Sundays as an Anxious Christian

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I think that our churches are failing the masses when it comes to mental health. I have been a Christian all my life. I am more comfortable in a church service than I am in the cinema sometimes – at least I know the etiquette, and the message I’m getting, whether I’m in church in South Africa, New Zealand or England. It’s a place where I’m supposed to feel safe and where, when things are tough, I’m supposed to find love and support.

There’s nothing harder than changing churches, because those places become your home. My last true home was in Wiltshire, where I worked as the Children’s and Youth Worker at a rural church. For over 2 years I attended that church, for some of that I worked for it, and no matter what I was going through in my life, that church was there to support me and lift me up. Considering that I worked and attended there when my diagnosis of depression and anxiety took place, that church cared for me and loved me like none other. That said, it was only really leadership that knew what was going on, as I was an employee, so maybe that’s something to do with it. Either way, leaving it for Coventry was one of the hardest things I had to do.

And today I attended my fiance’s church for the first time as a regular – I’ve been before as a visitor, but all of a sudden, this is my church, the place I’m supposed to find spiritual rest.

Being an anxious christian is hard – and that’s something I think I will save for another blog post. Suffice to say, if one more person tells me ‘do not be anxious about anything’ I might well hit them round the head with my bible (not literally… I hope!). Starting a new church as an anxious christian takes a lot of courage. Picture this:

Perhaps she held onto his hand a little too tight, her nails digging into his flesh as she clung to him. The physical closeness of his body did nothing to soothe the racing of her heart, and the sweat starting to form at her forehead. It was too late now to back out… the welcomers had said something… she didn’t quite hear what so she tilted her head towards Jack and half smiled on one side of her mouth. Was that rude? Were they still talking to her or to the person behind? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, she thought, as her breathing got quicker, her chest tighter. Ah, more welcomers, these know Jack and say hello to him as he pauses, despite the little tug she gives his arm. Her legs are shaking, she’s tired and frightened and she needs to find a seat that will become her haven for the next hour and half of her day. She lifts her head slightly to peruse the layout, the rows and rows of chairs already filled with bodies of people she doesn’t know, the chatter and laughter of children burning on her ears that only beg for peace and quiet. Jack turns to look at her and she says something along the lines of ‘we need to find a seat, now’. She doesn’t quite know what she said because her heart is beating so loud in her ears that she can’t even hear her own words, let alone those of the welcomers who continue chatting. Jack dithers on choosing a seat, she tells him to pick one quickly, and when he does she sits on it in a panic – has anyone seen how nervous she is? What if there’s communion? More people surround her as she sits on the seat that has become her sanctuary, talking to her, talking to Jack. She smiles and nods, trying to form words but knowing it doesn’t really matter because they’re all excited to catch up with each other anyway. There’s no order or service, no indication of the structure that the service is going to follow, no list of songs that she can look through to see if she knows any. The anxiety is in full control now – she doesn’t want to talk to anyone, she can hardly breathe, and she sits there staring fixedly at the floor. It’s a relief when the music starts, because she knows how to do this bit. 

It’s a huge amount of anxiety all wrapped up in something familiar. New faces, new songs, no tangible structure, not knowing how this church does things. It’s a hard thing to do. Bear with me if you will, as I continue:

The service has ended, the safe familiarity is complete and the anxiety she felt at the start goes into overdrive. Jack is out at children’s work, and no one came and sat with her during the service. So now she’s alone. She recognises the person behind her, but her back is stiff and turning around is an issue. She sits, anxiously tied to the spot that was chosen at the beginning of the service. Around her people reunite, chat about their week… start packing up the chairs. Vaguely familiar faces pass to and fro in her peripheral vision, but she’s so wound up by this point that she can’t even force the edges of her lips to lift into a smile. She sits hunched away from the aisle, wishing someone would come and talk to her because if they do that, then she has an ally against the anxiety, someone who she can borrow some strength from to fight it. But no one comes. And Jack is late. She waits for what seems like an eternity, grabs her things, and goes outside to wait in the car. 

Anxiety is a disease that attacks you at your weakest. If it’s that hard for a practised, seasoned christian, I can’t imagine how anyone without faith walks through the doors of a church. Anxiety is a monster that is trying to take the safety of Christianity away from me. I question my faith (a post for another time), I am scared of churches and gatherings, and I feel totally alone in it.

