I have always been high stress and high anxiety. As a high school student, I was not satisfied with anything less than a 100. As a teacher myself, I now understand why my teachers were often frustrated when I would argue my 1 point after making a 99. I was that kid. I also played about 5 sports depending on the year. You could say I am fairly competitive…ok very competitive. I hate losing. I hate failure. I hate dependency. I love to be the one helping others and hate when I have let someone down. I have a very high standard for myself. Mistakes waste time.
It turns out that these qualities clash a little with being a parent…especially a parent to 3 babies at one time. At any given moment, I am holding one screaming child while trying to chase 2 more. While my body is physically chasing children, my mind is simultaneously trying to plan out dinner, pack for the day, prep for tutoring, connect with friends, figure out how to best form community, attend church and bible study, mentor high school/college girls, be intentional about my marriage, treat each of my kids as individuals, be present, have quiet time, take care of myself, eat well, be a good daughter, a good sister…These are all good things, but my mind is exploding. I am beyond overwhelmed. I am constantly failing at something. I have written before about my dependency (see last post), and I am constantly feeling like I’m letting someone down or forgetting something. My brain just doesn’t have enough room. The result equals lots and lots of panic attacks. I’m talking curled in a ball, hysterically crying, unable to think logically, panic attacks. I kept trying to “fix” them. I joined the gym and REALLY thought that would be the end of the panic attacks. Surely I just need to work out, then I won’t be overwhelmed. It did help. It actually helped a lot, but I still got overwhelmed. And when I got overwhelmed I felt like a failure and then got stressed about being overwhelmed and felt guilty for being overwhelmed and felt like a burden on everyone around me…cue another panic attack. After a week of not sleeping because I was having panic attacks all night, I decided I needed a different solution.
I have been mentoring for as long as I can remember. It brings me so much life and purpose to walk through life with girls that are younger than me. I love being vulnerable and honest and learn just as much from them as they do from me. It has always and will always be a part of my life. In fact, it’s how Derek and I met. We both love doing ministry and especially love when our ministries overlap. In ministry and mentoring, I tell girls constantly how amazing counseling is and how normal it is to need to share your thoughts and emotions with a professional that can help you sort through all of the millions of jumbled webs in your head. The funny and ironic thing is that I didn’t think that I needed to go to a counselor. I didn’t need counseling. I could do this by myself. I was fine. I could fix this. Counseling is too expensive. I am too busy. I’ll just pray more and it will all go away. I believed these things to be true. Turns out, that didn’t make them true.
In ministry, I also talk a lot about how important it is to understand that mental health is real just like physical health is real, but to be honest it’s still hard for me to really wrap my head around that concept. Recently Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain lost their lives to suicide and again I am reminded of the truth that so many people do not understand mental health. I believe that many of us deep down think that if we are full of the Spirit and if we are close enough to God and read our Bible enough and have enough quiet time, that we don’t need help with anxiety; we don’t need counseling. If we have God, we won’t be depressed or have panic attacks. The phrase “mentally ill” gets responses like. “Oh, they really need Jesus in their life.” While someone with cancer or a broken bone or an ear infection gets prayed for in a totally different way. I am not depressed, but I am not mentally well either. I have been so angry at myself for not being able to control my thoughts. I have been so angry that I have punched walls and the floor and yelled. I have been so disappointed in myself and felt so much shame and guilt because somewhere deep down I believe that I should be able to get a hold of this. I can control this. I can fix this. Or at least, God can fix this. I just have to pray more.
I want to say very clearly that I believe that if you are depressed or struggle with anxiety or any sort of mental illness:
1. You are not alone.
2. It is not your fault.
3. Prayer, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are real and alive and strong and powerful. I believe that God heals. But in the same way that someone with a broken arm needs to go to a doctor, oftentimes if you are dealing with depression or anxiety or any other mental illness, you need to get help. AND IT’S OK TO GET HELP!!!!
It doesn’t mean that we aren’t strong enough or close enough to God. It doesn’t mean that we have failed. I think that everyday it is becoming more and more socially acceptable to proclaim that you go to counseling. Even though that is true, and even though I finally did go. I have only been once and it was amazing and so helpful (I’ll talk more about it later), but I’m nervous to go back. Most days I have again convinced myself that I don’t really need it. I convince myself that it’s too expensive or that I don’t have the time. Derek (my oh so wise husband) strongly explained one day that if I broke my arm, I wouldn’t sit around saying, “Sorry I’m not going to the doctor because it’s too expensive.” Or “I would love to go to the doctor to fix my broken arm, but I just don’t have time.” When will I finally wrap my head around the fact that mental and physical illnesses are not that different?
I’m not writing this, pretending that I have all the answers. I don’t. In fact, I have few answers. But what I do know, is that there is no shame in seeking help.