Category Archives: Anxiety

Am I a Writer?

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

Somewhere along the way, I stopped calling myself a writer and started calling myself an editor because it was easier. I was afraid of failing, and editing is easy. At least, easy enough. With most of the editing jobs I get, there’s usually a right and a wrong answer for everything. And I know the right answer. So that makes me an editor, right?

But the type of editing I really love is the line editing—the developmental editing that gets down into the guts of the words and moves things around. It’s like surgery. It looks at everything in there, takes out what doesn’t belong, moves things around, and adds in what’s missing. It’s problem solving.

And really, that’s what writing is, too. At least for me. It solves lots of problems by providing a form of communication, fostering understanding, forcing reflection, and encouraging learning and growth.

Guys, I’m finally writing a book.

It’s a memoir. I’ve been avoiding it for a while because, honestly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid it will be hard to write, that I won’t finish, that people will judge me, that my family will hate me, that I’ll have put so much time into something no one ever reads or even wants to read.

But all of those fears don’t matter if I think of writing as problem-solving. Writing this book will answer a lot of questions for me. It will teach me a new level of discipline. It will force me to wrestle with difficult relationships where I just feel stuck. It will be an act of faith and identity—I’m going to have to come to terms with who I am and be confident enough to share that with others.

So . . . I guess I’m a writer?

Redeeming a Life of Anxiety

The Inciting Incident

Seven years ago, I was in what could have been a fatal car accident. By the grace of God, it didn’t end my life, but it did change it. Significantly. The van I was riding in hit a semi, got hit by the car behind it, and caught on fire. I walked away with a few minor physical injuries that healed within a few months.

But the trauma of the accident and the stress of the aftermath triggered anxiety and panic attacks that I’ve been dealing with ever since. I come by it honestly—I’m certainly not the first person in my family to deal with anxiety, and it’s not unusual for trauma to trigger things like this.

I tried what felt like everything to cope—willpower, prayer counseling, exercise, emotional eating, supplements, distraction, cutting out caffeine, curling up in a ball on the couch and praying for it to go away . . . Nothing worked. I wasn’t able to live a normal life. I was afraid to be alone. My days were plagued with panic attacks that I couldn’t prevent or predict.

What Anxiety Looks Like

Health conditions—mine or someone else’s—triggered my anxiety. Every time I heard a story about someone with cancer, I convinced myself I had it, too—stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer. At other times, I was sure I had an appendicitis, an ectopic pregnancy (even though there was no chance I was pregnant), spider eggs in my sinuses. One time I overheard a conversation about someone with a bone spur on their finger. When I woke up the next day, I had a bump on my right pointer finger that didn’t go away for two weeks. I swore off WebMD and made Jonathan read through the side effects of ANY medication I was taking, because if I read them, I would panic, but if he didn’t, I might die. I stopped eating mushrooms because, what if I had developed a severe allergy to them and died of asphyxia? Any time a health segment came on the radio or TV, I shut it off. Jonathan learned to do the same.

I went to the doctor with “invisible” concerns – I couldn’t breathe, my stomach hurt, did I have a tumor? Every test came back negative. No, you don’t have asthma. Your lungs are testing much younger than your actual age. No, you don’t have an appendicitis. You just have a small cyst that ruptured (at least this one is legitimate! I thought). No, you don’t have a tumor. It’s scar tissue from that car accident you were in.

Every muscle spasm, breath, and heartbeat turned into a panic attack. And every panic attack turned into muscle pain, difficulty breathing, and a racing heart. Which turned into a panic attack. For a while, I tried breathing techniques to calm myself. But paying attention to my breathing only made me more aware of the “weird” things my body was doing, triggering another attack. It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t stop.

Every year for four years, my doctor recommended I try a daily anxiety medication. And every year I refused. I didn’t want to be that person who had to depend on medication to be “normal.” I didn’t want the side effects. I didn’t want the association with mental illness or the judgment from other Christians who thought I didn’t have enough faith. I wanted to fix it myself, and if I took medication, it meant I was giving up.

sunrise_editionally

Hope

After a particularly helpful prayer counseling session, I had a period of respite—I believe it was God’s healing—but just a few months later, the anxiety came back with a vengeance and I felt hopeless. It’s time, I thought. I made an appointment with my doctor and told her I was ready to try medication if it meant I could have a normal life again.

Because I had been so adamant about not taking medication in the past, she wanted to be sure it’s what I wanted. We decided I’d ease into it. She prescribed half of the lowest effective dose that had been studied—just 5 mg—of Lexapro, a newer drug that was supposed to have fewer side effects. “I want you to know the difference between symptoms caused by anxiety and symptoms that you need to come in for,” she said. “It will give you peace of mind.”

