I am growing tired of telling my own story.
I’m ready to move on. I find I am much more interested in dissecting what God is teaching me through my experiences than the experiences themselves. But I also realize that before I can move completely into that territory, I should conclude the telling of my journey with anxiety and depression.
(This would be where I recommend going back and reading my past posts. I don’t want to be that sequel novel that spends 50 pages recapping what happened in the first two books.)
It was early October of 2011 and 8 weeks had passed since I began this struggle. I had lost too much weight too fast. I was unable to focus on anything other than the immediate task in front of me and even that seemed like a huge ordeal. My leadership ability was non-existent, yet I was still holding a major leadership role in my church. I would worry to the point of obsession over a single issue at a time, usually something to do with my ninth grade daughter. I was not employed at the time and after getting my kids off to school I could literally sit on the couch in silence with hours passing, just sitting there staring, thinking and obsessing. Time had almost no meaning. My one saving grace, the one thing I clung to, was the Lord. I am so thankful that even in this darkest of times, I never felt distant from Him. In fact, it was almost the opposite. Thank you Jesus!
Once I received the news from my doctor that there was no physical reason for what I was experiencing I knew I had to pursue other avenues. First thing you should know: I am in NO way opposed to taking medication to treat anxiety and depression. It was an option for me right from the start. I delayed only because I wanted to discover through counseling what may have brought me to where I was and I was afraid that once on medication, I would feel better and no longer wish to examine closely what had happened to me. So I began the counseling process. God matched me with a great Christian counselor who had worked a a lot deal with women just like me: strong, independent, Christian leaders who burned themselves out by not recognizing their own limitations. Women like me who ignored stressors in their lives by pretending they weren’t stressful. Women who believed the lie that we can do everything and if we feel like we can’t then we just must not be trusting God enough.
Meanwhile, my husband finally put his foot down with me and for the first time in our 20 year marriage played the submission card. He very lovingly, very gently, yet very firmly asked (told) me to step down from my role as Director of Women’s Ministries at our church. I agreed. Meeting with the associate pastor with whom I had worked so closely with for several years was a very emotional thing. As I drove to meet him, I prayed that he would assume the role of pastor and friend rather than co-laborer in ministry during this meeting. Praise the Lord, it was “Pastor “Joe who counseled me though my resignation, not Joe “ the-dude-who-was-going-to stuck-with-a boatload-of-work-with-this-vacant-leadership-role.” He was affirming, encouraging, gave sound Spirit-led advice, prayed with me, and released me from service with blessing and love. My relief was tremendous and immediate. I seriously felt a literal load lift from my shoulders. It was glorious.
But get this. While I was in that meeting, my mother was leaving me a voice mail message.
“Woohoo! My condo just sold! I close in six weeks. Find me a place to live!”
My relationship with my mother is complicated. We have always gotten along fine but do not have a close mother-daughter bond. Since the day I left for college, other than summers, I had not lived within 200 miles of my mom. Our adult relationship was comprised of long-distance calls, emails and occasional weekend visits. And it worked that way. She had never been an easy person to be around and had already set a negative tone in her relationship with her granddaughters. But she was struggling financially and my siblings local to her were burning out. My region of the country was far more affordable and it was “my turn” to have mom. My husband and I prayed a long time before extending the offer to bring her here. We both felt this was a matter of honor and obedience that God was calling us to. That didn’t mean we were looking forward to it. The emotional stuff that came with this change for both me and my daughters was significant. I just kept ignoring it.
Until that day.
That day when I spent an AMAZING 20 minutes free of the stress and anxiety. 20 minutes of feeling like I could overcome this thing called anxiety & depression. 20 minutes before getting the message that my life was going to change very quickly and it would not be an easy change.
I have no recollection of ever before being angry at God. In all my life, I had never actually wanted to yell at Him. But that day, in the driver’s seat of my van, I let my ugliest, truest self out. I do not remember my exact words but I am sure it was something like this:
“Seriously God?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? I just now freed myself of pressures and stresses that were literally driving me to insanity! Minutes God! Just minutes?! That is all I get? Is this a freakin’ joke? Why would you do this to me now? Do I not get any time to recover before you make me deal with my mom and all the crap that is going to come with that? And we are supposed to find her a place to live and do all the work that goes with that when I can barely keep my household going? How do you expect me to be able to do this? Why NOW? Why would you wait an entire year only to pick this exact day? WHY.”
I share this part of my story for one reason only. To let you know that God can take it. He can take your worst. He already knows your worst so why try to hide it from Him? Everyone has at one time or another had a moment when you wanted to scream at God that “it’s not fair!” Don’t waste your time trying to deny or hide this fact. I am not saying it’s a good idea to pitch a tent to stay in this place for a lengthy period of time, because of course it is not. Just know that you are human and flawed and real, and God loves you deeply in spite of it.
Well, I continued in counseling and that did wonders in walking me through not only my past but my present. We did get my mom moved to our area. This did take a tremendous amount of time and work, but God is gracious and we made it through and she was settled by Thanksgiving. My then 15 year old daughter probably summed it up best: “Mom, be thankful. What would have happened to you if you got that phone call from Grandma before resigning from Women’s Min.? You might have driven your van off a bridge.” She was joking with me of course, but her point was made. I selfishly wanted more me time, but God’s timing is always best…even if we have no idea why right now.
By Christmas I was feeling much more anxiety-free. However the detached, unemotional response to depression very much lingered. I knew it was time for meds. The only thing keeping me from starting them was a planned trip to St. Petersburg, Russia just after New Years. I didn’t want to start a new medication and leave the country for 10 days having no idea how I would react. So I took my trip, most certainly not getting all I would once have out of the experience but still very blessed, and saw my doctor upon my return.
For those of you nervous or opposed to medication, let me tell you about my doctor’s words to me. He talked to me about how my brain had retrained itself to respond in a certain way to stress and anxiety and how it had gotten so good at it that it started responding that way all the time. For example, I may normally have reacted with anxiety to the thought of preparing for an event for 500 people. Soon my brain was reacting the same way when I thought about having to make a grocery list or schedule some appointments. Sometimes it takes a medication to dull that response and give our brains a chance to re-train themselves. I adored his very simple, very rational explanation. It made me realize that I am treating a physical thing, just like I would take antibiotics for an infection. The medication wasn’t a forever thing. It was a means to allowing my brain to heal. I know you doctor and science types are cringing at my over-simplified reasoning. But I do not care. I just know there was in fact a physical reason my mind was doing what it was doing and there was a way to fix it.
I started on a low dose medication immediately and felt a difference in about a week. It was truly amazing. I did feel a little sleepy and had to play with when to take it to best manage to sleepiest hours. The medicine did not make me who I was before. No medicine would do that because I had become a changed person through this experience. It did allow me to regain my focus and attention span. It allowed me to gradually and consistently regain lost territory in my life. It made me wish I had started on it in October. Life lesson learned.
I stayed on the medicine for about 8 months and then spent another 3 tapering off. I no longer need it, but am fully aware that there may come a time again when I do. And I am okay with that.
A friend just asked me if I think I am back to “normal.” You know what? I believe I have reached my “new normal.” I will never again be the same person I was before Anxiety came into my life in August 2011. That is because God used the experience to dramatically change who I was deep inside. Or maybe “change” is the wrong word. Perhaps what He did was use this experience to tear me down brick by brick. Then He rebuilt me brick by brick. Only, when He rebuilt me He tossed away an awful lot of bricks and used only those bricks that He has purpose for in my life.
I would not choose to go through this experience again. But I am extremely grateful for how God had used it in my life and pray that I will never forget the lessons it taught me.