Thursday, January 3, 2013

Lessons Learned on My Journey through Anxiety and Depression: Part 4

It has been nearly two years now since the onset of my anxiety. As I think over these last two years and see how much I have learned and how much I have grown as well as how much I have suffered and continue, to a much smaller degree, to suffer, I’m at the same time grateful for this experience and filled with regret. I still am filled with questions of why? Why did I have to go through this, and why do I still need to experience anxiety to the level I still do? To some extent, I can answer these questions. My faith has grown exponentially, as has my strength, my character, and my tolerance of suffering. And I know there’s still growth that needs to happen. I am not there yet. And, really, I don’t know if I’ll ever be “there.”

The primary thing I continue to suffer from, besides the increasingly rare incidence of actual anxiety and the on edge feeling I more often feel, are constant palpitations. I feel these palpitations most notably as a strong pulse in my hands and in my head. If I stop to notice them during the day, they are there. But they are most obvious when I lay down at night, whether it’s because of my position or because I am finally still enough to notice them.  As soon as my ear hits the pillow, the palpitations sound through my head, and I feel them in my hands resting on the pillow or blanket, and they often run through my body. While not disabling and not of big concern to me, they are a nightly reminder of the anxiety I have experienced and continue to experience since January 2011. They keep the question at the forefront of my mind as to whether this anxiety and these palpitations have been caused by a physiological change in my body or whether they’re stress-related. And they remind me that I am not back to normal.

As a physical therapist in an outpatient clinic, I would at times treat clients with neck pain and related headaches. I would perform a treatment called a suboccipital release in which I would put pressure with my finger tips at the spot where the neck meets the skull. I would enjoy feeling those muscles relax under the pressure of my fingers. The first indication of this relaxation was typically a pulse – the patient’s pulse – beginning in that area. I never grew tired of feeling that pulse and, every time, would tell the patient I was working with that this pulse was beginning, and they would typically notice a relaxation soon after that. But, after the anxiety started and while I was still working in that clinic, the pulse in my own fingers was too strong to be able to feel my clients’ pulse. I remember being irritated by this, again not only because of the palpitations themselves but also because of what they represented. I have no doubt that the palpitations would still affect my work today if I were continuing in that role.

The anxiety and on edge feeling continue to affect me in other ways. I still have my triggers such as the boys’ behavior and excess clutter. I still find I can’t relax in certain situations like I have been able to in the past. And at times, I am more irritable in normal situations as well.

Yet, I’m hopeful. I know I am doing so much better than I was even six months ago, and I really can’t even compare how I’m feeling now to how I was feeling almost two years ago. And I believe I will continue to get better.

I also strongly believe that every trial comes with the opportunity to grow and that God, in His wisdom, uses all things to bring about good if we trust in Him to do so. And so I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow and eager to find out what it is God wants to teach me. I do believe He is teaching me to be grateful even in the midst of continued concerns and uncertainty. I believe He is teaching me to focus more on what He has done in my life and what He has given me rather than on what I still do not have. I believe He is teaching me patience – to know that He brings about what He knows we need at the most appropriate time.

This obviously relates directly to my anxiety and palpitations. I certainly am grateful that my anxiety has decreased to such a large extent, despite continued palpitations. If I continue to feel the way I do today for the rest of my life, I know I can live a wonderful, fulfilling life and that the small amount of anxiety I continue to feel will not greatly impact this. God has obviously been leading me through this journey and has not left my side, and He is healing me.  Based on this, I know He will remain faithful to His promise to remain with me and to bring about even more good in my life. But I know I cannot rush the process. The best thing I can do is to continue to follow what I believe to be His promptings, to stay hopeful, and to do the best I can each day.

I see these lessons taking shape in another way in my life as well. Five and a half years ago, we moved to the town that we currently live in. A three bedroom duplex was quite obviously placed in our laps. We had planned on living in that duplex for 6 months to no more than a year before buying a house and were sure to tell our landlord that. More than five years later, we still live in the same duplex. While I badly want a playroom for the boys, more counter space, and a dishwasher in addition to the three bedrooms and two bathrooms we have, I know we do have what we really need and we will be fine if we need to live in this house for several more years. Even if that means squeezing 5 people into 1000 square feet of living space this coming May. I know also that many people have less than we do. And so I’m trying to remain grateful for this home we have been given and to focus more on what we do have in this duplex rather than what we are lacking. It can be difficult to focus on the positive when the negative seems to be so much more obvious.

In short, through these and other uncertainties, I am learning that life is a journey. It’s not a journey of perfection, but it is a journey of goodness because God is a part of it. Because of that, my disposition in this journey is not to be one of worry and distress but one of trust and gratitude. There will undoubtedly be times when I slip into the mode of worry and distress, when I am caught up in the negative, but those times are nothing but reminders to renew my commitment to express trust in God and gratitude for His leading me through this journey. There will be times when the journey is more difficult or more frustrating, but those are also reminders of how much I need God and how important it is to follow Him. I have been through difficult times before and, with God’s help, have made it through stronger and better than before. With God’s help, I know I will make it through every new obstacle stronger and better than I am now.


Colleen said...

I just wanted to say THANK YOU for writing about this. I am "new" to the anxiety struggles (had my first panic attack in November) and it's so embarrassing and scary and makes you feel crazy. Thank you for writing about it!!!

Kim said...

Thanks for visiting, and I'm glad what I wrote let you know you are not alone in this, and I hope it did give you some hope that it gets better. Anxiety is scary and embarrassing and difficult to talk about because the majority of people don't understand what it feels like and don't understand how easily and suddenly it happens. I have not been content these last two years with simply being anxious and been on a quest to figure out what I (and others) can do to lessen the effects of anxiety - and depression. So far, what I've learned (as a preview to what I plan to continue to write about) include: 1. A journey from trust in God to gratitude to praise (to trust to gratitude, and that's where I am again now - I'm human and therefore will never master any of these). 2. Cognitive behavioral therapy has helped greatly. Changing my thought process and beliefs has lessened the anxiety I feel. In short, our beliefs affect our perceptions of a certain situation which affects how we react to and how we feel about it (anxiety can be a result). A tape set a friend gave me helped, but even more so was a book: David D Burns When Panic Attacks. 3) Generally improving my diet and eating habits.
I hope to spend more time this winter and spring writing about these things. Hope that helps :) Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help. :)