Little known fact about me: I don’t drive. Like, at all. I am always and have always been the passenger. Things like getting groceries and running errands are done as a family, generally on an evening or weekend. When I take the boys to the park or the doctor’s office, I walk. People are usually shocked to hear this about me and rarely I’ll get into the reasons behind it, but today I’m sharing why.
I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was about 18 years old. Something happened around that age that made me realize I wasn’t in control of the world around me. I don’t consider my anxiety to be super debilitating and it doesn’t affect my life all that much on a large scale, but I have my triggers.
2. Dental procedures
3. Current events/Tragic news
What does anxiety look like for me? A racing pulse, irrational ideas of me or someone I love dying, emotional breakdowns, and in extreme circumstances, panic attacks.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned coping strategies that help me deal with the things above, but that doesn’t mean that they still don’t affect me. For example, I’m fine being in a vehicle with somebody else, but my husband will attest that if I’m feeling particularly anxious on a certain day, I will be nervous about things like left-hand turns and yellow lights. I also have this thing about being on the inside lane next to a semi-truck. I’ll be gripping the seat and holding my breath, praying we make it out alive.
I always freak out a little bit before going to the dentist, even if it’s only a cleaning. This has improved for me significantly thanks to sedation dentistry and whenever I’m having things like a filling or root canal performed, I’ll go under. I basically sleep through the whole thing, wake up in my own bed and have very little recollection of what happened. Having sedation allows me to handle the idea of going back again in the future – because the last thing I remember is the beeping noise of my monitor.
The last one is the reason that I don’t watch or read the news. Obviously, if a story is big enough, I still hear about it. I’m not ignorant to the world around me, but I can’t handle hearing about the awful things that happen to men, women and children every single day. Not only does it break my heart, but it makes me want to curl up in a ball and not function. It affects my mind and that transfers into every aspect of my daily life. It’s healthier for me to avoid it.
Last year I heard a talk by Brett Ullman called ‘The Walking Wounded.’ It was all about how to deal with the thoughts and emotions that can paralyze us in life, whether it be from depression, anxiety, suicide or other forms of mental illness. For me, the biggest point he touched on was how there seems to be a real lack of understanding in the Christian community about these issues. So often when someone opens up about feeling this way, they’re told that their faith isn’t strong enough or that they need to pray more. It’s not recognized as being the illness that it is and it can be so damaging to be made to feel worse about what you are going through. I loved the point in Brett’s presentation when he touched on people in the Bible like David, Job and Jeremiah going through depression. They never asked forgiveness for it. It’s not a sin. That is something I feel we need to keep in mind when dealing with mental illness. People are struggling with these things and it’s not something they are choosing. That doesn’t mean we should wallow in it and make ourselves out to be victims, but we need to release ourselves of the guilt.
As mentioned, I’ve developed some coping mechanisms over the past few years that have helped me deal with my anxiety.
1. I avoid my triggers. I hope one day I’ll be able to drive or that I can go to the dentist without sedation, but people pushing me to do it automatically makes me put up a wall and shut down. I have to get there on my own.
2. It’s important that I and those in my immediate circle give me permission to not feel guilty about not doing things. Usually I’m fine, but every now and then I’ll tell my husband that I just can’t handle going to my dental appointment that week, so I’ll cancel it. I also have odd times where I feel hyper-emotional and can’t handle being around a lot of people. The slightest thing can make me cry, so I’ll usually opt for a quiet day at home. I need to be supported and reminded that that’s okay. It’s just one day.
3. I require a lot of sleep. Like, nine hours is ideal. As you can imagine, having a child not sleeping can become an issue for me very quickly. The worst amount of anxiety I’ve ever felt (and the only time I’ve gone on medication for it) was in Asher’s first year of life. My hormones were off and I wasn’t sleeping more than 2-3 hours at a time. I couldn’t cope, but with the help of medication I was able to get through it. I know this next time around that I need to do whatever I can to get in that extra sleep, even if it means calling in a sitter.
4. My faith in God is also a huge coping mechanism. When something is bothering me, I give it over to Him as much as possible. I know that no matter what happens, He’ll get me through it. He always has! I know I can rely on Him always and that He won’t forsake me. That’s a huge comfort!
I’m sure it’s surprising for many of you to read this. My anxiety is not something I bring up in casual conversation and I’m usually a very outgoing, positive, upbeat person. I’m sharing it today because I don’t want it to be the elephant in the room. I don’t want anyone else who feels this way to think they are alone in dealing with it. It’s actually a very common thing.
My anxiety does not define me. It doesn’t define you either.