I love Spring! A lot of people view January as their “fresh start,” but for me it’s always been the spring season. I feel lighter, I feel happier. I’m actually winter’s biggest fan (I love the holidays and cold weather – I know, I’m one of those weird people), but by February I am DONE. I’m so ready for the sunshine and a nice, fluttery breeze.
However, this spring is really special for me. I have been through a lifelong battle with anxiety (I’ll be 30 in June), and I have recently experienced what I believe to be true healing. While healing from God can come at ANY time of the year, I think it was so sweet of Him to put all of the pieces together right as the seasons are changing. It truly is a new season for me.
Only days ago, I felt prompted to write down my story (originally just for my eyes to see). The more I typed, with no filter and no blog “audience” in mind, the more I felt the Lord telling me that I needed to share this publicly to really get the weight off of my shoulders. I was terrified, but I am SO glad I did! I truly felt a literal weight lift from me.
I’m sharing this here at Interior Inspirations because I believe our hearts have to be healthy for us to be effective in our homes. VERY often I believe women have private battles, struggles and pain that they never share with anyone. The result is feeling like a caged animal who is going crazy, while trying to take care of our homes (and husbands and children, if that applies). Running on emotional fumes will ALWAYS catch up with you! I share this so that perhaps others can find freedom and total release from their prisons. Below is the post from my personal blog, Our Happily Ever Afters.
This post has been in my head for a long time, but now the timing is right (as I explain at the end of my story). I share this because I believe women are struggling and we all need to encourage each other and be honest about where we are in our journey. This is my experience, and it’s very scary for me to hit “publish.” But I also feel a great sense of release in writing all of this down, and I believe that writing things out can really aid in healing. It won’t surprise you after reading my story, but I am fighting against tremendous worry that something I say will be misconstrued or come out the wrong way. But I am trusting that God has given me these words; I sat down and didn’t stop typing for a long time. It all came from Him, and I truly thank Him for the work He is doing in my life!
My Anxiety Story
My first memory of complete and total anxiety was when I was in elementary school. I believe it was 4th grade, and we were doing timed multiplication tests. This is how they chose to teach us our multiplication facts, and it created an absolutely crippling feeling of panic inside of me. I remember sitting there, feeling sick to my stomach and almost near tears as the teacher’s assistant would pass out the tests face-down. Then on “GO!” we would turn our sheets over and work furiously to complete it. The worst part of the whole process was that those who made a certain score didn’t have to take it again. So each week less and less people were taking it, and I remember wanting to cry with relief when I finally – FINALLY – made a passing score.
I’m the oldest of four children, and I definitely have the firstborn personality. I’m a leader, and I’m very meticulous about certain things. I want to get everyone organized and where they need to be. Growing up, I felt a huge weight of responsibility to help my mom and make sure she wasn’t stressed. It’s important to note that my mom never said this to me – I just put it on myself. I was a natural leader and took pride in helping.
Growing up in a pastor’s home contributed greatly to my anxiety, and NOT at ALL because of my parents. I wouldn’t change my upbringing for the world. My parents were excellent in how they parented us, in the sense that there were no expectations put on us just because we were a “pastor’s family.” Our standards were simply because we were Christians. However, people in general didn’t have this attitude. I sensed that people were always watching. I observed several times the betrayal of trust. While these were generally isolated incidents, they made a very lasting impression on me as a little girl, and very much contributed to my emotional health.
Babysitters would watch us while my parents had to be away and we were just normal kids acting like normal kids do. My parents trusted this babysitter and then they turned right around and gossiped about us to others (and exaggerated things that had happened).
Another example: a church member stopped by our house to drop something off unannounced. My mom was a stay-at-home mom with four kids, the youngest being an infant. It came back to us that this person was telling others all about what our home looked like in great detail, even a few dishes being in the sink.
I watched people leave the church with no explanation; for trivial reasons. I watched my parents devote themselves to loving people and serving in ministry and then struggle to understand why people would leave (usually we would hear through the grapevine that a family had left; they would rarely tell Dad in person). Sometimes I think people believe that no one will notice if they just decide to switch churches. But every single person and family in a congregation matters, and my family would feel the sting.
