Monday, September 30, 2013

joy and peace part 3: when anxiety controls you

It's definitely taken me much longer to continue this series than I planned. We traveled to Yellowstone with my family, and then came back and got ready for a new year with Sojourn. I also applied to, got accepted into, and started the MEd program in Early Childhood Education at Rhode Island College. If that seems sudden, that's because it was. I decided I had goals I wanted to reach and dreams I wanted to chase, and that they weren't going to chase themselves while I complain about being too busy or too poor or too insecure to go after them myself.

With that said, here is part three of my current series. I've decided to go straight to my battle with anxiety, and I hope it can bring comfort to someone out there.

I guess you could say I've always been a somewhat anxious person. I remember lying awake at night, absolutely terrified that a tornado was going to come in the middle of the night and kill us all. I would try to sleep under the covers, thinking that the blanket would save me from any falling trees or flying shrapnel, but then have to come back out for air because I seriously can't breath under the covers! Can anyone? I just don't get it. 

My parents taught me a song, that is actually a Psalm put to music, that I would sing over and over again in my head when I was scared. In fact, I still sing it to this day. 

"When I am afraid, I will trust in You." (Psalm 56:3)

As I grew up, I had fears, but nothing that got in the way of me living my life.  I was afraid of flying, but would fly anyway. I was afraid of elevators, but would ride anyway. 

There is a difference between simple fear and anxiety. There is a difference between worry and an anxiety disorder. I used to get so angry at people who would tell me "Well, Jesus says not to worry, so you are sinning when you have anxiety attacks."  I really believe that an anxiety disorder is something you can't understand unless you've experienced it. And everyone experiences them differently. I can only tell you my version. 

My junior year of college, I started feeling the need to call my dad every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I didn't think anything of it at first, but then I would call him and then realize I had nothing to say because I had already said it all earlier. So then, I would refrain from calling. I would hold myself back, and that's when the attacks would start. I would get these overwhelming ideas that if I didn't call my dad right then, he was going to die. If I didn't talk to him that day, I would never talk to him again. Sometimes I would panic and think that I needed to go home right away because something was going to happen and I wasn't going to be close enough to home to get there in time. 

I had no reason to think these things. They were completely out of nowhere. I would tell myself that it was God telling me that something was wrong. That he was telling me to go home right away because something terrible was going to happen and I needed to be there.

Once I got on medication, the anxiety attacks were fewer, but still happened. After a year or so, they switched from being about others to being about me. I was convinced that if I did something... Drove to Colorado on a ski trip, flew to Missouri to visit Nick, even drove on the highway to visit a friend... That I would die. Obviously it's difficult to carry through with something if you are convinced you're going to die. 

I remember searching for validation at first... someone to tell me that I wasn't crazy, and that my thoughts weren't irrational. That's the hardest part of an anxiety disorder, I think... The feeling and realization that no one else gets what you are thinking. Sure, people were understanding and sympathetic and helpful. But they weren't in my head, hearing my thoughts. During the "ski trip in Colorado" debacle, I couldn't even pack because I really thought I was never coming back. The morning I was supposed to leave, I asked my parents if they thought I should go. I thought that surely if I wasn't supposed to go, God had told one of them, too! But they both said I should go. I was horrified! And then enlightened. They don't think this is a dangerous decision? They see nothing wrong with me driving to Colorado? I realized that I was the only one with that specific battle in my head. I was the only one who thought I was going to die! 
So I went... I cried for 6 hours through Texas(poor Nick), but I went. And sometimes, that's all you can do. Push past the fear, take action, and cry.

So here's the thing. I'd love to say that my anxiety has disappeared and that I live a life full of happy healthy thoughts all day and night. But alas, it is not the case.  It's definitely transformed, but it is still there. I am obviously not against medication, but at this point, I do not think it is the right decision for me. Here are some ways I am learning to find peace every day:

- Scripture: sometimes I just need reminders that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. 

"I am leaving you with a gift-- peace of mind and heart. 
And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. 
So don't be troubled or afraid." ((John 14:27))

- Communication: It's REALLY hard to communicate my thoughts when they feel so irrational. I'd rather just cry and freeze than actually say "I'm scared to get in the car because I think we will die." Because really, it does sound ridiculous.  But I'm learning that I need to actually communicate my thoughts with Nick. This not only helps him know what to say and do, but also helps me process what I am feeling.

- Guard my heart and mind: I used to be able to watch anything on tv and in movies. I wasn't a huge fan of horror, but I enjoyed suspense, action, war, etc. Now, I have to make the choice not to watch shows based on how they make me feel. I used to love watching crimes shows like CSI. Now, those images of the murders or kidnappings or rapes get seared in my brain and can be triggered during an anxiety attack. Events like car accidents and plane crashes haunt me when I'm driving on the highway at night or taking off on a plane. I went to see WWZ the other day, thinking, "Zombies aren't real, so I'll be fine." Little did I know that there is a huge plane crash in the middle of the movie. It's those realistic incidents that cause me to have anxiety. 

Ultimately, I am striving to trust God with my life. He is in control, I am not. He can heal this disease, I cannot. I'm grateful to serve a God who is Peace, and I am still learning to let it go to Him instead of hanging onto it for dear life. 

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