Anxiety series #6: When you have an anxious child.

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Not only do I deal with anxiety, my daughter deals with anxiety as well. In fact, her struggle with anxiety happened to start with a phobia of throwing up. If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I too have a phobia of throwing up. When her anxiety began to manifest that way, I was speechless. Of all of things she could be afraid of, she was afraid of throwing up? Really? I don’t think anger would even begin to describe my feelings. Unless it involves me throwing up, I’m actually fairly brave. I am great in crisis. I could deal with ANYTHING else-but not this. At this point my anxiety was fairly well under control, but Piper’s anxiety brought me to a whole new place of devastation and helplessness. Watching your child struggle is SO hard, watching your child struggle with the same thing that caused you to crumble brings you to place that is indescribable. It has been an incredibly painful experience. I have never felt so much guilt and shame. I have been angry and frustrated with God, myself and her. I have felt resentful and if I’m honest I still do some days. I have had to work so hard to be healed myself, I have been at a complete loss for how to help her to do the same. And honestly, sometimes I don’t want to.

As I have talked to other parents that have children that deal with anxiety, I feel like there are two common responses. Parents who have struggled with anxiety themselves tend to feel similar to me. They are full of guilt. For me, even though I know rationally that I did not cause Piper to deal with anxiety, I lay in bed at night wondering when I slipped up. Did she see me have a panic attack? When was I talking about anxiety in front of her? I lay in bed and project the next 60 years of struggle ahead of her. My burden feels heavy. Does that sound familiar?

Parents who have kids with anxiety, but have never experienced it themselves have very different response. Their kids struggle feels annoying, frustrating and limiting. When you have a family member that struggles with anxiety, it doesn’t just affect that person-it affects the whole family. If you have never experienced anxiety, it’s almost impossible to understand. It can come on suddenly, it’s almost as if you have a new kid overnight. As the anxiety continues to persist, it’s hard to understand why your child can’t just go back to what she was like before. And as much as you try not to, you end up modifying your schedule to accommodate your kid’s new norm. It can be very limiting, Is that you?

I have read books, sought a lot of counsel and went to therapy to learn how to deal with being an anxious person with an anxious child. We are still in the thick of it. Our struggle is current and real. We have learned a few things so I thought I would pass them along. We are always looking for new ideas, so send them my way!

Before I move on I want to acknowledge that I use “she” when I speak about a child, it’s just easier than always adding he/she.

Remember that your child is doing the best they can. I know when I’m doing the best I can. It didn’t always seem like she was. Something shifted in me when I read this in “Parenting a Child Who has Intense Emotions” by Harvey & Penzo. As much as I would do anything to be different, I have to believe she feels the same way. No one wants to feel this way.

A lot of times it will start with a stomach ache. People end up in the ER thinking they are having a heart attack before they accept the fact that they are having a panic attack. If you haven’t felt anxious before, your body will feel it first. I always tell people that the one benefit of being an anxious mom to an anxious kid is that I could see the signs a mile a way. We have dealt with intense emotions and worrisome tendencies since she was a toddler, but the moment she started having stomach aches when she was at school and then she was okay when she got home-we sprung into action.

Sometimes you will know the why, most of the time you won’t. My separation anxiety began in 3rd grade when I had a substitute teacher. I had had a sub before, what was different about this time? My mom and I have racked our brains about why I developed a phobia of throwing up. We have never been able to find the answer. Your child might change slowly, but I have a lot of parents tell me that feel like it comes out of nowhere. Ask questions, seek answers, but acknowledge that you may not find the “why” you are looking for.

