A series about anxiety.
I had the privilege of visiting a Overeaters Anonymous (an offshoot of AA) group years ago. Tears were brought to my eyes as women and men bravely stood and boldly declared “My name is [name] and I am a overeater.” I was struck by the vulnerability and courage it took for someone to stand up and declare that truth. I was overcome by emotions. I personally do not struggle with overeating, but it took all I could from standing up and joining in the chorus. I wanted to be part of something that real, that brave, that vulnerable. There is something incredibly healing about speaking a painful truth to a group of people who will respond with grace and support.
As much as I wanted to stand up that day, I refrained. But today, let me be the first to start.
My name is Lisa and I have anxiety. I have a phobia of throwing up.
It started when I was a kid. I had separation anxiety; I didn’t want to be away from my mother. My anxiety often manifested in having stomach aches. From a young age, for reasons I have never understood, I have had a phobia of throwing up. Luckily, we received great services and I was able to get a handle on it.
When I was 12, we moved to the Twin Cities. My parents were bracing themselves. How was I going to handle the move?
I ended up doing great. Anxiety quickly became something of the past.
I spent years that way. As I have shared some of this in my past blogs, I was incredibly bold and brave. I had a few hiccups in high school, but overall, I loved to travel. I was a radical Christian ready to follow God’s leading. I spent a summer in California before my senior year of high school. I even graduated from high school early to go on a 6-month mission trip. I’m sure I had fleeting thoughts about throwing up, but nothing that stopped me.
I had a transplant, my body rejected my liver, I was in a bus accident, I had typhoid fever. The list goes on and on. Still nothing. No anxiety. There were so many times in my story that anxiety would have made sense. After my transplant people would have understood if I were anxious. I wasn’t.
That all changed when I was 23. Bryan and I had been married for 2 years. We both had jobs that we loved. At that time, I was asked to travel for work for 2 weeks. All of the sudden I felt incredibly unsettled about that idea. Those feelings that I had felt years ago started creeping up on me. I had worked really hard to maintain my independence after I got married, why was I all of a sudden so anxious to leave Bryan? That was January. I went on the trip, I survived. But those feelings didn’t go away. In fact, they got worse.
The summer came and I was gone a lot. At that point I was able to push through and do what I needed to do, but it was getting tougher and tougher.
I was leading a mission trip. We are wrapping up the week. It was the last day and we were all tired. Like I shared, I have a phobia of throwing up. All of a sudden while I was finishing my breakfast, I started to feel a little nauseous. With the backdrop of being emotionally and physically exhausted, I broke. I started having a panic attack in front of hundreds of people. I ran to the bathroom, sure that I was going to throw up. Nothing came out, but I couldn’t stop panicking. And I didn’t stop for 4 hours. The panic attack continued the whole way home, in a van with 8 high school girls that were in my care (I wasn’t driving), and I have never felt so embarrassed.
Things continued to get worse. Life became really hard. Not just for me, but for Bryan too. He was the only one that could calm me down. I came to a place where between meetings I would go home, get into the fetal position and weep. What was happening to me? I would start to reach for the phone to cancel my appointment and right before I finished dialing, I would muster up enough strength to go to my next meeting. I could never focus. I tried so hard to be present, but the whole time I was in conversation I was talking myself out of running out of the room sobbing.
At the same time, my diet became very restricted. I couldn’t eat anything that could possibly make me feel like I was going to throw up. I could not understand what was happening. It was like something took over me, swallowed me up and was living my life for me. A horrible, painful life.
Every time I talk about that time I am brought to tears. It was so hard.
That was 13 years ago.
Unfortunately, my journey with anxiety has not ended. It doesn’t consume me the way it once did, but it is still a close companion. As I was explaining my anxiety to someone once, he said, “At least throwing up is your trigger. Most adults only throw up a couple of times in their lives.” If only it were that simple.
This is what it looks like today..
I used to love to fly and travel. Now the idea of getting on an airplane induces paralyzing anxiety. Getting the stomach flu on the airplane is my worst nightmare.
I get anxious when Bryan leaves even if it’s just for a night. What if I get sick?
When I feel a hint of nausea, I automatically start to feel panicky. I have feared throwing up for so long, I don’t even know what is nausea and what is anxiety.
When my kids get sick, I get paralyzed. I am no longer able to parent.
And those things happen more than a couple of times in my adult life. Sometimes they happen a couple times a day.
It’s one thing to talk about things of the past. We can read our audience. We can emphasize or omit details. We have insight. Hindsight is 20/20. When we talk about the past it’s almost if we are talking about someone else.
It’s different to talk about things that are current. It feels vulnerable. When I talk about things that I am currently struggling with and I don’t feel validated, I crumble. I doubt my experiences and emotions. I am full of self-doubt. I feel judged, even when I’m not.
What I found through my struggle with anxiety is that I don’t find as much healing when I wait to talk about it until it is over. I find myself not as truthful about the experience. I downplay what really happened.
I have found much more healing when I’m vulnerable in the midst of feeling anxious. I feel a weight lifted off me when I reach out to my people and I ask for prayer. When I tell people I am struggling, it re-focuses my attention and allows me to be fully present. I feel lighter knowing I’m not walking alone.
As I have analyzed that AA meeting over the years, I have wondered why it was such a powerful experience for me. I have concluded it is because that is what I want my life to look like. I want to be in a space where people can be brave and scared at the same time. Where people can share their in-the-moment struggle and get responses that are full of grace and truth. And what I’ve realized is that in order to create a space like that, it starts with one person. It starts with a person that is so committed to healing, that they stand up fully brave and fully scared. They own their reality, the good and the bad. In my experience, vulnerability encourages vulnerability. And before you know it people join in. I know I’m not alone. I know there are people out there that have been crippled by anxiety. I know that there are people who want to stand up, but don’t have a safe space to do so. I want to create that space for you. So let me begin….
My name is Lisa and I have anxiety. I have a phobia of throwing up.
Stand up with me and let the healing begin.
I will be spending the next several months talking about anxiety. I will continue to share my story and weave lessons that I have learned along the way. I will talk about therapy. I will talk about medicine. I’m going to talk about spiritual things and practical things. I’ll talk about Jesus and stupid things people will say. If this is something you struggle with, I encourage you to stay tuned. Take the first step, when you feel anxious this week – tell someone. Don’t wait until it passes, speak of it in the moment. I think you will be surprised by the freedom you feel. If you don’t have a place to do that, tell me – I would love to hear from you. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You are not alone my friend.