I hiked UM’s Mountain yesterday in Missoula, Montana. The gradual yet heart pumping hike was a phenomenal way to see the city of Missoula from above. Hiking lets me do two of my favorite things- listen to music and feel God.
Once I climbed above the large painted M (standing for Missoula), I started to realize the trail was less and less traveled. Step by step the wild terrain rubbed against my legs as I climbed on. I started to really notice all the bees, which were constantly swarming around my legs as they gravitated toward the wild flowers overlaying the path. I wasn’t upset, after all I was more in their territory than mine, yet I was a little uneasy! I’ve been stung before and want no part in being stung again!
On the way down I noticed a butterfly, then another and another. I quickly realized that the butterflies were floating all around, just like the bees buzzed seemingly all around on my way up the mountain. Once I started looking for butterflies I no longer noticed the bees. I realized what I focused on was what I ended up seeing more of. I decided to keep my gaze on the more pleasing creature that didn’t make me anxious- the butterflies. Ironic isn’t it? When we focus on what scares us, it often shows up tenfold. Yet, when we focus on more positive aspects of life, things seem to go better and anxiety withers. I suppose much of our fear vs. faith battle occurs between our ears.
I’ve struggled with hypochondria since I was a child. I can honestly remember laying on the ground complaining of chest pains before I was ten years old, while asking my family members what was wrong. I remember having stomach pains underneath my rib cage for years in my early twenties. I’d go to the doctor over and over to explain the pain. I’d get blood work done and when it came back normal, the pain would subside and I’d go about my business until my next encounter. I would always let the stomach pains linger and worsen until the worry became too much to handle. I would inevitably get to a point where the fear of finding out something awful was outweighed by the heightened anxiety that something could be wrong, which is when I’d visit the doctor’s office. I would always assume the worst, yet would be mentally paralyzed with worry. I know this might sound ridiculous to some, yet this was my merry-go-round of hypochondria for years. The word hypochondriac was thrown out quite often from friends and family, often with a chuckle of disbelief. Funny how people aren’t all that concerned from their vantage point. Perhaps empathy or sympathy are hard to come by when we don’t understand exactly what someone else is going through. As I think back, I suppose I was focused on the bees, not the butterflies all of those years.
One of the biggest struggles in my life was a period of 3-4 years in my late twenties to early thirties. I was riding in a car with a colleague and mentioned that my finger had been twitching on and off throughout the day. He mentioned how many neurological disorders start in your forearm, none of which I’ll name but let’s just say I was absolutely terrified of one in particular. Wouldn’t you know it, over the coming days, weeks and months my twitching got worse. The twitching started in my forearms, fingers and quickly worked its way down to my legs. Eventually I could feel every single twinge within my body. I cannot explain the turmoil I went through. Some days were easier than others, yet I lived in this state of fear and dread every day of my life for years. Words cannot describe the internal pain I felt day in and day out. Anyone who has struggle with a severe fear-based anxiety knows what I’m talking about! When you feel like you’re somewhat controlled by it, hoping one day you’ll wake up and it will stop, but it never does! I literally had the fear in the back of my mind while in conversations with nearly everyone, even clients at work. I would bring it up to the point of annoyance, trying to get validation from others that I was okay, despite knowing regardless of what they said I wouldn’t believe them. I literally manifested a nightmare for myself, even the self created symptoms.
My breaking point hit one day at work, as my mind was so fear focused that I had what I would call a nervous breakdown. I remember sitting on the floor of my office on one of my bad days. Door shut, literally sobbing while shaking to the bone from fear. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Most people never knew to what extent I struggled with fear and hypochondria throughout my life. I’m sharing it with you because I think it’s important to know we all have struggles, and our perspective has so much to do with how we fight our individual bouts with fear. The enemy knows how to attack each of us, what to whisper to bring darkness into our lives, all to prevent our light from fully shining. Call it demons, call it fear, call it anxiety, call it the world we live in. Whatever you want to call it- just don’t accept it! I suppose what I’m saying, start to look for the butterflies.
Over and over again I prayed and asked for help. I believe my demons had a stronghold over me and my relationship with God was quite a bit more surface-level back then. Eventually, once I hit that breaking point I finally revisited my primary care doctor, who I am so thankful for. She truly listened each visit (there were plenty), and gave my concerns her attention, all while giving reassuring reasons why I was okay. Finally, I was “diagnosed” with Situational Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Anxiety. The doctors were right- I suffered from both at a high level. I was put on a low dose anxiety medication and swore off certain words from my vocabulary, such as twitching or shaking. I literally couldn’t say these words aloud, which prevented any conversation, even if I was perceiving “symptoms” in my body. Anxiety can actually make you shake and twitch, so you can partially see where my symptoms stemmed from, yet I still believe my mind manifested and multiplied them tenfold. Like I said, whatever it was, call it what you want, it was REAL for me and that’s all that mattered! My perception was my world. I felt the fear, the manifested symptoms and anxiety associated, TO MY CORE! Back then I was being swarmed by the bees, they were everywhere. My perception of two to three bees was the likes of two to three hundred. I walked that path for years with the unnecessary company of such dreaded companions.
My hike yesterday got me thinking of focusing on faith over fear. I’m happy to say I’ve been completely off medication for hypochondria, fear or anxiety for several years now. I believe my relationship with God and surrendering each day helps to release my fears to Him. I took a pill for a while and symptoms subsided, that’s what it took for me, perhaps this was even a placebo effect to some extent. I can recognize anxiety within myself now more than ever. I literally chuckle at it when it arises. I shake it off now because I recognize it. I realize how much of our suffering isn’t real, it’s in our head. I find the more I focus on the light, the more the dark clouds stay away. We all have our fears and our demons (our bees). We all have things to overcome in this life. Hopefully we realize that we aren’t alone. He is with us. We are here for each other. We can recover and transform into spiritual beings that spread light and shed darkness. We all have a battle to face, to win and to learn from. We all have an opportunity to grow our faith amidst our battles as we fight. I pray anyone out there struggling with fear-based anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Hypochondria, or any other disorder/disease of the mind can read this and feel more hope!
What are you struggling with? What are your battles? What CAN YOU recover from? What can we all help you with? What can God help you OVERCOME? Love and light can always win if YOU LET THEM IN!