I’ve been on holiday recently, and those who follow me on social media will have seen photos of some of the fun moments – and there were lots of fun moments, but…
The bits I tend to gloss over – let’s talk about them too. Because I don’t believe in pretending that life is perfect, everything’s rosy and I don’t have any problems whatsoever. I don’t like the pressure that this puts on other people – to pretend that their lives are perfect and to hide the unpleasant bits, the painful stuff, the fears and anxieties, the physical problems that get in the way, the things that are not our fault but for some stupid reason we tend to feel embarrassed about and try to pretend they’re not there. The things we don’t usually mention when someone says “how was your holiday?” – “It was great,” we answer enthusiastically, not saying: except that my anxiety really kicked in when…
It was a great holiday. But part of what was so great about it was that God helped me cope when my anxiety kicked in. Part of what was so great about it was that I found ways of enjoying my time in Wales even though it’s hilly and I have a problem with heights and with downward slopes. The sense of achievement when I managed to get to Caridgan Castle – you don’t get that feeling without having to fight such a huge internal battle to take one more step…
And there was that time when I found a lovely little secluded riverside spot, and one single bench where you can sit and watch the river – and there’s such a sheer drop, and the bench is so near the edge… But I found that if I walked sideways I could just manage to get myself to sit on the bench without being completely terrified. And the photos I shared from that place? I took them while sitting on that bench, and there’s no way I could have stood up in that spot, so close to the edge – but you don’t get all that from a quick Instagram post showing the beauty of the sky, you don’t know how hard it was for me to even be there.
And then there was the drive there and back – not so much the driving itself, though I definitely was pleased to find that I was up to doing motorway driving again after my car accident, and that crossing the Severn Bridge wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be! But no, the real biggie was being a passenger when my husband was driving – I’ve had major anxiety issues with that since my accident. It did take me a while to get my confidence as a driver back, but that’s nothing compared to sitting in the passenger seat, seeing cars coming and having no control.
So I asked people to pray for me, and God has been working with me on this – helping me to find ways of coping, so that I won’t be a complete and utter wreck by the end of a half-hour journey…
When I say a complete and utter wreck, let me fill you in a bit on what I mean. Because if you haven’t personally experienced extreme anxiety, you might not know. You might think I’m talking about normal levels of worry, about being a teensy bit nervous, about maybe having thoughts going round in my head about bad things that might happen. You might not realise that I mean my stomach churning so badly that I was worried I might not make it till the next loo break. You might not realise that my foot was pushing so frequently and so hard on the imaginary brake pedal that by the time we got to our destination I was physically and emotionally exhausted, wiped out, needing a rest before I could do anything at all.
This is how it was before I realised that I really should pray and ask God for help with this stuff. (It is pretty amazing how often I forget to ask him for help. I know the theory. I know he loves me and he’s all-powerful and I’m really good at telling other people but I so often forget to ask my loving Father for help.)
Now I’m not here to tell you that God miraculously healed me from my anxiety – though he’s done that with other things in the past, so I know not just in theory but also from experience that he can and that he sometimes does, but I also know he doesn’t always, and he doesn’t owe me an explanation. He’s not my poodle, he’s God. Anyway, where was I? ah yes, I was saying that in this case God hasn’t healed me – he’s just been helping me to cope. There’ve been times when I was in the car and my husband was driving and I realised that I was filled with peace, so much so that I even nodded off to sleep! That peace wasn’t the result of me doing any special breathing exercises or trying to think peaceful thoughts or anything of the sort – it just flooded me and filled me and I was just a grateful passive recipient.
The non-passive side of things is that I’ve been working on training myself to focus on Jesus instead of trying to distract myself from the source of my anxiety. Because reminding myself of him, of his love for me and his faithfulness – that helps me so much more, it gives me the strength to really calm down and face what’s going on.
And now and again there are those moments when God helps me by giving me encouraging thoughts. There was that point when I was trying to get to Cardigan Castle (on foot, and it was hilly, and I would remind you now that I have some major issues with heights) – there was a point when I was feeling so so so like giving up and actually sitting down on the grass-covered ground and crying. I was tired – anxiety is pretty exhausting. And then a voice in my head said: what makes you think you can’t do this? So I took a deep breath and took a leap and it was fine, and I made it to the entrace of the castle and walked in and paid for entry and watched the short video about Welsh history and wandered around and had a nice lunch at the restaurant and took pictures and enjoyed the place and posted the odd bits to Instagram and none of the people seeing those pictures or those seeing me walking around there or the one who sold me the ticket or the waiter who took my order – none of these people knew what it cost me to get there. None of them knew how close I came to giving up.
And part of why I’m sharing all this is because I think we so often don’t realise what struggles other people have, and it’s so easy to think everyone else has got it all sorted and you’re the only one who finds life difficult. And I’m not saying this as an accusation – I’m saying it as an encouragement: when you feel really pathetic, when you feel like you’re the only one not coping and why on earth can’t you, because look, everyone else is coping just fine – don’t buy into those lies. Everybody else is not coping brilliantly, they’re just not showing you all their vulnerabilities, just as you don’t go around showing your vulnerabilities to everyone else all the time.
There are some weaknesses that we can’t hide. If you need a crutch or a wheelchair to get around, that’s visible and everyone around you can see it. But no one can see that my lower back hurts like crazy if I stand on my feet too long, and no one can see that my stomach is in knots because of a road that’s sloping in a way that scares me even though I know perfectly well that it is actually totally safe. We can have all sorts of physical and emotional issues that make it difficult for us to do all kinds of things that others around us can do without a problem – but then again, each of those others will have their own issues and there’ll be things we find dead easy but they struggle with.
I’m trying to teach myself to be more open about my struggles, because really there’s no reason to be embarrassed about a weakness which isn’t my fault. I’d like to encourage you to do the same.
I’m also trying to teach myself to turn to Jesus for help more often, because I know he loves me and I know he can help. I’d like to encourage you to do the same.