Saturday, January 8, 2011

Little Miss Sunshine

Today's post was written by Katie McNemar. She is a huge encouragement to me and I can't tell you how blessed I am to be able to share her writing with you. If you would like to share your story, send me an email.

I never know when it’s going to happen.  Sometimes it will hit me when I am in the middle of laughing at a joke.  All-of-a-sudden, I’ll feel a million miles away even though I am, physically, still in the same location.  I feel totally alone even though I am surrounded by people.   I look at the people I know and I feel like I don’t know them anymore.   The feeling of panic starts like a wave.  It grows in momentum until it finally comes crashing down on me.  I break out into a cold sweat.  My fight or flight response has been activated for no real reason.  I want to run, but I don’t want to freak everyone out or look like a crazy person.  It takes every drop of energy I have to not run.  The world seems to close in on me; wrap itself around me and squeeze so hard I can barely breathe.  I wish I could just unzip my skin and run out of the body that has me trapped inside.  The inability to calm myself down or talk myself out of this makes me feel like I am on a runaway train.  My stomach starts cramping and I get hot.  More sweating. 

Sometimes I don’t know why I start feeling this way and other times I can almost predict that a certain situation will bring it on.   Whether or not it is a self-fulfilling prophecy; I’m not sure.  No matter the cause, I don’t seem to be able to control it.   I have managed to learn how to sit or stand there and try to look “normal”. As if the panic attacks aren’t bad enough, there is also the accompanying depression. Anxiety’s BFF.  The only way I can describe it is to say that it feels like I am living in a slow moving dark cloud or haze.  When people talk about hating to get out of bed to go to work, or talk about feeling too tired to clean their house, I wonder if it is the same intense feeling of exhaustion that I feel when I say those things.  I don’t hate going to work or cleaning my house, but doing both of those things, sometimes, is so difficult for me to do that I simply can’t force myself.  I am not one of those people that cry a lot when they are depressed, in fact, I am quite the opposite.  I tend to feel numb and apathetic.  I can’t cry or even feel anything.  I just float. my secret.

I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression since I was around 9 or 10 years old.  In a small town in the early 90’s there wasn’t much talk of kids with anxiety and depression.  There wasn’t much talk of anxiety and depression in general.  I know now that I wasn’t the only one that struggled with these issues as a kid.  I was sent to all kinds of doctors and specialists, but no one could make sense of my strange symptoms.   I hated going to school because I was so embarrassed by the fact that I felt out of control.  I did everything I could to cover up my issue.  I didn’t go to sleepovers, I didn’t have friends over.  I even begged my brother not to have friends over.  During Christmas or birthdays I would only want my family around and even then I would sometimes stay in my room in my PJs.  I couldn’t help it that my family knew, but I did all that I could to hide my problem from everyone else. 

My physical symptoms were so painful and real that it was hard for my parents to accept that it could all be psychosomatic and a direct result of an anxiety disorder.  My parents took me to doctors until someone gave me a diagnosis that made sense to them.  How do you look your screaming, crying, miserable child in the eyes and tell her that her pain is all in her head?  Finally, I was diagnosed with possible irritable bowel syndrome and food and environmental allergies, but that didn’t make it go away.  In fact, it made it worse.

When I left home and went to college I finally went to see a therapist.  I was officially diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder when I was 19. I remember my therapist saying that she couldn’t believe I had struggled that long without treatment.  It was nice to finally have a name for the monster that controlled me, but at the same time it was another secret I had to keep.  Therapy never really worked; mainly because I refused to be honest with my therapist.  The drugs didn’t help either. Even if they helped with the anxiety they made me feel out of it; and I certainly didn’t need to feel any more like I was in a cloud.  For years I was off and on different medications until I finally gave up on them altogether about 4 years ago.  I haven’t been to therapy or taken meds for over 4 years.

Not many people know any of this about me.  My goal over the last twenty years has been to cover it all up as much as possible.  I don’t talk about it.  I don’t blog about it; at least not explicitly.  I have become an expert at hiding my secret, even from my own family and friends.   I allow very few people to get close enough to me to find this out.   It’s easier to keep people away than it is to figure out how to hide this fact from people over and over again.  Over these last twenty years I have developed my own ways of finding a comfortable way to deal with my anxiety and depression.  Being out of control of your feelings and your body is embarrassing, depressing, and exhausting.   For years after becoming a Christian I felt guilty or broken because I still struggled with these feelings.  I felt that if I could just “pray right” or be “right with God” then all of my issues would go away.  The deep deep emptiness and hopelessness that plagued my youth and young adulthood was mostly gone, but the anxiety and depression still remained…and remains to this day.  Literally…today.  I am anxious about writing this, because now you know my secret.

The light you see when you meet me or see me isn’t fake.   That’s real.  My positivity, joy, and peace isn’t fake.  It’s all real.  Most of the time the smile isn’t fake.  But the joy and peace that come with knowing Jesus doesn’t always mean that you will be “happy” or “calm” or not have struggles.  Maybe the anxiety and depression remain with me like a thorn in my side so that not only will I remain humble, but that I will be able to always empathize with people that suffer or struggle.  I pray to be completely released from it and believe that one day I will.  Maybe today.  Maybe the secret of it all allowed the depression and anxiety to keep its claws in me.  Maybe telling you my secret will take all of its power away and all that remains is the memories and experiences of a battle fought and won.  I pray that to be the case.  If it’s not, then all I have to say is….In my weakness, He is strong.  And He is the purpose for my life. 

If you are struggling with anxiety and depression, please know that you are not alone.  Feeling like no one can understand or help is one of the most damaging parts of these disorders; and it simply isn’t true.  You are not alone in your fight.  And neither am I.  Let today be the day that you stop trying to fight this battle alone.  There is hope.  There is relief.  

Katie McNemar is a twenty-something, Jesus-loving girl that grew up in small town in WV and now lives, works, and plays in Washington, DC.  She writes a blog called The Dailies, which chronicle her random ramblings as well as her journey to draw closer to God.  

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