Seek professional help for both your child and yourself. People that are dealing with anxiety want it to just go away-it is so alarming and all-consuming. It will take time. Counseling will not change things overnight. Find someone good and stick with it. Seek professional help for yourself and find someone that can give you tools to help your anxious child. I went to a therapist for a while just to discuss how I felt about Pipers anxiety. Ask for 10 minutes of your child’s therapist time to discuss goals and a plan. Piper saw a therapist for a year and the only time we would talk would be in the lobby in front of 10 other patients as she rushed to her next client. I didn’t even know what they were doing most of the time. Now Piper’s therapist takes the last 10 minutes of Pipers session to just talk to me and go over what they talked about and the plan. You need to advocate for your child. If the first therapist you find isn’t the right fit, don’t give up! Keep looking!

Life might have to look differently for a while. One of the reasons I struggled so much when Piper was first anxious is because her emotions seemed to dictate our life. I felt frustrated with God that we had to deal with this when I had just gained more freedom. Every shift, every change, every transition was/is hard in our household because of her anxiety. We have tried to just ignore what was happening around us and go on as planned, but then we all suffer. You may have to cut back on activities. You might have to say no. Stay home more. Your house will be more peaceful because of it, I promise.

You have to be your child’s advocate. There were years when Pipers anxiety and intense emotions did not leave our house. That all changed in 3rd grade when I started to get calls from school that she was having stomach aches and wanted to come home. Within a week I had a meeting with her teacher, the principle, and the school counselor and we had a plan. I can’t speak for yours, but we have an incredible school system. Most importantly, you are your child’s voice and no matter how hard it is-you need to speak up on her behalf.

It will be so hard, but there are certain things you are going to have to make her do. She needs to go to school. She needs to play outside. She needs to eat. And she needs to sleep. My mom has told me of days where she would watch my sister drag me down the driveway while I was crying and begging to stay home. As soon as the bus pulled away my mom would fall to her knees crying. It was the best, hardest thing she had to do for me.

Find safe places and lean into them. There will usually be a few people that your child feels safe with outside of you. Let them into what’s goes on. Ask for help. Most people will welcome your child with open arms and feel honored to be a safe place. It truly does take a village to raise a child.

Raising an anxious kid is hard. It will be hard on your other kids. Create fun adventures for your other kids. Explain to them what is going on in a way they understand. Try to keep their life as normal as possible but acknowledge that this might be a harder season for your family. It’s going to be hard on you. You may feel overwhelmed with guilt and frustrated beyond belief. I don’t think anyone would blame you for those feelings. You are going to want it to go away. It will change. It will get better and then might get worse again. Go to a counselor. Lean into your community. Remember who your child is-that they are more than their anxiety. Try not project your emotions on them. Take some space. And remember you are doing the best you can!

This is going to be my last post about anxiety. I hope that you have taken one thing over the last several months that will help you along this journey. It’s so hard. I am so sorry if you are dealing with anxiety. I would never wish it on anyone. But my hope and prayer is that as you continue on this journey you will lean into God. I pray that you will look for the good in the midst of the bad. I hope that you will try new things and figure out what works. I pray that you will remember you are more than your anxiety. And please, please remember-you are not alone.

In this together,

Lisa

ps. Another book I would recommend if you have an anxious child is “You Can’t Make Me. But I Can Be Persuaded” book by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Anxiety series #5: Dear Friend…

 

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Dear friend,

First of all I want to thank you for being such a good friend. If I did not trust you, I would have never told you about my anxiety in the first place. I have given you access to a sacred, vulnerable place in my heart. While you carry it, could I pass on a few tips? I don’t want to be hurt again, so I’m hoping you would take my straight-forwardness as a helpful tool.

Remember that I am more than my anxiety. There have been times that after I share about my anxiety I’m looked at differently. People probably don’t mean to, but I feel like they consider me less than. My abilities and value come into question. There may be days were my anxiety overcomes me and I need to sit out. When I show up, trust that I am fully there. I may not be, but the more you treat me that way-the sooner I will emerge. It is true that I struggle with anxiety. But remember that I am also friendly, driven, passionate and thoughtful. The more you remind me of who I am, the quicker I will return.

