It’s Time We Talked … Part 2 (He Wins)
I have always been an overachiever. In school, I was a 4.0 student. When I made my first B, I thought the world had come to an end. I still find my actions today to be led by a need to be absolutely perfect. Luckily I see that when things are not perfect, I can still function and the world as I know it did not suddenly cease to exist.
As a young adult, my anxiety began to change a bit. I noticed that I was on constant red alert while at work. I felt like my employer was constantly judging me and never gave me even a small pat on the back to let me know I was doing good work. So there would be days when I would sit in my office and literally tremble because I was certain I would get yelled at or ridiculed. I never did but that didn’t stop the thoughts in my head from telling me it was going to happen.
I remember one incident when we had a board meeting. I had on a pair of grey slacks, white blouse, and an argyle sweater vest (it was the 90s so give me a break). I remember feeling pretty that day. I was getting ready to walk into the board room to help set up and my employer told me I looked unprofessional. I was stricken on the inside like I had been struck by a hand. I just sat there the entire meeting completely embarrassed. Once the meeting was over, I got in my car, pulled out of the parking lot, drove to the first side street, and threw up.
I spent my entire paycheck on new clothes.
For those who have anxiety, you can relate to the sheer struggle that I have lived with internally. It’s a deep desire to be included and accepted while also an overwhelming urge to hide away at home where you are completely alone and secure. The little voice in the back of your head constantly creates self-doubt and your eyes see the negative pieces of who you are while conveniently skipping over all the wonderful parts of your being. If you are like me, you hide this struggle. If you are really really like me, you hide this struggle very well.
I changed jobs eventually and went into the pharmaceutical sales field. Lord, have mercy! This is quite possibly the worst job a person with extreme anxiety can have. In my initial interview, the interviewer asked me if I belonged to a gym. When I told him I did not, he informed me that I needed to make that a priority. Clearly, that meant I was overweight and unattractive (oh to be that size now!). But I landed the job on the spot and was actually pretty good at it. I had to talk myself off a cliff nearly every day because it was a tough atmosphere. The front desk staff at many of the physicians’ offices were quite mean. Doctors weren’t that much better. And the competition was downright volatile.
Because I was in the car alone most of the time, I had way too much time to think. I would replay conversations in my head or overanalyze an encounter. It was ridiculous. Then my anxiety took a brand new approach to steering me off balance. I was coming home from a workday in Hopkinsville. I was on I-24 somewhere between Cadiz and Eddyville when I felt a constricting in my chest. It came out of nowhere! My breathing was labored and I broke out into a sweat. I somehow managed to get pulled over on the interstate and opened the car door for some air. My peripheral vision was growing darker by the second. I threw my head between my knees and began to pray for God to not let me die on the side of the road. This, by the way, was the first time I bothered going to God with this problem.
I didn’t have a strong faith at the time. It was something that I believed but didn’t practice at all. I did not have an understanding of a God of salvation nor did I know that I could go to God with any burden on my heart and he would not only hear it but actively work within it. Unfortunately, I really only had one friend who was a believer. She spoke to me regularly about God but I didn’t accept the truth she was offering. It just didn’t seem that important.
Obviously, I did not die on the side of the road that day but I had many more episodes of that scenario, the worst being several years ago in Louisville while my then young son was in the backseat. But I digress.
I continued in pharmaceutical sales for several years, doing very well. In fact, one year I was in the top 25 sales reps in the company and won a trip to Bermuda. The last straw for me, however, was a doctor who decided he could make some very disparaging comments to me about my personal life. I remember every aspect of that moment. Standing in the “drug hall” with no way out because he was blocking the way, I had to listen to him call me names and make really inappropriate statements about some very personal things. And he did it with a smile on his face. That small hall felt smaller and smaller the longer I stood there. At one point I had to reach out to hold on to the sample cubes just so I wouldn’t fall to the floor. Trying to “save face” while feeling as if your chest is going to cave in is not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, a single tear did manage to escape in front of him.
I never went back to that office.
I quit the job a couple of months later.
I could go on and on about different events that left me breathless, full of doubt and overcome with fear but I think you get the point. Anxiety is a very real thing. It’s a painful, physiological, and psychological life-altering disorder. It has the potential of robbing you of some beautiful and fulfilling moments. I have fought very hard to keep this thing neatly tucked into my box of shame. But no more. It is a part of who I am and I am determined to not be ashamed of it. I think back over the years where society has deemed certain things taboo. Anxiety and depression used to be a part of that unspoken world. And yet, every one of us knows people who suffer from one or both. We must give it a name so that men, women, and children will know that they can seek help because help is available.
