To you, who suffer stress, have anxiety, and live with depression, that you experience these things is not your fault.
To you, who do not suffer, have, or live with these, please be kind to those who do. They are not weaker than you, and you are not stronger than them.
I am writing this the morning of Thursday, March 12, 2020. I don’t even have to think about what’s going on in the world, and I am experiencing stress. I awoke feeling it.
Last night, the President addressed the nation. I took as the most serious move the banning of travel with European nations. Today came the news that the NBA has suspended its season. Yesterday, the NCAA announced that teams would play tournament games in empty arenas.
I can easily imagine that more cancellations will soon come. Every day feels like one falling domino in a long string of dominoes.
Tuesday, our son informed us that a coworker’s child is the student, in a local school district, who tested positive for the coronavirus, which has caused that school to shut down and the coworker to go into self-quarantine.
The President has now cancelled some of his travel. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have shelved rallies. Store shelves are emptying. Price gouging is underway. And Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson became the first famous Americans to inform us they have been infected.
I was wondering, yesterday, if we wouldn’t be wise to simply shut down the nation for a month. Keep everyone home. Hunker down. Give the virus as few avenues as possible to spread. I am thinking, today, such a move could actually happen.
This morning, I have that uneasy, on edge feeling. I am under stress.
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“Stop thinking about it.”
Have you ever admitted to someone that you felt stressed? Or anxious? Or depressed? And they told you to stop thinking about it. But, you’re not thinking about it. You feel it.
“Stop worrying about everything.” But, you’re not worrying. You’re not spending time thinking about things that are out of your control. Yet, you can’t shake that uneasy feeling.
“There’s nothing to be anxious about.” Logically, you know that. Your brain gets it, but your body doesn’t. You cannot keep yourself from feeling anxious.
You don’t cause it by thinking about it.
It. Grabs. You.
Similar to how we catch a cold, stress, anxiety, and depression—SAD—infect us without warning.
It is vital for us to understand this, so that we don’t make SAD into something it is not: our fault.
It is vital for those to understand this, who do not suffer SAD, so that they are able to show compassion to those who experience it.
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When I was a kid, I was a worrier. If my folks were even five minutes late getting home from an evening out, I convinced myself they had been in a car accident. And I got sick to my stomach over it.
Somehow, I grew out of it. I ceased to be a worrier. I didn’t make myself into a non-worrier—it wasn’t an act of my will. It’s how I am built.
I had no idea that worry and anxiety were two different things.
When I was fifty, I had my first serious health scare: my chest was heavy. I flunked a stress test. I required two stents.
The day I returned home from the hospital, my heart began beating hard. I could not control it. I feared I was going to have a heart attack. Back to the hospital I went.
My heart was fine. I was not. I had experienced my first attack of anxiety.
I headed to my family doctor. “Doc, I’m not a worrier. I wasn’t thinking about my heart. What happened?”
He was blunt. “If you break your leg, it won’t kill you. If your heart stops, it could kill you. Your body is reacting to this brand new, serious situation you just went through.”
He prescribed Xanax.
A few days later, I needed the Xanax. On a Sunday evening, while watching TV, my heart went crazy, beating even harder than the day I got home from the hospital. I was scared. I took the Xanax.
Until it began doing its good work, I remained scared. I tried breathing slowly and taking my mind off it with the TV show. Neither worked. This was out of my control. I could not stop myself from suffering adverse effects.
Soon, I had another attack. Then another. They eventually spread out. It was a full year before they stopped. That was 2008. I’ve not had one since.
When my first wife divorced me, I became depressed. That was a new one for me—forty-four years old and my first bout of depression.
The loss of my marriage was out of my control. I could not stop myself from suffering adverse effects. All that comfort food ice cream I ate was no cure.
Depression returned when gender dysphoria gripped me. Once again, I experienced something out of my control. Trying to address it so as not to upend my life proved futile, one attempt after another. I had no control over it, and it caused me to experience huge waves of depression.
Even the past two years, since I’ve been feeling healthy, I have days where I am depressed. The day can be exactly the same as the previous one, yet I am out of sorts. Nothing I do can shake it.
Some days, I actually feel it come on. Recently, I had one of those days. I awoke and felt fine. My morning was going well. Around 10:00 a.m., I sensed it arriving. It was so tangible, I begged it to go away. I prayed the Lord that it not overcome me.
In ten minutes, it overcame me. Everything felt wrong. Dark. Negative. I cried hard. Nothing I did the rest of the day was able to help me feel better.
The next day, it was gone. I felt fine.
I have lived through a host of terrible situations. Many of them were during my years as a minister. Because the difficulties did not happen directly to me, my part was under my control. Yes, I was challenged, especially by tragic deaths. When kids die in accidents—and I ministered through three of those—a pastor is pressed to do his best work. Yet, I had charge over my part. I was able to prepare for each visit with the families, and for the funerals, and for the ministering afterward.
I was pressed, but never got depressed. Many moments were intense, yet I was never anxious. Things were tense, but I never got stressed out.
I was in control of my part. That made all the difference.
Returning to the present day, where I admitted the stress I now feel because of the coronavirus, I am experiencing stress because things feel out of control.
I need to go to the store, but I would prefer not to. The thought of potentially being infected gives me pause. The thought that I could pick up a germ, and without knowing spread it, gives me pause.
Thinking about going to church this weekend gives me pause. Sharing the peace. Taking Communion. Someone shaking my hand, when I try to do the elbow bump.
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It’s now mid afternoon.
I held off going to the store. I went jogging. After I had lunch, I decided I was staying home. I am more relaxed.
I can’t put off going to the store. And I wonder whether I will be greeted by bare shelves for some items I want. And, where there is plenty, I’ll question if I should buy two. Or four. Or how many exactly can our freezer hold?
When I do go out, I will have in my pocket a companion to my wallet and keys. This morning, Julie gave me this tiny spray bottle of her homemade hand sanitizer. I will control what I can control.
I suspect there’s going to be a lot of stressful moments over the next weeks. And those prone to suffering anxiety will likely be punched with attacks. And those already living with depression might feel it more deeply. And those disposed to worrying …
If any or all of this threefold SAD affects you, I pray you are surrounded by compassionate and understanding family and friends.
And, if SAD does not affect you, please be kind and helpful to those who suffer.