One time my Uncle Bob was putting a rather large amount of butter on his bread. My dad, wondering about the peculiar amount of butter asked him why he was putting on so much. My Uncle simply replied, “You butter your bread and I’ll butter mine.”
I tell you brothers and sisters, these are words to live by.
I went through a few months of anxiety attacks this year. I’m still in the middle of it to some degree, though learning about it and meeting with counselors has really helped me cope. But through it all I learned the need to butter my bread. That is, to worry about myself, so that I didn’t have to worry about everything else.
It all started on a Sunday in early January when I was supposed to give the announcements in church. I had been sick for 3 weeks and during one of those weeks we went to Seattle to see family. The trip was amazing but traveling with a newborn can be tiring. I was exhausted. But I wasn’t so sick I was bed ridden, and I was bored from being stuck in the house for a while, so I still volunteered to host the service.
As the countdown clock was on and I looked up to see that there was only 2 minutes left before the service started, my nervousness went from normal to soaring. I guess cause I was so tired and the task seemed so big. The band took the stage and hundreds of people were taking their seats and I simply felt like I was going to throw up. So I ran as fast as I could to the sound booth and told them, with one minute left until the service started, that I couldn’t go on stage. Another pastor had to come, grab my mic and get up there last second. And I just went home.
This started a few month period of being afraid of everything, especially an episode like that happening again.
What was that? Was that a panic attack? Or a nervous breakdown? Whatever it was it freaked me out. I took the next 3 days off of work. I went to meet with a Christian counselor. I went to the doctor. I tried everything because I couldn’t shake my nervous feeling. One anxious thought led to the next, each one more disheartening than the last. My confidence was shaken to the ground. I couldn’t get to feeling like Mitch.
The things I used to enjoy like public speaking, leading and traveling all of a sudden sounded like beasts to me, so I canceled all sorts of events because I felt burnt out and overwhelmed.
By God’s grace I have the most supportive wife on the planet. She walked with me every step of the way, not once yelling at me to “snap out of it” or to “just relax” which are some of the more painful things for an anxious person to hear. Also, thanks to God, I had friends and family who reminded me of the truth I already knew, but for some reason couldn’t pull out of my brain on my own. I was directed to a lot of helpful information as well. I read books on the subject, talked with experts and listened to podcasts. Through it all I learned that to beat the dragon of anxiety you have to fulfill your calling. And taking care of yourself is part of your calling.
I mean, how can you love your neighbor as yourself, if you don’t love yourself?
This is something I wasn’t doing. I had turned my unhealthiness into a joke. I was scheduling speaking gigs like a socialite schedules parties. I was pushing hard at work and taking care of my wife and newborn daughter. The result? Anxiety.
Immediately I started seeing a counselor.
Btw, this process let me in on a little secret - you can go see a counselor before a crisis hits. I encourage every Christian man and woman to find a Biblical counselor and have a session at least every 6 months like you would a doctor. Don’t wait until the Ox falls in the ditch to fill the ditch. Counseling is confidential. And like a light house for a boat, it’s helpful, and it can help you steer clear of a wreck.
Then I joined a gym and started taking the right supplements.
I have now been running every day for a while. Yes, running sucks and I hate it. I’m thankful there will be no jogging allowed in heaven nor any other part of the curse. But anxiety comes from seeing yourself as helpless. And working out means meeting goals. And the more goals you meet in the gym, the more you see your goals in life as hurdles you can jump. You got this. Planet Fitness is only $10 a month.
I did a little research and started taking some good vitamins and juicing nearly every day. This has helped me feel a lot better in general and better feelings lead to confidence.
I also started taking one full day off every week regardless of what else I had going on.
No email. No phone. No house stuff. Nothing but sabbath. Even Jesus Christ got away from it all. Follow his example.
On these days off I didn’t just puff on a stogie on my beautiful back porch, though one or two may have been consumed. I spent a long time in the scriptures and in prayer. I didn’t put any kind of a limit on this time. I just started reading the Bible until I knew I was done. For me, this is a period of about an hour. After that I start to lose my focus. Squirrel!
I then found an abandoned mall pretty close to my house. It was turned into an office space of sorts, but you could still walk around most of it. I joined some grannies with white New Balance tennis shoes and started walking this thing, the entire time praying through all of my upcoming events, worries, and concerns. Usually I’d pray for an hour or so as well while walking.
I started journaling through Philippians 4:8 whenever the nervousness really came on strong.
I would write down at least one or two sentences about things that were true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Writing helps you replace thoughts as the brain associates the movements of writing with importance. Where as anxiety is a host of aimless “what if’s,” writing requires the brain to evaluate what is realistic.
Finally, I just let some friends in on it.
This is one of the most vital parts of taking care of yourself. Especially when it comes to anxiety. Because, the opposite of anxiety isn’t logic, it’s love. 1 John tells us that perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love has come from Emmanuel's veins. We know that. But emotionally connecting with that truth comes from unconditional love given to us by other Christians. Their care incarnates the love of God for us.
When Christians are on your side, you feel like Christ is on your side. And when you know that Christ is on your side you don’t see Goliath as everyone else see’s him, you see him as David did, and you’re able to come at Goliath in the name of the Lord of Hosts, not run from him.
There’s a lot more I will say on the topic of anxiety, as I know not everyone deals with it or heals the same way. But, if you’re going to get back in the game without living a life of avoiding your fears all of the time, you’re going to have to learn to take care of yourself. You’re going to have to embrace what Delta has been saying all along and put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.
Taking care of yourself is part of your calling.