At Last a Life

I wrote this at a very, very, very low point in my life about a year ago. I am so beyond thankful that Jesus has bound these wounds with His tender touch, so thankful in fact that I take this time now to boast in my weakness. A weakness that in no way deemed me worthless, but rather had its perfect work in perfecting the power of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“When we are born into this world, those before us are likely to assume that we will live what they would call a typical life. You know, like achieving life’s typical milestones. More than likely you will experience your first day of kindergarten, somehow earn your driver’s license, graduate from high school and maybe college, dance with your dad at your wedding, cry tears of joy with your mom after having your first baby, send your kids off to college, and grow old with your spouse; all the while enjoying every minute of it. Although every individual lives with the expectation that all of these things will happen to them just like everyone else, for some it is either suddenly stripped from their future or diluted with doom, and if this occurs you can either roll with the punches and just live your life or have these things literally eat you alive.

For me, my world was flipped upside down when my mom passed away when I was nineteen (we didn’t even know she had cancer). One day my biggest dilemma was picking a country on which to do my Spanish project, and the next was choosing which coffin my mom would have liked. There was no long battle with chemo, which I suppose I’m thankful for, but the path she had chosen was still laden with unimaginable suffering for us all. I always wondered what it would be like to lose someone you truly believe you can’t live without—a part of me even yearned to experience it one day just to see what would happen or how I would handle it. Would it be like the movies? Would it be like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies? I always thought that these actors and characters were exaggerating just to earn an Oscar or make a story more memorable (it’s just fiction, after all), but it wasn’t until I experienced loss first-hand that I finally realized that all these gut-wrenching emotions weren’t just added for flare. No, these emotions were real.

My sister and I were waiting amidst vases of flowers we had just bought for our mom in her new room at the hospital when my dad told us that she had passed away in the elevator. Without even thinking I dropped whatever was in my hands and shoved myself in the nearest corner, balling my eyes out. I had never cried like that before, my body just couldn’t stop shaking as I fought to see through my mascara-stained glasses. I had completely forgotten about the host of relatives that were gently stroking my hair from behind for who knows how long. I sometimes wonder what they were thinking in a time like that because from the outside they looked like they still had control of their sanity. I hardly remember the week leading up to her funeral, but somewhere in there I managed to type up her eulogy and buy a new black dress (she was never fond of the one that I usually wore). The funeral itself really wasn’t that bad surprisingly. But even just days after the funeral, I genuinely thought I was okay—not great, mind you, but okay. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how broken I was.

It happened a little over a month after my mom’s death. I was sitting in our local movie theater watching the world’s latest take on the story of Noah with my family when it hit me. In an instant my heart was racing at what felt like a hundred miles an hour. My lungs were fighting to expand against what felt like a tightly-cinched corset around my chest. My hands shook as if I kept touching a hot skillet over and over, my senses never learning to refrain from the heat. My eyes could no longer focus on the massive screen directly ahead of me. The urge to pass out overtook my entire body. I desperately tried to get more comfortable in my seat and nibbled on popcorn in a poor attempt to get a hold of myself, but all I really managed to do was keep myself distracted until the end of the film (thankfully we had already gone through most of it). Immediately afterwards I told my sister that I was about to pass out and needed to go home, thinking I just needed to get a little something to eat and rest for the night. After my dad drove us home I crawled in bed and morphed myself into the tightest little ball I could muster, praying that I would eventually find peace in sleep.

It wasn’t but a few days after when the struggle to breathe proved too much to cope with anymore, it had now gotten to the point where each breath felt like my last. I was now hyperventilating in a desperate attempt to get more oxygen. Although it was the last place they wanted to return to, my dad and my little sister took one look at me and didn’t think twice about rushing me to the ER. There, nurses quickly tethered me to various beeping instruments via wires and stickers after taking a quick x-ray of my chest. As we were waiting for the results of my chest x-ray, I just knew that they would find something wrong. Fluid in my lungs, a tumor, a blood clot, anything that would explain why my body acted like it was fighting for its life. But when the doctor came back with the results, all he had to show us was the ghostly gray imaging of a perfectly sound heart guarded by a set of healthy larger-than-average lungs. I remember thinking that this just couldn’t be right, that I must be looking at someone else’s x-ray instead of my own. But no, this scan was mine, I could easily read HIGGINS, ALYSSA M. typed in bold white font along the bottom of the image. What the doctor did next was something that I would have never guessed in a million years: he diagnosed me with severe anxiety. I just lay there in disbelief as the words that shot at me like daggers leisurely rolled off his tongue (apparently my father had mentioned to the doctor while I was in for my x-ray that my mom had just recently passed). Once I got my bearings back I asked him if more imaging could be done to make sure, but he told me that it was too late in the night and that they would have to call others in from home that were specifically certified for those screenings (I could tell he was writing me off). Eventually it got to the point where he insisted that nothing was wrong with me and sent me home with nothing more than a doctor’s note and a prescription for some anxiety medication that I would never consider taking. Going home that night felt like such a defeat, I had stopped hyperventilating but I didn’t feel any better. All I felt like now was like a crazy person, but far worse. A crazy person without the slightest hope.

