Don’t worry. I’m not Brittany Dawn. You want the truth about being a Christian with an anxiety disorder? It is way more complex than a glamorous influencer with a beautiful tan.
Yes. I use Bible verses for affirmation. But let me tell you about when that “coping mechanism” didn’t work.
An Anxious Visit
White 4x6 index cards in one hand. Phone in the other. I confidently pulled open the doors to the student health clinic. So far, no tears. I smiled at the thought of setting a new record.
Usually the meltdown starts before I get out of the car. Or at least that’s what I lead my therapist to believe.
The meltdown starts way before then. It’s practically my warm-up for the doctor. My eyes open in the morning and start the waterworks. Everyone does it, I tell myself. Everyone goes to the doctor! It’s not that big of a deal! Get a grip! I take my time getting out of bed. No need to rush. In fact, maybe I will miss the appointment if I take my time.
Unfortunately, I find myself NOT running late. I’m actually way ahead of time. This freaks me out. It’s not like me. Ask anyone I know. My sense of time is defective. I am always late.
What can I say? I’m a late person. So much so that I find comfort in running late. Concerning, right? Now here’s the kicker: I start crying harder because I am not running late.
Oh, what I would do to read my psychiatrist’s case file.
The Stereotypical Christian-girl Coping Skill
Before you roll your eyes, yes. I did it. Much to my dismay, I fulfilled the Christian-girl stereotype. Ugh. I’d rather run through mud.
This is where the index cards come to play. I picked up my pen. My breathing was shaky as I scribbled down Bible verses. 1 verse per card.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares about you.” - 1 Peter 5:7
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” - Psalm 94:19 NIV
“This is my command- be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9 NLT
“I have told you all of this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world!” - John 16:33
“But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” - Psalm 56:3
“As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me.” - Micah 7:7
Yah… These are just a few of my index cards. Each card/verse had a tear stain or two on it.
In spite of this, my breathing regulated the more that I read my index cards. The tears stopped. My heart slowed down to a “normal” pace. I was confident and “calm” by the time I left for the doctor.
The Waiting Room
Then I got to the waiting room. The nurse checked me in. I took a seat with confidence. My hands shuffled my verse cards. A smile spread across my face. I was doing it! I made it to the waiting room- without crying!
*scratched record noise*
The nurse glared at me. How did she know it was me? I thought. Then I remembered. I’m the only one here. So obviously I am Abigail. There was no escaping. I inhaled and shuffled my verse cards one more time. The next thing I knew I was walking into the back rooms of the clinic.
“Sit here,” the nurse said. I sat. My heart picked up the pace. No, I thought. Not today. I will do this without having a panic attack. It is attainable.
Until it wasn’t.
Verse Cards = My Failed Coping Mechanism
I was a mess within seconds. Crying, hyperventilating, and shaking. My vision was blurry too. Desperation had me flipping my verse cards like flashcards. I kept flipping. Just give it time, I told myself. You’ll feel better in a few minutes.
And I did.
A few minutes later, I was clutching the trash bin. Bile rose up in my throat. The nurses watched, open mouthed, as the hyperventilating girl projectile vomited into the bin. A.k.a me.
So much for the bible verse index cards. Time to cross that coping mechanism off the list.
The Truth About Being a Christian with an Anxiety Disorder
Here’s the truth about being a Christian with an anxiety disorder. No amount of bible verses are going to stop a physiological response. Prayer rarely provides immediate comfort. Just “having faith” can’t cure anxiety at its worst.
Sorry pastor. It just doesn’t work that way.
The Truth About Panic Attacks
“I did everything I could,” I anxiously stuttered to my doctor. “I used all my coping skills. Recited all the affirmations. Removed my overactive imagination from the situation. Slowed my heart rate. I thought I did everything right. Did I?”
They sighed. The sad-parent-about-to-make-a-confession sigh. “Yes. Yes, you did.”
A tear slipped out of my eye. “Then why didn’t it work?”
“Just because you tell yourself that you are okay doesn’t mean that your body believes you.”
I laughed. They looked confused.
“Then I give up!” I exhaled. Laughing maniacally.
Ever patient and ever wise, they interrupted my defeat. “You cannot calm down when you aren’t calm. Coping skills mean nothing if they cannot reduce the trigger. And you were surrounded by stressors! You responded accordingly.”
Anxiety and Muscle Memory
Muscle memory. The skill of athletes. They rely on muscle memory at every practice, competition, and tryout. It really helps assuage competition anxiety. Why? Because anxious people don’t trust their minds. That’s why we are so anxious. After all, how are we supposed to be calm if we cannot trust our minds?
Muscle memory is pure trust. It is the knowledge that no matter what, our body will remember what to do.
Just like a figure skater who slips mid-routine. The skater doesn’t quit. They get back up. They continue the routine. Their mind may freeze in panic (no pun intended). Muscle memory keeps them gliding as they process the mistake.
Anxiety and muscle memory makes for a double-edged sword.
What I realized about Anxiety and Muscle Memory
There’s something worth realizing about anxiety and muscle memory. It’s simple. Your body remembers.
The doctor’s office. Overstimulation. Fear. Anxiety. Hyperventilating. Panic attack. My body remembered all of it. “Just having faith” simply isn’t enough. I’m sorry. This is a physical fight. Not a spiritual one.
It’s likely that your body remembers too. The second you walk into that triggering situation, muscle memory runs like a default program.
So What Now?
I’m wondering the same thing. The whole situation petrifies me. Quite literally. I freeze up every time I so much as call the doctor. I can utter the Lord’s Prayer in the doctor’s office, flip my bible verse flashcards, and “just have faith” all I want. That doesn’t mean it works though.
It means it can. And it does. Doing these things helps direct my focus onto something else besides what is petrifying me. My fear simmers down.
The goal is that someday, my body will form this memory. It will remember my heart rate slowing, fear subsiding, and my heart trusting. The bible verse cards are not an immediate fix. They are a way of developing new muscle memories.
That is the tough truth about being a Christian with an anxiety disorder. “Just having faith” isn’t a solution that provides an immediate fix. It’s a tool just as much as it is a process.
All the Peace,