Anxiety, Shame, and the Pastor’s Wife
By Karen Blandino
“Shame says that because I am flawed, I am unacceptable. Grace says that though I am flawed, I am cherished.”
A few years ago I had my first full-blown panic attack. I had just finished graduate school and was worried about finding a counseling position. I couldn’t give you specifics as to why this happened—perhaps it was the weight of working full-time, graduate school, and family and ministry needs all coming together like a perfect storm. By themselves, none of these felt overwhelming, but when blended together into a giant bowl of responsibility, they were a bit more than what I could mentally sustain.
Not understanding what was happening to my body, and after a number of tests and visits to the E.R., my family doctor finally prescribed Xanax—and it worked. Everything I had been struggling with—the tingling in my extremities, the racing heart, shortness of breath, and a feeling of dying—suddenly subsided.
The relief was short lived, because following my panic attacks came feelings of shame. I am a Christian. I am a pastor’s wife. I believe in healing. I have a counseling degree. Psychotropic drugs are for those without a strong faith. These—and others—were the “shaming thoughts” the enemy was working overtime to drop into my mind. I felt isolated, and I was afraid to share my struggles with anyone else. I believed people would judge me for using medication to combat anxiety, and I believed God wouldn’t use somebody like me to pray for others.
Shame is a hard taskmaster and a menacing manipulator. It is poison to the soul. Shame keeps us trapped in the very darkness that Jesus calls us out from. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
We live in the middle of strengths and struggles. Even Paul, one of the greatest apostles, was a man of faith, and yet suffered from physical ailments (Galatians 4:13-15). Yes, our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:14), and I will stand in faith for complete healing. Until that healing comes, I will not let shame bully me into a corner of inadequacy just because my neuroanatomy (anatomy of the brain and nervous system) is misfiring.
Author Brene Brown observed, “What we don’t need in the midst of our struggle is shame for being human.” Perhaps you, or someone you love, are struggling with anxiety, depression, bi-polar or other mental health issues. Here are three tips to help you find freedom from shame.
1. Shift Your Mindset – Many people struggle with mental health issues. Feelings of being the “only one” or the “abnormal one” are nothing more than lies from the enemy of your soul. Just because anxiety, depression, or other issues taunt you or haunt you, doesn’t mean you’re not “normal.” Everybody struggles…only the strong will admit it.
2. Talk About It – Find a safe friend, pastor, or counselor who can help you walk through this journey. There is healing in empathy and compassion. Fighting battles in isolation only magnifies the struggle and multiplies the feelings of shame.
3. Create a Scripture Wall – Wallpaper your surroundings with Scriptures that declare who you are in Christ. Too often we listen to what everyone else—the media, dysfunctional family members, picture-perfect Facebook friends—say, and we fail to embrace what our Heavenly Father says. Let the voice of the God who is with you and for you drown out the naysayers and the shame makers.
I had to learn to be authentic about this part of my story. I had to choose not to hide it; but instead, weave it into my testimony. I share my story to give you hope and encouragement.
Sister, God has called you and your family to minister to His church. He placed that local family of believers in your path. Do not let the enemy steal what God set in motion. Do not let the idea that you have to be perfect get in the way of God using you to make a difference. It is in our weakness that He is strong.
May the apostle Paul’s words become your anthem of encouragement:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong”
–2 Corinthians 12:9-11
Put shame in its place and be strong.
Karen Blandino is a pastor's wife, Texan, mother and counselor. She holds a Master's Degree in Counseling from TCU and a Bachelor of Arts in History from UTA. Karen and her husband, Stephen, planted 7 City Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where they serve as lead pastors. Karen is the co-author of Unexpected: What to do when God disrupts your plans. She blogs about healing, friendship and connection at karenblandino.com