by Debbie Altman
This was a hard story to share at first, because I’m the Pastor’s wife, and if anyone is supposed to have it together, it’s supposed to be me, right? And to be honest, until six years ago, I was managing most of my life adequately with the grace of Christ, and managing to stay a little to the right of the fine line between sanity and insanity! I was basically a responsible, mostly reasonable, contributing member of society. I was juggling all the balls, multi-tasking, wearing all the hats.
But suddenly, I started to experience some unusual anxiety…almost panic attacks, seemingly coming from nowhere. I began to do some research, and believed that it was related to peri-menopause, the time surrounding the loss of a woman’s menses. During this time, your hormones are essentially freaking out and it can do some weird things to some women!
Not too long after that, I realize now, I also had an unusually emotional and exhausting year which included a trip to China, a daughter getting married, planning a large wedding, and her moving away. That year in ministry was also unusually stressful and busy. All the conditions were right for a “perfect storm,” as my poor husband compassionately called it! Something like we recently experienced with Sandy in the Northeast. All the atmospheric conditions were converging! Spirit, soul and body were depleted, in upheaval or out of whack. And while we can usually handle one or two of these aspects being stressed, rarely will we come out unscathed when all three are over-taxed.
I began to suffer severe anxiety that led to depression. I was short of breath with a racing heart, was having pain in my arms and legs, I had no appetite and lost 10 pounds, (if you know me, you know how much I usually eat!). My hair started thinning at one point. I had stomach discomfort. I couldn’t sleep. I felt overwhelmed with simple, everyday responsibilities. I couldn’t make simple decisions, couldn’t focus. I felt useless and inadequate. I had a loss of confidence, motivation and energy. I felt irritable – wanting to jump out of my skin. I cried over the littlest things and could not see joy or hope in anything. (Sounds like the lady on the Cymbalta commercial, you’re thinking. Yes, that was me!)
I also felt a sense of dread that I was going to die, or that I should die, or it wouldn’t matter if I died. It was irrational, but it was all so real to me and I could not “snap out of it.”
I have always taught women that we are spirit, soul (emotions), and body, and when something is wrong in our lives, we need to look at all three areas. So, I began to press into God, increasing my time in His presence and in His Word. I read books to renew my mind, talked to a counselor, asked for prayers of deliverance, sought out natural remedies, and had lab testing done to find out what was going on in my body. It has been a journey and, I must add, a confusing, tedious and painful one. I am convinced that my primary issue was my hormone imbalance, and have finally found a bio-identical hormone treatment that has calmed the anxiety. Before that however, when I was so incapacitated by the anxiety, I did take some medication for it. I want to say that we need to be very careful about casting judgment on other Christians regarding this issue. If I was a diabetic, no one would judge me for taking insulin. But when it is a mental health issue like anxiety or depression, there is sometimes a misguided belief in Christian circles that if a person would just be more spiritual they would not have these issues. That is not always true. There is a real physical and chemical component to these problems in many people. Can you get somewhat anxious or depressed, and battle that with emotional and spiritual healing? Absolutely! But can you sometimes do all of those things and still have severe challenges in these areas. Absolutely! As I have shared my story with women, young and old, I have had them cry with relief and thanks that someone identified with them, shared their struggle and did not judge them for taking medicine that was needed.
My experience with anxiety was truly a wilderness experience for me, and “a dark night of my soul.” But God did do healing in me and took me to a new level with Him. The experience of His unconditional love for me, whether I was “doing” all the things I normally do or not, was a treasure that I could not have fully gained without this trial. He ministered to me with His great love and wisdom, and spoke to me about things I needed to see in my life. I learned to a greater degree, the power of female friendships, and fell even more in love with my compassionate husband. And my heart goes out to anyone struggling in these areas. As a psychiatric nurse, and minister’s wife, I always felt that I had a level of compassion for these challenges. But as many of us learn over the years, you do not fully understand someone’s struggle until you walk in their shoes.
For anyone walking through anything like this, I encourage you to have hope. I’ve felt the hopelessness and can truly thank God for using all the means that He did to carry me back to a place of joy.
From the ends of the earth I call to you, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I. Psalms 61:2
There is no one like God who rides on the Heavens to help you. Deut 33:26
Debbie is the wife of Pastor Craig Altman, and together, they founded Grace Family Church 18 years ago. She is a former RN and mother of a 27 year old married daughter and 26 year old son. She is also known as “Nona” to her precious granddaughter. Debbie enjoys family, reading and the beach, and is inappropriately competitive at board games.