“Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but only empties today of its strength.” – Charles Spurgeon
Powerful words from my guy Spurgeon. I think for far too long now, I have allowed my mind to exist in a place that if feels isolated, the lone of its kind. To feel like i’m on an island to myself, my struggles, pains, fears, and anxiety kept within myself, because i’m surely the only one to feel them. Undoubtedly everyone else has this life thing all figured out and doesn’t struggle daily with thoughts of worthlessness, self pity, and an overwhelming crushingly ever-present sensitivity to their own lack of value.
But then the very rational part of my brain (with the help of my counselor’s rational brain) points out that no, i’m not alone. In fact people all over face similar depression and anxiety. In many ways its human nature to feel this way. So what I want to do here is to break down the process for my self, and if you read this and think it helps, then i’m glad. Over the next several weeks I want to look at some Fallacies that I, and I think many others have come to believe about anxiety and depression.
First let me give you a little back ground on me if you don’t know me. I grew up in stable home, my parents are still married. We were rather poor in my early years, but we never went without anything we needed, and often didn’t go without what we wanted. They provided well, and are quite well off now. I have an older brother, who is my best friend, and has been for the majority of my life with the exception of a few rough high school years that I call his “dark days” (he was just too cool for me). I came to know Christ at an early age, and have never really had a period of time where I was really running from Him. I always kept my grades quite high in school and graduated in the top 15 percent of my class. I met my wife about a year after I graduated high school, around the same time as I became a Youth Pastor. We got married a little over two years later, and have been married for almost 6 years at the writing of this post. Almost two years ago we bought our first house in an area we love. About 18 months ago we had our first child, Titus, who is quite literally perfect.
From a cookie cutter perspective it would be hard to plan a “better” life for a 27 year old thus far. And from an outside perspective one might look at that life and think to themselves “how could someone with such a picture perfect life ever feel anxiety or depression?”. What I omitted from the that snapshot of my life was the underlying fear, anxiety, and depression that stems from the perpetual feeling of not living up to the life I’ve been given. This brings me to my topic for this week.
Fallacy #1: A successful life begets a healthy mind
Leading into the Fall of 2016 my family was facing a lot of life changes. My wife and I had successfully gotten pregnant after a few months of family planning, and we had decisions to make. I was commuting and hour to my part-time Youth Pastor job that I had had for over 6 years. We lived in a condo, but knew we had plans to buy a house before our baby was due to make his appearance early the next year. We prayed through what was best for our family, ministry, and future. We decided, and felt led to leave our church home, not knowing what was next. July 31st was my last day serving on staff at Believers’ Baptist Church, and a short period of unemployment began. During that time I was able to do tons of work on our mortgage for a house we fell in love with in downtown Rockwall. We closed on our house the same week as I had an interview at a large church not 5 minutes from our new home. It was a full time job in the children’s ministry department really just owning the program and running with it. During those first few months there I learned heaps. I learned what it’s like to work for a large “company”. I learned how to work with a team, and what it meant to have a position that was vital to that team. I learned, and quickly, how to be more efficient and productive with my administrative skills that were severely lacking. Unfortunately I also learned that when placed in a situation surrounded by highly driven people, I felt severely outclassed.
I had this constant feeling that I was in over my head, and that I was just playing pretend, while everyone else around me was the real deal. Time passed, my son was born, and still this feeling lingered. I received compliments on my work, and with them all new responsibilities. Me and my supervisor’s supervisor build a relationship and he asked me to take on new roles, and work on new projects. My work load grew, and I loved it. But at the back of my mind, I knew I wasn’t good enough, I knew I was going to fail.
This is where the spurgeon quote comes to mind. “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, but only empties today of its strength”
This thing in the back of my mind wasn’t going away, it wasn’t helping me, or bettering me. It wasn’t preparing me for tomorrow, or the future, it was just leaving me defeated today, and the next day, and the next.
It didn’t matter that I had a picture perfect life with a picture perfect job. It didn’t matter that I had a picture perfect family. It didn’t matter that I was making good money, owned a house, and had no debt to speak of. All that mattered, in the quite times late at night, or when I was sitting in my office wondering what to do next, or on the occasional long drive, were the lies in the back of my mind.
You’re going to mess this up. Who are you kidding? Everyone knows you’re in over your head. How did you even get this job? This is all going to come crashing down. You have always been a failure. Those two co-workers are talking about you, right now. You will never be successful here. You should just give up.
