I put my hand on my husband’s heart.
“It’s like there is an engine in my chest. And it’s revving, revving, revving for no reason. That’s what this anxiety feels like.”
His look of confusion didn’t really change.
“So even if my mind is fine, even if I know I’m okay and I’m not worried or stressed about anything in particular, my body is still being flooded with all this unnecessary energy. And then the sensations in my body try to tell my mind that I’m not okay. This battle to keep my mind and spirit calm and focused on what is true while the engine in my chest keeps spinning and roaring — well, it’s exhausting.”
I leaned my head on Chris’s shoulder and tried to slow my breathing.
My husband and I don’t speak the same emotional language. Mine has a lot of words; his, not so much. We also have trouble communicating about mental health. It’s another language rooted in experience I’ve had a crash course in since being diagnosed with clinical anxiety seven years ago — a language I wish that I and others close to me would have had decades ago because I’m pretty sure this has been a life-long struggle. Even though my husband loves me and wants to support me, it’s hard for him to understand me. So when my anxiety recently flared, seemingly out of nowhere, I grappled yet again over how to explain it.
It feels strange to say this, but that image of a car engine inside my chest feels like God’s grace. It’s His mercy — His ever-present help in times of trouble — that becomes everyday real when He meets my real need with His creative wisdom.
I’ve tried a hundred different ways to put my anxiety into words. It’s not the same as worry or stress. It’s not trying to control a situation or merely fixating on a problem. It’s a physiological experience. Like coffee jitters in my heart. Like the mental swirl of a dozen waking dreams that you can’t escape. An outer calm with an inner chaos. Like an exposed nerve that viscerally reacts when it touches something too hot or too cold.
I can’t tell my husband to just Google anxiety because no single definition or description can aptly capture an individual’s experience. Mental illness is a nuanced beast that attacks every person differently. I have a friend whose arm gets itchy when her anxiety flares. Another friend gets a migraine. Someone else I know gets mentally stuck in every worst-case scenario.
The unique manifestations of mental illness can make it a very lonely experience.
Am I making this up? Should I just keep it to myself? Should I try to ignore it and move on?
The internal battle is real. But here’s what I’ve learned: It’s worth it to push through the pain, fear, and awkwardness to tell someone how you really feel.
It’s actually God’s grace that I would even ask Him for help in putting my anxiety into words. For years I believed it was better to hide, deny, or defend my feelings. It felt safer to self-protect rather than open up my vulnerable heart and hurting mind to the chance of being misunderstood. And it’s a very real possibility, right? I’m sure it’s happened to you too. Others can minimize your feelings, dismiss your experience, give poor advice, or tell you to just get over it.
Even so, there is power in bringing our struggles out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of shared experience.
When I refuse to hide, I open myself to the light. Shame can’t live in the light. Fear doesn’t grow in the light. Freedom and growth and truth are songs of the light — songs that someone else needs to hear.
So I stand in my kitchen resting my head on my husband’s chest as morning light streams through the smudged window, and I know that God sees me. No inner darkness can hide me; His Word will guide me.
And I remind myself that my revving engine chest does not disqualify me from receiving God’s promises.
I whisper the words written on my heart: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
I trust you, Lord. I trust you.
My heart races on for the moment, but I know that I am held and loved. And so are you.
This really hit home. Thank you for putting into words what I feel when my anxiety is barreling out of control.
Becky Keife says
Leean, I’m so glad this was meaningful to you. Grateful we’re not alone in this.
Rachel Marie Kang says
This is beautiful, Becky. Thank you for baring your heart. I once looked up paintings that portray migraine attacks, and the visuals are so much more accurate than words can describe.
You gracefully put words into an unseen experience. These words will encourage all those who understand.
Becky Keife says
Art is such a gift! Thank you for your encouragement and support, dear friend.
Brenda M. Russell says
Good morning Everyone, we had stormy weather yesterday and last night. This morning we have been without power in several counties. Yes, it’s about 30 degrees outside and we will get a little warmer later on to about 50 degrees. Now, I didn’t like that my modem is offline this morning. My brand new modem equipped with the ability to grant me high speed internet. Yahoo !
Now, I can complain but at least I have lights and I am not cold. I can prepare my breakfast on my electric stove. My daughter is up and about and she is gainfully employed, she is adding to the value of society because she teaches 1st Graders to read, write and do math. I am very thankful for that benefit in our lives.
When ENTERGY repairs the electrical lines in our community, I will have internet again (high speed). I think about my emotions, my brain, my thought processes, my body, my will and determination and that’s a lot to embrace in a knowledgeable and healthy fashion. I have a kind counselor who is a Believer and she has taught me to see myself and life circumstances from different perspectives. I never even entertained that idea. My strength and power resides in my relationship with my Creator, my Lord and Savior, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I am so aware that no one and nothing can snatch me out of God’s Hands. I am Heaven bound and the Holy Spirit teaches me “Truth” as long as I position my heart to be tender and teachable. That can be daunting but remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear but of Power, Love and a Sound Mind (disciplined and healthy). I can begin each day in confidence and in courage that I am God’s Beloved Daughter. That’s the best way to start each day.
