Originally published Friday, 31 July 2015.
It began when we were experiencing conflict in a place that I’d always felt safe before. The darts were coming from both sides and I felt like I stood in the middle, redirecting arrows and praying the damage would be minimal. It wasn’t my fight, but I witnessed the whole destruction of a place my heart holds dear. Maybe you’ve been caught in a similar place before: the bystander as rockets launched where fellowship once dwelled.
Simultaneously, I had taken on too much. I was hosting a playgroup for moms and children in my home every Wednesday morning and a book study for women every Wednesday night. In between those two activities were the daily ones that all moms juggle: lunchtime, naptime, Kindergarten pick-up, soccer practice, dinner, and off to church they’d go just before the doorbell would ring for my sweet book study friends. Those Wednesday nights truly fed my soul and nourished my friendships. There is no way I would have believed anyone if they had told me a storm was coming. I cherished every part of it…but I had packed too much good stuff into one day. The pressure to clean the house before playgroup and after (all while juggling the lives of three little boys) was wearing me out long before I noticed the stress. There are worse things, I know. Everyone’s exhaustion looks different. I battle the idol of perfectionism and control. I was unraveling with each passing week and I was the last to know.
When my heart felt like it had been shattered into a million different pieces by people I loved and none of them had meant any harm at all…we knew it was back. No one was to blame. Realistically, everything was fine. The hurt came from my own mind as I internalized every single comment. Without wanting to relive pain, I fell into a cycle of recalling jab after jab after jab…none of which were ever really jabs but were normal components of any usual conversations. Light-hearted sarcasm, loving inside jokes, and a whole bucket of innocent silly stuff felt irrationally heavy and personal. I cried for hours without ceasing, only alarming because I tend to produce very few tears compared to the other women I know. I cried for five days after that weekend. On days four and five, I began buying into the lies the enemy sent my way and found myself sobbing on the kitchen floor almost on the hour. On any given day, I am ten times more likely to be caught dancing on the kitchen floor or singing into a wooden spoon while I cook dinner. I’m known for being happy…a label I’ve found to be unusually complicated. This overwhelming darkness? It was all kinds of wrong.
I cancelled everything that week. I was undone. My beautiful friend Sarah mercifully and gently nailed it a few weeks later, “You were under attack,” she said in her gentle way. In retrospect, that is so clear. Except…you never know that in the midst of anxiety.
I was absolutely under attack. I had been growing deeper and deeper in my relationship with Jesus. God had never been so real. The term for this is typically “a spiritual high.” Only four months before, I’d been on my first international mission trip and had fallen completely in love with the whole thing: Jesus, God’s work in the world, missions on a deeper level, the country I had visited, my brothers and sisters in Christ across the ocean, all of it! It only makes sense that of course, I had ticked off the devil. He wouldn’t win. It only drew me into the arms of Jesus again and again for days as I cried and prayed, “Hold me, Jesus. Please, hold me.” I’m not exaggerating. He heard my cry and I knew He was there. I was awaiting rescue.
Critical to this story of anxiety’s deceptive nature is the fact that I am surrounded by people who love me. My husband is absolutely my best friend and we are totally and completely a team. We support and love one another unconditionally. He tried to speak truth and love into my life. The enemy’s random lies of “failure” and “not enough” were loud.
My children are treasures and like any Mommy would, I tried to hide my sadness and feelings of uncontrol. My tears were too obvious for our middle child who caught me crying and warmly said, “Did someone hurt your feelings, Mommy?” “Yes,” I said…unsure of who to blame. “Was it Daddy?” he presumed despite the fact that his Daddy never makes me cry, ever. “No, buddy. It was a friend.” When he asked who the friend was, I knew I had no answer and lovingly ended the conversation with, “Mommy is just fine. Everyone feels sad once in a while. Don’t worry, ok?”
My life is full of friends and family, many who live nearby. My church family is wonderful. Hear me when I say this: Hurting people will not always reach out for help…especially if they don’t know what hurts.
One of my faraway friends is a spiritual mentor to me and texted me back and forth for days, often with prayers and scriptures. She felt helpless so many miles away and contemplated calling my husband. Anxiety is tricky because none of us really know how to make it stop: not the loved ones and certainly not the victims of the internal war. There are people who loved me yet I repeatedly told my husband that no one cared anymore. It didn’t matter how many times he listed people who loved me, I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything but the imagined loneliness. When I turned to him and said, “I’m just beginning to see myself the way other people see me. I’m a nuisance,” he knew I needed real intervention. I remember how much I believed those lies. While you do not know me well, I am here to tell you: nothing about my regular disposition is remotely that gloomy. The attack of anxiety and depression is brutal and it is real.
