I have been thinking about this topic for awhile. What to say? What not to say? How to get my experience across without diminishing the experience of others? At a recent doctor's check up, my OBGYN thanked me for being honest with her about my mental state. She sees so many women who are ashamed or unaware of the source of their issues. I spent a long time being one of those women, so perhaps it is time to discuss what changed and why I am not scared to share anymore.
I have been anxious my whole life. My whole life. Things scared me in a way that didn't scare other kids. I thought about the worse case scenario all the time, and I truly believed that everyone felt that way. A combination of a cautious nature, vast imagination and classic abandonment issues made it hard for me to recognize what was and what was not normal. However, I thrived as a little kid. Outside of an obvious undiagnosed case of ADHD- and no one was looking for that in 1984- I was happy. I was weird, but not anymore than any other child of the 80's.
After we moved to Oregon, and I was isolated from my large and loving family. After my mother divorced my Step-Father, an excellent move on her part. After my Father exploded back into my life and the hormones of puberty were suddenly present. That is when I think my anxiety really took hold. My world was changed so quickly, my support systems so depleted, my grandparents and sisters so far away that I for the first time I felt truly scared. Now it was just my Mom and I, and she was scared. She was tired and scared and doing all she could to put a roof over our head and keep us fed. We had no money. If it wasn't for the generosity of our church and neighbors, we wouldn't have had food. My Step-Father did all he could to make life hard for my mother. It was rough time, and I want to be clear that she did all she could. A single Mom in an economically depressed town in the early 90's had few choices. She put me in a community that kept tabs on me, she put me in school where I had friends. She worked hard to rebuild my sense of safety and security. She did all she could to alleviate an anxiety she didn't even know existed. There was no way I ever would have told her.
Through high school it got harder to hide my growing fear. Anxiety works away at you. It keeps you up at night. It makes you abandon social situations and drop out of things you enjoyed. You feel like at any moment, the whole world will crash around you. I felt that way all the time, but it amplified my Senior year. Encroaching life decisions overwhelmed me, leaving home and being on my own was terrifying. When my Dad wrote a bad check to pay my tuition at Pacific, my world spun even more. My carefully planned future was gone in an instant. Suddenly I was stuck, going to a school I didn't want to and unable to imagine a future that would work. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what had happened, so I let them all think that I had stayed for my boyfriend. That was a terrible year. I actually dropped out of life. I didn't want to participate. Everything was scary and everyone else seemed to know what they were doing. I stopped trusting myself, or my decisions. I felt like I had failed before my life began.
Somehow I got to Western, I am not even sure how. Somehow I met Jill. Somehow I started going through the motions of life. I became less scared. I made new friends, who encouraged me to go to counseling. There for the first time I was told that I wasn't failure. I was sick. I learned coping mechanisms. When life got extra stressful, I took a drug to help. I found my way through. It wasn't easy. There is a lot I would change, but I learned how to function. How to be happy. How to be ok.
It all worked, until 2003/2004. That year I gained sixty pounds in three months. Sixty pounds in three months. I couldn't figure out why. My eating hadn't changed that much. My insurance paid 30% of any doctors visit, so I had to be careful about when to go. I worked out, and I gained weight. Justin and I changed our diet, and I gained weight. I swear to you I slept, and I gained weight. At the same time, my anxiety worsened. All my tips and tricks stopped working. It felt as if my whole body was spinning out of control. In desperation, I went to the doctor my insurance had approved. He spent ten minutes with me. He asked about my exercise regime and diet. At the end he told me he could do nothing to help someone who was clearly lying to him. No one gains sixty pounds for no reason. Until I was willing to really work at losing weight, I would have to be content. The only one who could change me was me.
