Monday, May 02, 2011

Strategies for Anxiety

In about a six week period of time near the beginning of 2011, I had two panic attacks. I have had panic attacks in the past once or twice but they were very rare and not close together at all. These two freaked me out - big and close together. And so I sought some help. This was kind of a big deal to me for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which were having to admit that I, even as a pastor, don't have it all together and I was taught in Bible college to distrust psychology. But like everything else in my life that has gotten deconstructed, these biases did too, and I reached out for some help.

I connected with a friend of mine who works at a local mental health agency to seek his advice. In talking, I learned that, apparently, not everyone has a near-constant pain around their heart. I don't think I realized this. I guess I thought everyone felt like I did, always a bit on edge, always a tad nervous, always carrying the weight of the world. And feeling it in my chest.

I never knew it before, or probably would have been able to admit it, but I have a problem with anxiety.

My anxiety rears its ugly head in different types of situations.

For instance, whenever I have a church business meeting of some sort, I get freaked out. I attribute this to be conditioned by business and deacons meetings at churches I previously pastored in which I would be judged, condemned, accosted. On more than one occasion, the Vintage Oversight Team has watched me break into unexpected tears at one of our meetings. Tears of fear that I'm going to be taken to the woodshed for something. Tears of utter relief that the Vintage Oversight Team is so gracious and kind to me.

Sometimes the weather makes me panic, especially when I am traveling. When I was young and stupid, not even feet of snow and ice could slow me down, but now I hate to drive even in rain. I hate it when work takes me out of town and the weather keeps me away from home longer than I expected. I feel like I am letting Vanessa and the kids down by not being there. It makes me feel so powerless and helpless.

Often, people's problems make the pain in my chest worse. I care so deeply that people make wise choices and follow Jesus that it tears me up when they don't. This is especially true when people's foolishness is destructive in the lives of others. So many times, I have fielded a phone call from someone from church that has left me anxious for days.

With the help of my friend and in hopes of being a more emotionally healthy and authentically whole person, I am pursuing a strategy to handle my anxiety that includes the following things:

- Being Caffeine Free: My doctor-friend told me that caffeine is directly related to anxiety. He said that reducing my caffeine intake could be more effective than going on medication. So, I went cold turkey. And that was a big deal because I drank a lot of coffee. I mean, a lot. I had about 10 days of terrible withdrawal symptoms: headaches, muscle pain, flu like symptoms. It was awful, but it passed, and I emerged on the other side without the need to constantly have a cup of coffee in my hand. Decaf tea has replaced coffee, not just for Lent but maybe forever. And the pain around my heart was noticeably lessened.

- Friendships: Loneliness exasperates my anxiety. Therefore, I have been intentionally pursuing friendships. I now have three friends I meet with on a semi-weekly basis. It's getting to the point where I can tell these guys anything and receive their counsel and advice. With their voices in my head, I have a counterbalance to my anxious fears.

- Counseling: Speaking of other voices, I know that I need to talk my issues through with a counselor. As a pastor, that is a hard thing to admit and an even harder thing to do. For several weeks now, I have had an email in my inbox with a list of recommended counselors. I haven't made an appointment with one yet. But I will soon. And I'm sure it will help.

- Exercise: In recent days, I have begun exercising. Three days a week, I am running and working out. I need to lose 17 pounds, and certainly, exercise will help. Plus, the physical activity helps to relieve stress. I've been sore, but I've been feeling good.

- Routine: More than ever, I crave the structure of our daily family prayers and our weekly Sabbath. We need to connect with God each day as a family, and I need to take myself off duty each week. I am now at the point where I relish the relaxation and calm of Sunday afternoons. It just feels so good.

I am not all the way better, but I am on my way. I don't think I'm alone. Any other anxiety sufferers out there who want to share their stories? I'd love to hear them.



Grace said...

Robb, I really appreciate your honesty. I mean...REALLY appreciate it.

I had my first ever anxiety attack a couple of weeks ago. A lot had just built up too much I guess, and it happened - everything made me jump, I couldn't sleep, I was shaky and panicky. When people had told me before that they had periods of anxiety, I didn't really believe them. I thought, "surely someone can't be on edge like that all the time!" But, yeah...I'm working through it.

I was talking to the Perrodins the other day about how freeing it is to share something with someone that you've been hiding, thinking that nobody else felt the same. Because, turns out, they do! I was reminded how much I love public baths in Asia. Yeah, the kind where everybody gets totally naked and soaks in big hot tubs together, sometimes even rubbing the dead skin off of each other. I think when we all just shed our clothes in front of each other and see that everyone else has moles and scars and cellulite (figuratively speaking now, haha), then we all can just relax about our insecurities because we're not so alone in them anymore.

In life in general I wish it were more true that people could be open, but in churches especially. I have enough problems with church as it is, but not being a safe place for people to really be themselves, who they were created to be, really bugs me, to put it politely.

I'm glad that Vintage, in my experiences anyway, is not like that. Thanks, Robb, for helping to make it such a safe place to open up and shed our clothes (figuratively again, of course, in most cases). haha

Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara said...

that deleted comment was actually this one i accidentally posted under someone elses


The Lord has used all of those things you mentioned in a big way in my life.

I remember after I had Ellie there was some serious depression and I felt so alone as the other women in my church were glowing over their babies i would litterally be weeping over mine and while post partem depression is different..I think there were a lot of other issues in my life and heart that lead up to that one experience being a bit too much for me to handle.

I went to a great counselor that was able to help me figure out what it was that I was really anxious about-put into words the things that I did not know how to and then she helped me replace the lies that my heart and mind often by into with truth.

I have began to incorporate exercise and a good diet into my life as well...although i have yet to give up the caffeine but i probably should :) do that as well.

Thanks for being real! and for helping others to do so