by Kim Shay
The year I turned 50 was a difficult one. On the day of my birthday, my husband took me to a jewelry store and said I could buy whatever I wanted. He expected me to make an immediate bee-line for the diamond earrings, but instead, I chose a very basic pair of gold hoops because they were the easiest to pick out and I just wanted to get out of the store. Later that year, after waiting years to be able to go to seminary, on my first day of classes, when I got up, I sat at the edge of the bed and told my husband I didn’t want to go. That spring, when my son graduated from college, I sat through the ceremony, my stomach churning, counting the minutes until it would be over. I didn’t want to people to see that I was struggling with out-of-control anxiety.
Looking back now, I can see that I have struggled with anxiety since my teen years. But I had always found ways to cope where I could channel it into activity. This time, being in the midst of menopause, I couldn’t seem to pull myself together like I usually did. This time, I had physical symptoms. My hands and feet tingled; I had digestive issues; I lost 15 pounds without trying; my chest hurt; I was afraid to be alone. Many mornings, my husband would take one look at me and know he had to work at home because I couldn’t be left alone.
I told very few people, and a couple of Christian friends who learned the truth gave me well-meaning advice, like that I should pray more or memorize Scripture. And one person left a tract in my church mailbox, reminding me that anxiety is a sin. As I looked at that tract, I felt utterly defeated. I questioned my salvation daily. Thankfully, my family doctor was far more sympathetic. He helped me deal with some of the many health issues which had cropped up, and then he suggested I get the anxiety under control. I decided to take medication. It saved me.
Some people who have diabetes can contribute to their blood sugar levels with diet and lifestyle changes. Some need to take medication. It was the same with me. Some people do very well with counseling, but I could not focus on anything as long as the anxiety raged. It stole my mind and my body. It was an invader; an interloper; a predator, just waiting to knock me down. At its worst, it robbed me of my ability to concentrate, and the Scripture memorization which was supposed to help was no more useful than memorizing nursery rhymes. Medication restored the concentration I needed. It lifted the fog, and Scripture became more meaningful again.
I found a lot of comfort in the Psalms, where we are given permission to grieve and cry out to God. Psalm 46 was a wonderful balm for my soul. I found great comfort in verse 9: “He makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.” If God makes wars to cease in the world, then he is able to bring an end to the wars that rage within me.
The truth of God’s control over everything became more vivid. My anxiety is fear-driven; fear of not being in control. When I sense I can’t control things, I panic, and anxiety takes over. God is in control, and that means I don’t have to be. Psalm 46:10 reminds us: “Cease striving and know that I am God.” In the height of my anxiety, being able to stop striving seemed impossible. Once I got my emotions under control, I was able to be still and know that he is God.
Now, five years later, I have peace with how God created me. I am learning not to feel shame for my weakness. Seeing how God brought me through my anxiety reminds me of his great love for me. I am amazed at how he worked everything out and brought me through. Right now, in the midst of COVID-19, I am managing, and I know it is only because of the grace and love of God. Had I not gone through what I did five years ago, perhaps I would not be doing so well.
Kim lives in southern Ontario, Canada. She is the mother of three grown children, and the wife of 33 years to Neil. Since her nest has emptied, she has returned to seminary, and is pursuing an MDiv. In her local church, she has been teaching women and teens since 1996. She also loves to take long walks and photograph things along the way.