This Is My Story…

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.

images1

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.

If The Cape Fits…

On Friday I learned about a campaign that is helping to spread the word, positive word, about mental health disorders. They asked that you post a selfie holding up four fingers and to use the hashtag #1in4, showing that one in four Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness. I am one of the four so I felt compelled to post the selfie and help the campaign. I started writing a caption for my picture and began with “I am 1 in 4 who suffers…”. Then I paused and thought about that word: suffers. I decided that I didn’t want that to be the word that defines me. So I switched it to: “I am 1 in 4 who daily overcomes the struggle with a mental health disorder” because in the big picture, yes I have times I suffer but at the end of the day when I have OVERCOME the battle with anxiety; that is what I want people to know about, because this is no easy feat.

anxiety-girl

I saw this cartoon a while back and I had to laugh because there are times that I am that girl. I can go from mole hill to mountain in 0.5 seconds. But there are other times I feel that I earn that superhero status for different reasons; when I am the girl who overcomes and doesn’t just suffer.

The definition of a superhero is someone who has amazing abilities and battles a villain. You may think that anxiety is my villain but the devil is actually my archenemy and anxiety is his kryptonite.

But in God I have the perfect ally. He gives me the courage and the strength to fight and each day that we overcome the enemy I can consider myself to be at superhero status and here is why:

  • I am courageous when I stick it out at work and not run when I am having a bout of anxiety. I use my strongest tool: prayer. I put on happy music and I walk around the building and I overcome.
  • I am courageous when I try something new or push myself out of my comfort zone. In a couple of weeks I am participating in a comedy mystery play as a benefit for our Relay for Life team. I was asked and I said yes because it will make me step outside of that box that says anxiety controls me.
  • I am courageous when I am open and honest with someone about my disorder. Whether in front of my women’s group at church, with a total stranger, a friend or on this blog, I use my pain for a purpose: to help others. And trust me when I say that this takes a lot of nerve.
  • I am courageous each time I choose to think positively instead of negatively. This may seem like a simple thing to those who don’t know the grip of anxiety but it’s no easy task when your mind is wired to default to gloom and doom thinking.
  • I am courageous when I choose to let God be my strength and at times that can be the most courageous thing a person with anxiety can do. This can oftentimes be hard even for someone who doesn’t have a disorder but for those who do and want to constantly be in control, it requires handing over your fears, your doubts and total control of your thoughts and just trusting.

So when I find myself in a place where I feel less than confident and maybe a little bit of a failure, and when the enemy tries to squash my super powers, I will remind myself that I am worthy of a cape (teal, please) and exploit my unique powers for the greater good!

Trust the Author of Your Story

IMG950573

I read a quote recently by Ann Voskamp that really got my attention: “Just that maybe … maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds.”

You don’t know how many times I have wished that I had never had that first anxiety attack, that first panic attack, that first moment of spiraling-out-of-controlness. You don’t know how many times I wished in those darkest days that my husband hadn’t struggled to find ways to help me or words to say, or that my daughter didn’t  have to look at me with fear in her eyes every time I had an off day. Some days I do indeed wish my story had been written differently. But then I am reminded of a lyric in a song by Natalie Grant: “When did I forget that You’ve always been the King of the world?”

The One who holds the world, holds me in His hands as well. He has written my story for a reason. Is it always easy? No. But as the story was being written, He did something else amazing. He equipped me to live out my story by humbling myself to Him. Together we conquer the parts of the story that threaten to defeat me. He gives me sturdy shoes for the rocky road. He makes the crooked ways straight. He calms my spirit and centers me when the winds spiral around me. I am better today because God is my strength and my refuge.

Where would I be if the story had played out differently? I wouldn’t be as close to Him as I am today. I wouldn’t be able to tell others about what He has done for me like I am right now. I wouldn’t be in a church with people I consider family. I couldn’t have written a book. I wouldn’t have met amazing friends who share the same struggles as I do. I couldn’t have sat with a close friend, a family member or a young boy with fear in his beautiful blue eyes, and say “I know exactly how you feel because I’ve been there.”

Our stories are not always comfortable. They will often shake us to our very core. Accept where you are but do not accept the lie that you are alone. In the darkness, God is the light. In our weakness, He is our strength. Let Him cover you in peace and let His light stream into the shadows. Let Him pour His love into the deep crevices of brokenness. Let the author of your story show you why it was written.

