The Truth of My Victory (Part 2)

I didn’t come from a household that believed in God.  As a matter of fact, my family was against the church.  I perceived that God wanted me to be perfect, but knew that I could not be, so he picked on me.  Everything was about rules and obedience. I had a responsibility: to take care of my sister and to be perfect.  But I knew that I could not, so I failed myself, my family, and God every day.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had a step family that was always in and out of the house.  In essence, our families did not ever come together as one. It seemed to be my sister, my mom, and I against my stepfather and his two kids.  I secretly wanted an escape, but did not know how to get one.

When my parents got divorced, my dad started dating a Christian.  She had a daughter my age who quickly became one of my best friends.  They were always asking me to go to church.  I went sometimes to make my friend happy.  I didn’t really see anything special about going.  We went to events where kids played games and listened to stories (stories that I don’t really remember).

My mom was very much against me going to church.  I could easily get out of things by calling my mom.  If I didn’t want to go to church, I would call my mom, and she would call my dad and say that she was picking me up.  I didn’t have to do anything that made me uncomfortable.

One day, we were at Wendy’s.  As I stuffed my Frosty into my mouth, my dad asked, “Do you want to see your friend today?” I always saw my friend on Fridays…why would that day be any different?  I nodded.  “Well, she’s going to youth group. So you’re going with her.”  Youth group is like church but for teenagers.  So many thoughts raced through my head: I was going to be judged; people were going to know my past; I can not go to church.

Under the table, I sent a text message to my mom: “Dad is taking me to church. Help!”  She replied, “That sounds great, honey. Have a good time.”  Really?  The woman who didn’t want me going to church is actually letting me go?

I went there, and I actually had a good time.  We played games in teams, and I made a few friends.  Nobody asked me about my past or my insecurities.  People did not judge me like I thought, but gave me a reason to want to go back.  At the end of the night, we made bracelets and listened to the pastor talk.  I heard for the first time that God was not angry at me, but that he wanted to be my friend.  He did not expect me to be perfect; he just wanted me to love him.  On that night, I made a decision to trust God.  This decision resulted in a journey that brought me to peace.


The Real Truth of My Victory (Part 1)

Over these past few days, I have been discussing about how I have overcome anxiety.  Between working retail and taking a TEFL certification class, it is has been difficult to remain consistent these days.  I feel like I am supposed to share more of my personal story of how I overcame anxiety.  I will be splitting my story into segments so that it is easier for me to write and for others to read.  Enjoy!

I hear so many people claiming that they have the cure for anxiety.  Doctors prescribe anti-anxiety medication to even those who do not have a diagnosed anxiety.  Nutritionists boast that they have found a super food that is all natural and can cure any disease.  Pastors preach sermons that have the same Bible verses about how to have peace, claiming that anxiety comes from a lack of faith and from sin.

I tried praying harder.  I tried counseling.  I tried all of the techniques that people told me would help.  But I still woke up with a racing heart and troubled mind.  I became discouraged.  It looked like everyone else could live in peace but me.  There was no hope for me.

Everyone else seemed to have a handle on their lives. I was the only one struggling to survive.  Normal people could go to work without having a stomachache.  Other people could take a test without having trouble breathing.  But I was the weird one.  I was the one who overreacted, who didn’t understand, and who wasn’t understood.  While I spent time with friends, I could not concentrate on the moment.  I tried convincing myself that I wasn’t going to mess up, that I wasn’t going to give anyone proof that I was a failure.  If I made one wrong move, everyone would know that I wasn’t perfect…and that wasn’t okay.

I have been talking about how to overcome anxiety. Since I was little, anxiety seemed to have overcome me.  Anxiety was a rock, and I was being crushed underneath it.  All my life, I heard the negative voices around me telling me that I would never amount to anything.  It is interesting that I won awards as a child for being good at reading and writing, and that two of my teachers wanted me to skip to the next grade, but I could only remember the people who trampled on my dreams.  No matter what achievements I made, I could not hear someone cheering me on, telling me to keep going.

