My anxiety first presented itself when I was a little girl. I can remember not being able to fall asleep on a daily basis, because I had irrational fears that my parents were going to die in their sleep, or I was going to be kidnapped, or the rapture was going to happen, and I would be left behind. I know every little kid has their fears, but now that I am an adult, I can see that mine were not normal- they were extreme.
I often made my self sick, because I was so fearful and anxious.
For years, I was told by my parent’s and by doctors that “I must just have a sensitive stomach, I worry too much, it’s all in my head, just STOP worrying.” Well, I couldn’t. And, because I was always told to just “trust Jesus, and pray”, my anxiety and my relationship with Christ suffered for most of my childhood. I always had this feeling that I was different- that somehow I wasn’t being a good enough Christian, because otherwise I wouldn’t worry since that’s not “biblical” and all.
When I started middle school, it became increasingly worse. For several years, I couldn’t go to slumber parties, because every time I tried, I would end up making myself sick from all of the anxiety of being away from home. My mom would have to pick me up early.
From the outside, I’m sure I seemed fairly normal, because I felt like I would be condemned if I kept talking about it. I was tormented inside. Of course, I had seasons where it wasn’t as bad, but it was always there- I could never just escape it.
I can remember my freshman year of highschool, laying in my bed, telling God that I wished I would just die- planning out how I would write a suicide note- how I would explain it to my parents. They were wonderful- I had a GREAT life- I just hated myself- I hated how I felt all of the time- I hated me. But, the Holy Spirit would gently remind me, that there was a light at the end of tunnel- I couldn’t just give up.
In college, things really took a turn for the worst. My father lost his job right after I graduated highschool, and within two years, we had lost everything- our home, all of his retirement, savings, and I couldn’t finish college, because there was no money to pay for it. I couldn’t even get financial aid, because our credit scores had tanked. I ended up in the hospital with stress-induced mononucleosis, and began the three hardest years of my life.
Watching my family fall apart for a season of time was too much for me to bear, and it had a terrible effect on my anxiety. I began having panic attacks every night- I can remember feeling this cloud, this weight, just come over me every night as the sun would set, and it was so heavy, and so scary that I literally couldn’t talk. I would go to my room, and rock back and forth on my bed for HOURS.
I became very isolated, and started having irrational fears again. I couldn’t go anywhere unless I was driving alone, because I needed to know that I had a way to escape at all times. The only thing I really stayed involved with was church, and I had a difficult time just sitting through a complete service, because I was so scared- I was always scared.
I also struggled with an eating disorder during this time. I found some sort of dysfunctional comfort in at least being able to control what I ate. I became obsessed with feeling physically empty. I couldn’t handle the feeling of having food in my stomach- I had to feel like there was nothing in me. Weird.
Lastly, I struggled with these tormenting thoughts that I was going to hurt someone or hurt myself. I can remember feeling like I needed to lock my bedroom door at night, because maybe I would lose my mind and hurt my parents in the middle of the night. I was later diagnosed with something called Pure OCD where you have irrational fears in certain categories, and they are just that, fears. You’re not actually going to act on it, but your mind makes you think that you might, so you end up crippled in fear- my fears were harming myself or others, and feeling like I was not going to make it to Heaven- that my faith was always in danger, and I would just be condemned to hell.
I can’t explain the crippling fear of feeling like you have no control of your mind. It made me feel like at any given point, I may not have control of my actions either, and that is what led me to contemplate suicide almost daily during those first two years. I was scared of myself.
Unfortunately, what made everything so much worse, is that I went through this completely alone for the first two years. I grew up in a home where you shouldn’t need a counselor, and you shouldn’t need medication for anything emotional or mental- you should just be able to pray it away. And, I don’t blame my parent’s for that- they were phenomenal parents, and they were first generation Christians- they did their absolute best- no parent can ever be perfect. But, nonetheless, it made me feel very isolated. Why couldn’t I get a handle on this? Why am I not normal? Why am I not a good enough Christian? Will this ever escape me? Will I ever find relief? Should I just end it all? These were the questions that plagued my mind on a daily basis- it was torturous.
Finally, when I was around 22, I sought help. I scheduled a meeting with my Pastor, because at the time, I still didn’t realize that I had an anxiety disorder and Pure OCD, and I had no idea that I was having panic attacks every night- I literally thought I was possessed or something, because I thought that this had something to do with my spirituality- my Christianity- my relationship with Christ. I’ll never forget sitting in my Pastor’s office asking him if a Christian could be possessed or tormented by some dark spirit or something- he smiled ever so gently, and reaffirmed to me that a Christian could not be possessed.
He asked me to talk through all of my symptoms, so I was very open- scared out of my mind that he would be checking me into a padded cell- BUT I was just so desperate- so scared- nothing else mattered at this point. After talking for some time, he explained that he thought I was having extreme panic attacks, and was struggling with an anxiety disorder. He told me that I should find a counselor, and should consider medication for a period of time to help me stabilize.
You would think I would have been angry- so upset- so devastated- but I was RELIEVED! Finally, an answer- a reason- I wasn’t some freak- this WAS a problem, and I COULD get some help. I was on cloud 9.
That meeting changed my life.
I slowly, but surely took steps over the next several years to work through my anxiety and my panic.
