While the holidays bring joy and good tidings, the long winter days that follow can breed anxiety and depression. It was in early January sixteen years ago that I recognized my own struggles with anxiety and began a long journey with twists and turns to healing and recovery. I am grateful for the people who spurred me on and had tremendous amounts of patience. I was not always easy to love (or like).
Those of us who struggle with anxiety see the world through a completely different lens. There are times we see things covered in a shade of gray. Or the event was upsetting to us we can only see feelings. It is like we take our emotions to the greatest extreme.
Before I sought help with my anxiety I was assigned to sell Christmas candy in the entrance of the dormitory next to mine. It was a dorm fundraiser and each person that was on the activities committee had to take turns. We were forbidden to sell by ourselves–we were required to have a partner with us. The idea of asking someone to help me was intimidating. While someone might have been a little nervous or shy, I was completely terrified. Those who know me understand I am not normally a shy person and quite extroverted. I asked two girls on my floor and neither were able to help me. This caused me to have an emotional breakdown. My suitemate found me curled up on the couch in my dorm room crying. She helped me find someone to assist with the candy selling project. She lovingly told me, “Amy this kind of reaction you are having is not normal.”
When sadness turns to deep despair or disappointment becomes rage or nervousness changes into intense fear, I know I am dealing with anxiety. Most of the time I am not seeing the situation through a healthy lens.
Anxiety ridden people like myself like to control the situation because we feel like we are going to lose control. There were times my mind raced with thoughts and I cannot focus on anything but the thoughts themselves. A few years ago I was dealing with a situation at work that was causing me intense anxiety. It was a Saturday and Rob and I were Christmas shopping together at the mall. I was not myself. I was on the verge of tears and irritable. Rob said, “Can’t you just put it out of your mind and enjoy Christmas shopping? It’s Saturday. You don’t have to work today.” But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.
I learned through cognitive therapy to pick apart negative thoughts that are the root of anxiety. I learned to see them what they really are–something the anxious brain has a difficult time doing. I am still learning and continuing to deal with these very same things in my life today.
The show Addicted which is a TLC program features individuals struggling with substance abuse. They are supported by an interventionist named Kristin Wandzilak who is a former alcohol and drug addict. In Episode 4, she is dealing with Alissa, an addict. One of Alissa’s relatives keeps saying she can quit. That drinking IS a choice. Kristen responds by saying:
“It’s so baffling…someone with a brain like you would never be able to relate to a brain like mine. Alcohol responds differently in my body than it does in yours.”
Now I am not an alcoholic or a drug addict. But I can relate to this quote. My brain and body respond differently to upsetting events than other people. I have had to accept that is who I am. I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Just like the alcoholic, compulsive gambler, spender etc. have to find healthy ways to deal with their addictions, I have to find healthy ways to combat my anxiety. Some days it is relatively easy and others it is an intentional battle in my mind.
There is hope. There are days I literally repeat Paul’s words about not being anxious about anything but by prayer and petition presenting your requests to God (Philippians 4:16) over and over and over. I am reminded I do not need to control the situation and I am not going to lose control because HE is in control.