June 25, 2020
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with anxiety. Although you wouldn’t know it if you met me a few years back. (Even now, as I write this entry, my stomach is turning at the thought of publishing this.) I made it a point in life to make sure that from the outside looking in, I was good. Everything was fine and no one needed to worry about me.
In reality though, things weren’t fine.
I had my first real panic attack when I was 20 years old. It was intense, terrifying, and I absolutely hated it. I felt completely helpless. It was as though every emotion I had held in for the last ten years came flooding in all at once and for the first time I lost control.
I laid on the floor, crying out loud to God, in hopes that He would help me regain control. ‘Cause that was my biggest concern: The fact that I lost control. I couldn’t understand why was I crying, I was fine.
I was fine.
Fast forward 5 years, and throw in four more attacks, each worse than the one before. Still struggling to admit that I was in fact (and obviously now at this point) NOT fine.
I continued to ignore my emotions. Living in this facade that I couldn’t feel this way because I’m a diligent, hardworking Christian that had a solid family life and great upbringing. Things were obviously fine.
I was fine.
At this point I threw myself into work. Making sure I didn’t have the time to NOT be fine. Who could think about the impending doom looming over them when they’re working two full-time jobs. And not like easy jobs, no I made sure that I filled my schedule with as much busy work and distraction that I could possibly handle. Between starting my own wedding photography business and managing a busy restaurant, it was easy to suppress feelings when I literally have no time for them.
I was living in full blown denial. Friends were beginning to show concern, but as always, I reassured them, I was fine. (Picture Ross when he found out Joey was dating Rachel, but worse!)
It wasn’t until a close friend of mine sat me down, sort of like an intervention-style way, and explained to me that it was okay to not be okay. But this was not a concept I was familiar with at all. In fact the first time she explained it to me I completely blew it off. To me, not being okay meant admitting that things weren’t okay and let’s be real, I couldn’t have people see me like that. I worked hard to ensure people saw me as a strong, independent woman.
But the more I prayed about it the more I felt God reminding me of who was actually in control. He showed me that my facade was nothing but a made up lie that I let myself believe for the last ten plus years. And the more I began to talk openly about my anxiety (starting with just admitting it to myself and asking God for guidance) the more I began to realize the power behind His truth and the power I allowed that lie to hold over me.
The words be still were whispered to me over and over…
And yet, I kept ignoring Him. I wasn’t ready to give up the “holding-it-all-together-I’m-fine” appearance I had worked so hard to uphold.
Now enter, COVID-19.
Truth be told, being alone with my thoughts, is absolutely terrifying to me. If you remember, my coping mechanism to life problems and the anxiety that comes with it is to work 25 hours a day 8 days a week. So to have that taken away and become completely isolated for three months… sounds like the makings of a horror story. But man, does God know what He’s doing.
In the midst of this pandemic, I was diagnosed with something called “Trichotillomania” or TTM, also known as the hair pulling disorder. If you are unaware of what this is, (I personally had no clue it was a thing ’til after I was diagnosed) it’s a form of OCD that is often triggered by anxiety. For about the last three years, I would do this cool thing where I would pull out my eyelashes. Weird right? I know. It would seem to happen randomly, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stop myself. Sometimes I wouldn’t even notice myself doing it until it was too late. Boom, no more lashes. Which was so frustrating and embarrassing for so many reasons. So finally, after the last “episode” if you will, I had had enough.
I knew it had to do with my anxiety (I’ve taken enough psych courses to know that I wasn’t purposely doing this and my best guess was it probably had something to do with the unresolved emotions that had been building in me like the Yellowstone volcano!) So I reached out to my mom and shamefully admitted what I had been doing and asked for her help. She immediately put me in (in-direct) contract with her personal therapist who then diagnosed me with TTM. Since then, since finally admitting and asking for the necessary help, I haven’t had another episode and honestly, the shame towards it that I felt before has completely vanished.
Have I figured out a cure-all to my anxiety during this pandemic? Not even close. I still have bad days, days where it’s a struggle to even get out of bed and the smallest tasks such as doing the dishes seem like an impossible feat.
But what I have done, is take the necessary steps to figuring out how to manage it. Starting with actually admitting that it’s there and very prevalent in my own life. But also recognizing that I’m not alone.
I’ve learned to reach out to a friend when I’m feeling anxious and to allow them to support me through it. Even when they don’t understand.
I’ve learned coping techniques to calm and (for the most part) prevent anxiety attacks. Like breathing in for four seconds and out for six; drawing and journaling my exact thoughts in the moment and reading them aloud to myself; and finding things to ground myself in reality – the awareness of my hands, feet, and an object I can hold.
I’ve learned to STOP BELIEVING the lies that the devil so viciously attacks us with each day. To stop, and actually listen to the lie itself and recognize how ridiculous and untrue it really is.
I’ve learned to be still in the silence and hear God’s voice. Before I’d fill my head with whatever loudness I could in order to not have to face my emotion. What I didn’t realize was that by doing so, I was drowning out the Lord, which was the one voice I needed more than any other.
I’ve learned that the stillness is in fact, NOT scary at all. It’s necessary!
It’s taken me over ten years to admit that I struggle with anxiety. But allowing myself the freedom to openly talk about it I’ve come to understand that hiding the truth, hiding your struggle is the worst thing we can do for ourselves. And it’s the last thing God wants for us.
So to answer my original question, I would tell my 15 year old self this:
“It is 110% okay to not be okay. Don’t be afraid to admit you need help. Oh and please, for the love of all things that are good, don’t quit physical therapy – my 27 year old body shouldn’t feel like it’s 67!”
If you’re struggling with anxiety, whether it’s new to you or you’ve dealt with it for years, I pray you know that you aren’t alone in the fight! That hopefully by sharing my story, you are encouraged to share your own! The current state of the world we are living in is so uncertain, it’s totally understandable and NORMAL to experience some anxiety. But it doesn’t have to control you! “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2
P.S. In case you wanna little extra encouragement, here are just a few of my favorite Bible passages that have really helped me stay strong in my faith while battling my own anxious thoughts:
Psalm 10: 16-17
Romans 8:18-30 (my #1 go-to)
photos by: Sunshine Shannon, Carolynn Reel Photo & Evie Rupp