My life has been colored by anxiety and depression.
It took years of struggle and cumulative growth for me to overcome not only the anxiety, but also the critical and negative spirit that I learned while growing up. While every person is different, I believe the lessons I learned along the way can help others win over anxiety and depression, too.
The first step toward healing came when I accepted Christ as my Savior at the age of seventeen. I do not exaggerate when I say that all the bottled up anger and unforgiveness in my heart was lifted that day. In its place, God filled my heart with such love for each member of my family. If God could forgive me of all my sins, I could no longer refuse to forgive others. I was able to let go of past wrongs, real or imagined. When I look back on my life some forty years later, I know that without Christ’s transforming power in my life I would have become a bitter, lonely person. My life would have been a shadow of what it is today.
Marriage to my high school sweetheart brought all the typical challenges newlyweds face, and more. Those first years were rough as my high expectations and unwillingness to compromise made it especially difficult for my husband. Opposites do attract, and he was as easy-going as I was uptight and anxious. I thank God every day for bringing my husband into my life. His gentle spirit and unconditional love covered me even when I was at my most unlovable. Our marriage is a testament to God’s grace in our lives. The lessons learned from my husband are many: unconditional love; no one is perfect; value each person for their unique traits; say “I love you” every day; don’t be so hard on yourself and others; forgive, forgive and forgive some more.
The birth of our first child brought me outside of myself in a way that nothing else ever had. For the first time I had someone else totally dependent on me. It caused me to quit worrying about myself and put someone else first. One of the hard truths of anxiety is that you are wrapped up in thinking about yourself all the time. Having children caused me to set aside my own selfish worries and care for the needs of my children. I learned life wasn’t all about me. It caused me to grow up. I purposed in my heart that I would learn to parent my children without the negative and critical nature that came so easily to me. I wanted to be a better person for my children.
In the years that followed, we were blessed to attend several churches with wonderful pastors and teachers. As I grew in my relationship with Christ, God began to change my heart and my thought patterns. We listened to Christian radio and read many books on parenting and marriage. We prayed individually, as a couple and as a family.
Medication became a part of the healing process after a devastating loss that I could not seem to recover from on my own. I was hesitant to take medication (a typical response for someone who suffers from anxiety), but my doctor explained that my brain was not producing a chemical it needed. She advised my need for the anti-depressant medication was no different than a diabetic needing insulin. I took the medication for a year or so and saw improvement in my ability to deal with the stress and anxiety of life. Again, as typical of someone with anxiety, I wanted to quit taking the medication as soon as I saw improvement. When I asked my family if they thought that was a good idea, I got a resounding “No!”. ( I love my family for being honest with me.) I continue to take the medication today.
I made lots of mistakes, but I learned to ask forgiveness and move on. I didn’t have to try to be perfect anymore. I even learned to laugh at myself, which is a sign of true healing from perfectionism. And, something amazing began to happen.
When I no longer had to be perfect, I began to be able to express my creative side. The shy, introverted person who at one point couldn’t look people in the eye began to reach out to others in social situations. It wasn’t anything I did, it was all a response to the great love God showed to me and compelled me to show to others.
I try not to look back and think of all the opportunities that passed me by while I let those destructive emotions rule my heart. There is no sense in fretting over something that you can’t change. My goal is simply to live life to the fullest.
If you are struggling with anxiety and depression, don’t give up! You can win the battle.
I would love to hear from anyone who has struggled with anxiety and/or depression and what has worked for you.