When I was 15, my dad and I got into a car accident involving a drunk driver. Apparently I hit my head against the window of the passenger side. As I try to recall the details, I don’t remember this, but I did have a lump on my forehead. I was taken to the hospital to make sure there was nothing else wrong with me. For the next month, I couldn’t be alone for long periods of time. I would have panic attacks and curl into fetal position for no reason at all. This was the first time I remember having such intense reactions to a situation that wasn’t happening at that moment. I didn’t understand what was happening or why I was reacting like that.
I’ve struggled with anxiety ever since. It’s been about five years.
Through friendships that have crashed and burned, family conflicts, difficulties at school, and just growing up, I’ve had to fight anxiety. My mind would race with thoughts that would force me to stay awake at night and worry. I would beg God for Him to let me sleep. In addition to worrying, I would focus on my failures and say such critical things to and about myself that I would never say out loud. I didn’t feel like I deserved good friendships or a relationship because I felt like a monster. I couldn’t be happy because there was always some situation or problem my anxiety clung to.
When I entered college, I knew that it would be a huge transition. I moved 1,500 miles away with no family or friends in the area. I came from a legalistic high school and was introduced to a world where I had the option to make mistakes. But I had no idea that my anxiety would follow me from Rhode Island to Florida. Before I left for school, my grandmother made me promise that if my anxiety became too much for me to handle, I would get help from someone. So when my anxiety was making it difficult to pay attention in classes, I knew I had to make a decision. I signed up for counseling. I didn’t know if it would work or not, but it was free. And I was also afraid of the side effects of anti-anxiety medications. So I thought it was worth a shot.
I saw a counselor for 8 months. It was then that I learned so much about myself and what my anxiety triggers are. It was a difficult and rigorous process to go through because it required uncovering many issues that I thought were irrelevant. I talked, wrote letters that I never sent, talked, cried, and talked even more. I remember my first and last sessions and how different I felt after leaving each one.
The most important concept in this process was to observe the way in which I speak to myself. I have spoken many times about the importance of loving others the way Christ commands us to, but I missed something important. While I was showing compassion to others, I was being much more judgmental to myself. This wasn’t helping me grow spiritually, mentally, or emotionally. Through counseling, I had to restore proper intrapersonal communication. Once I began to see how cruel I was to myself, I was able to make a change.
There’s something so empowering about taking something you thought was out of your control and controlling it. I’m finishing the second semester of being out of counseling and I’ve never felt better. The thing is, I’m not “cured.” I’ll never be “cured.” And for those of you who struggle with anxiety too, remember that being “cured” should never be your goal. I take each day as it comes and apply the tips I learned in counseling to my everyday life. Personally, I’ve discovered the calming power of music, walks, creative outlets, and surrounding myself with the right people.
As a Christian, I’ve often wondered what place anxiety has in my life. I know I’m supposed to trust God with what’s going on in my life, but anxiety isn’t something I can just turn off. However, the more I pray about it, talk about it, and try to understand it, I’m realizing that this condition can be a blessing. In spite of the intense physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual reactions that anxiety causes, God proves that He is sovereign. Not only am I able to help and relate to others that have this same struggle, but it gives me an extra push towards His arms. In my everyday life, I have to work harder to control my reactions to conflicts and miscommunications at work, with friends and family, and in school. Many times I wish I wasn’t subject to life with anxiety, but as I learn to live with this condition, I’m realizing how powerful and timely God is. This is just part of my story that He is orchestrating perfectly and purposefully.