Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anxiety... Let's Start a Conversation


I want to be honest about something. I struggle with anxiety. There... it's on the table. This post has been swirling around my head and heart for a month or longer now, but I have been too intimidated to write it because the topic could turn out to be enormously consuming. But then I thought, I just want to start a conversation, with maybe more to follow later. I don't have to offer a bunch of fancy stats or the perfect answers. I don't have any of those, really. I want to do what this blog is intended to do: encourage other moms by sharing my story. So that's what I'll continue to do now.

When I say "anxiety" I do not mean that feeling that comes over you every now and again from a day to day worry. I do not mean the stress you feel from running late or forgetting something on the grocery list. I do not mean the sense of guilt and responsibility that comes with being a decision-maker for your kids. I mean something a little different... a little bigger... a little harder to escape. I think everyone knows what it feels like to be anxious at one time or another. To worry or stress or come down with a case of the Mondays. But anxiety, as a day in and day out experience, can be daunting.

It's the thing that has had me staring at a pile of dishes for half the day because I just can't seem to conquer it. It's the thing that has had me running late almost everywhere I go. It's the thing that has had me starting tasks to never finish them. And it's the thing that has had me imagining awful (highly unlikely) things happening to myself or my family. It can keep you in the house or make you feel like you have to get out. It manifests itself in fear, depression, stress, anger, compulsion, obsession, paranoia, panic, and physical health issues as well. Anxiety can be literally debilitating.

Does any of this sound familiar? I have talked with so many women lately who struggle with anxiety on some level or another. I used to be embarrassed about my compulsive habits, or that I was the sloppy one in my marriage. But now I'm beginning to think that maybe I'm not so "crazy" after all. Maybe this is something a lot of women are silently dealing with. Scared to bring it up because, frankly, it can just sound weird. Like when I stand at my sink to fill up the Brita filter and have to take a deep breath and calm myself down because it makes me tense up to wait for the water to fill. Weird, right? Well, maybe not.

Why are we, as women, so silent on this issue? Why don't we want to talk about it? Why don't we share this part of ourselves with our friends? I think it has a lot to do with pretense and pressure. Young moms, it seems, can get into this mindset where we think we're supposed to look and act a certain way. We're supposed to have certain things figured out. Our houses are supposed to be clean when a guest comes over. We should have fall decorations up in the fall. We should be good cooks, or good bakers and should mail out our Christmas cards (ya know, the cute ones from Walgreens) on time. We should have play dates and a Bible study. We should be joyful in all that we do. And while none of these are bad things in and of themselves, it's hard to reconcile bringing something so messy as anxiety to the surface of the pretty pond. It's way down there at the bottom, with the mud and the rocks and last year's lost fishing boot. And maybe if we don't disturb it, it won't disturb us... maybe we can keep it from making ripples on the surface.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." (Matthew 23:25)
Please don't misunderstand. I am not saying anxiety is greedy or self-indulgent. I do think, however, that Jesus brings up a good point that we could follow in all areas of life. What good does it do to make the outside look like something that the inside is not? Sometimes when I'm unloading the dishwasher I'll pull out a bowl that got nice and pretty on the outside but still has old food residue caked on the inside. Do I put it in my cupboard to be eaten out of? No way! It still needs more washing.

I have seen such a desire in young moms (including myself) to fulfill a great purpose in God's kingdom. No matter what it is for each person, the desire is overwhelming. But if we can't clean the insides of our cups, what can we realistically be used for? If outwardly I am all put together, but inwardly I am caught up in the chains of anxiety, how will I fulfill the purpose for which God has destined me? Will I not always be struggling with the things buried at the bottom of the pond? Will they not always hinder me? I have seen this to be the case in my own life, as I imagine it is for many others.

So for me, I say NO MORE. I don't have a great answer here. But I do know this: Anxiety is not an easily defeated enemy. It takes a great amount of focus, determination and intentionality on my part to overcome her. And I also know this: "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Jesus' promise to me. He will not leave me. And He does not think less of me for my struggles. He calls me daughter and leads me with kindness back to Himself. It is in these times when I feel the most unworthy that He calls me to lay myself bare before Him, not holding back these "secrets," and let His forgiveness and grace wash over me. And this, I believe, is the beginning of sanctification; that thing that happens when God actually changes us. When He actually makes us better... makes us less like ourselves (all those parts that we hate) and more like Christ.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control..."
(1 Corinthians 9:25-27)

I owe it to my children to be a mom who is not victimized by anxiety. Anyone else want to throw a thought out on the table?

