In 2011, I was hit with an unexpected bout of anxiety. I had experienced anxiety before, but never to this extreme degree.
Sweating profusely. Heart palpitations. Adrenaline spreading through my body.
These were the byproducts of my mind racing and my inability to control them due to an extreme fear that had been triggered by a not-so-usual source ... romantic feelings. At this point, it had been six years since my last relationship and it was the first time I had deep feelings for anyone. Just the thought of getting into a relationship with someone scared the wind out of my body. I had failed epically in my past relationship, how could I be sure that I would not fail again?
This whole girl meets boy; girl likes boy; girl dates boy; felt so much easier at 14 years old than it did at 26. Now I had a history that included abuse, hurt, and the scars to prove it; and instead of jumping back on that dating horse, I allowed myself to stay single for six long years. Being single felt safe. It empowered me. It allowed me to be responsible for myself and myself only and I could do whatever I wanted without having to keep track of another human or fight for their love and attention. No; it was just myself and my friends (who most were already married). But somewhere deep down I longed for companionship. I believe one of the biggest issues I had with moving on from my past relationship was that I felt I didn't get much closure. Closure is important. Otherwise you have a deep wound that has been covered by a temporary band aid. Once it comes off, you still have a fresh and open wound ... six years later.
And so, as God would see fit, it was time for my heart to be shaken by romantic feelings, and since I had not dealt with such baggage (although I had thought I did), the feelings I had so long ago resurrected as fresh as they had been when I buried them. Alive. Painful. Vivid.
5 Stages of mourning
When we suffer a loss, any loss, we go through five stages of mourning (or grief). Many people falsely think that one only goes through these stages when you experience the loss of a person through death, but we experience loss in so many areas of our lives: the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship or friendship, the loss of a community due to relocating, the loss of a church, etc. Many times when we lose something, we suffer a certain level of trauma as well. Such experiences can lead to anxiety due to things that trigger these memories of loss and trauma.
The thing about mourning and grieving is that while the stages are generic and can be applied to everyone in their understanding of how they are feeling, the length of time it takes to get through each stage varies from person to person and depends on the loss and how much the individual valued that which was lost. While for one person it make take only a year to go through all of the stages, it may take another ten years. Everyone is different. (I cannot state or highlight that point enough)
While on my own personal journey toward recovery and healing, I realized that I had been stuck in denial for six years, and as you can see from our diagram of the five stages, denial is only step 1. After accepting some things and sought healing after feeling the anxiety being triggered, I moved from step 1 to step 4 within a months time. It is encouraging to know that once you acknowledge that you are grieving and are moving toward healing, it tends to move us through the stages more fluidly. While Jesus is our healer and savior, there are moments when healing takes work. (think of the people Jesus asked to do specific actions in order to be healed: spit in mud, dunk in the Jordan River, etc.) In my case, it took me going to a licensed therapist and work on techniques to help change my thinking patterns, which ultimately helped change my bad decision-making, reactions and irrational thoughts.
Take a moment and go over the stages of grieving. Have you experienced a loss lately? Think out of the box. Did a relationship go sour? Did you get cut off from someone or something. Are you saddened? Perhaps there was a dream that you always wanted to pursue but did not. If you are in a season of mourning loss in your life, try to figure out which stage you are in, and if you are stuck in a stage. If so, how long have you been in this stage?
It is also wise to evaluate and identify your triggers. What are the things triggering anxiety and depression in your life? Is it a feeling? Is it a person? Is it a physical location or situation? It is wise to know your triggers so you can become more self aware of your responses. If you can recognize triggers in advanced, you have the upper hand of being able to have more self-control over your response and eventually work on the roots of the WHY. Why does this event, location, person -- trigger my anxiety?
For now, take the time to think about your own life and where you currently are. Take time out to yourself and question yourself to yourself. These days, we don't take enough time to sit and be with ourselves and our baggage. Do you have anxieties and fears? Are you grieving? Are you stuck in a stage? Where are you at? What are some ways to acknowledge where you are so that you can heal?
Until we know ourselves and deal with ourselves and our own healing, it is much harder to deal with spouses, children, a mortgage, car payments, etc. Take time out to develop yourself and heal. Self care is a vital necessity, it not a luxury. When I hear people say that counseling is expensive and they can't pay for it, it's like saying that food is expensive and they can't pay for it. Somehow, someway, we manage to have enough for food because food is a necessity, not a luxury. I look at counseling the same way, especially if you are struggling with anxiety and depression, among other mental illnesses.
We will continue this discussion. I would love your feedback and to know where you are at this point in your walk. Together we can move forward in victory.