“He said anxiety is for weak people,” my brother tells me, quoting a friend of his. I feel a burning in my cheeks and not because I experienced my own panic-like episode a few weeks ago (read about it here). I feel defensive for all my friends who suffer from anxiety, some who’ve gone through horribly traumatic events, others simply a product of the century.
On my Facebook feed, I can find a stream of links to articles entitled, “Anxiety: the epidemic sweeping through Generation Y,” or “The Maddening of America,” or “Is Mental Illness on the Rise, or does it just seem that way?” Chief Executive Majorie Wallace of mental-health charity Sane says, “’Growing up has always been difficult, but this sense of desperation? That’s new.’”* When I research reasons for anxiety, I’m finding a lot about how my generation now has social media which “allows us to compare everything”* and we also have more choice in life thus, more responsibility, thus, more pressure to get it right.
But I’ve never heard the reason of anxiety being for the ‘weak.’ The more my brother explains his friend’s logic, the more annoyed I get. Are you weak if you feel anxious about getting a job, affording life necessities, keeping up relationships, and maybe also being reminded of horrible past experiences? Are you weak if you struggle to thrive in life with all its obstacles and corrupt systems?
I complained about this to my boyfriend and, instead of agreeing or disagreeing with my brother’s friend, he suggested something different. It’s not people with anxiety being weak, it’s that everyone is weak. That’s right. Every single one of us is weak.
When I thought about it, I realized he was right. We’re fallible human beings in an imperfect world. We sometimes use poor judgement and make mistakes. We’re immersed in a world that can be unfair, where people can be mean, and where some things are just out of our control. According to Pastor John Piper, weaknesses are “circumstances and situations and experiences and wounds that make us look weak,” they are “hard to bear” and “we can’t remove [them] because they are beyond our control or because love dictates that we not return evil for evil.”** We are dominated by weaknesses, external and internal.
But that’s okay because God says, “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The footnote in my Bible for this verse says, “Human weakness provides the ideal opportunity for the display of divine power.” This doesn’t mean being weak is good. But the ability to withstand it demonstrates the resilience that God has blessed you with. Resilience is a good gift and “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).
So I’ve been told by close friends that whenever I feel anxious, I should pray. It sounds weird going from one place of vulnerability to another but if I suddenly don’t feel in control, it’s comforting for me to be reminded that God is in control. And His strength is shown through my weaknesses.
* Rachael Dove, “Anxiety: the epidemic sweeping through Generation Y,” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/health/anxiety-the-epidemic-sweeping-through-generation-y/)
**John Piper, “Christ’s Power is Made Perfect in Weakness,” (http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/christs-power-is-made-perfect-in-weakness)
Liah Greenfeld, “the Maddening of America,” (https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/america-s-global-leadership-in-serious-mental-disease-by-liah-greenfeld)
Maria Santos, “Is Mental Illness on the Rise, or does it just seem that way?”, (http://verilymag.com/2015/10/mental-health-issues-on-the-rise-awareness)
Edward Shorter, “An Alarming Increase in Mental Illness?”, (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-everyone-became-depressed/201404/alarming-increase-in-mental-illness)