Anxiety can be a lot more than just a feeling of being stressed or overwhelmed. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a serious mental health issue that can have debilitating effects. Laura Fleetwood shares from her personal experience with anxiety and explains why accepting anxiety is a necessary first step in learning to live well in spite of it.
I nervously stepped into the space where the pastor typically stands, sighed deeply, and opened my quivering lips to share the story of my darkest days to a room full of strangers. Sounds equally insane and intriguing, right?
Especially when just a year before, I couldn’t muster the courage to say the words to my own loving husband. What changed wasn’t my circumstances, rather my approach to them. From shame to surrender. From frozen to one step at a time. And from silent to spoken.
STRUGGLING IN THE DARK
What thoughts spiral dark in your head and weigh deep on your heart? I know there’s something. There’s always something. The external world and your internal ego want you to believe those thoughts and desires are best kept locked up, away from prying eyes and judging glances.
So you fight them off, push them aside, or pretend them away. This probably works—for a while.
After all, you’ve probably been told that God’s Girls must look and act the part: “I’m fine! Life is great. No worries. All is well here. I’m blessed to be a blessing.”
When did it become normal to not only live with the stress of struggle on the inside, but to have the added pressure and expectation to appear as though you have it all together on the outside? Perhaps not every day, maybe not even most days, but often enough that it becomes a habit.
Angry with your spouse? Shove it down or cry in your bedroom.
Overwhelmed by Covid quarantines and endless disappointments? Someone else has it worse, so suck it up, dismiss it, and move on.
Hurt from a friend who betrayed you? Forgive and forget—but not really.
Overwhelmed by children and responsibilities? Put on a happy face. Definitely don’t ask for help. It will get better eventually.
These responses feel easier and perhaps even more noble in the moment, but keep it up and your body, mind, and spirit will suffer.
Trust me, I know.
At the age of 37, I began experiencing anxiety attacks and debilitating physical symptoms of stress.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The root cause? A lifetime of keeping my worries, fears, struggles, and stress bound tightly inside.
I was so good at pretending things didn’t bother me that I actually believed it was true.
But much like a closet where the clutter in a home is stuffed away, eventually my emotional closet was overflowing and the door could not close. The trouble I had never dealt with spilled out all over my life. This can happen to you, too.
Jesus promised that in this world you would have trouble. But He also said to “take heart,” because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
This doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with your trouble. It means that ‘how’ you deal with it matters. It matters to you. It matters to your family. It matters to all the precious people whose lives weave together with yours.
When troubles (big and small) are dismissed and shrugged off, anxiety and depression often result. It’s happening at younger ages than ever before. One in every three people that you know have experienced anxiety in ways that interrupt their life.
Watch closely, because it disproportionately impacts girls and women.
Your daughter. Your sister. Your friend. You.
Your body sends SOS signals to your brain. Upset stomach. Racing thoughts. Trouble sleeping. Shots of adrenaline spark nerves in your limbs. Feelings unfelt. Words unsaid. Overwhelm plowed through. Tears unshed. Silent prayers sent up seem to go unanswered.
You hold all these tensions inside until your body can hold them no more. With the physical symptoms rising as emotions are surfacing, anxiety rears its head and wants you to believe that you’re starting to fall apart.
Jesus wants you to know that it’s finally time to be put back together.
EMBRACING THE LIGHT
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
The Word of God is filled with images of darkness and light. The darkness is our pain. Our separation from God. Our sin. Our shame. Our struggle. The darkness is the hiding. It’s where the enemy of your soul wants you to keep your troubles locked away. Because they will grow there. In silence.
But imagine Jesus riding into the darkness currently filled with your unexpressed hurts and fears. The light around Him is blinding. He beckons you with a glance. A glance that says:
Your worry is not too insignificant. Your pain is not unworthy of voicing. Say it all. Speak it out loud. Scream the hurt. Sob the suffering. Let yourself break at the weight of it all. Because you were never meant to carry that inside. Let it go. And when you do, I will take it. As many times as you need. We will slay the silence together. And you can claim the peace.
The girls of God must no longer suffer in silence. ‘You’ must no longer suffer inside. The cost is too great.
Teach your children to speak their troubles out loud. To God. To you. To their team.
Model this. Embrace this. It will feel messy. And unsettling. And awkward at first.
And then it will feel freeing. And hopeful. And true.
Maybe, just maybe, a time of reckoning has come.
When faced with the choice to suffer alone or bring your struggle to the light, you will choose wisely and bravely. Go ahead and stand in your own room. Fill it with a few people you trust.
Jesus will be there.
With quivering lips and aching honesty, what would you say about the trouble you feel today? I imagine women and girls all over the world taking a stand and proving that worries thrive in the dark and wither in the light. Let’s do it. Together, we can practice struggling well.
Laura is releasing a podcast of her story on January 20, 2020. It’s a 7-episode mini-series called “Seeking The Still with Laura Fleetwood: Let Me Tell You a Story.” You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts or anywhere podcasts are found.
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Thank you for this, Laura! I did not realize the weight of my own anxiety until I started to feel like I was losing my mind in January. I’m back in counseling (which is a good thing) and my anxiety is much, much reduced. I looked back at journal entries from the beginning of the pandemic and realized that the anxiety I was experiencing was not new. It was there in the beginning but I had convinced myself that I was fine, “it” was fine (whatever “it” is), everything was peachy keen! I tend to pick up on the emotions of others so not all of the anxiety I experience is my own. Taking stock of my emotions not only daily but at times, moment by moment, and asking myself where those emotions are coming from has been extremely helpful.
Ashely – Way to go for recognizing it was time to talk with someone to get to the root of your anxiety. Therapy has been (and continues to be) such an important part of my healing journey. I think EVERYONE should have a therapist:) Continue to care for yourself and seek the quiet voice of God over the other voices that clamor for your attention. He will always bring peace to your chaos!
Laura, thank you for your willingness to speak truth. Too often we church girls feel a need to silently suffer being told that anything negative that comes from our lips is immature and detrimental to a life of faith. We forget passages like Job, Lamentations, Habakkuk, and Psalms.
We are also so used to this that when our sisters suffer, openly bleeding, we have little patience and quickly tire of their “complaints.” I think Jesus weeps at our lack of compassion.
I once felt the daily stranglehold of anxiety due to trauma. And I learned first-hand how church girls are expected to act to be acceptable.
Life is different now. Thanks be to God for interventions that stopped the abuse and God’s power to heal and transform. I now write for those broken by life. Some day I hope to also speak for them.
I’m grateful I no longer daily suffer with anxiety as God’s Spirit has administered his healing through God’s power, counseling, and learning how to better care for my body, soul, and spirit. I serve an amazing God who wastes nothing. He bountifully lavishes his love, and powerfully transforms broken lives like mine. I owe him everything. Thank you for being a voice for those yet too afraid to speak.
Robin – I am giving thanks that you no longer struggle with daily anxiety, but I’m so sorry that you have experienced trauma and abuse in your life. I know without a doubt that God will use your journey of healing to encourage others that He places in your path. He is the only one who can bring beauty from our ashes. Thank you for sharing part of your story with me! That means a lot.