After all that I had been through with relationships, it was hard for me to even begin to dream up a scenario that could match the heartache that I had suffered through in my past. But this sure was close. My girlfriend had just left me on the most romantic day of the year. I really loved her. There were definitely problems developing in our relationship, but they could have all been easily overcome with honest, genuine communication. But that didn’t appear to be an option for her. It seemed to me that she was beginning to feel as though she had already disclosed too much in our relationship. She was finding herself vulnerable, and she could no longer mask reality. It was time to run before the truth was fully revealed. She was about to break.
Initially, I found myself very hurt and angered by the situation. I waited for her to decide that her actions were completely off base and take a bit of responsibility for things. I didn’t need for her to say that she was completely to blame, but it would have been nice for her to acknowledge that not everything was my fault. Instead, she proceeded to take a bullying attitude. She had no interest in working on things until I proved to her that I understood her position. She’d continually say, “you just don’t get it.” And the sad part in all of it was that I don’t think that she really wanted to leave at all. It was almost as if she just wanted to teach me a lesson. She had hoped to seize power and take control of things so that I would no longer ask any questions. I would just accept all the blame, trust wholeheartedly in every word that came out of her mouth (even if I knew it to be a lie), and allow her to manipulate my mind so that she would never need to take a closer look at what was going on inside herself.
As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, I spent more and more time thinking about our breakup. One minute I’d find myself filled with empathy and wanting her back, and the next I’d be loaded with resentment. I did go through a period of intense anger towards her after learning about and acknowledging the vicious nature of her actions. In that stage, I emailed and texted her a less than friendly goodbye and I handed her a box filled with all of the things that she had ever given me. I wanted her out of my world completely…out of my mind…she disgusted me. I was ashamed that I had allowed her to fool me for as long as she did.
And then, I found myself facing some of the worst anxiety and stress that I had ever encountered in my life. In fact, it was without a doubt the worst that I had ever experienced. I was having a hard time getting through each day, desperately seeking to maintain my focus at work and live a normal life. But I began to once again find that panic was terrorizing my world. And I was filled with physical symptoms of stress and anxiety that sent me further down into the hole that was beckoning me. I experienced a little bit of everything: chest pains, tingling and numb hands and feet, headaches/migraines, heart palpitations, severe body aches, ongoing muscle spasms, numbness, lightheadedness, hyperventilation, a persistent lump in the throat feeling, stomach cramps, bloodshot eyes, sinus congestion – you name it, and I had it.
Worst of all, I was suffering from insomnia because I was continually having nocturnal panic attacks. I feared falling asleep, because many nights I’d wake up in the middle of a battle with anxiety and I’d have to fight for my life for the next few minutes in an effort to calm myself and the symptoms that were accompanying the attack. I can’t tell you how often I woke up fearing that this was truly going to be the night that my life ended. The attacks were completely devastating…there is no other way to describe them. And some nights they’d present themselves as many as three to four times. So often I’d find myself lying awake at 4, 5, or 6 in the morning as I attempted to take control the situation…if I didn’t fall asleep, they couldn’t affect me. But I was wearing thin. I couldn’t continue to function properly on such limited sleep.
I attempted to use some of the coping techniques and strategies that had proven affective for me during my time in California at the peak point of my last major battle with anxiety over 8 years earlier. But unfortunately, they were no match for what I was facing now. They would help momentarily, but shortly after I’d find myself facing another setback. I tried a couple of herbal supplements, but their efforts were futile. I was in serious trouble this time.
And then, on my knees and having exhausted all other options, I began turning to my faith in God. I prayed every night for His strength and wisdom. I asked Him to watch over me and carry me through the adversity that had grown to be too much for me to handle. I began reading the Bible on a regular basis, and in it I found everything that I could have ever wanted. There were stories of hardship and suffering, perseverance, miracles and salvation, and the promise of everlasting life for those who served the Lord. And beyond all else, there was hope. My faith became my saving grace. On those nights when I couldn’t sleep, I’d lay the Bible on my chest while I rested in bed. It gave me a sense of comfort that nothing else could provide. I knew that the Lord had a plan for me, and that he would protect me while I lay vulnerable at night.
