I have anxiety. This is only the second time I’ve publically said that. The first time was at my baptism 5 months ago. No, it’s not something new that I’m dealing with, it’s just that I’ve always kept it to myself up until recently…. And to a point, I still keep it to myself, I certainly don’t advertise it. I’ve dealt with severe anxiety for over 15 years, and up until about 2 years ago, no one knew about it, not even my family. I kept it hidden. When I look back, I can’t believe I managed to keep it hidden for that long. I mean, it was SEVERE. I guess that’s one good thing about being “the quiet one”, no one pays much attention to you, so it’s easier to hide things.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines anxiety as follows: 1) painful uneasiness of mind usually over an anticipated ill. 2) abnormal apprehension and fear often accompanied by physiological signs (such as sweating and increased pulse), by doubt about the nature and reality of the threat itself, and by self-doubt. While these definitions are accurate in a technical, unattached way, they don’t really capture the whole meaning. Anxiety is knowing that your fears are completely irrational, yet having no way to stop them from surfacing. Anxiety is wanting so badly to go somewhere or do something, while at the same time being so uncomfortable and so full of dread that you end up just staying where you are, living the same routine over, because it’s safer that way. Anxiety is that horrible thing that comes in the night, robs you of sleep and haunts you until the light of day comes back around. Anxiety is being scared to death of what the dark of night will unleash upon you, while at the same time being scared to death of what a new day will bring. Anxiety is the shackles that keep you tied down and trapped, leaving you to wonder if you’ll ever be free. It’s that thing that just when you think you’re on stable ground, will sneak up behind you and grab a hold of you and slam you back down into the dark pit that you spent what felt like an eternity crawling out of. Anxiety doesn’t just show up in the form of sweating and an increased pulse, it also shows up in loss of breath, to the point where you’re not sure whether you’ll suffocate or not. It shows up in the sudden loss of speech and the feeling of constantly being choked. It shows up as muscle spasms, shaking, nausea, vomiting, and other not so fun things. You have little to no control over these symptoms, which just serves to add insult to injury.
The older I got, the worse the anxiety got. My anxiety can rear up at any time for any reason, but my main triggers are social situations and big changes. I use to absolutely dread having to speak or get up in front of the class in school. Heck, I couldn’t even stand to read aloud from my desk. *Note to teachers: The whole “well that’s why I’m making you do it (get up in front of people), so you can learn to be comfortable with it” thing DOES NOT work for those of us with social anxieties. It only serves to torture us and make things even harder. Honestly, I think it actually made me dread it worse than if you had just let me be and picked someone else. Some of us are just not made to be in the spotlight, in front of people. We’re simply not wired that way. Luckily I’ve recently been blessed with a few people in my life that understand this and work around it.
I was baptized on 9/11/2016, and for those who don’t know, that usually requires standing up in front of the congregation and giving your testimony. I was blessed enough to have a pastor who has not only known me for the majority of my life, but who was also so incredibly understanding and compassionate towards my problem. He was truly a Godsend. He worked around my issues and bent over backwards to make sure I was comfortable enough to be able to achieve something I truly wanted… to be baptized. Instead of making me stand in front of the congregation and give my own testimony, he allowed me to write it out and then read it himself. Things went smoothly and I was finally baptized. I had wanted to get baptized for a couple of years, but my anxiety always got in the way. Quite frankly, if it hadn’t been for Pastor Fobes, I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it. I’m very thankful for him.
The first 5 years after I graduated high school was really bad, anxiety wise. It was so bad that I actually turned into a hermit. I rarely left the property. I was totally content at home. I’m blessed enough to live out in the country, so I had plenty of room to roam around without having to go anywhere where people were. The problem with this method of locking yourself away is that ultimately it only makes things worse for when you do have to go out in public… Hiding is not the answer, it just creates more issues.
For over 15 years I held everything in. I wasn’t an emotional person, choosing to bury them deep inside of me and locking them up. I never cried, to the point where it became a running joke in the family. The problem with this is that eventually the dam breaks… 3 years ago I got really sick and it brought me to my knees. I ended up bedridden for the better part of 3 months. I was totally depleted and in a lot of pain. It took a year to fully recover from it and get back to feeling like myself, and another year to finally get a diagnosis. I evidently have a Connective Tissue disease, which affects my joints, muscles, cartilage, and the connective tissue that holds my organs and everything else together. I’ve probably had this disease for my whole life, it just never surfaced full force until 3 years ago. When it did surface, it brought me down hard. I hadn’t been to the doctors in 4 years prior to all of this and was a pretty healthy person for the most part, anxiety aside. Looking back over the years, especially my teenage years, I can now see that all those little unexplained illnesses and hurts were really just flare ups of the disease. The disease surfacing was actually a blessing in a way, because it ultimately made me face and address the anxiety. When the disease surfaced, my anxiety reared up to new levels. It was so severe that it literally brought me to my knees. The dam broke and exploded.
I found myself on my knees, crying and wondering how I was ever going to get through life the way I was at that point. I was a total wreck, between the severe anxiety and the connective tissue disease flare up, I was at a loss of how to heal myself. At that point I was just trying to figure out how to get myself up off of the floor. But just then, a quiet voice inside of me whispered, “You don’t have to get up, you’re right where you need to be”… I knew immediately what I had to do. I prayed to God for help, for courage, for strength, and for peace. And I swear to you, I immediately felt a peace wash over me and weight lifted from me. I got back up and kept going. From that point on, I’ve made it a point to stay close to God and pray to him often.
Most people who meet me today would never believe that I was the same person as that anxiety beaten person a few years ago. My family can’t believe it. I’ve made such an incredible turn around. I’ve gone places and done things I would never have been able to do only a few short years ago. I’m healthier, happier, more positive, and all around contented. But one issue with this is that people think I’m automatically cured, that I don’t suffer from anxiety anymore. Well one out of the two is right. I don’t SUFFER from anxiety anymore, I BATTLE it. There’s a difference. When I suffered from it, I was its victim, it controlled me. But now, I battle it, I’m in control. I’m no longer the victim, IT is. I still have to get up every day and make that choice that anxiety won’t rule me and I still have periods where it’s harder, darker, but I don’t let it last, I continue the fight.
The difference between me then and me now is Faith in God. I am no longer doing it alone. My faith gives me power and comfort. Psalm 46:10 reminds me to “be still and know that I am God”. It tells me to just stop worrying, to trust God. God is God and that will never change. He is loving and faithful, he won’t leave me alone nor will he allow anything to harm me. Philippians 4:13 reminds me that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” that includes conquering my anxiety. I’m not cured by any stretch of the imagination, but I am infinitely happier and at peace. In the words of David, “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?” I am not alone. Amen. Thank you God
Born and raised in Upstate NY, Liz is a freelance writer. She has written for websites, blogs, and magazines for the last 10 years. She also acts as a proofreader and beta reader for several authors, all the while working on her first book.