I have tossed the idea of this blog post around for quite some time. And to be honest, as I type these words, I am still unsure about clicking the “publish” button. Admitting to weakness is not only scary, it leaves me naked, bleeding, and vulnerable.
Admitting to THIS weakness is just downright crazy. But I have learned (often the hard way) that we experience pain and suffering so we can share our pain and suffering with others. It gives us common ground to relate.
It helps us know and understand that we are not alone.
My demeanor, for those who know me, is typically upbeat. I am the “Tigger” type. I love to bounce. I love life, I love fun, I love adventure – and I’m usually the catalyst who gets the party started. My personality is that of a girl who loves to dream.
So, you can imagine what happened when just a few summers ago, I experienced anxiety for the first time in my life.
I can’t put my finger on when it started – it seemed to sneak in like that ring sneaks into your toilet – it was just there all of a sudden and it made a complete mess. But unlike the ring, it wasn’t easily wiped away with a scrub brush. It stuck.
All summer long I couldn’t shake it. It didn’t make sense, it had no logical explanation. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because I was trying to solve it. My stomach was tight and my lungs felt like iron: heavy and tight.
I distinctly remember sitting on a plastic lawn chair at my daughter’s swim lesson. She was delighted to be jumping in the ice cold water, rejoicing in her accomplishments as a new swimmer.
I couldn’t concentrate.
I would try and try and try and try. First I tried figuring it out. Then I tried ignoring it. I read books, my Bible. I recited all my favorite bible verses. I made cards of the verses and paged through them constantly. I was so focused on not being anxious by trying to figure out how NOT to be anxious.
But it was the most frightening, lonely experience of my life.
For a few blissful moments, I might feel fine. But then, one moment later, for no reason at all, my stomach would wrench and my lungs would be sucked of all their air. My breathing would quicken and my brain would go into overdrive. Fears would fill my brain like steel wool scratching the inside of my head. Just as I would feel like it was all over, the scratching would begin again. Painful, deep wounds constantly being ripped back open by needle-like pricks that would never end.
My fears were irrational and I knew it logically, but there was no way to control the crazy panic that would overwhelm me.
I remember standing in the middle of Wal-mart, crying on the phone to a friend. She said something I will NEVER forget.
“Carrie, I think you’re experiencing this so you can understand what I and so many other women have experienced for so many years.”
I didn’t appreciate that comment at the time. I just wanted my misery to be over. I was standing in the middle of a Wal-mart crying – and I just wanted it all to end. But my friend was wise. She prayed over me in that moment. And although I didn’t want to hear it, what she said was true.
I learned something extremely valuable that day.
By hiding our vulnerable, raw, embarrassing issues, we are hiding ourselves from the blessing of community. We all have deep, painful, storms we are facing – and often we feel like no one else is suffering like we are.
So we stay hidden on our islands, covered by a shell. We mask our faces and smile candy cane smiles. We admit to nothing, risk nothing, and therefore feel like we are saving ourselves additional pain and suffering. We need one another. But admitting raw weakness to someone else?
That makes us feel naked. Open to vulnerability. Exposed.
The anxiety finally lifted in August. One day it was gone. But that summer I learned to run to the only One who completely understood. That summer my God became my Beloved. I was forced to seek Him for dependence – often by the minute. I needed Him for strength and support. I couldn’t walk through my day alone. I couldn’t survive without Him.
My anxiety drove me to let go of control because I didn’t have it to begin with. I couldn’t control my feelings, my panic. So I fell headfirst into His arms and just let Him love me.
It was my most horrible, wonderful time.
Several months later, after the anxiety lifted, I spoke at a retreat at my church. I was standing at the microphone, my heart pounding, my notes in front of me, when the Lord told me to share about my summer.
I fought with Him. Hard. To be so honest, so bare naked in front of those ladies? Why? I looked from my notes to the crowd. I wanted to stick with my original plan. I didn’t want to admit the horrible weakness and fear I had felt. I didn’t want to rip open my chest and show them my beating heart.
My hands were shaking, my eyes were blinking back tears. I was nervous – so unlike the Tigger girl who loves to dance with crowds of people. I had spoken hundreds of times before. But this was different. I was going to have to admit to some truth that would pull back my skin and show the REAL.
And just like that rabbit who become real, it was going to rub all my fur off and it was going to hurt. A lot.
But He coaxed me on.
“Share your heart.”
So finally, I took a big breath.
And I did.
Every last detail.
And the freedom was overpowering – like a mighty wave pulling me out to sea.
After I spoke, countless women admitted their own struggles with irrational fear, anxiety, worry – some of them opening up for the very first time. Until that summer of anxiety, I never knew what it was to feel that way. But the more I spoke to other women, I found out I was in the minority. So many of them suffered with anxiety and panic, worry and fear on a daily basis.
This was something mighty women of God were dealing with by the hour, the minute – some of them for a lifetime.
I realize that our source – our Beloved – is where we need to run. He was my answer that summer. When no one else understood why I couldn’t just “Shake it off,” He understood.
But even though other women couldn’t take it away or solve it, telling my story, my miracle of “survival” is something that helped others feel like they weren’t weird, misunderstood, crazy. Because that’s what they felt.
One girl had paralyzing fears of epic storms destroying her home and family. One girl went into a panic over germs and sickness – she wouldn’t leave her house, hardly ever. Another was frighteningly afraid of losing her family. The list went on and on.
Almost every single one had dealt with anxiety.
And almost every single one had never shared it with a single soul.
So, this holiday season when anxiety is running amok, I bring hope.
You are not alone.
I have walked your road.
I felt very lonely.
You need to run to your Savior. Spend hours in the Word, sit on His lap. It will be the sweetest, most intimate time with your Beloved, even though it is so very painful. He will whisper in your ear. He’ll remind you that you aren’t crazy.
Tell someone. Another woman. Me. But don’t stay isolated in your corner.
There is comfort in knowing that others have survived. Shift your thoughts to gratitude – keep a gratitude journal. Do for others. Don’t focus on your anxiety – focus on the One who will walk with you through the storm.
You may need to call a counselor – a doctor. That’s okay. Don’t suffer in silence. Certainly don’t suffer alone. You are not crazy. You join thousands of women who grit their teeth and determine that they can push through this like they push through everything else. Don’t just survive.
If my anxiety hadn’t lifted that August, I was ready to seek medical attention. Too many continually wear a smile while they continually scream out in their souls.
I have, on many an occasion, thought back to that conversation in Wal-mart. I agree with my friend. I want to find the joy in every circumstance, and I believe my joy had roots in the fact that I can empathize and relate to other women in my circles who suffer from anxiety and fear.
Because of that wonderful, horrible summer, I was able to share my story and minister to other women who were experiencing their own wonderful horribles.
You are not alone. Know that. Choose joy.
And have the most Merry Christmas as you revel in the GOODNESS of our Beloved.