I was driving down a country road with my four children in the car. It was a beautiful, calm day. As we drove, I started to feel nauseated. A few minutes later, I had no choice but to pull over on the side of the road and crank up the air conditioner, as the car seemed so unbearably hot. I crawled into the backseat of the car to lie down on the floor between the children. My entire body began to go numb. My six-year-old announced over and over that he needed to use the bathroom. My five-year-old passed out Tic-Tacs. My baby was crying. My eight-year-old found my cell phone and began to call for help.
I didn’t know what was happening to my body; it felt like it was going away. It was hard to breathe. It was hard to think clearly. I had only scary thoughts: maybe my body was going to go completely away. Maybe I was dying. My hands froze in a strange position and I had no control or ability to move them. I listened to my eight-year-old call a dear friend to come help. I then listened as she tearfully spoke to the 911 operators and told them that her mommy was hurting. Our friend arrived to take the kids, and an ambulance came to take me. Though I didn’t know what was happening to my body, the ER doctor fairly quickly declared my symptoms as an anxiety attack and told me to go home and rest.
This is new territory for me. I am generally a happy person who loves to make other people happy. I had never thought of the word anxiety as it relates to me. At times I have claimed words like overwhelmed, worried, easily agitated, emotional, and depressed. But I had never claimed the word anxiety as part of me. Looking back, I certainly had major depression during our struggle with infertility. That depression went unnamed and untreated. I suffered alone. I have dealt with mild depression symptoms through my childbearing years. Between children three and four, I finally addressed my symptoms with prescribed medication, homeopathic supplements, extreme dietary changes, and plenty of prayerful soul searching. I even took up drinking—diet Dr. Pepper—to help keep me going. Everything seemed to be in balance.
Apparently it wasn’t.
It felt like I had all these balls up in the air and none of them were falling, so everything was okay. But then everything fell at once. If my body had told me to slow down in any less dramatic way, I would not have listened. I am so grateful for my anxiety attack. Because of it, I stopped, studied, and surrendered, and I have been saved.
Stopped: I have a kamikaze personality. If something is scary, I just jump in headfirst before really thinking so that I can just get it done. Sadly, this usually works out for me. So I say “Yes” to everything that comes my way and will flounder silently rather than admit defeat. This is not wise. After I came home from the ER, I tearfully canceled all of my extra responsibilities for the following two months (performances, church responsibilities, school responsibilities, everything). I also stopped holding my smartphone. I stopped looking at it and stopped being a slave to it. Freedom. I left only six responsibilities on my list, and their names were Ava, Davis, Ella, Gwen, Josh, and me.
Studied: I studied about anxiety. I accepted the title and ultimately learned that my struggles with “depression” in the past were not actually depression, but anxiety. It feels good to have the right diagnosis so that I can work correctly to heal.
Surrendered: After studying and learning as much as I could, I still didn’t feel right. I finally realized I couldn’t fix this on my own. In addition to praying and seeking greater spiritual strength, I went to a therapist. I wish I had taken the time to work with a therapist years ago. I trusted her immediately. I surrendered to her expertise, and I vulnerably worked to understand the root cause of my anxiety. She gave me tools that I use every day. Tools to stop my thoughts and assess them. Tools to address my people-pleasing and overachieving nature. Tools to train my mind to stay in the present. Tools to rearrange our habits as a family at home. Tools to notice my triggers, to slow them down and stop them before the debilitating anxiety takes over. This is a work in progress. I have a long way to go. But it is worth it for my health and for the happiness of our family.
Saved: My Savior is the only one who understands the exact cause of my hurt and struggles of my soul. He alone has already suffered for both my sin and my pain. After all that I could do to heal myself, I turned to Him in faith to heal the rest of my ache. He helped me stop, study, and surrender, and He alone saves me. And you.
There are so many components to my situation, just as there are for yours. But even speaking about the generalities of our hurt gives us a place to understand that we are not “weird” if we are suffering from mental illness. Each day, new environmental and social factors contribute to a massive increase in mental hurt in our society. There is so much hurt, it can no longer be a purely private battle that we hide beneath the surface.
Ducks make life look so effortless on the surface. Their apparent serenity makes those of us who are struggling to stay afloat feel even more incapable. To some extent, everyone is a duck. We all have something difficult hiding underneath. So from one duck to another, though I do not know what is going on underneath your surface, I pray for your healing, and I know that through Christ’s saving Atonement we can all find the peace we seek in the present.
For more stories like this, check out In His Hands: Insights from Women, avaliable now at Deseret Book and deseretbook.com. Sandra is also a presenter at TOFW: Time Out for Women events. You can see her TOFW events this fall.