You. Are. Not. Enough.
Any negative comment or criticism would only prove, what I already knew to be true, because each and every day, I let lies win. Then the compliments I received weren’t edifying as they should have been. Instead they were just tiny chinks in the armor of negativity my mind chose to put on.
I would love to say that I have grown out of this kind of daily anxiety. I would love to say that magically i’m fixed, and that now, these kinds of thoughts don’t enter my mind and take root. The truth? I battle this daily, hourly, by the minute. You may think that sounds like defeat. Let me say it again with emphasis properly placed.
I BATTLE this.
I am a student in this, ever-learning and trying to find new ways to fight the lies that present themselves in my life. Let me share a few.
- Identifying things that are true, and things that are false:
This is one of the more helpful things I have recently re-learned. Ignorance, in this at least, is actually not bliss. The more you let these thoughts grow and build untamed the more they will become realities in your life. So now, when I feel anxiety, or depression I stop and identify why i’m feeling it. I keep a journal where I log it. What was I feeling exactly? Why was I feeling it? And then more importantly, is it true? If yes, then I can deal with it. If not, then I don’t need too.
Now that may seem contradictory of what I said earlier, particularly on the grey area lies. How can you identify if something is actually true or not when your brain tells you it is. So lets just take a couple examples of those lies that I read earlier and work with them.
a) You have always been a failure.
So in the process, after I identify why i’m feeling it. I ask myself is it true? Have I always been a failure? I have had moments of failure in my life yes. But also moments of triumph. Moments of doing well, and achieving good things. So obviously I have not always been a failure. That one was easy (though in the moment, it can be extremely difficult).
b) Everyone knows you’re in over your head.
This one is a little more grey. Is this a true statement? To be frank, there is no way to know one way or the other, apart from polling them and asking. That’s not going to happen, so what can I do? I can look at the truths I can find, and ask questions that lead to them. Has anyone said something to lead me to believe this? What was it? Has anyone said something to lead me to believe the opposite? What was it? And then go from there. Logic, often brings to light the truth and reality of the situation.
If at the end of the process something turns out to be true, then it’s something I can work on to make positive change. If it’s a falsehood i’ve chosen to believe (which is often the case) then I can actively combat that now, knowing it has no weight of truth.
2. Actively combat the lies about identity and worth with the truth of Scipture
As a follower of Christ my identity has changed. I can help to change my view of myself and reorient my thinking, by actively combating lies with the truth of the Word. Here are a few that have been significant to me. I will just list them for the sake of brevity in this already lengthy post.
- Titus 3:5
- Romans 5:8
- Psalm 139 (mandatory addition)
- 1 Peter 2:9
- Multitudes of other Psalms (will provide a further list if you would like)
3. Confide and trust in people
Friendship is an incredibly powerful thing. The love and trust that comes from looking into someones eyes, and knowing that no matter what you say they will still love and respect you is immeasurable. It can be hard to share the things we hate about ourselves. We hold so much shame inside about things that we probably have very little control over. We let fear tell us that we are alone, and that telling others will only bring more pain to us. You probably have no idea how difficult it was to type this out. Because even though I have virtually no readers, i’m still publishing the truth of my shame to the internet. But giving voice to my pain helps me combat it. Confiding in others what i’ve been through helps me to move past it and cope, instead of ignoring and letting it build.
I hope this has been either one of two things for you as a reader. First, if you don’t, or have never struggled with consistent anxiety or depression I hope this was eye opening. It’s not just people who have great loss, or problems in their life that suffer from these things. It’s ordinary, it’s common. So look for it your friends and loved ones. And then secondly, if you do struggle. If you wake up every day worried about what kinds of trials you have ahead of you and its hard to go on. If you’re scared to go to work, or that convention that’s scheduled, or church, or family events because your so afraid that others will see this self proclaimed weakness within you, i’m sorry. You are not alone. And you are not broken. It’s my hope that you will read this and take some solace in that. That you will read this, and maybe it will help you today, or tomorrow, or ten years from now. This battle you fight doesn’t have to end in defeat. From someone who is fighting along side you I hope you can see that. I don’t have it all figured out, and i’m not “fixed”. But I think, just maybe, I have finally come to realize that I wasn’t broken, and I hope you do too.
Let me know how I can pray for you in the comments, and stay tuned for the next part!