Hi there! After telling you about my recent struggles with anxiety and panic attacks here, and receiving feedback from you guys and others, I wanted to talk some more.
I do this, not because its easy for me, but because if you are someone who lives with these battles at all, I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you know someone who struggles, I pray that you’ll come alongside them and just be a friend. Please don’t try to fix it, just sit with them and love them and listen. Ask them what is helpful for them in their low moments. Their mental health is their responsibility, not yours, but you can love them where they are.
This is a two-part series. In this first post, I thought it might be helpful to explain how it feels to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I think people who aren’t personally acquainted with this disorder think it means simply to worry too much, or for a Christian, to lack faith in God. I think worry and lack of faith in God is a human condition; we all struggle with that at some point because we are broken and sinful.
But what I am speaking about here is something more pervasive; it’s an actual illness. I was diagnosed with clinical depression three years ago (after our return from India); thankfully this is not something I am currently battling, although honestly, it’s come on me suddenly, without warning, in different seasons. So there is a pretty good chance I’m going to face it again at some point.
I’ll attempt to differentiate between the two for you. Everyone has their own unique experience and so I’m by no means an authority on the subject. I can just tell you about me.
For me, depression is a thick cloud that seeps into every area of my life. It’s lack of energy. It’s a desire to sleep or sometimes to watch lots of TV in order to escape the darkness. It’s feeling a deep despair about both the right now and the future. Sometime, at its worst, it’s not wanting to live any more. The thing that saddens me most about depression is that I can choose to look around and believe in God’s goodness and I can keep my thankful list, but all the joy has seeped out of my life.
Anxiety is different than depression. I feel it as a sharp prickling fear around the edges of my consciousness. For me it involves physical symptoms such as an upset stomach and a pounding heart and shaking all over. It’s obsessing over something small and being unable to stop, until the obsession switches to something else. I know it’s irrational, I know it’s not rooted in reality, but I feel trapped inside a body and mind who respond as if the danger is real.
I have social anxiety, which means often I will leave an event or conversation and feel panicked that I said or did the wrong thing. It’s feeling exposed and wanting to hide. It’s feeling terrified about losing my good reputation. It’s feeling alone. It’s living with a low-grade impatience and irritability in life in general, and snapping at my family and having intense mood swings, and then feeling deeply ashamed and hating myself for treating them badly.
For me, depression is despair, and anxiety is feeling worthless. Sometimes it’s wanting to hurt myself to avoid the choking feelings of worthlessness, to have something else to think about. At its very worst, anxiety feels like I don’t deserve to live.
My doctor said what turns the tide from anxiety to Generalized Anxiety Disorder is that while regular anxiety is typically tied to a specific experience or event, GAD is present all the time, even when life is good. Here is the Mayo Clinic list of symptoms if you want to know more.
Panic attacks are a tightness in my chest and suddenly feeling like I can’t breathe, or that I can’t escape. Sometimes I feel nauseated. Waves of panic and worthlessness rise up and wash over me. A panic disorder is struggling repeatedly with panic attacks in situations that don’t warrant those extreme reactions. It’s being caught up in a cycle of fearing those panic attacks, and so wanting to avoid people and situations that trigger them.
I wouldn’t wish these experiences on anyone, they truly are awful. If you’ve ever felt this way, I am very, very sorry. I know how it feels to be at the bottom.
But, I’m here today to tell you that there is so much hope. Even as God has chosen to weave this suffering into my story, He’s brought redemption in it. He has chipped away at the pride I cling to and humbled me, and perhaps best of all, helped me love people in a more compassionate way.
I mentioned before that I used to think healing and growth would involve freedom from anxiety and depression. For some people, it does; especially when a particularly hard season of loss eases. But that is not the path God has chosen for me. I don’t understand it, but I trust Him. I know that He loves me and that He could lift this in a moment if He chose to. But He doesn’t, and so I wait on Him.
On Friday, I’ll give you some of the ways God is helping me live with depression and anxiety.