Dear Friends, Anxiety is Not a Sin

Dear Friends, Anxiety is Not a Sin

I’ve been wrestling with this for a long time, but I think it’s time to share it. 

Anxiety is not a sin. 

My friends, if you are a Christian, and you have anxiety, breathe in the spirit-filled life of these words: 

Anxiety is not a sin.

There are people in my life who I love and respect who will tell me I’m wrong. But I don’t care. I am coming to believe that whenever there are multiple interpretations of something in the Bible, the one that brings the most life and freedom is probably the closest to being true. Jesus always brings life and freedom. He doesn’t bring more burden.

I'm Sorry for Disappearing. I've Been in the Battle

I owe you an apology and an explanation.

I haven’t written here in over a year. I promised you resources that I haven’t yet delivered.

I’m sorry.

Let me be real.

I have been in the anxiety battle. And, something had to give. Circumstances, anxiety, and believing the lies of the enemy kept me away. And for that, I greatly apologize. 

I also had a lot to learn, pride to repent of, and work Jesus needed to do — is still doing — in my heart and life.

When I started this blog, I was in a great season. It was the best my anxiety had ever been, things were going great, and God was clearly calling me to do this ministry thing.

I thought I had things all figured out. I thought I had the anxiety under control and that it would never get bad again. Boy, was I wrong.

A car accident, my nana getting sick and passing away, striving to do ministry in my own power, and the lies of the enemy all worked together to spin up the anxiety

But, there is good news!

What the enemy plans for evil, God uses for good. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

Over the past nine months I have been seeing a counselor. I have had great community with wonderful people speaking into my life. And I have gotten closer to Jesus. 

I have learned, and am still learning, a lot more about anxiety — both from a biological and spiritual perspective. And I can’t wait to share it with you.

I come to you as someone who is in this battle with you. I hope we can learn from, support, and encourage each other.

Obsession Becomes Guilt And Paralyzation - My Anxiety Story: Part 3

By the time I was a young adult I was married, had 2 kids, and my anxiety had gone from obsession to guilt and paralyzation.

If you haven't read the beginning of my story, please do that first:

I Don't Remember Not Having Anxiety - My Anxiety Story: Part 1

Anxiety Becomes Obsession - My Anxiety Story: Part 2

I Think I'm Going To Die - My Anxiety Story: Part 2.5

Remember in Part 2 I told you about my obsession with boys, and how I was using it to try to find the answers to the questions my heart was asking, and to fill that empty place in my soul? That started around middle school, but as I got older, it got worse, and I made a lot of decisions I regret.

"Maybe if I give him my body, then he will want the rest of me." Then, maybe, I would get the answers I was looking for. Maybe I would be valuable and enough, and feel better about myself. Maybe the pain and anxiety would go away.

During that time I did a lot of things that I regret, which led to a lot of feelings of guilt later.

The thing about anxiety is it amplifies feelings, and if we don't know how to stop it from doing that, it leads to paralyzation. At least it does for me.

I can't believe I did that. I'm a horrible person. If anyone knew about it, they would hate me. I can never serve God. This totally disqualifies me from everything. I don't deserve to be happy or enjoy life. What if, what if, what if....

This house is a mess. It's too much. I can't clean it. I'll never get it done. It's too hard. I don't know how to clean it. I don't want to. What if I don't get the dish clean enough and someone uses it? What if they get sick? I really should clean it. I'm a horrible mom. I'm a horrible wife. I'm a horrible person...what if someone comes over unexpectedly...then they will know I'm a horrible wife, and mom, and person...what if they decide I shouldn't be a mom because my sink is full of dishes...

These are just a couple of examples of my spiraling thoughts. Thoughts that would leave me paralyzed, obsessing over them. Obsessing over all the things that are wrong with me, and all the ways I am horrible because of the bad things I did, or the good things I didn't do.

This left me barely functioning. Much of my time was spent sitting on the couch obsessing about these things unable to get up and do things, like the dishes. Often times, trying to escape my thoughts on social media, or blogs about how to do better at all the things I felt I was failing at. I eventually did the dishes, when it got to the point where I had to, or someone else would do them for me. And, I would take care of my kids, and even spend time with them, but I wasn't fully there. In my mind, I was in a pit. A dark, shame-filled, scary pit.

