May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I know you all are aware that I have a mental health disorder and thank you for following me on this crazy ride the last few years! I have given bits and pieces of my story over the years but I don’t think I have ever told my whole story or my entire testimony so that is what this blog post is about. It’s a fairly long read but if you make it through to the end, thank you. And if you can relate, please share, share your own story. Talk to someone about mental health. It’s okay to say. It’s okay to not always be okay. And it’s okay to get help.
In October of 2011, I was a normal, healthy girl in love with her life. I have always been slightly introverted and I would say as a child I was a bit nervous and OCD, but for the most part it didn’t keep me down. I considered myself a strong woman and I tried to always look at the positive side of things.
But in November of that same year, I began the hardest journey, to date, of my entire life. This was in spite of finally having a healthy relationship with a man who made me feel safe and loved and cared for.
In October, I began having some health issues that required tests and a procedure. Of course, all of these issues caused me concern and I began to worry. I prayed about it often but instead of trusting in God to bring me through and trust in His plan for me, I chose the worst possible scenario and ran with it. I ran fast and furious. In my mind, I was picturing the most horrible outcome. That was my first big mistake and I have since learned that this is a classic trait of someone with anxiety. One of my favorite speakers, Joyce Meyer, likes to call it evil foreboding. Predicting the worst for your own future. This is where the devil began his stronghold on me. I was depressed in the weeks leading up to my procedure. By the time the day arrived I was a complete mess, which was out of the ordinary for me at the time.
As it turned out, everything was normal. Nothing to worry about. But two days later, the result of my stress and worry emerged in a way that I will never forget. It was absolutely the worst feeling I have ever felt in my life. I went to take a shower and suddenly felt as though I was dying. I couldn’t breathe, my chest hurt, my arm was numb and I had the worst feeling of doom. Everything was out of control and my head was spinning. I was certain I was having a heart attack. I screamed for my daughter and she called my Mom because my (now) husband was at work. She took me to the ER and after running some tests, the Dr. told me I was slightly dehydrated but everything else appeared normal. Then he told me that he felt certain that I’d had an anxiety attack. My first thought was no, not me. I don’t have those. I have been through far worse and survived. I am stronger than this, I thought. But at that moment I felt so weak and defeated. Ashamed and embarrassed.
I went home and tried to rest. But in the coming days and weeks, I kept remembering how awful that day was. How scared I was and how my life felt out of control in those few minutes. I worried that it would happen again. It was constantly on my mind. And that’s where the vicious cycle began, because fear produces fear. My fear of an anxiety attack fueled my anxiety and created more attacks. Toward the end of that month we had tickets to see a concert that I had been excited about for months. I was nervous about it but determined to go. I made it through the first opening act but by the time the second came on, I was a mess. I began to feel as if the music was louder than it should be. The people around me seemed too close and the building I was in seemed to be closing in on me despite its massive size. I had to run. I had to get out of there. I told Greg I needed to go to the bathroom and bolted. I stood in the stall crying and shaking. When I finally went back into the hallway I couldn’t bring myself to go back in. By this time Greg was there by my side and we walked circles around the outside hallway until it passed and I was able to go back in, but the night was ruined and I felt horribly guilty.
I managed to get through the holidays with a few attacks here and there but in January, the real nightmare began. I thought I had been through the worst of it but I had no idea what was coming. If it’s possible for the devil to have you in his grips, then I am certain I was there. His stronghold on me became tighter until I had nothing left to fight back with. I basically became a complete mess. I couldn’t leave home. I couldn’t even get out of my bed. I would sit and wring my hands, grip the sheets on my bed and constantly twist my hair. I had so much nervous energy. I would dig my nails into my thighs because in that moment it felt good to feel even a little pain. This may make no sense but I would soon learn that this is why people with these kinds of disorders turn to cutting. Think of a pot about to boil over. It will explode under pressure. Any type of physical pain will relieve the mental pain and take over, giving a release. By this point I was scared of going crazy, of losing my sanity. I was in a war zone. A battle for my own mind.
It’s very hard to explain how I felt and unless you have been there, I doubt you could ever understand. I began having multiple panic attacks a day. Not just anxiety but panic. The best way I have ever heard anxiety and panic attacks described was this: Imagine there are a group of hungry, angry lions at your feet, baring their teeth and growling. You are tense and nervous, sweating and shaking. Fear of not knowing what they will do grips you. Now imagine those lions following you wherever you go. You are sitting at work trying to focus with those lions breathing down your neck. You are at home trying to help your child with homework and the lions sit at your feet, roaring. They keep you on edge in a restaurant, at church, in your car, during a conversation with your husband. You constantly fear them. But you know they aren’t real. They are fear in its most epic form.
I tried to keep my regular schedule at work but it was just too much. I missed an entire week of work in February. I went back the next week and missed only a little time but the following week I was so emotionally drained and still anxious, that I missed another whole week. At this point, my paid time was being depleted and although my boss was very understanding, I was told that due to the lack of paid time left, I was in danger of becoming a part-time employee with no benefits. This was somewhat of a wakeup call for me. My daughter relied on me and I had to keep my job to take care of us.
