“…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself”Franklin D Roosevelt
You’ve heard the Roosevelt quote before, the only thing to fear is fear itself. This post is meant to challenge the way that quote is tossed around.
Growing up, this quote was plastered onto men’s t-shirts, and as a teenager I saw it sprinkled throughout self-help books like some cheesy good luck charm. I do not believe there is much room for this quote outside of it’s original context; and I’ll explain why.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I have often afraid of that anxiety. I am aware that anxiety and fear are a little different – being that anxiety is fearing a possible reality and fear is being afraid of something right in front of you – but they are cut from the same cloth.
I am here to say that being scared of fear doesn’t make the fear go away, it only gives fear more power. As someone who has anxiety, I don’t need that quote to know that being fearful sometimes does more harm than good.What I can say, is that there is hope, in the midst of our fears.
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.1 John 4:4 ESV
I know, it may seem like this is all a word game, but bear with me as I explain my point. I’ve been terrified of my anxiety for awhile, so much so that I didn’t want to acknowledge it. Like a dark shadow following me, I didn’t want to admit that it was there. Why did I hyperventilate when I had that conversation with my mom? Surely that was an asthma attack, not a panic attack because I am the kind of person who can control my emotions…right? When my stomach churned in The Message sermons after I left the cult, surely that was just indigestion right? Because I am not the type of person to be scared. I told myself these things for awhile, but it’s only been the past couple of years, this past year especially, that I’ve finally confronted that shadow.
That shadow is anxiety, and I don’t want it. The mere confronting my anxiety has brought more anxiety, I’ll admit. There’s been so much tucking away, so much hiding from reality. “Huh, anxiety? Who’s that?” I used to say I was completely in control of my emotions, while really just hiding the ugly whirlwind in my mind, which grew and grew over the years until there was no hiding it anymore. The biggest anxiety confrontation happened in November of last year. I was working a stressful waitress job (it was new at the time), I’d just started dating a guy, had missed Thanksgiving day with my family, in a new city for about 4 months and I felt like I had nothing to show for myself. It was the day after thanksgiving, and I was working a very slow shift. All the stresses of my life were pounding at the back of my mind, but I tried to ignore all of it, tried to push it back. The shadow was begging for my attention but I ignored it. “Hello, my name is Charity, I’ll be your waitress today. Have you been here before?” I pasted on a smile for the big table that had come in. They were tired and frustrated and asked me many questions. I responded honestly, my stomach churned. I knew I’d eaten. By the time their food was coming out it was getting busier. They wanted wine, I wasn’t good at the wine presentation. I felt lightheaded. I’d drank water. I turned to a coworker. Can you help them with the wine presentation, I’m not good.” “Oh don’t worry about it, you can just practice. I felt nauseous. “Please, I don’t feel great,” He didn’t have a table so he obliged. I cleared some dishes while he was presenting the wine. I felt weak, but I managed to get the tray back to the kitchen, as I put away the dishes, I found my mind and my vision getting blurry. “I opened my mouth to call for help, but my words didn’t come. I walked in a haze back out of the kitchen and saw a manager. I said her name faintly and touched her arm. “I don’t feel so good.” I said in a whisper. “Sit down, I’ll get someone to watch your table. “I don’t think I can get there.” I found myself saying, and as she escorted me to a table the room was spinning. My chest started hurting as I sat down and the spinning only intensified, that whirlwind of anxiety in the back of my mind was overpowering me in the form of physical symptoms that were very much the forefront. I put my hand to my head. I started slurring my words. I kept saying “I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine,” but I wasn’t fine and over an hour later without any improvement I was reluctantly on my way to the hospital in a daze saying “…but I can’t afford this.”
Fast forward a few hours and a pill later I felt good again. They ran some tests and the Dr asked my friends to leave. “We think that was a panic attack. Have you been stressed lately. I thought about my Etsy shop deadlines, my family who I didn’t see on thanksgiving, their expectations for me vs my dreams, my stressful job, my life in general as a newbie to Austin and I sighed, “yes. I worry a lot about a lot of things.” The Dr. pointed to a spec on the floor. “Do you see that little white button on the floor over there?” I nodded. “Someone is going to pick that up, gonna clean this floor, and maybe I’ll pick it up later but I’m not going to clean it right now, because that’s not my job. Right now, all these things you are worried about are too many. Some stuff isn’t your job to worry about.”
He prescribed me some meds for emergencies and recommended I start counseling. So I did. So I faced that scary shadow and asked “Why are you following me?” I showed the shadow to my friends, and they didn’t run away. A friend I’d known to me asked to meet up after she heard about the panic attack. She showed me her shadow. “I didn’t know you had anxiety.” I realized her having that shadow and living with it made mine just a little more acceptable. The shadow was less scary, I started fearing fear a little less.
“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”Hebrews 13:6 esv
Fast forward to now. I’ve been open about my anxiety on this blog and I mention it in my book, and I still get scared, especially in the midst of a panic attack I find myself asking God “why me? Why do I have this? What is my future going to look like if I still have this?”, but I’ve dug up verses on anxiety and about God’s character and in the presence of the light my anxiety fades. I don’t know that God will ever fully remove my anxiety from me or if I’ll have that shadow present throughout my whole life but I know this; I don’t have to fear it, even if it is permanent, because God is good and He works all things out for His Glory. God is more powerful than my fear. I’m starting to fear God more than my fear.
“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”Proverbs 14:27