Disclaimer: This story mentions suicidal thoughts and may be triggering to some.
“When people read my story, they will read about hope and a woman who never gave up.
Born at twenty-seven weeks, I was born with a drive – a drive to not only survive but to thrive. At the age of two, I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy – a disorder caused by trauma to the brain that affects how the signals from the brain get to the extremities. I have only the full use of my left arm and I am more or less dependent on my power wheelchair for mobility. I have to depend on others to do most physical activities – daily care, transferring, transportation, etc. Despite my physical limitations, however, I have lived a very full and active life.
When people see my wheelchair, many assume that the greatest obstacles I have faced are related to my disability. That is not the case, however. The biggest challenge I have faced is one that millions of people live with every day — anxiety.
I began experiencing severe anxiety back in 2014 after a culmination of traumatic events. In a matter of minutes, my life completely flipped upside down, never to be the same. It was as if a switch had been flipped and my natural optimism had been replaced by fear and negativity. Because of my dependence on others, many aspects of my life are out of my control, but I had always had been in control of my thoughts and my perspective. Once I began experiencing anxiety, that was no longer the case, and it was terrifying. Anxiety controlled every aspect of my life and I didn’t see an end in sight. I would have nightmares and frequent panic attacks. At its worst, I stayed up for thirty-two hours straight and two panic attacks caused me to blackout, resulting in concussions. I was breathing, but I was no longer living. At this point, hopelessness had set in and I would be lying if I said I didn’t contemplate taking my own life. I was tired. I was done.
When my anxiety began having such a detrimental impact on my physical health, I knew that it was not something I could overcome on my own. Taking the step to seek professional help was hard. I had always prided myself in being mentally strong and in my ability to overcome obstacle after obstacle on my own. Up until this point, I wasn’t very open about my anxiety. I struggled silently for years and when I did feel safe enough to open up, my vulnerability was used against me and I was told: ‘You’re crazy; you needed help.’ When I needed support the most, the support wasn’t there. I felt so misunderstood and alone.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As much as this diagnosis stung, it also gave me reassurance, reassurance in knowing what I was experiencing was real and I wasn’t just going crazy. As difficult as it was to seek treatment, it was the best decision I could have made and it was the first step in my healing journey.
‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil to give you a future and a hope.’ Jeremiah 29:11. My faith has been a journey in itself. It’s too much to get into, but I promise you… no one is too far gone for the Lord and He never stops pursuing. Accepting the Lord into my heart and into my life has been life-changing and instrumental in my journey towards acceptance, forgiveness, and healing. He has provided the peace that no one or nothing else could. God never wastes suffering. He has a purpose for your pain.
As challenging as 2020 was, it turned out to be a tremendous blessing in disguise. SIP gave me a chance to slow down and ultimately face what I have been rolling away from for years. As uncomfortable and painful as it has been, this time has given me the ability to feel what I need to feel and process what I need to process in order to continue healing.
While my anxiety ultimately came to the surface in 2014, it has deep-seated roots. I have endured criticism — not the constructive kind — for years, by some of the people I value most. Because of this, I was constantly striving for unattainable perfection and living to please others. I had unconsciously begun to see myself the way my critics saw me and their voices inside my head often made me question my intentions and my choices. I have also seen and heard things throughout my life that I cannot unsee or unhear — no matter how hard I try. These events have had an impact on my life, some more profound (the motivation behind my career choice) than others. While anxiety is often irrational, I have learned that it is often a protection mechanism: our mind and body’s way of trying to prevent what it’s gone through before. The enemy takes hold when we are at our weakest, and that’s what happened to me.
In November of 2020, I was given the incredible opportunity to skydive. While skydiving has always been something I’ve wanted to do, the timing was definitely a ‘godsidence.’ Skydiving symbolized healing – finally putting the fear and negativity behind me and just letting go. It was the largest leap of faith I have ever taken, for more reasons than one. I chose to trust my instructor, and I chose to trust the Lord. ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’
Anxiety doesn’t just go away but it doesn’t have to control your life either. It can be managed. Living with anxiety is not something to be ashamed of and you aren’t alone. I have learned that some of the strongest people live with anxiety and the people that look like they have it all together are sometimes doing the best they can to keep going. Changing your perspective will change your life. One of the greatest tools I have used to move forward is to find ways to turn my pain into purpose. One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you are going through now and it’ll become a part of someone else’s survival guide. Together, we can end the stigma of mental illness. For whoever needs to read this: You are enough. It gets better. There is hope. If I can make it through, you can too.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kaela Lebow from Fresno, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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