I slunk out of his office and sat in my car and cried. A medical professional had just confirmed what I had secretly known all along. I was fraud and a failure. Now I was a fat fraud and failure. I would never do anything or go anywhere. I was incapable of having a future. Of being happy. I was a big fat mess, and it was all my fault. I had let my family down, my boyfriend down, myself down. I was worthless. I truly believed that. It is so hard to type, because it is so ugly. Alone in my car, 25 years old, while the rain poured down on a gloomy Oregon day I embraced the idea of my worthlessness. For the next few months, I did all I could to demonstrate this to those around. I sabotaged my relationship with Justin, I allowed my self to be belittled at work. I actively agreed with my father when he told me I would go nowhere if he wasn't there to save me. I was a mess.
This is when Justin loved me beyond what I deserved. This is when he worked two jobs, and came home to lift me up. He just stayed. He just loved. Slowly he helped me function. I started grad school, got a job, we got engaged and then married. I was happy, and I never discussed my weight. When I went to new doctors, I never told them about the sudden weight gain. I didn't tell them that my anxiety amplified when I had my period. I never mentioned the incredibly painful cysts I had. I powered through. I smiled. I had a husband, my dream job, friends. The rest didn't matter.
Then we started to try to have a family, and it didn't work. I was told to lose weight. I couldn't. We endured test after test, month after month of heartbreak, years started to pass. Finally, my Mom recommended I see a doctor she had heard good things about. I was in her office for 20 minutes and I found myself sobbing out the whole sordid story to her. She ordered tests, she prescribed drugs. She explained that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. That my anxiety, weight gain and infertility where all normal for people who have this disease. She helped me understand that my mental and physical health was connected. She made me feel sane. She believed me. I responded to the treatment. I lost forty pounds. I felt healthy. I could talk about infertility. I ate better. I felt happier than I had in long time.
I wasn't a failure. My body functioned differently. I functioned differently. Different, but not failing. Once I knew how my body worked. Weight was manageable. I also understood that the 130 pound me was probably not an option, but a healthy happy me was. In the midst of this I became pregnant with Harry, and for the first time in a long time I felt on track. After his birth, the anxiety came back with vengeance. I was terrified for him, but some drugs and counseling helped. Things felt good.
Teddy's death broke me. Losing him destroyed ten years of work. I was back to that parking lot. I was worthless. Only now I was worthless and scared. Scared in a way I didn't know was possible. When I left the house, the world closed in on me. A simple conversation with the gas station attendant made me shake and sweat. Running into someone I knew was a nightmare. Being around friends and family was like walking on glass. I forgot how to be around people. All of last summer was a long stretch of me stumbling to act like I was normal. There were major drugs and major counseling. It took all I had to go back to work. To smile and make small talk. In the morning I would sit in my classroom and work my through constant panic attacks. I thought my principal wanted to fire me. I was sure my coworkers hated me. I knew my students were counting down until they were no longer in my class. I shattered. I was hollow.
God did a lot this fall. He held me together. He moved me forward. He literally walked beside me and got me through the day. His love kept me going. His grace pushed me forward. His word got me out of bed in the morning. Then I found I was pregnant. Then there was a new baby on the way. I didn't want to feel anything. I didn't want to be happy or sad or anything. I wanted to be numb. The problem was I wasn't. I am not. Walking into the doctor's leads to panic attacks. An ultrasound is indescribable. It is all too much. Too much fear, too much pain, too much happiness, too much love. Just too much. This is what mental illness is. It is what anxiety combined with PTSD is. The world is too much. Life is too much. I can go from the highest high to lowest low. I am a mess.
Thankfully God loves my mess. He never gives up on me. When it is too much, He is there. When I am despondent, He is there. When I can't, He does. He provided me with doctors who helped me find a drug that helps, a counselor who is pretty amazing, a community of support that is overwhelmingly filled with love. When you suffer from a mental illness, it can be harder to see God's ability to love you. It can be harder to find the faith required to accept the Grace so lovingly offered to you. Through my whole anxiety filled life, He has been there. Paving the way, putting in safety nets, providing me with support and love. Through it, He has taught me about love. He has taught me the glory of His timing. He has taught me to let go of me. He has carried me this whole way. Most of all He has given me the grace to accept who I am. To share where I am at. I am a mess, my imperfections are many and I am struggling each and everyday. However, in that struggle I find my Savior and He brings me peace.