I took the bottle of tiny white pills home and let it sit on the table for a week. I asked God if He could make it really clear if I was supposed to take the medication. I was so torn up about the decision I did something that scared me—when we got together with a group of friends from church, I told them about it and their response surprised me. “Take it!” they said, “God uses medication to heal people, too.”

So I started taking it. Three weeks later, it started kicking in. And the side effects were hell that resulted in an antibiotic that resulted in more side effects that were more hell. But after about six weeks, all those things subsided.

I was calm. After years of anxious, racing thoughts and physical pains, my mind and my body were at peace. I could get through the hour without thinking about cancer. I went days without panic attacks. They stretched into weeks that stretched into months. That first year, I went from having multiple panic attacks a day to having just four for the entire year. The second year was the same. My dose is still a tiny 5 mg, and I feel free.

It’s weird to think about now. I still have vivid memories of some anxiety episodes. One especially difficult one took place on our honeymoon. Jonathan was driving back roads through the mountains of West Virginia and I was beside myself thinking he would miss a turn and we’d roll down the mountain.

But that’s not my life anymore.

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Making it Count

I’ve been thinking a lot about my struggle with anxiety and wondering if there’s a way I can make it count for something. If I had to go through all of that, I want it to mean something. And I think God does, too. Otherwise, why would He let me go through it?

So here’s what I’ve landed on: I want to make the Church a safe place for people with mental illness. I’m going to start with my church. It’s not that it’s an unsafe place, we just don’t talk about it. I don’t want people to forgo treatment like I did just because they’re afraid of how other Christians will view them. I don’t know what this is going to look like, but I do know this:

Just because you struggle with mental illness does not mean you don’t have enough faith. It doesn’t mean you’re not “spiritual” enough. It doesn’t mean you have unresolved sin in your life. (For some people, it can be a symptom of those things, but not always. I’m not going to get into that here.)

If you struggle with mental illness, I’m not going to judge you for it. Instead, I’m going to put myself out there and speak up for the both of us. I want to help people to understand, to know how to talk about it in the Church. Though I’ve never personally felt judgment from the Church for my mental illness, I have family members who have. And I have been affected by ignorance in the Church—people who don’t mean to do or say the wrong thing, they just don’t know any better.

The Challenge

So let’s be brave. And honest. Let’s be open about mental illness. And let’s not be afraid to talk about it in the Church. Let’s make the Church a safe place where people who struggle with it can find friends and find hope. Because that’s what the Church is for—sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with people who feel hopeless.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

FIVE STARS

I got out of my Christian book bubble for this one. I’ve been laughing at Jenny Lawson’s stuff on theblogess.com for about a year, so when I found out she wrote a memoir focused around her mental illness, I knew I had to get it. I didn’t exactly read it—I used my free Audible trial to get the audiobook, and I’ve been listening to it in the car over the last week or so. I highly recommend experiencing Furiously Happy this way—Jenny is the narrator, which makes it even better because no one “gets” how a book is supposed to be read quite like the author, plus the audio version comes with a bonus chapter.

Jenny did talk about her struggles with depression, anxiety, and a few other things, but mostly the book was just super entertaining, at least for me. Her writing style is fast and may give you whiplash, but I promise it’s worth it. I can’t wait to get ahold of her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened because I’m sure it’s as good as this one.

I highly recommend Furiously Happy, unless you find language and references to the author’s “lady garden” offensive.

I chose to review this book just because I loved it. I’m not getting compensated and my opinions were not influenced by the publisher or author.

Coping with Anxious Days

uivwdk2ifrg-andrej-chudyI’m having one of those anxious days, one of those days when I feel unsettled, like I can’t relax, like I can’t be left alone with my own thoughts.

I haven’t been feeling quite right this week and it’s causing me to jump to horrible conclusions like I usually do. Maybe I have lung cancer. Maybe it’s a blood clot. Maybe I need to have my gallbladder removed. Or maybe my appendix. No, definitely my gallbladder. Unless it is a bloodclot…

And Jonathan’s not home, so I’m resorting to my best coping mechanism: binge watching television shows. Right now it’s Mr. Selfridge. I’m not sure it’s the healthiest thing to do, but it sure beats sitting around thinking I’m dying. Because if I am dying, and no one’s here to take me to the hospital, well, things are pretty hopeless, aren’t they? Much easier to just watch my favorite show and forget about everything else.

Do you ever have days like that? How do you cope?

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong

I was so, so excited to review this book. I’m in the middle of a hectic season of change at work (our lead pastor just retired in August and I’m switching positions), and I was looking for something that would shine some light onto what feels like a hopeless and overwhelming situation. Just a few weeks ago, I broke down in sobs in the middle of a pretty important meeting. I’ve never lost it like that at work before. But I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. I needed this book to meet me where I was and help me dig through all the gunk to get to the root of the issue.