I used anxiety to feel in control.  However, anxiety became a reminder that, at the end of the day, I was still a failure and I was never going to have a happy ending.  Anxiety was a result of my dead end life.  I had no hope for my future, but I had no way out of the life I was living.  It’s like I was stuck.  I was not going to get anywhere, but I still felt the urge to try.


It’s Just a Panic Attack…

Panic attacks are sudden, and they feel overwhelming.  They seem so real and so dramatic.  As I mentioned in the previous post, whenever I have a panic attack, I feel the urgent need to fix the situation instantly.  It feels like my world will fall apart if I do not have instant relief from my anxiety.  I noticed that there would be certain situations, like going to work or taking a test, where I would always have a stomachache or a sudden shortening in my breath.  In those moments, I felt like I did not have control, and I did anything to get rid of the insecurity.

One time, I went to a counseling session.  The counselor gave me some practical techniques to help me when I am feeling anxious.  In addition to deep breathing and exercise, normalizing anxiety makes it appear less threatening.  She told me to talk myself down, giving me advice about what to say:  “You have a panic attack every time you go to work.  You have never died from it before, and you will not die from it today.  No one has ever died from a panic attack.”  I had never realized that panic attacks don’t kill, even though they appear to try to steal my life.

The next time I was leaving for work, my same stomachache kicked in, right on cue.  I put my hands on my stomach and told myself out loud, “You are only having a panic attack.  There is nothing wrong with your stomach.  You have a panic attack every day before you go to work.  You are going to have a good day at work, and nothing bad is going to happen to you.”  Instantly the panic attack stopped.  I took the time to calm down and normalize my anxiety, and the anxiety stopped.

Normalizing anxiety does not mean accepting defeat.  You do not have to walk under the shadow of anxiety.  This exercise simply involves telling yourself that anxiety has stricken before, and it has never hurt you.  Normalizing anxiety is taking away the power that anxiety has over you.  By telling yourself that anxiety is normal, not scary, your anxiety will become less threatening.


Slow Down!

In tenth grade, I could never get a perfect score on my math tests.  I would always be the first student to hand in her test.  Since I knew all the answers, it was easy for me to go through the test quickly.  However, every time my teacher would hand back my tests, they would have at least one question wrong.  My teacher would tell me to look over my test.  I would scan each sheet of paper, looking for that red ink.  The ink would often circle around a mistake that could have easily been avoided.  I would have no problem doing the hard math, like factoring or simplifying the fraction.  The mistake would come when I was one step away from the answer. All I had to do was add 25 and 30 (for example), but I would write down 65 and move to the next question.  I knew how to do math.  I learned addition in kindergarten.  However, because I rushed through the test instead of taking my time and checking my answers, I would make mistakes.

Yesterday, I discovered that I still have not learned how to slow down and check my answers.  I am taking a TEFL certification class so that I can teach English to non-native English speakers.  Since I had off from work, and I am working every other day this week, I decided to get as much done of my weekly assignments as possible.  I clicked through the lessons, taking notes and gaining insight about how to teach English pronunciation.  I finished a week’s worth of notes in two hours.  Since my momentum was going, I decided to take most of my assignments – five multiple-choice quizzes – at that moment.  The program gave me an hour to work on each of the quizzes, but each quiz only took me five minutes to complete.  I felt pretty confident because I had just read the material and I had gotten a perfect score on my first quiz.  I didn’t bother to look over my work. Expecting to get a perfect score on all the quizzes, I was astonished.  I got three answers wrong on each quiz.  If I had taken the time to review the material, or at least to check my answers, maybe I would have done better on my quizzes.

Rushing clouds our judgment and makes it difficult to live to our full potential.  When I have a panic attack, I feel a sudden urge to do anything to calm me down. If I am in a stressful situation, I feel the need to leave as soon as possible.  I have noticed that this robs me of the opportunity to enjoy what I have in front of me.  Sometimes, I feel anxious at work, a job I am very grateful to have.  Because of a huge mistake that I made one time at another job, I often want to rush through helping a customer so that I do not make a big mistake at my new job.

