I didn’t want to write this post. My vanity almost kept me from writing it.
But why else would God have allowed such a powerful season of anxiety in the year I was prepping for this blog—2019—if I wasn’t supposed to learn from it and share what I learned with others?
Before I dive into what happened last year, and what I’m learning from it, I should give you a little background.
You see, I am wired to worry. My beloved grandma was a class A worrier and it traveled right down the bloodline.
I remember being a small child in bed at night—not sleeping—and thinking about what order I would need to grab my pets in the case of a fire (hamster-dog-dog for those of you interested). I was in control of their lives, you see.
I had chronic stomachaches whenever I was put into a situation of the unknown— a situation I could not control. My mom would travel with liquid Mylanta for me to drink because it was the nectar of my anxiety.
It didn’t take long for me to develop a deep fear of flying which gives me weeks of stress surrounding each flight I book. You see, I have no control on a plane. I don’t get to say when we land.
And now, as a 36-year-old woman, I still ride the tides of fear, worry, and anxiety on a weekly (and often daily) basis.
As I mentioned in my last post, certain life events can set off a difficult season of anxiety (moving cross country, giving birth, etc.), but 2019 saw a very tough season with no major life change to speak of.
I suppose the crux of the 2019 season of anxiety was control (or lack thereof) of my physical and mental health.
For awhile preceding 2019, I was awoken each night by tremors in my abdomen as soon as I would fall asleep. I thought they were odd, but I didn’t pursue answers for them right away. In May of 2019, at a routine OB appointment, I mentioned the tremors assuming that they were a result of hormones evening out after my last birth or something, but the midwife had a very different reaction. She seemed baffled and concerned— she assured me she had never encountered this in her practice. She suggested I see a neurologist— a doctor of the brain and nervous system. I heard the word neurologist, which I associate with brain cancer, and a tiny seed of concern grew roots and began to blossom.
I went to my doctor in order to schedule the neurology appointment. It took a month to get a phone call and the neurologist consult was set for six months in the future (making it January 2020, though it has now been delayed until late April 2020).
We ran other tests— ultrasounds, blood workups, endocrine investigations… I was in and out of appointments with absolutely no answers and still caring for my three sons and working at the college. The tremors worsened, and I was having an unusually high number of nightmares.
As you can imagine, the stress levels were high. I was starting to have feelings of panic during everyday situations— going to work, going to the supermarket, going to church. I would feel dizzy, short of breath, sweaty and shaky. I didn’t know if these were simply anxiety or symptoms of whatever else was “wrong” with me.
And as anxiety does, it builds on itself. I felt jumpy. I would see something out of the corner of my eye and startle, but it was simply a jacket hanging in a chair or something.
And as anxiety does, it builds on itself
This next part will only make sense to those who have been through anxiety— the fear reaction then becomes something to fear in itself. I would worry about why I was so jumpy… am I paranoid? Am I losing my mind?
If you can picture my anxious mind like a whirling, sucking pool of quicksand, you might better understand how I could get pulled in innocently enough but then get sucked deeper and deeper into the fear spiral. I feared what was happening to my body and I feared the fear…and on and on and deeper and deeper.
Right at the deepest, spiraliest part of this experience, my husband went out of town for a week. The feelings of panic were so hard to surmount that week. Before and after work, I would sit in his truck just dizzy and with my heart racing, not knowing how I was going to do the next thing. Normal, everyday things. Things I once enjoyed and relished in.
I remember one particularly low moment. I had been so anxious that I could barely get through a trip to buy my sons new shoes for school, and I went back to the truck and just cried. I called my mom and said, “I can’t get on top of it. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Life demands.” None of it was letting up and I couldn’t white knuckle my way through any more. I was barely getting through each day.
Before that moment, I had placed a few calls to counselors with no successful results. I knew I needed help, but I was struggling to function and finding a counselor felt like another thing I just didn’t have the time, strength, and focus to do in that state.
