A letter to my past self, during the hardest time of my life
The children are small, your husband is out of town a lot, and the old feelings of panic start to resurface. Where did they come from, these fears that erupt when you’re driving, sitting in a movie theatre or entering a restaurant; feelings that cause your heart to race and your head to spin?
You want to flee before you lose control. You want to be normal again! The panic seems to go hand in hand with the weightier blanket of depression, and from them, both spring a new fear. Am I going crazy?
The answer is, No, you are not. Not only will you survive this baffling, dark time. You’ll eventually find purpose and joy.
Looking back, those fears seem so long ago; distant feelings for a distant time. If you had known then what I know now, you would have realized you had an anxiety disorder compounded by postpartum depression. But those things weren’t talked about in the seventies and eighties. Or if they were, you never heard of them.
You didn’t seek help. You didn’t tell anyone. Somehow you muddled through, avoiding situations that might give rise to panic.
How did you heal? How did you come through those dark days to discover joy? What can I tell you, my past self, to give you hope and facilitate your healing?
One thing you need to know is that we all find our own healing path, because our backgrounds, our body chemistry, our mental and emotional makeup are different. We all have different support systems and different life experiences.
But for you, the healing path begins with relinquishment. When you can no longer battle anxiety and depression with your own inadequate resources, you learn to relinquish the problem to God.
Ron Mehl writes in his book Meeting God at a Dead End, “If you meet God at the dead end of fatigue, it is the best thing that could ever happen on your journey. If, upon realizing you have no resources, you begin to tap into God’s provision, you will find strength beyond anything you have ever experienced.”
Relinquishment means learning to trust God as a universal source of goodness, love and healing. This trust is important, even when evidence seems to point in a different direction.
You tend to examine other people’s journeys and believe God will act the same way in your own life. This leaves you asking questions like, How could God allow such a thing to happen in that person’s life? Why isn’t she finding the healing she prayed for? If they haven’t found answers, how can I expect anything from God?
But we each travel a different path. Trust in your own spiritual journey, and let your faith be strengthened by the times you’ve glimpsed God’s presence.
After you make the decision to have faith, you’ll run across a wonderful book, Hope and Help for Your Nerves, by Dr. Claire Weekes. Read it, and incorporate those practices into your life.
Dr. Weekes advocates a novel approach for dealing with anxiety, based on experience with her own patients. This approach involves accepting anxiety as opposed to fighting or denying it.
Accepting panic, realizing nothing worse is going to happen, letting time pass and refusing to avoid situations that trigger anxiety will lessen and eventually eliminate your symptoms. Dr. Weekes believed in facing feelings gently without judging ourselves. Don’t judge yourself so harshly.
Stop struggling and relax into the knowledge that healing will come. God works through books and other people to bring healing and enlightenment. He also works through nature and through our own internal nudges, gently guiding us to solutions if we are willing to pay attention. Be sure to pay attention, because sometimes His voice is a whisper.
I know you find this hard to believe when you’re in the throes of anxiety or depression, but you’ll come out of this, and you’ll be a more insightful person as a result. You’re going to reclaim your joy.
In the meantime, here are a few things to remember:
Be comfortable not knowing what the future holds. You don’t need an entire blueprint to proceed. Just take it a step at a time. Accept that there is mystery and uncertainty, but that you are loved.
If God is leading you to do something difficult, take baby steps of faith. Follow the gentle nudges, face your fears one at a time, don’t be derailed by setbacks and don’t allow your anxieties to bluff you into thinking they are the real you. The real you is a person of strength and potential and joy.
Don’t worry about the future. Worry, fear and dread are peace stealers. Take life as it comes. God gives us what we need for each day, but he doesn’t give us tomorrow’s grace or wisdom today. We have to draw fresh grace from God every day.
Peace comes through the confidence that God will fight our battles for us. This doesn’t mean you wait and do nothing. It means you do as much as you can, and relinquish the rest.
Jesus said he came to bring us life in abundance. Trust his words, and claim that life.
When you feel spiritually depleted, replenish your spiritual energy through prayer, meditation, scripture, nature and whatever else brings you into God’s presence.
Accept yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Love a lot and laugh a lot. Depression has a hard time surviving love and laughter.
Just one more thing. Remember that life is a grand adventure. Depression and anxiety might be part of your journey, but so are hope and joy and faith.
Every day is the opportunity for a fresh start.
You’re going to be okay.
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