anxiety = monster

how do you stop looking for monsters under your bed,

for dark shadows in the corner,

for anxious sounds in the night,

when you’ve been looking all of your life?

but where there once was darkness, now there is light;

and where there once was worry, now there is security.

where there once was fear, now there is trust.

but alas, you keep pulling back the covers,

and looking under the bed,

that though they have finally moved on,

you have lived with monsters for so long,

you feel like you have to create them.

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less is more

Does anyone else feel like they’re constantly running late to everything in the diary?

Friends,  I want to talk to you about busyness.

As of late, the only thing I can think of comparing myself to is the last remnants of butter in my fridge spread across a large slice of toast. Lately, life’s busyness has spread me way too thin – leaving me to feel like a piece of dry toast. (Ain’t that sexy?)

The demands of the present and worries in the future have me feeling spiritually underwhelmed and physically and emotionally overwhelmed.

As a result, I am not able to give the best version of myself to people around me nor do I have the energy to pause and reflect on special moments throughout the day.
So this week I have drawn a line in the sand.

No longer will ‘busy’ be my go-to excuse.

No more long to-do’s masked as productivity.

Friends, I get that each of us is busy. We are juggling so much and some things must be crossed off our checklist. We cannot absent-mindedly remove ourselves from all responsibilities in the name of self-care.

But at the end of the day, something’s got to give.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to sacrifice my mental wellbeing for the sake of ‘having it all together.’

REPEAT after me:

‘It’s good enough.’

‘It’ll have to do.’

‘It can wait until tomorrow.’

I don’t have all the answers to effectively managing my busy schedule nor do I think there is a magical formula for how to become a more balanced person.

Believe me, if I had the silver bullet to perfectly balancing family, career, creative side-projects, healthy eating and physical fitness; I would be the first to share with you.

All I know is, it’s okay to de-clutter your life from the things that drain your batteries and harden your soul.

In a world that screams ‘You need MORE’, I am discovering that less STUFF (material things, clutter, screen time, appointments) is the key to more LIVING.

And I’m all about slow loving.

For me, that’s starts with this weekend with a trip up to my in-laws’ house in the Highlands.

There’s nothing quite like playing card games around the fire with your loved ones (with a rhubarb gin in hand, of course).

These are the moments, people. Soak ‘em up.

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the truth about having it all together

I don’t think I can be on prayer team tonight. I was full of discouragement one Sunday afternoon before evening service. Looking in the bathroom mirror, clutching a hairbrush in one hand and a bobby-pin in the other, I couldn’t help but feel utterly worthless.

How was I, the girl with anxiety, the girl who no more than 1 hour ago was lying under the covers and sobbing to her husband, expected to serve on prayer team that night?

How could I possible pray for others when I desperately need prayer myself?

I’m a mess. Why would God use me?

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency for being unusually hard on myself. I am 100% my own worst enemy. I am rubbish at extending grace to myself. Thank God that He doesn’t disqualify me the way I disqualify myself.

Over the years, I had wrongfully convinced myself that in order for God to use me, that I needed to be perfect. I had self-inflicted a childhood narrative of ‘having it all together’ and sadly lived under its unrealistic expectations for many years throughout my 20’s.

I had adopted the unhelpful belief that unless I was anxiety-free, God wouldn’t use me otherwise. As far as I was concerned, in His eyes and in the eyes of the Church, I did not have a part to play in His Kingdom unless I sorted myself out.

I love what Pastor of Elevation Church, Steven Furtick, writes about our struggles in his book Unqualified.

“Our weaknesses don’t disqualify us. They actually qualify us even more, because they are the portals through which God’s power permeates our lives. It means that the current version of you is the right version of you for this moment. It means you can stop stressing and straining to be a different you, because the real you is perfect and priceless. It’s not only what God has to work with. It’s what God wants to work with.”

Friend, I have struggled with anxiety disorder for 8 long years. And I am faced with the promise that this year is it. That this is my Jubilee year. Real freedom is within reach.

A new season you’re walking into, someone once prayed over me at an evening church service.

But there is also the realisation that this stuff may never shift. That this will always be a weakness in my life. That this will always be a part of my journey.

And that terrifies me.

A year ago, God planted in my heart a dream to write a book about my journey with the hope that it would encourage all of you who are walking through this same valley.

Doesn’t that sound great? A book written by someone who used to have anxiety but no longer does?

