Stigma Says, “You Can’t be an Effective Christian if you Suffer from an Anxiety Disorder.”
Over the years, I’ve encountered many forms of stigma due to my being afflicted with various kinds of anxiety disorders. Stigma has spoken to me in many ways, but one of the ways that I haven’t yet talked about is this idea that a mature, effective Christian cannot suffer from an anxiety disorder.
There’s only one reason that a person would think in this way. They would think this way because they typically don’t believe that anxiety disorders are valid afflictions. They believe that the experience of an anxiety disorder is due to the sin of worry, a lack of faith and trust in God’s sovereignty, not applying the truth of Scripture, or even the bizarre notion that a person has a demon or evil spirit that needs to be cast out.
Therefore, if a person truly believes that the cause of anxiety disorders is spiritual then, they are going to think that those who are afflicted need to be rid of the experience of anxiety so that they can be a Christian with an effective testimony of faith.
Those of us who have a diagnosis of these disorders and have benefitted from the help of those professionals who specialize in treating them are fully aware that our disorders are valid and that we didn’t cause or choose them. This same knowledge and experiences with treatment are available to a non-Christian or even an atheist who is afflicted with anxiety disorders. The same medications help. The same therapy works. Why would that be? The answer lies in the fact that the disorders are just as legitimate as any other kind of illness that might afflict our physical bodies. Christians can develop diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and so do non-Christians. The medical approach for these disorders doesn’t differ. When you go to the doctor to seek help for them, he or she won’t be changing their prescriptions or treatments based upon whether or not you are a Christian or a non-Christian.
If the problem were spiritual, then the treatment would have zero effectiveness for the Christian as well as the non-Christian.
Yet, no matter how many attempts are made to clarify and legitimize anxiety disorders as valid afflictions, those of us who are afflicted still get mini-sermons about trusting God when we dare to open up. Our Christian friends suppose that the reason they don’t have an anxiety disorder is that they have learned to apply certain Bible verses to their lives, whereas we haven’t done that yet. They suppose that we’ve never even read or memorized these common verses of scripture that speak about worry. What they don’t understand is that the experience of an anxiety disorder has absolutely nothing to do with worry about a difficult life situation or circumstance. What they don’t understand is that in those situations, those of us with these disorders typically respond to them in the same way that they would respond to them. They don’t understand what causes a panic attack or persistent social anxiety, or the intrusive thoughts and obsessional themes of OCD. They don’t understand the cause, and they don’t understand the treatment. And yet, without any attempt to get educated, they still project their notions and assumptions on to us, and in doing so, they are pointing a finger of blame at us for something that we can’t control.
Until these errant beliefs are corrected, the stigma that says, “you can’t be an effective Christian until you don’t have an anxiety disorder” will remain.
There’s more to write about regarding how God can and often does use the experience of anxiety disorders to increase the Christian’s faith and dependence on Him, but I’ll leave that for another blog on another day.