PLEASE don’t misunderstand me: I mention these examples NOT because I’m bitter against the church (and as I said, it was overall a VERY positive experience!). I only share because it gives background as to my major trust issues with people, and I found myself translating these things into drawing closer and closer to my family and VERY small circle of trusted friends. And in doing that, I became obsessed with not disappointing anyone. I didn’t want to ever be a burden or cause hurt to anyone, because I had watched hurtful things happen in ministry. Keep in mind, this is just how my little girl mind translated these situations.
We moved every 4-5 years (on average), and this contributed greatly to my anxiety. Being the new girl was a very difficult experience for me. We moved to Missouri when I was going into 3rd grade, and I remember KNOWING that those girls were looking me over. I became convinced that I wasn’t good enough for them. I didn’t know how to navigate starting over with new friendships.
All through childhood and into middle school and high school, I never truly wanted to be involved in the activities or priorities of the popular, “rich” crowd. I knew logically that I desired my family exactly as it was, and I felt much more comfortable with like-minded friends. It was truly a desire to be liked, not necessarily included. I just wanted people to think I was nice to be around and I wanted them to enjoy my personality. I desperately wanted to know that I wasn’t disappointing to them; that I wasn’t annoying or “too much.”
Since being a little girl, I was always convinced that people were talking about me behind my back. I believe this stems from my experiences with a few people in our congregation, but it was just always something I felt was absolutely true.
In high school, I was once again the new girl. We moved when I was going into 9th grade and it was a brutal time to be the girl from Missouri who moved to the South and started attending a private school in Northeast Jackson (for those not familiar, there was a lot of old money and social clout). I remember desperately wanting to be liked. I truly didn’t understand some of the terms they were using and what was in style to wear. I distinctly remember being invited to a few things for the different groups to audition me, so to speak. There were several instances where I would say something and I noticed glances between the other girls to each other. This only heightened my already-ingrained “knowledge” that no one really liked me and I would be the brunt of their jokes. I was dating a very popular guy that all of the girls had a crush on, and then he broke up with me (which was humiliating as the new girl). Granted, this was a very immature “relationship” but for my 9th grade self, it was just so embarrassing. In my all-consuming desire to not disappoint anyone and be liked, I also found that I absolutely craved affirmation. Most people do, but I think my anxiety seemed to go away for a bit when I was being affirmed.
This desire for affirmation and positive attention manifested in the form of relationships. I was always dating someone. Looking back, I really did genuinely like every guy I dated and I learned something from every single experience. In that regard, I wouldn’t change things. However, I look back at the pattern and I was never single. I loved the stability (or presumed stability) of being in a relationship and I found great security in that person liking me (because, with the exception of several dear friends, I was generally convinced people just tolerated me).
It’s important to note that I had (and have) a wonderful, close relationship with my dad. I think sometimes people look at girls who always have a boyfriend and say, “Well she must not be getting positive attention from her father.” That was absolutely not the case. This was simply how my anxiety about being liked and affirmed manifested outside of my family.
In college, I continued to date and generally I was able to keep my anxiety at bay. By this point I had made several lifelong, trusted girl friends (two from high school and one from college) and I never questioned whether they liked me or not. I always knew they loved me and that they truly desired a friendship with me. I was starting to believe that maybe not everyone thought I was annoying or unlikeable, and that these friends wanted to pursue a deep friendship with me. I trusted them and felt safe with them.
I did start to see manifestations of my anxiety happen around this time, in the form of compulsive and slightly addictive behaviors. I also struggled at certain points with purity in my thoughts and actions. I was very good at flirting and I thrived on male attention. It’s truly difficult for me to type that out, but it’s true. In a desire to be liked and affirmed, I really filled my tank up with the attention I got from being in a relationship or being in the “pursuit” stage of a relationship.
