admit that something was wrong with me, but there came a day where I couldn’t keep pretending. Something was wrong with me. My incessant self-condemnation wasn’t spiritual prowess; it was a dysfunctional part of me deep within.
Another roadblock was myself. I was constantly punishing myself mentally for being broken. I never gave myself a break. If I had terrible anxiety, I beat myself up. I called myself some horrible things during those lonely moments. My greatest enemy during moments of war was often myself.”
I read Andrew’s response here and I caught myself subconsciously nodding my head. Like him, my worst enemy is often the voice between my ears. Don’t we all know what it’s like to beat ourselves up and condemn ourselves for our brokenness and failures? For many people I’ve talked to as a pastor, their inner voice is someone they would never trust or love as a friend, yet they allow themselves to be driven by it daily.
A Hopeful Word About Anxiety from a Fellow Warrior
Since Andrew is someone who has much more experience in this area than I have (and is writing some powerful and encouraging articles about his journey), I wondered what he would say to someone who is where he’s been. Here’s how he responded:
“Your feelings don’t determine what is true. Our emotions, feelings, and thoughts will change constantly, but truth does not. The truth is that we always have hope, healing is possible, we are loved, we’re not alone, there are people who care, our lives have so much to offer (even with our brokenness), and our future can be better than our past.”
Like me, Andrew is a follower of Jesus. His faith has obviously been a rich source of hope for him, as he’s fought for his mental health. Like Andrew, I believe hope and healing are possible.
I hope you know you’re not alone today because of Andrew’s story. I love what Andrew wrote in this hopeful piece, where he said, “It’s not our disorder that determines our future; it’s how we choose to respond to our disorder that creates who we become.”
Now It’s Your Turn…
I’ve asked Andrew to check in here periodically this week, to answer questions in the comments or to encourage any of you who struggle in this area.
If you have a question for him, feel free to leave a comment below. Also, check out Andrew’s website and the incredible writing he’s doing there.