The Truth About Anxiety: I'm Faking It

This is a full confession. I've never told anyone this before.

Years ago, before I personally experienced depression or anxiety, I thought people with anxiety were dramatic. With my limited frame of reference, I believed they just needed to "chill out." I thought anxiety levels were completely under conscious control.

After experiencing anxiety firsthand, I've realized a hard truth: I am indeed faking it. 

Photo from pixabay.com

Photo from pixabay.com

However, it's not my symptoms I'm faking. It's everything else. When I'm with friends, I fake a smile even though my heart is pounding inside my chest. I fake interest in conversation. I nod and pretend I heard exactly what they said, even when their voices sound far away and I start to feel nauseous from anxiety.

I make up excuses for why I cannot attend events or go out for coffee. I'm good at faking it, too. I alternate excuses of busyness and appointments and family obligations so they'll never suspect I'm at home, counting as I breathe to calm my brain and my body. 

I fake it when I'm receiving shift report at the hospital or in a meeting for work. I sit down and say I'm tired, when I'm really so anxious about the day I'm getting dizzy. I fake being tired so I can avoid going to that restaurant—the one where last time I ate, I had a well-masked anxiety attack that made me throw up all my food later at home.

I used to think people with anxiety were faking their symptoms, exaggerating their stories and dramatizing emotions. Now I know for sure, most of us with anxiety are faking it. But we are faking it in exactly the opposite way: by diminishing and hiding the ways anxiety affects our lives. We are faking smiles and conversations and laughter in an effort to maintain relationships and reputations. We are faking it so you're not freaked out and don't feel awkward. We are faking it for you.

Somehow, with all the stigma around anxiety, we came up with the idea faking it would improve our relationships and make our lives easier. Yet from personal experience, it does just the opposite. When I'm truthful and humble and transparent about anxiety, I feel relief and find freedom to just be me—no faking involved—around you. I no longer have anxiety about people knowing I have anxiety (that's simply too complicated for this girl to handle!).

How I want to appear to others (photo from pixabay.com)

How I want to appear to others (photo from pixabay.com)

What I feel like inside! (Photo from pixabay.com)

What I feel like inside! (Photo from pixabay.com)

In a way, aren't we all faking it? We try to hide our weaknesses, faking confidence or knowledge or personality traits. We put up a front so we will be more likable, but isn't authenticity what people find truly attractive and valuable?

I believe we can grow in this area together. As a society, we can encourage and accept one another with our strengths and our weaknesses. We can stop faking it and find genuine community and lasting relationships. 

So today, here's my full confession. I struggle with anxiety, and I've been faking it. Yet today, I'm going to do my best to stop. I want to be real with you, and I want you to be real with me. Will you join me?

 

*For those experiencing anxiety, here are some links you may find helpful:
Tips to help get through an anxiety attack (written by yours truly)
How to manage anxiety (by Calm Clinic)
Living with anxiety (by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America)

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How a Crying Child Brought Me Peace about a Career Change

I recognized the look in his eyes as soon as he turned around. The little boy started crawling toward the door, and then came the furrowed eyebrows and the crying.

Each Sunday before worship service, his parents dropped little Trevor James (name changed for privacy) off in the children's wing of the church. It was only a few weeks ago I began serving in the kids' ministry—the "crawlers" room to be exact, which of course is for children who are crawling. Every week, little Trevor James begins crying as soon as he realizes his parents are gone.

On this particular Sunday morning, I was the closest one to him, so I scooped him up and consoled him until his cries became less frequent. However, little Trevor James is one of those babies you cannot put down without the crying and tears beginning all over again. He rubbed his eyes and rested his head on my chest, clearly tired and ready for his morning nap but fighting sleep with all his might. So I held him and walked around the room with him, and we spent some good quality time together.

His cries still came periodically, the distress apparent on his face before the audible cry would come. I patted him and rocked him and told him everything was going to be okay. "It's okay. I promise," I whispered into his tiny ears when he began to whimper. Voices and crying echoed from down the hall and even from within our room, but I let it fade and simply focused on this little boy.

