Learning to No Longer Fear Anxiety
Letter from Maria Abbe
My dear Sisters,
It was a balmy summer day in upstate New York. I was preparing to head back for my senior year of college in the coming months, but was filled with unease, because it had been a rough summer. Over the weeks, I had bounced between fits of extreme sadness, unable to stop crying, to fits of extreme anxiety, unable to calm my mind down and sit still.
Facebook was just becoming more prevalent in our lives during this time, and admittedly, I was feeling overwhelmed with how wonderful everyone’s lives looked as I tried to face my own. My life didn’t look like the pictures popping up on my feed - summer dayAs filled with smiles and bathing suits and friends. No, mine looked like crying into my mother’s arms, as I tried to explain the mess in my mind to no avail.
As I was scrolling, I felt the panic beginning to rise. I’d experienced panic attacks for the first time in the weeks prior, which was new territory for me. Before, my anxiety would show up in my eating disorder, but for the most part, those days were over. But now, I’d find myself losing my breath as my mind swirled and I’d panic, asking myself, “What was going on? Why am I feeling like this?”
This particular day was different. A picture popped up on my feed of a girl who, truth me told, I was jealous of. She was beautiful, in the most genuine and authentic way, and she was happy. Well, from what I could tell. And I struggled with that. I struggled with her life looking so pristine and perfect, and mine feeling like a crumbling mess. Seeing her on my feed, someone who I would otherwise not see regularly, sparked feelings of inadequacy within me. I let the thoughts swirl and swirl, knowing that I was letting them consume me, and next I knew, I was on the ground unable to stop the panic attack. Unsure of what to do or how to calm me down, my mother called my brother, a firefighter at the time, and next thing I knew, I was surrounded by four firemen.
But despite their best efforts to calm me, I couldn’t stop panicking. My vision was getting spotty and my arms and legs were going numb. I knew I wouldn’t die, but because I couldn’t calm down, I was rushed in an ambulance to the hospital. I was prescribed medicine, seen by a few doctors, and then sent home.
It was a tumultuous evening that started because of a silly Facebook post.
The next day, still on shaky ground, I asked myself, “How am I going to get out of this?” Especially as the first day of classes was soon approaching.
And as I look back at my journal from that time, I clearly expressed the roller coaster that was living in my mind. One day, I’d feel strong and empowered, and the next, I’d be crippled by fears. But I kept moving forward. I clung to God and all of the resources out there to help me understand and take control of my anxiety.
Anxiety has always been a part of my life. When I was a little girl, I’d live in fear when we’d go places, thinking that something bad was going to happen to us. When I was in high school, I developed an eating disorder, which I later learned was connected to my issues with anxiety. And then, I started having panic attacks, racing thoughts, overwhelm, and burn out. I still struggle with those things from time to time, but over the years, I’ve worked very hard to understand who God made me to be, how I can minimize my anxiety, and how I can take care of myself.
The difference between that day six years ago and today, is that I’m not scared of my anxiety anymore. I know the truth - I am a beautiful daughter of God, and each and every day I’m given the chance to surrender control over to Him. And this helps minimize the fear. This helps ground me in reality, instead of letting the anxious thoughts take control. But the thing with mental health is it isn’t black and white. It’s grey. Which means, I have had to learn that it’s okay for me to struggle with anxiety. Some days will be good and some days will be not so good. And on days when I just can not bare it anymore, I know that I don’t have to - I can rest and take care of myself.
And social media? Well, it doesn’t bother me to the extent that it used to. Yes, I find that I need to take breaks from it, because it can be overwhelming. But I have become so comfortable in my own skin that I do not let the airbrushed and filtered images disrupt a beautiful, God-given day. It took me a while to get to this place of contentment, and it was something I had to show up for each day, reminding myself, “I am worth more than this image,” and then unfollowing any account that made me feel less-than.
It’s also taken me a long time to learn how to say, “No.” But learning this word has been the most powerful realization for me, because it has taught me that when I say, “No” to something, it gives me space to say, “Yes” to something else. And sometimes that, “Yes” is self-care.
When I take care of myself, I can better love and serve others.
And over the years, I’ve learned coping mechanisms, like journaling, writing, meditation and prayer. I’ve taken therapy seriously, and have worked hard to untangle a lot of messes in my mind. I’ve taken my medication, and have seen how it has helped me tremendously. I’ve deepened my faith, and know that a day without Him only exacerbates fears and worries. I’ve done my best to relinquish control of what I cannot control. And I’ve found a deep love for running, which pours goodness, joy, and relief into my life.
I’ve learned that life is good and beautiful, anxiety and all.
I’m sharing this with you, sisters, because I know how scary and painful anxiety can be. You may not have an anxiety disorder, but surely you know what it feels like to worry and stress. I want you to know that when you feel that way, you are not alone. And you can seek help - whether that be therapy, medication, or the bending of a friend’s ear.
I’ve been there. Time and time again.
And I’ve seen how God has used these struggles to bring about solace to others. When I was at some of my lowest points, we weren’t talking about mental health within the Church. It was terribly difficult to find a Catholic therapist, and there was this notion out there that I could “pray it away.” Some of this stigma still exists. And truth be told, mental health is tricky to navigate, because it can be so closely tied to spiritual health. But I’ve found that God is calling me to talk about mental health differently. I am not any less of a Catholic or Christian, because I struggle with anxiety. I am not any less of a Catholic or Christian because I struggle with depression. My call is to share with you that you can seek help, that this isn’t your fault, that you will get through this, and that God loves you so much, anxiety and all.
My sisters, I get it. But you know who else gets it? Jesus gets it. He understands every human emotion we may feel. And when I’m feeling anxious, I often reflect on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. The fear He must’ve felt is beyond anything I could imagine.
“‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’ Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.” Luke 22:42-43
Jesus knows what it feels like to feel anxious. He cares for us when we just cannot get ahold of all that is consuming us. And when I turn to Him, I don’t feel rejected or unheard. I feel His presence and His love. He cares for us. He cares for you. And sister, you are not alone.
About the Writer: Maria Abbe
Maria is the mind behind RunningMyselfTogether, a blog that empowers and teaches mental, physical and emotional health through the practice of running. She’s an RRCA Certified run coach and leads a run club in Charlotte NC, called ARC Running. Needless to point out (though we will anyways), running is a big part of her life and has taught her how to take care of herself - mind, body and soul. You can contact Maria at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, thoughts, speaking/guest blogging opportunities, and run coach inquiries.