So I turned thirty-four last weekend!
If you’re a pastor’s wife, Sunday isn’t the luckiest day to have a birthday, but David and our family made the weekend special. ONE of my children also made me a card, and I’ll let you guess which gender the child is!
It feels a bit strange to be thirty-four. To some of you that probably seems old, and to some it’s quite young. But to me . . . I don’t know. I’ve reached my mid-thirties, which means forty is right around the corner. I see crow’s feet in the mirror when I smile, and my feet ache when I wear cheap shoes all day, and this year I discovered my first gray hair.
I don’t mind getting older though. When I was young I thought youth was the prime of life. I thought I’d like to be thirty, because that might mean I’d be married with a kid or two, but beyond that, I figured it was all downhill.
Now I laugh at my younger, foolish self.
Growing older is truly such a blessing. I think maybe the greatest gift it brings is that of perspective.
I’m every day humbled by the realization of how sinful I am, how far I have to go to look like Jesus, but now that I have three and a half decades under my belt, I am also more hopeful because I see how far I’ve come.
I recognize that I’m able, just a tad bit more, to let things go that I used to hold so fiercely to. What people think of my decisions. Being right. My reputation. Seeing people as all-good or all-bad. I’m a little quicker to let go of my pride and confess my sins. The view from thirty-four holds a good deal more gray in it than black-and-white.
At the same time, the truths I believe in are more certain than ever, because I’ve lived them. God is good. He takes care of me. He doesn’t always give me what I want, but He always gives me what I need. He forgives me. He’s making me more like Jesus. He loves the people I love even more than I do. He’s faithful in suffering. He never leaves.
I can bank my life on these promises. And the thing I love is if I feel this way at thirty-four, how much more will I feel it at fifty-four? Sixty-four?
In a small way I’m in one of those suffering seasons right now, the kind of season that desperately needs the perspective that thirty-four (or even older) can bring.
I’ve lived all my adult life with the presence of depression and anxiety. Since being diagnosed in my early twenties, I’ve taken many steps to manage what has at times been a crippling illness. I have spent years in counseling and taking medication and learning how to manage stress and building strong friendships where I can be real.
And I have managed it. I’ve experienced countless victories through this journey.
But the bewildering thing about being thirty-four is that those victories don’t include God taking my depression and anxiety away.
For the most part the anxiety has been generalized, but about a year ago I began having panic attacks in crowds of people. If the first example of a situation you think of is church on Sunday, you’d be right. Yes, I’m a pastor’s wife who suddenly became unable to sit in a church service. I’d be okay somewhere like the mall, but not sitting in a crowded room with people surrounding me on all sides and no quick access to the door.
If the door is actually closed, that’s double trouble.
So I sort of felt myself unraveling as I found myself in situations that were previously okay, and suddenly, here I am, struggling to breathe and shaking and kind of falling apart.
This past year has been a journey in dealing with that specific kind of anxiety, or panic disorder. I already see a psychiatrist, and she has helped adjust the cocktail of medication I take, to allow for this.
In addition to that, I worked so hard all year. I practiced breathing and talked to people who’d been through similar struggles and learned some techniques for dealing with the situations that were the hardest. I went from sitting out in the lobby at Tapp’s on Sunday mornings, to sitting in the very back by the door, to finally sitting up front and to the side.
I never recovered from the discomfort of being in groups, but I was doing it!
Until last month, when it started again. And it felt worse. At church. In the CPC New Members class (which is at our house, by the way). At a life group I visited. And worse of all, going to hang out with a new friend.
It’s totally irrational.
These are all things I want to do. I love our church! I feel safe there. I love our friends. I love hanging out with new friends. That’s the most discouraging thing. Sitting, shaking on the floor in the dining room while David is on the other side of the wall, leading a meeting, thinking, “Who is this person? What happened to me?”
I feel like a stranger to myself. My panic makes me weepy, so not only am I slipping out of the church service, I am starting to cry in front of whoever happens to be in the lobby. I’m not by nature a weepy person. I hate it, even as I experience the kindness of the people around me in it. Their looks, their hugs, their tears are like a blanket against a bitter-cold day.
Unfortunately there is not just the anxiety itself but a bad cycle of lies that follows, that feels heart-breaking. Lies that say I’m a failure, that I’m falling apart, that I’m hindering my husband’s ministry. I feel a crushing weight of expectation, and it is all expectation I put on myself. It’s a lonely place to be.
I am telling you this whole story for a few reasons. One of them is to say that it really is easier to face this kind of trial at thirty-four than it would’ve been, say, ten years ago. I’ve been through crippling anxiety and can’t-get-out-of-bed depression before. I’ve experienced firsthand that the lowest point never lasts, that it does get better, and most of all, that when I’m at my most desperate, God hasn’t left me. I want Him to deliver me, and he always does, even when it doesn’t look like I expected, even when I’m still broken.
Another reason I’m writing this is that I’m fighting the lies. A friend said, “You can’t help the physical reaction of your body, but do not give into the lies that Satan is telling you right now.” So this time around, instead of trying to fight the panic so much, I’m fighting the lies. I’m doing that by saying them out loud to someone near me so they can speak truth to me, I’m doing it by believing that God is with me, even though my anxiety tells me I’m alone, I’m doing it by reading my Bible each day.
I’m also doing it by speaking up more. When people see me crying at church and ask if I’m okay, I tell them the truth, “No, I’m not,” and then I tell them why. I tell my friends and my husband. I write a blog post, which is very scary.
I want so badly to cover this up, to try and preserve my reputation, to be the Strong One ministering to the Weak Ones. But that is a lie. I’m not strong. I’m broken.
I don’t want to close this post on a low note, because there is so much to thank God for, in the midst of this. I work hard at my gratitude list. I thank Him that there truly are many areas of my life in which I can function just fine, even with the cloud lingering at the periphery. I go ahead and do some of the things that are hard for me; others I learn to let go. I recognize that as I tell people about this struggle, they in turn comfort me and so I don’t feel so alone. I let them in.
Thirty-four is both good and also a bit perplexing. Mostly good.
I’m thankful for these years God has given me.