Anxiety and Depression Series – (Part 3) My Story

***This is part 3 of an ongoing series I am doing here at Carryonmyheart.com, you can find part 1 here and 2 here.

Coming face to face with my monster…

Everything I thought I knew about myself changed with my first panic attack.

I was newly married and in my early 20’s, working for a law firm as a legal assistant.  I was enthusiastic about my job, happily married, and had family and friends that I loved spending time with.

There wasn’t a logical reason for me to have a panic attack, however, as I would come to find out, fear and anxiety are rarely logical.

Panic Strikes

On a random night before work, I was in my closet picking out the next day’s outfit. I couldn’t tell you now what I was thinking of, besides the enormous decision of whether to wear pants or a skirt.

In an instant, the closet began to feel as though it was closing in on me and a creeping terror climbed up the back of my neck. There was literally nowhere to run from the fear that had completely ensnared me.

My brain had been put on hyper-speed, shooting me messages that were nearly incomprehensible, although, I felt them loud and clear;

I needed –

To run.

My mom.

Somewhere safe.

Feeling as though I could barely breathe while clutching at my chest, I left the closet to lie down on the bed. The sensation of being far away, as if I was outside of my body, overtook me. I was positive in that moment that I was going to die.

my “new normal”

I began to experience severe anxiety and panic attacks daily after this initial incident.

Baffled as to why this was happening, I dove inward, searching and questioning every thought and feeling I had.

As if the answer was in my own head.

Nope. Turns out that is not a fun place to be.

Remember those fears I had as a kid? They had matured right along with me and were more fearsome than ever.

Consequently, I was exhausted and at the end of my rope. I like to assume it’s how Daniel felt in the lion’s den, except the only lions staring me down were in my head and they didn’t have their mouths shut.

My life suddenly looked unrecognizable and in those next months, I had what I would consider a full break down.

Breaking apart

I couldn’t work.

Or eat.

I couldn’t sleep.

I couldn’t drive.

After about a month and a half, I lost roughly 40 pounds. I learned that applesauce and scrambled eggs came in handy when my stomach wouldn’t tolerate anything else, but sometimes those wouldn’t even stay down.

At one point early on in my journey through anxiety, I didn’t sleep for 3 days straight. Not your typical tossing and turning that can happen. I am talking eyes wide open, heart pounding, terror in the middle of the night, not sleeping. Night time was frightening because I was all alone with my fear.

My sweet husband would drive me to doctors appointments and care for me on his days off. When he worked he would leave me with my mom and grandmother during the day because I couldn’t be alone.

I was a mess… to put it lightly.

Digging Deeper Inward

I am naturally gregarious, an undeniable people person and a talker. I love my people and I love being with them.

But anxiety.

It morphed me into someone I no longer recognized and my world began to shrink. I rarely laughed anymore and life had taken on a strange color of sadness. I lost all interest in being with my friends and social situations terrified me.

The anxiety I experienced began to intermingle with depression. The longer I stayed in this intense place of panic, a hopelessness developed within me that became an unintended, integral part of who I was.

I spent days, weeks and months trying to cope, grasping for ordinary and forgetting what it looked like. I tried desperately to live my new normal, clumsily slipping along with many, many days of breakdowns.

What is wrong with me?

I had gone to every doctor imaginable, from a family doctor to a neurologist. Someone must have an answer and I was intent on finding it.

Yes, I was that hypochondriac patient.

During this time, I received a stern talking to from a nurse. After checking my vitals she placed her hands on either side of the sterile white paper where I was sitting. She leaned forward until her breath warmed my face and glared unsympathetically into my eyes, “There is nothing wrong with you, you’re completely healthy and fine and this is all in your head!”

Tears streaming down my face, I gazed back with earnest and stammered, “But I feel like maybe there is… something wrong, I mean.” Said with an almost child-like questioning, the words floated in the air as she briskly walked out of the room.

I scolded myself, feeling embarrassed by my lack of self-control and decided then to stop searching for some elusive answer that clearly didn’t exist.

After this, I began trying to reintegrate into my pre-anxiety world, all while still having panic attacks and spiraling down through depression.

I eventually lost my job because of my inability to fully concentrate, I was forgetting important details. Not to mention all of the time I was missing for sick days and doctors appointments. This caused even more depression since I felt like a complete failure at life.

What on Earth was wrong with me?

The worst part – no one seemed to have an answer.

Where was God?

Although I believed in Jesus as my savior when I was a young girl, God currently felt like a distant deity –  unhelpful and far too big to care what I was presently going through.

I was doing all of the “right things,” praying and reading my bible. So, the question remained, why was I still going through this and when would it end?

