A Day in the Life: Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, & the Church

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Two dear friends were part of a bible theater project at a local college. The idea was to meet for 6 months and do a bible study of all the women mentioned in the bible. It would be called the Bible Women’s Project and they would create a way to unite and tell those women’s stories, mixed with their own, and make it applicable to today. Not just the Ruth and Naomi kind of stories, but the harder ones, the women who perhaps we’ve misunderstood and who made some grievous mistakes. People who are a lot more like you and me than we’d care to be reminded.

The results were astounding, thought provoking, and deeply affective. Later on, someone asked me what I thought of it. It was hard to take all in. It was personal. It was moving. It was painful. The topics that the play incorporated were hard: rape, murder, submission, genocide, shame, church responses, abandonment, neglect, prostitution, forgotten, unseen, not heard. I could only utter one more thing, “I don’t know how we create spaces where women can tell their story, where we can be heard and seen. I need that. I don’t think I’m alone.” But I feel alone. My safe spaces are gone. I don’t feel seen.

A blogging friend that I’ve recently connected to read some of my posts about Anxiety-Depression, abuse, and PTSD. She recommended a book that her friend’s had written that I have only recently begun reading. I feel compelled to share it with you. Parts particularly stand out to me as I am reading it. It’s a great resource for anyone who has been affected by trauma. I’d recommend it: Love Letters from the Edge. It’s so timely in my life. Particularly, I have found this bit to be helpful:

“The following blog post, adapted from a post from Jim Lapierre, is a vivd description of what it’s like to live with PTSD:”

Four a.m. is her witching hour. She wakes each morning with adrenaline coursing through her veins. Her heartbeat hammers, every muscle in her body tense. She’s in fight or flight mode, but there’s no one to fight and nowhere to run.

The first thirty seconds feels like half an hour. It’s the time in between sleep and waking. What’s real? What isn’t?

It’s much worse than a bad dream. It. Feels. Like. It. Just. Happened. Again.

The tears come, but she fights them. She checks the sheets, but they’re clean. She sits on the side of the bed, rocking back and forth, but it’s a little too fast to bring comfort.

Breath!” Can’t get enough oxygen. Hyperventilating is terrifying. Head pounding. Need light. Need air. Must get out of this room.

She starts the coffee. No chance of going back to sleep now. Go to the bathroom but turn away from the medicine cabinet mirror. Cold water on her face stings but feels real. Still avoiding the mirror, can’t stand the image there. She needs a shower but it doesn’t feel okay to do that yet.

Settle in with some reading-daily affirmations. Get centered. Prayers are sent but feel futile. She never got the hang of meditation. It just gets her stuck in her head. A song on Pandora grabs her attention: I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing. Just praying to a God that I don’t believe in. 

Make plans for the day. Staying busy helps. Make lists. Combine them with yesterday’s lists. Sun’s coming up. Therapy today. Have to take a shower. Fear. Self-loathing. Shame.

Scalding hot water. Pain. Scrubbing way to hard. Still can’t remove the feeling of being dirty. “You know that it’s not on your skin. It’s burned in your memory. It’s a feeling of shame based on what was done to you. It’s not your fault. Please cool off the water. It’s hurting you.”

She doesn’t know that others struggle with these feelings, too. I’ve tried to be gentle but direct with her in therapy. “You’re naked and wet in an enclosed area with nowhere to run or hide when you shower. You close your eyes to keep the shampoo out. You can’t hear what’s going on in the rest of the house. You feel physically vulnerable. It makes sense that you’re scared.”

I want to help her stop feeling like she’s crazy, like she’s the only one who struggles with these feelings.

We talk about how she copes, how she sees herself, how she struggles to have self-control. She confesses what she sees as sin.

“I feel like a little girl a lot of the time.” She finds it hard to believe that I have known a lot of adults who feel like children.

I ask her to recall how she described feeling broken when we first met. She nods. We’ve talked about defining moments in her life-the first at age eight. She was never free to be innocent and her emotional growth was arrested by ongoing sexual trauma and abuse.

She’s thirty-five. Physically she feels like eighty. In the outside world, her composure and behavior are that of a very successful professional. Emotionally/internally she’s somewhere between eight and sixteen, depending on her feelings, stress, and level of anxiety.

She lives with PTSD, an anxiety disorder. She experiences vivid nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. She has co-occuring panic attacks and depression. Her prognosis is good and getting better, but the work ahead of her is hard. In truth, it’s one of the most difficult things a human being can do-but it’s not as bad as what she’s already been through and it’s not as bad as living this way indefinitely.

We’re working on strategies to promote a sense of safety. She’s implemented simple ways she can use her five senses to connect to her here and now. She is mindful that when she’s overwhelmed, she is not dealing with her current reality- she is somewhere in her past. She’s making changes to her physical enviroment. She realized that even some of her prized possessions are associated with past memories. They were in her bedroom when she was eight. They’re packed away now-not discarded-it’s just not time for those now.

We’re working on a very difficult piece. She’s begun journaling the content of her nightmares and we’re exploring the themes and memories. She’s accepted that the only way out of it is through it because there is no forgetting.

She’s accepted that it’s OK for a grown woman to leave her lights on at night, hug stuffed animals, and do anything that doesn’t hurt her to make the “shadows” go away. She ‘s getting better and through group therapy and self help she’s connecting to others with similar experiences. She knows now that she’s not alone.

Telling our stories connects us. The best we can be alone is lonely. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”-Maya Angelou

So friends, I want to both create and be a part of a community where it’s safe to share my story and hear other stories, where pain is lessened and agony feels less intense because we don’t have to bear our untold stories inside us. I don’t know how. It’s uncomfortable. It’s costly. But they will know we are Christians by our love for one another, albeit a messy, sometimes intense and crazy love.

And then those outside of the church, those of us who feel like fringed and forgotten people, marred by the world and carry hurt from the Church, unseen and unheard, find a place to rest, a place to share and receive and give. And that resting ground is leveled with Jesus. And there becomes nothing, I mean NOTHING that separates us from loving each other, because nothing could separate us from the love of God.

Perhaps that’s the gospel in the most simplest of ways: those outside have now been welcomed in lavishly. Behold, He is making all things new.

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