It took me three days to realize I’m building toward a panic attack. I think of it like a simmering pot that begs for days to boil. Eventually it may. Or it may finally run out of steam, still piping hot, producing nothing but exhaustion, confusion, frustration, and sticky sweat.
It reminds me of dingy socks.
My wife is a neat freak. Always has been. The house is spotless and it’s not because we don’t live in it. It’s because she never stops cleaning. I don’t know how many times a day she sweeps the floors, but I know she mops multiple times a week. Yet, no matter how much she cleans, every time I walk across the floors, the bottoms of my socks get dirty.
Anxiety is so hard to describe most of the time. It’s tough to explain to those who have never experienced it. For three days, I’ve had that gnawing feeling in my stomach. I’ve been constantly checking the rearview mirror, and wishing I had a rearview mirror everywhere I go. It only goes away when I sleep, but even sleep has been light and fitful lately.
There was a time when I would question my faith whenever I felt anxious. Had I not prayed enough? Should I read another chapter of the Bible? I did tithe last week and two weeks before that, right? So why was I feeling so off? Some of my old thinking crops up during anxious times, causing me to check my bank account, assuming God is doing the exact same thing with me. I went through all the “good little church boy” items on my checklist but drew a blank. The truth is, anxiety doesn’t care if you’ve been good or not. It’s going to torment you regardless.
Anxiety is no lightweight. A friend of mine once said, “It’s not your Grandma’s kind of worry.” Punches are thrown to the righteous and the unrighteous alike, and I’ve taken plenty of blows to the chin. If anything, my experience with anxiety is even more tumultuous when I question it from a Christian perspective. I am constantly trying to be faithful, to do all the right things, and still I walk around with that tightness that envelopes the back of my throat. Scripture promises a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness. I think I’d like to cash in that particular promise right about now.
Yesterday, the yellow and rusting trees along the side of the road seemed to burn towards the sky. As I looked upward on my drive home, the grey skies mirrored my mood. The clouds were dingy, just like the bottoms of my white cotton socks after wearing them for a while on Lindsey’s spotless floors. My soul seemed just as worn and dingy. It finally hit me that the ominous feeling I’d carried for a few days was exactly that: dingy socks.
The past few days began to make sense. Not go away. The anxiety did not dissipate, but I was able to give myself a space to breathe for a minute. I remembered that sometimes there is no explanation. Mostly, I have no control over my anxiety. There isn’t always a reason why. No matter how hard I scrub at my own life, it’s still there and I can’t change it. I’ve tried medication, meditation, and breathing techniques. I’ve had vegetable oil crosses on my forehead and glasses of pretty good wine that manage to leave me drunk yet still just as anxious. Some of those work some of the time. Not one of them works all the time. And nothing makes it end for good.
I never realized just how important self-care and compassion actually are until I reached the end of myself. What about you? Do you have a safe community you engage with? (If you haven’t found that space yet, check out the Grace is Messy Community on Facebook.)
Are you leaning to find the balance between creating boundaries and building walls? Learning to say “no” is a powerful tool in caring for yourself. Learning to value your own mental health brings a great sense of wholeness, and don’t we all want to feel whole?
Anxiety doesn’t make sense, but remaining faithful when my hands shake for no reason is what keeps me moving forward. It may still creep up my spine and whisper white noise in my ears tomorrow, but I’ll also have another chance to see more of those beautiful rust-colored leaves and breathe in the crisp autumn air.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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