Now that I have realized this, I have tried to become more aware of my rushing.  Before helping a customer, I take a deep breath and consciously remind myself that I am blessed to have a job that I enjoy.  I stop to ask the customer how he or she is doing. We sometimes have conversations, but most of the time my customers simply appreciate the recognition.  I have been told that I have a positive attitude, and that my optimism has a good influence on other people.  By taking the time to slow down and enjoy what I am doing, I am positively affecting the lives of other people as well.

What could you do if you took a break?  If you feel an uncomfortable urgency, take a deep breath, tell yourself to relax, and choose to do something that will help you rather than hurt you.  I have heard it said that strong emotions – both good and bad – can lead to unwise decisions.  You can save yourself a lot of guilt, regret, and anxiety by slowing down and reviewing the situation.  Slow down, and enjoy what you have in front of you.


Tell Me How That Makes You Feel

I used to go to counseling.  After talking her ear off about my childhood, my life as a college student, and my future plans, she woudl reply: “Interesting.  Now, is there anybody you can talk to about your feelings on a daily basis?”  That was an easy question.  “Nope.  No one at all.”  She squinted her eeys at me in curiosity.  “You don’t have anyone to talk to?  No one you could call at any time of the day to ask for help?”  The answer was still the same.

For a long time, I had believed that nobody cared about me or what I had to say.  Although I knew that it was not true, I acted and thought liked I believed it.  I had made excuses for people so that I did not have to face rejection.  She’s too busy.  He’s too preoccupied.  She has problems of her own to handle; why would she want to help me?  This is how I lived, knowing and believing that no one wanted to help me.

I started to ask for help last summer.  I took a trip to Southern Spain to help with children’s camps and ESL classes.  There was one time when I had a really bad fever.  The fever was probably caused by the heat, and it made me feel nauseous and helpless.  Normally, at home, I could easily grab some water, take a shower, or go to sleep.  But I was in another country, speaking Spanish in a school classroom filled with kids.  I didn’t know what to do.  One of my friends came over and put her arm around me.  I told her, “I don’t feel well.”  That was the first time in a long time that I had admitted to someone else that I needed help.  My friend asked me what was wrong.  I put my hand on my foreahd and told her in Spanish that I had a fever.  We walked to the bathroom. She put cold water on my head and neck, told me to breathe, and then took me to get a glass of water.  Within about a half hour, my fever had left me.  If I hadn’t asked for help, I would have sulked in my fever, and I would have believed that nobody cared about me.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy to talk with others about my own feelings, especially if they do not seem interested.  It is also difficult when my feelings are fresh.  For example, if someone says something offensive to me, it is difficult for me to express that my feelings were hurt.  This is not something that I can learn overnight.  As I said in my series about being childlike, it takes risks to depend on other people.  But I am learning that it takes more of a risk to keep your emotions a secret from other people.

I always had anxiety because I knew that I could not get help from other people.  After learning how to trust people with my anxiety, I feel like I am not alone anymore.  When my eyes get wide and I have trouble breathing – a sign of a panic attack – I have friends now that understand the causes and know how to help. I also have friends that ask me how I am doing and then genuinely listen to me talk, which prevents panic attacks.  Having others help you carry your burdens and help you live your life allows you to feel more at peace.  However, if they need to give you advice, listen to them and accept what they have to say.  They can see things in a way that you cannot, so they can offer you a fresh perspective on the situation.

My counselor knew the value of sharing my emotions with other people.  If you trust other people with your emotions, your anxiety will not be as strong.  Learning that you are not alone will help you to feel more in control.


How Does That Make You Feel?

If you’ve been following my other blog posts, you would know that emotions are a big deal to me.  The reason why is the topic of this blog post: My failure to acknowledge my emotions on a daily basis has been the ultimate source of my anxiety.  For a long time, I kept my emotions bottled up inside of me, afraid to show others how I felt.  I was scared that no one would understand–or, even worse, that no one would care.  As a result, my anxiety became the only thing that I would let myself feel.  On the outside, I became quiet, reserved, and stoic.

