***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), doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it. –Merriam-Webster online dictionary
The core of anxiety is found in the last sentence of 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 – It 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, at 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 and 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.
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 more prominent than simple childhood apprehension. I worried obsessively about things an eight-year-old shouldn’t have been concerned with.
I have vivid memories of sweating profusely as I crouched 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 sure 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 if they were partly due to the stress I endured from fear.
As a child, there was no practical reason for my phobias; 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 feared nothing terrible would 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 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 five.
Paul Michael, my oldest brother, and my father’s namesake, 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 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, I can only imagine my parents’ grief 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. Much to my dismay, the rest of my family was also quite mortal. I would spend much of my time worrying about them for years.
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 for 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 the 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 and 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 can shape who we ultimately become.
I didn’t know this as a ten-year-old girl, but fear shaped my identity.
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. Over time, and as life marched on, this feeling began to build in the back of my mind.
I decided that if I stayed just one step before the worry monster, I could outrun it.
Until the day it caught up with me…
To be continued…
Stick with me through my journey of having walked through life with anxiety and depression and where I am today because of God’s grace and faithfulness!