I grew up going to a Lutheran church several times a week, and it was one of my favorite things to do. I still love a good Lutheran liturgy, but having an anxiety disorder has made it much harder to go to church. Even though I’ve been in the church all my life, I notice that the older I get, the more anxious I feel being there.
It starts when I walk in; I feel so anxious that my heart starts racing and my hands shake. My mind always worries about where I’m going to sit, even though I usually sit in the same place every Sunday. Thoughts start creeping in: What if someone is sitting where I usually sit, or what if I get trapped and can’t get out of the pew?
It’s a legitimate fear of mine that I will be trapped somewhere, so I try to sit in the back of the church at the end of a pew in case I have to make a quick escape, even though I never do.
As much as I love singing hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” I get anxious when it comes to singing in church because I think everyone around me is judging how I sing. I don’t think I have a bad voice, but my anxiety tells me that everyone is talking about me so I become very uncomfortable with singing.
The most anxious part of church for me is the sharing of the peace. If you know anything about the sharing of the peace, then you know that it can last anywhere from five to 15 minutes. It feels like the longest minutes of my life. I’m not a huge fan of hugs or handshakes, and I always find it hard to greet people—even people I’ve known for a long time. I have to psych myself up for it, and it takes a lot of energy out of me.
When it’s time for communion, I’m still just as nervous and on edge. It’s hard for me to walk up to the altar in front of the whole church even though everyone else is doing it too.
I’m always concerned about what I’m wearing and what everyone thinks of me. I try to pray during that time or focus on something else, but it takes everything in me to breathe while walking up there.
I also get anxious around church people in general, even though pretty much everyone I’ve gone to church with is wonderful and not judgmental. Maybe it’s the fact that I see them every week, but I always feel like I have to be the perfect Christian girl around them and prove that I’m Lutheran enough for them.
During my 25 years of life, I’ve been to many different church bodies across the country that have well-meaning people that stress me out. I end up putting on a front to not show that I’m anxious or nervous to be around them, so most times I’m not forming the kind of relationships that I want and need inside the body of Christ.
You may wonder why I even go to church if it’s so hard. The answer is simple—I love God and God loves me. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t believe that; it’s what keeps me coming back. Even when I feel anxious at church, I also feel God’s presence and this is enough for me to keep going. God accepts me as I am, anxious mind and all. After all, God made me.
I also continue to go because I love my Lutheran brothers and sisters, even if I’m not always comfortable around them. I just wish that they could see that not everyone feels cozy at church and try to be more loving toward people who are struggling.
I think mental health should be talked about more among church goers. Church people need to know that having anxiety or depression or any other mental illness is not shameful. Church will probably never be an easy experience for me, but I will continue to be there every Sunday because anxiety will not win this fight.
So that’s where you’ll find me—sitting in a church pew, praying with an anxious mind and an open heart.