Is this you? Your mind is filled with thoughts that will not go away—like a broken record that plays over and over and over and over. You have a constant feeling of being unsafe, that something is going to make you sick or that someone is going to get hurt. Or you just have a vague sense of “something” bad. It is nothing you can put your finger on, but you know it is there.
Maybe you have adopted little “rituals” that make you feel ok for one brief second. Maybe you wash your hands. Or maybe you collect papers and books and trash. Or maybe you count light poles or touch door knobs. These used to give you a sense of order, of control. But then it got to where you could not do these things enough to make the bad feelings go away. You try to stop doing these things—you know they are not rational—but every time you do, you get an overwhelming sense of dread that something bad is going to happen if you don’t DO them RIGHT NOW!
So you do them again, and you feel ashamed. You might even cry from frustration and embarrassment—especially when others know what you are doing.
Or maybe this is you: You used to have a fine life, got out, saw the sights, met people. Then one time something happened that frightened you so badly that you could not face it again. That one time your body went out of control. Your heart raced, you could not breathe, you maybe felt nauseous. You were overcome with such a powerful feeling of fear that it was like being slammed by a tidal wave of panic. You rushed to escape and the feelings went away. You were shaken, but safe.
Then that started happening more and more. You would be driving through town, or be at a dinner party or in an elevator and BAM!!! Those feeling hit with such ferocity that again, all you wanted to do is escape. You might have even thought you were dying. Maybe the paramedics rushed you to the hospital where someone mentioned the phrase “panic attack”. Now you felt foolish and ashamed. How could something like this happen to someone who is perfectly normal?
But it did and now maybe you cannot go anywhere without feeling fear that your body will betray you again, and again you will cause a scene. Now you cannot leave your house without fear of another occurrence, or maybe you stay in your house all the time and think about how life was before this started and scream in frustration and rage that this is happening.
Or maybe on the outside things seem fine, but you are torn up on the inside with a pervasive sense of dread. You are never at peace. You are worried about work, about your family, about the world. You are never restful, never joyful, never happy because there is a constant cloud that hangs over every aspect of your life, a cloud of “what if’s” that haunt your days and nights. You might have physical symptoms—your head hurts, your stomach hurts, you ache. Maybe you eat antacids like candy. You might even be able to hear your own heartbeat while just sitting on the couch. You are tense, might tend to snap at those you love. Or you are exhausted from lack of sleep and the mental and emotional and physical toll that this constant anxiety takes on you. You are weary of worrying, but do not know how to stop. You are afraid that the one moment you let your guard down, life is going to slam you into the wall with devastating results.
Somewhere along the way a little fear entered your mind. Maybe you were involved in a car wreck, maybe you heard about something that worried you, or maybe you just came up with a “what if” that stuck. Whatever it was, you became so worried that it might happen to you. So you began to think about it more and more to the point where it wore a little groove in your mind, and no matter what you think, your thoughts run into that groove of fear, making it deeper and wider. Eventually it became a habit to think in terms of fear and danger, your every thought was controlled by fear. Your body began to react to the constant threat by showing signs such as upset stomach, chest pain, thundering heartbeat, headaches, sleeplessness, tingling hands and feet. You may be depressed, irritable, have panic attacks.
This caused so much distress that your mind has tried to “protect” itself from the fear by making up little superstitions, compulsions. Maybe you have just altogether avoided any fearful situations. But you found out that the more you do, the more fear you have. Maybe what started as an avoidance, say, of public speaking, turned into a fear of talking to other people, even one on one, and then a fear of being outside, and now you are stuck in your house. Or maybe a fear of gaining weight led you to first avoid all fried foods, then all carbohydrates, now you eat very little but it still is not enough. Or maybe you were afraid of being in a car accident and little by little, it got to where you won’t ride in a car at all. Or maybe a quick check to make sure you locked the door before bed turned into an hours-long ritual of checking, re checking, self-doubt, and re-re-re-checking.
Whatever it is, it has taken over your life.
People tell you to “just stop” doing these things. You might think they are insensitive and clueless—after all, if you COULD stop these things, then you would! You hate every time someone has to change their plans to accommodate you, but your fear overcomes your shame—until you get home. Your whole life is a cycle of fear, shame, and feeble periods of “less bad” fears. Or you don’t care what other people have to change for you. Your fears are that overwhelming.
You might have tried medication and it did not work. Or maybe you tried medication and it did work, but you hate the idea of being on meds forever. Or maybe you are a female and are afraid of the effects of the drugs on your unborn or nursing baby.
Maybe you are a Christian too, and that fills you with even more shame and despair. Maybe you wonder if God is listening. Maybe you wonder if God is even there at all. Then you feel overwhelmed with guilt for even thinking that He might not exist. But you can’t understand why He doesn’t help. Maybe you think that you have done something wrong, something so bad that He has turned His back on you or is using this as a punishment for some sin you can’t remember. Sometimes you think that He isn’t as close to us as we’re promised He is. Your faith is shaken to the core.
And you pray so hard. Not a day goes by that you do not pray, unless it’s one of those days you’re too angry to speak to Him. Sometimes you make deals. Sometimes you promise that you will do ANYTHING He wants if He will just make you better. Sometimes you try to draw His attention with a guilt trip—after all, you could do so much good if He would just make you better, and doesn’t He care if your family has to suffer for your affliction?!?
Maybe you pray for forgiveness for sins that you can’t remember ever having committed. You pray for peace, which sometimes it works, for a minute or an hour or so, and then things come crashing down.
Maybe you even pray that He will take your life.
I know I did.