Loving God and Having an Anxiety Disorder (Psalm 23)

High School

 

even though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

i will fear no evil,

for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff,

they comfort me

 

Depression is a gray cloud. It rests over you and extends down; its fog matts your hair with an invisible dew refusing to leave.

It travels down school halls, drives down country roads, and walks down city streets. Its only company is loneliness; it convinces you it is all the company you will ever have or ever need.

The sun tries to creep through every once in a while—your birthday or Christmas or the way she smiles when she looks at you. Your feet briefly hit pavement to the timing of the sun, but the gray cloud takes control again and hits you with a swampy malaise that makes everything hard.

The dew rests heavy on your head and makes your shoulders sink. It makes your head fall. It makes you only look down. Only look forward to sleep. To burrowing so deep inside your comforter that you disappear from reality for just a bit.

Because you’re tired.

Because you’re fearful.

Because you’re depressed.

--

This was high school. I didn’t know why it hit my sophomore year, but it hit hard. I only felt free when I was playing soccer or talking about Jesus in front of people. I went to church all the time and read my Bible a bunch and trusted—believed—that God was doing something with it. I didn’t know what, but I knew God was there.

But I slept a lot. And I cried a lot too.

--

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows

surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and i shall dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.

--

I graduated high school feeling like a different person. My best friend Connor told me they made medicine for what I was going through. My doctor told me my brain had scientific things happening in it that medicine could help. My dad told me it’s okay for Christians to take small white pills with two green stripes.

I’ve grown to consider medication a miracle.

I now look back and see a table “in the presence of my enemies.” My gray cloud hovered over me and watched as I sat at my table. All I wanted to do was move it some place sunny.

But I realized I couldn’t control that. I couldn’t control where my table was placed.

I could only control whether or not I was going to eat at the table God placed before me.

So I ate. Ten milligrams every day.

And I watched as my cup began to overflow. I cried for gratefulness as God brought healing into my life. I cried when I looked up, saw the same surroundings, and realized it was always the house of the Lord.

I wanted to live there forever.

 

the Lord is my shepherd; i shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.


College

even though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

i will fear no evil,

for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff,

they comfort me

Anxiety is ivy. At first it's small and its trellises are trimmed. “It’s only stress,” you say. You must not be eating right or you just need to get through this crazy season or you need to work out more.

But it keeps growing, and you keep growing bit-by-bit more obsessive over it. It grows up and around your brain, interlacing its vines and growing stronger, constricting tighter. One day you wake up and feel like you can’t breathe—its tendrils have squeezed your breath away.

Your hands shake slightly, but you don’t think anyone will notice. You’re not sure if you want them to.

You’re not sure if you need a defibrillator or a prayer, time to yourself or a hug.

The ivy continues to grow and tighten. It makes your horizon foggy and cuts out hope like a haphazard surgeon. You desperately try and spread it aside, but, like quicksand, the more you move the tighter it becomes.

Finally, arms at your side, you resign to your bed, but the comforter doesn’t comfort you. It makes you feel trapped in the heat of never amounting to anything. It traps you within the vision of all your wildest dreams never coming true and all your greatest nightmares carrying you towards the sunset. But still, you lie in bed hoping to disappear from reality for just a bit.

Because you’re tired.

Because you’re fearful.

Because you’re anxious.

--

I had eight panic attacks in one day. The ivy constricted and squeezed until I felt I couldn’t breathe. In class and out, I walked on eggshells and looked into a daze.

I sat by a waterfall and stared at it, desperately wanting to feel it cascade over my body. I thought about God’s promises. I didn’t doubt God’s goodness, and I didn’t doubt he was doing something in the moment and preparing me for something down the road. But still, I felt confused and sad and fearful and all the feelings that come with panic and anxiety and Christianity.

I looked back at the waterfall and desperately wanted to feel alive.

At the moment I only felt hollow.

--

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows

surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and i shall dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.

--

I asked for prayer that night after class. Each week, forty people sat around a lit candle and prayed before bedtime. This time they prayed for me. My roommate laid on top of me and held me as my friend held my hand.

I sobbed snot and ugly tears into the carpet.

After the prayer, people hugged me. Each hug felt like God. Each hand was God’s hand. Each embrace God’s embrace.

Depression and anxiety make words go in one ear and out the other.

But physical touch cuts through the anxiety and self-sabotage and says “I love you.”

When everyone hugged me, I believed they loved me.

When everyone hugged me, I believed God loved me.

Afterwards, I sat with my computer and typed out a prayer asking God why. Why did he create me with anxiety and depression? Why had he not healed me by now? Did he have a plan?

The craziest thing happened then: he replied.

I became a stenographer as words foreign to my brain entered my thoughts. God said he cried when I cried. He said he hated that I had depression and anxiety as much as I did. He also said he had the power to take it away from me. He said he would do it then-and-there if I really wanted him to.

BUT he said he had plans for me with my gray cloud and my ivy. He had plans I wouldn’t believe.

He said something then that will never leave: “Drew, take my hand. I think you’ll like where we’re going.”

I told him I trusted him, and I took his hand.

My cup overflows.

 

the Lord is my shepherd; i shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.


Post-Grad

and when he had given thanks, he broke [the bread] and said, “this is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

I was on a run one time when I realized something crazy.

I started thinking about Psalm 23 and tables in the presence of enemies. I thought about not being able to choose the placement of our tables but eating there anyways.

Then I thought of that time Christ broke the bread and poured the wine at the table with the disciples. They were each there to watch as he ate from the table and talked of breaking his body and pouring his blood. Even Judas, who would soon betray Christ and give him over to the Romans and Pharisees.

Even Judas, he was there too.

As I ran and thought, I realized that Christ took the advice of Psalm 23 and ate from the table set before him, even in the presence of his enemy. He didn’t control where his table was, but he decided to eat from it anyways. What’s more, he chose to break his bread and pour his wine and share it with the disciples—even Judas.

It was during that run that I felt God telling me that the first step to healing is perhaps learning to eat from the table we are given. Going to counseling, talking to parents and friends, practicing vulnerability, or taking medication. There isn’t one correct answer, but we are called to eat from the table.

And I believe the second step is learning to break our bread and pour our wine—to share our stories for others to relate with and find healing in as well.

We have to first learn how to eat, and then we get to learn how to share.

--

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows

I don’t want this piece to end with a perfect bowtie because anxiety doesn’t act that way. Life doesn’t act that way. The second you think you’ve figured it out, a psychiatrist changes the script.

Seriously. Last year after my run I thought I had it all figured out. Then I spiraled into three months of anxiety that culminated in being diagnosed with OCD.

Go figure.

But even in the midst of new diagnoses and counselors and medications and uncertainties, God’s rod and staff still comfort. They still remain.

I’m still learning how to eat at this table, and I want this website to be me sharing my bread and my wine with people who maybe need it.

 

We’re all working towards healing, and I just want you to know I’m beside you fighting.

May our cups overflow.

 

surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and i shall dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.