Please don’t tell me to stop worrying. I know that anxiety is hard to understand. I didn’t understand it either until I experienced it (and I still don’t). But I promise if it were as simple as me just telling myself to stop worrying, I would have stopped being anxious a long time ago. I would do anything to not experience these feelings. Can I add a couple other phrases to avoid? It’s really irritating when people say things like “calm down,” or “just relax.”  And please do not tell me that  “Everything will be fine.” When you say things like that to me it makes me feel like my struggle isn’t valid and that you don’t think that I’m doing my best.

Please don’t compare your stress to my anxiety. I know that you are just trying to relate when you compare the stress of your finals to my struggle with anxiety. Stress is a natural response to an upset in our daily lives. Stress is a reaction to a situation or circumstance that makes us uncomfortable. Stress is acute. Anxiety lingers on after the circumstances resolve and life goes back to normal. Anxiety overcomes us and changes who we are. It takes on a life of its own. We become spectators.

And I know this one is hard if you follow Jesus, but will you promise to never quote Philippians 4:6-7 or 1 Peter 5:7 (or any scripture about worry) to me? Again, I’ve tried that. In fact I try it every day. I know he loves me. I try to cast my cares on him. I try so hard to not worry about anything. I want to be thankful. I want nothing more than the peace that passes understanding. In the midst of my despair God feels far away. Those verse make me angry, I’ve tried so hard and yet my heart has not been guarded from anxiety.

If you are my person, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have been selfish and focused on myself. I know you are struggling too. Hopefully someday we can share the struggle, but today my burden alone feels too heavy. I need to be carried for a while, hopefully someday I can carry you. But for now find a person, find support. You need it.

A lot of these responses may seem like natural reactions, especially when you’re on the outside looking in, but they are not always helpful. Since you are on this sacred journey with me, can I tell you a few things that would help?

Ask me to help you. One of the quickest ways for me to get out of my head, is to focus on something else-something bigger and more important than my anxiety. Remind of my gifts and purpose, not through words but through opportunities. One time I was at my lowest point, I was stuck in bed filled with anxiety and a friend called. She was having a panic attack and she was alone. I was struggling, but I wasn’t alone. Without giving it a second thought, I was out the door and by her side. I was immediately pulled out of my present reality, and the anxiety that had once anchored me to my bed quickly became a thing of the past as I sat with my friend.

Pray for me. Pray that I will see God in the midst of my pain. Pray that I will know God as a comforter. Pray that I will experience a peace that passes all understanding. Pray that I will have the strength and faith to read His word and know him more. Pray that I will see God making good out of the bad. Pray that I will have wisdom and the tools I need to experience healing.

Celebrate my successes with me. Most of the time, healing comes one step at a time. Each step is heavy, clunky and awkward, but nonetheless is a step forward. When you extend grace to me, it’s easier for me to be graceful to myself. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was extremely anxious. There were so many unknowns. I was sitting in my living room with a friend and I was sharing my struggle. She said to me so lovingly, yet so firm “You need to celebrate that you got out of bed this morning and got dressed. There are a lot of people in your situation who would not have done that.” Her grace was equally empowering as it was disarming. That simple phrase permanently shifted something in my heart. It gave me permission to celebrate the wins and find grace as I failed. When I shifted my focus to celebrating my small successes, big breakthroughs followed quickly.

Say you’re sorry. Not because you have done anything wrong. Tell me you are sorry that I am going through this. Even if you don’t fully understand it, acknowledge that it must be incredibly difficult. When you acknowledge my struggle, there is 100% more chance that I will respond to any advice you give me.

Ask me. After hearing about all the things you shouldn’t do, you may feel helpless. You aren’t. Ask me questions. Ask me what it feels like to have a panic attack. Ask me about my triggers and what has helped in the past. Get me to talk. Sometimes I don’t even have the answers until someone asks for them. I’m often surprised by my own answers. Questions often lead to clarity. Ask me how you can help. “Would it help if I stayed here with you? Do you want advice or do you just want me to listen? Do you want me to come over?” Your questions show me that you want to understand not only what I am going through-but that I can walk with you.

