His words felt like a betrayal; every assertion an unwelcome exposition of the truth I was fighting so hard to deny. “We are going out to dinner after this appointment”, he said, “and I can tell you she won’t enjoy a minute of it. She won’t be the one to open the door to the restaurant for fear of what germs lurk on the handle. She will Purell her hands after touching the menu, wipe down her utensils with her napkin and avoid using the bathroom at all costs.”
We were at my therapist’s office and I was suddenly regretting inviting him along to my appointment. My intention in including my husband on this visit was so my therapist could tell him what she had told me; that my anxiety was not a personality flaw. She was supposed to explain to him that it all made sense; the combination of my type A personality, my family gene pool of “worriers” and the dramatic hormone shift and drop in serotonin as a result of pregnancy and childbirth had created these anxious moments and resulting behaviors. She was supposed to stick up for me and encourage him to be patient and supportive as I continued to work through it.
My husband had a different plan and it’s an understatement to say it took me by surprise. Fact is, he had been patient and he had been supportive and he had enough of both. He wanted his best friend back and he knew I was struggling immensely. He wanted to look at me and once again see genuine joy, rather than a smile that was trying to hide one fear or another. I can still see the look on my therapist’s face as she processed the reality of the information my husband lay before her. Her response was the very last thing I wanted to hear.
Have you ever heard of the man who was trapped on his roof as a result of a flash flood? Fearing for his life, he cried out to God to save him. Shortly after, a man in a small canoe rowed by and invited him in. “No thank you”, said the man. “I’ve prayed to God and I trust he will save me.” A short time later a police rescue boat came by and offered to bring the man to safety. Again he replied, “No thank you. God will save me.” As the flood waters continued to rise, a rescue helicopter flew overhead and lowered a rope ladder for him to climb aboard. Once again the man insisted that God would save him. He perished in the flood and, upon reaching Heaven, immediately asked God why he did not save him. And God replied, “My child, I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”
It wasn’t that I hadn’t considered medication before. I had, for about two seconds. I dismissed the need for medication entirely, much like I had been downplaying the reality of my current state for quite some time. To me, medication felt like raising the white flag. It was a surrender I wasn’t prepared for. I had prayed. Oh, how I had prayed. I felt like such a failure, like my faith wasn’t strong enough to reward me with healing. There was a stigma attached to this anxiety and an even larger one attached to taking medication for something I couldn’t see and didn’t entirely understand. If I had a broken leg, I’d put it in a cast. If I had diabetes, I’d take insulin. Why was it so hard for me to accept this? Was this God’s answer to my plea for healing? Was this my canoe?
I knew if I stayed on that roof for much longer, I would continue to be flooded with waves of anxiety that would carry me further and further from the person I once knew. The storm around me had continued to grow stronger, my obsessive-compulsive behaviors all the more consistent with someone who did not have it all under control. My therapist had given a name to my feelings. She had helped me connect the dots between my personality and need for control and the devastation I felt when that control had been taken from me with the loss of two babies to miscarriage. She had given me suggestions as to how to find a better balance between my worries and careful consideration of what was logical and what was based purely on fear. I had walked as far down the road to healing with her as she was able to lead me. I had much further to go and I was gripped with fear over taking the next step.
We all have a choice to make when we are faced with an uncomfortable or scary situation; fight or flight. In the midst of my anxiety, I felt helpless, unable to fight. When faced with a challenging situation, be it grocery shopping with the boys and wondering what germs they were going to be exposed to while happily sitting in the cart or the simple act of opening a door or pushing an elevator button, I immediately fled in fear. There was no sitting still and fighting the illogical worry over the germs. I ran to the closest solution; hand sanitizer, wipes, whatever I could use to “clean” the fear away. A close friend of mine who walked this road with me explained what I was feeling so well. She equated the panic associated with an anxious situation to stepping on an elevator. As the doors close, and you watch each button light up signaling the rise in floors, you identify a worry and feel the blood rush to your face, feel shaky and uneasy and your discomfort rises. While most would be able to think through the fear and stop the elevator, stepping off confidently onto the floor of reason and logic, those of us with anxiety careen recklessly to the top floor and, by the time we reach the top, our fear has turned to panic and we’ve convinced ourselves that the worst is bound to happen.
It wasn’t that I didn’t feel joy during the few years that my anxiety was at its worst. I took full advantage of being home with my boys and have such precious and beautiful memories of that time in my life. There was just this nagging uneasiness that traveled with me wherever I went. I compare it to standing outside on a beautiful summer night trying to enjoy the sweet air and continually having to swat at mosquitoes. I saw the beauty around me in my family and all the gifts God had given me, I absorbed all the love I was surrounded with and returned it tenfold. But all the while, I was distracted by the incessant worry.
I was dying to jump in that boat and wanted to climb the rope to the safety of the helicopter that would fly me away from all of this illogical nonsense. I was so tired of fighting for control that was never meant to be mine to begin with. I reluctantly agreed to try medication and began down what was a bit of a long and winding road to finding the right one and the right dose. Long story short, God brought me where I needed to be. Ironically enough, healing came with its own set of challenges, a new dose of shame and a heart full of mixed emotions.