I was surviving. I was hiding. I wasn't thriving. I wasn't living.

If you knew me then, I probably seemed functional. My kids were happy and taken care of. I was terrified of something bad happening to them, so I was a super germaphobe, and very over-protective. I had friendships, and saw my family a lot. On the outside everything looked normal (at least I think it did).

But, inside I was dying. The guilt and obsessing over things I did or didn't do would come and go. Sometimes, I wouldn't think about it at all. Then one day I would think of something, and that would lead to an out of control mental spiral, and back to the pit I would go. The rest of the anxiety that I've already talked about, and the panic attacks were still there too.

The thing is even when I was "okay" and not in that pit, it was still affecting me. I couldn't make decisions, even small ones, for fear that I would make the wrong decision and something bad would happen, or someone would get mad at me. Most of my actions and the decisions that I did make, or didn't make (not deciding is deciding) were fueled by a fear of someone getting angry with me, or someone not liking me. Or they were fueled by a fear of someone getting hurt, or something bad happening and it being my fault. Very often, I would get someone else, like my husband or my mom or dad to make the decision for me. "Is it okay if I do this?" "Should I do this, or this?" "How should I handle this?"

Everything was driven by anxiety and fear.

I was paralyzed, until Jesus told me to pick up my mat and walk. In this series about my story, I've shared some of the pain, fear and affects of anxiety in my life. Can you relate? Is fear and anxiety affecting you? Do you feel stuck in the pit, like you will never be able to climb out?

I can't wait to share with you how Jesus is healing me, how He wants to heal you too, and the tools/weapons He has given us for the battle.

I Think I'm Going To Die - My Anxiety Story: Part 2.5

Before we move on to Part 3 of my anxiety story, in which obsession turns to guilt and paralyzation in my young adult life, I want to talk about something else that happened when I was a teenager.

If you haven't read parts 1 and 2 of my story please do that first:

I Don't Remember Not Having Anxiety - My Anxiety Story: Part 1

Anxiety Becomes Obsession - My Anxiety Story: Part 2

My heart is racing. My chest is tight. It hurts. I can't breathe. I'm dizzy. everything looks strange. You're talking to me, but you sound so far away. I'm getting hot. Why am I sweating? I'm going to pass out. Oh God, I'm going to pass out! I have to get out of here RIGHT NOW! No really, I have to get out of here right now, OR I'M GOING TO DIE!

Am I having a heart attack? Nope. It's a panic attack.

Sometimes, I still can't tell the difference. Sometimes, I have to ask my husband whether I am having an asthma attack or a panic attack, so I know whether to take my inhaler. It feels the same, but he can tell the difference by listening to me breathe.

Disclaimer: My husband has medical training, volunteered in EMS for 10+ years, was a 911 dispatcher, and has witnessed me have many panic attacks and asthma attacks. If you ever feel like you can't breathe, don't mess around call 911!

My point is that panic attacks really do feel like death is coming quickly. Real physical symptoms happen in our bodies when we have a panic attack. It is not all in our head. (By the way, never tell someone with anxiety or depression "it's all in your head.")

I was a sophomore in high school when I had my first panic attack shortly after the tragedy of 9/11. I am pretty sure that is what triggered the Generalized Anxiety Disorder that I already had to invite Panic Disorder (panic attacks) to the party in my brain. And by party I mean more like a terrifying haunted Halloween party than a super fun birthday party.

Panic attacks can start from an actual fear, and I've had plenty of those where something I was worried about turns into a panic attack. But they also start for seemingly no reason at all (see the end of the post for what I learned was causing my panic attacks in department stores and restaurants).

I would often be sitting in a restaurant with loved ones having a great time, and all of a sudden, boom, panic attack. I have to get out of here now! And I would. I would get up and go in the bathroom or step outside for a few minutes before I could come back to the table.

Other times, I would be in the grocery store. That's a lot scarier than a restaurant because I can't just leave without buying my stuff. What if I pass out before I get out of here? After I had kids it got even worse, what will happen to the kids if I pass out?

