My Anxiety Battle

I am a Christian and I battle with anxiety. More specifically, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) is when you have irrational, excessive worry that is all consuming and strong enough to interfere with daily living and activities.

Now, some anxiety is normal-everyone has some normal level of anxiety. Like before a big test, public speaking, a big job interview, a big party/event, a big life change, health issues, loss of a loved one, etc.

But there is a difference between regular feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is ongoing, abnormal, and excessive anxiety and worry-it’s irrational.

Why Am I Sharing This?

I want to share this part of my story for those who may be going through something similar and are struggling or feel alone.

I also want to share this to help normalize talking about mental health- I feel that mental health, mental health disorders and getting help, are not discussed very much, especially in the Christian Slavic community that I grew up in.

In part, this may be because most of our parents and grandparents immigrated from the Soviet Union where they grew up hiding their true emotions and filtering their behavior.

Many lived in fear of being accused of conspiring against the government and arrested. It is no surprise, in light of that, that most of them have a hard time showing true emotion, talking about their feelings, and acknowledge their mental health.

I also believe there is a stigma, or a mark of disgrace and shame, and fear, associated with mental health and seeking help, in the Christian and Christian Slavic community.

Many believe that mentally ill people are dangerous or if they themselves admit that they have a mental health issue and seek help, then they will get a permanent stain on their medical record, or get locked up in a mental institute and get their kids taken away.

When our community or church responds out of fear or misinformation instead of grace- it shames the people struggling into silence and prevents them from seeking help.

There are many misconceptions about mental health conditions, some of which include: thinking that it’s a character weakness, a personal flaw, a lack of faith, a lack of self discipline or willpower, a spiritual problem only. That God is testing you, punishing you for your sins, or that it’s most likely demonic possession.

God gave us a physical body (our biology/neurology), a mind/soul (our psychology), a spirit (our relationship with God/Jesus), and relationships/community (our friends/family/support) and ALL OF THESE, not just one, affect our overall health and more specifically, mental health.

“We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health. It runs on a spectrum. This means we all have the capability of becoming mentally sick, and some are more at risk than others. Sometimes the depression or anxiety is like a cold and it goes away after a season. Other times, it’s a chronic diagnosis and lived experience. But it can all be managed, treated and sometimes prevented. It is a human health issue, not a moral, theological or character failure. ” –Brittney Moses, Relevant Magazine

Yes, I am a Christian and I believe in a mighty God who heals, restores, and makes all things new. And there is nothing wrong with praying for healing from a mental health condition, if fact you SHOULD pray.  But I believe that IN ADDITION to prayer, we also have to be proactive in seeking help.

I really want to approach this topic with as much grace and compassion as I can. I know, from first hand experience, how painful, debilitating and shameful a mental health condition can feel, ESPECIALLY if you don’t have support or feel like you don’t have the option to get help.

And I have SO much more to say on the topic, especially in regards to how much of mental health is spiritual vs physical, the problems in the mental healthcare system, and the problems in the church in regards to mental health.

But for now I just want to share the beginning of my story, and a few resources, with more to follow in the future.

The Beginning of my Story

Its paralyzingly scary to be vulnerable, and even though my finger is shaking as I hit the “post” button, I want to be brave, and share this anyway.

I had my first ‘nervous breakdown’ when I was 6 years old. I had my first panic attack when I was 19 years old. I had another ‘nervous breakdown’ at 28 years old.

What’s odd is that with an anxiety disorder, and a lot of other mental health conditions, you can seem OK, normal, and “fine” to people from the outside, but be SO completely far from it on the inside.

Going back a few years, to 2016, I started getting panic attacks and severe physical symptoms that were making it hard for me to function on a daily basis. I didn’t know what was happening to me, which made it all the worse.

I wrote the following in my journal in May 2016 to document it after I started recognizing what was happening and reached out for help.

My Journal Entry, May 2016:

“I have always been an anxious and highly sensitive person. Stress at work and in life, or a lot of life changes make it worse. But the last few months have been getting really bad (in May 2016). I started having really strong physical symptoms. I didn’t know what was happening to me.

Some of the symptoms I experienced were: I couldn’t sleep (insomnia), feeling chest tightness/heaviness and having a hard time breathing, rapid heartbeat, feeling like I have a lump in my throat that made it hard to swallow and a choking feeling, feeling sick to my stomach/nausea, eye twitching, chills, hot flashes, constant fatigue, racing thoughts, feeling an overwhelming panic, always feeling on edge-never relaxed, feeling like I was losing-it, having or about to have a mental breakdown, and irrational, excessive, and constant worry, panic, and fear.

I was  constantly worried, fearful and feeling anxious for no apparent reason. It was paralyzing at times. Debilitating. The constant worry, fear, and anxiety were interfering with my daily life.

I was having a hard time doing simple daily tasks, like cleaning, cooking, laundry. Sometimes I was barely getting through the day. Sometimes I could barely get out of bed. Doing anything else seemed impossible.

I talked to my husband and explained what I was feeling and that it wasn’t normal. He could see it himself. It was getting so bad that I knew I needed help.

So we talked about me seeing a counselor/therapist. We prayed and fasted for a few weeks. (Side note here: Getting help was a hard decision because of the overall negative view (stigma) we grew up with on mental health and seeking help and thinking that by acknowledging and discussing that there is something wrong mentally is somehow a sin or a lack of faith or that it’s a spiritual problem only. Which it’s not- it sure can be, but not always. Our physical body includes our brain.)

I found a counselor/therapist who was trained at a bible college and was covered by my insurance. At my first appointment they had me fill out a bunch of paperwork about my symptoms, medical history, work, family, relationships.

