No, you aren’t imagining things, and your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you!
The title on this one says it all. I’m thankful for my anxiety.
As I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop, making my weekly schedule and to-do list like I do every Monday morning, I ran across a quote that hit me straight in the heart.
“In order to love the person that you are, you cannot hate the experiences that have shaped you” — Andrea Dykstra
There are a lot of things in my life that I would not have chosen for myself. If I had a time machine like the characters in one of my favorite TV shows, I would forget about the big moments in history and go back to the ones that were important in my own life:
The first day in 8th grade when I felt like I had no friends.
A week later, when I thought hurting myself would help me feel better.
The days in 9th grade when I woke up and wished that I hadn’t.
The day in my sophomore year of college when I thought breaking up with my boyfriend was the right answer when it wasn’t.
I’m thankful that the boyfriend I said goodbye to didn’t actually leave me, and I now call him my husband. But, some of the other days still haunt me, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been thankful for them. I’ve often told the stories of those days (both here and in other venues), and it’s always with a hint of regret and sadness, or a matter-of-fact attitude of “that’s the past, I survived, let’s move on and talk about the present now.”
Isn’t that true for most of us? There are moments in our past that we all regret, that we would take back in a heart beat if it were up to us. That’s part of the nature of life, we ebb and flow and change over time so that the person we are hardly recognizes the person that we used to be. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but I also know that God didn’t create us to live in the past, caught up in the should have’s and would have’s and hindsight that haunts us. That’s not living, that’s remembering – and we weren’t created for it.
“The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.” — The Lion King
As everyone’s favorite sage from the Lion King likes to remind us, the past does have power in our present day circumstances. The past does hurt, and I’ll be the first to admit that my scars and memories are often more hurtful than helpful. Those are the days when I close my eyes and wish desperately for a time machine to take me back and let me re-live some of the hardest moments of my life.
And yes, re-living them and doing things differently would let me re-do a lot of things that I regret and a lot of things that I label as low points in my life. But, changing those moments would also fundamentally change me – it would change how I live my life, how I react (or don’t) to certain things, how I love other people, how my relationship with God works, and really, just about everything about me. I’m not sure who I would be today.
I don’t think that I would really be me. Yes, I would be some version of me – my hair would probably be the same color and I’d still love basketball and football – but maybe not in the same way. Maybe I’d still be in ministry, but maybe not. And if the major pieces of my life were the same, I wouldn’t approach them the same way or do the same things that I do now. If my life would look differently, I would look differently.
To that end, I think I’m actually thankful for my anxiety. I’m thankful for the struggles that I had in middle and high school (and college too, if I’m honest) because they taught me to be the person that I am right now. I wouldn’t be typing these words (or any of my words) if I didn’t have a story to tell. I’m thankful that I made it through what I did, because I can help others because of it – or maybe in spite of it, I’m not sure.
I’m thankful because I pick up details in certain situations faster than most people, because I can read the mood and attitude of the person sitting next to me in a moment, and because I can find the quickest escape route no matter where I am. I’m thankful that I think through things the way that I do, and that I can help others in a unique way because when I say “I’ve been there”, it still feels like just yesterday that I was the one who needed help the most. I’m thankful that I know how to work and live and love through panic attacks and anxious days, and that my depression teaches me how to love the good days even more. I’m thankful for it because, like it or not, it’s made me who I am today, and I know it will continue to shape me in the future.