The next few months consisted of many different ups and downs (mostly downs, to be honest). I had managed to finish off my classes for that semester, but the following summer was one that I would like to forget. Sure I went swimming with my cousins frequently and even took a much-needed family vacation to Atlanta, but during these times I still felt like my body could breakdown on itself at any given moment. At any time I could be the bedbound nut-job I once was when I had just returned from the ER. Anxiety has a way of swinging you back and forth like some plaything, once it tires of you it will seem like it has lost interest in you for a while, but it always seems to have a way of charging uninvited through your door again. I cried and prayed continuously whenever anxiety physically wreaked my body, and once the symptoms seemed to be at bay I would soak up the opportunity and pretend to live normally for as long as I could until my body decided to turn on me once again. I had hoped that my next semester at college would keep my mind off of how bad I felt inside, but this was not to be. I was able to pretend for a while and put on a happy face during class or afterwards with peers, but the month before finals I had once again become a slave to my fears.

I was once again housebound. The thought of returning to school was almost unbearable, I couldn’t even make a trip to the grocery store without bursting into tears. I was so uncoordinated that I felt like I could pass out at any given moment. My mind whirled like a top. Always analyzing, always questioning. Why me? What do these symptoms mean? Am I going to die? When will this nightmare end? I spent most of my time either crying or Googleing my new latest symptom (neither of which did absolutely nothing for me but put even more stress on my already exhausted body). However while surfing the web, I had stumbled upon a certain website that wasn’t at all like other anxiety forums that seemed to only terrify me more, this one was entitled “At Last a Life” and was written by an ex-anxiety sufferer by the name of Paul David. He too had dealt with severe anxiety, for ten years in fact, and had wandered helplessly down the road of countless prescriptions and doctor’s appointments until he finally had the realization that he alone had the ability to regain his old life back. For the first time I felt hope as I combed over the entire website with a fine-toothed comb, leaving no link unread. There was no talk of some magic pill or miracle doctor, which was quite refreshing after the countless gimmicks I had encountered that had promised such things (you would be surprised of some of the things you find on the Internet), but of how to conquer anxiety ON YOUR OWN. Without even having a chance to think about it I ordered Paul’s book, which has undoubtedly become my biggest step towards freedom thus far. That, and a whole lot of Jesus.

I now have a whole new mentality when it comes to my anxiety. I no longer fuel it further with fear, but face it head-on with what I can only call a “so what” attitude. Instead of stressing my body out even more with constant worry like I once did, I now let whatever my body wants to feel just feel it. What is the worst it can do? Sure it may not be the most comfortable thing in the world, but I have finally realized that it is in no way life-threatening. Everyone deals with bouts of adrenaline when they feel scared or anxious; my body just over exaggerates a bit due to the constant worry that has plagued my mind for so long. My anxiety is no longer being fed with fear and panic, being not of God (2 Timothy 1:7), but is slowly being starved by just not caring and living my life. I know that I am by no means cured or even close to recovery just yet, but for the very first time since I first struggled with anxiety I now know that one day I will once again be the person that I once was, but perhaps even better. For once, I am daring to hope.”

Now, I can look back on these last two sentences I had written in the past and smile. Because of the hope that I dared to have during my darkest hour, I am the person who I am today. Someone not only relieved from the crippling effects of severe anxiety, but also the lie that convinces us that we go through this life completely and utterly alone. Jesus is there for you people, He is there for you every step of the way. I thought that I had a life before my anxieties took hold of me, but looking back I realize that I really didn’t. At last, God has given me a real life. A life of humility and love, and a certain understanding that I would have never had if it weren’t for trials that proved only to strengthen my faith. Thank you, Jesus. At last, a life…

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