Like Landing a Plane

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The first smack of the wheels against the pavement is harsh. The first few moments you’re leaning forward, all that pent-up, high-octane momentum throwing your body where it pleases. Your stomach does a flip as the wheels hop up in the air and slam back to the ground three or four more times. Finally, the brakes squeal and the momentum ceases. We’ve landed. We’re here. And we’re all ok. (Some people like to applaud at this point…)

Right now, in my life, the wheels are hopping on and off the pavement. I’m gripping the arms of my seat, clenching my jaw, saying prayers, and slowing my breath. I know we’re coming to a stop. I know we’ll be ok. But my body? Well…she’s not so sure.

I’m at peace while my heart sometimes beats out of my chest. My mind is clear while my words struggle to find meaning. My hands shake a little and my eyes bounce from here and there, without reason. Needless to say–it’s uncomfortable. But I am ok. I am landing this plane. I will arrive safely at my destination.

Two years ago, I blogged about my decision to go on anxiety medication. Even though I’ve chosen to blog less about highly personal things over the last year, I think it makes good sense for me to address this in a public venue. It doesn’t get talked about enough. Like Brene Brown says, when things are kept in the dark, that’s when shame has the opportunity to settle in. And really–I have nothing to hide when it comes to my challenges with anxiety. There’s no shame in it. It’s far more common than we as a society like to admit. So even though some may not understand it–and it may change your opinion of me–I’m jumping off this ledge one more time.

When I went on medication, I’d been battling panic attacks since I was 8 years old. I didn’t have them every day. I sometimes went months without one. But when they came, I had no idea how to handle it. Whether biological, circumstantial, or environmental, anxiety could take over and own me completely. My only method of coping was to repeat, “I’m fine,” to myself rapidly–desperately–until the feeling passed. The funny thing about that is that I obviously wasn’t fine–and lying to myself about my fineness did nothing to calm me down. I became really good at hiding anxious feelings, even hiding panic attacks. I spent my life somewhere between accepting anxiety as “my norm” and completely denying that it even existed when in public. I felt weak and resisting its stronghold on me was futile.

Once I made the decision to try medication, I experienced relief like I hadn’t in my entire life. I slept like a baby (one of those sleep-through-the-night good babies you sometimes hear about). I was more courageous. And most importantly–anxiety was a distant memory. I reveled in that first year of medicated bliss. I felt like I was finally living–really living. But as I approached my second year of being on medication, anxiety started to creep back in. This is common for these types of drugs. Most people who commit to a lifetime of being medicated walk into it with the understanding that they’ll be switching medications multiple times throughout their life. They lose effectiveness and you move on to the next one. I knew going in that I didn’t want that. I wasn’t sure how to avoid it, but I knew I didn’t want it.

After battling through one of the worst panic attacks of my life on a bus in Brooklyn, NY one December night in 2013, I knew I was done being on this medication. It wasn’t working anymore. And as I considered my situation more over the next few months, I decided that my time being on medication altogether was done. Trying a different drug wasn’t going to be my next move. So I started planning my breakup with Lexapro.

I consulted with my doctor about how to safely wean off. I met with a counselor for several months to strengthen myself and to learn new ways of dealing with anxiety. I read books and listened to podcasts about handling anxiety and even being freed of it. I started Facebook messaging with Rebekah Lyons, author of Freefall to Fly, last year. She checked in with me from time to time as I considered going drug-free. Some of my more frequent blog readers may remember reading my tearful tirade after I finished reading Freefall to Fly, last year. Rebekah was freed from anxiety miraculously and has learned to cope with it through prayer and self-care. She refused to accept it as “her norm” and fought back without drugs. After dealing with panic and anxiety since the third grade, reading that put me in an angry tailspin. It’s rarely that simple. But as I exchanged messages with Rebekah and watched her speak at the IF: Gathering last February, God started to change my heart. I realized that I’d unknowingly decided– Because He hasn’t done it yet–He can’t heal me, He won’t heal me, this is my norm, this is my burden to bear. But did it have to be? Is there a chance I’ve been wrong all along?

