NEW LIFE. WHO DIS?
At the age of 18, in Spring of 2004, I experienced my first panic attack at school. I spent the morning bawling my eyes out in my English teacher’s classroom.
Unannounced like a surprise party. In the dark. I freaked out, unable to comprehend what was happening or why. In college, I experienced symptoms of anxiety regularly; racing heart, sweaty palms, rapid-fire thoughts, and this overwhelming feeling of impending doom. All I wanted to do was sleep. Then entered depression.
By Birthday No. 22, I had withdrawn from college and married the man who met everyone's expectations but my own. At the time I thought it was what I wanted — that this man who believed that Jesus was his everything would be the answer to any heartache I was feeling. Well, any that Jesus couldn't take away. I thought my anxieties would dissipate and I would live a normal life as a housewife and, eventually, a mother.
The opposite occurred. Chaos erupted inside of me. For the next five years I crumbled, slowly.
On a deep, intense level, I knew I was living a lie. There were many moments when I wondered if what I wanted was unattainable or, worse, against the doctrine that dictated every decision I had made up to that point. One debilitating attack after another of panic and depression eventually made me numb. I lost the ability to free myself from anything that hurt me. Fear became my decision-making tool.
At age 27, in April of 2013, I stood in my classroom, numb, staring out the window. AlI I wanted to do was throw up. I couldn't blink or cry or even whisper in that moment. My thoughts swirled, funnel-like and chaotic. I'm sure on the exterior I looked like I was in a peaceful meditative state, but my soul was on fire. I wanted to escape ... run far away and never come back. I finally managed to say, "I'm done. I'm done with myself, and I'm done with him. I'm done with God. I'm just done!" and for the next three minutes, I had never felt more alone. I had caved and given into the emptiness I had been feeling for the last 10 years, unwilling to admit how much I wanted to be saved by it simultaneously.
I was terrified. I also knew there was no way I was taking back my word. I really was "done" and could no longer continue living a half-ass life in a marriage and religious community that smothered me with rules, rituals, and rehearsed happiness.
"Ok, well that's not gonna work. Now what? I can't go back, I don't know how to go forward, and I have no clue what to do first. But I know something has to change. I don't know what that looks like or feels like, but I know it must happen."
Change. Beautiful things come from change, they say. Obviously a person with anxiety and depression didn't write that. Change is hard, and for someone like me who made decisions based on fear, changing my own reality was a step-by-step process that started with my own thoughts. What a scary place to be — my own thoughts. Luckily, I had already made a promise to myself, and that commitment to change felt like a switch being thrown. A lightbulb went off, and it didn't illuminate a new path but shined down on everything around me and suddenly what was around me didn't make sense. The realization that I hadn't made my own decisions and anxiety was running my life was not an easy realization, but I'm glad it happened. Every step I took forward after looking out that window felt intentional, purposeful, and I refused to let my whirlwind thoughts and emotions keep me in a place I loathed with every fiber of my being.
What changed, you ask? What was the hidden secret my soul couldn't access that eventually set me free?
For the first time, I said "yes" to myself.
I was somehow more scared of being anxious or unhappy or even settling for less than I deserve than i was of my own demons. Saying "yes" to myself for the first time at age 27 was the hardest, most vulnerable gift I ever gave myself. It was almost like I had given my soul permission to breathe, to explore, and to choose what else could be.
It had not occurred to me that I had a choice. I could decide at any moment to walk away from: a sense of entrapment / control / fear / oppression / guilt / manipulation / heartache / sadness. I realized that at any moment I could decide to walk toward: passion / creativity / authenticity / self-awareness / gratitude / peace / freedom.
So that's what I did. I made a decision. For me, for my own heart and well being. I promised myself, including the anxious little Lacey in me, that it was going to be OK. I knew that my life was worth more than the shame and misery I had been living. I chose myself.
I came out to my family and close friends. It no longer felt safe to hide who I knew I was. With pride, I told them "I'm a lesbian." A party in my soul ensued.
A genuine zest for life
Suddenly I was unstoppable. I set goals and I crushed them. I won't lie to you: Fear crept in again, but I tried on new habits and my new zest for life didn't let me settle. Suddenly I am a young woman who is becoming braver every day — I finished my degree, married for love, and continue to seek opportunities to grow. How does one remain mediocre about living once they discover their voice? They don't!
An enormous amount of grace
The words should, could, and would are my new enemies. I remind myself often that regret or wishing something had been different keeps me stagnant. I'm moving on and moving forward with dignity.
Every day is part of my journey because I choose for it to be. It doesn't always feel adventurous; sometimes it's boring or frustrating but nonetheless free.
Embracing challenges with intent to heal
My wife and I have built our relationship on the principle that not only will both our individual souls be recognized and nourished but that truth and love will be the root of all decisions, when life is both kind and unkind. With respect to self and each other, we live by this to confront whatever challenges are in our midst — as individual souls and as a partnership.
Ah, the ultimate freedom. If I wanted to envelope all this newness and vivacity, I had to let go of blame. So I gave myself permission to practice forgiveness daily. I still do.
I have come to appreciate the power in being present. The false belief that worrying is a good thing keeps me in a state of anxiety. For me, America's belief that "busy" is to be commended and that my path was already written for me had to be unlearned. I'm learning the only moment I have is right here, right now; peace is all that can exist, and I am the author of the book I call my life.
I love to travel. When I was 15, I spent nine days exploring Italy, and the wanderlust never subsided. Somewhere along my journey, I quit seeking experiences and adventure ... I found my wonder again and I’m determined to never lose it.
It's been four years since I chose to say "yes" to myself. My life is richer and more vibrant and colorful now. The space I occupy is filled with genuine conversation and adventurous souls.
My life is very much my own.
My struggle with anxiety and depression did not subside right away, but the weight I was under is gone. My mind and spirit can breathe now, which makes managing anxiety easier. I am pursuing passions and dreams that were once only desires and daydreams. This is my reality now.
I've learned that some experiences pass without lasting impression and others will forever change you. The moment I chose authenticity forever changed me; it has made me the best woman, spouse, and friend I could ever have dreamed of being. I'm no longer trapped — real or imagined.
My charge to you is this: Seek out your authentic self. Give yourself permission to start over. Your "yes" could be anything — plugging into a new community, going for a hike, moving across the country, joining a rock band ... oh, and remembering to check out the sky every now and then. Whatever it is, allow your authentic self to flow from a place that is genuinely you.
It's worth it.
Lacey Wilson was born and raised in Bastrop, Texas, a small town 25 miles east of Austin. She studied special education as an undergraduate and spent seven years as an educator in her hometown. She has always loved the arts and creativity. She and her wife, Tiffany, reside in the Bay Area in California where Lacey is pursuing her law degree alongside a certificate in Interior Design. She specializes in special education, LGBTQ+ issues, civil rights, family law, and disability law. It is also her passion to create a space for herself at the intersection of law and design to ensure individuals with disabilities have access to interior design that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. To escape studying, Lacey spends time as a community mediator and encouraging people who live with anxiety/depression via her blog. She also enjoys camping and exploring new places to travel with her wife and friends.
Words: Lacey Wilson