I met Andie when she was a student in college. She brightens every room she walks into and hands joy out like candy. It is so surprising to hear her struggles with anxiety when you see the peace she brings to those around her. I encourage you to read her brave story of facing her Mood Monster head on as God helped her to see she truly can overcome what seemed surmounting. This is her story of getting unstuck. Her honesty is inspiring and so is her grasp to see how uniquely personal God truly is.
It was 2pm on Friday, July 22nd, 2011. It had been a long, hard week of basking in the sun with friends without any homework and getting paid to babysit the sweetest, most adorable and hilarious children. Life was tough. And just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse (I hope you’ve picked up on the sarcasm at this point), I was getting ready to leave for a camping trip with some of my favorite people on the planet. And we were headed to Larrabee State Park, one of my favorite places on the planet.
So imagine my disgust (this time the disgust is real) when I remembered the Craigslist job posting I’d seen earlier that week… applications due that very day at 4pm. In two hours! But I had to pack for my staycation! It’s my favorite place! It’s my favorite people! UGH. “I don’t even want this job,” I argued with myself. “Yes Andie, but remember what your professors told you. It will take forever to get a bite on an application. At least 6 months. You have to apply to anything and everything,” said Andrea (That’s me too… in this case my responsible conscience… AKA a no-fun, goody-two-shoes SQUARE). And I had to admit, she was right.
When you’re 22 years old and freshly graduated, about to be thrown into the big, bad, working world on your own for the first time, you listen to your college professors and their wise counsel. “Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!” I agreed. So I did it. Luckily my résumé was in tip-top shape with all the job-finding focus in our last few months of classes. So I cranked out a cover letter and submitted that bad boy. Not ideal, but it’s just true. And off I went, oh-so-pleased with myself and pretty sure I would never have to think about that job ever again.
Long story short, I was wrong. One phone interview, one on-site interview, and one month later I was employed. In Tacoma. Nearly three hours away from where I had spent the last 4 years of my life. WHAT?? “Apply for any job you can find,” they said. “It will take a long time to get any bites,” they said. Nobody saw this coming – least of all me. I should have been happy and proud. Instead, I freaked my freak and had a few meltdowns and cried my eyes out a number of times. And then packed my life into a tiny Toyota and said goodbye to many of my closest friends and the only adult life I’d known and drove two and a half hours into unfamiliar territory.
And I mean, I was proud. I was. It’s really cool and flattering and stress-relieving (or so I thought) to be employed. The worst of it will be missing my friends, right? And I can just pop on up to see them any time I want to, right? So it’s all gonna be gravy, RIGHT?? Wrong.
See, I was always a stress case when it came to academics. Never satisfied with what most people considered “enough” studying, always picking apart my research papers with the finest of fine-toothed combs, stressing stressing, stressing. While at the same time exhibiting EXTRAORDINARY skills in procrastination. Go figure. So I thought that was my problem. I just don’t give myself enough time to complete projects and then insist on perfectionism, and that would make anyone stressed out of her mind! So now that school is over, anxiety and constant worry are a thing of the past! … Are you laughing? Me too.
Moving 3ish hours from most everything and everyone you know and love is a good way to test your mental health, let me tell you that. The first (of MANY) lesson(s) I learned about myself after I moved to Tacoma was that my anxiety wasn’t going anywhere. It was part of me. Ever-present and relentless. Making me sad, anxious, at times depressed, and clouding nearly every thought with fear, uncertainty, and overall yuckiness. It had taken up residence in my brain and heart and was a lousy, no good tenant. And extra hard to evict. We’re talking multiple notices on the front door, complaints from the neighbors, warning after warning… until the situation required professional action and rehabilitation. Stepping away from my housing metaphor, if I may, “professional action and rehabilitation” in this case refers to reaching a boiling point and realizing I just couldn’t continue to let these Mood Monsters in my brain walk all over me. They were the nastiest of bullies and needed to be stopped. But how in the WORLD would I go about that??