Join me in my hole. I don’t where this parable originated from (neither does google) but I first heard it on The West Wing. “A man is walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the man shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.Then a priest comes along and the man shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.Then a friend walks by. “Hey, it’s me,” the man calls out. “Can you help?” And then the friend jumps in the hole. The man says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.”

The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before … and I know the way out.”

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Friend, my hole is deep and wide. I either don’t know how to get out or I don’t have the strength, but regardless I am stuck in a hole. And no matter how many times I say otherwise, I don’t want to be alone.

Join me there. Ask me questions. Pray for me. Seek to understand. Remind me who I am. Help me get out of my head. Celebrate my successes. Don’t give up. And before we know, it we will both be out of the hole.

Eternally grateful,

Your anxious friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety series #4: The Spiritual Things

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This is a tough one for me. It’s tough because it continues to be something that I wrestle with God about. God has healed me in miraculous ways, why hasn’t he healed me from my anxiety?

I don’t know. I wish I did

I have never prayed about something more. I have never asked for more prayer for anything. I’ve never tried so many different worldly methods. I’ve never felt the same level of desperation than I have in the height of my anxiety. But no matter how much I try or how many prayers I send up, I am still not healed.
But just because I haven’t been healed, doesn’t mean God has not showed up.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that some things I’m about to share are going to sound trite to those who are not ready to hear it. When I was at my worst in terms of my anxiety, my anger and sadness blocked any ability I had to see God in the midst of my anguish. If anyone brought up God or prayer, I would politely listen while forcefully pushing down the hulk that was rearing his head. I wanted to scream “You obviously have never felt this way. If God really cared, he would take this away.” If you are there, I understand. I’ve been there. If you need to yell, let me know. I can take it. If you need to stop reading, I also understand. But if you are at all able, I challenge you to open up your heart a little bit. If you look closely enough you may see God in some unexpected places. I know for me, sometimes when God isn’t showing up the way I WANT, I forget to look at where he is showing up.

Here a few ways I have seen God show up…

God uses anxiety to remind me of my need for him. This sounds weird, but one of my biggest stumbling blocks is that I am a very capable person. I work really hard and I get things done well. Because of that, sometimes I have a hard time relying on God. Without even realizing it, I quickly rely on my own strength instead of tapping into the true source. I have tried everything on my own to be healed from my anxiety. I have no place to go besides on my knees in surrender. Nothing brings me to my knees like my anxiety will. Nothing else reminds me how out of control I really am. It reminds me of my place. No matter how capable I am, no matter how hard I try, I need God.

God uses my anxiety to remind me that there is a bigger story than mine. I wish that the world revolved around me. And most of the time I act like it should. But it doesn’t and when I’m in a healthy place, I’m glad it doesn’t. What if the reason God doesn’t take my anxiety away is because of how my story is going to encourage, challenge or bless other people? What if my story of anxiety is part someone else’s story of healing? There have been so many times where I have shared my story and people have to come to me sharing how my story has encouraged them to go to a counselor, seek prayer or start medication. If my anxiety is not going away, I’m at least grateful that my story encourages someone else.

My anxiety makes my relationship with God more authentic. For a long time I couldn’t figure out how to live in tension. I felt like I could either trust God or be anxious. I thought I either had to grieve or be grateful. Somewhere along the way I started to believe that I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t see that God was in the midst of the mess. So when anxiety would overcome me, I would muster up all my strength, grit my teeth and dig into the fight. But I would always lose. So eventually instead of digging in, I cried out to God. I cried out from the depth of my soul in true desperation. I wish I could say that when I did that my anxiety went away. It didn’t. But it begin a shift in me. A shift in my relationship with God. I couldn’t try to separate my emotions, I was too raw. I went before him with all I was, the good and the bad-just the way he wants it.