I pressed my forehead deeply into my clasped hands for this next prayer, as I do in times of desperation: I need help, God. I need help and I can’t seem to get my hands on the help I truly need. Please help me.
I pressed my forehead deeply into my clasped hands for this next prayer, as I do in times of desperation: I need help, God.
Miraculously, but not surprisingly, because our God is so good, I got a call two days later from a counseling center that had previously told me that the counselor was booked. She had an opening.
She had an opening, she was less than 10 minutes away, and she took our insurance so my co-pay was $10 a visit. Friends, this counselor was a direct gift from God. He answered my earnest prayer.
This counselor approached my situation in what, for me, was the most helpful way possible— she broke down the chemical processes in the brain to help me understand what was happening and what I could do about it.
She knew that my serotonin was low and that my adrenaline and cortisol levels were likely through the roof. We needed to raise one and lower the other two. She told me that we would need to approach the healing journey from multiple angles in order to see the best results.
I needed to practice sleep hygiene, increase exercise, and be mindful of my thoughts and learn not to react to the frightening ones. She also knew I would need to increase serotonin fairly quickly and asked me to decide between serotonin supplements and anti-anxiety medication.
For years, I have been approaching anxiety the “natural” way. I had been to acupuncture and took various supplements— which, in a different stage of life did help, but are costly and time-consuming.
“Had we but world enough and time…” these natural methods would be my choice. But I have three little boys who need me to function today and every day thereafter— so right now, there’s not really a grace period.
I felt like God was leading me to medicine this time. I had three friends open up to me about what the medicine had done for their struggles and their quality of life and I decided to try it. I sat with the first pill bottle in my hand and pressed it into my chest as I prayed that God would use this medicine as the first rung of the ladder out of the deep pit I had been sucked into. Well—second rung— I suppose, because helping me get a counselor was the first rung.
After a bit of an adjustment period, I began to feel like I was struggling a bit less each day.
I bought a weighted blanket, started some light jogging, and took fish oil supplements— all of which seemed to add another rung on the ladder helping me out of the pit of anxiety.
Every time I would jog, I would create a little mantra for myself. The first one I came up with was: “I’m forging a new path.” I envisioned the pit of muck— quicksand, mud, whathaveyou— that sucked me in, and then I pictured a dry path next to it that stretched far ahead through a beautiful field. I wanted to be on the path, taking me forward, not in the mud where I swirl down deeper and deeper.
I wanted to be on the path, taking me forward, not in the mud where I swirl down deeper and deeper.
Cognitive behavioral therapists will tell us that if we fall into the same fearful thought patterns over and over, we have actually carved a deep groove, so to speak, in our brains to make the fearful thought pattern the most easy to fall into because it is the road oft traveled, you see.
But the good news is that our brains can be reconfigured to favor new pathways if a new thought is visited over and over again. This is why people repeat mantras to themselves— to rewire their thinking.
So the “I’m forging a new path” chant became my mantra. As I continued to jog, I would find myself adding to it. Eventually, the little chant I said to myself when jogging became:
“I’m forging a new path
with Jesus by my side,
the further I go down,
the fears are left behind.
Leaving fears behind is what I wanted. And for someone who does not suffer from anxiety disorder, it seems simple enough— just don’t give into that fear.
But with certain fears grooved deeply into my brain, it’s not that simple— especially when the fear seems to stand to reason. One major fear I struggled with, and still do, is this anxiety disorder has evolved beyond hope. You aren’t going to get better. It will continually get worse, and that will end up affecting your ability to be a good mother and wife.
Many of you are already recognizing these as lies straight from the enemy’s mouth. I recognize that, too, as I type it. But when a fearful thought feels so scary and so powerful and so real, it’s not easily dismissed.
I suppose the reason I entertain this fear, is that I want fervently to disprove it. I try to fight back at it with my own capabilities. But do you notice what that entails? Control. When I do this, I vainly believe that I’m the only one in control of battling back the powerful fear.
When I try to fight the fear with my own capabilities, I vainly believe that I’m the only one in control of battling back the powerful fear.