Now, God’s Grace is sufficient for me today, no matter the circumstances. I have the ability to ask for help from the Holy Spirit to make sound decisions. I know that tomorrow is not here yet and yesterday is gone so I am blessed to live in the moment of now. God has given me a new day and I am thankful for this gift.
Enjoy your day.
Your Sister in Christ
Becky Keife says
Yes, God’s grace is sufficient! Blessings to you today, Brenda.
Julie Garmon says
Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you.
Becky Keife says
Thank you, Julie. It’s so meaningful to know this resonates.
Having dealt with anxiety all my life, I wish I had know what this was ages ago. It took me being almost 50 (I am now 68) to figure out what this was. I appreciate your honesty in sharing this. I feel guilt whenever things start spinning out of control- when the heart beats fast, when I have what I call guppy breaths- that inability to breath normally. I feel guilt because I know I should trust God to take care of me, that I am in God’s hands but in the moment nothing works, not even prayer, no even the verses I have highlighted in the bible. And when it happens seemingly out of nowhere, it is so frustrating. These days I find the best thing that does help is major physical exertion- a really brisk walk, a hike, or cleaning my home which as I write this is immaculate. I am at a point in my life where I can share with a friend what is going on and that is also a help because in doing so, I have learned I am not alone in this. So, thank you.
Becky Keife says
Madeline, I can definitely relate. It sounds like God’s grace that you’ve discovered some ways to cope in those hard moments. I’m sorry you’ve struggled so.
This is so timely. Thank you, Becky!
I lost a friend of 35 years a few months back when I was trying to describe my panic attack and she said she just couldn’t possibly understand why I would or could feel that way. We still haven’t connected since then. I could ignore what happened and connect like nothing ever happened but I’m not sure I want a very inauthentic relationship.
Melissa Ens says
That’s so sad, Denise. I’m sorry your friend responded that way.
Becky Keife says
Denise, I’m echoing what Melissa said. So very sorry your friend was unable or unwilling to really see you and make space for your experience even if she couldn’t relate. I understand why you would be hurt and leery of investing in that friendship.
Thank you for this post. For bringing light to a sensitive topic that unfortunately too many of us face. Your post helps by letting others know we aren’t alone. We have each other but most importantly we have God. I agree that it’s hard when the anxiety hits to remember our Heavenly Father but try we must because He is always there. Amen
Thank you for your vulnerable post Becky. For being honest about your anxiety and sharing it with us. It is encouraging to know we are not alone. We cannot know someone’s struggle but learn to come along side of them and show them our love and care.
All of the yes. I told a doctor one time that I just feel like I’m vibrating. Looked at me like I was bananas. Luckily, he was just filling in and I never had to see him again. I’ve felt anxiety since I was little just didn’t have a word for it. My husband has finally accepted that’s the way I am.
My Heart goes out to You…
I have had this problem all
Having Jesus in our Hearts has
Helped so so much!
Others that are not anxious
Have something other than that
To deal with.
Jesus Loves us all.
BC from BC says
Thank you for bringing into the light about anxiety (depression). It is a very real thing. It doesn’t mean you don’t have enough faith, or that God is punishing you. In reality He’s protecting you against something that is harming you emotionally. It’s a way for your body to help you to know it is time to take care of yourself. Many people get emotionally burned out because they are overwhelmed thinking they have to do it all. I am speaking from experience. I pray for all of you struggling with anxiety/depression that you will feel God’s healing hand on your body, spirit, emotions and you will feel the peace that only comes from Him. Take the time that is needed to look after yourself and the people that really care and love you will give you support and rest. Know that you are loved by the one who created you and loves you the most, God our forever friend who never leaves us.
Eileen Curtis says
Thank you for your heartfelt story, Becky. I know exactly what you’re talking about.
I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder twenty odd years ago. I had suffered in silence for too many years. I prayed for coping skills and still do. My talk therapist worked with me to mitigate my anxiety symptoms and though her strategies were somewhat helpful, they just weren’t enough. I finally saw a psychiatrist who prescribed an antidepressant. Several weeks later, I started to feel calmer.
For me, the medication wasn’t a crutch, but a means to correct a brain chemistry issue. I’m a type 1 diabetic (my pancreas doesn’t produce insulin), and I therefore inject myself with insulin every day; I also take Synthroid for an underactive thyroid. Like my pancreas and thyroid, my brain is an organ in my body. I can’t regulate my blood sugar by trying harder; I can’t adjust my thyroid gland with sheer willpower or with talk therapy. In the same way, I take “brain medicine” in the form of an antidepressant, and I am the better for it. My relationships have vastly improved.
Mental health issues are difficult to talk about, especially to those who don’t have them. Becky, I appreciate more than you will
ever know the courage it took to write about your pain. Too many suffer in silence. God bless you!