God uses my anxiety to make me more like him. I’m not very graceful by nature. I tend to be black and white. I had a roommate in college that struggled with depression. She had so much going for her, I couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t get out of bed. I felt like with enough willpower and a little help from God we should be able to push through anything. Wow I was wrong. Not only did my anxiety bring me to my knees, it softened my heart. I am much more quick to react from a place compassion instead of judgment. I listen better and give less advice. I pray more.

God uses my anxiety to remind me of the power of community and prayer. When I ask my people to pray for my anxiety, I literally feel a shift in the atmosphere. I can feel their prayers carrying me. Not only is my faith increased when I feel God’s presence through prayer, it is also an opportunity for others to step into faith. Anytime you get to be part of an answered prayer, whether it’s for you or someone else-your faith will increase. When I share my struggles, my friendships strengthen and my community grows. I have found that when I am honest with others, it releases them to be honest with me. That is when true community begins.

Sometimes God uses my anxiety to reveal that there is something bigger going on in me. I don’t stop very often. I am always on the go mentally, spiritually and physically. Anxiety stops me in my track. Most of my anxiety triggers are physical, but every once in a while there is something bigger at play. Am I trying to control a situation that is beyond my control? Am I harboring bitterness that is causing angst? God uses every means possible to break down barriers that keep us from walking in the freedom he has for us.

I have said many times before that I would do nearly anything to be free from anxiety, it’s true. I have never experienced anything so crippling and devastating. I will continue to pray that God will heal me. But until he does I can at least cling to this truth-he will show up. He is always there, but if you are anything like me- you forget to look.

Are blinded by your pain? Is your anger keeping you from looking for God? I’ve been there and I’m sure I’ll be there again. But my goal of this series is that you will learn from my mistakes. So pause and in the midst of your tears, take a moment. Look for God. Write it down. If you don’t see him right away, try again. He is there, he has shown up-now it’s our turn to look.

Always looking,

Lisa

Anxiety Series #3: The practical things.

