Anxiety and depression are not fun subjects to talk about. It's not an easy thing to address and a lot of people struggle in silence. Afraid to admit they are suffering, afraid to admit what they feel is a "weakness". I spent years living in high anxiety, panic attacks, depression and I hid it from everyone, except my husband, Scott.
I didn't tell my mom, my sisters, my friends, no one. It took me a while to even admit to Scott that I was struggling. I didn't want him to think I wasn't happy. I didn’t want him to think I wasn't fulfilled being his wife and a mom to my girls. But I had gotten to the point that I couldn't fight alone anymore. When it all began I didn't fully understand what I was dealing with.
Backing up a bit from when I finally opened up to Scott, I had been sick. Physically ill with a stomach bug. Nothing major, just a typical pukey stomach bug. Not fun, but something I should have recovered from in a couple of days. During the time I had the bug, I was reading a book about someone who had cancer. They were really sick. The book was supposed to be uplifting, they had recovered. But, all I could think about was that if I could barely handle this stomach bug how would I handle it if something really bad actually happened to me? What if I got cancer? What would happen to my kids? My mind began to run away with me. And it scared me. I couldn't shake it.
I had always struggled with shutting my mind down at night. I had always, and still do, have a hard time not going over things in my mind a million times. Is the door locked? What is my schedule tomorrow? Is there laundry in the dryer that needs to be folded? Is Francie home yet? The typical mom stuff. But, at some point, during that time in my life, my thoughts got the better of me and began to send me into panic mode. I would find myself short of breath, heart racing, feeling panicked, over things that were not likely to ever happen.
What if I had a heart attack at night and one of my kids found me dead in bed? What if I died in plane crash? (I didn't fly for 16 years because of this one.) What if something happened to one of my kids? What if Scott died in a car wreck? My thoughts wreaked havoc on my life. On the outside, things seemed normal. I was living my life. Working at our church, leading a Girl Scout troop, doing the mom thing. I was happy, in general. But the moment my thoughts started to run wild, I would have an inward panic that I couldn't control. But, I kept it well hidden, putting on my happy face for everyone else.
In the months before the stomach bug hit, I had struggled through a few panic attacks, not really sure what was happening. And as I puked my way through this bug, my mind took over with the negative thinking. I spiraled into a depression and chronic panic. I felt like I had not recovered from being sick. I was blaming that bug for my lack of appetite, my shortness of breath, my racing heart, my fatigue. I thought maybe I had mono. Or was it stomach cancer? After three weeks and 20 pounds lost, I made a doctor's appointment. I decided I needed help, convinced I was sick.
I did not have a family doctor at the time, so I made an appointment with a Doctor at the medical clinic in my hometown. His name was Dr. Gaffney. I have not seen him since, but he was a huge help to me, and I have never forgotten his name. As we talked through my "symptoms", he took notes. Then he sat down and asked a simple question that lit the light bulb above my head. " Do you have any family history of depression or anxiety?" What?! Yes, I do. And as I sat there, it became crystal clear to me. I wasn't sick. I didn't have mono. I wasn't dying of stomach cancer. I was depressed, and I was having panic attacks. I have never had anything become so clear to me so instantly. It all made sense. He suggested that I talk to my husband. He didn't recommend anti depressants at the time, since this had not been going on for a long time. He said I should walk or exercise to help with my anxiety, and gave me a few tips for retraining my thought process.
I appreciated his help. I headed home; relieved to understand what was going on, but nervous about talking to Scott. I wasn't sure what he would think. I didn't want him to think I was unhappy. There is huge difference between unhappy and depressed. When he got home from work that afternoon, I asked him if we could talk. We sat on our bed and I laid it all out. The panic, the depression, the runaway thoughts. He was a champ. He was my hero. He said he was there for me 100%, and that we would get through it together. We prayed together and made a commitment that we would work on me. We looked up scriptures and I wrote them down, and began to find ways to retrain my brain to not let my thoughts take control.
One of the scriptures that we landed on that day was Psalm 91. It became my "life verse". Even though it's more than a verse, it's a whole chapter. But it speaks to God's protection. And it changed me. Not instantly. There were times that I clung to those scriptures as my heart raced and I was in the depths of a panic attack. But, as I specifically prayed, as I made choices to not allow the thoughts to win, I made progress.
The depression that tends to go hand in hand with anxiety was not as much of an issue for me. But, the anxiety would cripple me sometimes. I fought hard. Scott was a trooper. There were times I checked out from our family. We could be watching a movie, at a mall, driving in the car, and I would get panicked. I could just give Scott a look and he knew. He would "take over", keep the girls occupied, he knew I was struggling; this allowed me to do what I had to do to recover: pray, change my thoughts, and get my panic under control.
And there were times he got frustrated. Regaining a sense of normal was not without some bumps in the road. I could go months without any panic attacks, feeling good about it all, then spend a week fighting them off every day. Scott stood by, supportive, but after years of watching me repeat the same patterns of panic was hard for him to understand. Watching me fall back into the panic habit was not easy for him. But we slogged our way through it.
