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It’d be easy to take a pass on a blog about mental health and instead cover up in complacency. But, I have to be cautious about managing my comfort carefully. For the last twenty or so years of my life, I have battled a crippling anxiety disorder. In that time, I have learned one thing to be true – anxiety loves comfort. Comfort provides a false sense of security that anxiety sufferers crave. It allows us to feel a slim level of control in moments of desperation. It presents itself as a saving grace, but in reality, it is a prison. If you’re not careful, you can comfort yourself into a corner that can be extraordinarily difficult to escape.
But before we dive into agoraphobia further, let’s rewind here a bit.
Anxiety first presented itself in my life when I was a young adolescent. It wasn’t until I was 19 years old however that I came to know and understand the symptoms as anxiety, because it was at that point in my life when the disorder became truly disruptive. I started having terrifying panic attacks and fear began robbing me of the joys of life. I fought a vicious battle with a relentless panic disorder throughout my entire sophomore year of college. By my junior year, I was able to secure a bit more stability and peace of mind which carried through until graduation. As I moved into my working career, my anxiety seemed to level off a bit. When major adversities or life changes hit, I would find myself back in the thick of it at times, but I never retreated to a setback as devastating as the one that I had experienced at 19 years old. I always bounced back pretty quickly…until 2011.
I had been in a relationship for about three years and in the early part of that of year, we were heading towards an ugly break up.
My anxiety had been boiling under my skin in the months leading up to that point. I can recall vividly one argument in particular that we had at the tail end of our relationship while I was driving. It led me to a breaking point where I felt the need to pull off the road and exit the vehicle. I shook uncontrollably for what seemed like forever until I could gather myself. I couldn’t even speak. People throw around the term “nervous breakdown” quite loosely these days and while I’m not sure that my experience that night would qualify, I can tell you that it was the closest thing that I have ever encountered to one. For about 20 minutes, I lost control of my body, and at the time I was afraid that I would never be able to regain composure. Thankfully the nervous tremors tormenting me eventually passed and I was somehow able to drive us both home. But I would learn a few months later that this traumatic event was only an ugly precursor of what was soon to follow.
Our relationship ended a few weeks after that dreadful night.
My anxiety was primed and our continued communication with one another only made things worse. I began to sink into a bit of a depression. I positioned myself as a victim, blaming not only my former partner but really every single person who I felt had done me wrong for my circumstances. I wasn’t willing to accept any personal responsibility. That was until one Saturday afternoon in July when I stepped into the shower to rinse off and clear my head. As the water beat against the back of my neck, I felt the presence of God speak to me. The message was clear – “the one constant has always been you.” It quickly became clear to me that before I ever again pointed the finger at anyone else, I better first take a look at myself. So that’s what I did. I set out on a mission to tell my story, take personal responsibility for my actions and seek forgiveness from God. I started a blog www.setback2comeback.com and began writing one day later on July 15th, 2011.
My anxiety didn’t disappear or improve when I began sharing my story, it intensified tremendously. I can recall shaking uncontrollably for hours on nights that I would write. But I knew that I was mending a bunch of open wounds and that made every ounce of discomfort worth it.
The deeper I dove into my story, however, the deeper that anxiety dug its claws into me. My panic attacks intensified to a level that I had never experienced before. They started presenting themselves at the time when I was most vulnerable, when my body was supposed to be at rest. Generally, the first attack would present itself 30-45 minutes into my sleep. I would awake to feel as though I was dying, often finding that in my panic I had thrown myself from the bed and onto the floor. There, I would sit and try to gather myself, shaking uncontrollably, my heart pounding as though it was going to leap right out of my chest. It was a dreadful experience and on my worst nights, I would go through it 3-4 times. It wasn’t long until I began to fear sleep altogether. I needed rest desperately, but closing my eyes was risky.
The lack of sleep really magnified my anxiety throughout the daytime hours.
I began to have trouble functioning outside of the home. This is when agoraphobia set in. I became obsessed with my fear that a devastating panic attack could occur while I was trapped in a place beyond my comfort zone.