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I’ve done all of the things in regards to my anxiety.                                                                      I have gone to SO many counselors. I have tried changing my diet. I prioritize sleep. I have begged and prayed for God to take it away. I have sought prayer from people around me. I have a toolbox available when I feel like anxiety is coming my way. I have studied the brain. I’ve tried forms of hypnosis. As I shared in my last blog post, I take medication. Yet, I am still not free from my anxiety. But I live in more freedom than ever and I’ve learned a few things along the way. This blog will be different than most, I’m going practical.
Before I move on, let me remind everyone that I’m talking about what has worked for me. If you try these things and they don’t work-keep on researching, keep on trying until you find the things that do work.
1. I prioritize sleep. I’m one of those that needs 9 hours of sleep. It’s incredibly inconvenient. No one has time to sleep 9 hours a night. I’ve tried so many times to live on less sleep, but it doesn’t work. Those that know me, know that I have a hard time not expressing all of my thoughts and emotions to everyone around me in my most healthy state, so when I’m tired, it’s not even worth the effort. I have 0 filter. I am mean. I get anxious. So when I start feeling my anxiety creeping up, I stop and think-am I really anxious or am I just tired? If I conclude that I’m just tired, I cancel things or rearrange my schedule. And I go take a nap. An hour of sleep can keep me from days of anxiety. This should be a no brainer. I recognize that my schedule is very flexible but I firmly believe that we make time for what is important to us. So at nine o’clock when you decide to watch just one more episode, you need to ask yourself “Is this show more important than a day free from anxiety tomorrow?” If you struggle to answer that question, let’s talk.
2. I prioritize exercise. Most people have heard that exercise is important when you are anxious and depressed. If you hate exercising, find the thing that you hate the least. There are hundreds of ways to get your heart rate up. Weight training is incredibly important, but for emotional regulation, cardio is what you are looking for. And please, if you haven’t been exercising-don’t start with running. You will hate it and you may never exercise again. I can hear people pushing back, “Well, that’s nice. I work full time and have three kids. I don’t have time to exercise.” You do. I always tell my clients if you have time for TV, you have time to exercise. Jog while you wait for your kid’s practice to finish. Run around with your kids at the playground, that will get your heart rate up. 20 minutes is all you need. I would love to help you figure this out.
3. I practice mindfulness. I’m a super practical person and honestly even writing this bothers me. It sounds so out there, so let me break it down. Anxiety generally is worrying about things in the future that we have no control over or agonizing about how to change our present reality. When I say I practice mindfulness, this is what I mean. When I start getting anxious, I pause and I say to myself “What is real right now?” I simply acknowledge the reality of each of my body parts. My feet are on the ground, they are touching the sidewalk. My knees are sore. I am sharing a space with (fill in the blank). My arms are at my sides. I go through as many body parts that I need to in order to bring my thoughts down to reality. When my mind quickly begins to wander away, I start again “Where are my feet?”
4. I tell someone that I’m feeling anxious-in the moment. It’s really vulnerable to share your current emotions, it’s much easier to talk about them after the fact. But I don’t find as much healing when I share later. I make it sound better than it was. I downplay the significance. So I push myself and reach out in the moment. I ask my friends to pray for me and allow them into my moment. This is hard to do in person, but I’m telling you it’s powerful. When you can’t muster enough strength to share in person, text someone. I’m grateful for texting. Everything feels bigger and scarier when you don’t tell anyone. I find that when I share that I’m anxious, it takes the power away. But let me caution you, keep that group small. Share with people that you know will pray for you and will stand with you. I have found that when I have shared with people that don’t get it, I feel like they downplay my feelings and it makes me even more anxious. I feel ashamed. Text me or even tell me in person! I’d love to pray and walk with you through this journey!
5. I create a time to be anxious. I do want to acknowledge that sometimes my anxiety is so visceral that this doesn’t work. But if I can catch my spiraling thoughts early on, this has worked for me. When I find myself getting really worked up about something, I tell myself, right now I can’t deal with these feelings, I will think about these feelings later tonight. I even plan a specific time that I can be anxious, from 3:00-4:00 pm as an example. Personally I have found that one of the worst things I can do is tell myself to stop being anxious. It never works. So for me, I don’t try to tell myself not to be anxious, I just give it a space and place. Most of the time I don’t end up using my allotted time to be anxious.
6. I accept it. The more you fight anxiety, the more it will fight you back. When you are in the midst of having a panic attack the worst thing you could do is try to not have a panic attack. It will just get worse. Ride the waves. Make accommodations if needed. The more you fight it the longer it lasts.
7. I try to remember that my anxiety is not who I am, it’s just a strong emotion I am experiencing. When I feel anxious, it helps me to say out loud “I’m anxious. But I’m also passionate. I’m also friendly. I’m also a fighter and a seeker of truth.” My anxiety is one of the many aspects of who I am.
8. I try to remember that anxiety comes in waves. I have gone up to a year of being fairly anxiety free. When I would go long periods of time without anxiety and then it would resurface, I would feel despair and assume that I was going back to square one and that all the work I have done was worthless. There is nothing true about that. There is a good chance you will experience periods of anxiety your whole life. The less I freak out when a wave of anxiety hits, the less damage it seems to create.
9. I try to refocus my attention. This has looked differently for me in different seasons. When I have an idle mind, that is when I tend to get anxious and crazy. Sometimes it just helps to binge a TV show, which I usually would never encourage. Read a book. Take up a cause. Learn how do something new. Learn about something new. Reach out to someone in need. Anxiety is obsessive thinking, try to obsessively think about something else. Once I was in a deep pit of anxiety and a friend called me and told me she was in the middle of a horrible panic attack and asked if I could come over. The request took my attention off myself and onto to her needs. All of a sudden, my anxiety no longer mattered.
10. The last one is the worst one, but I have to say it has been the most helpful for me. You have to fake it until you make it. Even when I am anxious I do the next planned thing anyway. Even if it means taking more medication for bit, you need to get out of bed, you need to get dressed and fake it until you make it. One step at a time. The first time I heard that, I was appalled. When I am anxious all I want to do is curl into the fetal position and cry. But if I let myself do that, it’s just going to get harder and harder to take that first step. Keep your expectations low for yourself. Celebrate that you showered and got out of bed. Don’t expect to be yourself. Silently be angry at all the happy people around you (I think we would all be surprised at how many other people feel the same way we do). Acknowledge that it doesn’t feel fair that everything is so hard for you. I’m not asking to change your feelings, I’m saying you must act in spite of them. If people ask what is wrong, and they are not safe, tell them that you feel sick. But stick it out. I’m usually pleasantly surprised by how I feel by the end of the event. Then when it’s over, go back into your fetal position and cry and be grateful that you made it. Then get up and do it again. I promise you the more you push on the front end, the less time you will spend pushing.