It is a vicious cycle once a panic attack starts because the physical symptoms are so real, they scare me too. So the panic attack starts, then the fear of what if this is not a panic attack (or before being diagnosed, what the heck is happening to me?) and I pass out, or I'm having a heart attack, and I die? This fear heightens the panic attack, which then heightens the fear that something is really wrong, which heightens the panic attack, get the idea. And that's on top of whatever caused the panic attack in the first place.

The fear that I could actually be about to pass out, or die, was very real for me. I had a history of fainting since I was a small child. The feeling I get with a panic attack, and the feeling I would get right before fainting are the same. At this point in my life (29 years old) I have not actually fainted in over 10 years. In fact, I've known my husband for 12 years and he has never seen me pass out. But to this day, when a panic attack starts, I immediately think I'm going to pass out.

The fainting actually stopped after I had my 2nd heart surgery at 17 years old. No one ever linked the fainting to my heart condition, but it seems pretty obvious there was a connection. That doesn't stop me from thinking I'm going to pass out when a panic attack starts though. Something else could be wrong with my heart, I'll think, the doctors messed up before.

I found out about my heart condition at 15 years old, around the time the panic attacks started. I had one less invasive surgery at 16, which ended up causing more problems, so I had open heart surgery at 17. Then they collapsed my lung. I was diagnosed with the asthma after that, although again, no official cause was given.

So you can imagine that when a panic attack mimics heart and lung symptoms, it's pretty terrifying when one would come. And that, of course, would make the panic attack worse. Like I said, vicious cycle.

I made a lot of trips to the ER for what turned out to be panic attacks between 17 and 18 years old because no one was messing around. And when you volunteer and hang out at the fire department all the time, and mention that your chest hurts to a group of EMTs who are very protective of you and know about your heart surgery, you find yourself in the back of an ambulance before you can blink.

I so appreciate that even after this happened a couple of times and it ended up being a panic attack, they cared enough about me to not take any chances. My parents didn't take chances either, if I wasn't at the FD when it happened they would take me. If I was, as soon as I called them from the back of the ambulance, they would jump in the car to meet me at the ER. Without fail, every time.

If you are reading this, and you do not have anxiety or panic attacks, but you know someone who does, love them through it. Don't tell them they are crazy. Don't tell them it's all in their head. Don't tell them "it's just a panic attack." What if this time it's not? The physical symptoms are real, and they mimic symptoms of serious medical emergencies. If they think something might really be wrong, take them to ER to make sure it's not more serious than a panic attack. And if it happens again, do it again. This is especially important in the beginning as they are learning what a panic attack feels like, and what works for them to calm the feelings. This communicates that you love them, and that you don't think they are crazy, and that you still love them. This is super important for someone with anxiety.

Eventually, I learned how to talk myself through a panic attack, and my family and friends learned to talk me through ones that I couldn't talk myself through. And I learned to let them. I didn't need to go to the ER for a panic attack anymore because as I started to calm myself down the physical symptoms would begin to subside, showing me that it was not more serious, which would help me calm down more, get the idea again. This is a positive twist on the cycle.

I have had seasons where panic attacks make daily living nearly impossible. Like the year where I couldn't drive on the highway without the worst panic attacks I've ever had. My life revolved around the fear of driving on the highway. It's strange because driving around used to be one of the things I did to calm myself. Until, one day I had a panic attack behind the wheel. And then it happened again. After that I was so terrified of having a panic attack, and what if I really passed out driving, that I would bring them on as soon as I got on the highway.

There were times when I had to pull over on the side of the highway because I was shaking so bad and so scared. It got to the point where I would do whatever I had to do to not drive on the highway. If I had to or wanted to go somewhere that required highway travel I would beg people to go with me. Sometimes, I would just have them drive, but when I was trying to get over it, I would drive, but have them there in case a panic attack started. Then they would drive.

This was a few years ago, and I can honestly say I can usually drive on the highway now without a problem. Rarely, a panic attack will start (like a few months ago when I was completely lost, and my GPS wasn't working, and it was dark), but I use the tools I now have for the battle, and call on the One who calms me.

It has been a long road to get to the place today where I can say that anxiety and panic do not control me. They are not in charge of my life anymore. I have peace and joy most days instead of crippling fear and worry. And when it does come, I have Jesus to lean into, and the tools He has given me to battle it, so it is not crippling anymore. It is my hope that this series and the ebook that I am working on will help lead you to find healing in Him as well, and give you some of the tools He has given me. If you would like to be among the first to know when the ebook is ready please subscribe below.