I can’t stand up alone to the enemy. I’m not powerful enough. And this is why my tactics weren’t working. The battle against the fearful thought would pull me down deeper and deeper into the swirling pit of muck and the enemy got just what he intended.
It wasn’t until I exhausted myself in that swirling pit that I started to plead with God for help. I had to surrender my battle with the enemy— relinquish control. I had to take my rigid, tense hands that were clawing at the sides of the pit and open them–palms up–so the Lord could grab my hand and pull me out.
This meant praying prayers of surrender.
A beautiful passage of surrender that I go to in hard times comes from Mother Teresa in the decades-long season in which she stopped hearing the Lord’s voice:
“There is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead… I do not know how deeper will this trial go—how much pain and suffering it will bring to me. This does not worry me anymore. I leave this to Him as I leave everything else… Let Him do with me whatever He wants as He wants for as long as He wants if my darkness is light to some soul”from Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, a collection of Mother Teresa’s letters and written entries
You can tell she wrestled with His absence the way I wrestle with the powerful fears. And you can see where the surrender happens in her writing: This does not worry me anymore. I leave this to Him.”
I am inspired by this quote every single time I read it. What faith. What trust. She exhibits a willingness to suffer so long as He remains in control in hope that her suffering will win another soul over to heaven. This surrender is astonishingly beautiful.
For me, releasing control of the fearful thoughts means trusting the Lord with my wellbeing. I have to remind myself that submitting to Him will never lead to eternal destruction. And so, no matter how shaky my legs, I put myself on that envisioned path, holding his hand and letting him lead me forward— where I will get to be with Him always.
In the sermon on the mount, found in the 12th chapter of Luke, Jesus addresses anxiety and the entire passage feels like it was delivered directly to me. In it, Jesus outlines everything I would need to know about surrendering control and fear:
- First, Jesus gives a straightforward command “Do not be anxious about your life” (for me, fearing death), nor what you will eat or wear (necessities) 12.22.
- He then gives us an analogy to consider: ravens. Ravens don’t plant and harvest and they don’t store away food in a storehouse, but they are always fed. Do ravens assume control of their own feeding? No. They don’t. And he adds— we are much more valuable to God than a raven. Put another way, God will see to our needs that much more than birds 12.24.
- Then he asks a very pointed rhetorical question that grips me every time I read it:
“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”Luke 12.25, ESV
- Worry doesn’t produce anything. Worry doesn’t solve anything. I fool myself into thinking it does. But right here, plain as day, Jesus reminds me that I gain nothing by entertaining worries. He goes further to rationalize that if I can’t add an hour, then I certainly can’t add anything greater than an hour: securing my own health, for instance.
- In case his audience needs a second analogy, Jesus offers that of the lilies:
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil or spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” 12.27Luke 12.27, ESV
- Lilies do not primp for their beauty. Their beauty is not a result of hard work at the spinning loom; the beauty is a direct gift from God. They don’t have to do anything to have it. And then he brings the analogy back to humans… if he will clothe the grass with such splendor, then how much more will he clothe (bless) us, 12.28. He ends this analogy with a direct address, O you of little faith!
O me of little faith.
- Jesus then reminds us that God knows we need certain things in our earthly lives, so we don’t need to waste our energy on the essentials. Rather, we are to put our energies toward the things of His kingdom. If we seek His kingdom first, we will be given the earthly things we need 12.29-31
- To end, He offers a summation of what he has just preached:
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” 12.32-33.Luke 12.32-33, ESV
- And he finishes his lesson on anxiety with a beautifully articulated truth:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”12.34
Though I hated the suffering of last year’s season of anxiety, I am grateful that it drew me closer to Him as he taught me lessons of surrender and trust.
Mother Teresa was comforted in her suffering that God might use her darkness to be a light to another soul.
And so, I hope that in detailing my experience in the pit of anxiety reaches someone out there who may find herself in a similar pit. May she stop trying to claw her own way out and instead ask Him for the first rung of the ladder and trust He will provide a second one after that.
with His love,