More than Our Anxieties
I’m not sure how long I have lived with anxiety. It wasn’t until three years ago that I had a name for the constant fear and overthinking that I experienced almost daily. I remember going to a doctor on campus during undergrad, asking why I suffered from heart palpitations and loss of breath during the nighttime.
Considering the mountain of stress I was under—from experiencing racism from one of the only LGBTQ-inclusive ministries on campus, living with a roommate I had to walk on eggshells around, and experiencing hostility from my Peace Studies department (I know)—it makes sense that I was stressed and anxious. But I didn’t know that these were symptoms of anxiety.
I didn’t know that the racing thoughts and overthinking, too, were symptoms of anxiety, and I didn’t know that the feeling of constant dread I felt when performing normal tasks or reaching out to professors were expressions of my anxiety.
Our society often talks about mental illnesses, especially ones like anxiety, as if it is all simply in our head. Sure, anxiety takes place in our heads, but we live in a world where we are surrounded by systems and institutions that feed our fears and anxieties. Experiencing forces like racism, homophobia and transphobia, we aren’t encouraged to think of love as infinite and abundant. It becomes difficult to imagine if we will ever be safe. Rather, we are taught by these forces that we have to compete for love and resources and that love and safety are reserved privileges for a powerful few.
But while the current systems in power create these illusions of scarcity in our world, we have the power to encourage each other through words and acts to resist these institutions that teach us to be afraid and anxious.
I think the reasons that I have anxiety are complex. This isn’t an attempt to explain away my anxiety (or anyone else’s anxiety for that matter), but rather to say that there are real forces in the world that influence our mental health. And the impact of these forces can’t be ignored. The cause of our mental illness isn’t our fault, but it is our responsibility as a community to support each other through it.
Whatever your story, I want to affirm that you story is real. Maybe you are like me, sitting at the intersection of multiple oppressions. I am black and queer. Or maybe you are the privileged of the privileged, a cisgender, able and neurotypical straight, white man living as a citizen in the modern world’s most powerful empire. But perhaps you recognize the ways that forces like white supremacy have robbed you of freedom from anxieties. Maybe you, too, recognize the way that white supremacist capitalism has trained us to view love and safety as scarce. The good news is that God is the God of the Universe, and the forces created and sustained by fearful humans are not. So, we can put our faith in that.
God, we are thankful that you are the God of the Universe and that you have revealed to us, through Jesus, that you love each one of us. I am thankful that each of us matter to You, and that the rules of life-threatening forces like capitalism and white supremacy don’t have the final word. We praise you because you know our fears and doubts, yet you don’t punish us for having them. Instead, you eagerly want to show us the way out of this mess, which is why you gave us Jesus. You give us the mysterious gifts of faith and love. We recognize that any faith and love that we ourselves have is a miracle. We are filled with gratitude. Amen.