To be honest, it has taken me a few weeks to write this post. Painful personal memories have been tough to revisit, and once there, I have felt a great divide between the seriousness of this topic and my inadequate attempts to do it justice. Most of the time I’ve just stared at the computer screen, thought, prayed…Please hang in there with me on this one! Many of you may be fighting through Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and/or Depression, and I know it’s a very difficult and painful situation. Don’t you dare give up! There IS hope. My prayer is that as you read this, you will know true Peace to guard your heart and mind through this time.
Experiencing burnout can be terrifying. (Read more about work-related burnout here!) The body cycles through so many random and often unpredictable and debilitating symptoms. Worst of all, when Burnout comes along, Anxiety, Panic and/or Depression are often not far behind.
Anxiety: Weeds Messin’ With My Garden
During my decline into burnout, an exceptionally busy year was in full swing. As the year wore on, sleeping became difficult. Faint nausea along with feeling “wired” often kept me awake. My mouth started hurting from clenching all day and night, and I developed some painful tension in my head, neck and back. Thoughts were constantly racing through my mind. I couldn’t seem to relax! I stressed over the slightest changes in plans, and the more I needed to go with the flow, the more irritable and controlling I became. For months as I got sicker (and things got busier), I was clueless to how much anxiety I lived with. My own fears, guilt, expectations and pain were crushing me. I was all nerves.
Panic Disorder: Nerves Have Parties At Random
A couple months after my return to the States (due to burnout), I started having panic attacks. I’d get them from falling asleep and waking up. I’d get them from driving. I’d get them from walking up stairs. I’d get them from laughing too hard *seriously?!?*. My heart would race, my throat and chest would tighten up, I’d taste metal, my body would tingle and sometimes go numb, and I’d feel like passing out. For a while I couldn’t tell the difference between a panic attack, stroke, heart attack or anaphylaxis so I kept a hospital grab bag ready to go…just in case (don’t worry, it was NEVER a stroke, heart attack or anaphylaxis)!
Depression: The Light Within is Darkness
A few months after that, the worst of my fears started happening. I felt myself slipping into depression. What was going on with me? It felt like my soul was unplugging. My heart was breaking and the aching seemed to envelop me and physically push me to the ground. I became even more tired than before, and it was super hard to think. During this period, I spent most of my days on the floor near my parents’ sliding glass back door listening to the neighbor’s wind chimes. As feelings of hope diminished, thoughts of dying taunted me, and it took all the strength I had to fight for my mind.
The Peace of God
I remember visiting my pastor and sobbing. “Am I going crazy? Am I…cracking?” I asked. His response was, “Do you trust God?” He asked me that a few more times during our convo and I realized that, no, I didn’t trust God. Not really.
G A M E C H A N G E R. I should’ve know better!
God, my Creator, Power, Savior and Peace, was the answer and is always the answer. He is always Greater and Stronger, and will always win.
The more I trusted God, the more hope I had, and the harder I fought against depression. When God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)? Right? It was one of the scariest seasons of my life but I knew my Father had my back. (Read here about trusting God even when it looks hard).
Below are a few lessons I learned that helped me live with God’s Peace, and I hope they inspire you to seek this Peace too!
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7
This passage was quickly dedicated to memory, and though it seemed rote at first, I did what it said. In the middle of a panic attack I would repeat the verse in my mind. When I started thinking hopeless thoughts, I’d pray with what little faith remained until I felt the weight lift. When I would worry, I’d remind myself “do not be anxious” until the fear went away. When I was down, I found things to thank God for. After a while, it felt less rote and more real. God and His love were more and more tangible and I started seeing past the lies choking me. Then there was His peace totally without explanation filling me and protecting me as my heart and mind healed.
•Replace Destructive Thoughts with God’s Life-Giving Truths•
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” ~ Philippians 4:8
This is such a good checklist for seeing if a thought or thought pattern is life-giving or destructive for you. When I’d be afraid of a “what if” scenario (I had many of these unrealistic fears that would lead to feelings of dread and consume me!), I’d remember this verse and ask myself, “What is true?…What is lovely?…”. Like I mentioned before, it felt rote at first, but soon with God’s help my thoughts were genuinely becoming hopeful. Developing healthy thought patterns is key, and the best thoughts are based on God’s Truth. You can never go wrong with this! Next time you feel alone, know God will never leave you. Next time you think there is no point to living, know that God has created you to love you and give you eternal purpose. Next time you feel scared, know God is your shield. Next time you are overwhelmed, know God is enough. The Bible says that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37).
•Look Ahead to Eternity•
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; […] So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6-9, 16-18
This passage has been a great attitude booster for me. Even in my darkest times, God’s light shines. Even when I am too weak, He is strong. Thought I feel struck down, I am not destroyed. As I limp along, I am reminded that at the end of the road, the eternal glory will surpass the suffering. What a promise! When I was fighting Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Depression, I often got comfort from dwelling on how my experience wasn’t the whole picture. Though it felt devastating and was truly debilitating, compared to the treasures of eternity with God, my affliction was actually “light” and “momentary”. The weight of the infinite gift of Salvation outweighs the pain.
I hope that reading this has encouraged you, or at least given you some interesting thoughts to chew on. Most of all, my prayer is that you’d trust God with your fears and heart aches. If you’ve never looked to God for help, now is a good time to start! Here is a song I recommend listening to called “Give Me Faith” . I’ve prayed this so many times and maybe you’d like to pray it too (I totally think it was written for people going through burnout..at least it should’ve been!).
*Disclaimer: This post is based on how God personally lead me through Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and Depression. I am not a doctor, and if you are currently under the care of one or are on medications, please do not change anything without consulting a medical professional! Also, if you struggle with anxiety, panic or depression, please seek medical help as these may be symptoms of other underlining conditions. Feel free to message me if you have any questions or concerns.*