I also have struggled with anxiety. A GOOD therapist can be very helpful. Everyone has their own strategies to deal with it so don’t be discouraged if some that are suggested don’t seem to help at all. And some take time to become effective (and nothing will probably make us anxiety free, but managing it better is a great goal) Keep looking until you find strategies that work for you.
The verse “be anxious for nothing…” added guilt to anxiety because I could not follow that “command” until a therapist said perhaps I should like at as an offer to work on being less anxious. One last piece of info:have your thyroid checked. Hypothyroidism includes symptoms of anxiety.
Becky, you are such an amazing, vivacious and beautiful woman. I don’t know where your anxiety comes from! Have you had therapy, counselling and treatment for it? I believe you just need deliverance. Ask God to deliver you from this and He will. I know he will!
Becky Keife says
Thank you for your kind words, Marguerite. Yes, I have gotten treatment through a wonderful Christian counselor and have been on medication. I have a long family history of mental illness. The way my therapist described it to me, anxiety (and the flip side of depression) will likely always be part of my story. I have long seasons of doing really well and then stretches where it flares up again. But I welcome your prayers for full deliverance. I certainly believe God is capable of that and would welcome His healing should He choose to offer it in that way.
This year I have had the experience of seeing that my 7 year old suffers from the same anxiety that I do. While this has been challenging, it has also opened my eyes to the fact that schools are getting better at this! Whereas I had to muddle through, the school has made a plan for my son’s needs that will make these early years of education a safe place. I can’t help but think that God knew what he was doing when he gave anxious children mothers that can relate! And while anxiety is no fun, it does make us more empathetic and sensitive, which must surely be examples of grace.
YOU are the only other person who has been remotely close to describing my feelings of anxiety. I also have panic attacks with anxiety when it is really bad. And even migraine headaches. Last year God helped me gain better control of it through drawing close to him and staying close. I keep scripture nearby at all times so that I can reach for my “flash cards” of God’s promises to help me take those thought’s captive and make them obedient to Christ. I also have resolved myself to the fact that I may be on medication the rest of my life to help control it and that’s ok too. Thank you for being authentic and transparent about your struggles. Most people seem to think it isn’t real unless they have witnessed one of the panic attacks.
Beth Williams says
Thank you for taking time to explain about anxiety. Many people deal with varying degrees of this disease yet not many are talking about it–especially the church. Those of us who don’t deal with it do not fully understand what you are going through. Yet we can still try to understand & be there for you. There is freedom in telling your story to someone else. Plus it lets many others know they aren’t alone & there is hope for them.
Cherie Froelich says
Becky thank you for your transparency. I immediately stopped scrolling when I saw this post on Insta. I’m in the middle of an anxiety storm right now. So thankful for your words and also of those who have commented. I tend to hide from the world during these episodes because no one can understand. My husband is the hands and feet of Jesus to me. Always coaching me thru and giving me the space I need to just get thru it. Mine feels like a knife in my chest, and when it is really bad I get tremors. I have to constantly remind myself that it is not always a spiritual issue, sometimes, but more often it is just my illness, my thorn. Thank you for talking about it.
Your honesty and courage are inspiring! Mental health issues are exhausting and too often those of us who struggle feel like we’re the only ones. It’s comforting (in an odd way) to know that others have those struggles too. It’s not that I would wish anxiety or depression on someone (no one who suffers from them would!), but it’s comforting to know that there are other people out there who are fighting the same battles as you.
Aliza Latta says
Beautiful, my friend. Love you.
Yes!!!! Thank you for sharing, for your honesty and openness. The racing heart that I feel I have to run to keep up with and the feeling of ‘if I get busy enough, this will stop’ is how anxiety manifests itself for me. Thanks again for your openness and the reminder that God has us and will not leave us. It’s sometimes hard to remember when the heart races and every part of my body feels like it’s trying to keep up.
Carol Brown says
This is so helpful in understanding my husband’s anxiety. He struggles with putting it into words. Thank you for your honesty and beautiful words.
Karen Jacobs says
When I read your article I could really identify because I too have had anxiety issues my entire life. It made me feel so much better knowing that you felt comfortable enough to share your experiences. I too do feel God in my life guiding me and helping me through these moments. Thanks again!
Love and Blessings,
Alena L. Clark says
Wow. Thank you fir this. I have clinical depression and anxiety as well. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 18, but definitely have fought with it my whole life. I too struggle with explaining it to others, but the closest I’ve come is that sometimes I wake up in the morning, or something happens and I feel like I’ve been hit by a train. As you said, it’s a physical thing, not just mental. I’ve learned to try to be honest about this with others, but still struggle with feeling like a burden or like there’s something wrong with me. To help, I pray. I just talk to God, tell Him how I feel and ask Him for His peace. I also read or listen to His Word. What a blessing for those of us in Christ that we can come to Him with all these things and He meets us where we are. I have a mental image in my head of Jesus holding a child me in His arms, and that brings so much peace. If you’ve watched The Chosen, the image of Christ holding Mary in the end of episode one is another one that brings me comfort. Bottom line: our God is good and He’s so much bigger than anything this world can thro at us. Again, thank you for sharing this.