Friends, this level of anxiety only lasted for a week but it had been creeping in for some time. My closest friend had been insisting that I see my doctor for a low-dose “chill pill” for well over a year as she watched me prevent and over plan for every possible worst-case-scenario. She happens to be in the medical field. Not coincidentally, another medical friend had told me a year earlier to call if I ever needed a chat. Seriously. I was a frantic ball of stress for a season. I didn’t even remember this, but on the worst day of my life, my bestie knew who my husband needed to call for a little intervention. I’ll never forgot the relief I felt when I heard the bang on my door and a church friend said, “We’re just going to talk.” Moms need to talk. Women need to talk. Those suffering from the weight of anxiety or depression desperately need to talk.
Jesus sent a life-boat. Rescue.
May I tell you the brilliance of the situation here? It made all the difference in the world that the person who showed up to talk is someone close but distant enough that I believed what she said. I wouldn’t have listened to my brother, my closest friend, my husband, or my parents the same way. If you or someone you love is battling anxiety, send in a Jesus-loving, gentle, wise person of the same gender who can be trusted to give sound advice but isn’t so close that it will feel…obvious. I believed this church friend’s wisdom because I didn’t feel as though she had to love me. Her presence wasn’t a reminder of any other person’s relationship with me. It was a reminder of God’s love for me.
For me, the solution was very simple. My anxiety had been a minor issue once before, after my second child was born. Therefore, diagnosing it again wasn’t rocket science for my family Practicioner and life went on with a tiny, little, low dose prescription that I lovingly refer to as my “chill pill.” I’m back to my normal self. Life has hiccups, but who doesn’t have a bad day once in a while? For the most part, I’m back to dancing on the kitchen floor and belting lyrics into a spatula. The playgroup met again the next week. I moved my book study to my Sunday School classroom to cut back on my constant Wednesday cleaning madness. Perhaps the chill pill helped me to lower my expectations of myself, which was my texting friend’s diagnosis the whole time. Life has resumed its sometimes fast and sometimes peaceful pace. The people who weren’t in my presence that week hardly even knew there had been a little storm. Jesus has been with me through all of it.
Why in the world would I so publicly tell the most embarrassing story of my life? As I write this, I’m still not convinced that I’ll really post this. If you’re reading this…bravery won! Hooray!!!
I considered sharing this with you when I read a text from a hurting friend today. She is in the trenches of anxiety. She texted me because I’ve lived it. The woman who came to my rescue? She has lived it. And what if you are living it? You desperately need someone to tell you that you’re going to be okay.
You will be okay. The clouds will lift. The storm will pass. You will feel the warmth of the sunshine again. Sweet friend, may I recommend you chat with your primary care physician? My generic chill pill is cheap and allows me to be myself rather than the walking ball of chaos that I was feeling. A small thing can make a big difference. Your physician can walk you through the best option. There’s no shame in a chill pill. Mine allows me to live my life abundantly. …and I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. Many other women begin their days with the chill pill too! See? Not a thing. No worries here.
I want to leave you with this. I texted my anxious friend back with a suggestion and a prayer. My prayer is that it will encourage your heart, as well. If your friend is hurting, feel free to steal these words! I give you permission to copy and paste (just this once and just this response) if this little blurp is of any value to you or a friend in the midst of a storm. To God be the glory!
It really will get better. Jesus cares about your every thought. Find 5 minutes to be still with him and to rest in His grace. Think about how He has so perfectly carried you through the good and bad this far. Spend some time talking to him and breathing slowly in the quiet for 5 minutes. It helps me.”
“And I will pray for you right now.
Jesus, I pray that _________ will feel your presence, Lord. I pray that your calm will wash over her and she will know that her heart is safe with you. I pray that you will protect her mind and will speak your truth and goodness into her life so that her thoughts will be consumed by your overflowing joy.
In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”
My whole heart knows the freedom we can have in Jesus. I fully believe you will see the sunshine soon. I hope you won’t prolong your sadness the way I did. Jesus wants us to walk in the light. Hard times will come but we are people of truth and light. He will hold you. He is so faithful. If you are reading this and you are hurting, know that God sees you. May you be encouraged for His glory and may our struggles always point others back to Jesus.
From my heart to yours, ~Courtney
**Sidenote: Moms, my doctor calls my anxiety “Supermom Syndrome.” I’ve fallen into the sneaky trap of perfectionism enough times to know this: God never asked us to be Supermoms. Let it go! (I’m sorry that you’re singing from “Frozen” now.) Seriously. Be a real mom. Live authentically. Love large. Expect messes. Find beauty in a little bit of chaos. Life is too short to micromanage every detail. Some…yes! Supermom? Just. Stop. It. You’re welcome!