Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Thread of Anxiety...Part 3

[This is the third post in a series having to do with anxiety. You can check out part one here and part two here.]

It was February of 1999 when it happened, when the ‘crazies came to town’, and I hit rock bottom.  The months leading up to my breakdown were difficult to say the least.  Emotionally, I was up and down.  My anxiety and obsessive thoughts about doing the wrong thing and hurting people were increasing and becoming unmanageable.  I was constantly feeling like I had said or done something that hurt someone in some way.  I was unable to think clearly.  Unable to assess whether I really had done something wrong.  I was always worried that God was angry with me and wanted nothing to do with me until I “made things right” with the people I had “hurt”.  I can’t describe how torturous and exhausting these thoughts were to me.  There was no end to them and they were wearing me down.  Below, is a journal entry dated, January 4, 1999.

                    “1999 is off to a rough start for me.  It is pretty dark from where I stand God. 
                    You know that I am hanging on by a thread.  I have never had such a great
                    desire for my life to end.  The thought of killing myself has been on my mind,
                    on and off, for awhile now.  I also notice a desire to inflict pain on myself.”

And that was before I hit rock bottom.  
Rock bottom came in February, just after Valentines Day.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I didn’t have the strength. I was so tired and so hurting and so sick.  It was difficult to get off the sofa.  To eat.  To function.  All I wanted to do was sleep; so I didn’t have to think.  All I could do was cry.  At the time, unbeknownst to me, my two closest friends were monitoring me and wondering if they should bring me to the Mental Health Center and check me in for a little stay.  Thankfully, with the support of friends, my mom, and my therapist, I was able to get the help I needed (although being admitted wouldn’t have hurt in the least).

It’s hard to describe just how “crazy” my thoughts were during the next few months but I have a couple of examples that might help:

        I might be watching TV and see a person who was really funny looking to me….say a
        bald guy with a serious comb over and a Tom Selleck moustache and I would think to
        myself, ‘Man, that guy looks ridiculous!  Doesn’t anyone love him enough to tell him?’.     
       Then, I would feel guilty for thinking those things (yes just THINKING them).  I would
        then start to panic because I had no idea who this guy was and how to get a hold of him
        so I could apologize.  And since I couldn’t apologize and “make it right”, God had to be
        angry and want nothing to do with me. 
        Another example, probably my favorite, would be the Paint Chip Incident.  Now, I live
        in an old house and back in the day they painted the houses with lead paint.  As my
        readers know, lead paint is dangerous.  You do not want to be eating it, inhaling the
        dust, etc.  You also don’t want to be eating or playing in the dirt around a house with
        lead paint because the lead in the old paint chips can leach into the soil.  I had power
        washed the house, back in the fall.  Power washing creates paint chips.  I didn’t know
        what to do.  I was freaking out.  Had I contaminated our entire neighborhood?  Do I
        need to door to door and apologize?  Could I have single handedly cause the mental
        retardation of all the children in the neighborhood? 

        As I wrote in a previous post, obsessive thoughts often come with compulsive behavior. 
        The behavior attempts to reduce the anxiety that was created by the obsessive thoughts. 
        So, I came up with behavior plan.  I would simply clean up the paint chips.  I would rake
        them into a little pile and bag them up or better yet, get a Shop Vac and suck them up. 
        I mean, how hard could it be. 
       Well, as I stared to rake, I realized that there seemed to be layer upon layer of paint chips
        in the dirt.  It just didn’t end.  The little pile turned into 9 bags of paint chip contaminated
       dirt (these went into the basement of the garage and remained there for the next 10 years).
       If that wasn’t bad enough, I realized that the paint chips extended into the grass.  If you   
       separated the grass, you could see the chips.  So, I got the Shop Vac, the hand rack and
       went to town.  Except I couldn’t get them all.  They were EVERYWHERE.  At that point I
       called my boyfriend and broke down.  I can only imagine what that whole scene must have
       looked like from a causual walker-byer.  There I was, sitting in the middle of the lawn, with
       a Shop Vac in one hand, a little rake in the other, bawling on the cordless phone.  To this
       day, I can’t tell that story without laughing.

