“Calm down. There’s no reason to get upset,” my husband says in a quiet, gentle voice.
“I am NOT upset!” I respond angrily. “You’re just not hearing me! Why are you making this so hard?”
Conversations like this have played out countless times in my 30-year marriage. The words might vary, but my frustration only varies by degree. I had no idea anxiety had become my constant life-long companion, so ingrained in who I am that my official diagnosis came as quite a surprise to me, but not to those closest to me.
I experience anxiety.
I look like I have it all together, but feel quite the opposite. Fear and anxiety have hidden for so long behind anger and frustration that I never noticed them.
There are many types of anxiety and anxiety disorders, however the root of mine stems from PTSD that developed during childhood. I learned to cope with the hurt I experienced, to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and to keep going in spite of what I felt. While I was undoubtedly fearful of new circumstances and situations, I stuffed that down and simply moved forward. When chronic illness became another constant companion, the never-ending muscles spasms grew into another breeding ground for anxiety.
My friend Anxiety propelled me to accomplish and be recognized for many good things, but most came at a huge hidden cost.
As I’ve learned more about anxiety, I’ve developed a working definition of what it means to me: an outward confidence and an intense drive to move forward while experiencing internal uncertainty of completion, success, and approval of others.
6 Disguises of Anxiety
While it seems I don’t miss a detail, the reality is that I over-think almost everything, and that comes with a high cost — stress, lack of sleep, anger, frustration, and a deep fear of failure.
I learned to be a people-pleaser as a child. Over the years, it became my way of being liked, well thought of, and praised. But that came at a cost. Four decades later, I shockingly discovered I that didn’t know who I was.
I had learned to be a chameleon, “reading” others and changing my colors to be what the other person in the transaction needed or wanted.
I longed to be someone who was liked.
3. Active – Never Stop Moving
My inability to slow down and rest, to find a measure of peace, and to appreciate the small moments of joy in the midst of anxiety, seemed just out of reach.
4. Extremely Helpful
While I can say “no,” I rarely do, until I’m so overwhelmed I want to quit everything. Saying “no” makes me feel like I don’t measure up. But to what? To an ever-changing standard that my anxious mind creates.
Failing simply isn’t an option. Everything becomes imperative to do right now. If I don’t immediately do every.single.thing, taking care of every little detail that comes to mind or writing it on a list, I’m afraid I’ll forget, and the whole world will come to an instant end.
6. Performs Well Under Pressure
I tend to over-plan and tackle every possible thing. I receive accolades for my accomplishments (even though I struggle to accept them), which drives me to try to accomplish more, which brings more accolades, which drives me to accomplish more. It’s a vicious circle.
As I’m learning to recognize my anxiety in-disguise, I’m also taking steps toward this new journey of healing.
6 Steps to Recognize Healing Hiding in Plain Sight
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NIV-84
Do not be anxious about anything – I cringe every time I see these words, because I’m rarely not anxious. Instead, I often feel that I don’t measure up, or that I’m a failure, or worse, that I’m a disappointment to God.
But perhaps that’s the point.
In my utter insufficiency to manage, stop, or control my anxiety, I come to end of myself. What I’m learning is that this verse is not about condemnation, but about invitation — the invitation to lean into the Father’s love, grace, and mercy.
As I reach the end of me, I’m also learning to reach for God. Prayer is simply a way of talking with God about the swirl or avalanche of my anxious thoughts. I often wonder if He is weary of hearing from me again with the same fears and frustrations in a different situation. Yet what I’m discovering is that it’s safe to be angry or scared, to lament or grieve all the things I’ve bottled up or stuffed down when I come to God in prayer.
This is when I ask God, when I beg Him, to help me enter into, the elusive rest, which my mind, body, and spirit are desperate to find. Because my mind often spins out of control, I recite, pray, and personalize the words of Psalm 62:5-6 NIV-84:
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from You. You are my rock and my salvation; You are my fortress; I will not be shaken.
