Amy Doyle enjoying a laugh

“Don’t compare your inside with someone else’s outside”.

Today I want to talk about that comparison narrative.

Even with the years I’ve been in practice I confess there are times I am surprised when a woman confides in me that she struggles with anxiety or depression.

A couple of months ago a woman I have known for years told me she struggles with depression and unrelenting worry that keeps her up at night. This is a woman who is known by mutual friends to be thoughtful, funny, positive and an encourager. Her outside does not tell anyone what is going on inside.

Shortly after that, a smart, sassy businesswoman I admire confided in me that she has struggled with anxiety and depression for years. She is a mover and a shaker in her industry and is always perfectly coiffed and impeccably dressed. Her outside doesn’t tell any of the story of what is going on inside.

Then today I reconnected with a woman whom I haven’t seen in over a decade. Our kids were in activities together as toddlers. She was always the funny one–quick to insert a joke and laid back. I envied that she always seemed a lot more relaxed about being a new mom than I was. Today she told me the story of her years of debilitating panic attacks and anxiety that jolts her out of sleep at night. Some of her worst years were during the time we knew each other. Her happy, lighthearted demeanor on the outside tells nothing about the grip anxiety has on her inside.

These kinds of encounters happen to me at least weekly.

I can relate to all of these women. I was 14 when the panic attacks started. At first, I thought I was dying. Then I thought I was going crazy. I obsessively checked my pulse because I thought I was having a heart attack. A year or two later the intrusive, irrational thoughts started. At 16, I suffered silently with a heavy weight of shame and told no one about the fearful thoughts I was having. I thought if anyone knew my fears and horrible thoughts they would think I was a terrible person. Everyone’s outsides told me they were fine and I was not.

Yet I was also in the drama club, played softball, ran track and was on the swim team. I was class president and my grades were among the top 10 percent of my class. On the outside I was ambitious, athletic and looked like I had it all going for me. On the inside I felt like I was a collection of jagged, shattered pieces held precariously together, that with one wrong move would crumble to the floor and everyone would know who I was for real: a person with terrible thoughts who might lose control and go crazy at any moment. With the looping thoughts and freight train of panic and anxiety that followed them I felt like I was at constant war with my brain. It was exhausting.

I told no one about the intrusive thoughts until almost twelve years later when the fear and anxiety had its claws in so deep I couldn’t even function normally anymore. Most days I was even too afraid to eat, and still not sleeping. I finally confided in the amazing man who is now my husband and he encouraged me to get help. At age 29, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Even that scared the daylights out of me. But that day was the turning point. That was the day I began the journey to overcoming. I worked and worked and worked to get better. For years. It was scary and hard and there were days I thought dying would be easier. Over time though, faith, a supportive husband, proper nutrition, exercise, a great therapist and TONS of personal development became part of my wellness toolkit. I believe that God works everything out for good, and my story is a testimony to that.

Anxiety and OCD no longer have any power over me. You know what else has lost its power? Shame. Up until today, there have only been about 5 people who knew this story. Now it’s public, and it is an important part of my mission to help others who feel like they are broken.

There is no obvious “face” or look to anxiety or depression. There is nothing on the outside that reveals the struggle inside. Those of us who battle those conditions are excellent pretenders.

You too can be an overcomer. Know that you are anything but alone and that there are other tools you can add to your toolkit to help you get better.

Some of the most important steps to overcoming are to refuse to give the shame any territory and stop listening to the comparison narrative.

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression and are ready to take positive steps toward a more healthy and satisfying life, contact me for a consultation.

... To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.

- Revelations 2:17