Just breathe

You’ve been warned: This isn’t a story about how I struggled with anxiety, rediscovered God’s peace, got better and everything’s been peachy since.

I still struggle with anxiety daily. I still have to rediscover God daily.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” — John 14:27

It all began for me in the sixth grade. In the fall of 2006, I started middle school. I moved from the colorful elementary school to a dismal tan building with letters that spelled out Rudd Middle School rusting on the side.

I can’t remember exactly when or how it started. I only have a few distinct memories from that time, but what I can remember still shocks and frightens me.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” — Proverbs 3:5

In the beginning I was pretty good at skipping school. I would claim I felt sick and even fake a fever so I wouldn’t have to go to school. But my parents didn’t fall for it long. At first my parents believed that I was just being a typical, “I don’t wanna go to school” 11-year-old. But it didn’t take long for them to realize there was something much larger and unknown at play.

Some days while sitting in the middle of class I would be overcome by fear and anxiety. I would bolt out of the classroom, down the hall and into a stairwell. I would sit in a corner and scream and cry until Mrs. Shelnutt, a teacher and family friend, came and got me. I would sit in the counselor’s office or in her classroom until I calmed down or one of my parents came.

Some days my parents would have to literally drag me out of the car kicking and screaming to get me to go in to school. My parents would have to leave me there in the office or the counselor’s office. They didn’t like leaving me behind, but they didn’t feel like they had much of a choice. They were like parents with a baby again. You just had to hand the crying child over to the caregiver and walk away knowing they were going to be OK.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” — Philippians 4:6

After months of anxiety attacks my parents sent me to see a Christian child counselor. I don’t remember much of these visits either, but I still have my journal from that time. My counselor instructed me to write in the journal everytime I started to have anxiety. She told me to be specific about my fears when writing, to write down every detail about how I was feeling. Then she told me to write down one of the Bible verses she gave me about worry. I would write it over and over and recite it over and over.
Eventually, I got better. My last session with the counselor was in mid-February. I remember because I left my appointment and went straight to my birthday party.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” — Isaiah 41:10

No one could really say what happened to me that fall. Some think it was a severe case of the middle school jitters, some think I was under attack by Satan and his demons. Looking back now I think it was a combination of the two.

I know it wasn’t just middle school jitters because here I am, 23 years old and far away from my middle school days and I still get the same heart-racing tightness in my chest on a daily basis.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
— 1 Peter 5:7

I still struggle with anxiety, but I haven’t had a severe anxiety attack since sixth grade. I haven’t stopped suffering since sixth grade; I’ve just become better at hiding it. Not many people know that I struggle with anxiety, which I recognize is probably part of the problem. I’m not good at opening up about the things that I struggle with because — guess what? — I’m worried about how it would make people think of me.

I get anxiety just thinking about talking about my anxiety, so I just don’t talk about it. Even now as I type this, my heart is racing and my face is flushed.

It’s been a long road trying to overcome my anxiety, and though I’ve made strides since the fall of 2006, I’m nowhere near where I want to be.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” — 2 Timothy 1:7

I want to be brave and fearless. I want to get on a boat or a train (surprisingly enough planes do not cause me anxiety) and not immediately feel my heart start racing as my mind imagines all the things that could go wrong.

I want to be able to spend time with my friends and family without worrying about what they think of what I look like, what I’m wearing, what I’m doing, or what I say. I’m tired of getting anxiety around my friends because I’m worried I’m not being fun enough or I’m being too weird or too clingy.

It takes a conscious effort on my part just to interact with friends because I convince myself it would be easier to sit at home and not have to deal with the anxiety that comes with going out. However, I also get anxiety when I see friends hanging out and having fun without me. I get worried that they’ll think that I’m not as fun as their other friends and they don’t need me in their lives.

“For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’ ” — Isaiah 41:13

I always jump to the most extreme and worst conclusion. If someone doesn’t text me back in a few hours, it’s not that they were busy at work or just didn’t look at their phone; it’s that they are tired of me and don’t want to talk to me and don’t want to be my friend anymore.

When my dentist recently instructed me to go see an oral surgeon about a bump in my mouth, I had decided that I had cancer before I even made it to the car.

I know that kind of thinking is toxic and all those fears are unfounded, but my conscious mind doesn’t seem to communicate that to my subconscious very well.

Like I said at the beginning, I have to work daily to rediscover God and His peace. Some days it goes well. Some days it goes terribly.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life … So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
— Matthew 6:25–34

I’ve found that worship music is my escape. I love music and nothing reminds me of God’s power and love better than worship music. When I feel anxiety at home, work or in the car I will put on worship music and praise those fears away.

Don’t misunderstand me. I would’ve never made it to where I am today without spending time in prayer and in God’s word, but there’s just something about worship music that soothes me instantly. It’s my love language with God.

I wish I had experienced a life without anxiety, but I know that I would not be the person I am today without it. It forces me to lean on the God who holds the universe on a daily basis. It has stretched and strengthened my faith in ways I didn’t know were possible. I may not fully understand why I have to go through this until I reach the other side of eternity, but I know that my God is good and my God loves me and I can rest in that. It doesn’t matter what people think of me, it doesn’t matter what happens to me in this world, because I was made for a world infinitely better, where all my fears and anxieties will be wiped away.

Here are some of my favorite worship songs:

  • “It is Well” by Bethel Music and Kristene DiMarco
  • “So Will I (100 Billion X)” by Hillsong UNITED
  • “Resurrecting” by Elevation Worship
  • “Give Me Faith” by Elevation Worship
  • “Glorious Day” (feat. Kristian Stanfill) by Passion
  • “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong UNITED
  • “Death was Arrested (feat. Seth Condrey)” by North Point InsideOut
  • “Praise the King” by Corey Voss
  • “Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle
  • “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong Worship

By Jessica

Jessica Ingram is a regular contributor to The Scroll. She also is project manager for TAB Media Group. She graduated from Mississippi State University in 2017 and is a member of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham.


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