The more I heard that worrying was a sin the further I sunk into my pit. The thoughts I struggled with were horrific and overpowering. Surely, no other Christian could possibly have such thoughts. I came to the conclusion that I was a defective Christian, or worse yet, maybe I wasn’t one at all…

Shutting my mouth

The fear of my own mind overwhelmed me and led me to a place of despair. Sadly, I decided to no longer speak openly about what I suffered, for fear of what people would think.

During the many years of pain and silence that followed, I came to understand why people would take their own life. This feeling terrified me most of all. And from here, a belief system grew, coiling its way through my every thought, fed by numerous lies and fears, that took root deep within me.

The Enemy had me right where he wanted – alone in the dark, feeling helpless and hopelessly cornered.

Thankfully, the truth of Jesus burns brightest in the darkest of places…

To be continued…

Stick with me through my personal journey of having walked through life with anxiety and depression and where I am today because of God’s grace and faithfulness!

 

I’m hanging out at the #tellhisstory, link-up today. Come join me and read some other encouraging blog posts!

 

Anxiety and Depression Series – (Part 2) My Story

***This is part 2 of an ongoing series I am doing here at Carryonmyheart.com, you can find part 1 here. 

 

Anxiety is defined as an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fears often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating and increased pulse rate) by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it. Merriam Webster online dictionary

The very core of anxiety is found in the last sentence of the Merriam Webster’s definition – Self-doubt about one’s ability to cope with it.

Torn in 2 Directions

The Greek word Merimnao, found in several verses within the new testament of the Bible, including Philippians 4:6, be anxious for nothing – Has a meaning of being pulled apart.

Merimnao= part, as opposed to the whole; drawn in opposite directions, divided into parts.

Anxiety is most definitely a pulling in two different directions. It is standing on the tightrope between hope and panic and feeling that any moment I could fall into the latter. It is the overwhelming trepidation that says impending doom is near, all the while, the opposing voice of truth and sanity explains you’re fine.

Anxiety is a dividing, a pulling between the truth we know and our emotions that take over. Every day we choose between fear and faith, trust over worry and as the dictionary’s definition explains, it is self-doubt that fuels anxiety.

This is precisely where my story begins.

 

Anxiety

For a very long time, I didn’t have a name for it. I just knew something wasn’t right.

From some of my earliest memories, I was afraid. 

Several things terrified me as a girl, including heights, death and the dark. Many children have fears, however, mine loomed far larger than simple childhood apprehension. I worried obsessively about things that an eight-year-old shouldn’t have been concerned with.

I have vivid memories of sweating profusely as I cowered on the floor of our car, positive we were moments from death because we were driving over a high bridge.

As a young girl, I went through a phase where I was certain I was going to die because I was too skinny since I could see my ribs. Images of my body simply giving up and my heart stopping bombarded me. My mom would tell me to eat more if I was worried and explained I would be fine, but I struggled to believe her.

I also suffered from severe migraines as a child and into my teenage years. I have wondered now if they were partly due to the stress I endured from fear.

There was no practical reason for my phobias as a child, this was simply a part of who I was. Aside from my fearfulness, I was a happy child. My parents tried reassuring me when I was afraid that nothing bad was going to happen…

Until it did.

Where fear becomes reality

When I was ten, my oldest brother died in a car accident. He was 17, a senior in high school and he died only three months before his 18th birthday.

Gazing backward over the layers of time since his passing, I see now that he was just a baby, only two years older than my own son currently is. A life that had so many possibilities, cut short.

Losing my big brother exasperated my worries and made the fear I struggled with seem insurmountable.

At just ten years old, standing huddled in the street between our house and the neighbors, I heard the words coming from my dad’s shaky voice that would change our family forever. “There was an accident and your brother died.”  I had four brothers, so when he said “brother” I wasn’t sure who he was talking about. I looked over and saw James standing next to me sobbing, Robert, several feet behind my dad, face stained with tears. And there, next to my mom just a short distance behind us, my littlest brother, Daniel, oblivious to any crisis since he was six.

It was Paul Michael, my oldest brother, and my father’s namesake who was missing from the picture.

Dad was laughing as he spoke, which confused and upset me. I gazed upwards, seeing his dark-rimmed glasses with the sun just behind him peeking through the trees. Hearing unfamiliar noises slipping from between his lips, I realized then that his laughing was actually gut-wrenching sobs. I had never heard my father cry before and mistook it for laughing. An anguish I couldn’t comprehend passed from his lungs into the warm September air.

Having three children of my own, I can only imagine the grief my parents must have felt that day. They went from having five children to four in an instant.

