| By Deacon Rick Wells

Just Keep Showing Up: My Journey Through Anxiety

September 30, 2017. I remember it well. It was as if someone flipped a switch in my head.

My wife, Barbara, asked me for a notepad from our closet. Normally, I knew exactly where to look, but in that moment, I became overwhelmed by my inability to locate the paper amid everything else. Soon, I went into a panic and began to hyperventilate. In about two seconds, Barbara calmly found the notepad and reminded me that it was on the same shelf as always. This began an eight-month battle with anxiety unlike anything I had ever experienced.

For the next eight months, I could only sleep every other night. During those sleepless nights, I would lie in bed, trying to pray, but I became easily distracted and would often repeat myself. When attempting to pray the Rosary, I would give up after about five minutes. Most of the time, I worried about what others would think about me if they knew. “After all, I’m a deacon,” I thought. “I’m supposed to have my act together, not suffer with anxiety!”

Remembering simple things became increasingly difficult. For my first 20 years as a deacon, I usually preached from memory. Now, I either stood at the ambo with a full text, or I stood in front of the altar with bullet points. Even then, I feared being an embarrassment to the Church!

Those with whom I shared my struggles — my wife, my pastor, and my father — were supportive, offering prayer and uplifting comments. While I appreciated everyone’s support, nothing had really changed. By December, I finally put my pride in check and sought counseling. For the next four months, I met with a Christian counselor, who helped me to focus on breathing and advised me to make a list of every positive event. I felt better for having taken this step, but the restless sleep pattern and frequent attacks of fear did not disappear.

One Monday morning in January 2018, I arrived at my office around 7:00 a.m. and made myself a cup of coffee. While waiting for the coffee maker to finish, I asked the Lord if I would make it through the week. “Can I do this job or should I step down?”

In that moment, four powerful words came to mind: “Just keep showing up.” While I can’t prove it scientifically, I’m convinced it was the Holy Spirit’s encouragement. 

Even after this, there was no dramatic change. But, from that moment forward, I was determined to “just keep showing up” to see how this would play out. I even used that phrase as part of my morning prayer: “Lord, no matter what happens today, I will commit to just keep showing up.”

I didn’t begin to feel more like my normal self until early June, when, during a week-long preaching seminar, I regained feelings of confidence that had disappeared for eight months. I was strengthened by hearing a homily based on the comforting words of St. Peter: “Cast your cares on the Lord, who cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Some of you reading this article might have lived with anxiety for a few months or even years. My prayer for you is that, regardless of how difficult your struggle is, God will grant you the courage to just keep showing up.

How to Find Help

My Catholic Doctor

Mental health care that incorporates spiritual care and treatment for depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, addiction, attention deficit, and much more.

Saintly Intercession

St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), whose feast day is September 23, is known for his gifts of healing. Also, he is quoted as saying, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” Ask him to pray for your healing and to ease your worries.

Deacon Rick Wells was ordained for the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 1997.  A former Methodist, he was received into the Catholic faith in 1988.  He currently works as Chancellor for the Diocese of St. Petersburg and serves at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Clearwater.  Deacon Rick and his wife Barbara have been happily married for 34 years.

If you would like to share your story or ask for guidance from Deacon Wells, he can be reached at rwells@dosp.org.