A girl I know, let’s call her Jane, told me that she had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder recently to which I responded, “Oh, me too. I’m here if you need someone to talk to”. Her eyes welled up with tears, she thanked me and said, “I’ve felt so alone.” That sentence has stuck with me ever since. It broke my heart because I completely understood what she meant. I wished I had all the answers to give and all the reasons why she was feeling the way she felt. I wish I had said more. I wish I could have done more to help her. But I didn’t say anything else because I didn’t know how. Because I am still trying to figure out how to live with it myself.
It’s been just over a year since having what I now know was my first panic attack. I had no idea what was going on- I couldn’t breathe, my heart was racing, my chest hurt and my mind was telling me that I was about to die. I literally thought I was dying. A few days later, I had something similar at work and went straight to the emergency room. They ran a litany of tests- blood, breathing, x-rays, etc- and they all came up normal. Nothing is wrong with you. Perhaps you just had a panic attack. (As if I was overreacting and it was no big deal that I thought I was dying and couldn’t catch my breath) Long story short, another doctor told me I suffer from General Anxiety Disorder with panic attacks, prescribed me medication for when I have another, and referred me to a therapist. Truth be told, I was relieved to get a diagnosis. Suddenly, so much of my personality, my decisions, and who I am began to make sense. I‘ve known since I was a teenager that I suffer from depression (more about that at another time. These two do intertwine quite a bit but that’s for another post). But now I felt that maybe I wasn’t so strange or weird for constantly worrying. I have a disorder that often times controls me. I also realized, much more importantly, that I wasn’t a bad Christian. I have been told so many times, indirectly and directly, that I just need to trust God more. I’ve wanted to scream at people “I’M TRYING!” And then, of course, I would worry that I was worrying too much. A vicious cycle really.
So, why am I writing about this? Honestly, because I can’t stop thinking about it. And I wondered, how many people don’t even know what it means to have an anxiety disorder? I’ve had discussions with people about the difference between suffering from depression and being sad for a time. There’s confusion and the word is over used in our society. But I think the same applies to anxiety. It’s normal to worry about things in life- a presentation at work, a final exam, a relationship on the rocks. Worrying and being anxious is a part of what it means to be human. But there’s a difference with anxiety disorders. For me, worry consumes my life, lasts for months, and is often over things that I know aren’t worth worrying over. And yet, I can’t control it. I can’t stop myself. It often causes me to have trouble sleeping and makes me irritable towards others. I’ll share an example from just the other day when my husband went straight from work to a dinner with his coworkers. Apparently, being out past 8 pm and not answering his phone (which, I later found out had died because he had been at work since 6 am) was enough for my brain to go into overdrive. By the time he got home, I was curled in a ball in bed, tears streaming down my face, barely able to breathe, convinced that he was dead on the side of the road. No amount of telling myself that he was fine worked. I was paralyzed in fear and dread, convinced my husband had died and I was all alone. It took only a matter of an hour between his last text for me to panic. And then when he got home, I yelled at him for not considering my feelings! And this is what it’s like almost daily for me. I don’t have a panic attack that often, but that fear and dread surrounds everything I do. I worry about people liking me, replay conversations in my head, stress that I will lose my job or that we can’t pay our bills, practically wait for the phone call to be told I someone I love has died and on and on it goes.
I’ve never really shared how intense my anxiety can get. I don’t know if anyone knows how entrenched my soul is with fear. It isn’t something you tell people, because will they understand? And of course, there’s the added worry that I always have about what people with think of me. So I have anxiety just over telling people that I have anxiety. If that makes sense. I was unable to write this post the last couple days because I wasn’t sure I wanted anyone to see me. I actually stress about every single post I’ve written and get anxious each time I sit down to write for this blog. Am I ready for people to know that I am broken? Will they judge me? Or think I’m overreacting? Or worse, crazy?
Well, I’m trying to overcome the fear and anxiety that so often runs my life. It leaves me afraid to take action, to try new things, to step out in faith, to look for a new job or practice calligraphy for fear of failure. It makes me worry that no one likes me and that everything I do is wrong. It leaves me terrified to post this.
What are you afraid of? What part of your life is controlled by fear? Will you take just one small step to overcome it? If I can do it, so can you. Take that step.