I would have random moments where I would not be able to control my emotions.  My friend would invite me to hang out, and I would angrily scream that I was always busy and I could never hang out with anyone!  My mom and I would go out to eat, and I would start crying.  I would apologize and then become irritated because I would not know why I was crying.  I would have a great day at the beach with my friends, then come home and have a bout of depression.  I believe that this chaos of emotions is due to the fact that I did not deal with my emotions on a daily basis.

As a result of my inability to control how I felt, I would feel more and more anxiety because I did not know what was wrong with me.  I even developed psychosomatic symptoms (physical symptoms caused by mental or emotional stress) because I was not emotionally healthy.  There was a period of time where I could not eat anything; everything I ate made me sick.  I would also randomly get headaches.  These physical sicknesses, as well as the episodes of emotional outburst, were red flags that something needed to change.

This last year of college, I learned how to identify my emotions.  I discovered the value of my emotions, and the freedom to express them whenever I needed.  When others told me to stop overreacting and just calm down, I stood firm in my ability and entitlement to feel what was in my heart.

I am finding a balance between expressing when I feel sad and forgetting about all of the blessings that I have. Today, I read some insightful advice from Tommy Newberry’s 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life.  He made it clear that it is okay to feel emotions, but it is also important not to let those emotions justify negative thinking or behavior.  I realized that my negative emotions (irritability, feeling unloved, and feeling belittled) come from my refusal to take responsibility for my emotions.  I justify my emotions by blaming others or saying that I’m entitled.  I have a right to feel irritable because I did not sleep well last night.  I would feel happy, if she did not look at me the wrong way this morning.  Well, now that I am an adult, I am now responsible for how I feel and what I think.

You are responsible for your emotions.  You could either suppress them or dump them onto other people.  It is important not to justify your emotions but to validate them.  You can start by writing a journal entry, maybe something like this:

Today, I feel (emotion) because (reason why you feel this way).  I know that this is a valid emotion, but it does not have to control how I live.  In order to be happy today, I can (practical ways that you can feel joy again, whether it is talking about it with a friend, changing your perspective about the situation, or doing something fun to distract yourself from it for a little while).  Today is going to be a great day, filled with joy and peace rather than anxiety and negativity.

It is difficult to sort through your emotions when you have a lot of them. However, identifying your emotions can dispel anxiety and cause long lasting peace.  I can honestly say that identifying and learning how to express my emotions has been the most helpful exercise in overcoming anxiety.  Because of the support of other people, the grace of God, and the many hours I spend a day writing in my journal, I do not have any more stomach problems or headaches.


When Energy Attacks

I’ve been told that emotions are just energy.  I have found this to be true.  I have always had more energy than the average human being.  Even without regularly drinking coffee, I rarely have been able to take naps, except when I had been deprived of sleep for long periods of time.  I usually have been hyper and excited most of the time.  I recently noticed that it doesn’t take much to make me happy.  I burst with excitement over the smallest of compliments, pieces of joyful news, and inspirational quotations.

Many times, I’ll become joyful, and those around me will tell me to calm down.  Among some people, I have learned how to hide my joy because they don’t approve or they don’t understand.  As a result, I have energy within me that is waiting to be exerted.  If I choose not to let it manifest in joy, the energy will automatically manifest in anxiety.  There is no other way that I had allowed myself to release the energy.  So I’d wake up in the middle of the night, with energy welling up inside of me, and I wouldn’t know what to do.

In learning to overcome anxiety, I have discovered how to control the energy within me. I avoid high fructose corn syrup and other types of sugar (as well as caffeine) so my body does not create unnecessary energy.  If I ingest too much sugar or caffeine and then start to feel anxious, I will tell myself that my anxiety is not caused by a legitimate fear but by an excess of sugar.  Instead of freaking out, I go for a walk or a bike ride every day before I start my routine.  My favorite way to exert energy is to dance. I remember a time where I could feel a panic attack starting.  I just stood up and started dancing.  I jumped up and down, not caring who saw me.  After a few minutes, I began to feel tired.  I danced some more, past my fatigue, and then I stopped.  I was so tired that I fell to the floor.  Whatever troubling thoughts I had didn’t matter anymore.  I was too tired to care.  But because I exercised, my body created endorphins, so I felt peaceful and happy.