Reality slapped me square in the face and I discovered my mortality in a very real way. The rest of my family, much to my dismay, was also quite mortal. I would spend much of my time worrying about them for years to come.

We spent the next several days in a haze as my mom and dad laid their oldest son to rest in a cemetery on a hill…far too soon.

And their only daughter became entangled with fear that would, unfortunately, follow her closely the rest of her life.

The painful reality of life and death

I became well acquainted with death at an early age and not just because of my brother. For the next several years my family would receive phone calls about deaths of people close to us, family and friends alike.

I had gone to more funerals than weddings by the time I was 20.

The harsh realities of life and death became apparent to me, and in turn, I feared the possibilities. The terrible feeling of impending doom was a constant in my mind.

Fear, it seemed, was something that was innately etched into my personality. Dealing with death at such a young age combined with my already fearful disposition left me vulnerable. Because I had never learned what to do with my fear and grief, I didn’t understand that there was an appropriate way to handle these emotions.

No, these deaths were not the cause of all of my anxieties. However, every circumstance in our lives has the capability to shape who we ultimately become.

I didn’t know this as a ten-year-old girl, but fear was shaping who I was becoming.

Coping

By the time I was older I had developed coping mechanisms that kept me living a “normal” life. I didn’t talk to anyone about my feelings or what I went through in my head. I learned to shove, shove, shove.

Due to this, a perpetual cloud of worry hung over my head. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop… so to speak. Over time and as life marched on, this feeling began to build in the back of my mind.

I decided that if stayed just one step in front of the worry monster, I could outrun it.

Until the day it caught up with me…

To be continued…

Stick with me through my personal journey of having walked through life with anxiety and depression and where I am today because of God’s grace and faithfulness!

 

I’m hanging out at the #tellhisstory, Betheeinspired, and  #TeaandWord link-ups today. Come join me and read some other encouraging blog posts!

   

Now let’s link-up!

Grace&Truth-300x300

 

What if He’s not real?

 

“What if He’s not real?” He asked, almost in a whisper, as if the question would offend me.

Pausing a moment to consider, I reached for another fry and decided the best reply was the truth. “I have had many doubts throughout my lifetime.”

He tilted his head, surprised, and interested in what I was going to say next.

“I would go as far to say that every Christian has had doubts, at least once. I mean, we’re human.. ”

“I may doubt,” I continued, pushing my plate aside and looking directly into his eyes. “But at the end of the day, my belief is bigger than my doubts.”

“Whenever I have had a season of doubt, God has faithfully and gently answered them in a way only He could. He has come through and done things that I have no other explanation for.”

Sharing our doubts..

I think something amazing happens when we are honest with unbelievers about our faith and our doubts. In those moments of honesty they see that this faith is all-inclusive, it’s not meant for the über religious. It’s meant for all of us doubters, sinners and skeptics. When we share how Jesus works in spite of our doubts, we give them encouragement to step into that faith for themselves.

I don’t believe we should “hide” the places where we struggle in our faith with the world. What would this prove? We are not perfect. Seeing our imperfections while we walk this road, shows them we are aware of our shortcomings and that Jesus is still the answer to them all.

 

Yes, Christians doubt.

We love Jesus, but we have moments of doubt because of this world we live in and our humanity. Maybe some of you can’t relate, but I know some of you absolutely can.

Within our church communities there needs to be a space for understating and encouragement while we share our struggles with doubt. We provide hope and lift each other up when we show how Jesus meets us in these rough places.

And really, doesn’t if feel like sweet relief when someone speaks out loud a fear you secretly have struggled with? It certainly does for me.

Why do we, as Christians, behave as though none of us struggle with this?

Because we do.

We doubt because we’re human.. and God isn’t holding it against us.

Everything I have learned about His character is that He longs to show us more of Himself and isn’t mad at us when we stumble into a pit of doubt.

Remember “doubting Thomas?” Did Jesus scold him and tell him how awful he was for doubting? Nope. He actually showed Himself to Thomas. He offered for him to look at His wounds, to inspect the evidence and then He called on him to make a choice.

I think many people are under the assumption that faith in Jesus Christ is a blind faith. It’s not, and this scripture proves that. He gives us evidence and then He asks us to make a choice based on that evidence.

“Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it in my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” John 20: 27

I have always loved his story within the bible. It’s just so me. I can completely relate to wanting proof. But more than this, there is a particular blessing from Jesus that is neatly tucked within in this story, meant just for us. 

“Thomas answered and said unto him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed?”

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  

How beautiful is that? That’s for us, friend! Jesus spoke these words over 2,000 years ago about you and about me. There is a special blessing on us because we have specifically believed without seeing.