But as I sit here blinking back tears, with this blank page in front of me, feeling weighed down by the past and overwhelmed by the demands of the present, I can’t help but feel unqualified.

Unqualified to share my experience. Unqualified to encourage. Unqualified to write this book. Because who would really listen to someone who hasn’t really sorted it all out for themselves, right?

My strength is made perfect in your weakness.

God reminded me of this verse in 2 Corinthians 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Too often, we feel that our weaknesses disqualify us from God’s plan. Why would God use my story to help others when I am constantly asking for help myself? 

Perhaps this is the whole point of testimony. That through our struggles, through our tears, through our sweat and blood, through all the impossibilities, through all the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’ – God’s glory shines through.

His purposes prevail. Darkness is overcome by the light. Captives are set free.

And isn’t that the point of all this?

So as I’m sitting here writing this blog post to you now, dear ones, I want to openly admit to you the truth that I do not have it all together. I do not have all the answers. I have not fully arrived. (Do we ever really?)

Perhaps the most earth-shattering truth I have come to know throughout my experience as a Christian with anxiety, it’s this – God uses broken people to heal other broken people.

God uses weak people to demonstrate His strength.

God uses broken people to mend the wounds of broken-hearted people.

God uses anxious people to free up anxious people.

There is a part for you to play in God’s big plan of calling His lost kids back to Him. You have a significant part to play in saving the world. Every one of us gets to play. Every one of us gets a seat at the table.

A place to lead, to serve, to encourage, to inspire, to challenge, to heal.

Not in spite of our weakness, but because of them.

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a letter to perfectionists everywhere

Dear self-confessed perfectionist,

I know how you feel. It’s been another day where you said the wrong thing at work. Another moment where you read too much into a friend’s comment. One more dropped ball. A forgotten item on your to-do list.

Your mind is going a million miles a minute about all the things you didn’t get right. And all the things you should have done better.

It’s not your fault, you know? You’ve been hard-wired this way ever since you first learned how to colour inside the lines. And as a result, you have become your very worst critic.

You overthink almost everything. You feel too deeply. Things affect you too strongly. You’re the best friend they’ll ever dream to have. Yet you’re your very worst enemy.

Cut yourself some slack.

Take a chill pill as my Mom likes to say.

If today looks like the thousands of days still ahead of your perfectly imperfect life, then rest assured, you will continue to get it wrong.

That’s right. Consider your bubble burst. Your mind is blown, I know.

Your self-imposed duty to never disappoint, to give it your best shot, is wreaking havoc with your peace. You are killing yourself slowly. Ever so slowly.

So here’s what I want you to mull over in that pretty head of yours. Because I’m writing this as much to myself as I am to you, dear one.

~~~

One. Perfectionism is overrated. It will gradually erode your inner peace and rob you of your joy.

Two. Think twice about what a ‘perfect’ life looks like. I know it’s been drilled into our heads since pre-school days to achieve the ‘American dream’, but having that white picket-fence out in the your front yard doesn’t mean you’ve landed the perfect life.

Three. Accept that you are an imperfect person loved and accepted by a perfect God. (Big relief, isn’t it?)

Four. If you’re smart, your mistakes will help shape you not define you. And to those who demand they will never make the same mistake twice, to you I say, ‘Have you never practiced a sport or learned to play an instrument?’

Some of us will make more mistakes than others to get to the finish line. Just keep going, okay?

Five. Perfection keeps you from becoming the best version of yourself (ironically). Striving for improvement and perfection are not the same thing but perfection will trick you into thinking that achieving pure excellence is the only way for you to be truly content. Resist this temptation.

Six. Reaching for perfection prevents you from being in the moment. Work on being present, even if things aren’t going to plan.

Seven. Perfection creates unhelpful expectations about what life should be like. Some of us have conjured up immaculate visions of the perfect marriage or the perfect Saturday – images that only exist on your Pinterest board. The reality is, nothing in our lives will ever be 100% perfect

It’s difficult in the digital age to come to grips with this, however; often what people project on social media is a misrepresentation of reality. Because sometimes the truth isn’t very glamorous or ‘Insta-worthy’. But maybe that’s the beauty of life? All the piles of dirty dishes, missed flight connections and awkward conversations with friends. These moments teach us valuable nuggets of wisdom and make us grittier.

Eight. You are more interesting and wonderful of a person because of your imperfections, not in spite of them.

Nine. You are enough. Put your CV down. There’s no need to prove yourself to others around your nor give them 10 reasons why you’d make an awesome ____ fill in the blank.

Ten. Love covers a multitude of wrongs. 1 Peter 4:8 is probably one of my favourite verses in the Bible because it describes what I think is the anchor for every life-bringing and healthy relationship. Mark my words, you and I will never get it 100% right and we shouldn’t be expected to.

But that’s where grace comes in.

Jesus shows it to us and now we have the opportunity to demonstrate it extend it to others.