Once I got married, I was so incredibly thankful to God for the man He had given me. He was (and is!) so incredibly godly, patient, loving and wonderful. However, our time of dating created more anxiety with certain situations that happened and more of Satan’s lies started to consume my mind. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, like I was very lucky that Kurt wanted me. On some levels I felt like I didn’t deserve him. I knew full well what was unlovable about me and what my tendencies in my anxiety were. I had to completely change my pre-marriage mindset of enjoying male attention because I knew as a married woman that couldn’t continue (and I absolutely did not want that pattern to continue). It was a battle of my mind, and it was a very real battle. Committing to someone for life is very different than dating a different person every year or so, and for someone who had dated a lot, I committed to making a total mindset change. The thought of ever potentially disappointing my husband (and God) was absolutely crippling to me, and I desperately wanted to Kurt to feel like he had made the right decision in marrying me – whether that was in my homemaking skills, my ability to be a god wife, etc. (Again, so much of this was the internal dialogue and mindset I had experienced since being a little girl; it was ingrained in me and it wasn’t due to what my husband said or did.)
Into my adult married life, I worked with the Lord on my tendencies to seek affirmation and attention and I felt like I was gaining ground in those areas. However, the area of adult friendships was an absolute panic-inducing experience for me.
Once again, we were the “new people” when we moved for Kurt to start his new job. I was the pastor’s kid again, except I was an adult. I was also moving back into a situation where I had been a little girl, so those same skewed/false feelings came back.
From the time we moved back, the feelings of being a little girl came flooding back. I felt crippling anxiety over how I was perceived. I was desperate to know what people really thought of me. I was paranoid that something I said made someone upset. Or I would worry endlessly that I mishandled a situation or misread a person and did something completely wrong without meaning to.
Because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, I jumped into a LOT of ministries way too soon. I felt the compulsive need to help, and this stemmed back to how I felt as a little girl in the church. I saw ministries that needed people to serve, and – if I’m being completely honest – subconsciously I felt like it would help my dad if I jumped in and filled the need. Truly, there were times when I didn’t know if I was serving God or trying to help my dad. And this was NOTHING my dad ever put on me! He never ONCE said anything to make me feel like he was burdened or that he needed me to step in and fill all of these needs. I did it because I still had the mindset of being a little girl and wanting to fix things; I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.
Around this time we were asked to start an adult Lifegroup class. We had really not been here very long, but Kurt had always felt called to teach and I jumped to fill the need (of course, given my desire to please). This caused my anxiety to skyrocket. I watched my husband prepare lessons and hardly anyone was coming at that point (and there WERE faithful members in those early days and their presence was definitely encouraging). But I was so stressed and anxious for him, because I knew that men place so much value on the success of their work – and at church, this was Kurt’s “work.” At one point, I remember telling him “I grew up watching my dad serve in ministry and at times go through really hard and hurtful experiences. It’s so difficult to now watch my husband go through this too.”
After a year of very small attendance and (seemingly) no growth on the horizon, my husband tried to step down from teaching. However, there was no one to take his place, so we knew we had to stay.
As an adult, I became very acutely aware of how much of an introvert I am. Again, I think a lot has to do with my upbringing. Home was always a very safe and private place, where I didn’t feel judgment (either real or falsely perceived). Being in leadership for a Lifegroup, coupled with the difficulties in how I was perceiving my friendships, made for a nightmare in my thought life. I didn’t want to fail as a supportive wife and helping to lead this Lifegroup, and I felt all out of whack with my friendships (not knowing where I fit in or what anyone really thought of me). But all I wanted to do was stay at home alone and not have to talk to anyone. I was afraid anything I said was wrong or came out the wrong way. I convinced myself that I wasn’t wanted in a friendship group (even though I was being invited to things). Even though I found comfort in being alone (as an introvert), I was in great despair in feeling lonely. All during this time, no one truly knew the extent of what I was feeling and how deeply I was struggling.
Everything came to head around the time of my youngest daughter’s birth. Her birth in and of itself was emotionally traumatic. It was a failed VBAC, which affected me more emotionally than I had even prepared for. I am completely and totally thankful that she was born safely, and I truly know that there are much worse stories. But for me at the time, it was a very difficult experience. For whatever reason, that triggered me to really examine myself emotionally. It has been a healing process and I feel that now I’m at a point of freedom, praise the Lord!
