The Truth About My Struggle With Anxiety

I have a confession to make (I can’t believe I’m telling you this). For the last year or so, my guilty pleasure has been watching One Tree Hill on Netflix. There are lots of themes that I appreciate about the show: redemption, reconciliation, and great music to name a few (I am actually listening to a radio station that is based on music from the show right now. “Run” by Snow Patrol is currently playing).

As I was planning this series, I knew that there would come a point when I would have to really expose myself and be very vulnerable in order to be effective. That day has come. Before I go further, check out this short clip from the final season of One Tree Hill to set the stage for the next part of our journey to becoming healthier, happier people:

Clay had experienced an incredibly traumatic event when his wife passed away. Years later, the effects were still haunting him (although he couldn’t see that). To him, he just had a sleeping problem that a few pills would solve. Something in him was either too afraid to acknowledge that he needed more help than he could give himself, or too afraid to uncover what the real issues were for fear of what he might discover. Later in the season, his counselor tells him that he “has to go back in order to leave it behind.”

In order to grow healthier and stronger, there are times when we must acknowledge that we need professional help. If our bodies are sick, we do not hesitate to call a doctor, but for some reason if our minds are sick, we ignore it and try to tuck it away. Maybe we are afraid of what others will think. Maybe we are afraid that if the people that love us really knew what was underneath the “I’m trying to keep it all together” smile, they would leave. The truth is that if we don’t own up to real issues, and seek the proper help for them, we are perpetuating the damage, and we are in fact hurting the people that we are so afraid will leave. If we are not healthy, we cannot offer our loved ones ourselves.

I believe that the best art comes out of an artist’s personal story: their joys, their pains, and all that has made them who they are (cue Brandi Carlile’s incredibly powerful song, “The Story”). So, dear friend, I want be raw and honest with you. Today’s topic comes out of tremendous healing that I have personally experienced in my life, and that I so deeply desire for others to experience as well.

A few years ago, my husband and I put our son to bed and then sat down on the couch to watch a tv sci-fi/mystery/crime show that we had recently gotten into. The show had never bothered me, but something in the plot line that night hit a trigger button that I had ignored for months. Suddenly my heart started pounding, I started sweating, shaking, and crying.

I had a full-on panic attack, and was suddenly thrown into a journey that was dark, ugly, and very long.  But it was absolutely necessary. There was so much baggage hiding in my closet that I had continued to pack down for years. The warning signs were there: I had become increasingly afraid of the world that we live in, irritable, distant in relationships, guarded, and more. But it took having a major panic attack, weeks of being unable to sleep, nightmares, and obscene levels of irrational fear for me to be willing to seek help through professional counseling.

I believe that there is a place for needing medication to assist with some mental well-being situations. In my particular situation, however, I wanted to combat my sickness without any medication unless a doctor found it absolutely necessary. I committed to attending my counseling sessions as scheduled, and doing my part outside of appointments to get out of the pit I had found myself in.

I want to emphasize something here that is absolutely essential: mental and emotional healing require being brave enough to look at the real issues in the face and fight back. We must be willing to face the fear, feel the fear, and move forward anyway. Baggage has to be unpacked that is dirty, filthy, scary, and even debilitating. The journey of mental and emotional well-being can (and most likely will) get messier before it gets better.

I had to reach a place where the pain of healing was less than the pain of staying the same. I was already living in what felt like my worst nightmare, so I was finally willing to unpack the “junk” in my heart that I was so afraid to face. It took me two years of intentional, intensive counseling to finally see the sun again in my spirit. With the help of a skilled counselor, and pressing hard into the Lord–our Creator and Healer–I was able to walk away with an entire toolbox to fight back against the fear, against the anxiety, against the panic.

And today, I am still living free.

As the video I shared above shows, there is a huge stigma about professional counseling. Most of us would prefer to be physically sick, with tangible reasons why we are broken than to acknowledge that there are some illnesses that are not fixed with physical means. I’m here to say that there is no shame in asking for help. Athletes don’t apologize for needing a coach to help them. Physically ill people don’t feel shame for needing a doctor. There is no shame in accepting help when some issues are too big to deal with alone.

If the weight of your world is unbearably heavy, and you feel yourself sinking, please don’t ignore the warning signs. Seek out a licensed counselor that shares your values and faith, that you feel comfortable talking to, and that has a track record of effective treatment.

 

Run Hard. Love Strong.

~Haley~

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