It woke me in the middle of the night. After several weeks of a sinking feeling. That feeling that even though you woke up feeling okay, something was “doomed” to happen. After several weeks of unstoppable bouts of crying. Of chest pains I attributed to a bronchial infection. Pain so bad in my abdomen woke me and kept me up through the night. I spent the remainder of that night on my bathroom floor, in the fetal position, convinced I was dying. Or simply just going crazy.
These feelings of dread. Sadness. And unexplained physical pain had gone on too long.
“It sounds like you have been having panic attacks. Have you been under a large amount of stress lately?”
Had I? Yes. I had. I had spent the last several months dreading going to work. Crying on my way there, and my way back home. It took immense effort each day to even get myself out of bed, because I was terrified of what angst would await me at work as I arrived.
The thoughts that I wasn’t doing a “good enough” job.
The late evenings staying, often neglecting my family just so others could not find fault in my work.
The many times I took the actions and criticism of others as the gospel, and beat myself up over it.
The nights I lay awake worrying if I even had a job. Or would have one in the coming years. Irrational thoughts. What if they don’t believe me? What if all my work doesn’t matter and only whether I am liked does? Will I be fired?
“Have you ever been treated for anxiety?”
But that word was used for those who worried about tornadoes, and packed their basements with enough food to survive the zombie apocalypse they could not stop worrying about. I don’t worry about everything. So….anxiety isn’t what this is.
But the word “anxiety” that is thrown around by many, and the stories above that are used to illustrate its existence-they are not what it really is.
It’s exactly what I had been feeling. I had been worried. A lot. About my job. About my clients. About what others thought of me. About how this affected my family. About my health. And all this worrying? The excessive thoughts that kept me up at night? They were wrecking my life.
Everything had to be perfect. Sometimes to the point it was done over and over and over again until it was. Even if I lost sleep. And some of the things that I thought I had overcome. From which I had healed came creeping back to the surface. Triggers from past events that were now compounded by new ones.
(Note: Not everyone’s anxiety symptoms are the same. Nor are they the classic symptoms most documented in medical journals. If you suspect you have anxiety, be sure to talk to your doctor).
And…I needed to overcome this thing once more. It was consuming me. My thoughts. My sleep. My spiritual health.
I had to get back to myself.
And while seeing a doctor was the first step. Fixing my behaviors. My thoughts. Knowing what triggers sent me in a panic. Even disconnecting from people with whom I engaged were many of the others.
My particular brand of anxiety took captive of my brain. My thoughts. And once it successfully mastered its task, it took over my body. To stop it I had to wrestle those thoughts. Understand the triggers in my body, and get back to baseline.
Here are some of the things that worked for me:
Color. Seriously. Color. It seems very childish, but that is often the very reason it is calming. It takes your brain back to a simpler time. And it calms the fear center of the brain at the same time.
Paul had something when he said to think about what is good. Negativity breeds negative energy and thoughts. If we focus on all that is bad, we will believe that all is bad. Shifting our focus on the things that are going well in our life, shifts our daily focus on what is good. This applies to the company we keep. When we surround ourselves with those who are positive, and treat us well. We tend to feel better as well. It’s OK to evaluate the people with whom you spend your time in order to heal.
Keep a journal. I write. Constantly. Maybe because my brain never seems to stop. I keep several journals. One where I “dump” all the junk from my workday, so I can go home to my family refreshed. One where I reframe negative thoughts. And one where I write down anything that keeps playing a loop of angst in my head. It’s also how I determined what was triggering my anxiety attacks (which I know now were related to feeling a sense of helplessness when others are denied their voice or safety). The process of thinking it, identifying it, and then writing it out, provides your mind with a blank slate. You’ve released it. It’s as close as you can get to talking it out with a trusted confidant.
Speaking of trusted confidant. Find someone you trust who will hold you accountable, in love. For instance, I have a handful of friends that I know will bring me back down to earth when I’m out of control in my head. I also know I am not perfect, and I tend to lash out at those who live with me when I feel attacked. My husband is one of these people. And, even though I don’t all the time, I make an effort to ask: “How can I get better at that? How should I respond instead so that it doesn’t hurt you?” Since I know these people will speak to me with genuine love and concern, the feedback they give is received.
Pray. Pray for peace. Pray that God will clear your path of any anxiety triggers. Pray he will place loving and understanding people in your lives. Prayer is what honestly sustained me, and helped me get up after the nights I lay crying on my closet floor.
And, because sometimes you need to-see a therapist, or ask for medication. And know that this is OK. As a believer it is acceptable to utilize the gifts that have been provided to others through Him. The gift of science. And the gift of wise counsel. Seek them. Use them. Wisely of course. It’s not shameful. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you less of a believer in God’s power. No. Admitting you need help makes you quite strong.
In addition, fix your thoughts on the one who can help you in your time of need. Find a Bible verse you can go back to each time you start to feel those unwanted, irrational feelings again. Because you will have bad days. Everyone does. Here’s one for you that helped me remember that my anxiety would not win my heart or mind, and kept me focused on those good and true thoughts of which Paul speaks:
So do not fear, for I am with you: do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
He held me during those trying days at school. He held me on the bathroom floor. He holds me when my thoughts were fixed on all I supposedly wasn’t.
And He will hold you, too.