I’ve had many reasons lately to consider carefully my motives and behavior. I have been diagnosed as suffering from an anxiety disorder. While several traumatic events have contributed to this, and exacerbated it, I’ve only recently accepted that it’s been there all along.
That being said, and with full appreciation of the science that goes into defining these “disorders” I’d like to take it apart from a practical and then spiritual perspective. In short, I’ll stick with the anecdotal.
Symptom Set 1: Physical hot flashes, racing pulse, unclear thoughts.
Symptom Set 2: Hopeless dread. An expectation and imagination of the worst-case-scenario.
Symptom Set 3: Rambling speech, incoherent thoughts, and over-reaction.
The first set is relatively scary, especially when it appears to control me. However, after a few misfires in otherwise trivial scenarios it can actually be quite entertaining. “What’s this? A hot-flash and tingling lips because Google sent me 1 minute off course on a day that I’m in absolutely no hurry? Now that’s funny. What? A half tank of gas isn’t enough to backtrack 1 minute? Oh silly skin, don’t you have other things to do?”
On the spiritual side this is the “roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” from 1 Peter 5:8. It goes on to say: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” It’s times like this that the full profoundness of the Bible truly resonates. “same kind of sufferings” – isn’t that just what you’re led to reject? That somehow you’re alone in this and “strange”? It’s as simple as that, resist him just like the rest of the believers do.
The second one is what keeps tripping me up, and that is the point that would nearly keep me from writing this. It’s tough to keep moving forward when I don’t really have an answer. Yet here I go anyway, using my same advice from the previous paragraph and resisting the urge to quit (this time).
For me there’s a fine line between “hopeless dread” and “plan for the worst and hope for the best”. In fact, I have a certain “edge” that has always kept me recognized as very good at my occupation. I’m notorious for being tenacious. Further evidence of an uncommon “edge”. I do things that other people can’t. You see where I’m going here? My identity is tied up with my anxiety. Who would I be if I weren’t already mitigating the result of carelessness on the part of others? Well for starters, I’d probably be happier!
I manage to make a lot of enemies by not being willing to quit or “let something go” after someone else has already decided to. Again, career-wise, this has always worked out for me. Even a broken clock is right twice a day and I’m right much more often than that. However, especially in the I.T. world, there’s no shortage of shirked responsibilities. Much of what we do is redundant by design. Computer hardware can be unpredictable and can fail at the worst moments costing organizations tons in lost productivity. In my current field, lost productivity is a gray area that isn’t tracked as carefully as it could be, so many opt to take the easy route of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Then deal with the failures as they arise. The lost productivity is written off as “plausibly deniable”. Yet I seldom find deniability “plausible”. If you’re down to your last lug nut on your wheel can you really be “innocent” of the damage done when the tire comes off?
Tires coming off – So herein lies the real laugh of all of my “hopeless dread”. Believe it or not my 11 year old daughter DID have the tire come off of her ATV. Why? Because the lugs had fallen off! Whose responsibility was it? MINE!!! Thank God she wasn’t hurt.
Yet see what happened here? I’m so frustrated with battling those that won’t listen that I failed in my only jurisdiction to protect those relying on me. I never even looked at those wheels. I just let her ride off.
Expecting the worst can get really out of hand. Especially when ones mind is so consumed with it that they can’t keep up with all of the possibilities. Suddenly we find ourselves more negligent than those that frustrated us so. I suspect that I would have fit well on a team of engineers designing deep space probes. Once launched those things are what they are. Failure to tighten all of those lugs will cost the mission! Yet what about home life? Have any of them managed to separate the two? Or are they doomed to torture everyone around them like Sheldon Cooper?
There really is a fine line between “dread” and “vigilance”; there’s also a fine line between “hope” and “hopelessness”. For both the border is faith. For the non-believer and believer alike faith in other people, for the believer, it’s ultimately faith in God. This is where the sharp claws of cynicism can really cause harm. They slash away hope under the guise of “lessons learned”. It goes something like this: “I’ve been burned by other people far too many times to trust them this time.” And therein “hope for the best” becomes “hope-less-ness”.
The spiritual dimension of this one is very challenging. At some point you may even hear something like this: “Didn’t God say it was bad to put your trust in other people? Then don’t go disappointing God and being all ‘hopeful’. In fact, maybe cynicism should be a fruit of the Spirit!” Well, Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us that “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” So that’s a lie, God isn’t cynical and we shouldn’t be either, even if we still have trouble believing it.
That last one – incoherence – isn’t really a problem at all right? I mean of course I sound incoherent to someone less acquainted with the details of this situation. Of course it sounds like “rambling” when the other person doesn’t recognized the seriousness of the situation?!?!
Well whatever it “sounds like” there’s an old saying – or maybe I’m just rambling – that perception is 9/10ths of reality. So frankly it doesn’t really matter how relevant some information is. If the recipient is not willing or able to hear and recognize that connection, then for them it does not exist. Once they write you off as “incoherent” and “rambling” then your only choice is silence. If they are determined enough to work out the scenario then they’ll ask questions and we need to be careful to slow down the flow of information to a pace that does not seem so “incoherent”. The fact is, some degree of coherence is a subjective thing. My computer techno-babble could be rightly considered incoherent to non-techies. However the fallacious rants of a progressive defending the murder of babies for the good of society should rightly be considered universally incoherent.
The spiritual dynamic of this sets people in opposition to each other. Sure, sometimes they should be in opposition, as is the case with baby humans and the abortion issue. At other times the confusion is meant to harm. While I’m wrestling to get someone’s brain to fathom whatever concept I’m trying to convey I’m wrestling with the wrong thing:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12
Perhaps the fact is that God has given us a talent, maybe it’s discernment, maybe it’s outright prophesy. Maybe we’re doomed to be hated and contended with:
“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” – Luke 16:31
Or maybe we’re just wrong? Whatever the case there comes a time when one should just “shake off the dust”:
“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” – Matthew 10:14
Otherwise we may find ourselves suffering unnecessarily from “kicking against the goads”:
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” – Acts 26:14
So to sum up, consider that last point. “Goads” are spiked sticks used to guide livestock. Consider this to be similar to a Shepherd’s staff, but with a point on it. If the animal kicks against it, then it will cause more pain than intended by the Shepherd. Or in this case God Himself.
For all of the symptoms listed above, there are vices and virtues. I cannot tell you what God expects from you. People cannot either, because as we know:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” – John 15:18
Our motivating principle cannot be fellowship with the world (James 4:4), but that being said we should face our battles with prayer. God does sometimes call us to move on, to “give up” (for lack of a better word). Being overly assertive can become an attempt to do things in our own power and an act of pride.
So my anti-anxiety solution? Faith and wisdom. The faith to trust God with the things we cannot control, and the wisdom to know that we are imperfect and will fail on our own. Allowing Him to teach us with His “goad” instead of stubbornly marching forward on our own accord. There’s no sure thing here, no formula, but rest assured God will make Himself heard when we are careful enough to listen.