The therapist went through all my paperwork, symptoms and history with me. The conclusion was that I have what’s called Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) is when you have irrational, excessive worry that is all consuming and strong enough to interfere with daily living and activities. Now, some anxiety is normal-everyone has some normal level of anxiety. Like before a big test, public speaking, a big job interview, a big party/event, a big life change, health issues, loss of a loved one, etc.

But there is a difference between regular feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is ongoing, abnormal, and excessive anxiety and worry-it’s irrational.

From all the research I’ve done (and believe me, I am a nerd who loves research) it seems this kind of anxiety disorder can be caused by nature, nurture or a combination of both.

Nature-meaning some people are born with it-genetically/biologically it can be passed down from parents/relatives, the way your brain is wired.

Nurture-meaning the way you grew up and were raised- difficult, dysfunctional environment, trauma, neglect, learned coping mechanisms, and subconscious programming, etc.

I think I may be a little bit of both for me. I remember when we just moved to America, I was 6 years old, and there was a period of time where I would just cry constantly and be really sad for no reason.

My mom thought that something was wrong with my nervous system or that I ate too much chocolate and the caffeine disrupted my nervous system. My parents even took me to the doctor.

I think it may have been because of such a big life change and stress on me as a 6 year old child, and I could probably sense that my parents were stressed or worried and it affected me. Interestingly enough, studies show that someone with an anxiety disorder will usually start having symptoms around this age.

Then shortly after I got married around age 19, at that time there were a lot of changes in my life-my parents moved out of the place I called home, changes at work- I remember having my first panic attack while driving. It was terrifying-I had to pull over.

I didn’t know why, or what was happening to me at the time, but looking back it makes more sense to me now.

Anyway, I’ve been seeing this therapist for about a month now (in May 2016) and it has been helping SO much. For the first time in a long while, I feel like I have hope. I’ve been learning about the brain-how it works, what’s going on with me, and that my thoughts are subject to me-I am not subject to my thoughts, I can control them.

I’m learning new life skills that are helping me cope, deal, and work through this stuff. Learning to think different, seeing some negative thought pattern and habits in myself and how to change them.

I’m very thankful to God for this therapist, because it was getting really hard living life that way.

I would have liked to have been more present in my friends and family’s lives through the years lost to anxiety.

I guess I wanted to explain some of the reasons why I’ve been the way I’ve been. Not as an excuse, but so that maybe I can be understood in some small way. Now that I know what this is-what I struggle with, I want to make an effort to work on myself and manage it as much as I can.”

-end of journal entry

Tools & Resources

Some tools and resources you may find helpful:

1. Finding a Christian Counselor/Therapist:

2. 5 Ways to Create a Healing Space for Mental Health in the Church By: Brittney Moses

This is a great article about mental health, the church, resources and concrete steps we can take towards healing.

3.  A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Health with Dr. Matthew Stanford, Episode 9

A must-listen podcast episode by Brittney Moses of The Faith and Mental Wellness Podcast that answers one of the big Christian questions about mental health: “How much of this is a spiritual issue and how much of it is a physical or biological one?”

4. Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness

A book by Dr. Matthew Stanford. “Each day men and women diagnosed with mental disorders are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demonic possession, weak faith and generational sin. Why is it that the church has struggled in ministering to those with mental illnesses? As both a church leader and professor of psychology and neuroscience, Michael S. Stanford has seen far too many mentally ill brothers and sisters damaged by well meaning believers who respond to them out of fear or misinformation rather than grace. Grace for the Afflicted is written to educate Christians about mental illness from both biblical and scientific perspectives. Stanford presents insights into our physical and spiritual nature and discusses the appropriate role of psychology and psychiatry in the life of the believer. Describing common mental disorders, Stanford asks of each: “What does science say and what does the Bible say about this illness?”

Mental Health Quotes

“Getting help for a mental health condition in my culture’s eyes is a sign of weakness, a personal flaw—not a legitimate, clinical condition…A mental health condition is no different than a physical one. Our brains are the most important organ in our bodies and can get sick just like our hearts, lungs and livers. Not only that, you can recover from a mental health condition and lead a healthy life…Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with praying for recovery from a mental health condition, but we still have to be proactive. We can’t “pray away” a mental health condition. We have to get help. ” –Fonda Bryant, NAMI

“Christians are not immune to anxiety disorders. One tragic notion that persists in some Christian circles is the idea that problems like anxiety are primarily, if not completely, spiritual in nature. Many Christians sincerely believe that a person should not experience anxiety disorders if he or she just has enough faith and trust in God. That is simply not true.” –Don Graber, Focus on The Family

“We absolutely have to begin to treat mental illness as an illness like any other. Just as any part of our bodies can suffer illness such as diabetes or cancer, our brains can suffer illnesses as well. That illness can be caused by trauma, by chemical imbalances, or by hereditary factors. Being sick isn’t a sin, and neither is living with mental illness.”-Pastor Rick Warren

Posted by

Hi, Irina here! I love to research, think, write, and sometimes even share my thoughts. A follower of Jesus Christ, residing in the Pacific Northwest, a first-generation Slavic immigrant, I am happiest enjoying the warmth and simple joys of being at home with my little family and watching The Office.

4 thoughts on “My Anxiety Battle

  1. Such a beautifully written article and extremely informative! You will help so many! I will forward any friends who struggle with the same to your informative links!
    It was actually even helpful to learn about the difference between general anxiety and an anxiety disorder! I think I always confuse the two!

    Like

  2. Hi Irina. I have lived with complex PTSD and related mental health and chronic physical issues for a long time and I do see an amazing therapist. As a woman saved by faith in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus Christ it has been near impossible to find another saved woman living with mental and/or chronic physical illness to pray with on an ongoing basis. I’m not on social media so that doesn’t help. Do you know of any ministry that helps to pair women of faith who live with these conditions who want to give/ receive encouragement and prayer?

    Like

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