Unfortunately, Girl Meets Change just didn’t do that for me. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I needed practical ways to cope and assurance that I’d come out stronger on the other side. I needed a book that would force me to face the real issue, not just say “Yes, change is hard, but God has a plan and you’re going to be okay.” That’s what my husband is for. I needed someone to problem solve with me. Someone to gently probe and figure out what heart issues I need to be working through right now.

The author, Kristen Strong, did offer a few strategies (I can’t find my copy of the book to give examples), but they weren’t anything new, and they just weren’t enough. I felt like the book just barely skimmed the surface of change and how to grow through it instead of going deep into the things you wrestle with when you’re in the thick of it. Maybe it’s a good read for people who aren’t in a season of change right now, but not for people in the thick of it?

All that said, the book has gotten some pretty positive reviews from other people, so maybe I’m crazy. Every once in a while I come down so hard on a book that I wonder if I missed something while I was reading, like maybe the author did something brilliant and I was too stupid to catch it. That’s how I’ve been feeling about this one. So read it for yourself, I guess, and let me know if you think I’m crazy.

(And in case you’re wondering, God is faithful. He’s helped me dig through all of the stuff that has surfaced in my heart in the midst of this season of change. I’m not out yet, but I’m headed in the right direction.)

One Star
(Learn about my star system here.)

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

You Don’t Need a Crisis to Be Thankful

3-doug-robichaudRecently I started reading through my old journals. So, so many struggles that now I don’t even remember. The only account is what I wrote in those journals. And now they don’t seem so important. That box of journals is my monument, my testament of what God has done in my life, my reminder of what He’s brought me through.

A few weeks ago I attended a women’s ministry event at church that started with a few songs of worship. As I sat between two dear friends who have been going through a lot of hard things lately, I realized that I’m not. I’m not going through anything hard right now.

My first reaction was to feel unspiritual. How silly is that? I felt like I couldn’t possibly be learning anything if I wasn’t going through something hard. But I felt like Jesus whispered, “But look at all the hard things I’ve brought you through over the past few years.” My mind wandered back to the car accident, the school closing, the midnight panic attacks, the divorce, the days of paralyzing anxiety, the pain of not getting my dream job . . . and I was overcome.

For the first time in about a year, I cried (thank you, anxiety medication!) and fully surrendered myself to worshipping Jesus and thanking Him for His work in my life. I didn’t need a hard circumstance to focus my eyes on Jesus and be reminded of His grace in my life. I can do that anytime. I can thank Him in the GOOD and in the bad.

The next time I go through something difficult, I’ll remember that night, that reminder of God’s faithfulness in my life. And I’ll have what I need to push through and come out okay on the other side.

Worry Less So You Can Live More by Jane Rubietta

worrylessI thought I would hate this book. That’s actually why I picked it. I thought it would be easy to disagree with, to pick apart, because so many books that claim to be about worry and anxiety offer pat answers that don’t really help—and often disregard completely—the struggle of someone who deals with anxiety at the level of mental illness.

I should know better than to make my judgments based on a generic title—Worry Less So You Can Live More—and vague back cover copy written by the marketing department.

Right away the author (Jane Rubietta) addressed my biggest fear about this book: “If you feel you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, suffer from panic attacks, or deal with other serious problems, then please seek professional hep, and take this book with you (pg. 13).” It felt like reconciliation to see a Christian author recognize that mental illness is a real thing and not brush it off with an “It’s all in your head,” or a quick, “You just need to trust God.” Because, sadly, so many Christians respond that way.

This entire book felt like a giant hug from someone who gets it—one of those hugs that comes right when you need it. I don’t know if Jane has struggled with the level of anxiety that I have, but she certainly writes like she has. She’s specific enough to give concrete ideas for dealing with worry, but vague enough to let you fill in the blanks and apply her insights to your own situation. She shares her thoughts, but she doesn’t preach. I didn’t feel belittled or brushed off.

Every time I picked up this book, I knew I would feel lighter when I put it down again.

Jane wrote about how delight, physical activity, recalling God’s faithfulness, shedding healing tears, understanding your identity in Christ, and anticipating Jesus can slow worry to a crawl and sometimes halt it completely. She doesn’t claim to have all the answers or be able to solve all your problems, but she offers understanding and empathy that brought me more comfort than I could have imagined.

Combine the content with Jane’s lovely, artistic, Annie-Dillard-ish prose (I LOVE Annie Dillard), and you’re left with a book that needs to be read by any woman who worries about anything, whether it’s panic-attack-inducing worry or the kind that hides in your check book and jumps out when it’s time to pay the bills. Even if you aren’t a worrier, Jane will help you recapture the delight of your childhood and harness it to make adulthood a little easier.

Please read Worry Less So You Can Live More. It’s wonderful. You can buy it here.

To read about one way this book has affected me, check out my last post.

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. My opinion is my own and was not influenced by the author or publisher.

