Monday, April 7, 2014

Anxiety and Me - My Messy Beautiful

After a post like the one I wrote about potty training, I think there's a need for transparency in my truly messy life. I love Glennon and Momastery. She's raw and honest in a way I wish I could be. My sister first received the word that they were looking for bloggers and warriors to write about their messy, beautiful life. I knew I wanted to be part of it.

Today I'm pulling down the veil and writing about some tough stuff.
I know it's a nerdy picture - it's intentional. 

I've written a little bit about my fight with anxiety before, but I've never been brave enough to really delve into my struggle. I've fought anxiety my entire life. As a little girl I had panic attacks at night. My mom would read Psalm 23 to me or a book about fire fighters. I have very firm memories of the panic and fear that would consume me. I was 5 years old.

My anxiety continued through middle school and high school. My parents divorced after years of being unhappy when I was 16 years old. It was terrible. I struggled and didn't know how to be honest or authentic. My adolescent years are a blur because I spent so much time fighting myself, trying not to drown in fear, and feeling inadequate. I know many teens feel this way from time to time. I felt anxious 95% of the time - not situationally, but generally. From the outside, I had friends and probably seemed adjusted, but inside I was a complete mess. I felt very alone.

A big problem with this was that it took me such a long time to be comfortable in my own skin. After I graduated from college I began to figure out who I was but still struggled with fear in severe ways. I worked hard for everything and ended up pleasing no one. I wasn't happy with who I was and those around me weren't all that thrilled either. I saw a counselor as a teen, in college, and beyond. For every one that I found helpful, there was 2 that were completely out of touch and not helpful at all.

Through my early 20s I began to play the "worst case scenario" game. For example, if someone called and said they had something to discuss with me and needed me to call them back, I would spiral out of control. What could they possibly want to talk about? Why couldn't they leave it on the message? I'd assume it was something terrible. To calm myself down, I'd think about what the worst, yet realistic, thing they could be calling to discuss. This helped bring me back to reality.

One day, when I was about to turn 25, my boss asked to visit with me in the morning. I panicked, of course, but calmed myself down saying that the worst thing that could happen was that I'd lose my job. I could survive that. I don't know how I found peace in that, but at the time, it worked. And the next morning I was asked to resign from a job that defined me. On the outside I was (moderately) strong, but, I broke into a million pieces and the next few weeks were some of the most difficult in my life. But the worst thing that I thought could happen happened and I survived. Fear loomed over the next few months. I relied on dear friends, exercise, and a little sleep aid occasionally just to get enough sleep to function. I woke up in the middle of the night with sheer panic every few nights. I saw a counselor that helped incredibly. I felt stronger than ever. Still, fear was around every.single.corner.

About a year later I was living with friends, saving money, working hard, and in a relationship. Between semesters in seminary, I got dumped. It was terrible. I didn't have the routine of school to keep me sane and I (almost) lost it. It felt like my chest was ripping open several times a day. Friends suggested that it was stress. How could it be stress? I wasn't working a stressful job and wasn't in school. It couldn't be stress!
I actually went to the doctor because I thought that I was having heart problems. Yeah, that was embarrassing. I had a chest x-ray that came back clear. (Because nothing was wrong with my heart!)
 Finally a friend asked me if perhaps it was anxiety. I'd struggled with feelings of anxiety for more than 25 years but never had the language to articulate my feelings. Anxiety! YES! That's it!! I made (ANOTHER) appointment with my doctor and told her I thought I had anxiety. She asked me if I was open to medication. I was. That day I began my journey of fighting back against the fear that tried to define me.

Since that day I've taken a few different types of medications. I eventually found the right fit for me - a very lose dose of Zoloft. I weened myself off when I got pregnant with Wesley, but went back on (with the approval of my doctor) because the anxiety came back with a vengeance. I tried all natural options several times and got so frustrated with my husband (and life) that I immediately went back on pills. I failed at natural and hated that.

My anxiety is not situational, but all the time. It gets worse situationally, but is always sitting right under the surface, waiting to consume me. Medication has helped take the edge off my anxiety. It doesn't numb me, but reduces my anxiety to a more manageable level. I am proud of myself because I am strong. I am proud that I am finally comfortable in my own skin. I still have fear, rational and irrational, but it doesn't consume me.

While I firmly believe in medication to treat anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other things, our foster agency does not. With the help of a doctor, I've been off medication for about 2 months. I've had a lot of success using natural techniques coupled with exercise, healthy eating, and seeing a counselor regularly.

It's hard to talk about our weaknesses. This is a huge weakness in my life. My anxiety leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression, and stress. My family suffers because of my anxiety and I'm working hard to get a better handle on it.

Don't forget to check out the other Messy, Beautiful lives at Momastery this week. And be sure to check back tomorrow - there's going to be a giveaway right here!

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
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  1. Me too. When my sister first suggested it was anxiety that was my problem, it suddenly explained my whole life. It's hard to talk about, but important to share. Thanks for sharing your messy beautiful!

  2. Thanks for being brave Leanne!

  3. I suffered from anxiety when I was in high school and it was terrible! I give you a lot of credit for talking about it. We need more light shed on this topic!



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