This Sunday we start our class on managing anxiety. All along as we’ve been writing and planning this course I’ve been so mindful of the words we’ve chosen to describe what we are doing. Are we talking about helping people who suffer from anxiety? Well, yes too much anxiety in our life does often cause suffering. Are we talking about a struggle with anxiety? Sometimes it feels that way, yes. Are we battling anxiety? Well, sometimes there feels as if a war is going on within.
It took me a while to clarify what I really was trying to say we were doing with this Calming the Storms effort.
When I first became aware of my journey with anxiety fifteen years ago, I certainly considered my relationship with anxiety a battle. I hated that I felt sick and weak and could not do the things that I wanted and needed to do. I remember thinking that this would be a one time war I would fight, win, and quickly move on from. Obviously I was young and naive and didn’t understand that even when we win a battle, we often never fully leave the war.
The first time my anxiety came back a few years after my initial recovery, I was crushed. I thought I had slain this dragon and would never have to see its face again. The return of my struggle with the foe of my anxiety seemed like a huge failure. I was determined to redouble my efforts and fully recover this time so that I would never have to deal with anxiety again.
Even though my recurrences with anxiety were often years apart and often increasingly short in duration, a familiar frustration would rise when I would meet this foe again and again.
Until finally I realized that anxiety was not some foe outside of me that I was battling.
My anxiety is a weakness that is actually a part of who I am.
For some reason, a tendency towards anxiety seems to be a part of how am I wired. We all have parts of us that are a little wonky. We all have a thorn or flaw we struggle with. Anxiety is one of mine. I do not have to love this reality. But things got much easier once I stopped hating it. Once I learned to befriend this less desirable part of me, my journey with anxiety got a bit smoother.
And my language changed. I stopped battling and struggling and suffering and started managing.
For if I can befriend this anxiety enough to know it well, I can see it coming. I can recognize it and acknowledge its presence and respond accordingly. For often when I look deeply, my anxiety is most often coming to me not as a ferocious foe, but as a messenger. A body crier of sorts that is letting me know something is wrong and needs attention. As soon as I recognize the cries and respond to the needs, I have tamed the dragon that could not be slayed.
So whatever your struggle or flaws may be, I wonder if it would be possible for you to befriend them instead of constantly battling them? They are after all a part of what makes you uniquely who you are, a part of the gift that is you. For that’s the thing about our dragons, you know. Once they stop breathing fire at you, they lead you to precious gold.
*Many thanks to the lives and works of Henri Nouwen, Xavier Le-Pichon, Jean Vanier, and Brene Brown who have taught me about loving my weakness, my fragility, and embracing vulnerability. Oh and thanks to Tolkien for teaching me about dragons.