This is part seven and the last of a series on how I manage my anxiety. Read the introductory post here.
I can remember the conversation clear as day.
During my last few weeks of high school, one of my classmates and dear friends died in a motorcycle accident. He was on his way home with his full license to ride. He took a turn without looking. He was going to teach me to drive stick shift. I figured it out before our chaplain told us because all of the people who were gathered in the dean’s office had only one person in common to make them cry that hard.
It hit me harder than I thought it would. We had been best of friends Freshman year (and I had been head-over-heals infatuated with the wonderful guy), but recently we had just been pals. But still, once you know someone you know them and care forever. The darkness that encapsulated my mind felt selfish (think about his poor girlfriend! His parents! His closer friends!), but it stayed anyway.
It was exams week during the height of the apathy stage of my depression. The bell rang for my hardest exam to start and I could not have cared less. I didn’t move from my chair in my favorite teacher’s office. I could not be bothered.
It was either that night or a few nights later that the favorite teacher was driving me back to my dorm room. I told her how I had been struggling with this apathy for days, weeks even. How I had tried praying, hyping myself up, sleeping enough. But man, I was not feeling it. How was I supposed to get out of this funk? It felt like it was going on forever.
She barely even paused. “Do something for someone else.” I stared at her. I loved her for her kindness, but this sure seemed insensitive for her to say. I needed help. Wasn’t she listening?
She was the kind of teacher that didn’t explain more than she knew you needed, so she left it at that. I went back to my room, half annoyed and half intrigued. She hadn’t failed me yet, so might as well try it. The crazy woman.
I sat down and did what came most natural: write. I wrote a letter to my friend’s girlfriend he left behind. We hadn’t been close, but we were friends and I knew that she had meant the world to him. He had never seemed so happy than when he was with her. I wrote a letter to all of my deans, thanking them for the thankless work they do day in and day out. I wrote letters to my teachers, thanking them for the last four years and the little things and big things I remembered them doing. I wrote maybe 5-10 letters, and then I delivered them by hand the next day.
Before the folded papers left my hands, though, the mere doing had started a change in my heart, my mind. I was focused on remembering how they had blessed me, focused on articulating the gift they had been to me, focused on finding the right words. As my focus shifted, so did my mental state. It was far from instantaneous, but it was certainly perceptible. Maybe she’s onto something.
I can’t remember the activities that I chose after that, but I remember spending the rest of the week trying to find ways to help, encourage, and be there for others. As I did so, the clouds over my mind slowly parted; my apathy receded and I started feeling…better.
I’m reluctant to share this line with my friends when they’re struggling because it can come across as insensitive (I’m glad my teacher cared about me more than her fear of that, though). But…it’s a Biblical principle filled with healing and truth—
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Job 42:10
When I’m struggling, the last thing on my mind is others. Anxiety brings a tizzy of self-focused criticisms, immediately-coming sufferings and loss, and a deep valley of lies to trudge through. But many times, it is in serving, in helping, in being an encouragement to others that vicious voice is silenced and replaced by one of Truth and peace—
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?”
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.