When Emunah and Anxiety Are Not Mutually Exclusive

My name is Bari Mitzmann, and I have an anxiety disorder.

I have always been a high-strung overachiever. I got stuff done, was always on time, and pushed myself to the limit. It had its benefits, but more often than not, would harm me in the long run. My anxiety has caused back pain, tension headaches, ulcers as well as irregular eating patterns and sometimes panic attacks.

Why am I confessing all of this? Because most people wouldn’t suspect it. To many, I seem calm, cool, and collected. Most of the time I am. Besides for medication, I take strong preventative measures to keep my triggers at bay. I moved out of a busy city, cut off certain people, and practice meditation when I feel the need. This keeps me looking and feeling the way I want to, except for when I can’t avoid some triggers.

I almost missed a flight this week. I was with my baby and had to check in a bag. I was supposed to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it was down to the wire. I was exhausted, hungry, and in pain to begin with, and as I kept looking at my watch, I knew a panic attack was coming on.

My hands started to shake.  dull nausea overcame my body.. I became lightheaded. Breathing became difficult. I grabbed a snack from my bag to prevent a further drop in my blood pressure and blood sugar. I stood on the airtrain and hoped no one noticed me. I ran around the airport in a daze on the verge of tears.

As I arrived at check-in, I was told to use a kiosk. I stood there staring blankly. I couldn’t process what the man was saying. A co-worker of mine urged the agent to let me ahead of the line and check in by the counter instead. Thanks to many compassionate people, I was permitted to cut the line. As the woman at the counter asked me my name and for my ID, I burst into tears and couldn’t get any words out. After a few deep breaths, I explained my situation. She reassured me that I was fine and I made it to my gate with a few minutes to spare.

My name is Bari Mitzmann. I have an anxiety disorder and am a woman of emunah, a woman of faith.

How is that possible? Emunah means that you have complete faith in G-d, and you understand that He runs the world and is in control. It means that you believe that whatever he does is with Divine Providence and is for the best. Having an anxiety disorder means that one has intense fear or worry about the present or future, sometimes due to a feeling of lack of control. How can one have emunah and have anxiety at the same time?

There was one part of the story I forgot to mention.

As I stood in the airtrain, grabbing onto a bar as not to collapse, I prayed. “Please G-d, help me calm down. I know everything is going to be ok. I know I can find someone to get my bag or pick me up from the airport. I know that it’s not the end of the world. I know that I very well may make it in time. Please just help me get there to find out.”

When someone has a mental disorder, it means that they have a test. A battle that they must fight every day. An opportunity for growth. A mental disorder is not something that can be overcome, rather it’s something that we must learn how to control as best as we can. We must pray that we can improve, and do everything we can to make that happen. We must also believe that G-d knew what He was doing when he gave us this challenge, and that the test we have been given will enable us to actualize our potential.

Often my disorder is painful, but it is a true blessing. My anxiety is an alarm that notifies me when to get out of a situation, when to cut off a relationship, or when to communicate so that I don’t get too deep into a situation that I can’t then get out of. My anxiety forces me to take care of myself, to seek out comfort from loved ones and to communicate even when it is difficult. I believe that I was given this disorder not only as an opportunity to grow, but to be able to assist others going through the same thing.

I believe G-d runs the world. I believe he gave me this test. I believe it is for the best. I love G-d and trust him. Does that stop my body from shaking? Does that stop me from having a shut down? No. I do not have the ability to destroy a psychosomatic disorder.

I do, however, have the ability to improve. I have the ability to daven. I have the ability to get help from doctors, therapists and mentors. I have the opportunity to embrace my challenge, thank Hashem for it and work toward a stronger, healthier self.

My name is Bari Mitzmann. I have an anxiety disorder, and I am thankful for it.