I’ve always been an anxious person. As a small child I was afraid that the wind would blow off my hair. I went through an entire season of wearing a jacket zipped up to my chin; my hair tucked securely beneath the hood. This might not have been a problem, except it was summertime and we lived in the desert. In junior high, once my older brother left home, I was scared to sleep upstairs alone. So every night once my parents were asleep, I’d pull my sleeping bag up to their closed door and sleep with my hand slipped underneath. In high school, when all of my friends rode coaster after coaster at the local amusement park, I stood to the side by myself. I’m an extrovert by nature, a people person to the max, yet my childhood fears often kept me isolated.
It wasn’t until after the birth of my second daughter that I realized my early fears of wind, sleeping alone, and roller coasters were child’s play. I had no clue that I was about to walk through the darkest, most anxious season of my life; only the first of several anxious seasons to come.
Having a child is supposed to be an amazing experience, and I did have a beautiful pregnancy and delivery. But a few hours after giving birth my blood pressure spiked and my body began to shut down. The diagnosis was postpartum preeclampsia, a condition I had not even known existed. They removed my new baby from my arms and strapped my body to the bed in case I began to seize. I was powerless to make my body respond in the manner that I wanted it to, and I felt stripped of all control. In that moment, a fear like I’d never known before entered my world and held me captive for the better part of the next year, with traces of that same fear still lingering today. And while my medical condition improved over the next several weeks, my mental condition did not.
I became so afraid of dying that I ceased to really live.
I would no longer put myself in any situation that I felt I could not get out of on my own. Riding in elevators? No, thank you. Flying in an airplane? You’re the one who is out of her mind. At one point a doctor prescribed me medication, but I had too much anxiety over possibly developing side effects from the anti-anxiety medication that it sat unused on the counter. Nighttime was the absolute worst. Once the house became still, my mind would race. In the quiet of the night, my fears screamed all the more loudly.
Suffering from anxiety is a miserable, life altering experience I would not wish on anyone, yet I know that I do not suffer alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is a mental health issue that 40 million Americans struggle with, with women being diagnosed at nearly twice the rate of men. With so many of our sisters struggling nation wide, anxiety is a topic worthy of our discussion. I am not a doctor or licensed therapist, and I would not consider myself to be cured. All I have to offer are a list of do’s and don’t’s that have helped me on my lifelong journey toward mental wellness.
If you struggle with anxiety…
Do reach out to both a professional AND a friend. A professional can help by offering medication options (should you choose that route), a listening ear, and a greater understanding of the basis of your fears. And you’ve read the statistics. Chances are there is someone in your circle of friends who is walking down the same path you are.
Don’t suffer in silence. The stigma that surrounds mental illness, and the thought that we should remain silent about our struggles, is only making us sicker. Sharing your fears with someone else often lightens the load that you’ve been carrying.
Do develop a list of coping mechanisms you can turn to when your anxiety is all encompassing. For me, those include prayer, quoting scripture (Philippians 4:8), breathing exercises, and touching a wall to ground myself when the world begins to spin.
Don’t project your fears onto your children. As a mother, this one is extremely important. I may not ride in elevators or on airplanes, but my children do. Their bravery and zest for life are a great encouragement to me, and I refuse to be the water that quenches their fire.
Do get outside of your own mind and focus on serving someone else. Sitting still allows the anxious thoughts to fester and swirl. The surest way out of your own misery is to get out there and bring joy to another.
And most importantly, don’t ever give up. A full life free from fear will always be worth fighting for.