So my comfort zone became my prison.
I could exist in my prison. Outside of those walls, I wasn’t so sure that I could make it. I couldn’t go to the grocery store, sit in a line at a drive-thru or even drive twenty miles up the road to my parents’ house for a quick visit. Simple tasks like taking out the garbage and gathering the mail became monumental challenges for me. I began losing contact with the people who mattered most. In the fall of 2011, I missed a good friend’s wedding and I spent Thanksgiving in my apartment alone with an empty fridge. I was quickly finding my way to rock bottom, but I continued to cling to hope.
I believed deeply that there was a purpose behind everything that I was experiencing.
My blog was inspiring others. I began hearing from individuals who were facing battles similar to mine. They seemed to deeply appreciate the raw nature of my testimony because in a sense I was giving them a voice as well. I was speaking for everyone who had felt shamed into silence about their battles in mental health. I became a sounding board for the weary who felt that they had no place left to turn. In me, they had a friend, someone who could understand, someone who could be trusted. These were people yearning to witness a miraculous turnaround. After all, if I could pull this off, perhaps they could, too?
I began to recognize that the best way for me to disarm my fears was to write about them.
So I became very deliberate in the way that I planned my posts. Whatever was most troubling to me that day was likely to be my focus later that evening. Writing was my way of finding clarity and direction. I would often begin a blog feeling lost and in despair and would finish a few hours later with a renewed sense of hope and a plan of action for the days that followed. If I could find the courage to write about it, perhaps I could in time find my way to a resolution? Perhaps, but still, there was something missing.
By late November of 2011, I had been blogging for five and a half months. And although I was finding clarity, direction and purpose, I was only sinking further and further into the bondage of agoraphobia. I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to quit. I just knew that I needed some help. So I fell to my knees and I asked God to take the burden from me.
Moments later, I felt the heavy weight on my shoulders diminish and I heard a message presented to me loud and clear – LET GO – TRUST – BELIEVE – FAITH.
I ran to my office and immediately created a visual for myself. I typed up the message and taped it to my refrigerator door. I meditated on those words over and over again for weeks. In them, I found tremendous strength. And it wasn’t long before I began to feel brave enough to challenge my agoraphobia. I began taking steps (literally) outside of my comfort zone reciting those words in my head in rhythm with my feet as they hit the ground. I started with simple tasks and worked my way on to more challenging ones. I desperately wanted to live the message that God had placed in my heart, so I paired it with a steady diet of positive affirmations, books on tape, Scripture, calming music and exercise. Inch by inch I challenged my anxieties until I broke them and miraculously I began to conquer my demons. Just three short months later in March of 2012, I completed a goal of running over 100 miles in one month. I also began dating the woman of my dreams who is now my wife and the mother of my 10-month-old son.
I felt extraordinarily proud to share my story and I didn’t want to conceal it from anyone’s view.
I would be doing my newfound mission a disservice by limiting visibility to my blog. If I were to choose only to be passionate about mental health part time, I might miss out on the opportunity to provide hope to someone in desperate need. That meant marrying my personal and professional lives. LET GO of the fear of judgment. TRUST in His plan. BELIEVE that He will work for the good of His people. And maintain an unwavering FAITH in all circumstances.
I want you all to know that there is zero shame in a battle fought in mental health.
It is our silence that enslaves us. We must speak up and let our voices be heard so that we can free ourselves and in turn, free the masses. The best way to find clarity is to open up. Talk to a counselor, a loved one, a friend, a colleague, talk to me if you have nowhere left to turn, just start talking. You will all create your own unique paths to recovery. Every story will begin with a voice of courage. Be that voice today.
I wear my testimonial like a badge of honor because I am extraordinarily grateful for everything that I have learned through my experiences. It’s made me a better man, a better husband, a better father and a better believer. What a blessing it is to be able to share my story. I hope that someday I will have the privilege of reading yours.
Author: Matt Deibler