Healing from Relationship Anxiety - A Letter from Therese
A Note from TCW
Thank you Therese for your vulnerability and courage to speak out about finding healing from anxiety.
To those of you who struggle with mental illness: sister, we stand with you and you are in our prayers. In the words of Therese, my friend, "you're okay. ...It's okay to talk about your struggle with mental illness. ... It's okay that you feel broken." We hope this letter serves as a reminder that you aren't alone in this, as a Catholic and as a woman. There are others too who struggle with mental illness and they are on the same journey as you -- the journey to find hope, to find healing and to find peace.
We are praying for you, sister.
To learn about The Catholic Woman's Sisterhood theme for this quarter's collection of letters, click here.
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My dear sisters,
God has a mysterious way of breaking us down so that we can be more whole.
If I’ve learned anything in the last two years in my struggle with anxiety, it’s that life isn't wrapped up in a little bow, easy to understand or accept. It's much, much messier.
The story that I'm living now started after college. Anxiety started popping up, and I noticed there were certain triggers, like going on dates, or big transitions like moving or starting a new job. I started seeing a therapist, and it improved, but the full extent of my struggle with it wouldn't be realized until I got engaged.
Weeks after my engagement, I was experiencing the worst anxiety I had ever felt. This kind of anxiety was aimed at my relationship — or so I thought. Deep down, I knew there was nothing wrong — so why was I so anxious?
Somehow, I stumbled on a therapist's website that dealt specifically with "relationship anxiety" — but the whole point of her practice was that anxiety (unless there were true red flags) was a symptom of something not related to the relationship at all. For me, anxiety was a symptom of many things all inside of me, but especially unhealed past wounds, and my life's worth of bad mental and emotional habits as a result.
What ensued over the next several months was what I would describe as the darkest pit that I didn't even know existed. I spent months excavating the deep wounds inside me that I didn't know where there. The reality I knew was no longer real. I began grieving old feelings that I didn't know lay dormant. I felt like I didn't know who God was anymore — all I could muster for daily prayer was a tiny "Hi, I'm here and I love you.”
I found a therapist who helped me process my grief and past. She validated that not only was I going through a major healing and identity shift, but I was also getting married — another massive transition. It was, and is, a lot.
I can't describe what it's like to heal from things so deeply imprinted in the core of your being. Or what it’s like to try to undo the self that made me who I was up until this point in my life. But I’m finally on my way up in healing, and I know who God is better for it, even if I don’t “understand.” Now, I'm content with quiet in his presence and I know where I am in my life is enough for him. He has never left me and he never will, no matter how much my thoughts and feelings tell me otherwise.
I wouldn’t say I’ve come to any conclusions about life as a Catholic woman, or about being a human in general. But this experience has made me realize that every woman, every human, needs to know that if you suffer from any kind of mental illness, you're okay.
Everything is truly okay. It's okay to talk about your struggle with mental illness. It's okay to be angry with God, even as you keep showing up with him, trusting that somehow, he's there even if the darkness seems that it will never end. It's okay that you feel broken.
Because true peace isn't emotional calm — it's wholeness. It's allowing the broken to be there and letting God heal you, as you work on yourself, so that he can make you more whole and free. Peace isn't just for people who don't struggle with anxiety. It's promised to you by Christ himself. And it may not look like what you expected, but real peace is deep and true and abiding. It is being held by the Father in his arms of safety, and nothing can take that away from you.
From my heart to yours,
Get to know Therese
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m Therese, a 24-year-old writer (currently full-time for Denver Catholic, an archdiocesan newspaper) and wife to a wonderful new husband.
What do the ﬁrst two hours of your day look like?
Recently, I’ve been learning how important routines are for my overall wellbeing; so, despite not being a morning person, I’ve been getting up earlier to do a mindfulness meditation, a light stretch and I get to work early to pray in the office chapel with my husband (right now we work in the same building). These little things make a huge difference!
To the readers of ours that may struggle with anxiety and depression: what advice would you give to them?
If you struggle with mental illness, know that you're not alone. There is nothing wrong with you. This part of yourself that feels so dark and broken is the place where Jesus wants to tend to you and share in your suffering with you. He knows the darkness intimately, and He has already conquered it. Try to love this part of yourself, because He loves all of you, including this cross you carry. Please don't be afraid to go to counseling or therapy - it really does make all the difference, and the same goes for medication. Don't be afraid to talk about it.
What's your favorite part of your current occupation?
Writing has always been my number one passion; I love that my words can reach many people all at once. Whatever I’m writing, my goal is and always has been, “Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” That’s my approach with any creative endeavor.
Tellusabouttheﬁrsttime you experiencedastrong sense of belonging in the Catholic Church.
Since college, I’ve been involved in various movements and groups within the Church: St. Paul’s Outreach, The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and most recently, Communion and Liberation. With the latter movement, I really felt a sense of belonging; the people in this movement, and the way we learn how to follow Christ in every day life, have really opened up my heart to seeing Christ more deeply.
Tell us about a woman you look up to.
Obviously, my mother and grandmothers have had a lot of influence on me. But I also really look up to my best girlfriends; we have lived so much life together, both ups and downs, and they inspire me with the way they continually seek the Lord, no matter what they’re going through.
Favorite character ever. Go!
That’s really hard; but I think I’d have to say Jane Eyre. That was one of the first books I read as a kid, and I’ve always admired her inner strength, her fiery passion and her commitment to virtue and being true to her values.