How I live with anxiety.

It's been almost a year since my last post. Limping But Blessed came out about a year ago, and for the most part, I haven't written much since. (Not a good move on my part, but I'll get into that later.) Finishing the book was a relief and for a couple of months following, I was happy to not be on a deadline.

However, almost immediately, I kept wondering to myself "what am I going to do now?" The book gave me a project to keep my mind occupied, and of greater value; it provided a meaningful purpose outside of work and family. Writing the book had helped me work through some anger, the sadness of missing Jacob, and grieving the life I had to let go.

I didn't realize how cathartic writing was until I stopped.

In September of 2017, I had back surgery to alleviate some pain I've had for several years. The procedure went fine but I later developed a complication that triggered something I wasn't prepared for. We're not quite sure how it happened, but 3 weeks after the surgery, I woke up with a headache so bad I couldn't stay standing. It was a spinal fluid leak. Prior to my surgery, I had read about this complication and was familiar with Steve Kerr's (the head coach of the Golden State Warriors) ongoing issues from the result of a spinal fluid leak that wouldn't heal after one of his back surgery's. 

To make a very long story short, I spent the next week in bed hoping the leak would repair itself. Lying in bed for a week, not able to exercise, constantly worrying about the "what if's", reading about worst case scenarios on the internet, and not sleeping - resulted in a perfect storm of circumstances that caused severe levels of anxiety and fear. 

The reason I'm writing this is because I hope what I write about my anxiety can help someone else who lives with it. 

For much of my life, I've dealt with varying levels of anxiety. My first awareness of it was in college and it progressively became worse with work, life, and after Jacob's passing. His accident made me acutely aware of the fragility of life and the lack of control we all really have.

God wired me a certain way. Part of who I am includes a higher level of anxiety than the average person. Even though I've fought hard for years to get rid of it, I've come to realize it's more important for me to find peace in living with it. Finding peace with anxiety is a bit of an oxymoron. Yet, it's something I've found to be an incredibly healthy pursuit to keep it from having power over me.

With the help of a therapist, one of the ways I've found some peace with anxiety is by seeing the good in having it.

One of the positive attributes anxiety has given me is a higher level of awareness of my environment than the average person. I see and hear things others don't. I'm able to analyze scenarios and outcomes fairly quickly. My analytical mind, coupled with anxiety, allows me to be fairly good at forecasting, planning, making conservative decisions to avoid bad outcomes, and usually noticing potential problems. These help me in my work as a CFO and business person. Although, trust me, I still make plenty of mistakes. 

My anxiety can also be fuel for persistence and discipline. If I set my mind to a project or task, then I can get it done. Few obstacles will get in my way until I complete it and I'm not one to procrastinate. Because I'll care (worry) about an outcome or finishing something, I'll think through a number of creative ways to get to a result I'm proud of and won't stop until I'm at the end.   

Additionally, my personality type tends to be more emotional than others. I would say, and Brea can attest to it, that I'm more "sensitive" than the average male. In the last few years, I've noticed that it's important for me to express my emotions creatively on a regular basis rather than hold it in. Otherwise, my anxiety will force itself out in it's own unhealthy manner. For example, I'll not sleep well, I'll obsess on an issue and make it bigger than it is, and my thoughts will be scattered. At it's worst, anxiety can cause me to be paralyzed with consuming thoughts of irrational fear. I will catastrophize a situation I'm in and see the worst outcome instead of the realistic.

Through this recent struggle with anxiety, I realized how much of a role my lack of trust in God has exacerbated my anxiety. 

I've written plenty about my faith struggles and this episode brought me to my knees again - figuratively and literally. In short, I realized how important it is that I pursue my relationship with God. Spiritually, I had been going through the motions. My spiritual practices were almost non-existient. There is a direct correlation between my anxiety level and the amount of energy I'm putting towards my faith, spiritual disciplines, and following Jesus. 

I was recently recommended a book called, How God Changes Your Brain, which is written by secular scientists. Interestingly, the book provides scientific evidence that believing in and thinking about God is good for your health and lowers anxiety. It's pretty fascinating and interesting that God wired our brains that way, huh?? 

Over the last 7 years, I've spent a long time wandering in the wilderness and it felt like it was time to pick a path and get going. I know asking very hard theological questions and wrestling with faith can be good for a season. However, I don't believe it's good for an extended period of time. At some point, you end up just being the person "tossed in the waves" who doesn't have a solid foundation to handle life's barrage of difficulties.

All of us are living out our beliefs with some manner of faith. We don't know everything. We are humans with limited understanding and limited control. We are not God and I had to surrender to the fact that I am not going to have God totally figured out. My anxiety craves to be in control of life, and to be honest; to control God. 

A big lesson in all of this is: I can not and will not control God.

I know that sounds a little crazy and very arrogant - To think we can control God? But, it's not so crazy when you think about all the rituals, habits, and language we use in order to get God to be pleased with us. Albeit, most of it is done subconsciously. Nevertheless, I have been guilty of trying to control God by doing the right things or saying the right things in order to get what I want. 

Sorry for this short aside, but my faith is something that is a big piece to this anxiety puzzle. It's been an everyday conscious decision to just start moving forward, trusting, and letting go to what "is" - knowing God is for me, God is with me, and God loves me.

I've also been blessed by having found great therapists who help me manage and an incredible group of friends and family who have supported me during rough patches. Just talking about my anxiety helps. I know there's a stigma, especially with men, about seeing a therapist or counselor. So, part of the reason I'm writing this is to let others know they aren't alone or weird, or crazy. A lot of people have anxiety and anxiety disorders. This world isn't perfect and neither are our bodies or brains. 

I wanted to end with a list, in no particular order, of the things that have helped me:

  1. Prayer - I try to pray everyday in the morning and throughout the day as I feel compelled to do so. Often, I've found it helpful to write my prayers out too.
  2. Reading Scripture - I read the verse of the day from the bible app and I usually read a chapter from a bible study I'm doing. 
  3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - Short term, I see a therapist weekly. Eventually, I'll move to "maintenance" schedule of once a month. 
  4. Meditation - I use the Centering Prayer App for 20 minutes. I try to do this a few times per week but it would be better if I did it everyday.  
  5. Getting Plenty of Sleep - Boy, am I not good when I don't get enough sleep. If someone wanted to torture me for information, just keep me awake for a few nights and I'll crack.
  6. Medication as needed - This is just a rule I follow: I will only take psychiatric or sleep medication under the direct care of a Psychiatrist. Family docs are certainly capable and can prescribe these meds. However, all a Psychiatrist does is work with these medications and they have too many side effects - some being potentially dangerous. I have taken medication off and on over the last few years to get through some severe periods of anxiety or to help with insomnia. I'm not one to want to be on medication or to "need" it. However, I'm coming to realize that it's just something I'm going to be okay taking when I need it. There should be no shame in it. 
  7. Exercise - I do low impact exercise and weightlifting, along with some cardio (stationary bike, swimming, walking, etc.). This is one of the things I have to do 5-6 times a week in order to regulate stress and anxiety. I start going a little nutty after just a couple days of no exercise. 
  8. Writing - my therapist pointed out to me how important is for me to write and express myself and my thoughts. When I was writing the book, I wrote nearly every day for over a year. Then, I stopped. Looking back, over that year and a half - I felt strong, stable, confident, centered, and purposeful. My personality type tends to live up in my head and it is healthy for me to catch the jumbled mess, put it on paper, organize it, and to make some sense of what is going on. Icing on the cake is to hopefully engage with readers or to make a difference.

If you have any specific questions about anything I've listed here, feel free to send me a private message and I'll try to help where I can.