It started with a call to my former doctor at WWU, where I had sought help for similar circumstances in college. This wasn’t my first rodeo, folks. So I called good ol’ Lorna. Lorna is a goddess among us. And I love her. Is that weird? I don’t think so. Anyway, against all odds, Dr. Lorna the Goddess received my obscure message left with an office assistant and returned my call the very next day. With a kind, “Oh hello Andie, it’s so nice to hear from you! How have you been?” A wave of relief came over me. And kind of like when you call your parents and don’t even realize you’re that upset until they answer in their kind and loving tones and suddenly you’ve dissolved into a puddle of unforeseen tears, so I dissolved on the phone with my Lorna. And, in claaaaaaassic Lorna form, she oh-so-sweetly encouraged me to visit a counselor and consult my new doctor, and consider another prescription for antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication. And because Lorna is an angel sent straight from above, I did. And because I did, things began to change.
Now here’s the thing. The reason I offer you so much detail about the story that led to my healing and growth, is because it was an UGLY journey along the way. And since this is a blog about faith and collisions and finding God in the mess, here’s where that part comes in: I was so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so fed up with God in the midst of my struggle. Big fat OVER IT and big fat OVER HIM. Sick of hearing “Give it up to God,” and “It’s all part of the plan,” and “It will happen when it’s supposed to happen.”
Mind you, these messages were not coming to me in direct response to my anxiety issues. The closest people to me were not feeding me those lines. But these messages are flung around all the time in faith communities. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with them necessarily. I mean, it’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Give it up to God and he will take it away and all that crap. But here’s what’s wrong with that picture: Mental health struggles are not the absence of God. Mental health struggles do not mean you are not faithful enough or prayerful enough or worthy enough for a peaceful mind. And I know most people wouldn’t tell you otherwise. I know most people mean well with their Christian buzzword advice. Yeah, sure, “Give it up to God.” But sometimes he will give it back. And that doesn’t mean He has abandoned you. ALL THE TIME I used to think, “Ok God. Here I am, giving this up to you! It’s yours! People tell me I can do that, so is that cool? I don’t want this anymore so you can go ahead and have it. I do declare.” I would sit in my prayerful silence and try to make every thought that popped through my head into the Voice of God. But it really sounded a lot like me. And I was more and more annoyed and defeated with every deafening silence.
So I stopped trying. I stopped trying to hear God. I just stuck to my path of counseling and medication and healthy eating and exercise and vitamins and SELF CARE and things got better. Slowly but surely they got better. And all of that kind of makes it sound easy, but it wasn’t. There were lots of bad days. But I spent time with those I loved, listen to music that soothed me, took a day off here and there as needed, visited my family, and gradually began to make some really amazing realizations.
I asked God – begged and pleaded with God – plenty of times to rescue me from my situation. I told him he could have my worries. “Take them away any time you want, Big Guy.” And I so desperately wanted to be one of those people who talks about the great conversations they have with God. You know the ones. You’re pretty sure they must be on his iPhone “Favorites” list and they chat and FaceTime and text nonstop, because these people are verrrry familiar with God’s voice. Well you know what? I think I was too. I just didn’t know it. Because God knows me. He knows that I need to be reminded to stop and smell the roses. He knows that if I said, “Hey, let me know what my life will be like in 5 years and what I need to do to get there. Thaaaanks!” and he actually did it – gave me a glimpse into my future and what it would look like – that I would become a woman obsessed! I would change my course of action to try to fit into the perfect little picture God had painted! It would be game over for any form of contented, here-and-now existence. And that would be awful.
So no, He didn’t rescue me from my struggles by taking them away right then and there. He let me keep them. He let me get ANGRY with them and Him. He let me fight. He allowed me to feel. He didn’t proclaim great revelations with a big, booming, movie-narrator-voice. Because it wouldn’t have worked for me. It would have freaked me out. And He knew that. Duh, He knew that. But why do you think I applied for my job? Why do you think I TOOK the job, against all my worried thoughts? Why do you think I recognized my Mood Monsters? Why do you think I called Lorna the Goddess? Oh He rescued me, alright. By allowing me to rescue myself. With His omnipresent peace and guidance on my side. And I have never felt so whole. I have never felt so proud. I have never felt so ME. – Andie
To keep in touch with Andie, check out her blog.