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Three times off, three times on. My eight-year-old fingers flipped the light switch until my heart rate slowed and I felt safe again.

In some ways, my obsessive-compulsive disorder was my greatest creative act. In a home where I couldn’t predict which version of my parents I’d get on any given day, I had built my own world, one I could manage and control. But what I desperately wanted it to give me, my anxiety actually stole. I’m not sure if what happened in my brain was a product of nature or nurture, but my attempt at control was out of control. So my mom took me to a child psychiatrist  and I haven’t known the world — or myself — beyond the veil of medication since.

A perfect storm of panic attacks, General Anxiety Disorder and OCD makes my world feel unbearably small and large at the same time. I’ve spent weeks and months willingly isolated in the confines of my bedroom. Being alone behind closed doors and being in charge of the stimuli around me feels worth the expense of missing out on the very people and places that could actually heal me. I’ve also had long stretches of panic-attack free time, when I’ve felt free enough to entertain the thought of stopping my medicine all together.

I’ve tried it, but I’ve only ever lasted a few months before resuming my medication.

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Image via Cacá Santoro

As a millennial and a person of faith, I commonly find myself uncomfortably wedged between culture’s back-and-forth assertions that anxiety isn’t ideal, but neither is the medicine that’s supposed to fix it. In response, I’ve tried almost everything you could think of to nourish my body and mind back to a place of stability without medicine: herbs and supplements, exercise, major dietary changes, therapy, mindfulness, support groups. Some of these things have blunted the edge of my struggles, but so far, I’ve found that for me these complementary therapies work best in tandem with medical care.

… I commonly find myself uncomfortably wedged between culture’s back-and-forth assertions that anxiety isn’t ideal, but neither is the medicine that’s supposed to fix it.

Whether I’m taking medicine or not, I would prefer to find and treat the root of my anxiety — to do the difficult work of teaching my brain and body what they missed when I was young. In the process, being on medication doesn’t give me a free pass out of my fears. It simply keeps me afloat in a world where I feel like I’m drowning, so I can actually address them. The key for me is to be mindful with wherever I am, continually asking myself if I’m acting in fear or hope. Am I staying on medicine because it’s easy and I want to avoid pain? Or am I itching to stop taking it because I want to prove I’m strong enough?

Right now, three months on the other side of my second baby, I’m miraculously more peaceful and content than I’ve ever been. Could this be my opportunity to find who’s beneath two decades of changes in my brain chemistry, to discover if I am who I am because of or in spite of my anxiety medication? When I listen to my body, I feel it telling me “no.”

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Image via Cacá Santoro

Because just less than a year ago, newly pregnant and in a city across the country, I plunged into the lowest low and the darkest dark I’ve ever experienced. It was a time I needed to be carried. A time I hid and missed out. So right now, though I’m in the light again, I feel prompted to stay — to sustain instead of push forward. To, with the support of my medication, let things be easy for a little while so I can give myself to others in ways I missed out on last year. I want to rest here in this place of peace for a bit so I can remind the eight-year-old little girl inside me what it feels like to love and be loved in a healthy, stable environment, all the while creating a stable environment for my family. I have a hunch this might be the most profound healing work of all.

I’ll probably explore the option of trying life without medication again in the future. But for now, I treat it like a lifejacket. Some days I’m still treading water, but I’m not as powerless against the current. My medicine keeps me awake to what’s happening in my mind and spirit so I can speak to them instead of them speaking to me. It reminds me I have a say in how I feel.

What does it really mean to heal? In this season, it’s doing whatever I can to keep myself buoyant so my head stays above water. My little pink pill helps. But so does showing myself grace.

What does it look like to show yourself grace?

Feature Image via Matt Scorte

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8 comments

  1. Thank you for this article. I appreciate your honest opinion. As a person who struggles with anxiety every singe day, it speaks to me more than words can express.

    Thank you, thank you.

  2. Showing grace to myself looks like taking one step at a time and celebrating the little victories. Healing and change don’t have to happen all at once, and taking medication for mental illness is not defeat! My medication is just one of the tools I have at my disposal for helping me cope and learn about my anxiety. Also, reminding myself daily that the Holy Spirit lives in me and He gives me the strength and courage to press forward.

  3. This is so beautifully pieced together. Anxiety is a huge part of my life, and looking back I think I’ve known since a young age that it would be something I would have to work with my whole life. One of my favorite lines is when you mention how all those healing therapies, and whatever they look like, work best in tandem with medical care. I have never hear anyone say this before, but it felt like a breath of fresh air. Maybe it’s just because I stand firmly between the two, but gosh am I grateful you put this out into the world. Alright, tangent over. So much love to you xx

  4. My daughter suffers with anxiety/depression and I can’t thank you enough for this amazing story.
    It is such a blessing for our whole family. We are all texting and messaging her with support as I type this because she shared your story wit us. God bless you and your family !!!

  5. Thank you for sharing your journey, your heart, Ashley! It is one I can relate to personally and as I have helped my 3 daughters also navigate the waters of anxiety, depression, OCD, and bipolar. I love your perspective and appreciate your being so candid. Thank you!

  6. Grace for me is redifining what beauty is and resting in knowing I don’t have to be all and do all things. I can find beauty in the dark places because I know Christ walks with me, I recently started meds myself and I think I am actually discovering the true me and finding reprieve from the anxiety. Great post, thanks for sharing.

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