But before Jesus began to heal my anxiety, it was not only crippling, it became completely paralyzing. That is what I will share in Part 3.

Before I go, let me share something life changing that I learned about why I was getting panic attacks in department stores, restaurants, and other public places. It's the lights. When we have a panic attack everything looks funny, it's hard to explain, but I've seen it explained as a feeling of "unreality." Fluorescent lights are always flickering, even when we don't see it, and they actually cause us to see things in the same way that we see things when we have the "unreality" feeling. This actually tricks our brain into thinking we are having a panic attack. And because of that cycle, it causes a panic attack to start. Now that I know that, I get much fewer panic attacks in those places. I no longer go in with the fear of having one, so that helps. And if I do have one, I can usually tell myself it's the lights, find somewhere comfortable to look or move to a different isle, and I'm okay. So if you have panic attacks in those places and you don't know why, hopefully that helps.

Photo By Luigi Morante Cropped to fit. Used under Creative Commons License

Anxiety Becomes Obsession - My Anxiety Story: Part 2

I don't really want to write this. It is hard and embarrassing to share this part of my story. People I knew in real life during this time might see it. What will they think?

But I am learning to find my identity in the One who created me, not in the ones who judge me. And I am trying to embrace the calling He gave me to use my experience to help point others to Him and the grace and healing He offers. So, I pray, "Jesus, make me brave," and I begin to type.

As I grew into a teenager my childhood anxiety (read about that in Part 1) grew with me. What started as fears of bad things happening combined with my feelings of never being good enough, and took on a life of it's own.

The teen years bring their own doubts, fears, and identity struggles. It's a time of figuring out who we are, where we fit in the world, and what our value is.

For me, as for so many others, it was a time of begging for answers to the questions: Do I matter? Am I lovable? Am I loved? Do I fit?

I tried to find my answers in relationships with boys. If I could find a boyfriend to answer yes to these questions then my heart would be okay. There are so many issues with this approach, which I will address another time, but in reality my heart would never be okay until I learned to find the answers in Jesus. The One who created us is the One who gets to determine our value.

I didn't know that then, and for now I want to focus on how my anxiety turned my search to answer those questions into obsession...with boys.

My anxiety has a way of turning a thought into a mental grenade. If something triggers it, it explodes and imbeds shrapnel in every crevice and corner of my mind. Once that happens 90% of my mental energy focuses on removing the debris and finding relief for the pain. The other 10% is reserved for basic life functions like barely breathing and putting on a mask to get through the day.

So in high school, the grenade was my identity and self-worth. Of course, I didn't know I was asking all of these questions, or that I was trying to find answers in unhealthy ways. That realization came from later reflection. What I knew was that I was hurting, and that when I had a boyfriend who I thought loved me I hurt less. Until he hurt me, then I hurt more. Until he loved me again, then I hurt less. And it was a vicious spiral with the hurt getting deeper, and the less getting lesser. But it turned into obsession, usually with one particular boy, although there were a few others mixed in. I was only okay, when I had a boyfriend.

But, I wasn't really okay then either. Sure I felt a little better, but then there was the constant fear of losing him again, and the fact that a guy will never be enough to fill that deep empty longing in our souls. There is only One who can fill that place. One who loves us unconditionally. One who loves us enough to die for us. But that truth hadn't invaded my heart yet, so I was obsessed with filling that void and trying to remove the shrapnel in my mind and heart.

The truth is, boys are not the only thing I've obsessed about in this anxiety battle. Throughout my life it's been different things. And again, like in part 1 it would get worse before it got better. In part 3, I'll talk about how it paralyzed me in my early adult life.

Is your anxiety like a mental grenade? Is it causing you to obsess about something? Boys? Girls? Popularity? Your looks? Sports? Your family? Your job? Your children? Your ministry? Anything?

You are not alone. I have met the One who will defuse the grenade. He wants to defuse yours too. It is my hope and prayer you will find hope and healing in Jesus through this series, and through the free resource I am creating for you. It is almost ready, and if you would like to be among the first to know when it's available please subscribe below. I will happily send you an email when it's ready.