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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Tragedy In Your Head: Anxiety & Freaking Out

This is Post #3 in The Anxious Mom Series. 

You wave goodbye one more time before turning to leave. Your daughter smiles and waves frantically before hopping up the bus steps and skipping to her seat. You feel the familiar clutch in your chest. Your eyes fill with tears. As you watch the bus drive down the street, you fight the almost suffocating urge to break down into a full-on sob right there at the bus stop. You’re sure that’s the last time you will see her. In the span of seconds, you imagine every tragedy possible that could befall her that day: the horrible head-on collision with a tractor trailer that leaves carnage in its wake, the careless driver not paying attention in the parking lot who sees your daughter running into school a moment too late, the crazed gunman who breaks into the school building…it all plays out in your head with vivid detail. Your rational side tells you that you are being ridiculous, but there’s another part of you that defies all logic and cannot stop the onslaught of anxiety.

As parents, we have all come to understand that having children is the most fulfilling and the most daunting task we have ever taken on. With it comes certain stresses that include having our “hearts walking on the outside” of ourselves. I never understood that phrase until I became a mother.
From the moment that child is placed in your arms, you are single-handedly responsible for his well-being. Every need is yours to meet and the urge to protect and nurture is absolute and urgent. I have heard it referred to as the “Mama Bear” instinct. You know in an instant that you would exchange your life for theirs if the situation ever warranted it.

Unfortunately, some of us have fallen prey to taking that a step further. Not only would we exchange our lives for our children if necessary, but we invent scenes in our minds where we manufacture the very thing we fear most: losing our children. Why do we do this? It’s not as if we want that to happen. In fact, we want the exact opposite.

There have been too many times when I’ve watched a scene play out in my head in color too vivid, details too exact. It’s usually quick, although it feels like a lifetime
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To give you an idea of how this happens to me, just the other night after I hit “publish” on my first post in this series on anxiety, my 4 year-old son woke up and I ran upstairs to put him back in bed. The moment I tucked him in and kissed his head goodnight, I was bombarded with the awful feeling that tonight could be the last time I kiss him goodnight. My mind started asking, “What if there’s a fire tonight and he doesn’t survive?” I was shaken, but I knew that it was just my anxiety flaring up.

While I am far from “cured” I have at least made progress. I can now tell myself in the midst of an anxiety attack where I feel like the sky is falling and a loved one’s death is imminent, that it’s only an episode and I can’t rely on my feelings at that moment. This isn’t easy and some episodes are harder than others.

Anxiety, for me, is a very dark, foreboding, feeling that rushes over me. It’s hard to put into words exactly what it feels like. I feel like doomsday is just around the corner. If my children are going somewhere with my husband, I find myself thinking, “I’m never going to see them again. I’ll miss them so much. My life will be ruined if anything happens to them. What if this is it? What if today is the day?” And then I start freaking out thinking “What if this is a premonition?”

There's this internal argument. One side of me knows that this is a moment in time that will pass. The other side feels like I have to cling to this very moment for fear that it will be gone...and so will my children.

I used to beat myself up about it. I feared I was crazy. I was able to keep the lid on, but I could always feel it just below the surface, simmering.

It was one night that it dawned on me. 

Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane hours before he was to be taken, beaten, and crucified. He was visibly disturbed. He was so shaken, in fact, maybe some may even say anxious, that He sweat blood. Knowing that even Jesus was anxious about something gave me peace. 

But here are a couple of differences:

Jesus was anxious about something He knew was going to happen. 

I am typically anxious about something that I think is going to happen. 

Jesus begged God to take the responsibility from Him.

I beg God to spare my children and keep them safe.

And here's the meat of it...

Jesus said, "Not My will but Yours be done."

I say, "Please don't do that to me, Lord. I'll give you anything you want...just not that."

Once I realized I was doing this--because I think I did it subconsciously--I was able to see that I was offering conditional submission and faith to God. I was raising one hand in the air and shouting "I'm a sold-out believer, Lord! Anything for you! Use me, Lord!" and with the other hand I was hiding my children behind me, out of view from God. 

Here is where things can get tricky. I think it is so important to understand that I don't believe God is a God who arbitrarily "takes" things from us. I do not believe God is a God whose ego is so big that if we don't bow to His authority, He will always and heavy-handedly "see to it" that we do. 

I am also not going to profess to understand God's ways." 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD" (Isaiah 55:8). God can and He does do anything He wants...I may not fully understand all the whys or hows, but He does. HOWEVER, having said all that, I don't believe God to be heartless and cold. I believe He cares deeply about my heart and about my pain. 

I've heard it said before that God is a gentleman and He will not force Himself on anyone. He extends an invitation and awaits our acceptance. He pursues those He loves, but allows us the option of choosing. I will get into this more later, but understanding that God is a lover who pursues us and who knows us intimately is critical, I believe, in understanding how to combat anxiety.

Read and take to heart these verses. Even if you've read them a 100 times before, read them again with fresh eyes: 

"It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone." Ephesians 1:11, MSG

"Jesus said, 'Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?" Luke 9:24-25

"When my heart whispered. 'Seek God,' my whole being replied, 'I'm seeking him!'"

"Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray, Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." (Philippians 4: 6-7, MSG, emphasis mine).

I have lots more to say on this subject to kind of tie some things together and make better sense of all that is swimming in my head, but that will have to wait until the next post. 

Until then...I'll be praying for all of you reading...

See post one in this series HERE.
See post two in this series HERE.
See post four in this series HERE.
See post five in this series HERE.
See post six in this series HERE.
See post seven in this series HERE.
See post eight in this series HERE .

*Make no mistake: I am not a medical professional. The things I will share are things that I have learned through personal introspection, conversations with friends, reading, and Bible study. If you ever feel  you are in danger of harming yourself, your child, or anyone else please seek professional help immediately. Click HERE for a list of resources.  

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