In my teens and 20’s and even 30’s I suffered with sever anxiety and depression. I had a hard time showing up to work every day and would often call in sick. I could not physically put myself in the car to drive. If I managed to get in the car and drive, I would sometimes have to pull over because my anxiety would become overwhelming.
I tried various medications and therapy, but nothing offered any kind of lasting relief. I became desperate to find a cure. I read every self help book I could get my hands on. A lot of these books focused on being your authentic self. This was complete gibberish to me. What did that mean?
My answer came in the form of my worst anxiety attack ever.
I was raised with very strict religious beliefs and rules. No rock music, no movies, no makeup, no nail polish, no jewelry, no coffee, no alcohol. Those were just some of the rules.
I love nail polish. In 8th grade I made a New Year’s resolution to stop chewing my fingernails because I wanted to have beautiful, painted nails. Even if it was against the rules. I thought then, and still do, that a set of nicely manicured hands with the perfect red polish are the epitome of beautiful.
One day in my late 20’s I was driving to a doctor’s appointment. It was about an hour drive. I had painted my nails the day prior and was admiring them on the steering wheel as I drove along. But I had been raised to believe that nail polish was a sin. The thought popped into my head “If I die in a car accident right now, I will go straight to hell”. This set off my anxiety and within a few seconds, I was shaking uncontrollably, and my thoughts were racing, and I was crying. I went into panic mode and had to pull over to the shoulder and put my car in park.
I turned my ignition off, pulled the keys out of the ignition and started scraping the polish off my fingers. I didn’t want to go to hell over nail polish.
It took about half an hour before most of the polish was scraped off and I was calm enough to call and cancel my appointment, turn the car around and go home.
I got home, went to bed and cried for hours. Then I got angry. I got out a notebook and started to write down all the things I believed would prevent me from going to heaven. I wrote out everything I had been taught to believe. I wrote page after page all the reasons in my mind I was a terrible person for not following the rules I had been taught. I realized in writing this list that I didn’t really believe most of it. I was following this list of rules because I had been told they were the absolute truth and my soul’s outcome depended on me following these rules.
I had been feeling a deep sense of shame for years because I could not possibly be myself, my true authentic self if I continued to follow a set of rules that did not line up with what I really believed. I knew in my heart that God was not going to judge me based on my outward appearance. I knew my heart was in the right place.
It was not easy stepping out on my own like that. Some of my family still thinks I’m doomed to hell. I’m o.k. with that.
What I have learned about my anxiety is that when it pops up, which it rarely does any more, it’s a sign for me to see where I might be out of line with my authentic self and find my way back to my path. It has served me well to listen and pay attention.