I recently found out I suffer from anxiety.
I’m a Christian and I suffer from anxiety.
To be honest, I wasn’t going to write about this. Ever. Because it’s hard and a lot of people don’t (and won’t) understand it. And, as you probably already know, there’s a stigma attached to Christians who struggle with mental illness.
“God is punishing them.”
“They aren’t strong enough in their faith.”
“They’re just overreacting.”
These are just a few of the heavy stigmas attached to mental illness.
So when I say I didn’t want to write this post, I mean it.
However, the more I put it off, the more I felt called to write this post for that one person who needs to hear this.
As a blogger, I promised we would talk about real life—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and my prayer for this community from the get-go was that we would grow and walk through this life, together. Because we are not meant to go at it alone.
So, here I am.
I’m not writing this in hopes of making you understand. Honestly, I don’t even fully understand it myself (some things you just cannot fully explain or grasp…they are beyond description).
Rather, I’m writing it because I know there are people out there who are silently suffering (and have been for years) just as I was.
You may be one of those people.
And yes, you read that right.
I’ve been silently suffering from anxiety for years…but I never understood or realized it (I didn’t know the symptoms and never knew any different) until about 5 months ago…and I didn’t speak up about it until 3 months ago.
This blog post is about the symptoms I experienced for YEARS, the lies I believed, why I suddenly spoke up, and 3 pieces of advice (from my personal experience) I hope you will take away from this.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been able to control my thoughts.
Anytime something felt even slightly off, my mind went haywire and I immediately began imagining the worst-case scenario. I worried nonstop about what I said, and how I said it, ALL THE TIME…so much so, I could repeat PARAGRAPHS of conversation (both via text and in person) word for word because of how frequently I analyzed them.
WORD FOR WORD.
No matter how bizarre or absurd the worst-case scenario, my mind could not separate anxiety-driven thoughts from reality.
I worried excessively.
I constantly needed reassurance from people and would ask the same question over and over (and over and over) again because I needed to be 100% sure.
For obvious reasons, this was unachievable so I was in this never-ending, crippling cycle of distress.
And you know what the worst part is? I blamed it on my faith.
I felt as if I wasn’t a “good enough” Christian because I couldn’t use scripture to control my thoughts.
So I just kept it to myself (because of the stigma).
I mean…nobody wants to admit they don’t have the ability to shut their thoughts down.
Physically, my chest felt like it was on the verge of exploding (OFTEN…not just sometimes).
Whether it was a basketball game, speaking engagement, or conversation with a friend/colleague, my chest would tighten and I’d feel a pain-like discomfort (this worsened in college).
It literally felt like my heart was going to come flying out of my chest.
I’d have these “overwhelmed attacks” where everything would just continue to build up until finally my body physically could not take it anymore.
I’d break down emotionally over a seemingly small situation…but it was actually just the breaking point after MONTHS of silent suffering and built up distress.
Again, this was all normal to me and something I’d always experienced.
It never crossed my mind I may have an actual problem.
“Quit thinking about it.”
“You worry too much.”
These were all things I’d tell myself (and what others would tell me) but nothing ever worked.
I convinced myself it was just my personality, a character flaw, and quietly endured the pain.
*flash forward to this past December*
My stress became even harder to manage as things continued to pile up. My breathing worsened and my worry grew. I had trouble sleeping. I’d toss and turn all night. Then I’d wake up and lie there for hours just worrying…about everything.
My thoughts would race 90 to nothing.
Work. Speaking. Blogging. My dad’s retirement. Friendships. Things I said. Things I did. The future. The unknown. How I responded. How others responded.
You name it…I was worrying about it.
Well, for whatever reason, I started thinking this wasn’t all that normal after all and began wondering if I had anxiety (and the episode of This Is Us when Randall had his anxiety attack really resonated with me…so that got my wheels turning as well).
Before I continue, you should know I’m not one to complain about something. I have a very high pain tolerance and can take a LOT before finally vocalizing it. For example, I had muscle spasms in my neck last summer (which ironically was due to stress and anxiety) and I would NOT have gone to the ER had my pain not been a 10 on a scale of 1-10.
Anyway…my symptoms continued getting worse. I started having shortness of breath all the time. My chest was on the verge of exploding 24/7!
Deeper and deeper I fell until I found myself in a really, really dark place. A place I had never been before. And yet I kept it all to myself.
My mom could tell something was going on but I wouldn’t talk about it. I was quiet and angry. I felt irritable and vulnerable. Every little thing bothered me or sent me into a state of distress.
My relationships were affected, my social life was affected, and my ability to think straight at all dwindled.
To put things into perspective, literally by the grace of God, I was approved to write a guest post for a really popular blog (something that doesn’t happen every day and is kinda a big deal in the Blogging World) and was struggling so much mentally, I had to email her and tell her, “The more I try to write this blog post, the more I feel myself needing to admit that I’m physically and mentally unable to commit to it 100% right now.” It is easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I sat there for hours before finally going through with it!