At this point, I saw no other answer but to start taking medication. I was against it completely at first. I have never liked taking medicine that alters my emotional health. I was on depression medication in my early twenties and after only a couple doses, I was feeling completely out of sorts. I was ready to climb the walls. So naturally I was scared what this would do to me and I was afraid to be reliant on medication to be who I was supposed to be but I felt I had no choice.
I also began counseling. This too, is a great way to cope but again, it just wasn’t for me. The counselor wanted to talk about my childhood and my divorce and how all of that affected me. I’m sure some of it had an affect but I wasn’t interested in diving back into my past. I wanted to be healed. As much as I wanted to know why this was happening I wanted more to know how to fix it. And I wanted to believe that God and I should be able to handle anything together.
But in that moment, I felt more removed from God that I ever had in my life. Where was he? I certainly didn’t feel Him with me. The medication finally allowed me to calm down and live a somewhat normal life but I could tell that it was only masking the anxiety. I was so dependent on it. I was calm but I was also becoming more depressed. I still wasn’t myself. So after three months, I decided to stop taking it. It was in this moment when I realized God was listening after all.
I had prayed about stopping the medication. I had read that it wasn’t easy to come off of it and that it may very well put me into a tailspin. I prayed for days about when to stop. Finally one morning, I felt like God was saying today is the day. I was nervous about going to work without the medication to get me through. I said “Okay, God I will trust you, but I am going to need your help, in a big way.” I was at work for a couple of hours and around the time I would have normally taken my medication, the school nurse called and said my daughter wasn’t feeling well. I picked her up and took her home. It turned out to only be a simple stomach ache, but I realized that God had kept His word. He provided a way to get me through the day without my medication. Being at home that day gave me a sense of peace and I have not touched that medicine since then.
That’s when I realized there was only one way I could be cope. The answer I had been searching for was there all along. My Savior. It was time to put my problems back into God’s hands and take them out of my own.
I began to pray. Every day. Faithfully. Having grown up in church, I had called on God many times in my life and He always answered and carried me through. But this time was so much different. I think it’s easier to cope with pain and brokenness when you have someone to blame. You can ask God to heal a broken heart that someone caused you. You can ask God to help you find a new job and sustain you financially after the company you worked for went under. But we don’t always know why our minds are so tired and confused. Yes, there are things in our past that can have an effect but sometimes there aren’t. We don’t often realize that there is an enemy who is seeking to destroy us. This is when you have to dig deep and really listen to what God is saying. And believe me I didn’t always want to listen. I wanted a solution and I wanted it RIGHT NOW. I was impatient. I would have a fairly good day one day and the next day would be a disaster. I would get so frustrated with God. I would be on my knees crying out, fists to the sky asking why? why? why? WHY are you doing this to me? I am as faithful as I can be. Where are You when I need you?
But as we all know, He never leaves. He was still there. I was the one who kept moving. Moving toward a quicker solution. Being impatient. Taking back the things that I put in His hands when I didn’t see immediate results and not really listening to what He was saying every day. I also realized just how the devil works in our lives. The closer I got to my Lord, the more the devil hated it. Things would happen to cause me a setback. Those moments when I would get angry at God for not completely healing me, those were the moments the devil took pleasure in. Those were his doing. Those were the days I had to fight him the hardest and just meditate on what God could do FOR me not what the devil could bring AGAINST me.
For the first time in my life, I had a real relationship with God. Not just an admirer of His, but a follower. I was being refined through the fire. But it’s not an easy road to take. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”. For a long time I thought this meant that my anxiety was my cross to bear. That it was the thing I was burdened with and must deal with. But I learned that Jesus meant the cross just as He saw it. His death. We must die to ourselves in order to completely follow Jesus. And I will tell you, this is hard and there are still times I struggle. Because the closer you get to Him, the more the devil wants to tear you down. See, the enemy hates for us to have a relationship with God. He wants to remind us of our flaws and shortcomings and burdens. I am sure the devil thinks he had one over on me but in simply speaking the name of Jesus, he has to flee. This is not to say that he doesn’t still try. I would like to say that my anxiety is non-existent but I can’t. God didn’t take it all away. Sometimes He calms the storm and sometimes He calms US in the storm. And there is a reason. He isn’t finished with me yet. I need to be reminded often to come back to Him and I need to be able to look at someone and say I know exactly how you feel because I have been there and from time to time I am still there….BUT my anxiety is more manageable because of the One whom I cast my burdens on. Jesus says in Matthew 11:29 to “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The devil cannot once again maintain a grip on me because my faith rests in my Savior. It may be tested from time to time but I am promised in John 16:33 that “in Christ I may have peace. In the world I will have tribulation. But take heart; Jesus has overcome the world.”
Sidenote: I just want to say that although medication and counseling didn’t work for me, it can be a tremendous help for so many others. Don’t feel ashamed if you need medication to get you through and if a counselor is someone who can help you sort out your issues. I will also say that if those things don’t work for you and you are at a loss, turn to God. He is waiting.