Today, I am a Christian counselor and an ordained minister. Oh, that journey toward ordination pushed me to my limits at times. The anxiety of fitting in, being completely judged, talked about, discarded by colleagues, and even pushed to quit at times led to a depression that I had not experienced before. Perhaps someday I’ll share about the journey toward ordination but right now I simply cannot. It was not the kind of experience it should have been. Instead, it felt like that middle school hell all over again. Even on the night of ordination, while I was all smiles and hugs, I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and disappear. Looking around that reception area, I remember thinking, I’m not even a welcome guest at my own party. Feeling my heart race (it was around 138), I just grabbed my husband’s hand and asked him to please take me to dinner. In the darkness of the drive to the restaurant, I stared out the window and cried silently.
As a counselor, I am very good at what I do because I really get people. I just get them. I have lived so much of what they come to see me for and so they experience not judgment but love and mercy from me. Basically, I try to give them what Jesus Christ gave me. I give them space to simply be. I look them in the eyes and love them. I never try to fix them or make them be something or someone they are not. I simply give them space to be. And that is grace.
I still struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. And I still put on a very carefully put-together mask to hide that struggle. As a minister, it can be very hard. I find that home visits are quite possibly the most difficult thing I have to do. There are many times I plan on making visits only to sit in my car mentally talking myself through each breath so I don’t collapse on the spot. I never seem to make those visits. And that invokes a tremendous amount of shame within me. I hate letting people down. Truly.
Church people can be some of the most beautiful souls in the world. And they can also be some of the cruelest. Unfortunately, the way my mind works, I tend to focus on the cruel more than the beautiful. It’s something I’m actively working on to improve. When someone gets upset or seems to be a bit aloof, I immediately take it too personally. And then the anxiety cripples me.
I have learned that resentment and anger are intense triggers of my panic attacks. When I refuse to forgive someone or something, I can actually feel a vice take hold of my lungs and squeezing. So I have learned to rely upon scripture to walk me through forgiveness. I actively pray the Jesus Breath Prayer when that vice takes hold and once my breathing is returned to a fairly normal state, I ask God to forgive me for my inability to forgive another. I’m a work in progress.
Before every sermon, every talk, every Bible study… before any time I’m asked to stand up and speak to a crowd, I feel my heart jump up into the lower part of my throat. I feel redness begin to creep up my chest. I can hear the heart beating in my head. And my breathing becomes just a bit shallow.
And then I pray.
God, please get me through this. Please let them hear you and not me because if they hear me, they’ll hear nothing but if they hear you, they’ll hear everything. Please Lord, have mercy. Amen.
Every single time I get ready to speak, I go through this. Every single Sunday I walk in circles in my office the 5 minutes before worship begins, praying this prayer over and over. Every. Single. Time.
Anxiety is part of me. And perhaps it is part of you. Before I could really make any progress, I had to first admit that I needed some help. My husband informed me one day that I “needed medication.” For those of you who are thinking of using that line on someone – DON’T. It didn’t go well at all. But he was right. I did need some medical assistance. I take an SSRI which is a class of non-narcotic medications that help with anxiety. I take it every day regardless of how good or bad I might feel. And once I was able to get things a bit under control, my eyes were able to see the rest of the needed treatment – the spiritual component.
I was spiritually bankrupt and needed God. There was a lot of ugly stuff that had to go down before I realized the depth of my need for Him but once I acknowledged it, I found a sense of mercy and grace and acceptance that I didn’t know was possible. And you can, too. Jesus Christ saved my life. And my soul.
Praise be to God He never gave up on me.
Lauren Daigle’s song Rescue sums up my life of anxiety. It sums up the feelings of being alone, lost, scared, unaccepted, and not good enough. May this song bless you, too.
You are not hidden There’s never been a moment You were forgotten You are not hopeless Though you have been broken Your innocence stolen
I hear you whisper underneath your breath I hear your SOS Your SOS
I will send out an army To find you in the middle of the darkest night It’s true, I will rescue you
There is no distance That cannot be covered Over and over You’re not defenseless I’ll be your shelter I’ll be your armor
I hear you whisper underneath your breath I hear your SOS, your SOS
I will send out an army To find You in the middle of the darkest night It’s true, I will rescue you
I will never stop marching To reach you in the middle of the hardest fight It’s true, I will rescue you
I hear the whisper underneath your breath I hear you whisper you have nothing left
I will send out an army To find you in the middle of the darkest night It’s true, I will rescue you I will never stop marching To reach you in the middle of the hardest fight It’s true, I will rescue you Oh, I will rescue you