April 20th marked seven years since Matt and I had to say goodbye to our little girl Millie, who was born a stillbirth. It also marked the first time I experienced anxiety. In an effort to save my life and stop me from extensive hemorrhaging before, during, and after labor, I had to be rushed into surgery. Once prepared for the procedure, my mind began to do something I couldn’t make sense of or understand. I was in a state of total panic and I thought if I didn’t get out of the situation as soon as possible, I was going to die. My heart was about to beat its way out of my chest; I broke out in a sweat, and I was shaking uncontrollably. Fortunately, before I could do anything senseless, the anesthesiologist put me under.
I was not at all familiar with anxiety or panic attacks and it wouldn’t be until almost a year later when I was pregnant with Marlo that I would find myself having mild episodes of what I experienced in the hospital. I didn’t know what to say or if I should even say anything, because first of all, I didn’t know what was wrong, let alone what to call it. I just silently suffered through them and thought they would go away after pregnancy. Two months after Marlo was born we planned a family trip to Las Vegas to visit Matt’s family and introduce her to everyone. We arranged to fly and when we got on the plane and took off, so did my mind. I absolutely lost it. I became so convinced that the plane was going to crash and we were going to die this horrific, fiery death. I felt so trapped I was positive I would suffocate. I instantly started to pray and my thoughts were so erratic and twisted I could only get one cohesive word to come out: Jesus. For two hours I said the name of Jesus over and over and over until that plane touched down and my feet touched solid ground.
It was not at all helpful that we had to return home the same way we left home. The flight back was worse, because the days leading up to our return, all I could think about was how in the world I would get myself on another plane. I had already worked myself up into such a state of angst that before I even boarded the aircraft, I had all the physical symptoms of anxiety in full effect. Again, I was convinced that the plane was either going to crash or blow up. The thought of being a casualty to that type of death sent my head swirling with dread and fear. I vowed at the conclusion of that flight that I would never fly again. I had no idea at the time the magnitude of the monster that was coming to life before me. True to the behavior of any beast, it fed upon me as though I was some delectable road kill. It was relentless and wasted no time wrecking havoc and upturning my life into complete chaos. This thing was out to destroy me. I’m ashamed to admit that it almost did.
My anxiety was no longer confined to the cabin of airplanes. It sought me out in the car, in my home, and in my sleep. I would be driving and if I saw a piece of trash on the road, I became scared to death that it was going to be a roadside bomb and would detonate the moment I drove over it. We live near a small airport and planes fly over our house day in and day out, but suddenly every single plane that I would hear would send me into the throes of anxiety and I would run as fast as I could onto the street or into our backyard to locate the plane to make sure it was still in the sky and not making a beeline for our house. There’s really nothing in the world that can keep me from journeying into the mountains (my most favorite place in all the world) on any given day, yet I had played over so many times in my mind that if we drove to the mountains, we would drive off a cliff and plummet to our deaths. As the anxiety progressed, so did the morbid thoughts. I had no doubt that men would break into our home, kill Matt, and then rape and kill me and the girls. I would climb into bed and as I would start to fall asleep, I would bolt upright and be absolutely delirious with fear convinced I was seconds away from dying.
I became a prisoner to my mind. My thoughts were so consumed with death and violence, I couldn’t think or see straight. The monster paralyzed me. I wouldn’t leave the house for fear of whatever tragic possibility my mind had concocted would happen. I even started to believe that God was trying to kill me and that heaven was not a safe place for me. Heaven had always been my hope, what my soul took comfort in. My place of relieve and reprieve after this chaotic world. Most importantly, it was where I would forever be with Jesus. Now, it was showing itself to be my enemy and a place of torture. The idea of dying and going to heaven terrified me.
No matter what I believed about heaven, I had to have Jesus. I was flailing about like a child learning to swim in an effort to find Him and take hold of my Life Preserver.
No matter how much the monster pressed up against me, I pressed harder into Christ. When my mind would enter into a state of delusion I would grab my Bible, go downstairs, open it up, and prostrate myself flat on the floor and literally press my face as hard as I could into those pages. I soaked the pages of scripture with tears full of begging and pleading to God to have mercy on me and restore my mind to a sound state. It was in one of these moments that I realized with absolute conviction that Jesus was my only hope. I had no one or nowhere else I could go. My only chance of rescue was in Him and if He failed to show up or just chose not to, then I had nothing. I’m not trying to pass myself off as a martyr, because I know I’m far from that, but one thing that is undeniably true for me today is that I would rather forfeit my life than live without Jesus.
Just when I thought I couldn’t get any lower or fall further into the sickness of my mind, the unthinkable happened. One evening after I had gotten into bed anxiety began to torment me. I laid in bed trying to pray when the thought came to me: I understood how mothers could kill their children. Not only did I understand it but I knew I was capable of doing it. I had to force myself out of bed and go sit outside in the middle of the night until my episode of anxiety passed and I could think rationally again. Thank God I had just enough wits about me to do this. Unquestionably, this is the darkest moment of my entire life. I was so scared of myself and what my mind could certainly convince me to do, I finally told Matt that I needed professional help and I needed it immediately. God being so quick to love and provide aid for those who ask led me directly to a godly, brilliant, and extremely gifted psychotherapist. It was here that I was able to receive tremendous healing and even though my prayers were always for instant deliverance, God had freedom for me through a process, a process that He walked with me every single step and a process that has taken seven extremely difficult years.
My sanity hung in the balance of Christ’s mercy. Had I been left to my own capability or lack thereof to handle my illness, I’m certain I would not be here today. Either you would find me locked away in some asylum in a constant war with my decomposing mind, or worse, I would be locked away in a prison for bringing harm to my dear and precious girls. I wish I could add a little wink face or “lol” after that statement to show a little lightness of heart, but so long as I’m being honest, writing this has me in tears. Actually, it’s more like the ugly cry. Although God has done the miraculous in this area of my life (like be able to fly again and do so with total peace and sanity), the memories and recollection of it is still as painfully real as if it just happened five minutes ago. If I’m sure of one thing it is this: When I see Jesus face-to-face, He will come to me bearing the marks of my desperation on His flesh. I didn’t just hold onto Him; I dug my nails as deep as they could go and clung on for my very life.
I don’t know if you can relate to any of this, but if you can or if you’re in the midst of a rising monster in your life, I hope you’ll remember that not only is God willing to help but that He is able. Something I’ve always said when I talk to young girls about the secret places in our lives that we keep hidden for fear of what will be exposed about us is: Jesus is never afraid to get dirty. He will not only go to the dirty, ugly, festering quarters of our inner turmoil and meet us there, but He will reach out and touch us. He’s not repulsed by us. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. He’s so taken with us, so enchanted with us that He’s willing to go down into any pit and if we allow Him, He’ll carry us out. Never be afraid to let Him in. He is the only One powerful enough and equipped to slay and put to rest the monsters and the beasts in our minds.
Gretchen is unapologetically in love with Jesus, wife to her stud of a husband Matt, and their two daughters (Presley, 10 & Marlo, 5) affectionately call her mom. She is grateful to call Flatirons her church home and has been doing so for six years.