All of this may sound crazy to you. And it seemed crazy to me at the time. In rational moments I would wonder why I allowed the "what ifs" to control me. I wondered if there would ever be a time in my life that I would feel "normal". As I prayed, studied, and made a commitment to getting better, I did. It was a slow process. Weeks, months, years went by. But over time, the panic attacks became fewer and further apart. Things that had previously set me off... crowds, planes, long car rides...basically any situation that I didn't feel in total control of... became easier for me to manage.
Today, I am around 18 years out from the beginning of the fight. And probably 12 years or so out from feeling like it is a part of my life. Not that I didn't have moments. I didn't fly for years. 16 years to be exact. It was the big one that I couldn't seem to tackle. Until I had to. We were chaperoning the Senior trip to Disney in 2013, for our church's private school, and we were flying to Orlando. I had months to mentally prepare. I did a "practice" short little flight to Dallas for work a couple of months before the Disney trip. Scott went with me. Tulsa to Dallas is a 45-minute direct flight, so it was the perfect chance for me to regain my wings. And as much as I had wanted to fight my anxiety naturally, without anti-depressants before, I did take something to help me relax. Nothing too strong, but enough to curb my nerves and keep me from getting worked up. It was a breeze. I didn't have any panic moments, and actually enjoyed it. Having Scott with me helped tremendously. Since then I have flown all over the country and am really proud of myself for having tackled that last “what if” that I couldn’t shake before.
Having gone through what I did, the panic, the depression, the years of fighting to feel "normal", not flying, trying to control everything so I wouldn't panic, makes me even more thankful for the peace I feel now. I have never really shared this publicly. I have rarely shared this with anyone. My friends will probably read this and be surprised. I just didn't open up, even after I had battled through it. I don't know why. It was so private at the time, so personal, so hard, that I couldn't bring myself to share.
But, as my church begins a new series on Psalm 91, it made me think about how much that chapter meant to me. I am so thankful for God's word and how it speaks life to me. I am not, in any way, saying that you should not seek help for anxiety or depression beyond prayer. If you need counseling, do it. If you need anti-depressants, do it. This was my journey. And Psalm 91 was a lifesaver. An absolute lifesaver, life changer, a life giver to me.
And as I look back and see what it did for me, I know that someone else may be in the same boat I was in. Someone may be struggling, afraid to ask for help. I am here to tell you, don't be ashamed. Tell someone. Don't fight alone. There is no shame in anxiety. There is no shame in needing help. You don't have to stay there. You don't have to live in a panic. Reach out to someone you trust. Find what works for you to help you on your road to recovery.
I want to share Psalm 91 with you. I had a devotional that had this chapter in it and they recommended changing it to first person, so that the verses are speaking directly to you. I am going to share it like that for you.
Psalm 91- I dwell in the secret place of the Most High, abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord "He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust."Surely He will deliver me from every trap, And protect me from deadly disease. He will cover me with his feathers. He will shelter me with His wings. His promises are my armor and protection. I will not be afraid of the terrors at night, nor of the arrow that flies in the day. I will not dread disease that stalks in darkness, not the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand may fall at my side, and ten thousand are dying around me, these evils will not touch me. I will open my eyes and see how the wicked are punished. I will make the Lord my refuge, and He will give me shelter, and no evil will conquer me. No plague will come to my home, for He will order His angels to protect me wherever I go. They will hold me up with their hands so that I will not even hurt my foot on a stone. I will trample on lions and cobras, and crush them under my feet. The Lord says "I will rescue you because you love me. I will protect you, because you know my name. When you call on me I will answer; I will be with you in trouble. I will rescue you and honor you. I will reward you with a long life and give you my salvation."
This was life changing for me. It touched on every fear I had. God promised to keep me safe, to keep me from sickness, to give me long life. All things that I had worked myself into a panic over. I spoke this to myself at all times of the day. Some days it was on my mind all day. Keeping me from full blown panic as I needed to be a mom, a wife, an employee. I needed to live. I began each day with it, as a prayer, reminding myself of God's promises.
As our church begins a study of this chapter, I wanted to share it with you. Give it the honor is deserves in my life. Give it a shout out for being awesome! Way to go, Psalm 91! Big props for all you've done for me.
My prayer, my hope, is that if you are struggling, that this scripture would speak to you too. That you will find the help you need. I have been open with my weight, my personal journey, and this is a huge part of who I was, and shaped who I am today. I felt it was the right time to share another chapter of my life. It shaped me, it makes me so grateful for the peace and calm I have in my life now. Those years of panic feel so far removed from me now. During those times I didn’t know if I would ever find my way out, see the light.
I am so thankful for God’s word. I am so thankful that it brings peace where there is panic. It brings calm when my mind is raging. It brings light when my world feels dark. I hope that you walk in that same peace, calm and light.