So a lot has happened in just the short span of a few days after emotionally and publicly confessing a small bit about my anxiety the other day. It even connects with a lot of what I’ve been through the past 9 months. It all just seemed to come to a head and climax. Like a zit… it had been building for that long until it finally popped on Thursday.
Thank you to those of you who encouraged and have been praying for me. I’m here to tell you that the Lord has been listening and answering!
If I were to even come close to being able to articulate everything that has occurred, this blog post would exceed that of a novel. To spare you that excessive length and reading time, I will attempt to condense and organize it into 5 parts. It’s going to be a lot regardless though. I am hoping that these posts will be a testament to the Lord’s goodness and clearly indicate how amazing He is and incredibly merciful.
I will quote various people in these posts because each of them were crucial in helping me to grasp some deeper things the Lord wanted to reveal to me as it related to my anxiety and hang ups.
“Exposure therapy… you know, when you think about it, that’s really the Lord’s entire approach.” – Brother
He said this on Thursday after I’d spilled my guts about all that the Lord had been surfacing in my heart. It was a little bit in jest to get me to order my food (something that used to make me extremely uncomfortable that I’d been over for many years… but I didn’t want to order it that day – mind you, I had a puffy red face and eyes from exhaustive weeping), but the statement still connected with me.
I’m familiar with the term “exposure therapy”… take the psychology humanism connotation out of it though. Exposure therapy is something I’ve tried forcing myself to do on a weekly, if not daily, basis for many years. And I’m aware of it.
If you read my Anxiety, Hang-Ups, and in Need post, this will make more sense… I was raw when I wrote it because I was right in the middle of an emotional exhausting moment. Yet, I didn’t share everything in detail. The honest fact of the matter was that I have daily experienced anxiety for 10+ years. I kept it quiet except with a select few in my family, because to me it was such a normal daily occurrence that I didn’t find it extremely unusual… I just kept telling myself I was awkward. So even in sharing my feelings with my family members, I tried to keep it light and joking, when in actuality it was often tormenting and debilitating for me. Sweating, trembling, heart pounding, dry mouth (which then causes bad breath… and more anxiety at the thought of someone smelling it!), muscle tension anxiety was my reality whenever I hit the public scene… it would let up as long as I continued to expose myself to the same stimuli over and over, but throw any new stimuli at me and it would sometimes take me hours to calm my mind and body down again. Sounds a little sad, doesn’t it?
I wasn’t always this way and not in every situation. The Lord did equip me with persistence and stubbornness though. I constantly fight and want to overcome. So that’s what I wanted to do. Face those situations and purposefully expose myself to them so I could feel the feelings and work through them.
I couldn’t find the words to describe it for a long time, but trying to figure out the problem was always a quest in the back of my mind. When I started attending a university last year, I took an Anatomy & Physiology course and an Abnormal Psychology course because both were requirements for the degree I was attempting to pursue. Without realizing it at the time, I was desperately trying to diagnose myself and figure out my issues as I learned information in each of those classes. All while still experiencing the torment of “my awkwardness” because of the anxiety and fears gripping me each day I encountered a social situation. I would push myself sometimes and purposefully tried to put myself in certain situations that would make me uncomfortable (when I was feeling capable enough to handle it)… ‘ok, talk to the bus driver this time… introduce yourself and ask a question…‘. Those would be easy and safe, though even still, they required no interaction with peers and were situations I was used to in being polite and interacting with service people. I’d feel great and accomplished on those days though. Yet I rarely felt like myself, I felt alone and inadequate 99% of the time while walking around on campus. I mostly found peace in my morning jogs when no one was out or when I could put my ipod in my ears and listen to music, ignoring the feelings that cropped up from merely walking by another human being.
When I would learn about stress or disorders related to anxiety in my Psychology class, I would look into it deeper and read on symptoms and criteria that professionals had researched and studied for years. I put myself into the box of having a Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD… ironic?)… it made sense, I met all the measurable criteria that researchers had established for it. ‘I have a social anxiety disorder…’ was something I’d told myself my first semester of college. I even considered going to get diagnosed for it. After all, I wasn’t a “professional” and the clinical Psychologist who was teaching the Abnormal Psych course had warned us not to try to diagnose ourselves since it was just a general overview of disorders anyway. Yet because of my stubbornness and because I hate labels and excuses of diagnoses, I pushed myself not to believe it and hated sticking myself there for very long. Something inside me felt miserable trying to make sense of my “issues” under such terms and criteria.
But I still tried to make sense of it all through “science” in information I learned in my Anatomy & Physiology class. When I learned of things that the human body does physiologically and which anatomical organs are responsible for the stress and anxiety symptoms, I attempted to make sense of me in that light and fix my physiological symptoms. Because I believe in God and that He created me, I still wanted to fix myself in a way that would honor Him and use things He created so my body would recognize and target my physiological functioning to heal itself. I found some good remedies and they were actually quite helpful. Yet still I focused on the symptoms, never the root or real reason for what was going on within me.
So I believe God wanted me to go through this process, to try to “fix” or make sense of “myself” only to fall flat on my face and never accomplish anything REAL or deep enough. I needed to feel that… so I could then go through HIS exposure therapy.
Then the end of the semester was here, home, and time to breathe/process… or so I thought. My issues cropped up in even greater force. They were right in my face. I was exposed to situations that caused more inner turmoil. My anxiety hit so hard and I couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it. I shared it with my friends who had never heard of it being a part of my life. I still couldn’t relax or chill out with some of the safest people that I knew. I was quiet, sweating, and unable to be myself around some of my best friends… and I was trying to explain myself. It was really just a lot of excuses and things I’d never dealt with.
After getting out of college, I was getting more “exposure therapy”… but this time it wasn’t me forcing myself into it. It was the Lord exposing me and exposing me to situations that I couldn’t dodge or get away from. Anxiety is exhausting. But trying to define yourself as anxiety ridden and debilitated… even more ridiculous and exhausting.
I hit situations that started exposing my issues and brought them to my awareness and exposed my dark heart to the Lord. I had let anxiety define me. I had let it grip my heart and dictate who I am. I had not given these things over to the Lord. I hadn’t laid them down at the Cross. Some deep stuff surfaced in my heart on where it had all started, so I was so raw and sensitive on Thursday that every little thing was hitting my heart and making me break down and cry.
I was broken and weak, but that’s exactly where I needed to be. Not focusing on how to fix symptoms, not through Psychology or Physiology or human means… but through the Cross and deliverance that only Jesus brings – the Lord exposed me and started working on the root and deeper problem, rather than the symptoms. It was/is kinda scary, but it’s necessary… and it’s healing.
My real “Exposure Therapy” began on Thursday… but the Lord is still not done. He’s doing this gently and it isn’t what I thought it’d look like or be. It is good though, because He is good. I want the reality, I want to be changed, I want to be healed (even if it seems so miniscule, the Lord wants to set me free from it)… and I want the Lord to be glorified through it all! Exposure therapy is necessary… everything hidden will be exposed one day anyway. Why not let God start the process now?
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. – Ephesians 5:13