If you struggle with anxiety, try to become aware of the energy you ingest.  Record the food you eat, and see if a diet change makes a difference.  Women’s bodies could create more energy during different times of the month, so being aware of that is helpful as well.  Eating food with hormones could also cause a chemical imbalance that could produce anxiety.  When you exert energy, you could go for a walk.  If you’re in panic mode, you could even go for a run.  You don’t have to be on the defensive side of a panic attack.  If you feel a panic attack coming, fight it before it gets the chance to overtake you.


Know Your Boundaries (And Use Them!)

I have an allergy to nuts. When I eat certain types of nuts, my throat swells and I have trouble breathing.  Therefore, I have to be very clear about what I can and can’t eat.  When people cook me or buy me something to eat , I always ask them if there are any nuts in the food.  Although in most cultures it is rude to refuse food, in this case, my life and health is more important than being polite.   Recently, I also discovered that I was carb sensitive, meaning that eating carbs makes me gain weight.  Once I eliminate as many carbs as possible from my diet, I lose weight instantly.  Although it is important for me to maintain physical health, I will give myself the freedom to eat carbs if someone brings me to a carb-crazy restaurant or bakes me cookies.  My sensitivity to carbs is not destructive to my health, but I should limit my interaction with them in order to stay healthy.  Eating carbs every once in a while is fine, but eating them over a long period of time could make me sick.

Just like our physical health is affected by certain types of food, our mental health is affected by certain types of situations.  Certain situations trigger anxiety in certain people because of their past experiences.  Someone may have drowned as a child, so deep water may scare him.  Someone may have been betrayed by a close friend, so she may be scared of commitment.  Just as we should know ourselves and our personality types, we should also know our boundaries.  We should know what makes us anxious, and we should avoid them.  There are some situations that could lead to stress, but do not trigger anxiety.  When we go for long periods of time under these conditions of stress, however, it could result in anxiety.

Personally, I would have a panic attack if I was working with people who do not follow structured plans.  Every time I had been in a disorganized situation, my stomach would get in knots and I would have difficulty breathing.  When I learned that lack of consistency makes me anxious, I began to communicate my boundaries with my co-workers, supervisors, and classmates.  If I had to work on a group project, I would tell my partners that I need deadlines or else I would be upset.  I also take responsibility for my boundaries by establishing my own deadlines when possible.

A less serious boundary is my bedtime.  I go to bed early, and when I am tired, I become irritable.  Lack of sleep does not give me anxiety; it only gives me stress.  However, as time progresses, the less sleep I get, the more anxious I become.  Therefore, I try to get enough sleep each night.  If I do not get enough sleep, when I am hanging out with my friends or I am about to have a serious conversation with a loved one, I will make it known that I am irritable.  If someone says the wrong thing when I am tired, I will get angry because I am more sensitive without sleep.

There are times where we may feel called to do something uncomfortable, but understand the implications of that decision.  Although it is good to make choices that are beyond our comfort zone sometimes, going against our comfort zone could cause anxiety.  Being aware of this normal emotional reaction will help you prepare yourself to handle your anxiety.  In another post, I will talk about practical ways to handle anxiety, such as deep breathing exercises.

By remaining unaware of boundaries (or by neglecting to make your boundaries clear), you are creating more anxiety within yourself.  We all need boundaries in order to survive.  People will understand if you have boundaries, and if they don’t, well, at least you’re taking care of yourself.  As you think about your boundaries, think about what gives you anxiety.  Think about the last times you have had anxiety; think about the situations and the people involved.  When you identify your boundaries, make them clear to the people around you. It is helpful to have an accountability partner to help you keep your boundaries.  By freely stating your boundaries, you are protecting yourself as well as people you encounter from unnecessary anxiety.  At the same time, you should take care of yourself by honoring your boundaries.