~~~

Popping the perfectionism bubble may take a long time as we re-wire our mind to accept that we are enough. But it’s one that our generation certainly needs to pop.

Jesus never demanded perfection. Instead He asked for obedience. To pick up our cross and follow Him.

God wants to use us to love and impact a broken world. But before He can do that, we need to come to the realisation that we have been fearfully and wonderfully made – and that includes all of our human imperfections and faults!

Thank heavens. I don’t know about you, but that gives me great relief.

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all at once

Your pretty wings must be getting tired

from trying to keep yourself up, off the ground.

You carry far too much, but say it’s nothing at all

relinquishing yourself from all of this life’s many burdens.

All because you were loved too much,

but not at all.

Keeping your head up doesn’t have to be this hard,

but give me your hand.

I’ll take it so we can wander down this road together.

Let’s go back to that place underneath the northern sky,

where everything came together and you fell apart,

all at once.

All at once, you came at me with reckless abandon.

I wasn’t ready for you, I thought you could tell.

But your heart recognised mine, so that was it,

wasn’t it darling?

In just one moment and then all at once,

our worlds collided.

All at once, you meant too much,

every little molecule on this green earth

and with every nervous breath we took.

All at once, I couldn’t make myself live this life,

not without you.

No, not at all.

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two life-changing secrets to overcoming worry

What do you spend most of your time thinking about?

What kinds of thoughts fill your mind?

Friend, it is surprisingly easy to get swept away by the waves of anxiety. It can leave you feeling completely powerless and with no choice but to become engulfed by a wall of overwhelming worry.

In my own journey with anxiety, I have at times, felt utterly helpless in tackling anxiety head on.

For much of my twenties, I ascribed to the belief that I had little control over my thought life; and therefore, I was often a hostage to my own mind. A captive to my own intrusive, negative thought patterns. My thoughts dictated my feelings which in turn set my mood for that day. This vicious cycle left me feeling incapable and exhausted – both physically and emotionally.

That was, until I discovered these two life-changing secrets.

Are you ready for it?

Because I am convinced that these will change your thought-life. Seriously.

 

One. Learn to live beyond how you feel.

That’s right. Your feelings don’t have to have the power. You can turn that dial down (for me it’s called the crazy dial) and tune in to a different voice. Your feelings don’t have to determine the path you take.

Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, reveals this earth-shattering truth when he describes the heart as ‘deceitful above all else and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9).’

The reality is, our feelings are extremely misleading and can’t always be trusted.

Dear one, believe me when I say that this stuff is just as hard for me as it may be for you. Please don’t you dare get the impression that I have all this stuff figured out; I am still a working progress.

Because at my core, I am a feeler. (That was a news flash for my now husband when we first started dating. Imagine this: the precise, rational mathematician trying to solve the formula that was me, the enthusiastic, feelings-led American writer. But that’s another story for another day).

But this revelation is pure gold.

What voices are you listening to? A while back, I realised how much air time I was giving to negative voices in my life instead of God’s voice.

 

Two. You cannot both pray and worry at the same time.

Because one negates the other.

Stay with me now.

What are we really saying to God if we pray one moment but then worry the next?

After much trial and error on my part, I am convinced that we cannot perform both at once. Prayer is our anecdote to worrying.

The number of times I have worried myself sick about things that never happened! Anyone else?

When we pray to God, we are saying with our mouths ‘Lord, I trust you. I don’t understand this situation. But I trust that You will either remove it or you will give me what I need to get through it.’ It follows then, that our actions (trust or worry – which will it be?) must line up with our words.

Prayer says I trust God to be God.

Worry says I don’t think God will come through.

Even as I write this, I cringe at the times where I have got this so utterly wrong. Trusting is one of the hardest things for me. And there have been far too many moments in my life when worry was my gut reaction instead of putting my trust in what God has to say about it.