And so our churches begin to fail those with mental health issues. They welcome the newcomer, but the vaguely familiar face is left on their own. They share their stories of faith and hope, forgetting that they are the hope of Christ to those who are struggling to get by. They eat biscuits and drink coffee and talk to each other…even the familiar faces walk past without so much as a glace, and the anxiety wins.

Sundays as a christian are tough in familiar settings. They’re tougher on your own, wondering if anyone will notice the devil on your back.

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Moving Day

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So, I know I’ve just started writing my blog daily, however, I am moving house tomorrow! And we don’t have wifi set up yet. So I might got get the chance to for a little while.

Tomorrow I am leaving Coventry, where I currently live, and moving in with my fiance Jack in a flat that we have rented together! It’s the first time we’ve lived together, and the first time either of us have rented an unfurnished apartment. So we’ve already gone bed shopping and bought a brand new bed for ourselves, but we really have a mish-mash of furniture between us and nothing that useful (like a sofa or chairs) so it’s going to be a bit of an adventure that we’re happy to take together, of course.

As you can imagine, moving with anxiety and fatigue (and depression) is a bit of an issue. I had melt down in Wilkos today because I couldn’t find boxes… I literally walked out the store, leaving Jack holding what we had already picked up to buy, and had to sit on a bench to settle down. It made me very stressed and anxious. Jack’s been amazing – he’s done a lot of the cleaning and packing all day today and the flat is looking ready to leave. I just feel really out of control, and really tired and really stressed.

So… bring on moving day!

Anxiety – what it’s like and how to help

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I suffer from depression and anxiety, and although this blog doesn’t focus on this, I’m having a bad day from it all and thought that maybe if I write some of it down, it may help. So here’s a handy guide to MY anxiety and how to help ME. It’s so individual from person to person, sometimes even from day to day. But maybe this could help.

What it’s like

There’s no real way to describe what my anxiety feels like. Sometimes it’s like this massive weight on my chest, and I can’t breathe except in small gasps. Other times it’s insomnia because I’m worried about something. The other day, when my boyfriend asked me how I had slept, I told him honestly that I slept awfully because I was so worried about Donald Trump becoming president (this was after the election results) and there was nothing I could do about it. At other times I shake uncontrollably. Others I can’t move for fear. Sometimes it’s a panic attack. There are so many different ways to feel it. All I can say really is this: it’s constant. It NEVER goes away. It’s always there, eating at my self confidence and waiting to pounce.

I have several key triggers. These include, but are not excluded to:

  • Food: Where is my next meal coming from? Will my breaks at work fit around when I’m actually hungry? What if I eat too much? Is this bingeing or just being really hungry? What if someone cooks something I don’t like and I can’t eat? What if I get stuck in traffic without food? What if I get hungry for no reason? What if I can’t function because I’m hungry?
  • Sleep: What if I don’t sleep tonight? What if I need a nap? If I’m tired, will I be able to go to work? What if I can’t drive somewhere because I’m tired? What if I fall asleep at work? What if my bed breaks? What if I have bad dreams? What if I can’t get to sleep and then have to go the day without any sleep at all? Will I die from lack of sleep?
  • Money: Can I afford shopping? What if I can’t? What if I don’t get enough shifts to pay rent? What if my car breaks down? What if I don’t have a mortgage in 5 years? What if I owe someone money? Why can’t I budget for three year’s time? Why can’t I control every expense in advance? Can I afford this?
  • Social Situations: What if no one likes me? What if they call me names? What if I can’t think of anything to say? What if I don’t fit in? What if they aren’t all going to be my friends? Will I know what they’re saying when I’m not in the room?
  • Work: What if I can’t do what I need to do? Will my breaks fit in around how tired I am? Are they annoyed because I can’t lift and need sit down breaks every now and then? Am I even good at my job? What if they find someone better and replace me? What if my managers don’t like me? What if that person who was a little short with me really hates me and is going to report me? What if I have a break down at work?  Did I give  out the correct change? Have a written a good talk? Am I doing enough to be valued during times of change? Did that customer want ketchup or BBQ sauce?
  • Relationships: Do I lean on that person too much? Are they fed up with me? Are they bored of me? Will they be mad if I am myself? Will they help me? Do they have other relationships they like better than me? Is this a reciprocal relationship or am I just a blood sucker taking and not giving? Did I remember their birthday? Is it too early to add them on Facebook?

