"The Thorn in Our Flesh"
Didn't we leave that whole teen angst thing back in 2012? Umm.. I wish.
Anxiety is a monster. It destroys your relationships, your confidence, your joy, your hope. It takes away even your ability to speak sometimes. You become paralyzed and helpless; fear takes over your entire state of being.
One minor inconvenience can send your mind into absolute panic. Even the smallest burden can crack you under its pressure.
It trips you up, closes you in, blinds your eyes, and covers your ears.
And, the worst part? Here it goes...
It may not end in your teen years.
I'm seventeen years old, which means I'm anticipating adulthood, all the while wanting nothing to do with bills, car payments, and grocery shopping. Your girl literally just wants to graduate. However, when I think about fully becoming a woman and going off to some big city and living on my own, I don't think of anxiety. No, I only think of freedom and independence, confidence and security. Not ripping my hair out because something as small as a text message sent my mind into scary, joyless places. But I've met some people and taken a few surveys, and I realized that anxiety can actually follow you into adulthood. Scary, isn't it? This whole idea of anxiety being just for teenagers can actually expand into your 20s, 30s, and even 40s. What!?
I mean, we shouldn't be so surprised. Remember being a kid and thinking that 17 years old was the age to be? Even 14 was magical? And most of us were in for a rude awakening, weren't we? For some of us, we met the enemy - anxiety - in middle school and it carried into high school. Or maybe it started in high school and now we're watching anxiety take its mark, as it's determined to sprint into college with us too. We didn't see it coming, did we? All we saw were the high school parties, the getting-your-license, finding the love of your life. But we didn't see those relationships not lasting as long as we thought. We didn't see the daily dilemma we would have, secretly wondering if we were enough. We didn't see our GPA not being as perfect as we studied for - our dream colleges rejecting our application. Nah, we just expected high school to be like the movies. We saw a fantasy and counted it as reality. And now, we're anxious. Now we're trying to figure out if our 20s are going to look the same way.
I'm going to end the depressing monologue here with some really great news that I've just recently learned: it doesn't have to, but if it does, we're going to be okay.
Our 20s can be as roaring as they say. Wild, fun, adventurous, filled with the best moments of our lives. But, let's not get trapped into the same misconception as before. Let's just be real. Not everything is as perfect and stress-free as we all have hoped.
You are reading the words of probably the most anxious girl of our generation. Seriously. Ask anyone. In fact, I'll ask some for you.
"You've always been overly anxious," my mom says while sipping her coffee. "For a child who shouldn't have to worry about anything, you worried about irrational things... like storms, for example. It's one thing to be afraid, but you would hyperventilate, cry, and think, 'This is it. We're all gonna die.'"
"You lost your breath over a car wash," my dad intervened.
Mom continued with, "You just had your own anxieties about everything, and we couldn't understand why." Clearing her throat, she says, "Even academically, I told you that it was okay if you got a B or a C, that failure does happen. I would tell you this to comfort you, but it seemed to create more anxiety."
"We could never reason with you," my sister rolls her eyes. "We'd give you countless healthy reasons why you don't need to be anxious, but you just got more anxious. Like, how does that happen?"
As you can see, none of these answers are polite.
All of my life I have struggled with anxiety. I didn't know if that was the proper term at first (I thought, perhaps, maybe I'm just a little dramatic), but I learned the hard way that anxiety was exactly what you would call my severely panicked reactions to a change of events, or going from smiling to crying in a matter of minutes because I thought my way into a highly unlikely scenario, or shutting down completely because of how quickly I let myself become intimidated. I can recall nights where I literally could not breathe in the midst of sudden, unforeseen panic. All I could see was that thing consuming the present moment and the rest of my life. I made my worry so big to the point where I felt drained of all of my hope. I was weak, losing my mind, and paralyzed by a situation so tiny I could barely see it once I recovered. I was anxious and the only reason why was because I realized that all I can control is me. I couldn't control the weather, that horrible car wash, if I'll get into a certain school or not, what will happen at my job, anything. All I had to control was me.
And, I didn't want to.
If anything, as a follower of Christ, I expected Jesus to do that for me. Like okay, You died for my sins, now take control of my emotions before I have a mental breakdown!!!! I remember spending nights praying to God, asking Him earnestly to take this horrible mental distraction away from me, claiming that if I weren't so anxious all the time, I could be perfect. And, I remember one of those nights clearly when I received a revelation from Holy Spirit. He convicted me through a whisper, really simple and soft: You weren't made to be perfect.
And that's when it hit me. That's when I realized that my anxiety came from this impossible goal to be perfect. Though without my anxiety I would honestly have a chance, I was truly never made to be perfect. So I started thinking, very discreetly and shyly, maybe my anxiety will never go away. You read what my mom said, right? I've dealt with this even when I was a kid. And if this is something I'm still dealing with seventeen years later, is it possible that I will always be anxious?
What if God doesn't want to "fix" me? What if I'm exactly the person I need to be, anxiety and all? What if I'm supposed to feel this way, to have these thoughts, to have this weakness so I would be able to depend on, not me, but God and God alone? Is it possible that my anxiety, your anxiety, doesn't stop the love of God from coming our way, so therefore it doesn't need to be "fixed"? The Bible says in Romans 8:35, "Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?" Paul, the writer of Romans, goes on to say the answer is, "No!" So, what if our anxiety isn't a flaw, but the magnet that attracts the fullness of God's grace? Aren't we among the ones who need it most? And if we need it most, isn't that grace enough? And with Christ, aren't we the strongest when we're the weakest, solely because we can depend on His might, and not ours? Because I have to admit, it was in those tear-filled nights and can't-even-get-out-of-bed days, the mental chaos and the breaking point of how much I can take was when I was able to see who God was not just in the good moments, but in moments like those. And I'm happy to report that even in the mess, my mess, He is good. He wasn't intimidated by my mental breakdowns. He wasn't panicking with me either. No, every time I fell, every time I cried, every time I felt alone, He was there. He didn't yell at me, didn't roll His eyes at me, wasn't irritated by me. Not at all. He saw the mess, He saw the damage I've done, and He gave me a love I will never find anywhere else.
So I'm simply tired of praying away something just so I can feel perfect in my own ability to fight, tired of praying away a weakness when God needs that to reveal to me His strength. I'm not saying anxiety won, I'm saying that I can still win, you can still win, because of who is on our side. This whole thing for me, every day of my life, is about Jesus. Therefore, I shouldn't be fazed by my chaos, my tears, my helplessness at times, because it isn't about me. It's about Him. And that's how I'm secure. That's how I have strength. That's how I have peace, because I've come to terms with the fact that I am weak, but with bible in hand and faith in Christ, that can only mean I am strong.
I'm not saying that God necessarily wants me to live anxiously. He just wants me to find my peace in Him. I'm not saying that God is weak, I'm saying that He is in my weakness. He's making my struggle significant. He's being the light in my darkness. So, anxiety is not my name, nor is it who I am, what I do, or how I live. I'm simply just not perfect. I wasn't perfect then, and I certainly won't be perfect in my 20s. But, I serve a God who is, and with all of His love and all of His grace, that will always be enough for me.