Over the past 2 years, I’ve struggled to acknowledge that I deal with certain levels of social and emotional anxiety. But over that last two years, I have identified and acknowledged these things about myself in my sinful human nature:
- My mind struggles with a compulsive dialogue that tells me people think I’m unlikeable or “too much.” I struggle greatly with feeling misunderstood.
- One of my triggers in feeling anxious is when I feel I have disappointed someone. I feel crippled and unable to cope.
- One of my triggers in feeling very anxious is leaving my children with people other than family. Because of my history, I don’t trust easily at all. Subconsciously I think I want to protect my children from being talked about (even though I know this is irrational and only because of a few singular experiences in my childhood).
- I struggle with people pleasing.
- I approach things with a perfectionistic tendency because I don’t want them to be disappointed in me. This comes out in planning vacations, events, doing things for my family so they don’t have to, etc. I fight daily against being absolutely terrified that someone is disappointed in me. While I enjoy things like trip planning and doing things for family, I have to be very careful about keeping my mind in a healthy place. I can quickly become paranoid that I haven’t planned something right, or that it’s my job to make sure everything in my family (immediate and extended) is taken care of.
- I know that in my flesh, I desire affirmation and attention and I need to make sure those are always coming from the right sources.
- I know that I can exhibit compulsive and occasionally addictive tendencies in trying to cope with my anxiety.
As you imagine, it is really hard for me to be honest about who I am in my human state without Christ. C.S. Lewis called anxiety an “affliction” and not a sin. We are all afflicted with anxiety in certain ways, and it manifests more for some than others.
I have found that only Jesus can transform the mind. There are of course medical solutions and medications (my anxiety does not merit these actions right now), but ultimately our source of healing has to come from Him. HE has to be the source of love, affirmation, self-worth, and everything else.
Over the course of the last 2 years, I’ve done some really difficult soul-searching, but I’ve also seen the hand of God in my life more than ever before. We’ve seen our Lifegroup grow to 30 people attending regularly on Sunday mornings (with more coming each week – totally and completely the work of God!), and I’ve found the perfect areas of ministry for me. I’m learning to navigate adult friendships in a healthy way and not live in a state of paranoia. I’ve learned to give my “Best Yes” (thank you, Lysa Terkeurst!) and recognize my social triggers. I’ve learned that the constant dialogue of lies is directly from Satan. He wants me to believe that no one likes me. He wants me to believe that I’m a disappointment to everyone. He wants me to believe that people are talking behind my back. He wants me to believe that I’m not enough. As hard as it is for me to believe it sometimes, those are all LIES. I’m definitely an imperfect person and I have definitely mishandled some things in my life, but I have to refuse to be crippled any longer by the lies Satan wants me to believe.
I will turn 30 in a couple of months, and I can’t wait! This is because of what God is doing in my life, and I am ready to start a new decade with the tools God has given me to combat the affliction of anxiety. I am living proof that someone can look perfectly fine on the outside, but on the inside their mind can be a place of disarray and unrest. We are ALL struggling in one way or another, and for the longest time I didn’t even know where to start in explaining my journey.
We are going to welcome Susan Goss as our speaker for our women’s Christmas event, and I’ve heard amazing things about her. She’s friends with my friends Kelly and Laurie, and she does seminars called “Addicted to Anxiety.” I talked with Susan on the phone last night about our event and was so blown away by her heart. I just adore her already. After speaking with her, I decided to watch the video of one of her seminars. At the end, one of her ministry team members shared her testimony. At the very beginning, she said “My first memory of anxiety was in elementary school doing timed multiplication tests.” I started to cry uncontrollably. She then went on to talk about how she moved often and how it felt to be the new girl. So much paralleled my experiences, and I knew the Lord was telling me to write out my story. It scares me to death (believe me) to be this transparent, when I’ve truly never been this publicly transparent in my entire life. I’ve never felt safe enough to be this honest. But this is a part of healing for me, and watching Susan’s seminar is what pushed me to normalize this and share my journey.
Easter week is the perfect time to write this (which I’ll explain in another post – God is teaching me SO MUCH about His resurrection!!). I am going forward with honesty and transparency, and I praise the Lord that HE has overcome the world!