Courage is What You Do in the Presence of Fear

Yesterday, Calah Alexander, one of the bloggers here at Patheos, posted a wrenching personal update about her struggles with anxiety (“My Nervous Breakdown Was Totally Lame”).

So the Ogre made some phone calls, made me make some phone calls, and then made me make an appointment for therapy and psychiatric care. I was willing but not enthusiastic, mostly because I felt like I was still being a big sissy and making a fuss for nothing, and if I would just shut up, stop whining, and do the freaking laundry already, this would all disappear.

My therapist thought the saga of the plate loss was funny, because it’s so absurd. It isfunny, actually, but it’s only funny because now I know what’s wrong with me.


Funny how one word can change everything. I never considered the idea that anxiety disorder is something that I could have. I figured, like the asshat I am, that people who can’t leave their house and who have panic attacks are probably just super unable to suck it up and deal. In a way, that’s true, they we are. But the idea of all that stress and fear being even partially a physical reaction wasn’t something I gave a lot of credence to. Again, asshat here.

My therapist said that anxiety, while not always simple to treat, is always simple to understand, because it is always, 100% of the time, based on avoidance. That’s not always a bad thing; we’re biologically programmed to be flooded with adrenaline and cortisol when our brains sense danger, so that we can avoid it. But when you can’t chillax and everything you see is danger everywhere you look, when disaster and death and the downfall of your family and probably civilization as well is lurking behind each heap of dirty laundry, you become completely paralyzed by the fear of failure, of what will happen if you don’t get it together, which paradoxically renders you incapable of getting it together because when you try to open the laundry room door and it won’t open because there’s too much laundry, you collapse in hysterical sobs on the floor and gasp for air and hold your head together with your own hands because you’re really afraid it’s going to split in half. But not in the cool way, like where Athena jumps out to save you from the laundry. In the way where you’ll have to put it back together with superglue and live the rest of your life with a broken head, which will make doing the laundry completely impossible forever.

It touched pretty close to home for me, since, in college and after, I’ve had a number of close friends with anxiety problems.  And one thing that’s hard for me, from the outside, is how terribly terrible our culture is at talking about anxiety.

When I was younger, I was lactose intolerant (I grew out of it).  And everyone around me, adults and kids, understood that meant my body overreacted or reacted oddly to something everyone else could enjoy.  And no one would have told me to just try to digest lactose better or that my lactaid pills were a crutch.

But we say this kind of thing a lot to people dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

And that’s bizarre.  Especially since I can’t even write off the reaction as being because a mental illness is invisible in a way, say, a laceration isn’t.  Because allergies are also invisible to the observer, but aren’t questioned or shamed.

To anthropomorphize a bit, when you’re having an allergy attack or an anxiety attack, your body is doing it’s darndest to keep you safe.  Unfortunately, as it’s using a sledgehammer to hit an ant (or even an imagined ant), its “solution” does a lot of collateral damage.  So, you might take medication to damp down the reaction or mitigate the side effects, and/or you might work on recalibrating the alarm parts of your body and mind, so they react more proportionately in the first place.

The correspondence between allergies and anxiety isn’t absolute, of course, but it drives me round the twist that we can have a better-than-the-status-quo pattern of reaction that we just haven’t managed to generalize.  Gevalt.

A bunch of the Patheos Catholic bloggers and I are starting a novena to St. Dymphna today, who is apparently the patron of these things, and you’re welcome to join up.  The prayers for the first day are below, and I’ll include a link to remind you at the bottom of posts for the rest of the novena.

Day 1: For Faith
O God, Source of our salvation, in the midst of a pagan people, Thou didst enlighten St. Dymphna by the light of the true faith, which she professed under the guidance of her holy confessor, Gerebran, with such constance that she suffered martyrdom. Through the intercession of these two saints, we beg Thee to strengthen the faith which Thou hast given us, so that by wisely subjecting our souls to Thy Supreme Authority, and by faithfully conforming our lives according to our faith, we may honor Thee with our whole heart and soul until the hour of our death. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times


P.S. Calah’s blog has a PayPal donate button, if you’d like to lend her and her family material support right now.

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