The thing is, everyone asks themselves these questions. The problem with anxiety is that I am asking myself a mix of about 6 of these questions at any one time, and that’s on a good day when I can actually function. I can’t compartmentalise the anxiety, or put it aside.

For example, as I write my boyfriend is sitting in the other room. I told him I wanted a nap, but I didn’t, but I was too scared to tell him that I actually just needed some time alone. I don’t know when he’s going to start cooking dinner and I’m starting to get hungry and I don’t want to annoy him because he eats on a different schedule to me. Is he brooding on how annoying I am because we cancelled a cinema trip because I was having a bit of a break down? Did I eat too much today? Will I manage the drive tonight to a meeting? What if I get really tired? Or lost? What if I can’t manage my Teach First training that’s starting in July? Oh, can I afford rent in January? Did I forget anyone for Christmas? Have I done all the Christmas stuff I need to do for church?

That’s literally all happening in my mind RIGHT NOW! And when you have anxiety, there’s never a break from it. It doesn’t stop harassing you because you need some head space. In fact, the more stressed or tired or worn out you are, the more it attacks you from every side.

How to help

You can’t ‘fix’ me. No amount of reassurance will stop me from worrying tomorrow about whether you love me or not. But here are some tips:

  1. Don’t make me go through a door first: First time social situations terrify me. Don’t think you’re being chivalrous by holding the door open. Just go through and let me follow.
  2. Give me time: Sometimes I can’t answer something quickly because I have to process every inch of worry that comes with the question. Don’t make me rush to answer, as that just adds to extra stress.
  3. Be patient: I get tired really easily. I get down really easily. I can be fine at 5pm and at 5.01pm I can be having a break down. I don’t plan it. I can’t help it.
  4. Tell me it’s okay: My boyfriend is amazing at this, and I never get tired of him holding me, or talking down the phone, saying things like ‘it’s okay honey, I’m still here, I’m still with you. It’s okay.’
  5. Don’t tell me not to worry: Seriously! If I could help it, I would. There is a difference between a worry, which I can control, and an anxiety which just frequently heads out of control.
  6. Be kind: My workplace is kind. They’ve made shift and break arrangements for me. They’ve been patient and supportive. I literally wouldn’t have survived without them.
  7. Remember, it goes on for ages: I can have a non-anxious week (well, I hope I can, I haven’t yet). And then I can spiral for 2 weeks. Don’t expect me to always be okay because I seemed it on one day.
  8. Understand that sometimes I have to go OTT to manage the problem: Yes, I’ve shown up at work with 3 people’s worth of food, an extra pair of trousers and a request to finish early. Yes, I know that I have literally planned out the next 5 months expenditure penny to penny. It helps, sometimes.
  9. Tell me when I’m being too much: My boyfriend is incredible. My family is supportive. My best friends check on me regularly. But I understand that it’s not easy maintaining a relationship with someone who is like this all the time. Tell me when I’m being too much, don’t suffer in silence. I’d rather keep your friendship and feel offended for a while than drive you away.
  10. And finally, if you want to know, ask: I am sick. I have an illness which can debilitate me some days. I am on medication and progressing through it slowly. But I am able to tell you what it’s like. If you’re suffering, I can help you. If you’re interested, I can tell you lots of stories. If you just want to know what you can do to help, ask. It’s my favourite thing about my boyfriend. When he’s at a loss what to do, he says ‘what can I do to help?’. That in itself is often enough.

It’s not easy

Writing this blog isn’t easy. Admitting I have a problem isn’t easy. Every single day is a difficult struggle. But I persevere through. I’m already feeling my heart beat faster at the thought of publishing this, but I will do it. The one thing that defeats my anxiety over things like that is the fact that I’m pretty spontaneous. If I think I won’t do it in a minute, I’ll do it right now. Which is happening.

Thanks for reading and please, if you have any questions, just ask.