I can tell you today that it hasn’t completely gone away, and I don’t know that it will ever go away. We all have our cross to bear, and most times, we don’t get to choose it. BUT, I have been able to fill my toolbox with so many tools that help me. I don’t struggle on a daily basis- I actually don’t struggle much at all unless I’m going through a very challenging time that is outside of my control, or if my hormones are imbalanced due to the the effects of having a baby- oh pregnancy and childbirth
I guess the greatest change I have seen in the past 5 years is feeling free and in control of how I manage these disorders. When I first started seeing a counselor, she gave me a book about OCD, and she explained to me that my brain was a muscle- just like every other muscle. At the time, she wanted me to try behavioral therapy to see how I responded before using medication. For me, it worked beautifully. She’s taught me strategies of how to combat irrational fears or anxieties that creep themselves into my brain, and overtime, it has become natural. In the beginning it was really hard, because my brain was trained to ruminate, and I felt like I couldn’t escape it, but following her strategies over time did, in fact, change the way my brain now thinks and processes.
I cannot explain the freedom there is in just being open about your struggles, and finding help.
I know this may be awkward for you to read, and I know I’m probably being uncomfortably open, BUT I also know that I’m not alone in this, and there is probably someone out there who is struggling, and can’t yet see that light at the end of tunnel.
I’m telling you, there is HOPE. There is a light at the end of tunnel.
Here are 4 things I did that made all of the difference for me…
1. I Acknowledged AND Owned My Struggle
Mental illness is embarrassing- it’s not cancer, it’s not a physical disease, and while we’ve come a long way, it’s still something that’s met with a nice dose of shame in most circles. That sucks. But, WHO CARES?! We are the ones struggling. We are the ones hating ourselves. We are the ones suffering.
So, don’t hide from it. Don’t think it will just pass- it won’t. And, that secrecy makes it worse. You need to acknowledge that just like every other person on this planet, you were born into sin, and, therefore, are NOT perfect. Your body is not exempt from pain and disease- even if it’s emotional or mental. You DO have a problem, and that’s OK- we all do.
2. Surrender Your Mind and Your Life to Christ
I’m well aware that not everyone who follows my blog is a Christian, but I am, and Jesus Christ IS my Savior. I can boldly say that without Him, I would probably be dead. So, I will not hide that.
I also want to clarify something that is VERY important. Jesus IS all we need. Jesus has also given us tools and resources to help us- He has given us the church- the body of Christ- people with different strengths and skills, and together we can help one another.
Generally speaking, a Christian with cancer prays daily for God to heal and restore their health, but they also go through Chemo. A person with a tumor, prays for God’s healing, but if possible, still has it removed. Mental and emotional illness is REAL, and many times that means we need help. Whether it’s medication, counseling, a focus group, an accountability partner, we need help just like someone with a physical disease.
When I was first diagnosed with anxiety and pure OCD, I acknowledged and owned that there was a problem, and then I surrendered it to Christ, and asked Him to help me. I asked that if it was in His will, He would completely restore my mind, but if not, that He would lead me to people and resources that could help me through this journey. And, He did. Over and over and over again, He HAS.
3. Find a Counselor
Counselors cannot save you- they don’t have magic tricks up their sleeves to make everything go away- BUT they can listen, and they can guide you. My relationship with my counselor has been life changing. She has helped me navigate this journey, and I am so blessed by her guidance and help.
Be very wise about who you choose. I was adamant about learning more about the root cause for my disorder, and trying to manage it holistically without medication if possible. I wasn’t and AM NOT against taking medication- I’m just one to always try things naturally, and I didn’t want to be prescribed something for symptoms, without figuring out the WHY. If I found out that I had a chemical balance, and wasn’t able to use behavioral therapy to manage it, you better believe I would have taken medication.
Everyone is different, so feel no guilt at all if you need to use medication to help you through the worst of it- that means you are strong, that means you are doing everything you can to be well- that’s a GOOD thing.
So, I needed a counselor who was willing to try cognitive therapy first instead of only offering medication.
It was also important to me that my counselor was a Christian- our minds and hearts need to protected. Because of this, I wasn’t going to entrust my mind and heart to someone unless they loved Jesus, believed the entire Bible, and understood the power of Jesus.
4. Talk About It
This was probably the hardest step for me.
Who wants to admit any of the things I mentioned earlier- especially to people who don’t suffer in the same ways I do. They most likely will NOT understand or get it, and some may not be very loving or supportive of your journey. But, I knew that I had to own this. In my mind, I had two options: Live a miserable life where this was all kept a secret, and I struggled alone. OR, be open- maybe lose some relationships in the process- but gain new ones, people who accept me for me. And in the end, be able to share my story to encourage and help others.
That sounded like a much better plan to me, so that’s what I did.
It hasn’t been easy, but the rewards have been life-changing.
Don’t EVER be ashamed of who you are- struggles and all. God created you- He loves you- He wants to help you- He’s given us tools and resources to get us through the worst of it- AND OTHERS ARE STRUGGLING TOO!
You can be a light to a very dark world- you can encourage someone that may actually contemplate following through on those suicidal thoughts- you can help.
Don’t EVER underestimate the power of your story.
If you ever need someone to talk to that gets it, I’m here