In mid-May, I felt really ready so I went for it. Today, July 1, for the first time in two years, I’m completely anxiety-drug free. The past five weeks have been a difficult journey. A daily going-to-battle with anxiety. I’ve learned to be smarter about keeping my anxiety level lower at all times, so it’s a lot more difficult for my body to kick me over the edge into a panic attack. This includes getting better sleep, carving out intentional time to be calm during the week, religiously taking multivitamins with omega 3s, taking probiotics, taking little mental breaks during the workday, and reducing the amount of sugar and caffeine I ingest…which I’m still working on. 🙂 THAT is a battle within itself. I love me some Starbucks and chocolate…this is no secret. 🙂

I’ve employed new tactics of dealing with attacks–drinking ice water, changing locations, refusing to isolate myself, having a short conversation with someone, slowed breathing, and most importantly–telling someone I’m having trouble with anxiety. Getting it out of the dark has been so freeing for me. Admitting it and learning to not be ashamed of it has removed much of the power anxiety held over my life. When I stopped trying to hide my battle, I was encouraged, uplifted, and free.

Keeping this in the open has deepened my friendships, made me more willing to accept kindness and love from people, and brought me closer to Jesus. Just last Saturday, after battling hard in dark, emotional depths and isolating myself for the entire day, (which is pretty typical of this withdrawal period, by the way), I finally let a friend in on my struggle via text. I asked her to pray me through it. AND SHE DID. That evening, my heart was lighter, my anxiety and withdrawal symptoms relieved, and my old-self had returned. It was nothing short of miraculous, really. I’m so grateful for that experience (and for that friend!). It strengthened me for the rest of this journey I’m embarking on.

I’m learning through this that although I have a biological disorder that makes me prone to living with a higher level of anxiety than many other people–the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is within me. That’s POWERFUL. I have STRONG POWER in Him. I am able to overcome symptoms. I am secure in Him. I am safe in Him. I am loved by Him. And that’s all I really need to get by. If He is for me–who can be against me? No one. And for maybe the first time ever, I’m starting to really believe that.

In the past, anxiety happened to me. I had no defense and simply accepted its control over me. Today, I’m so excited to jump into a new journey with Jesus in this–relying on Him to carry me through in a way I never did before. Now when I say, “I’m fine,” to myself in a moment of anxiety–I know it’s true. I really am fine. Without medication, no matter how hard I try to keep anxiety at bay, I may still struggle. But for now–I want to build up my ability to lean on Him. It’s an experiment for sure, but I fully anticipate Him loving me through it.

I want to be clear and say that my path is not everyone’s right path. I’m fully open to the possibility that I may need to be on medication again someday. That day may even come a month from now–I don’t know what’s in my future. And there’s no shame in being medicated, or in choosing to stay medicated. These are my personal decisions that I’ve decided to share–not my advice for your unique journey.

In closing, I don’t think anyone has ever written a song that more accurately describes a life situation than this song by John Mayer. I’m not sure what the meaning of these lyrics are for him, but for me, they’ve become an anthem:

“War Of My Life”

Come out Angels

Come out Ghosts

Come out Darkness
Bring everyone you knowI’m not running
I’m not scared
I am waiting and well preparedI’m in the war of my life
At the door of my life
Out of Time and there’s no where to runI’ve got a hammer
And a heart of glass
I got to know right now
Which walls to smashI got a pocket
Got no pill
If fear hasn’t killed me yet
Then nothing will

All the suffering
And all the pain
Never left a name

I’m in the war of my life
At the door of my life
Out of time and there’s nowhere to run

I’m in the war of my life
At the core of my life
I’ve got no choice but to fight ’til it’s done

No more suffering
No more pain
Never again

I’m in the war of my life
At the door of my life
Out of time and there’s no where to run

I’m in the war of my life
I’m at the core of my life
Got no choice but to fight ’til it’s done
So Fight on, fight on everyone, so fight on
Got no choice but to fight ’til it’s done

I’m in the war of my life
I’m at the core of my life
I’ve got no choice but to fight ’til it’s done

So fight on.

 

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