If you read my blogs, you know that I love Jesus and my world centers around my faith. In this blog post, I have intentionally kept faith out of it. I feel like there are many wounded Christians out there that have been given trite answers to deep agony and distress. So take a breath. We will go there. We seek will Jesus in the midst of our pain. But today, just look at the list, pick one you haven’t tried and try something. Don’t focus so much on changing how you feel, but just focus on changing something you do. Share what you did below and if it helped. We will meet again soon.

We are in this together,

Lisa

Anxiety Series #2: Medication

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As I write this blog post, I feel Iike after every paragraph I need to add a disclaimer. I feel the need to over explain my point. Everyone’s journey with anxiety is so different. There is so much room in this series to be misunderstood.
My prayer is that moving forward God would speak clearly to those that need to hear what I say and for those who are not ready to hear it, that my words will land on deaf ears.

All that said, we are going to dive right in. Let’s talk about medicine. I have been on a anxiety medication for over 10 years. There is less stigma now more than ever around being a Christian and taking anxiety/depression medication, but I still feel like we have a long way to go. To learn more about the beginning of my journey with anxiety, read Stand With Me. Like I shared in my previous post, my anxiety re-entered my life when I was asked to travel for a couple weeks for work. At first, I was able to hide it pretty well. My job was flexible enough that I could go home during the day and take “breaks” (curling into a ball and crying) if I needed to. Bryan’s job was flexible enough that if I needed to physically see him, he could sneak out the back door to calm me down. If people asked, I would just respond that I wasn’t feeling well. I could only fake it so long. Anxiety is an all-consuming force and sooner rather than later I began to crack. My breaks were no longer enough. There were only so many times Bryan could leave the office to see me without further explanation. We decided it was time to take action, this life was no longer sustainable. This no longer felt like a phase that was going to pass. If we let it, it would become our new way of life.
I started to see a counselor.
As a child, I saw several counselors as I was working through my separation anxiety. My vague memories are positive. It felt really different this time. Let’s be honest, I think a huge piece of it was the counselor. The first time I saw him he told me that he actually had not met with a lot of people that struggle with anxiety. He handed me a book and we methodically went through it together. I felt like we kept going in circles with no real progress.
I tried to pray more.
I knew all the verses about fear, worry and anxiety. The bible tells us to cast all our cares on him, I was trying-but it didn’t seem to be working.
I asked other people to pray for me.
When my prayers seemed to go unanswered, I thought maybe God would listen to someone else.
I tried to read The Bible more.
I knew that God’s word has power, but as much as I tried and tried to read the Bible more, all the words seemed to blur together.
I tried to retrain my mind and take my thoughts captive.
But it was still getting worse. It felt as if my mind had been captured by anxiety, not the other way around. My breaks became longer and more frequent. Bryan had to humble himself and tell his boss about what was going on. We were doing all the things that we knew to do, but nothing seemed to be working.
So I started taking Paxil.
I felt so guilty about taking anxiety medication. I felt like I had failed. Myself. Bryan. And God. But I knew something had to change, we could no longer live this way. I had always been a fighter, willing to take on whatever giant was in front of me. I had lost this fight, at least that is how I felt.