Know Yourself

It seems that the most socially acceptable type of person is an extrovert who goes with the flow and has no problem making friends.  For a long time, I felt like I was unacceptable because I didn’t jump at the opportunity to hang out with people.  Before transferring to the school where I graduated, I went to a school that always had events.  Students were always out of their dorms, interacting with other students on campus.  After a few days of it (yep, a few DAYS), I had enough.  My two roommates would invite me out, but I would politely decline.  Even more time passed, and they would still ask me. I would get angry at them, not because they were being rude, but because I felt like I was doing something wrong.  I didn’t want to hang out with everyone else. I wanted to be by myself or a small group of other people.  While other people wanted to make small talk while being surrounded by people they didn’t know, I wanted to share my feelings with a close group of friends that I did know.

My failure to conform to the way society told me to behave gave me anxiety.  There was a battle within me: should I suck it up and act more extroverted, or should I become a shut-in and forget everyone?  At the time, I didn’t understand this terminology, so instead I said to myself, “What’s wrong with me?  Let me take out my frustrations on my friends and family.”

Ultimately, I became a shut-in and forgot everyone.  As a result, I didn’t talk about my emotions or struggles with anyone (which, I discovered later, is something I need to do in order to maintain peace).  I was in a completely different environment with people I didn’t know, and I was trying to find a balance between schoolwork, my emotional health, my spirituality, and my social life.  I felt alone, and I needed help.  Instead of asking for help and looking to others for support, I found my own answers.  I developed a prideful attitude, that only my advice would work for me.  I believed that no one else could help me, and that no one else could tell me what to do.

As I became more mature, I started to discover more about myself.  I took a few personality tests (the free, online versions!) and I learned that my personality is different from the socially acceptable type.  Although I enjoy to be around people now, in reality I still need time to myself in order to feel calm on a regular basis.  I tend to make decisions based on my emotions more than rational thinking, so understanding my emotions is important for me.  Finally, I am a person who thrives on structure, so last-minute changes in plans frustrate me.  Therefore, when I am in situations that involve interacting with a lot of people that I don’t know, making rational decisions that do not consider emotions, or changing the plans last minute, I tend to have more anxiety than in situations that fit my personality type.

In order to move forward, it is important to know yourself.  You were created in a way that is good, even if it is different from the rest.  I encourage you to take a personality test or ask yourself questions to help you understand yourself better.  Take a look at your life and notice when you were anxious in the past.  Was there anything in the situation that went against your personality?  Now, I am not saying that you should avoid all situations that make you uncomfortable.  You will have to interact with people who are different from you.  However, if you know yourself, you can be better prepared.  When you know yourself, you become more comfortable with who you are, and it is easier to have peace.


New Series: Overcoming Anxiety

I find great joy in using my struggles and successes to bring encouragement to other people.  This next series that I feel I should share is a rough topic for me.  Having had anxiety since I was seven, I could say that I am an expert at dealing with anxiety.  I have heard many times that if you have anxiety, you are living in sin or you do not have enough faith.  While there is some truth to that, it is not encouraging for someone who seeks to be obedient to God.  After praying and seeking counsel, I have realized that there is more to overcoming anxiety than simply thinking good thoughts or breathing clean air.  By the glory of God, I am a lot better than when I was even a few months ago.  I hope to share what I have learned with you over the course of the next few days.  

I will be talking about practical ways that I have developed more peace.  I will include advice given by my counselors, good friends, and authority figures.  I believe in a God that heals, so I will be discussing how God has helped me find peace.  

Although I have dealt with anxiety and have had success in overcoming it, I am not a doctor or a psychologist. I can only suggest speculations about what has helped me.  I do not claim that what worked for me will definitely work for you, but I hope that it encourages you that you are not alone.  If you have an actual anxiety disorder, I suggest that you go to counseling.  But if you are simply looking to live a more peaceful life, I encourage you to read this series.