Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Puttin' it out there

This past weekend Scott and I had the BEST time at our Sunday School Class pig roast. Even if we were two hours late... Whoops. While we had a great time fellowshipping with our new friends at TRBC, we started our evening off dealing with a struggle we, well I guess I should say "I", have been dealing with for almost five years. The big "A" word: Anxiety.

Although, I have shared my issues with anxiety with some, I haven't ever (that I can remember) publicly shared my struggles. Its not something I am proud of, in fact I am quite embarrassed by it. It's not something that makes total sense and not something that I feel like everyone can understand. But because I know that others struggle with anxiety too, I want to share in hopes that I can encourage and inform others about my difficulties in the journey with battling anxiety.

It all started when I caught a stomach bug in July of 2006. It was the first time I had ever tossed my cookies, so to speak, and it was horrible! I told myself i would never do that ever again. No big deal, I moved on didn't really effect me, until August of 2006 when I was on the way back from a college retreat. On the bus I began to get hot, clammy, my stomach was hurting, and I felt my throat close up within me. (Later I realized that was probably my first panic attack) I thought I had gotten a bug again and I was terrified. I was on this bus with all these people still two hours to get home, and I just felt sick. Luckily I was able to ride back in the car with my Mom once we pulled over at a rest stop. I didn't get sick and in fact when we got back home I felt perfectly fine. This started a slow trend, cycle, of feeling sick and staying home. It made me feel better to be home.

I attributed this cycle of events to be because of the year I had. I had some very life changing event occur in my life that year that just threw me for a whirlwind and changed my life drastically. So I just thought emotional I was worn out and needed a rest. I kept staying home. But my "panic attacks" began to get worse and almost everytime I left my house. Here's just a small snippet of the extent to my struggle. The night of our engagement, we couldn't go out to eat. Scott had planned an amazing dinner for us and he sang me a beautiful song. He put so much effort into this night. I panicked. Left to go to the bathroom and didn't come back. I began to have such an intense panic attack that I was in the recliner, with a blanket wrapped around me, shaking. Just shaking. Miserable, to hear the sound of Scott washing the dishes packing everything up because I had ruined out dinner. What a great man he his. He didn't understand these anxieties, but he pushed through and proposed after my panic attack had subsided. I said yes, duh. :o)

Unfortunately,  my panic moments didn't not subside like I had hoped. I thought of planning the wedding is stressful, I just started college, got a new job, making new friends, ya know all of life's changes at the bright age of 18. So I continued to live basically in my house, and would go out occasionally only to be brought home in a shake of panic. Absolutely miserable. School was so hard. I dreaded having to sit through class worried if I was going to get sick and panic. Class was becoming increasingly difficult to go to, as I was to embarrassed to get up and leave so I would just sit in my car or go and constantly be eating a cough drop nervous out of my mind.

Shortly after I started school I began to feel that it would make my anxieties better if maybe I just drove my own car, so that if I had to leave I could and I would not inconvenience anyone. I would just leave and go on my merry little way. Phew, did that help so much! But started me in such a downward spiral. Ostracizing myself from my friends and family and even my fiancĂ©e. I began to go to restaurants and not eat anything and take it home, because I didn't want to get sick on the way home. But when I went home I wouldn't eat much. Why? All because I was afraid I was going to get sick. I literally made myself feel sick from worrying about being sick! This cause the spiral to get so much worse. I lost 13 to 15 pounds. Not because I thought I was too big, I really was just afraid of eating something that would make me sick. Miserable.

**Side note: Cough drops have sadly been my crutch. I am going out on a limb here, but I eat them to feel better. I feel like they make me feel better. Psychologically they do, at least I feel like they do.

My wedding day came and went like the blink of an eye. Just like I had hoped it would. I desperately wanted a short and quick wedding because I didn't want to be panicking the whole day! Oh how much I would love to just go back and have my first dance, eat at my wedding, breathe easy at my wedding, ENJOY my wedding. I was a nervous wreck. scarfing down cough drops and worried I was going to throw up everywhere.

Soon after we got married my anxiety got to the point where I realized I could not go through school anymore. Anxiety was not the only reason, I had lost my scholarship. Partly lack of attending class and partly because I hate math and don't understand economics.  So I took on teaching dance more full time and continued to cater to what made me feel better with my anxiety. That included, eating at home, rarely making chicken, rarely eating dinner with Scott, falling asleep with the TV on most nights, watching tons of TV, riding in my own car by myself as much as possible, eating cough drops, not eating with people, not eating much most days. Miserable. I can't even describe to you the amount of strain this put on my marriage. Imagine my husband almost never getting to go out on a date with his wife. Always having to listen to the TV. Me always making an excuse to stay home instead of going to a movie or dinner. Miserable about sums it up. What a gracious man I married.

