God’s Abundance in Anxiety
The mattress sags beside me as my husband sits down, wrapping an arm around my shoulder. My puffy face reveals an evening spent crying, but by now there are no tears left. My hands are balled in my lap, and the evidence of my anxiety is the half-moon indentations from my nails against my palms.
My back is hunched, and I beg my husband, “I don’t feel safe right now; please stay next to me.” I feel his arm tighten and hear him suck in a breath. My words sink in to him and truthfully, they hit me hard, too. In a voice not much louder than a whisper, he pleads with me to take breaths, to focus on the inhale and exhale, and to pray for comfort. We have been down this road before, shortly after the birth of our second child when postpartum anxiety led to intrusive thoughts and fear for my safety.
As he holds me, we suddenly hear…CRASH.
“MOMMY!” my son wails.
My husband and I run to our sons’ bedroom to see a shelf on its side, contents spilled out all over the floor. While our son leaps into my arms, he’s sobbing and shaking. The other three kids look dumbstruck sitting on the bed with their evening books in their laps. I bury my face in his hair while rocking him side to side. Thank God the shelf missed the kids. Thank God no one was hurt. Thank God the only thing that was broken was a porcelain piggy bank.
“I’m here, baby. Mommy is here. I’ve got you,” I murmur to his ear.
As I soothe him in my arms, I move over to the other kids to reassure them that everything is okay. Through sniffles, my son tells me that he was trying to get something on an upper shelf and he pulled too hard. After calming everyone down, we clean up the broken porcelain, right the shelf, replace the items, and try to get back to our bedtime routine. My heart still racing, my eyes still puffy—I’m back to work.
While I’m experiencing intrusive thoughts, my children quite literally crashed their way through my anxiety. Yup, stopped those thoughts in their tracks. For the moment anyway.
I have been experiencing postpartum anxiety for nearly seven years. But looking back, I see that anxiety plagued me for years before the birth of my second. And can I be honest? I relished it. I used that anxiety as an armor to wrap myself in perfectionism, lists, organization, triple-checking, humor, deflection, and caregiving. I thought it was a good thing to plan for every possible outcome to every possible event in every possible day. I thought it was just being prepared to have conversations play out in my head before ever having them. Doesn’t everyone perseverate all night over situations real or imagined?
No, not right. It is not normal to pace at 3:00 a.m. over events that have not even happened. It is not good to rage-clean the house fuming from the ears while the kids tiptoe around my mood. It’s not merely prepared to have a calendar in three different mediums to be sure not to forget anything on the family schedule.
These are my intrusive thoughts. It is my anxiety. These are signs that I am not okay. These are signs that I am suffering.
My mental health has been treated by professionals. I have been through therapy, taken medication, tried mindfulness, and exercised. I have been privileged to have the ability to seek treatments through health insurance. I have a good support system in my friends and family. Yet in the depths of my suffering, my prayer life is severely impacted. When I am at my lowest, I have the hardest time praying. My mental energy goes towards trying to function each day. My spiritual life becomes almost non-existent.
Seasons of intense anxiety cause a direct decrease in my prayer life.
When my children suffer, I turn to prayer. When there is illness or injury in the family, I turn to prayer. When there is joy and gratitude, I turn to prayer. But when I am in the depths of despair, I am silent.
After calming my son down, holding him in my arms, and kissing his forehead, he was finally able to relax enough to fall asleep—to surrender his fear to me and let himself experience peace.
Later that night, I was washing away the final remnants of my sobs. Black smears of mascara clung to my bottom lashes. I looked at myself in the mirror in a haze of exhaustion and defeat. Would I always be plagued by this anxiety? Would I always suffer from these intrusive thoughts?
But I realized motherhood has taught me more about the abundant compassion of God than anything else. As I rocked my son, I told him that I was there for him. I whispered those words in his ears. I rocked him to sleep. He surrendered his fear and found comfort in my arms. I realized that I must do the same in the comforting embrace of my Father.
Currently, caring for my mental health is a balance between sleep, medication, exercise, and support. But I have found that the secret sauce for these ingredients to come together is surrendering to the loving arms of God. He is patient and peaceful. He is the calm in my chaos. He anchors me in the storms brought on by my anxiety.
Struggling with my mental health while I am in the midst of working mom life takes its toll. As a community health dentist, I spend my workday tending to the needs of my patients. As a mom to four, I spend my home life tending to the needs of my family. Finding time, resources, and energy to nurture myself takes an intentional effort each day.
I have a tendency to over-intellectualize my relationship with God. If I formulated the right combination of prayer, scripture reading, and rote memorization, then certainly I’ll have figured out to have a nurturing relationship with God. But just as my own children need nothing more from me in their suffering than my arms, my presence, and my comfort, I too, need to sink back into the simplest and purest form of my relationship with a Father who comforts.
In my suffering, I feel Him hold me in his loving embrace, whispering, “I’m here. I’ve got you.”
“Let me be with you.”
Dr. Samantha Aguinaldo-Wetterholm is married to her college sweetheart and lives on a little island in the San Francisco Bay with her four children. She is the current associate director of a dental community health clinic, enjoys hosting neighborhood happy hours, has a high competitive streak, and sometimes writes about the things that matter. She’s quick to poke fun at herself and enjoys a good small group cry session.
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