5 comments:

  1. hi tasha! don't know if you remember me, but i'm oneida, one of matt's friends from college. anyway . . . i read your post and i wanted to let you know that you are not alone! i have struggled for a long time with anxiety and depression. i have never taken any medication for it (thank God), though at it's worse, it's gotten so bad that i couldn't get out of bed for longer than a day. it is something that i battle often and i have prayed through and been prayed for during many bouts. it's something that i bring before God often and allowed Him to reveal the depths and the darknesses of my soul. have you ever heard of st. john's the dark night of the soul? or kathleen norris' newest book 'acedia and me'? i just love reading about how we can be God's people and also not live under condemnation to be struggling against this. anyway, i am learning to live as someone who is beating anxiety and depression every day (realizing that feeling these things is not failure, just another opportunity for victory) and to continue to turn to my God who gives me the ability to live in that victory. thanks for sharing!

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  2. Tasha -

    Thanks so much for sharing. I often go through extremely anxious periods - but for very different reasons. Not yet a mother, my anxiety struggles are with school, work, and relationships. When anxiety takes over, it makes the every-day a bit harder to manage, much less the greater demands each role requires. I know that it's important to learn how to deal with it now before I do enter motherhood, or it will only get worse once I hit that stage.

    One of my constant struggles is finding the middle ground... I'm either anxious to the point that I'm not productive, or once I calm down, I'm comatose enough that I'm not productive, either. It all feels toxic. Balance is a tough thing for anyone, but it feels even tougher for those of us who struggle with this stuff daily.

    I've turned to yoga to find balance, and it really did help me - exercise combined with relaxation has provided some relief. But some days the anxiety takes over as soon as practice is over.

    Again, thanks for sharing. It's comforting to know that others share the struggle.

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  3. I never knew it was a taboo topic, so I freely talked about it. Im sure I got some uncomfortable reactions!!!! People are sometimes uncomfortable with any level of emotion! I've been on meds for the past several month, and they were WONDERFUL!!! I'm so grateful I had a great doctor to help me out. But when I got pregnant, Dan and I decided for us personally for me to go off the meds! It was HORRIBLE!!! But then, I got referred to a therapist who specializes in something called DBT and it has really helped me lower my anxiety. I'm feeling so much better.
    I'm already getting a little scared for my move to England. All alone with a newborn. I think I will come armed with my medication, just to have incase.
    I've heard some nasty remarks from fellow christians that hurt to the core....things along side with those verses you mentioned. Although the Word IS truth.....Its not always easy. Gods word is often so simple, yet so hard to do.

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  4. Thank you all for your honesty and willingness to converse about this issue. I appreciate hearing about everyones' different experiences. I think anxiety can manifest itself in all different ways in all different people, so there is not one solution.
    Oneida, I haven't heard of the organizations you mentioned, but will have to look into them. I think it's awesome that you are actively FIGHTING every day! That's how we do it!

    Carsen, productivity has always been an area where anxiety rears its ugly head in my life, too. Can't seem to accomplish simple tasks, for one reason or another. This is something I've really been working on, using the "one small step at a time" method, and it is improving! My mom and husband are excellent helpers for me with this because when I get too overwhelmed I just shut down. But they always remind me that I don't have to accomplish everything today.... just ne thing or maybe two. It's amazing how quickly one small thing turns into an entire list crossed off! :)
    Kyra, thank you for being so open about your experience. While I'm not interested in being diagnosed or starting meds, I definitely don't think people are wrong when they do. It's different for everyone and i'm so glad you're finding some success! I also think it's neat that you're trying it w/o meds, too. I had no idea you were about to head out to England!! That sounds exciting. What's the occasion?

    Often Christians can react to many things with distain, ESPECIALLY if they haven't been there themselves. I don't throw these scriptures around lightly or accusingly... I share them because they have encouraged me. I know it's hard, I fight it every day, but your'e right Kyra... the Word IS truth. If I let that go in light of my circumstances, then what do I have? My only choice is to lean on it, allow the Holy Spirit to work through it, and try to not be discouraged by the irresponsible use of it by other Christians who don't understand it.

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  5. "No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." 1st Corinthians 10:13

    Some translations use the word 'test' instead of temptation.
    I find that my anxiety is a temptation though, to not trust God, to lean on my own understanding etc. Anyway a big lie is that this isn't 'common', as God's Word says, all of our 'tests' are.
    Grace and Peace

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