I think the turning point for me was medication.  I had resisted it for so long.  I felt that by going on medication, I was not trusting God.  As a result, I suffered longer than I needed to.  I remember coming to terms with the fact that I needed medicine:

                           “ God, I am sitting here, thinking about all that has happened in the
                           past few weeks and months.  I have not a clue why or exactly what
                           but I do know that there is something not right with my brain.  And
                           no matter how hard I try, I have no control over it.  It is very hard to
                           say that, I feel like I am copping out or something. Or  I’m doubting 
                           you and your power. God, I know that you have the power to change
                           this is a second but for some reason you’re not and I need medication                  
                           If you are choosing to bring healing through a pill, I’ll take it.”
                                                                                              - Journal Entry from March 1999

Once the medication hit a therapeutic level, things began to change.  Slowly.  I was able to begin to see the obsessive thoughts for what they were.  I was able to talk myself down off the ledge more easily.  It gave me the edge I needed to begin to look deeper inside myself.  It was shortly after this that my therapist and I figured out that I had OCD.  I finally had a name for it.  I didn’t feel so alone anymore. 

I began to realize that God was not angry with me.  That He wasn’t waiting for me to screw up so He could punish me.  No, He loved me and had never left me but was there with me even when the pain was so great I wished I were dead. 

It has been 13 years now.  I continue to struggle with anxiety but the OCD is changing.  About a year ago, I started seeing a new therapist (the old one had moved to Maine).  I have been able to look at some painful things in my life and the effect they have had on me. How they have influenced  and shaped me  How they have contributed to my anxiety and fueled my OCD.  As I uncover these things, I am learning to live in a new way and the OCD seems to be dying down. 

It has been a long road for me. One filled with ups and downs.  With joy and sorrow.  I have learned a great deal about anxiety, about myself, about God.  Although it has been painful, it can’t say that I would change it.  It is part of my story.  Of who I am and who I am to become.  It is an unfinished story that I look forward to watching unfold.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Behavior Modification and Missing the Point Completely….

[I know I have been sharing about Anxiety and I left you hanging in the last post but I will finish the story...I promise....just not today.]

For so long I have lived in a culture that has been all about modifying behavior.  Although it is never put in such terms, it’s what it boils down to.  People talk about the heart, about what is going on in the inside but the focus always seems to come back to behavior; what you’re  “doing” or “not doing”.  Avoid the “bad” behaviors and excel at the “good” ones.  What is deemed as “good” or “bad” varies from church to church but it usually doesn’t take long to figure out what they are.  From my experience, behavior modification and truth growth are completely opposite of one another.
I find that observing my behavior and asking myself the question, “why am I doing what I am doing?” is far more beneficial than just trying to change my behavior.  My behavior can give me valuable insight into what is really going on deep down inside.  It gives me a heads up that maybe something isn’t okay.  It can tell me something about my own hurt, my own pain. 
It is difficult to look inside.  To look at things I would rather keep hidden.  To come to terms with the ways I have been hurt and they ways I have hurt others.  Who wants to look at that?  Who wants to sit in a therapist office and realize that the reason you don’t wear dresses isn’t because you find them uncomfortable or impractical….. but rather because you are afraid people will laugh at you…… because deep down you don’t feel like a real woman ( more to come on that whole mess).  Let me tell you how fun that is.
As I am focusing less on my behavior and more on what is going on deep down inside, I am experiencing a freedom a have never known, one that I didn’t know was even possible.  I’m  not so worried about whether I am doing something wrong (or right for that matter) but seeing it all as a process.  A process of becoming.  Becoming who I want to be, who I was made to be.  I am learning how to yield to that process and let God work things out in me.   In His time, not mine or anyone else’s. I am learning to lean into the pain, into the discomfort of becoming.  And no, it’s not easy but it is worth it.