I’m writing this from my bed where I sit with feverish chills and a thermometer sticking out of my mouth for the fifth time today. I’m sweating profusely under five layers of blankets and Adam’s hooded sweatshirt made for the arctic. Still I can’t get warm.
Yesterday I had my first hyperventilating panic attack while out on a run with Adam. I’ve run in the cold dozens of times and we had dressed for the weather. This time I was coming down with the flu but didn’t know it yet. When the cold wind hit my face and tore down my throat making it hard to breathe, I began to panic. My body was having a difficult time regulating my temperature because it was busy fighting the fever that was coming on. We made it home, and after about five minutes of deep breathing, I had settled down. My first reaction was frustration with myself.
It’s been a little over a year since I first embraced my struggle with anxiety. I use the word “embraced” very purposefully: to embrace is “to hold closely in one’s arms, especially as a sign of affection.”
Before that I would have told you I had “admitted” my struggle with anxiety. “To admit” is “to confess to be true or to be the case, typically with reluctance.” Do you see the life-changing difference between those two definitions of posture toward ourselves?
I had spent my life putting on a brave face, fighting harder when the anxiety crept in, gritting my teeth to push it out, or to fix whatever issue I perceived to be causing it. I was always reacting to the fear, putting a band-aid over it until next time.
In January of 2017, I finally let go of the fight and I started to open up to the anxiety, finding my way to it’s vulnerable root. I began embracing that fear with the love of Jesus and with the guidance of my wonderful therapist.
Some days I feel stronger. Some days, like yesterday, I feel like the more I open up, the more difficult it becomes and the more anxiety I find within me.
Why do I share this? I share because I know someone needs to be reminded today that facing our fears and embracing our heart doesn’t always make us feel brave. Sometimes it makes us feel like we’ve actually completely lost our mind this time, but facing that feeling is the real bravery. Sometimes we need another brave, vulnerable human to look us in the eyes and remind us of that.
Letting ourselves feel is one of the scariest things we’ll ever do. As joy and sadness try to live together in our hearts, it can feel like we’re being crushed. I’ve cried a lot of ugly tears. Every single one is held in the hands of Jesus, and I’m learning to hold them in my hands as well.
I have so much to say on this topic, but for now, I’ll say this: God made us with human feelings for a reason. When we push away the bad feelings, we also push away the good feelings, and with those, we push away our sacred humanity. He gave us capacity for joy which means we also have capacity to feel the lack, the pain, the really not-ok. Jesus became human to be near to us in every one of those feelings.
He wants to replace our roots of fear, inadequacy, and shame with roots of Strength, Hope, and Mercy. He’s not waiting for us to get it together. He wants to step in the fire with us, weep right alongside us, and teach us the vulnerable glory of being human, created in His image, His “very good” masterpiece.