Just thought I'd start off with some transparency there. I'm scared that by writing all of this down for all the world to see, that you will judge me. That you will think less of me. That you will realize that I have never had it all together. That you will think I'm crazy. Weak. But as my pastor always says, "This ain't the Christian prom!" And I feel like I need to write it. I feel like I need to share about a journey that I went on through a very dark place, because I couldn't even begin the process of coming out of that dark place until I found out, rather startlingly, that I was not alone.
That was the game-changer for me. And maybe it will be the game-changer for someone reading this. I need to write (maybe to you) about my journey through chronic anxiety, panic-attacks, and depression. If that's a place you're in right now, (or have ever been), you are not alone my friend.
First of all, I've always had a natural bent toward anxiety - my personality is an extremely empathetic one, (to this day, I have a very hard time separating myself from other people's problems, feelings, and pain), I tend to be a hard-core worst-case-scenario thinker, I'm very creative and artistic (this, I later learned, is a risk factor for these kinds of problems. Who knew?), and I'm a very cerebral person, spending alot of time in my own head. This combination of factors and personality traits is, apparently, kind of a perfect-storm for anxiety related problems.
But it wasn't until high school that these issues really started rearing their ugly heads in my life. Maybe it was the hormones, the teenage drama, I really don't know. Somewhere around my 15th-16th years, I started having real, honest-to-God panic attacks. Now if you've ever had a panic attack, you know how terrifying they can be. If you haven't experienced this particular rush, understand that people have actually been hospitalized for a heart attack, and it turned out to be "just" a panic attack causing them all the same symptoms. Which is pretty freakin' intense. For me, they were usually initiated by a spiraling pattern of negative, horrifying thoughts that I simply could not control. (Something I later learned in counseling is caused by my relatively minor case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.) Often, these thoughts involved worst-case-scenarios regarding absolutely every daily situation I encountered. If I was driving down the road and a tanker truck was about to pass by, my mind would instantly visualize it smashing into my car and exploding into a ball of flames. If my baby brother was crawling near me on the kitchen floor while I was unloading the dishwasher, my mind would conjure up an image of me dropping a steak knife directly onto the soft-spot on his head. On and on, over and over, day after day, I was plagued by terrifying thoughts that, like a cancerous tumor, wrapped their tendrils securely around my brain. Inoperable. Impossible to eradicate. I couldn't breathe. There was a literal, tangible weight on my chest. Soon, I was having 4-5 panic attacks every single day, I couldn't sleep, and I was just paralyzed by fear.
And I felt completely alone.
I felt like I was losing my mind, truly going crazy, and that no one else had ever felt the way I was feeling. Consumed, every moment of every day, with panic, fear, and the sickening images that were swirling around in my mind. I didn't tell anyone about it, because I thought they'd have me committed. I was terrified of snapping, of finally going off the deep-end. More than anything, I feared hurting someone else. So, to comfort myself, I decided that if it ever got to that point, I would just drown myself in the bathtub before anyone got hurt. I never wanted to die, I just wanted to protect those around me from what I truly believed was my insanity.
These were my darkest days.
I remember being up in the middle of the night over and over again, pleading with God, weeping to Him, to save me from my torment. To give me peace. To take away my fears. And getting no response. Just silence. Just moonlight spilling all over the floor. (Which was where I often tried to sleep. I don't know why.)
But then two big things happened that changed everything. (And I don't remember the order that they happened in, but I do know they both happened within a relatively short period of time.) One, I broke down and told someone about what was going on. Inexplicably, an unlikely friend and her mom at a sleepover. Crazily enough, they had some personal experience with these issues, and they were the very first people to tell me that I was not alone. Two, I saw an infomercial (I know, right?) during one of my many sleepless nights advertising a program specifically designed for people suffering from chronic anxiety and depression. That infomercial described people just like me, normal people, sane people, who felt the same things that I was feeling, and came out on the other side OK. That night, I wept uncontrollably, crying out to God, so thankful, so lighter-than-air, just knowing that I wasn't the only person in the universe feeling the way I felt. For the first time, a ray of light started cutting through the darkness. I felt hope.
So, needless to say, that friend's mom told my parents about my "bathtub plan," which really freaked them out, and they sent me to counseling. Which was exactly what I needed. In counseling, I learned that I was not crazy. That countless other humans dealt with the same issues that I was dealing with. That being smart and creative put me at high-risk for these kinds of problems (go figure.) And that I had obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it didn't have to ruin my life. Plus, we bought that program from the infomercial. I learned techniques for dealing with my panic attacks, and for not freaking out about thoughts I couldn't control. It took alot of time, trust, and patience, but as I sit here typing to you today, about 10 years later, I can tell you that I have been almost completely free from panic attacks for many, many years. I still struggle with anxiety, and I probably always will to some degree, but God has healed me and redeemed me in ways I never could have imagined. Now, I am truly free. I also realize now, looking back, that God protected me from so many things during that difficult season of my life. For example, I never turned to self-harm of any kind. I never tried to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Not because I'm something special, but because God was carrying me, looking out for me, and sheltering me from all kinds of dangerous paths I could've taken had I not been trusting in Him. I also never required prescription medication to help overcome my anxiety.(Though I feel I must clarify that I have no problem whatsoever with such treatments, and acknowledge that they are necessary in many situations. In my own personal case, I just didn't happen to utilize them in my recovery.)
God reached out to me in some unlikely ways to show me that I wasn't alone, and to get me on the road to trust, peace, and healing. Maybe it's the internet that will let you know that you are not alone today. That will let you know that God loves you more than you can ever imagine, and that He will not leave you high-and-dry no matter how dire the situation may seem.
You are going to be alright.
You are not alone.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.