Dear reader, instead of anxiety being my go-to response, I so want prayer to be my new knee-jerk reaction whenever life turns pear-shaped.

I’m not by any means suggesting that we ignore our problems. If anything, I think we need to be realistic and face them head on. However, we also need to remind our problems of where they stand in relation to God.

Right now, I am wrestling with this truth. I want so badly to get to a place where I can see my problems and not get hung up on them. And instead, hang on tightly to the promises of God.

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

I have loved you with an everlasting love.

I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.

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all the things I want to tell you

To be brave is to be vulnerable.

So, dear friend, pull up a chair and let me pour you a drink. Because we’ve got some long-awaited stories to sample and secrets to share.

Three things come to mind, so let me start.

One.

In response to your question ‘Are you in a good place?’, I must emphatically shout ‘Yes!’; yet I can’t help but wonder haven’t I always been?

Forgive me, I know you don’t mean it. But by our age, we ought to have come to the adult realisation that things are not so black and white. Days where I’ve shared my inner thoughts with you, sometimes desperately searching for relief from anxiety, might have given you some false belief that I was miserable. Like in some sort of dark hole.

When in reality, I was living through some of life’s sweetest moments: adjusting to city life in Scotland, exploring vineyards in New Zealand on bicycles (top tip: wear knee pads), settling into married life, publishing for the first time. I guess what I’m trying to suggest is this: life is both beautiful and tough. Beauty and grit can, in fact, coexist. Nowhere on earth was I more aware of my shortcomings as a human being than when I was horse riding through the Faroese mountains, which was easily one of the most exuberant moments from this year.

So yes, I am in a good place but I am also in a place of yearning for more joy. More peace. More freedom.

Two.

I’ve recently come to understand what grace really means. How it comes without warning. How it comes without expectation. Like a summer downpour that catches you off guard on your way back home from a late-night drink with friends.

I never told you this, but the fear of ‘not being able to cope’ has long been a stifling anxiety for me. It’s amazing what bumps in the road will do to your self-confidence. How unexpected detours will wreak havoc with your sense of security (news flash: you are not control of your own life. I know! Scary stuff, right?)

Those ‘flip your world upside down’ moments can make you start to question God’s goodness like you’re conducting some sort of exhausting job interview. So God, can you describe a time when you were not in control and crap actually hit the fan?

Perhaps what is most remarkable about grace is how God extends it to us during those times of waiting.

In those moments where you have reached the end of yourself.

In the character-building times, His grace comes softly. And gently He offers it to us.

All we have to do is open up our hands and receive.

Three.

When I was 19, I full-heartily believed that my anxiety disorder would somehow kill me.

Maybe it could have? Who really knows; but what I know for certain, is that the trajectory I was on didn’t promise good fortune ahead. I remember lying on my bed in my stuffy dorm room wide-awake at 1am pleading with God to bring some sort of sweet relief.

I would do anything to experience real peace. Join a convent. Avoid meat products. Never wear leggings as pants again. Anything to stop the countless ‘what-ifs’ from whirling around in my head that were on constant replay like a bad 90s pop ballad.

What I was desperate for was peace.

What I didn’t appreciate at the time was what I really needed was His presence.

I needed to encounter Holy Spirit.

Growing up in middle-class Southern America, where dancing in church was strictly forbidden and no shirt was left un-ironed, Holy Spirit was, far too often, a neglected figure in the Trinity. Hence, the whole presence dilemma.

I conjured up God to be an emotionally unavailable and passive ruler who had a quick temper.

Friend, I don’t what your relationship is like with Him; but I must confess that, more Holy Spirit in my life has translated to more peace in my heart.

And the more peace I’ve had in my heart, the more I can hear from God. The more I am in tune with His voice. The more I can sense Him leading me on a journey, bringing comfort to my anxieties and wisdom to my tricky decisions. As John Paul Jackson once said, ‘Peace is the potting soil of revelation.’

Unsurprisingly, it’s the moments where I am stressed out to the max where I struggle to hear God for myself and for others.

Now, don’t think for one second that I am suggesting that all my anxiety has completely vanished with my newfound relationship with Holy Spirit. Not one bit.

Instead, I have found coping with the pitfalls of adulthood not as stress-inducing as once believed.

The panicked moments not as gut-wrenching.

Difficult circumstances not as worrisome.

Choosing to fear less. And trust more.

Perhaps this is the greatest secret of ‘adulting’.

Getting newly acquainted with an old friend.

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