In my anxiety, I often feel isolated, alone, and forgotten about, and angry — angry that I can’t do everything my mind believes I ought to do; angry that I can’t get others to do some piece of it, or do something more to help me; angry that I can’t control all the pieces and all the people.
Ultimately, I’m angry at God.
Until recently, I didn’t realize that many my emotions and much of my anger are directed at my husband. I’m like my grandmother’s old-fashioned, pressure-cooker. When sealed correctly, the heat creates steam, then the valve on the top whistles and vibrates, carefully releasing excess steam. However, when the pot isn’t sealed correctly, it will forcefully expel its contents all over the stove, walls, and ceiling, leaving the entire kitchen in a big mess. Throughout our 30+ years of marriage, my husband has been my release valve, patiently waiting as I vent my frustration, helping me to figure out what the real issue is. Sometimes my frustration explodes all over him about something else completely, yet he stays, welcoming me back from the hard place even in the middle of the mess.
Then, when I can focus on God’s constant care, provision, and love, my heart and mind can take a long, deep breath.
Oh, how I long for peace, when my mind will rest and relax, but far too often even with the best of intentions, I simply can’t make my mind stop. It just continues to plan, scheme, and wander through an endless list of “to-do’s. While I long for peace, I now realize that it isn’t a thing or a state to achieve, but the person of Jesus, my Prince of Peace, whose arms are wide open just waiting for me. Peace is an invitation for my mind to read about, recite a scripture about, and remember, for Jesus is the perfect counselor and guide toward His peace-filled presence.
As long as I can remember I have hunted for refuge and safety, which has seemed just beyond my reach. Fear that I won’t fit in or that I will say or do the wrong thing plagues me, so it’s safer to avoid closeness to others. Holding them at arm’s length seems to offer a measure of protection.
Looking back over my life, I realize that God has protected my fragile heart and mind with laughter. I love to laugh and I find humor in many situations. I believe laughter is truly a gift from God and sacred to Him. Laughter has the amazing capacity to change a moment of hard, and to act a pressure release valve protecting me when I feel the weight of too much anxiety.
A cheerful heart is good medicine. Proverbs 17:22
“Humor has the unshakable ability to break life up into little pieces and make it livable. Laughter adds richness, texture, and color to otherwise ordinary days. It is a gift, a choice, a discipline, and an art,” writes Tim Hansel in his book: You Gotta Keep Dancin’: In the midst of life’s hurts, you can choose joy!
God is guarding and protecting my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. While anxiety is a part of me, it doesn’t have the power to remove God’s safeguards around me.
Jesus healed many people in many different ways during His earthly ministry, but what strikes me is that each time He healed, it was a personal and intimate encounter with the One who truly sees the heart. While anxiety may be my thorn in the flesh or my cross to bear, Jesus is always right beside me.
What if healing isn’t the absence of anxiety, but the Presence of Jesus in my anxiety?
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Executive Director and Co-Founder of Chronic Joy®
Pamela is a leader and a visionary following God's call to inspire those affected by chronic illness to discover hope, find purpose, embrace worth and encounter joy. She believes that every precious life affected by chronic illness is both vital and purposed.
Pamela is the mom of three married children, grandma of two sweet granddaughters and one baby grandson, and a wife of more than 30 years. She is diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos, chronic migraines and a host of other chronic conditions.
Pamela enjoys hot tea, reading -- almost always more than one book at a time -- and walking her teddy bear dog, Cocoa.
Henri J.M. Nouwen
At one of the lowest points in Henri Nouwen’s life, he gave a series of lectures on the importance of following Jesus in an age of anxiety. Drawn from those talks, this new work reveals what sustained Nouwen to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus and led him to become an icon of compassion and vulnerability.
Cindee Snider Re
This 10-chapter study invites participants to experience radical hope and compassionate change in a life with chronic illness.
No matter how dark the days, how wild the storm, how deep the valley, or how long the winter, there is hope.
There is always hope.