I was in high school when I first noticed it. At times that I’d be hanging out with my friends, cruising around our small town, when it would happen. I couldn’t really explain what was going on. All I knew is that I wanted to get home as fast as I could. And once there, I would plop myself on my bed and begin to cry uncontrollably. I knew that I didn’t have a reason to cry, yet the tears wouldn’t stop, and I felt like I was going to die. The feeling of an impending death was very irrational at the time. As far as I knew, I was rather healthy and, aside from the occasional cold, I was rarely sick. What could possibly be happening to me?
I couldn’t really talk to anybody about these episodes. Crying was a sign of weakness. “Los hombres no lloran!” (Men don’t cry), was a phrase that I heard throughout my entire childhood. Come to think of it. I have no memory of ever seeing my father cry. My father, a strong and self-sufficient Mexican man, had no problem communicating that crying was a sign of weakness. To add to this, the church that my family was part of, didn’t leave much room for someone with my type of struggle to voice a need for help. I concluded that my struggle was a sign of weakness. I resolved that if I only prayed more, fasted more, read the bible more, and attended church more, perhaps God would help me get over whatever I was going through.
The episodes would come and go . However, it wasn’t until I graduated and moved to a neighboring city, that I realized the severity of my problem. I had grown up in a small farm town with very little traffic. The new city that I moved to, although small, was much bigger than my hometown of 125 people. I wasn’t used to the large crowds that I encountered in the city. They caused my heart to race. I soon developed constant feelings of fear and unsettledness. One day I found myself stopped at a red-traffic-light and with an overwhelming feeling that death was knocking at my door. This time, it was much stronger than usual. Once again, I rushed home, buried my face in my pillow, and began to cry. I cried because I felt as if I was losing control. I felt alone. I felt less-than. I felt shame. I was a man. I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. Why me? I was trying to live an honest and godly life. Yet, I was trapped in a shell of perpetual fear.
Not long after this episode I found myself in Albuquerque visiting my Tia (aunt) Martha. To give you an understanding about our relationship, my tia is far from being a distant relative that I only see once a year for Christmas. My tia has been an integral part of my life since birth. She’s a fun and fearless lady who took me on many adventures when I was a just a young kid. Although fun and adventurous, she is also a no-nonsense church-lady who extends her right-hand, to show love to all, while simultaneously holding the devil in a head-lock in her left arm. Basically, she’s the Mexican version of Miss Clara from “The War Room”. I’m convinced that the devil would get away with a lot more if she wasn’t part of the picture. But she is. And I’m glad she is. Cause she is lovely and fierce all in one. And she’s my tia…. That means that she’s going to put up a fight for me.
During my visit, my tia noticed that something was not right with me. While we were out for a drive she asked what was wrong. For the first time ever, I told somebody about what I was going through. All these years, I had been ashamed and had avoided telling anyone. I didn’t know what to expect from her. But like always, she knew just what to do. She quickly pulled the car over to the side of the road, and she looked at me and told me, “Mijo (son), what you are feeling is anxiety, and it has attacked our family for generations. You aren’t the only one that has gone through this. Many of us have….. However, you must make a decision whether you are going to stand up against it and surrender it to Jesus, or whether you are going to remain a prisoner for the rest of your life.”
You didn’t have to ask me twice. I knew that I wanted to break free from this struggle, so I informed her of my decision. She then took me by the hand and begin to pray.
I don’t remember the words that she prayed over me, but I can tell you that something shifted inside of me once she was done. It’s been about 22 years since that moment. I’d be lying to you if I told you that anxiety hasn’t tried to peek its ugly head into my life since. However, the way that I choose to respond to it, has drastically changed. Here is what I have learned from this experience.
- I refuse to be held captive by anxiety
I’m not ignorant that anxiety exists. I’m not naïve enough to think that I’m immune to it. However, I absolutely refuse to be its prisoner. I am confident that God has granted me the grace needed to face every challenge that comes my way. So, if it comes my way, I’m prepared to put up a fight.
- I need to speak my faith into action
In Matthew 17:20 we find Jesus telling his disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could tell a mountain to move, and it would move….. Here’s the deal, I simply refuse to allow anxiety to block my path and keep me from enjoying life. I have no issue telling anxiety, audibly, to get out of my face. I know who I am. I’m a child of God. And I’m not going to allow myself to be emotionally or spiritually bullied by one of my worst enemies. Get out!!!
- Self-care is important
Over the years I’ve taken note of the things that trigger anxiety in my life. Lack of sleep, over-commitment, unhealthy eating, lack of personal boundaries, negative conversations, lack of exercise… all these trigger anxiety for me. The Apostle Paul reminds us that our bodies are the temple of God. Yet, I’m constantly tempted to treat my body like it’s a college frat house. I’ve learned that the best thing that I can do, is take a brief-moment (emphasis on brief), lay down in a semi-dark room, put some essential oils in my diffuser, crank up some relaxing music, and breathe. (I don’t care if it sounds like I turned in my man-card. I figured out what works for me, and I’m going to keep on doing it regardless of any opinion)
- It’s Ok to ask for help
In my last post, I talked about how I assembled an army of people to help me face my personal demons. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of surrounding yourself with a team of people who loves you, understands you, and that is willing to fight for you. I still have Tia Martha on speed-dial, but I also recruited the help of a counselor, a coach, family members, and friends. (…in case you were wondering where I stand on this, I’m not against people using medication to treat anxiety. Find what works for you and do it.)
- God is greater
I used to live in constant frustration because I couldn’t understand what was happening inside of me. Unfortunately, there is still so much that I don’t understand. However, I’ve learned that God didn’t promise me the ability to understand my circumstance. He promised me something better…. He promised me His peace.
6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)
John Eli has spent over 15 years mentoring and coaching individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, self-inflicted trauma. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”