If you know the hope of Jesus, but have felt hopeless in your battle with anxiety and depression – this post is for you. I pray my story helps you feel seen in yours. You are not alone.
Things had felt off for a while.
Things had felt off for a while. As my one-year-old son began the natural process of weaning from breastmilk to solid foods, my body began a very unnatural spiral out of control. Trapped on a death-defying roller coaster that wouldn’t end, fear crippled my ability to grasp the difference between reality and the perception of impending doom.
Every sound overwhelmed me. Germs terrified me. Sleep seemed like a distant memory – something I must have done before but couldn’t recall with any detail. Exhausted and on edge, I was ravenous to consume anything that would lessen the suffocating pain, if only for a moment. So, I binged and hid the evidence, gripped by shame at what I had become.
I found myself doing and saying things I vowed to never do or say. And it hurt. I hated it.
My Epic Mom Meltdown
Another sleepless night had me on edge. I was home, raising the two children I had prayed for God to give me. But even blessings can feel so burdensome when things are off-balance. As I tried to soothe my fussy baby, my daughter entered the room with a hair-raising shrill that set my nerves on fire. She was three, and she was mad. About what exactly, I can’t recall. What I do remember is feeling trapped. Feeling helpless. Feeling so overwhelmed and tired I didn’t know if we’d make it through the day with all of us intact.
Tension in my body boiled hot as my baby fussed and my toddler shrilled. As if in an out-of-body experience where you’re not sure what’s real and what’s imagination, I watched the last ounce of my sanity leave my body with the force of a ninja warrior. At the top of my lungs (I wish I were exaggerating), I screamed, “Just STOP! I can’t take this anymore!”
“Just stop! I can’t take this anymore!”
Falling to my knees in defeat, I waved an imaginary white flag of surrender and thought to myself, “I’m such a terrible mom.” Whispers from darkness lured me to believe my family would be better off without me. Desperately confused, I cried out to God:
How could I know the hope of Christ but feel so hopeless?
The Panic Attack
One stormy Friday morning in mid-February, I scrolled Google for answers to my lingering problems while my son and daughter took their afternoon nap. As my fingers swiped the screen, a strange numbness suddenly shot up my arms. Blood rushed from my head, overwhelming me with nausea. My living room became like a funhouse mirror: distorted, off-balance, turned sideways. I couldn’t tell which way was up. My lungs gasped for air, and the pounding of my heart seemed in sync with the countdown of a detonated bomb eager to explode.
Hands shaking and voice trembling, I called my neighbor to see if she was home. Poor thing was in the car when she answered. “I think I’m having a heart attack!” I cried. “Oh my God! I’ll call 911 and tell Jacob to come over when he gets home in a minute!”
Just then, the dog started barking. With a glance at the time, I realized the mail person was close by. With wobbly legs and blurry eyes, the ten feet from my living room to my front door seemed like ten miles. I turned the deadbolt, opened the door, and screamed for help. Collapsed in the doorway, I called my husband in a panic, terrified the kids would wake up to find me lifeless on the floor. “I don’t know what’s wrong, I’m so scared. I love you so much.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME?
Help Is On The Way
To my relief, the firefighters arrived within minutes. I handed one of them my phone to speak to my husband. After giving me a once over, I heard something along the lines of: “Sir, I don’t think your wife is in a life-threatening situation, but I do want to get her to the hospital asap for an evaluation. How soon can you be home?” Since it would take him twenty minutes, the EMT said they were taking me by ambulance and to meet us at the hospital.
Before I could blink, I sat on a stretcher headed to the ER. I caught a glimpse of Jacob in the doorway as they wheeled me out, and I prayed to God: “Please let me walk back through these doors. Let me live to see my babies again.” My husband was soon by my side, and hours of tests and tears lay before us at the hospital. But the pokes and prods yielded no results. Everything was “normal.” I was “fine.”
Confusion, embarrassment, and anger weighed heavy on my shoulders as they discharged me from the ER.
How in the world could this be right?