My breaking point of realizing this wasn't just exhaustion was in August of 2007. My family, Scott and I went on a beach trip to Santa Rosa to enjoy a few days of R and R. Boy oh boy was it not. I could barely sleep, eat, ride in the car with anyone, eat out with anyone. Pretty much enjoy anytime with anyone. I felt crippled and paralyzed by my fear of getting sick or having a panic attack. Miserable. One night while everyone was hanging out putting puzzles together, relaxing in my Aunt and Uncles house, next door, I was  by myself in a recliner bundled up, counting the minutes until we got to go home that next morning. When in came my brother in law Ben.

At the time Ben and my sister Beth lived in Louisville, KY for seminary for Ben. I don't quite remeber how everything went down but basically, I started crying and just asked Ben if he would be willing to give me some biblical counseling on how to deal with my anxieties. Ben had decided he wanted to pursue a degree in biblical counseling at SBTS, so I knew he would be able to help. He agreed and said that Monday evening he would call me and Scott and I together could talk on the phone. This started a year of biblical counseling with Ben. Most of the counseling was done over the phone while a few times we got to speak in person. If you know my brother in law you know he does not beat around the bush when it comes to the gospel or God's word and truth. There is no sugar coating sin and that is exactly what Ben did not do. He did not sugar coat my sin that was visible.

Up until then I had been angry at God wondering why in the world would he be so mean and merciless to me. Why would he allow Satan to do these things to my body and my mind? And most importantly and angrily why would he not take it away? Such anger I held towards God. I don't think any words on this blog, email, paper, words, or my tears could describe the agony of these anxieties. The regret of things I have not been able to do because of them. The strain it caused my marriage and friendships. The awkwardness of EVERY family dinner, restaurant experience, movie, date, car ride, excuses I made.  I am not over dramatizing this either. The anxieties really have felt like they have destroyed my life.

But Ben. Good ole Ben. Sat down with me and pointed out hard truths that I was resistant too. He didn't just tell me, "Oh it sounds chemical, there is just something wrong with your chemical levels." No he said Jennifer these things that you are describing to me sound like you desire comfortability and control. Now this was over the course of a year, he didn't just "diagnose" that I have issues not being comfortable. I don't want to put the wrong impression out about Ben's counseling, he didn't approach it as a secular counselor. He helped me to work through a lot of issues with my relationship with God. My lack of time in the word, prayer, reliance on God, trust in God, and understanding the character of God are things that he addressed and taught me. (Soon, I will recap all of the things he taught me in some blog posts but its to much here!)

I wish all I needed was a little counseling and a prayer and everything was back to normal but it didn't happen, as Ben told me from the beginning, "this is not a magical pill" Ben would tell me. Realizing my sin in the anxiety though, was the best help I ever received. I needed to repent of my sin of wanting comfortability. In every case of having a panic attack it was due to being uncomfortable and ultimately not in control. My inward feelings of wanting to be comfortable were the feelings in my heart. My heart and deceitfully wicked. Which would therefore cause my outside actions to be dictated by my inward deceit. My feelings of wanting to not feel sick or panicky would dictate that I would not eat chicken. I would not go to the movies and sit in the middle of the aisle. I would not ride in the car with anyone. Anything that made me uncomfortable I would not do.

Almost five years later, I still struggle. I still battle my flesh. I still battle the deceit of my heart. I still wish sometimes that God would just remove this burden from my life. Oh please, oh please God just take it away. He hasn't. He may never. It has taken me almost five years to become OK and semi obedient that this just may be with me until I die. As depressing as it sounds and as terrible as it feels, I do have hope though. I have hope that God is good. He will continue to provide the comfort that is from HIM. He will continue to hold me when I am shaking in panic and He will continue to bring me to repentance when I disobey Him or forget His truths. Don't get me wrong I still question God, and slip up. Forget that I do have hope. From looking back I see so much grace from God in this whole journey through anxiety.

It is my hope to recap some of the things I learned through my biblical counseling with Ben. So hopefully through what I learned I can continue to be brought into further joy through my struggles, and encourage someone along the way.

To finish up my story from the beginning, this weekend I was reminded that I still need God. I sat in the driveway with Scott for about five minutes in the car with him encouraging me, telling me I could do it. We can drive together. We actually rode together. That's the first time in a few weeks we have rode together. It's still a struggle but, God is good and He is faithful even if I forget all to often.


Karis said...

Jen! I've obviously known most of this because I'm one of the lucky ones you shared it with, but I just want to say that I'm so proud of you and how you've handled your fears and anxiety these past few years! You've come a long way! And we still need to hang out! -Karis

Domestic Diva said...

Thanks Karis! Agreed, let's hang out!

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