Anxiety & Failure

Fly or fall? Mental health for self. Philippians 4:10-20

(November 2021)

Fly or Fall?

This builds on a previous post, anxiety and Joy. So much for posts becoming more positive. My reality is that anxiety is something I need to actively manage continuously so that I can control it before it controls me. Joy can seem too illusive when low.

Dominated by questions.

I am battling with endless “What if…?” questions. These might have been a tad helpful once. When I was first in hospital, I was told some work meetings had, “What would Dave have said?” on the agenda. Asking questions and predicting problems can help preparation for future.

Uncontrolled, fearful questioning can prevent me from attempting anything. Uncontrolled questioning of past problems and fear of future failures, fuels anxiety for me. Anxiety prevents me from living fully in the present here and now.

My thinking, “If I try this, I fear I might fail and fall.” Jackie’s response, “If you try, you might fly.” The only certainty is, if I don’t try, I won’t fly. I am having to learn to pilot my life again.  I’m discovering I fly best as a co-pilot.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength”. (Philippians 4:13)

To fly or fall can sometimes depend upon the perspective, period and angle of viewpoint.


Managing senses, keeping it real.

Jackie and I stood on the pavement during a dog walk while he sniffed. As we started to move away, the alarms went off in the house at the end of the garden where we had stopped. “Was that us?” said Jackie. My reply, “That sensor needs redirecting. We are only on the pavement. It must disturb the owner regularly.”

My anxiety is like that. I need to learn how to refocus my anxiety triggers and personal warning system. I should stop overthinking and worry less about what might happen. The house owner did not come out and shout at us even if this was a fear already being played out in my head. Anxiety is often in my headspace and not in the real place.

I need to control my thinking better and not let fearful imagination run riot as I try to make sense of my experiences. I have learned that the best action is distraction, by deliberately engaging with other things. Gratitude, prayer and seeking help are valuable forms of distraction.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossian 3:2)

Failure might result from how I deal with worry, rather than the worries themselves.

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Anxiety and Christian guilt.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Great so that’s anxiety sorted. As a Christian with anxiety I also have guilt. It must be my fault, my lack of faith. I must be an unfaithful Christian to suffer anxiety? More anxiety provoking questions. I can be anxious about being anxious. A self fuelling anxiety cycle.

I need a mindful break out. Anxiety illuminates the fearful and sad, on days when I might otherwise have been, cheerful and glad. Prayer, gratitude and asking for help (Phil 4:6) are fantastic actions that enable our minds to escape anxiety and focus on things above. (Col 3:2) This purposefully positions our perspective positively.

Anxiety is a common Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) outcome and it does not mean I am a failing Christian.  We are all human and even Jesus had a period of intense anxiety.

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

His response was to pray to Father God. Awareness of personal anxiety is honest. Managing thinking and turning my mind to God has become my attempted action of choice. My posts are part of this process.

Fear of repeated failure.

My repetitive restart of restrictions post describes endless failures re-emerging dispiritingly during TBI recovery. True failure is – just quitting and not trying to get back up. Allowing myself to be drawn more deeply into my spiralling fears and problems is all too easy.

I must remember that I’ve got up and out of dark places before.

My best moments come when I respond to problems with action in the perspective of his power. I need to stop focusing on my weakness and disabilities. When I look more closely at problems they appear bigger. I often need to make myself look elsewhere and occupy my thoughts more positively by remembering all of the things going well.   

The good from the bad.

Where is God when it hurts?

The Lord was with the old testament Joseph, but he ended up in jail for years. Genesis 39 Once enlightened, new testament Paul was a great servant for Christ but he also experienced time in prison. Joseph was almost killed by his brothers, left for dead and he only survived because they selfishly decided to sell him as a slave for the money. Where is God in this?

I’ve asked the same since my accident; loss of job, loss of licence to preach and loss of titles like Canon, Director… I’ve gained some labels too, such as Epileptic, Diabetic and Disabled. Where is God in this? I’ve felt deserted.

For Saul, becoming apostle Paul meant he lost status. He received repeated lashings, was left for dead, imprisoned, and threatened. Even preachers he’d worked with previously now caused him concern, with their pride and rivalry. Where was God in this? Paul remained focused on God and advancing the gospel despite his own context, even from jail. Philippians 1:12-17.  

Encountering God in the Desert

Christian life does not solve our problems, remove disappointments or prevent failures. Paul and Joseph exemplified how we might respond after and during difficulties. I need to step out in faith to do the same. Faith requires me to wander beyond what is safe, obvious or easy.

I’ve had to control my thinking and sift through the echoes of fear, shame, and uncertainty that haunt me. When I’ve managed to leave the worldly known for the spiritual unknown, I’ve found God waiting for me as I reach for Him.

God does work things out.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12)

I have found that some bad experiences have been foundations for a better future, even if I did not know this at the time. He is the active ongoing energy behind all that is good, whether we see him in it or not.

Joseph helped others and became prisoner in charge, pre promotion. Genesis 39:21-23. Once released he prepared a nation for 7 years of famine, earning a home to develop the future 12 tribes of Israel prior to their old testament Exodus with Moses.

Paul wrote letters that are now numerous books of our new testament. Even in a worldly context, the Bible is the best selling book ever. They did not forget God despite their difficulties and honoured him nonetheless.

It’s tough to apply this personally when struggling. Paul and Joseph were strong and faithful. They had to choose to act in the way that they did. I need to act responsively and responsibly in the knowledge that, God’s word applies in every context eventually and eternally.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Fear and Anxiety: Helpful connections. 

Paul and Joseph put prayer before despair. Both remained focussed on God. Relational connection and empathy were key. God offers his connecting empathy to us.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

This describes God within us sharing His peace and therefore a peace independent of our circumstances. He has always been with His people when times are tough.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isiah 43:2)

Paul and Joseph cared about people but knew bad relationships should be terminated and that possessions should not get in the way of being right with God.