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

As I held little Trevor James, the Lord began to speak to me. It was the day after my last shift at the hospital, and I had woken up with a sense of panic that I had made the wrong decision.

What was I thinking? I can't just quit my job. I made a horrible mistake.

Yet as I swayed back and forth with little Trevor James, consoling him each time he became anxious and afraid, a distinct sense descended on me that this is how the Lord wanted me to rest in Him.

He wanted me to lay my head against His chest and experience the panic and fear that would naturally come after quitting a job, but He wanted me to experience it all right there, close to Him. He wanted me to stop chastising myself for feeling doubt or for feeling dumb because there was no distinct reason for me to be afraid. He simply desired that I feel those things while allowing Him to hold me.

The same patience and love I had for little Trevor James was what the Lord felt for me. He would happily whisper, "It's going to be okay. I promise," when I felt anxious for no reason, when I furrowed my brows and fought sleep and grew restless in His arms. He was letting all the clamor and voices and expectations fade into the background, and He wanted me to do the same. He wanted to hold me. (And He wouldn't even be sore the next day like I may have been after holding children for so long!)

As I paced the room and patted little Trevor James' back, I found peace. I found peace about resigning from my job because Jesus came back into focus in my heart and in my mind. I found peace about pursuing full time writing and editing as I remembered it was a step of faith, not foolishness. For a moment, the noise of the world faded into the background, and it was just God comforting me, and me comforting little Trevor James—both of us covered by a supernatural peace, both of us being held.

Next week, I'll show up at church and probably so will little Trevor James. I'll hold him and rock him, and I'll pray he learns as much about the character of God and His tenderness as I do in that classroom.

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The Life I Couldn’t Save as a Nurse

Over the past two and a half years, my entire career has centered around life. I’ve rejoiced with people, and I’ve grieved with them—with parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren. Nieces and nephews and teammates and soul mates. 

I’ve promoted life, comforted at the end of life, and walked people through the steps to return to a healthy life. In my pursuit to add to the lives of others, nursing added innumerable things to my own life.

It added perspective and gratitude, as I witnessed the brevity of life and the miracle of each day I’m still alive. It added humility, as it brought down my pride and revealed my superhero complex. It added friends who became family and a quirky sense of humor only nurses understand. It added richness and heartbreak.

Nursing introduced me to the essence of humanity. I am thankful for that.

Yet here I am, two and a half years later, and I have come to the conclusion that, despite all my efforts and hours and tears and sweat, there is one life I cannot save as a nurse. In fact, the harder I try, the more she suffers.

This life is mine.

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6 Reasons I Won't Tell You I'm Depressed

“I never would have guessed you were depressed. You always seem so happy.”

“Really, depression? I had no idea…”

These are common responses when I mention depression has been part of my life. I hear the same reactions when we lose someone to suicide:

“Can you believe it? I never even suspected he was struggling.”

When the truth emerges about people who struggle with mental illness, others are usually shocked. However, I’ve come to expect the disbelief and surprise. After all, as someone who hid depression and anxiety from the world for years, I know firsthand how hard we work hard to hide mental illness from others. We wipe away our tears before walking out the door of our homes, and we try to keep our heads lifted high in public. We wear superhero masks and put on Emmy-worthy performances day in and day out. Though every person has unique reasons for sharing or not sharing struggles with depression, here are the top six reasons I don’t tell others I’m depressed:

1. It’s awkward.

This is sad but true. I remember the first time someone shared with me her struggle with depression, and I bumbled through an awkward response of “I’m sorry…I um, I have to go.” At the time, I didn't understand depression and knew very little about it. I had no clue how to engage in a conversation in something I didn’t understand. It made me uncomfortable.

Since then I have gained plenty of firsthand experience about depression and have a much more caring, empathetic response. I’ve also experienced those bumbling, awkward responses from the other side of the conversation; I’ve been the one to witness others stammer and blush and suddenly forget how to talk when depression comes up. Though the awkwardness doesn’t bother me much anymore, I do think twice about how someone will respond before mentioning depression.

