I remember we were in my parent’s large bed, it was dark, and I was lying on her shoulder when she first spoke words that scared me to my core. She was my protector for so long, but after that night, everything changed. She told me to be very quiet and asked if I heard the helicopters. I listened carefully. I know now I didn’t, but I think I actually convinced myself at the time that I did. She told me the FBI was coming for us and I had to be very quiet and that she didn’t want me to be afraid. I believe we called my dad in tears and he came home, but like I said before- certain parts get fuzzy. I think I was around seven years old then…
It took me a long time to figure out mom was sick. My parents did a pretty good job hiding it. Even after a couple hospital visits and one failed suicide attempt, I did not truly “get” it. They always told me that mom had a “chemical imbalance” in her brain. All I know for sure is that hearing that always gave me an unsettling, nauseating feeling deep in the pit of my stomach. I knew it wasn’t good.
Despite a few pretty traumatic events in my childhood days (basically she almost died) It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I started to understand her illness. I still remember one of the first times that I experienced mom’s delusions. She called me, begging me not to leave the house. She was terrified something would happen to me. I had heard stories and done my research, but nothing compared to hearing it first hand as an adult. At that time her really sick periods would come in waves every two to three years. We would get through one and feel relief at the end because we could recognize her again, even though she was heavily medicated.
In my high school years I started to notice I struggleed with some things. As an only child, I was alone in my home situation. I never wanted to be there. I could not sit still. All I wanted was to be with my friends. I was an only child in a low-income, un-conventional, unstable family (that I loved very much) and I felt so different from everyone around me. I found comfort in my boyfriend and friends, though, because they accepted me. I was edgy and angry, but oh so happy with my friends. I moved out when I was 17 just as soon as I could and it felt like I could breathe. Life felt new and exciting and I no longer had to identify myself in this situation I had known for so long. Or so I thought. I, of course, still loved my parents deeply and I missed them. I would come around for holidays and birthdays and talk to them on the phone, but it didn’t take me long to realize that they were a huge piece of me, and running from them was not going to change that.
Moving out did nothing to “heal” me. I was still “escaping” through things and I didn’t even realize it at the time. I just thought something was “wrong” with me. I was emotional, unstable, angry, loving, passionate, and tons of fun. Life was good when it was fun and passionate. Life was the absolute worst every other time. I did the best I could to keep it fun, fresh, and exciting. I was a dreamer and had big goals for myself, but I was not great at putting them into action. Somewhere deep down, I think I didn’t believe I was worthy of accomplishing the things I dreamed about.
Running had become a part of my life in high school when I learned it helped me shed a few pounds. However, around the age of twenty, I realized that running was more to me than a way to “fit the thin mold”. I realized I felt better after I ran. Perspectives changed. I was more engaged, more at peace, and more in awe of my blessings. It was as if running lifted a dark cloud off of me after every run and I was ready for life again. It drew me in and before I knew it my passions started to shift. Partying was still happening (hello waitress and college student), but I was setting goals and making A’s in school. Around this time, I met my husband, Doug. We had a rocky few years as young kids just having fun but eventually we grew up and realized that life was not the same without each other. I was married at the ripe age of 22 and I never turned back. He has completely changed my life and I believe fully that the Lord handpicked us for each other. He made me want to be a better person.
As we grew over the years, I began to reflect on my actions. I turned to God and asked him for help. I wanted to understand my emotions on a deeper level and stop trying to escape them with fun. I matured emotionally. I began to look my anger and deep sorrow from my childhood dead in the face and I made the decision to go to counseling to help process it. It was in counseling that I finally realized, after all these years, that this mystery “thing” that I thought was wrong with me was called anxiety. The frightening moments during arguments when I literally couldn’t breathe- those were panic attacks due to my fear of being alone and unworthy. The partying was numbing and social anxiety with a mix of my “carefree” attitude. I was shocked to learn I was an outgoing introvert. I had thought I was an extrovert for so long and I worked so hard to fill that role. I realized that large groups drained me and I am fueled by alone time and small intimate groups. I just need a good way to process and refill my tank after I have been in large groups. Sometimes this means a simple five minute sit in my car. Other times, this means a full day of minimal speaking to people outside my circle.
The bottom line was that I realized, I am just a girl who had an unstable childhood (like many other people) and most likely due to that, I have generalized anxiety. It was honestly a huge relief. I was not ruined for life. I learned I have the ability to change the way I perceive and process things. I know what it is and I can work with it! I also know I am not alone in my struggle with generalized anxiety (very common these days) and I will be discussing all the ways I help manage my anxiety in the next post!