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What Anxiety & Depression Taught Me about Myself, The World, & God (Part 2 of 3)

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve learned through my recent battle with anxiety and depression. I share this story only because I want to encourage you. I share because, perhaps, one of you is sitting where I was 6 months ago. Maybe one of you needs to know someone else understands. This is the second post of a 3-part series. To read part 1, click here.

 

Growing up I was a little girl who followed The Rules. Over the years, I realized I needed to play by different Rules depending on who I was with. Grown-ups had different Rules than the girls on the cheer team, and I learned to expertly navigate both. I followed The Rules because I learned that girls who are accepted don’t rock the boat. I wanted desperately to be accepted.

 

At the same time that I was learning to play by The Rules of people, I was also discovering that the Universe itself actually has NO rules at all.

 

The Rules of The Universe

 

It was in kindergarten that my favorite Uncle Eric committed suicide. That same year my P.E. teacher murdered the mother of one of my classmates. At age five, I learned that life is unpredictable, death is always just around the corner, and most people are bad. I grew afraid and nervous. I unconsciously chewed craters into the insides of my cheeks and picked at the cuticles of my nails until my thumbs bled.

 

My little hands began to tighten. With white-knuckles, I clung to anything I could possibly control—my schedule, my performance, my image. And I haven’t let go since. Until recently.

 

In high school and college, my theories about life were confirmed. In my teens, I attended a funeral of a close friend or family member every six months. For 8 years, every six months there was a tragedy. Suicides, horrible accidents, cancer. My high school class of 2007 lost ten classmates from freshman year to senior year. In college, I lost my sweet 13-year-old cousin, Taylor, a beloved mentor, my grandfather, my best friend’s mother, a dear sorority sister…

 

During that time, I decided God is good but staying in control is better.

 

Over the years, my faith and love for God remained strong. During that season of loss, I ran to Him because I knew of nowhere else to go. I knew I needed God, but the truth was I did not know how to trust Him.

 

I was too distracted by my fears of losing another loved one to remember God’s obvious faithfulness in my life. I was too confused by the circumstances in front of me to understand the significance of His eternal promises in Scripture.

 

So, my theology became this: The world is not safe. God is good. But He is not trustworthy. Perfection and control are trustworthy.

 

The years passed with sleepless nights from worrying and endless prayers. Long hours and impossibly full schedules. Because control felt good, but busyness was better, and success and approval were ecstasy.

 

So I planned my wardrobe meticulously and obsessively straightened my hair. I said the right things and obeyed the Tules. I went to church and diligently read my Bible and prayed and sang worship songs with my eyes closed tight.  I turned my homework in early, triple checked.

 

I killed myself to appear perfect. Because perfection was the price for safety. Control was the key to happiness.

 

The Law of Success

 

Every so often, I would look up and realize that I must not have been following The Rules correctly, because it never really felt good enough. I was chronically anxious and so deeply insecure. I was peppy on the outside but hollow and worried underneath.

 

So, I would get angry at myself for not being disciplined enough, for not being likable enough. So, I would push harder. Work harder. Pray harder.

 

I know now, that all that pushing, pushed my natural self away.

 

All that being-afraid-to-make-mistakes—to inconvenience, to disappoint, to appear less than perfect—belittled and shamed that happy little girl until she became a tiny, anxious, depressed little girl inside a shiny, “totally fine,” grown-up woman costume with red lipstick and Tory Burch wedges.

 

See, as I got a little older, I learned about another important Rule. And this one I believed with vehement conviction: It is not acceptable to say, “I cannot do that.”

 

Grown-up girls should be capable. They should say, “Yes.”

 

I learned there was a very important girl code that must always, always be followed – Prove you can do anything a man can do. As an adult, I wore that phrase like a banner as I took on every challenge I could find—leadership positions, marathons, catching the attention of an out-of-my-league guy, only to prove I did not need him.

