Being born with hereditary depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder has seemed like a curse at times. I can’t fully express to you the hell of waking up in the morning, already in the midst of an extreme panic attack, for no apparent reason. Nor would I wish on my greatest enemies the feeling of being hungry but also so anxious that it feels like your throat is closed and you have no stomach to fill. I have lost more nights of sleep than I can count thanks to racing anxiety and panic that kept me up until sunrise. But I think that many people (an estimated 40 million adults in the United States, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness) are already familiar with what I’m describing. Maybe even, especially, Jews.
If you are born with a curse, you live your life under its shadow, constantly struggling against it, fighting to break free. But the struggle only makes things more difficult. So it was life-changing when I stopped seeing my anxiety as a curse and rather as a part of me that needed nurturing.
This mindset shift meant no longer fighting against myself but rather embracing who I am more fully, and finding ways to work with what I’ve got. Instead of an evil shadowy demon on my back, anxiety became a small helpless furry animal, hiding somewhere in my brain, terrified.
I realized that I felt the worse when my anxiety was shouting the loudest, desperately in need of my care and attention. I like to use the analogy of a baby: If there’s something wrong or if a baby needs something, it just cries. That is the only method of communication the baby has at its disposal, and it’s up to its caretaker to interpret. So when anxiety flares up, it’s up to me to figure out what it’s trying to tell me: Is there actual danger? Have I not been getting enough sleep? Are there emotions I’ve been sweeping under the rug instead of allowing myself to feel and work through them? Or is it simply biological (not attached to anything specific) and I need to give myself some extra care to get through it?
Last night I found myself feeling, well … grateful. Not just for my anxiety, but to my anxiety. I was thinking back to all the negative or dangerous things I hadn’t gotten caught up in or even experimented with because I was too anxious about them. In that moment, I just had that warm peaceful feeling of knowing someone has my back: In this case, that someone is anxiety.
This isn’t to say that living with anxiety is easy or that it shouldn’t be taken seriously: I attend therapy regularly, and also use various other methods to treat and support my anxiety disorder. You should never leave any mental illness untreated or unaddressed. (You can find support for mental health crises here.)
But this new lens made me want to express my gratitude, much like King David wanting to express his thanks for salvation from dire straits through lauding and exaltation. And so, I did what Jews do in times of joy, awe, mourning, fear and repentance: I created a blessing. I hope that if you struggle with anxiety, you can tailor this blessing to bring meaning to your own experience.
A Blessing for Anxiety
Blessed are You, Force of the Universe
For creating me with anxiety.
You shaped me from a billion years of stardust
And breathed anxiety through my nostrils
And for that I give thanks.
I bless and thank my Anxiety Disorder for keeping me safe.
You make yourself known when you have an important message for me,
And at times in my life when I was not taking care of or valuing myself, and not listening to you,
You made yourself heard by shutting down my life so I’d have to stop and listen:
You did this by sending intrusive thoughts and a racing heart
Until all I could do was sit on my couch, an island of refuge I was terrified to leave
And all I could do was listen.
And because of your extreme measures — though unpleasant — I was able to start to take care of myself and honor my value:
I finally started therapy.
I left the relationship in which I was not treated according to my worth.
I turned away from other toxic relationships and focused on manifesting shalom, peace.
I paid more attention to what I wanted and to making my dreams a reality.
I learned more about my identity and built a relationship with myself that I sorely needed.
I did teshuvah, a repentant turning back
I used to fear and despise you, but now I know that you are a part of me;
A confused golem in a corner of my brain, doing its best to protect me,
For that is what it was created to do.
Desperately trying to keep me safe
Out of love.
And now that I have learned to stop and listen to the message behind the feeling, I have learned to work with you rather than against you.
I have learned that caring for myself is the key to caring for you.
And have realized your messages are messages from Shamayim, Heaven.
You are malach sheli, my guardian angel.
For all of this, I thank and bless you, Anxiety Disorder.