It started the week I woke up suddenly, night after night, with my heart pounding, my hair sweaty and stuck to my face, usually around 3am. My life had been turned upside down.
I had grown up introverted, self-conscious and loathing social activities. It was built in. Books were my best friends and I was more than happy to stay at home. In school, I felt the creepings of it in class; the desire for perfectionism unfortunately affected by a mind that wandered. I would feel stuck and panicky sitting somewhere for extended periods of time listening to teachings that in no way held my interest. It made me squirmy and impatient.
But it wasn't until those nights I started to awaken in a blind panic with no resolution, seemingly nowhere to turn, that the anxiety switch flipped on.
And it announced it's presence in my life with a vengeance.
It started that week that I discovered that my marriage, my family was a complete lie. I was on the receiving end of unfaithfulness. There was a woman calling my house at all hours of the night, screaming on the phone, demanding to talk to him. He refused and would coach me through conversations with her, refusing to man-up and handle his own stupid business. I was married to a pastor, a chaplain. I could tell no one. Seek solace nowhere. I couldn't (so I thought) tell my family because they would make me leave. I was eight weeks pregnant. I wasn't sure I had the courage to do it.
And so I didn't. And then I found out that this one was at least #2, and that there was much, much more to the story. And I stayed silent. I shoved down the feelings of fear, exquisite pain, loss of faith, unworthiness. His words swirled around me as I sat on the bathroom floor after throwing up yet again, after all, I was in my first trimester; he told me I looked pathetic. That he "deserved" a hot wife and this wasn't it. And I took it. ME! The sassy one who will tell anyone off in a heartbeat if you start with me. Slumped in a wrecked, weeping, pregnant, lonely heap on the floor. "This isn't my life. This isn't my life. This isn't my life" were the words that ran circles through my brain as I'd throw up again.
That week, anxiety made it's debut in my life, and I've been fighting it like hell ever since.
Admittedly, there are many people who have been through FAR WORSE than I have experienced. My story got even worse later on, and it has felt like the last several years have been stuffed full of intense trials. Many times I will look at someone else and think "but they are going through THAT so why should I be down/worried/in pain when in comparison, my situation isn't that bad?"
I'll tell you what I've learned:
Just because someone else has had a different experience than you, does not minimize your pain, your journey, because pain is relative. It is what YOU say it is. It's as bad as YOU say. Own it, and walk through it however YOU need to.
Ever since those days, my mind immediately goes to thinking the worst, because there have been a couple of situations now where I can say, "See? The worst DID happen! I was right all those years to think the worst, because it IS possible that it will happen!" (This was not a good realization).
Anxiety is paralyzing, crippling and very, very real. When you have experienced a trauma, your mind goes into protective mode at the first sign of any trouble. Sometimes, your body will start with an anxiety reaction while you're not even thinking about anything. It's just anxiety being the asshat that it is.
Do you ever: feel a tightness in your chest or core when fear of something out of your control is occurring or has the potential to occur? Do you feel uneasy, struggle with sleep? Find it almost impossible to clear your mind or focus on ANYTHING when you feel overwhelmed with fear an anxiety? Have heart palpitations, cold, clammy hands, shivering and an inability to get warm?
It's all part of the anxiety game. It relentlessly attacks and makes you feel helpless and weak.
But You Are Not Weak.
I am learning as I walk through this life, to combat it. To silence the lies, the voice that torments and tells me that bad things will always happen because bad things have happened. I am surrounded by blessings and proof that there are far more wonderful things and moments than ones that break you.
The most important advice I can offer is to practice radically caring for yourself. Giving your self space. Taking captive the initial thought that is thrown your way--picture it like a cloud--you see it, you acknowledge and don't ignore it--and then let is pass on by.
Take baths. Read a really, really good book or story. Watch an episode of Golden Girls for the thousandth time. Call your Mom. Unless she gives you anxiety. Then call someone else. (Mine, for the record, does not do that). *disclaimer. Because Mom reads my stuff. Hi Mom!
Physically exercise. When I went through the uncertainty and difficulty of divorce, I found solace in lifting and, most helpful, hiking. I felt in touch with God more on a mountain trail than ever I did in a church. I could communicate better there. I felt like there was nothing in the way of those conversations on a mountaintop.
Just don't ignore those feelings, because they won't just go away, like I originally thought. After a while, the anxiety from not walking through the heartbreak of adultery with someone I knew and trusted built up and manifested as headaches and acid reflux. The body is not meant to house that level of internal stress.
So be kind, TO YOU. Acknowledge your thoughts but don't dwell on them. Seek a counselor's help when you need to (they are a godsend).
And, above all, know that you are never, ever alone in this.