I’m not going to tell you that my faith immediately led to the disappearance of my disorder, but it did give me direction in my fight. And it led me to a more positive outlook on things, and that was critical for a successful recovery. It also helped me to come to grips with myself and my priorities in life. It opened my eyes to the detrimental effects of the negative decisions of my past, guiding me to acknowledge and take responsibility for them.
But there was one thing that just wasn’t right. As I prayed, I felt like a bit of a hypocrite. I was finding myself contradicting my faith by holding onto anger and resentment towards my ex girlfriend. The Lord was speaking to me and telling me that it was time to forgive and move on. So that’s exactly what I chose to do. About a month after my outburst of anger towards her, I chose to send an email to her and be a man about the situation. I told her that I was sorry for the way that I had acted previously, and that I truly did love her and wished her all the best in life. And I still to this day pray for her strength and peace every night.
As I continued to talk to God and battle my horrific anxiety, I learned a lot about myself and my latest relationship. I began to understand wholeheartedly everything that my ex girlfriend was feeling as she attempted to battle her own inner demons. She had always mentioned that she felt so much pressure from me. In the past, I had always thought that I was only simply asking her to be a reasonable, “normal” human being. But as the weight of the world set in on me during my struggles, I began to recognize and take on that pressure myself. And I felt very regretful for not being more understanding of her specific needs throughout the course of our relationship. I was asking her to be something that she could not, and I was making life very difficult on her. I wish that she had made me aware of what was going on, instead of allowing me to draw my own conclusions. If she had been upfront with me about her issues, I could have been more receptive and understanding. But instead of communicating, she made every effort to hide who she was…she lied…she denied…and she blamed the world for her problems. She was afraid of confronting her issues…so she ran from them.
When I would take a step back from my personal situation and reflect on my life and where it had landed me as a result of my anxiety, I learned that she and I were far more alike than I could have ever imagined. It was as if God wanted me to recognize that you should never judge or criticize anyone for their faults, because you may embody those same characteristics inside of yourself…it could just be that they have not yet made themselves fully known.
I was now able to feel for everything that she suffered with in silence, because I was experiencing it all first hand. We were very much one in the same…nearly mirror images of each other…
I became fearful of the night…it was hard for me to sleep as I mentioned previously, and I agonized over going to bed. I was constantly out of rest, and my sleep patterns became critical to me being able to maintain normal function in my life. I needed to make it a priority. So I did my best to retire to bed at a decent hour and avoid any and all foods (particularly those with sugar) for several hours prior to going to sleep. I also eliminated caffeine and alcohol completely.
I recognized the necessity of routine in my life. I tried to maintain a regular schedule of waking/sleeping, eating meals, exercising, and my prioritizing my personal time. I felt far more in control when I held to my daily routine, and it functioned to keep me in a better place with my disorder.
And, I became a bit fearful of leaving my comfort zone, so I maintained a limited range of travel whenever possible. I was apprehensive about change and I avoided events that would disrupt the balance that I had become accustomed to in my approach with battling anxiety. And I remained close to and in daily contact with my family because they kept me grounded and provided the support that I needed.
All of the things that had previously upset, frustrated, or irritated me about her lifestyle were now the things serving as the glue that was holding me together. My internal struggle was requiring me to adapt to a new way of living, at least temporarily…I was in preservation mode. I was surviving the situation. And it pains me to know that during the course of our time together, she was doing the same. Had I known this and had she been willing to talk to me, I could have helped her push through it.
We really could have had a beautiful thing together. Because we’ve shared in many of the same sufferings, we certainly could have achieved a far more intimate connection than most couples ever reach. But she chose to forfeit that in order to maintain the disguise that she had worked so hard to develop over the years. I only hope that someday she can make peace with the person inside and learn that she doesn’t need to be afraid of confronting her demons. It’s easy to love someone who is genuinely vulnerable and honest.
Today, I count this setback as a true blessing. While our breakup led to a devastating run of anxiety and suffering, it also directed me closer to God who in turn provided me with guidance on my own personal journey to self discovery. So to my ex, if you happen to be listening, please allow me to thank you. I would have never reached this point without you. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to understand your situation better while we were together. Don’t be afraid of who you are, embrace it…there are people who will love you for it. And those who won’t, consider ignorant and insignificant.
I pray that the Lord’s light shines upon you, and I leave you with this…
“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”