December 26, 2014

My Struggle With Anxiety (Episode 2)

My anxiety was debilitating.

And from all appearances, it looked like it was here to stay.

I had trouble sleeping. I was so tense even while I slept that I woke up every morning to cramped and hurting leg muscles. The smallest decisions suddenly felt monumental--like picking out a pair of earrings to wear. Driving anywhere became almost unbearably stressful. I lost interest in things I used to enjoy, like baking and reading. I couldn't escape into novels or even relax and enjoy a movie. Anxiety followed me everywhere--to work, out with friends, and at home.

Without consciously thinking about it, I regularly hyper-focused on my heartbeat and breathing. I was petrified that I would have another panic attack … which ironically probably only facilitated me having more of them. (You can read about my first panic attack here.)

I knew that I wasn't thinking rationally, but I felt trapped. I tried to battle my anxious thoughts with what I knew to be true: God's tremendous love for me, His care, etc. I felt like I was desperately clinging to a life raft in the middle of a raging sea during a storm, but my wet grip on the raft kept slipping ... and over and over again, I was carried away by the waves of anxiety, losing sight of the raft. My efforts to rest in God's love felt constantly capsized by my strong anxious feelings.

Fear is a terribly powerful emotion, and I felt its vice grip around my throat day after day.

I was in a vicious cycle that I couldn’t break out of. Everything looked hopeless, and--worst of all--I blamed myself. When I opened up to friends and family about my initial anxiety attack, most reminded me that the Bible tells us not to be anxious. “Trust God,” they urged. “He has everything under control." They meant well--I know they did--but hearing those comments only increased the guilt I was feeling. Maybe this was all my fault. I felt terrible about myself, and I saw no way out.

I tried to pinpoint the cause of my anxiety. Was my relationship with God so distant that I felt such terror instead of trust? Was it my genetics? Was I somehow to blame? I desperately wanted anxiety to go away. I wanted to return to the girl I was before all of these anxious thoughts and panic attacks began invading my life.

I cried out to God, but he seemed silent. I begged him to take away my anxious thoughts and feelings, but they remained. I read Scripture daily and prayed just to get through each day. I wondered what I was doing wrong. Deep in my heart, I wondered if God was even listening to me. 

I continued living in the darkness of depression and anxiety for weeks upon weeks.

I am so thankful that I had a few friends and family who were supportive and understanding during this time. Most of all, my husband, Dave. He let me wake him up in the middle of the night when I felt panic attacks coming on and held me. He pulled over to the side of the road and prayed for me when a panic attack showed up as we were driving to a play. He met my tears with compassion and love. My anxiety was inconvenient for both of us, and I hated putting him through what I was experiencing, but he always reminded me that he loved me no matter what and that God had not abandoned me. Dave's love and acceptance helped keep me sane when I felt like my world was falling apart.

Dave encouraged me to seek help by consulting with my doctor, pursuing therapy, and even looking at medication. With his steady encouragement, I swallowed what little pride I had left ... and sought help.

The doctor asked me a lot of questions, which I answered through many, many tears. She assured me that I wasn’t crazy. It’s funny now to think about it, but I was so relieved by her words. In many ways, I had felt like I was going crazy … I felt as if my life had spiraled out of control.

I was VERY against taking medicine at first. I think it was a matter of pride--I somehow thought I should be able to handle this on my own. I felt ashamed at the thought that I might need a drug to help me cope with everyday life. But at the doctor's recommendation and with Dave’s gentle support, I finally started taking pills. It was a rocky start, but finally I settled on a medication that helps me manage my anxiety. Some people mistakenly believe that medication takes anxiety away. It doesn’t. But, for me, it does make my anxiety more manageable. I find that I can take a step back and look at my fears and anxious thoughts more rationally.

I spent some time with a therapist, too, and I learned how to take steps to protect myself from anxiety and minimize it. I learned breathing techniques. I increased my exercise, paid more attention to what I ate, and did my best to stick to a nightly routine to help me sleep.

The medication, in combination with therapy, helped me feel like I could get my feet under me again. There were minutes and then hours that I didn’t have anxious thoughts. I wasn’t crying almost every night. I started doing activities that I used to enjoy again--like baking and watching TV--without being bombarded by huge anxieties. I still had anxiety attacks, but they were becoming far less frequent. When I felt a panic attack coming on, I did my best to slow my breathing and calmly ride it out. I kept reminding myself that the attack wouldn't last.

As I shared my story about my struggle with anxiety with others, I was surprised to find that many of my friends have either suffered from anxiety themselves (to varying degrees) or know someone who has. I was so encouraged to know that not only was I not alone ... I was in good company! One of my friends, Lisa, bravely shared her personal journey through depression and anxiety recently on her blog.

You might wonder how my faith factors into all of this. Well, God didn't abandon me in the darkness of my anxiety. Sometimes, I felt as if he was very far away, but he came near to me in some of my blackest moments, too.

One of the most memorable times was when I was reading the Psalms (as I had been doing nearly every day since the anxiety attacks started). I closed my eyes and once again begged God to take my anxiety away. All at once, I felt a strong impulse (I'm not sure how else to explain it) to turn to the book of John in the New Testament. After a few moments, I did. And then, I felt strongly pulled to turn to chapter 17. Inside, I felt just a tad silly as I flipped to chapter 17 ... I wondered if perhaps the pull I was feeling was just my imagination. I had no idea what John 17 was until I turned there. Then, my gaze landed on verse 6, where Jesus prays for his disciples. As I read through the end of the chapter, tears filled my eyes.

"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

(John 17:6-26)

I bolded the phrases that especially stuck out to me as I read. I knew that Jesus was reminding me of these truths. Imagine that--the Savior of the world praying for ME. God has allowed the anxiety to continue, but he has walked alongside me every day through this difficult journey. And I have felt his presence in amazing ways.

My battle isn't over. Anxiety is still present in my life to varying degrees, but … most days … it’s a small voice in my head that I can ignore.

I praise God for holding me and carrying me through the storm.

5 comments:

  1. Laurel,

    You are so brave. I love you.

    Dad

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  2. Thank you for sharing! We will remember you in our prayers

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    1. Thanks for praying, Aunt Marlys! I always appreciate prayers!

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  3. Thank you for telling your story. I, too, suffer from anxiety. Reading your journey has touched me.

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    1. It's wonderful to know that we're not walking this journey alone, isn't it? Praying for you today!

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