*Sigh*

78821b27726044d663cf02a7696a630a

Politics. *sigh*

It’s very hard to escape it right now. Social media is lit up with it. I try to avoid as much as I can and bite my tongue. But sometimes it’s a little hard for me to keep quiet. Now I won’t get into the issues that are sparking a good bit of America’s anger right now…partly because most of it goes over my head. I will however take a simpler approach.  I don’t necessarily see myself as simple minded but I try to look at things the way others may not. So here’s where I stand:

  • I look to God for my source of peace. I can look at what is happening and have that peace that surpasses all understanding that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Philippians. I don’t need to take the weight of the world (or this country) on my shoulders, because Jesus has already overcome the world. No matter what happens, this will remain true. (See Philippians 4:6-7 and John 16:33).
  • The way I see it, we still have it pretty good here in the United States. I can go to the store and purchase food when my refrigerator grows empty. I can flip a light on when the sun goes down. I can turn on my fireplace on the coldest days of winter and run the AC when the summer heat is too much to bear. I can visit my doctor when I am sick and my employer pays for me to use insurance when I do. My child can go to school and pursue college if she desires. I can go to church and worship God freely. These are all reasons to be proud to live here.
  • As the pledge of allegiance goes, we are ONE NATION UNDER GOD. I understand that many people have disavowed the “under God” part and that is sad in itself. But now everyone seems to even be forgetting about the ONE NATION? United we stand, divided we fall. It seems that every day there is a new division among everyone. How much longer can we hold this country together if it is being chopped up into so many pieces? I totally get that not everyone will be on board with what is happening and social media and the internet have made it easier for everyone to have a voice (myself included, as seen here) but can’t we do this without tearing each other down? Friendships are falling apart and family ties are being strained. I am for standing up for what you believe in but can it be handled differently? Fights, protests, banning businesses because of someone’s political views…isn’t that over the top? Again…*sigh*.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers and I’m just a country girl who tries to see the good in everything and everyone. I just want everyone to be happy and get along. It may be a “Polly Anna” view of things but like I said, let’s keep it simple. Having said that here is my humble advice:

Love Jesus.

Live in God’s word.

Be thankful.

Be kind.

Love each other.

And just calm down.

God Created the Ocean

untitled22As we arrived at the beach yesterday and made our way to the ocean, I marveled in it as I always do and just took it in. I began to wonder what God was thinking when he made such an amazing place and these words came to my mind:

God knew we would need a place to go to rest our weary souls. He knew we would need a place to be rejuvenated and to find solace. A place unlike any of His other masterpieces….a place that would make us stand in awe and would only make sense when we come to the realization that is was of His design. God knew we would need something vast and never ending that would echo His love for us. So God created the ocean.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, is as great as all the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Your justice is as solid as God’s mountains. Your decisions are as full of wisdom as the oceans are with water. You are concerned for men and animals alike.  How precious is your constant love, O God! All humanity takes refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:5-7)

 

Made New

img_20160710_071056406_hdr

I have always had a love for old things. Most of the furniture in our home, aside from our bed and sofa, are pieces I have collected over the years that were in need of a little love. My love for these things soon became a hobby and now the hubby and I buy and sell refinished items and use pallet boards that I salvage from work to give old things a new, yet rustic look.  Pouring love into these pieces is a type of therapy for me and I love doing it.

A lot of the things I have collected have come from local thrift stores or flea markets but I have also rescued things from my brother’s basement, the back of a co-worker’s truck (he was heading for the dumpster!) and the garbage pile at my husband’s work. People often have things they want to toss and ask me first. More often than not, I say “I’ll take it!” Most people would look at what I salvage and wonder what in the world I’m thinking, but I see potential in most everything and I hate to see a good piece of furniture get tossed aside. I have cleaned, sanded, painted and polished these things until they become “new” again.

Today I was inspired by a  paragraph I read in a book by Matt Chandler:

“…when I was at my lowest point, when I absolutely could not clean myself up and there was nothing anybody could do with me, right at that moment, Christ said “I’ll take that one. That’s the one I want.” You know the Bible calls the church Christ’s bride. So it’s like standing before Jesus, completely exposed, all of our flaws and insecurities and-worse than that- our sins are right there in front of his face, and against all reason and rationale, the song of grace becomes startlingly, exhilaratingly true because the Groom looks at us and declares us beautiful. Spotless. Righteous. Justified.”

I realized that often in our lives we feel like those things tossed aside in the garbage and Someone is looking for us, waiting to clean us up, polish us and make us shine.  The possibilities that I see in those broken down pieces of furniture are what God sees in each of His children. He says “I’ll take you! You have potential. You are mine!” You may be chipped and rusty and have a little dirt. You may have pieces that need to be fixed. God can do this for you! He wants so badly to show you how He can make you brand new again. He can do it for anyone. Invite Him into your heart and let Him pour His love into you. You will be a new creation.