The Importance of Community
A few weeks before my ER fiasco, I crafted a post to the ladies in my MOPS (Mothers of Preschool) group. Something was off, and God asked me to be brave and vulnerable with the woman I was building community with. In retrospect, this post saved my life.
Twenty-eight women replied within the thread, and countless others private messaged me to share their stories of a similar struggle. Some included resources that had helped them (or someone they knew) navigate difficult seasons. The message of one mom would end up changing the trajectory of my life.
Rebekah had just begun an internship at a local Christian Counseling Center here in San Jose. Her message was kind and thoughtful. She assured me I was not alone in my struggles and that reaching out to talk to someone may prove helpful. Included in her note were the names of three therapists she knew and recommended. Should I ever feel inclined to reach out, the resources lay at my fingertips.
As I sunk into my couch after an exhausting and fruitless night at the ER, I recalled Rebekah’s message. The next morning, I sat at my desk, desperate for help, and called the first name on the list. A woman named Janie answered and we made an appointment to see each other Monday afternoon.
My First Therapy Session
A tall, thin woman with short brown hair and a friendly smile greeted me at the door. We shook hands and she invited me to have a seat on her grey couch with oversized throw pillows. A box of tissues sat ready on the table. We chatted for a few minutes before she handed me a printout to look over. As I read, I was to place a checkmark next to the items that resonated with how I felt. Check, check, check. Every single item on the page resounded “Yes! This is me!”
The information I found on Google a few weeks earlier had only scratched the surface of understanding what was happening in my body. The ER staff focused solely on my physical health. But Janie was able to zone in on my mental health and the visceral effects it was creating. Within the first fifteen minutes of sitting with her – versus the hours we had spent at the hospital two nights before – we discovered I was battling Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Clinical Depression.
And I had suffered a panic attack.
The weight that lifted from my body at that moment was tangible. The chaos had a name. And Janie had the tools to diagnose and treat it.
If you’re not familiar with the disorders of anxiety and depression, allow me a moment to get textbook savvy with you on these illnesses.
What Are Anxiety and Depression?
All of our emotions are good, God-given tools to help us navigate the variety of experiences we will encounter throughout our lives. And things happen (both within our control and outside of our control) that throw off the delicate chemical makeup of our bodies. This can result in healthy emotions like fear, sadness, and anger morphing into unhealthy conditions like anxiety and depression. Scientific explanations for anxiety and depression range from genetics (DNA), constant stress and pressure to perform (unhealthy expectations), abuse, trauma, neglect, hormone imbalances, allergies, misfiring of chemicals in the brain, or a combination of these or other factors.
Fear or Anxiety?
Fear is our body’s natural protection mechanism with a unique fight-or-flight mode that gives us a rush of ninja-warrior strength and adrenaline to either fight the danger in front of us or get the heck away from it. It is a healthy and appropriate response to danger, both real and perceived. Fear is also an inherent response to issues and events that don’t promise the outcome we desire.
It’s perfectly natural to be nervous about a big test at school, an important project at work, a new baby and all the responsibilities that come with raising a child, the inability to have the baby your heart desires more than anything, a pending biopsy, going after a new dream, or letting go of something familiar. Each of these scenarios can invoke an innate sense of fear because even good things can be scary, and life is full of curveballs that catch us off guard.
The problem is our body doesn’t recognize the difference between a real threat and a perceived danger. And fear can morph into anxiety disorder when our body’s natural fight-or-flight mechanism fails to disengage. If you find yourself in a constate state of worry that’s affecting your day-to-day life, you may be experiencing Anxiety Disorder.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
- racing thoughts
- being easily startled
- fear of making the wrong decision
- feelings of impending doom
- difficulty concentrating or zoning out
- heart palpitations
Sadness or Depression?
Similarly, sadness is our body’s natural response to loss, change, or something not turning out how you hoped it would. It’s healthy and appropriate to feel sad if you didn’t receive the promotion you worked so hard for, endured another false pregnancy test, can’t seem to make any friends in your new town, finalized a divorce, set a difficult but healthy boundary with a wayward child, received the diagnosis you were dreading or said goodbye to someone you loved far too soon.
