Spirituality and Anxiety

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Or, Walking My Spiritual Path While Battling Anxiety and OCD

I have suffered with anxiety and OCD for my entire life. Fortunately, we live in a time when the awareness and acknowledgment of mental health has progressed such that science made treatment possible. However, despite that, it felt, at least in my point of view, that the stigma around unseen illnesses is only now being addressed, and in some cultures, it is still as prevalent as ever. For example, growing up in a Hispanic home, my parents tended towards a ‘we shoved our skeletons in a closet, so far and so deep, and eventually… we’ll either forget about them or we’ll die.’ So, when I first began to exhibit obvious signs of OCD and panic disorder, it wasn’t until years later, after the intervention of trained public school administrators and, later, my family doctor, that I began to receive the help I needed. It wasn’t that my mother or father didn’t recognize I had anxiety. It was that, for them, this was uncharted territory.

Looking back, I sometimes marvel at my journey to this point. Only a couple of years after I began medication and treatment, I discontinued both, believing myself to be completely better. I would have a panic attack here or there, but it didn’t control my life as it had before. I went for over a decade feeling like a warrior who overcame her mental illness, and in a way, it gave me a sense of invincibility. So, when I say that it felt like anxiety and OCD slammed into me out of nowhere, understand that it almost came from a place of pride and arrogance. Because, if I’m being honest with you, and myself, it wasn’t a sudden, explosive return so much as it was a slow, simmering pot that finally boiled over. The signs were all there; I simply ignored them. And, maybe it wasn’t pride. Maybe it was fear.

It didn’t help that, as I felt the worst of my anxiety/OCD coming back in the form of multiple panic attacks a day and constant thoughts of doom and dread, that I was also struggling with my faith. Normally, I could throw myself into my work, and that would be enough, but for the first time, not even that distracted me. There would be times, in front of a class of teenagers, I would begin trembling and crying, trying to teach through the tears and hoping they were paying more attention to the lesson than the obvious pain I was in. It felt different. It felt way more physical than before, and for that reason, I went to doctor after doctor, convinced that this time, it was ‘real.’ But, as they each marked off the possible afflictions that could explain my symptoms one-by-one, I was forced to accept that the issue, though real, was mental and not physical.

My spiritual journey, in more than one respect, began when I was a the lowest point. While it was clear I needed medicine and treatment, my soul yearned for something deeper. At the time, I didn’t know that what I was craving was a connection to the universal energies, to the Earth. But, after spending a good deal of time in nature, bolstered by a lengthy trip to Australia, the path became clear to me. I dove into it head first and never looked back. My focus, from that point, became working on spiritual healing which led me to Reiki. After, I felt a pull or a calling to continue my study and, coupled with my experiences, help others who were also suffering with pain.

There was a problem, though.

It didn’t take long for me to begin feeling like a fraud. In my last blog post, I spoke of how important it was to take some time and step back if you needed to. I decided to take my own advice, but… the fog that settled over my head never cleared. No matter how many times I meditated or performed Reiki on myself, I couldn’t shake the growing anxiety that was welling up inside of me. I had this thought that if I were truly doing this right, if I was grounding and finding spiritual balance, wouldn’t I be feeling better?

What kind of witch am I if I couldn’t solve my own problem?

The answer is, I was a tired witch. A burnt out and frustrated witch. A witch who, like everyone, was feeling disconnected due to the many tragedies and terrible events happening on and to the planet. I didn’t see it at the time, but what I realized now was that I was giving myself too much credit, and while that can sometimes help in terms of building confidence, in some cases, it can lead to a profound sense of failure when you fall short of your expectations. That, in turn, can begin a downward spiral. What does that look like? Well, for me, I began neglecting my altar, skipping my daily meditations and prayers. What was the point if I was doing it wrong, and I was obviously doing it wrong because it wasn’t working!

Then, a few days ago, while driving, I had a panic attack. I thought I was going to pass out, and in my panic, I called one of my dearest friends to talk me down. She said something to me that stuck: “Your brain is not your friend right now. You can’t trust it to tell you the truth when you’re anxious.” For somebody like me, who always has to be in control, you would think this would not have a calming effect, but somehow, it clicked in a way it never had. What I was feeling and the swell of anxious energy inside of me… it wasn’t my fault. It was a chemical reaction coupled with external stimulus that were beyond my control. With her help, I was able to mentally take a step back and get to the crux of what was really causing my anxiety.

Financial insecurity, unfamiliar people and environments, uncertainty of my future… All big things that just kept piling on top of me until my brain did what it does best: tried to protect me by going in survival mode.

When I got home, I sat in my room, the lights dimmed, all screens shut off, and I thought about my life to that point. I came to the realization that the guilt I was carrying for neglecting my spiritual growth was only making the divide wider. More importantly, though, I learned that I shouldn’t expect all of my anxiety and OCD to suddenly vanish overnight. It isn’t fair to my journey or my practice to expect everything to be resolved through an attunement or a spell. What it does, however, is help me battle it. This wasn’t a failing of my ability as a witch, but instead it served as the next step: understanding that even though I am able and willing to work with the energies around me, I also need to maintain realistic expectations and not be disappointed if my intentions don’t unfold the way I want them to.

For those of you who are also feeling stuck or wondering what the point is, questioning your place… you’re not alone. Though, it certainly does feel that way. There is also no shame in taking a voluntary or necessary step back. We’ve all had to dust off our altars at one point or another, and we all have had periods in our lives when we just don’t feel like we have the spiritual connection that originally compelled us to walking the path that we walk. How you deal with it, how you come out of it, may look different for you than it does for anyone else. But, more than anything, it is important to remind yourself that if you are feeling guilty, if you are feeling like a fraud, if you’re feeling paralyzed by anxiety, depression, OCD, or other mental illnesses, or if you’re just not feeling anything at all… it’s not your fault.

Please take care of yourself, friends.

Blessed be!

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, or believe you may be suffering from a mental illness, please contact a medical professional.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

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