What the Bible Doesn’t Say

uploads-14115120538776712c565-a699942aI was talking to some friends about healing when the subject of Paul’s thorn in the flesh came up. (Read what the Bible has to say about it.)

“I like to think it was panic attacks,” I said.

Another girl piped up across the room: “Or an eating disorder.”

We all laughed as we identified with Paul in that moment, but it was a serious conversation. We all have things we struggle with—sins and issues that come up time and time again, even after we’ve given them to God, sometimes repeatedly.

It’s not uncommon for people to debate Paul’s thorn and guess at what it was. More than once, I’ve discussed it with people who have expressed frustration that Scripture isn’t more explicit, telling us exactly what it was and why he wrestled with it.

But I think that was on purpose. If we knew what that thorn was, it would be harder for us to relate, to put ourselves in Paul’s place and wrestle with it the way he did, to be encouraged by the words, “My grace is sufficient for you” even when our prayers are answered with a miraculous healing or our own personal thorns.

So take heart. Be encouraged by what the Bible doesn’t say about Paul’s suffering and use his story to find meaning and purpose in your own difficult times.

And just like God doesn’t explain Paul’s thorn, he often does offer us explanations either. But through Paul, we learn there’s greater purpose for our suffering, something much bigger than our own pain. Our suffering unites us with Christ. After all, God didn’t take the cup from him, either.

Lately I’m . . .

JournalIt’s been a long, long three months. And since I’ve been (mostly) absent from Editionally, here’s an update on what I’ve been up to.

Getting better. Finally. I caught some kind of bug in the middle of January that set off a chain reaction of health issues. It triggered my anxiety, which resulted in so much muscle tension I lost strength in my hands and arms. I just finished physical therapy last week. That led me to start taking an anxiety medication, which had some really “fun” side effects that led to some kind of infection which led to antibiotics which led to more side effects. But all the side effects have worn off, the infection is gone, and I finally  feel like myself again. Oy vey. I am so ready to have a healthy spring.

Researching becoming a Microsoft Office Specialist (expert level). When I mentioned to Jonathan that I wasn’t feeling challenged, he suggested I look into Office certification. Since I spend 85% of my work hours in front of a computer and I love to learn, I got excited. I’m still not sure what training and testing will look like for me, but I’m doing my research. Let me know if you know anything about it!

Writing again. With the return of my anxiety and the little bit of depression caused by all my health nonsense, I wasn’t writing. I couldn’t. When I get to a place like where I was, I avoid any independent thought. I cope by cutting out quiet spaces and freedom to think. I’m not saying it’s healthy, but it’s how I stave off some of the anxious thoughts. As a result, my creative stores dried up and I had nothing to say, even though I tried. But here I am writing again. I’ve kinda gotten back to journaling, too. And I currently have a six-page list of ideas for devotionals. I’m so ashamed to admit I haven’t been published in a really long time (so long that I’m not even going to tell you how long it’s been). I feel like I’ve been wasting the education I’m still paying for. But I’ve got tons of ideas, so I just need to start submitting. Feel free to give me a pep talk—I tend to put things off so long I don’t care about them anymore. But I really want to make this happen. For the experience, the joy of seeing my name in print (honesty is best—I love that feeling), and the extra money won’t hurt. And I like to think what I write could make a difference. I’d love to write the devotion that someone reads in the morning and it just changes their whole day. You know when you read something and you know it was meant for you? I want God to use my words like that.

Painting my nails obsessively. (If you’re a guy reading this, you can probably skip this part. Unless you want to know something about women, or at least this woman.) Okay, so they’re not painted now because I figure they need a break, but I’ve become addicted to nail polish. I love the colors. And as silly as it is, my job (which consists of lots of writing and typing) gets infinitely more fun when I can watch the pretty colors fly across the keyboard. Julep has amazing (but spendy) polishes that last over a week if you use a top coat and keep your cuticles hydrated. I also love Essie—their polishes last quite awhile, too.

Planning a vacation. Sometime this summer we’re going to get away for a week. With our limited budget, I’m still trying to figure out where the heck we’re going (I’m thinking north shore, but maybe not). Suggestions welcome, but keep in mind that we’re not going to fly anywhere.

Learning about Jewish culture. Our Life Group is listening to some talks by Ray Vanderlaan, and we’re all learning a ton. It’s amazing how differently you read and interpret the Bible when you know the historical context. For example, I learned that typically students would find a rabbi they wanted to follow and then ask if they could. If the rabbi thought the student could be like him, he would accept his request. But Jesus chose his disciples—and they were all kids who likely flunked out of rabbi training, hence the fishing. And Jesus still thought they could be like Him, even after they screwed up, like Peter.

Praying for Grandma. Jonathan’s grandma, Carol, had a heart attack and a stroke last week and we’re not sure what’s going to happen. If you’re someone who prays, please pray for her.