It was the worst one I had ever had because It came on slowly. It had stalked me all day, ducking behind a corner every time I tried to catch It, every time I tried to temper It. I’d tried to take control, tried to overpower It, tried to drown It out, tried to make It go away even just for a little bit, but It stayed with me all day, making me want nothing more than to be left alone, and making sure that I knew that as soon as I was, I wouldn’t be safe. I tried to lose It. I cleaned. I laughed. I went to the gym. I pet my dog. I talked to my mother, but I couldn’t get away from what Debbie had said that morning. So It came because It is stronger than I am. It dragged me inside of myself and I sat there on the couch in my dad’s house while my sister tiptoed around It, trying to figure out a way to attack and take out something she couldn’t see or understand. I stared at the walls and avoided talking because It doesn’t like when I talk about It. That allows me to put some distance between us, and It can’t let me have any control. That’s what It does. It preys on my weakness. I went back home and straight up to my room, muttering a desperate “I’m fine,” to my mother because It made me. Closed door. Weak steps. Hard thud. It was there, flattening me against the wall and smothering me. All I could do was cry. So I cried, curled up in a ball on the ground while It attacked me and took full advantage of me. I squeezed my eyes shut so hard that my head hurt and told It to go away, told It to leave me alone, and It told me that It couldn’t leave me alone because It was me. I was the stalker. I was the attacker. I was the monster that made life an actual, miserable, constant living hell. I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to live anymore. I. Don’t. Want. To. Live. Anymore.
I didn’t realize the severity of my anxiety until this summer. I didn’t realize the severity of my anxiety until that night. As I sat there on my floor, crying so violently that there was no sound anymore, letting my anxiety kill me, I thought, “How did I get like this? How did I get from being a level-headed, laid back, joyful person to a complete and total wreck?”
I’m not going to go into detail about my personal life. I will share my heart with y’all all the live long day, but some things are too painful and too personal and too awkward to talk about, so I will serve y’all a hot, steaming plate of the freakin’ gist. I hope you have your eating pants on.
In a matter of six months, everything I thought I knew about myself, about my family, and about the way life works became smoke, and my foundation didn’t just crumble. It disappeared.
But this is how I work. I am all emotion and no logic. I want to fix everyone and everything. I hate conflict. Confrontation destroys me. Seeing people get hurt destroys me. Disappointing people destroys me. So my life was destroying my life.
I know, I know, it could be worse. At least I have my health and the people who love me. I know that. I truly do, but It doesn’t care. It is the honey badger that just don’t quit, y’all. Those words, however sincere and heartfelt and true they may be, do not make a difference. Do you think I am being dramatic? Here’s what is basically going down when someone uses the “at least” statements.
Person 1: “I have a brain tumor.”
Person 2: “QUIT WHINING. AT LEAST YOU DON’T HAVE BIPOLAR DISORDER.”
Person 1: “I don’t have a British accent or an Uncle named Vern either, but that doesn’t change the fact that this thing is going to kill me.”
We could talk about all the things I have going for me in my life for so many freaking moons. I am incredibly fortunate to live the life I have, and I want to do it. I want to live the crap out of this life. I want to follow Christ and discover His purpose for me. I want to love well and passionately and show others that kind of love, the love that only comes from Christ. I want to stumble and to get back up because I know I am safe with Him. I want to go and go and go and be because that’s why I am here. I am here to shine a light. I want to surrender my heart to God and live for Him. I want that. I want all of that.
That is why It terrifies me. It takes that want away. It gets in the way of my life, and It steals my life. It kills me every single time It wants to. That is why It is so bad. It is nearly impossible to surrender a heart that does not belong to you. Trust me, I know how precious and sensational life is. If anything, my struggle with anxiety has made me more aware of that. I do not want to die. I want to live and live hard, but it’s a scary thought that I will have anxiety for the rest of this life that I love. I do not want to die. I want my anxiety to end, and when I am having an attack, the only way that seems possible is to die with it. It’s like Harry Potter and Voldemort with the silent “T” because let’s get it right.
But every time I have an anxiety attack, there is a voice that reminds me that I am not my anxiety, that reminds me that It is actually just it. It is an obstacle. It is a very real, very big obstacle that I will continue to encounter for the rest of my life, but it can be overcome because it may be stronger than I am. But it is not stronger than God. That truth gets me through. The attack does not end right then. I still hurt. I still cry. I still lose the ability to function in that moment, but I know it will end eventually. I know I am going to come out of it because God promises us that.
Just because I talk about how liberating it is to give my heart to God, that doesn’t mean I won’t have a rough go at it myself. Just because I have a strong faith, that doesn’t make me immune to life and all the crap that comes with it. Just because I have been healed time and time and time again, that doesn’t mean that I will outgrow this illness. I’m not magically healed by God. God does not promise to magically heal us. He is not a sage. He is not a voodoo doctor. God promises to use our hardships to shape our lives and clarify His will if we offer them to Him.
So I take the pain. I ride out the attacks. I pray through them and lean on God for strength because for every attack I survive, I find value in life ten times more easily because I know that good is going to come.
I take medicine. I see therapists. I have good days, and I have really bad days. But I am working on it because I want to. My anxiety is not my fault. I have just as much control over it as a cancer patient has over her disease. God made me happy. God made me goofy. God made me caring and messy and awkward, so that is who I am. I am not my anxiety. I am not crazy. I am not unstable. I am not a stigma. It’s about darn time that we start treating mental illnesses as what they are. It’s about darn time we stop shaming people who struggle with mental illness, including ourselves. It’s about darn time we stop stigmatizing mental illness and distancing ourselves from the issue.
I was terrified to share this part of my life with anyone because I thought it would change people’s opinions of me, that they would see me as some ticking time bomb that could freak out at any given moment rather than seeing me as Catherine. And that sucks because I am Catherine. I am not Anxiety. How am I supposed to make that distinction and separate myself from my illness if no one else can or even tries to?
No one runs from cancer. No one runs from ALS. No one runs from heart disease.
Everyone runs from mental illness except those who can’t. Mental illness is just as serious and just as life-threatening as physical illness. It kills even when it doesn’t. So stop pushing it under the rug. Stop treating it like it doesn’t matter. Stop talking about it as a non-issue because without treatment and support, it becomes It.
Pray for healing and understanding. Offer love with reckless abandon. Care too much.
Pity doesn’t help. Empathy does. Unsympathetic motivation doesn’t help. Understanding does. Leaving people who struggle alone doesn’t help. Making them feel safe does.
Open your eyes, people. Hurt is a lot closer than you think. Never cheapen anyone else’s struggle. Never make a victim feel guilty. Never brush anyone aside that needs you.
Love because God taught us to. Love because someone needs it. Love because it heals.
I am only okay because I found out that it was okay to not be okay. I am only okay because I know that a life led by anxiety is not what God intended for me. God has a purpose for my life. I sure as hell am going to go after it, and my anxiety can just deal with the fact that it with a lowercase “i” is going along for the Incredible ride.