Tuesday, June 21, 2016

To the One...Struggling with Anxiety: Part One

My first panic attack happened in 2006 while standing in line to meet Goofy at Disney World.

Yes, Goofy. 

How appropriate.

I'll never forget it. My heart was beating rapidly and this deep feeling of dread swept over me unlike anything I had ever felt before.

I didn't dare tell anyone, but after holding it in for over thirty minutes I could no longer contain myself. I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to get out of there and fast.

Without saying a word to my husband or any of my family, I grabbed my mother's hand and drug her out of line like a rag doll as I sobbed uncontrollably. I was surrounded by huge crowds and everything seemed to spin as I desperately tried to look for a private corner nearby where I could try to compose myself. (And, for the record, there are no private corners in Disney World.) 

"WHAT'S WRONG?!?" my Mom said in a frightened voice as I pulled her along. "BRIANNE, TELL ME WHAT IS GOING ON!!"

But, I couldn't talk. I was shaking and sobbing. There I stood surrounded by hundreds of people as I was experiencing the most emotionally raw moment of my life. 


Our Family Trip to Disney World (Me, my son, my mom and my nephew)   

Looking back, I can see that a lot of things led up to that attack. It was like a series of events and thoughts that compounded on top of each other and led me to a mental breakdown.

Two years prior I had given birth to my first child and had experienced severe insomnia and anxiety due to post-partum depression. Those were long, dark, exhausting days filled with anxiety over whether or not I would ever sleep again and live a normal life. I doubted whether I was a good mom and truly feared that I would lose my mind. I felt like a stranger in my own skin and life seemed downright unbearable and hopeless. I was on multiple medications that were supposed to help me, so how did I have a panic attack while on medicine that was supposed to keep it away? 

The hardest part of my anxiety and depression was the stigma that Christians shouldn't struggle with it. I was a minister's wife at the time and, like all new moms, had anticipated the joys of motherhood. So, it felt like some sick joke that I was the one struggling, that I was the one God allowed this to happen to. I felt jaded. I was disappointed that God wasn't who I thought He was and internally grew bitter that He wouldn't give me healing. I questioned His goodness and my faith. I teeter-tottered on the edge of turning my back on a God who obviously didn't care enough to grant me the basic necessity of sleep and happiness.

But, no matter how my faith was tested, I refused to turn my back on God. I begged God to hear my cries and to show me if His Words were true.


My Buddy and I Having Fun at Disney World (before Goofy) :)
I would love to say I got overnight healing and that it was a quick fix. But, it wasn't.

But, I was led to the truth about anxiety. 

Anxiety is a learned behavior. Sure, chemical imbalances are a real thing and medication is helpful to a point, but until we un-learn the obsessive thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to the anxiety, it will simply be a cycle of deeper anxiety and more medication. Again, don't get me wrong. Medication is necessary sometimes, but without changing our thinking, it is a bandaid. 

After eight years of prayer, multiple counseling appointments, cognitive restructuring and DEEP soul searching, I was finally able to overcome my crippling anxiety and even weaned myself off of all medications. It was a lot of work, but with God's help, I was able to do it. (**Let me insert here that medication is necessary for many. Do not attempt to wean off of medication without the supervision of a doctor. It took eight years for me to feel strong enough to try weaning. And, I told myself that if I felt myself going into that deep place again, I would not be above going back on it. Medication was a gift from God to help keep my head above water as I navigated the waters of learning how to defeat anxiety.)


Though medication is sometimes the starting point for overcoming severe anxiety, it is not the end. Even wise counselors and philosophers can give you material to give you temporary victory and talk to you about 'finding strength within', but I can't write anymore of this blog series without telling you the most vital part of overcoming my hellacious struggle. 


My Faith.

Listen, I know this isn't everyone's favorite bullet point.  Many of us have negative thoughts and conceptions about church and religious people. But, I'm not saying that 'church' saved me. It was Jesus. If anything, I had many church friends shaming me for taking medication and assured me that if I had enough "joy and faith in the Lord" that I wouldn't struggle with that. (Exactly what someone struggling with anxiety and depression needs to hear... *insert eye roll*)

But, hear me out.


Anxiety is rooted in fear. Fear of failure, fear of the future, fear of loss, fear of death, fear of heights, fear of change. Fear of anything.

It turns into debilitating worry about things that we have no control over. And right there is where I found how thankful I was for my faith in Jesus.

The whole basis for faith is believing and trusting in something we can not see. Now, I'm not talking about wishful thinking or even that the universe is controlled by some positive energy that exists in many forms.

I'm talking about one God who loves you and has plans for your life bigger than what you can imagine.

I'm talking about a God who can use your deepest worries and fears to draw yourself closer to Him so you can experience what true freedom and peace of mind He gives.

I'm talking about a God who longs to show you how fear is not what He designed you for. That He sent His Son to give you hope that this world is not all there is and your struggles are not for nothing.

Truth be told, in my darkest hours I did walk away from my faith because of this struggle. There were countless days where I decided to throw in the towel and try to overcome this struggle on my own sheer will. But, friends, we can only control ourselves to a point.  What about when our greatest fears do come true and we are faced with tragedy, sickness or the loss of a child? Where is hope after that?  

That one thought brought me back to my knees and it's where I decided that my only hope was to believe there was a God who could take all of the dark, sleepless nights and turn them into victory. So I resolved within myself that it was time for me to trust God's Word and seek Him with all of my heart through prayer. God sent countless people and resources along the way to help me out. 

And I was radically changed.


My two boys. They are a big reason why I am stronger because I didn't want to pass this down to them. 

It has been twelve years since I started the journey of overcoming anxiety and depression. It has been an uphill climb, no doubt. But, looking back, I am eternally thankful for this very struggle because it led me to a deeper walk with God that is not dependent on my circumstances or my fears. Through it all God chipped away parts of my heart that kept me from living the life He meant for me to have all along. He helped me stop believing the lies of worry and fear and led me to find REST in Him alone. And, no matter what tragedy comes my way or when anxiety tries to creep back in (and it does...) I am armed with God's promises to remind me that nothing is out of His control. I have true hope and an anchor for my soul. 

The amazing thing is this gift is available to all who want it. 

You may ask, "But, where do I start?"

Simple.

Ask God to help you. To lead you. And to help you overcome the walls you have built to keep Him at bay from your heart. I can not guarantee you a life without tragedy, and faith is an active journey with many ups and downs. But, standing on the other side of this anxiety I must say that I am brought to tears to see how much God loved me enough to carry me through the journey and show me how he truly came to "give life and give it to the fullest."

If you do have faith, but are in a dark place and wonder where God is in this struggle, you are not alone. I am here to encourage you and pray for you. In Part Two, I will continue to share the many resources that God led me to that led me to victory. 

THERE IS HOPE. I promise you have nothing to lose and EVERYTHING to gain. 


"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10 (Jesus speaking)

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life." Matthew 6:25-27 (Jesus speaking)

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

"If you seek me you will find me, if you seek me with all of your heart." Jeremiah 28:13



"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28 (Jesus speaking)



"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Matthew 11:28 (Jesus speaking)


"Search me, oh God and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the everlasting way." Psalm 139:23-24





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