Anxiety? Nope, I'm Good

I settle in for a long evening on my comfy couch. No Netflix bingeing happening here…something way better. My heartbeat quickens along with a surge of adrenaline rushing through my body. Everyone is tucked in and asleep. No distractions, no noise, no one asking me for a snack or a drink of water. The best part of my day begins when I can finally work late into the night. Uninterrupted. Whoever says addiction consists only of chemical substances has not come in contact with my brain. My drug of choice is work. Staying busy and productive has always made me feel fulfilled and happy.

For the past twenty years, my employment history began as a grocery bagger at Kroger; fast forward to a more recent role in an executive position at a church here locally. During these decades, I discovered that I love a lot of things, but after twenty years of my professional journey…the biggest truth I learned about myself was “I love to WERK”. I love leading, strategizing, producing and problem solving. I not only like it, it fuels me. I began working non-stop, sometimes sixty hours a week. I tried to hide how much I was working from Josh, my kids, and everyone. I knew it was too much, but it was exciting and I knew I could handle it.

Then three years ago, something happened. I literally stopped sleeping. My brain became accustomed to waking up every night at 3 am to process what I needed to do the next day, or wake up and think through some tenuous convo from the day before. Whatever the reason, my overactive brain took control and became alive with anxiety. Out of nowhere my chest would tighten, and suddenly it became hard to breathe. One day, I recall being at home with my kids and having what I thought was a heart attack. My chest was shooting with pain and I felt paralyzed. Frantically, I called my husband, he was on a work trip with his two start-up buddies {you know who you are} and he calmly talked me through it. The whole thing was embarrassing. I hated feeling unexpectedly out of control. What began as minor upsets, evolved into daily anxiety and sleepless nights. I could no longer hide what was going on inside of me. It was surfacing too quickly.

I recently had a conversation with a new friend, who happens to be a psychiatrist…he asked me the following question. “Do you love yourself?” I was taken aback as if something or someone jolted me. My mouth felt dry and I couldn’t get the words out. He asked me again. “Do you love yourself aside from the role you play as a wife and mother, the job or career you have, regardless of what you have or have not produced this month. Do you love you? I don’t know if I was stunned by his question or stunned by my inability to respond. I could feel a breadth of emotions rising up as I fought back painful tears. Being an extremely private person, {pastoral ministry can teach you that quickly!}, only my small, close circle knew what I had been through. Hitting rock bottom…for me, was something people refer to as burnout. It was slow-to-play-out, quiet, behind-the-scenes, non-public and consuming. There I said it. As I sit here writing, I’m still convincing myself that I will most likely turn this into a journal entry and not anything I share publicly. Who was to blame? My career? My boss? Or was it the fact that for two decades I chose to put the missional work I was doing first before paying attention to the dangerous symptoms closing in on me. My work was what mattered, and that’s all. The lines were so blurry that I found myself indifferent to the flashing red STOP signs in my face.

It can be hard to open up about anxiety, depression, panic attacks or anything in the mental health category, but the sooner I faced my emotions the closer it brought me to wholeness and joy. Stepping back from work long enough to catch my breath, evaluate my heart and emotions, while truly figuring out who I am has been the single, most difficult experience of my life. It has felt counterintuitive, mostly because our society screams the opposite message incessantly. Gratefully, I have been afforded the time to finish a lifelong goal to complete my undergrad in Organizational Management. The whole process of putting my brain back into school has gifted me the opportunity to create countless discussion posts, essays and papers to process through the highs and lows of my life as a wife, mother, friend, and leader in ministry and business. This season of life has forced me to STOP, pause and truly figure out who I am.

The road back from anxiety, insomnia and stress is not a short one, but it’s completely worth it. I do not have all the answers, but I have figured out that the small, consistent disciplines put into practice over time create long-term change. Putting my heart back together has involved using cognitive therapy techniques, meditative routines, intense workouts {shout out to New Albany Orange Theory Fitness}, and a few CLOSE family and friends who I couldn’t imagine life without. What you do is awesome, but stopping long enough to identify who you truly are as a person will lead you to professional dreams you couldn’t imagine.

If you want to ever chat with me about anxiety, not sleeping or anything you’re dealing with please message me! You are not alone and I think it’s safe to say that everyone deals with hard emotions and their aftermath at some point along their journey. I would LOVE to hear your story. We’re all in this together.

When 99 percent of your life is your work, either you are really bad at what you do or you are completely off balance with the rest of your life; neither is something to be proud of.” Jerome Jarre

Burnout is not the price you have to pay for success”. Arianna Huffington