2. I don’t want to come across as needy.

Unfortunately, the stereotype “depressed” person is "weak," needy, and perhaps clingy. In an effort to avoid this stereotype at all costs, we keep our struggles to ourselves. We strive to keep up our reputations as strong, independent individuals. Isn’t this the American ideal?

Yet herein lies the misconception that strong means not needing others—and furthermore, that neediness is equal to needing help. For a long time, I avoided talking about depression because I believed needing help made me less-than and weak, in the end only to discover true courage is practicing vulnerability and asking for help.

Adobe stock photo

Adobe stock photo

3. I’m afraid there’s something wrong with me.

Ashamed. Horrified. Scared. These are the emotions that plagued me in the pits of depression. Because depression is difficult to understand and has no cut-and-dry medical explanation with a formula to get better, it’s easy to fall into the lie that depression is an inherent flaw within me.

Depression carries the critical inner voice causing us to doubt our sense of value and our sense of belonging. "A freak. A failure. Of no value," it whispers in my head. With the pressure to conform and my natural aversion to vulnerability constantly weighing on me, of course I choose to keep my depression from others.

4. Some days I can’t even admit to myself I’m depressed.

Given the fears discussed above, it’s no wonder I try to convince myself I’m not depressed! On my best days in depression and on my worst, there is almost nothing I have wanted more desperately than for depression to be gone. I have wished for a magic cure, I have prayed and begged God to “take it away,” and I have spent hours on the internet looking for solutions to this mood disorder.

I have wished depression never existed, and I have wanted to forget about it altogether. I have tried to ignore it, to run from it, to numb myself to it—and on these days of denial, hiding depression from others simply comes as a byproduct of trying to keep it hidden from myself.

5. When I’m with you, I genuinely may be happy.

This may sound odd, but when I greet my friends and see coworkers in the hallway, I genuinely am happy in that moment—happy to see them, happy to know them, happy to spend time with them. In those moments, I am happy. I want to hear about their week and tell them about my day. I smile and crack jokes and do more than my share of laughing because I truly enjoy their company. It simply isn’t the right context to mention my depression, especially if I’m not feeling the full weight of it at the moment.

Because most interactions with others happen in these more superficial, thirty-second conversations, it makes sense that many would view me as a generally upbeat and happy person. The truth is, in the moments I interact with others I may be genuinely happy, but these moments do not necessarily represent my overall mental and emotional well-being.

6. I don’t want unsolicited advice on how to get better.

Well-meaning friends have suggested everything from antidepressants to praying and reading my Bible more. They have told me about their Aunt Milly and what cured her depression and the miraculous recovery of their friend Billy Bob. 

For obvious reasons, this can be very annoying to those with depression. Everyone’s experience of depression is different, and what helps one person will not necessarily help someone else. It can also be exasperating because it can unintentionally imply that we aren’t already trying everything we know to get better. We probably already googled that therapy or pill or herbal supplement you’re telling us about, and we probably read about five articles on it while we were busy avoiding people!

Ways to Make the Conversation Easier

Though I've learned to become comfortable talking about depression openly, there are still ways people can make the conversation easier:

  • Create a nonjudgmental attitude/safe atmosphere
  • A focus on listening, not telling
  • Genuine desire to learn and understand
  • Phrases like “Tell me more about that” or “I’d like to learn more about depression and would love to hear about your experience”
  • An environment where others are vulnerable about their struggles as well (a "me too" culture)
  • The ability to relate but not compare (ie, “I/someone close to me has walked through depression, and I know it can be really difficult” versus “My brother was depressed but it wasn’t that bad”)
  • After listening, asking “How can I help?” or “What helps on the hard days?”
  • A “thank you for sharing” or acknowledgment of how much courage it takes to talk about taboo topics like mental illness.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the road of depression, or perhaps you’re walking alongside someone with depression. Regardless, I hope this list provides some insight—and please know, we are thankful for you. We are thankful for the conversations about depression, even if they’re a little awkward at first! We are thankful for community because even though we don’t always like it, we cannot do this alone.

Thanks for letting me tell you I’m depressed.

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