Sadness deserves a seat of honor at the table of our lives. She should not be reprimanded to move on, get over it, or buck up. She should not be hidden under a blanket of shallow comfort, unable to offer the true gift she was designed to give us. Grief must be felt and lived and allowed breathing room. And it’s important to be in tune with your body.
When to seek help for depression
If it’s been a couple of weeks and you’re still so sad that you can’t enjoy the activities, people, or places you usually would, your sadness may be morphing into clinical depression.
- loss of interest
- change in sleeping and eating habits
- difficulty concentrating
- apathy in making decisions
- low self-esteem
- feelings of hopelessness
- thoughts of suicide
New moms may experience a period of “baby blues” during the first two weeks after bringing their baby home from the hospital. But if you’re having frequent crying spells, feeling unhappy about being a parent, constantly questioning if you’re a good mom, losing interest in things you enjoy, having trouble making decisions, unable to rest when your baby is napping, or having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, you may be dealing with Postpartum Depression.
Unhealthy Ways We Cope with Anxiety and Depression
When we are hurting, we are desperate for relief. Many of us turn to food, sleep, sex, alcohol, or TV for quick comfort, satisfaction, or a sense of control. These questions will help you take an inventory of the state of your mental and emotional health:
- Do I enjoy the people, places, and activities that usually bring me joy?
- Am I abusing food, exercise, pornography, alcohol, or drugs?
- Am I staying late at work to avoid my family?
- Is my fear of failure keeping me from completing tasks and interacting with the people I care about?
- Have I become complacent in my daily tasks?
- Am I self-harming? Cutting? Not eating? Overeating?
- Do I fantasize about falling sleeping and never waking up?
- Do I question if I’m too much of a burden to my family (thinking they’d be better off without me)?
- Am I getting my personal affairs in order with plans to end my life?
If you think you may be experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. Call your doctor or the new 3-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
You are not alone, and there is no shame in reaching out for help to overcome these diseases of the mind.
Shattering the Stigma of Faith, Mental Health, and Medication
For so long, I had been afraid I just didn’t have enough faith. But in reality, my brain was sick. And that was affecting every area of my life (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually). Unanswered prayers manifested in unexpected ways. The first was receiving the name of a trusted Christian therapist. The second was shattering the stigmas around medication to help treat my anxiety and depression.
There are many tools to help treat anxiety and depression, and medication may or may not be the right fit for you. But there is no shame in considering it as an option. Read my post Reframing Medication: What Could Go Right? to hear more of my journey.
Jesus put people on my path who would help me see that needing psychiatric help for my anxiety and depression in no way diminished my faith in Him as the ultimate Healer. The Holy Spirit helped me shatter the stigmas around my mental health by helping me discern that I needed to address my physical ailments before I could address my faith ailments. And part of my healing would include going on an antidepressant medication.
That process was anything but easy. I already felt unsafe in my own body, and so many things could go wrong. But Janie helped me consider what could go right. Finding the right brand and dose lingers with unwanted side effects and frustration. But the medication has removed the racing, intrusive thoughts that haunted so many of my days. And for that I am thankful.
Jesus is the only source of true hope. And He chooses to use us, His divinely crafted creation, as His hands and feet in this broken world. That includes utilizing the giftings of each other to keep our spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional well-being in balance.
It’s Not Easy But It’s Possible
God didn’t promise to make all our problems disappear when we put our trust in Jesus. But He did promise to be with us as we face the joys and uncertainties each day brings. When we turn to Him for help for our anxiety and depression, He may tell us to pick up the phone and call the doctor, sign up for that class through the hospital, make that appointment to speak to a therapist, or give that medication a try. The only way to move forward is by seeking wisdom. And one of the wisest things we can do is to connect in community.
I’m thankful you’re here and encourage you to stick around for more hope and solidarity.
Here is a list of resources I have gathered to help you take your next step: WWW.ANDREAMNYBERG.COM/RESOURCES