She caught him by his cloak and said, Come to bed with me! But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” (Genesis 39:12)

So how should we treat the anxious? Empathy drives connection with people. We support by getting alongside and listening. Sympathy drives disconnection and it can make us glad we’re not in their shoes. It might also make us feel smug having managed things better ourselves. We’d not be like them. Sympathy can be part of a positive package. (1 Peter 3:8) Empathy is the better route as exemplified by Jesus.

Our actions? God is with us but we need to turn to him and ask for His help for ourselves, and for others. We have relational choice and can decide how we journey through life. With Him, He can use us to help others. We can do this in many ways, but empathetically living alongside them, with Him, is exemplary.

Loss of control. 

Loss of perceived control feeds my anxiety. How will I cope with the decisions and actions I’m subjected to by others? I think I can cope with road chaos because I feel in control when driving. Despite this feeling, I’m still vulnerable to traffic jams despite clever satellite navigation systems. I’ve even been hit by a young driver cornering on my side of the road in my past.

Oddly, being in charge still gives me some confidence I’ll be safe on the road today, however false that might be in reality. Can I always trust my own capability?

I can over rely on self and planning. To prepare for all my “what ifs” I’d have to live in a bullet proof vest and carry a mobile chemistry lab to test the air I breathe and the food I eat… I currently use a facemask as a bookmark! Anxiety can be fuelled by past failures and an inability to feel in control.

The perfect storm is a recipe of ingredients to master bake a major disaster. My ingredients include, health, job loss, grief, national pandemic reducing support whilst creating yet more change, loss of independence, loss of driving licence, side effects from medicine… Anxiety is a known outcome of trauma, including Traumatic Brain Injury.

Readers may smugly anticipate a Trust in God argument from a Christian they may well perceive as naïve and desperate. What actions do both theists and non theists offer for anxiety and fear? Yoga poses, therapists, drugs and smelly candles. All may help, but I’ll rely on the creator of all things and not just some of the things He created.

The planning and purposeful intention of humankind is not all powerful. God has used what has been done by wicked people to achieve his great purpose available by choice for all people.

This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:23-24)

We should strive to actively control events and our thinking for the right reasons.

Remaining connected with the Father.

Father God deliver us from evil. I often want to add, deliver us from email? There are too many apps and I can’t spend each day checking them. I don’t want to hear endless disturbing notification bleeps either. Virtual people often seize attention priority from real people. I hate having to text someone in the same room so that I can reach them. Surely this can’t be right.

I’m not on Facebook now, hence my posts here. I resist posting on forums that probably annoy people with thinking perceived as an irrelevant waste of their time. I have fewer apps and have disabled most notifications.

I need to focus on just one voice, His voice. Prayer, supplication and requests may be subtly different. Irrespective of this, I’ve learned I need to communicate more specifically in prayer.

Being involved in more detailed requests makes sense when we know the giver we are approaching and really value what we are asking of Him. Surely He already knows what we want! Jesus asked a bind man what he wanted.

What do you want me to do for you? Lord, I want to see, he replied.” (Luke 18:41)

He wants us to ask. ‘Give us today our daily bread.’ Should we always assume we know others well enough to know what they want. My mental health experience has taught me otherwise.

When we ask God for things it is tempting to make deals. Do this for me and I’ll… This approach lacks humility and recognition of his love. We should remember His promises, and even quote them, not to try to hold God to our account, but to recognise our need. We should recognise who God is during our prayer. ‘Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come.’

Lots of gratitude and thanks take our thoughts from what we need, to what we’ve got. This can be part of an anxiety escape. We can’t win the rat race by getting what is next. There is always another next new thing we should get.

Being happy and grateful for what we already have, can provide a better more positive, happier focus on His purposes, not ours. ‘Thy will be done.’

If we get really wealthy we can end up anxious that we might lose things we currently have. In truth, ownership of more wealth brings more happiness. Uncontrolled misguided materialism does the reverse. Too much money is too costly to keep and better to lose. Our focus should be on the eternally valuable.

It is better to be grateful and content with less. I am far from better in this regard. I may have possessions taken from me, but they can’t separate me from God! My choice is to put God, or money, first. It is not a tough choice for the faithful. Is my faith strong enough?

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13)

Eternally valuable.

When I get home it’s such a relief to take off my boots, remove my waterproof trousers and jacket, hang up my torch and dog lead… I’m relieved to be home even without these possessions, despite their value where I’d been. Possessions add unnecessary bulk and discomfort in the place where I want to arrive.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)

I should confidently rely on him not the security and value provided by jobs and possessions.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In conclusion.

The closer you are to something, the bigger it is. Focusing on God’s vast infinity puts our problems in a more manageable scale. I may have strategies to help tackle anxiety, but there are no easy answers. Have a living Christian faith. It’s easy to write but difficult to live out without considerable perspective realignment.

When anxious about some potential disaster Jackie might say, “if the worst happens, we’ll manage it together.” For me there could not be a better action plan, or a better wife. We are not alone. Immanuel, God is with us.

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

I may have a background in education and a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) Honours degree, but my metal health experiences have brought me to the view that experience is the greatest learning tool of all. I can see the value of internship and apprenticeship, beyond academic theory. I believe the best learning is derived from experience and theory combined.

My formulaic representation in relation to understanding mental health is: experience > theory. In terms of power, emotion > reasoning. This makes mental heath particularly challenging to learn about. This month I’m rebooked on a National Metal Health First Aid course.

I’ll keep you posted – if you come back.

Alternatively try, “anxious for nothing” by Max Lucado. It’s helped a family member and as a result, a copy was also purchased for me. Thank you family.

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