 

After college, I got married to my best friend. David is, without a doubt, the biggest blessing of my life. He’s my best friend—kind, selfless, funny. But marriage brought new Rules of success according to Pinterest and Hollywood—a well-decorated home, a fantastic sex life, and dinners that taste like Paula Dean but are also Paleo, gluten-free, and inexpensive. Marriage brought joy and companionship and personal growth, but it also revealed new areas of my life to polish.

 

In the workforce, I fought to prove I was capable at every step of my early career. I continued to say, “yes” and, “I can handle that” as much as I possibly could.

 

Because yes is the definition of success.

 

Success brought me more chances to say yes, so I did. I said yes until the weight of all the yeses and the trying to be perfect nearly suffocated me. The yeses filled my mind as I tried desperately to fall asleep and they woke me up when I finally did. They ripped at the walls of my stomach and lodged themselves into my skull in the form of angry, week-long migraines.

 

Until finally, it was all just too much. I found myself dry heaving and hyperventilating in an empty parking lot near my office in a massive panic attack. Just one of many that month. Through tears I half-whispered, half-gasped, “God, please… please God, help me…please…”

 

Asking for Help

 

Finally, I became so broken and hollow and fragile that I didn’t care about being perfect anymore. I needed help. And I didn’t care if it meant telling the world I’m a fake. The reality is I’m not classy and well-spoken and perfect. I’m broken, awkward, and insecure.

 

I called a Christian counselor and found myself sitting—shoulders tightened up to my ears, tears streaming down my face—telling my story. When I told her my story, I didn’t talk about my resume or my 4.0 or the brand of shoes I was wearing. I told her what really mattered— The Truth. I told her that I’m human and flawed and I desperately need help.

 

And do you know how she responded? In the most loving, understanding way, she said, “Yep.”

 

During our time together she asked me questions that made me think and shared with me verses I already knew about my identity in Christ. She affirmed my earnest studying of God’s Word and encouraged me to continue seeking after Him.

 

She also explained to me that the serotonin levels in my brain were dangerously low—almost non-existent—and how that imbalance handicaps the way I view the World. She helped me see that God is big enough to heal us through the Holy Spirit and His Word, and He is definitely big enough to heal us with the assistance of modern medicine. I am grateful for both.

 

The right prescription is a gift—it has been for me. But medication couldn’t cure the root of my anxiety and depression. The root is always spiritual in some way.

 

For me, The Rules and The Truth were tangled up so tightly in my mind that I could no longer see reality through them. Slowly, with a bit of help from the lubrication of extra serotonin, we began the hard work of untangling.

 

When The (false) Rules finally separated from The Truth, Scripture gained new authority in my life. Verses I had read a thousand-and-seven times—like Romans 8:1—finally rang true. My identity as a daughter of Christ grew more solid and continues to develop every day.

 

“Therefore this is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

 

I am still in the middle of this journey. I think we are all are to some extent. We are all learning to untangle The Truth from the lies of what this World tells us or what we have told ourselves.

 

Here are a few of the Truths I’ve learned on this journey recently:

 

  • Control and Approval are false gods. No amount of planning or perfection or approval can produce a crop of true joy. True, lasting joy comes from Christ alone and we already have His approval. (Luke 6:22, Galatians 5:22, Romans 15:13)

 

  • It’s OK to say NO. Success is not found in yes. It’s found in wise investments of time. And sometimes a wise investment of time is rest. (Matt. 11:28)

 

  • It’s OK to ask for help. In my weakness He is strong (2 Cor. 12:9.) This has never been clearer to me than over the past year. Pretending you are strong only robs you of opportunities to experience the power and goodness of God.

 

  • I am a work in progress. And that’s OK. I guess this is why I decided to share this story with you. Because I want you to know, it’s OK to be tangled up and messy and emotional. We are in this together, friend. And God is perfect enough for the both of us. For all of us. (2 Cor. 5:21)

 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:21

 

To continue on to Part 3 click here

2 Comments

  1. Brenda Marks

    Morgan, well done!

  2. Pingback: What Anxiety & Depression Taught Me about Myself, The World, & God (Part 3 of 3) - Morgan Eseke

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