I have had it in my heart to share more details about my journey through anxiety, but couldn't work up the courage to do so for fear of offending anyone. Please hear me very clearly. This is MY story. This is not a step-by-step get well program, nor am I suggesting that what worked for me will work the same way for you. I don't believe in formulas for freedom and wellness. I'm also not a medical professional; if you feel that you are depressed or suffer from anxiety, please get help. I hope you'll read this with an open mind and heart. And I pray that you'll find encouragement and hope through these posts.
Where it all Began
I can tell you exactly where I was when I had my first panic attack. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a bright afternoon, blue skies and white, puffy clouds. I was standing in the driveway of our house in Oklahoma when I felt it: the tight gripping in my chest, shortness of breath, feeling light-headed. I remember sitting down next to the car tire, curling up in the fetal position, and sobbing. I was seven years old, a brand new third grader, unequipped to deal with what was happening to me.
For the next several years, I suffered through many more of these "episodes" in silent pain. I never told anyone what had happened to me that afternoon and I carried a deep sense of shame that something was innately wrong with me. My family went to church. We were "good people" (so I was told) and somewhere along the way, I believed the lie that if I loved Jesus enough, then I wouldn't feel this way.
Over the next several years, my mind began playing out story lines that hadn't happened, but my body reacted as if they had. I lay in bed at night, my thoughts running wild with every worst-case-scenario...What if my parents died? What if a burglar broke into our home? What if a tornado wiped out our town? What if World War III occurred? What if...what if...what if? To my young mind, there was no place safe in the world.
Eventually, I learned some unhealthy coping techniques. I tried to control my environment and create some "safe" space for myself. I would refuse to eat. I would avoid any situations where I might have to interact with large groups of people (large being more than 2 or 3...public school was a nightmare, every day a battle to keep my head above the rising tide of anxiety.) Sometime during middle or high school, I got the idea that if I could just be sure of everything I believed, then I wouldn't feel anxious; but this only led to a dogmatic, unloving approach to anyone who disagreed with me. I was drowning, angrily thrashing against the waves, but there were no life guards because they didn't even know I was in the water. And if they thought something was amiss, they were unaware of how to help.
Anxiety followed me into adulthood. I carried it like an overloaded suitcase into my marriage, and then into motherhood. I slowly opened up, seeking help, but most people would tell me I just needed to pray more, or if just I knew what the Bible said, then I wouldn't feel so anxious. But I knew the scriptures and they carried no power for me. I didn't know how to wrap my warped heart around their truth. How many times in my life had I repeated over and over again, "God has not given me a spirit of fear" only to be overtaken with panic and dread? At night, Anxiety whispered its lies as sleep eluded me. I was sick all the time, my hair was falling out and I was barely functioning.
One day, I sat in the doctor's office, feeling utterly defeated. I was helpless against this constant avalanche and hopeless that it would ever change. I didn't know what was wrong with me, but I was certain that I was very sick. Numerous rounds of blood work and other tests had been run, but came back in the normal ranges or showed nothing concerning. On this day, the kind, compassionate doctor sat across from me and said, "April, I believe you have an anxiety disorder and clinical depression." I was shocked. What? So, was he telling me this was all just in my head?
I left the office that day with two prescriptions (an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety med), but also a name for what had been torturing me for the past 25 years: Anxiety. All these years of flailing in the darkness at an invisible enemy had led me here. I was still a ball of nerves, but now at least I knew what I was fighting.
Come back tomorrow to read more about my journey toward freedom. In the meantime, join the conversation in the comments. Are you struggling or have you struggled with anxiety?