I remember the moment so clearly, it was about two weeks after I started taking Paxil. It was morning and it was time to get up. Mornings were particularly hard for me. For the last several months I could tell within minutes if the day was going to be a struggle. I opened up my eyes reluctantly. I felt different. Something had changed. I literally said out loud “Hi, there you are.” My anxiety was not gone, but I felt a little bit more like myself again. I felt a glimmer of hope. Before I move on, I want to make sure to address something. I know I was lucky. The Paxil worked for me and it worked pretty fast. Many people I know have had to try several different anxiety or depression medications before they were able to find one that worked.

Only after that was I able to seek different counsel, read my bible, reach out to people for prayer. Only after I started taking Paxil could I have clear enough thoughts to entertain the idea of taking them captive. Paxil created a pathway for me to begin healing. It gave me the space I needed to begin healing, which I continue to work on today. Paxil helped me get my footing so I could step on the path. It helped me begin my journey, but it was just the beginning.

I do believe that there are people whose anxiety is strictly chemical. If that is you, I rejoice with you that you live in a time when you have access to medication that allows you to live the way God intended for you. But my hunch is that most of us have a more complicated story. Our anxiety is full of genetics, generational patterns, childhood experiences, undealt with grief or trauma and/or circumstances. I think some of our anxiety is exaggerated by not eating well or by not exercising. I think that anxiety is usually super spiritual and super practical. I think it is chemical and it’s mental. I think for most of us it is a combination of several of these things.

For some of you reading today, you have been overcome by anxiety. You have become paralyzed and you can’t seem to crawl out of the pit. Make an appointment. Get on some medication. Create a clear path for healing.

For some of us, we have taken that step, we have worked through our guilt and shame around taking medication. We have some clarity of mind. But if you are anything like me, you just want to stay there. It’s super nice to take a pill once a day and move on with life, anxiety free.

But God calls us to more.

Because as I stated, most of our anxiety is complicated. It’s not just chemical. There is usually more. What is it for you? For me it’s trauma. It’s faulty thinking patterns that I let take over my mind instead of taking it captive. It’s eating sugar when I need to get on my knees. Its pride that keeps me from reaching out and asking for prayer. It’s me controlling my circumstances so I don’t have to be uncomfortable.
The path has been created and now it’s our job to start the journey. Not because we have to, but because God’s kindness compels us to more. I could stay on my medication for the rest of my life and not take any more steps to healing, and God’s love for me would never change. His grace would abound. But I also know that the closer I walk towards him, He meets me there. And my heart begins to change. It’s not just that my paralyzing anxiety goes away, I experience even deeper levels of peace and freedom.

Let me finish by saying this. I’m still on medication. Every year or so I try to lower my dose or go off of it. It hasn’t worked so far. But I also know when I’m not actively seeking deeper healing and peace, my medication can only take me so far. It can create a baseline, a place for me to breathe. But I want more than that. I don’t want to just exist on the baseline, I want to live in the depths of joy and peace that are available for me.

Where are you at today? What is your next step?

1. Are you a Christian who is struggling with anxiety? Have you done all the things? Have you sought prayer? Have you seen a counselor? Have you exercised regularly? Even after all of that is your anxiety paralyzing you? If so, make the appointment. If you need some help, let me know. I would love to walk with you.

2. Were you put on medication for anxiety a long time ago and have called it good? Has medication created a space for deeper healing to occur your life? Are you still seeking healing or are you content with the status quo? I promise you there is more! Dip into the deep my friend…..

We are in this together.

Lisa

Stand with me.

A series about anxiety.

Poster - Take A Stand (2)

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.

personhelpingperson

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 lisdschmidt@gmail.com. You are not alone my friend.
Lisa