Anyone who knows me knows that’s WAY out of my character.
I had to swallow a LOT of pride that day and would have to swallow even more in the months to come.
In the meantime, things got PROGRESSIVELY worse. I experienced shortness of breath when I laughed or sang (two things I do on a very regular basis). Anxiety was taking over my life and affecting every area. I was being torn apart mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I stopped blogging for a little while because of it. It had just become too much for me to handle, so I was going to try blogging monthly instead of weekly to help ease my mind.
I also stopped playing basketball which, as you know, is something I do regularly…something that always brought me joy, relief, peace, and contentment.
This “thing” I was experiencing wouldn’t allow me to do anything active.
I couldn’t enjoy the things I loved. Even worse, I had no desire to do them. The girl who greeted everyone with “Hello, sunshine!” was hidden behind dark clouds and a blackened sky.
It is very likely I was on the verge of depression…but you would have never known, would you?
During those two months (between wondering if I had anxiety and admitting I needed help), I was researching.
“Do I have anxiety?”
I read article after article and took test after test.
I was experiencing almost every single symptom associated with an anxiety disorder.
One day, I was in the backyard holding my niece when I suddenly became short of breath. It was worse than ever before. I quietly sat her down by my sister-in-law. My body walked into the house, through the living room, and into the kitchen where the words “I think I have anxiety” tumbled out of my mouth.
Just like that.
It wasn’t planned and I honestly don’t know how or why it happened (admitting you obsess in your head over conversations and circumstances isn’t exactly something to brag about). It just happened. One minute I was holding Kinsley and the next minute I was vocalizing EVERYTHING.
And in that moment of vulnerability, as scared and embarrassed as I was, I finally allowed myself to begin the healing process.
I thank God for that moment because it was not of my doing. I had no intention of EVER bringing it up and He knew it, too! If I wasn’t going to speak up on my own, God was going to do it for me…and I AM SO THANKFUL HE DID!
There’s no telling where I’d be had God not spoken on my behalf that day.
I scheduled an appointment so I could get the help I had desperately needed for so long…and I’ve yet to regret it! Although I still have a long way to go, I’m doing a LOT better.
I’m learning how to manage my anxiety and for the first time, I feel like a normal person. I’ve never known what that felt like. Ever.
I’ve never known what it was like to not experience excessive, worrisome thoughts in my head every minute of every day.
Anxiety is a real thing and you’re not immune to it just because you’re a Christian.
You’re not (still) suffering from anxiety because you don’t have enough faith. It’s a normal problem that normal people face and you can read more about it here.
If you are struggling with anxiety (or anything at all that’s consuming your mind/thoughts/life), I want to leave you with these three things:
1. Tell SOMEBODY.
Don’t do what I did and keep it bottled up. It’s not healthy; it’s detrimental. Not just to your health but to your friendships/relationships as well.
The first step towards healing is admitting (out loud and TO someone) that you need help.
AS SOON AS I OPENED UP, I began the healing process. A weight was lifted off my chest (literally) and off my shoulders.
Find someone you trust, whether it be your family or a friend, and talk to them about what you’re going through. Let them know where you’re currently standing.
I reached out to my family and those closest to me and received nothing but their love, support, and encouragement.
They may not understand what you’re going through, but they will most certainly see you through.
We are not meant to do the hard things alone.
2. Get the help you need.
It is ABSOLUTELY okay to ask for help.
Obviously, that is easier said than done…but if there’s anything you take away from this blog post, I hope and pray you give yourself permission to be vulnerable and admit you’re struggling.
It’s okay to talk to a doctor or a therapist or a counselor. It’s okay to use (trustworthy) resources to learn how to manage and maneuver the hard things in life. There is no shame in that.
Whether it’s about your anxiety or your past or your childhood or an unexpected loss, please do not feel ashamed for seeking assistance.
You are not weak for needing someone to help you work through whatever it is you’re facing. You are strong and courageous!
I wish I had known this a long time ago.
It would’ve saved me a lot of heartache.
Be willing to set aside your pride so you can get the help you need.
3. Know you are not alone.
Society sure can make you feel alone in your struggles. It can tear you up and belittle you without saying a single word directly to you.
There are blog posts, articles, and television shows that place a stigma around the hard things in life. They make us feel alone, unworthy, and not good enough.
They could not be more wrong!
Despite what the world tells us, there ARE people out there who understand what you’re going through. You’re not crazy or psycho or embarrassing or a disgrace.
Even when it seems like you’re alone, you’re not.
Please, get a hold of your anxiety before it gets a hold of you.
I’m praying for you today. I don’t know who you are, but I’m praying you find the courage to speak up. Please don’t continue to silently suffer. Stigma or not, anxiety is real and not something to take lightly or just shrug off.
The best thing you could ever do for yourself (and your loved ones) is be open and honest about what you’re going through.
Your health is more important than your pride, so let your pride take the hit while you get the help you need.
Like what you read? Share this post using the social icons below so your friends can be encouraged, too!