He absolutely knows our faith is hard. He knows it’s not easy to walk by faith and not by sight. He knows we will be tempted to doubt. And he’s not upset with us for that.

I doubt. I am a Christian. I believe in my Lord Jesus Christ, I love him. But I doubt.

In some of my darkest days of anxiety one of the greatest fears that nagged at me was the very question my unbelieving friend asked me.

What if He isn’t even real?

I have come to find that we have a God and a faith that can stand up to the questions we ask and the doubt struggles we have. Some of my greatest faith strengthening moments have come from Him meeting me in my times of doubt.

There are 6 words I pray when doubt enters my mind.

“I do believe, help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

I have whispered these words and He has answered in incredible ways. They carry  truth and power in the fight with doubt because we are coming to the only one that can cure our doubts.

And He is faithful to do so.

So, I suppose in the end, it’s not our questioning that matters. It’s what question are we asking?

The more important question isn’t, “What if He isn’t real?”

It is, “What if He is?”

The evidence is there to answer the question, each one for ourselves.

 

**Want to read more? John chapter 20 and Mark chapter 9 are the scriptures I mentioned in this post. Some other great scripture in times of doubt; John 4:39-42, John 14, Psalm 28:7, 1 Peter 1:8-12

 

Come check out this and other fantastic writers at the Salt & Light Link-up

 

 

To be sorry…

The door swung open to my right as the lukewarm water splashed over my hands in the sink.

“Excuse me.” Said the woman pushing her way through the bathroom door.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” The words spilled out of my mouth before I even realized what I was saying. As I finished drying my hands, the elderly woman closing the stall door quietly said, “Never be sorry,” with a smirk.

I politely smiled as I started to walk out the door, face flushed red at the admonition. Good Lord, why do I always say I’m sorry for everything?

“Sorry, I’m in your way, sorry I’m in line before you, sorry I’m breathing, sorry I’m alive..”

It’s what I say.

It’s this annoying, knee-jerk response I have to any inconvenience, even if I did absolutely nothing to be sorry about.

“Why do I do that?” I muttered to myself under my breath as I walked to the car.

Exhaling deeply, I fastened my seatbelt as I thought about those words the woman exhaled.

“Never be sorry.”

They sound wise.

All of the things that I was sorry for began marching through my mind. The list was long.

Turning out of the parking lot, I turned down the radio so I could hear my own thoughts a little more closely.

“Never be sorry,” I whispered to myself. I like the idea of never being sorry, it’s like “no regrets.” But truth be told, I am sorry. I do regret. It sounds so virtuous to never be sorry, to yell at the top of my lungs, “no regrets!”

The problem is, I have lots of regrets.

There’s plenty of things I wish would’ve done and even more, I wish I wouldn’t have. Words I’ve spoken that I can never take back.. and so many I’ve left unsaid.

“What right does she have to tell me to never be sorry?” I asked the silence sitting next to me.

Frowning, I realized I was being unfair. She may have been sorry about many things in her life and wanted to give a little encouragement to those that still have many days of regret ahead. I don’t know the life she’s lived.

But nonetheless, I’m sorry.

It’s okay to be sorry

Reading this morning about King David and his life in I and II Samuel I noticed that he was a man who was sorry. Psalm 51 is one of the greatest “I’m sorry’s” in the whole Bible. At its simplest, it is an I’m sorry for what I did. In return, God extends His gracious forgiveness.

“For I acknowledge my transgressions…against you, you only, have I sinned. According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.” Psalm 51: 1,3,4

If we’re sorry, a true repentant sorry, that’s never a bad thing. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. There is so much to be sorry for. And quite frankly, that’s okay.

Having said that, I don’t think God intends for us to walk around constantly sorry. The point of this Psalm and the forgiveness we find in Jesus is restoration. We can be sorry but then we move on in the grace and freedom we find in Him.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Looking up the various meanings for steadfast within the Bible, the word translates to be firmly established, stable, secure or settled. I just love that. We say, “I’m sorry” and in return, he gives stability and security.

That sounds like freedom to me.

Even within our earthly relationships, there is so much to gain from being sorry. In parenting, I have learned the importance of saying I’m sorry to my children when I’ve messed up. For years I did not realize that it is as essential in our relationship, if not more so, for me to speak I’m sorry as it is for them to say it.

There is a barrier that breaks down when they see the humanness of their mom. And for me, a perfect humility created within my own heart when I turn to them and ask for forgiveness.

I believe this seeking and giving forgiveness is a basic relational component designed by God for us with Him and each other.

So, next time I knee-jerk speak those 2 words, I’m sorry, I’ll be a little nicer to myself. Even if not completely necessary at the time, I’d rather be open to being sorry and the freedom that comes with it, than not.