An Open Letter to Mandisa

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I feel God leading me to write another open letter to a celebrity that has impacted my life.  I wrote one a few years ago to Michael W. Smith about the way he eased a difficult time in my life.  Now, I need to write another…

 

Dear Mandisa,

First, let me say that I have been a fan since seeing you on one of the few seasons of American Idol that I actually watched.  I have cheered on Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and you.

The main reason I am writing is to say thank you.  Your music pulled me through a very dark time in my life.  I have written on my blog about my depression, but I have never thanked you personally.

I had known I would be a teacher in some form my entire life.  My sister found something I wrote in the first grade saying I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  Generations of my mother’s family before me had been teachers.  Unfortunately, my mother passed away exactly one year before I began my first teaching job.  She did not get to see me graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education with honors from her alma mater.  She did not get to help me set up my first classroom.  She did not get to help me pick out my first day of school outfit.  However, I still felt her with me each year.  One small way I knew she was there was that each year I have had some form of the name Catherine in my class – Mom’s first name.

Fourteen years into my career, things got turned upside down.  I was told I was a terrible teacher by an administrator.  I was the only full-time income in my house since my husband was staying home with our then two-year-old twin daughters.  Our 10-year-old son was a student at the school where I taught.  In hindsight, I was probably still dealing with post-partum depression that had turned into general depression and daily panic attacks.  However, I was devastated and terrified of not being able to provide for my family.

Then the real blow happened.  An administrator told me that my students “deserved better.”  She meant that they deserved better than my depressed state and was trying to encourage me to seek help.  However, in my mental state at the time, I took it to mean that they deserved better than me.  The next morning, in the midst of a severe panic attack, Satan took that phrase and convinced me that my husband and children also deserved better.  In fact, my brain told me, they would all be better off if you were not here, so just end your life.

The blessing was that Jesus gave me the clarity to call my best friend.  She talked to me while I got ready for work and the entire drive in.  When I told her I was in my classroom and she knew I would be fine, she hung up with me and called my husband to let him know what had happened.  By the time I got home that afternoon he had scheduled an appointment with a Christian counselor.

The rest of that school year was an hour by hour fight with my depression and, it felt to me, for my sanity.  During this very dark time I would listen to your music all the way in to school and until my first class arrived.  I would listen again during my lunch time.  Your music gave me hope and the strength to make it through a few more hours.  Mostly, I listened to your Overcomer CD.  I would literally turn on the CD, put my head on my desk, cry and pray “Help me, Jesus.”

Three years later, I am seven weeks from finishing my seventeenth year teaching.  My daughters are now in school with me and my son is finishing middle school.  New administration values my teaching experience and expertise.  My depression and anxiety are pretty well controlled with counseling and medication.  However, your music still holds a very special place in my heart.  Satan sometimes creeps back into my head with thoughts of how things would be easier if I would just end my life, but I quote Scripture, and some Mandisa lyrics!

A few weeks ago my daughters and I were driving to school when you came on the J93.3 The Joy FM in Atlanta.  My girls recognized your name and started singing Overcomer!  I was shocked to hear that you had also been battling depression, and even during the time I had been battling the same thing!  Knowing that, I felt it was time to tell you how much your music had helped me through.

Mandisa, God used your music to pull me away from the edge of suicide.  Looking at my children, both personal and in my classroom, it saddens me to realize how close I was to that terrible mistake.  Thank you for the part you played in my endurance and healing.  Thank you for letting God use you and your amazing talent.  Thank you for being so open about your struggles and your humanity.  I am here today partially due to your willingness to be used.

Sincerely,

A. Leavitt

Living with anxiety

An open letter to Michael W. Smith

 

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Living with anxiety

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There has been a lot of talk about anxiety and depression since the suicide of Robin Williams last year.  I grew up watching Robin Williams in various roles.  My mother played Mork and Mindy re-runs.  Watching him on Inside the Actor’s Studio, I don’t know when I have laughed as hard.  The man was unbelievably talented and such a blessing to me when I needed that laugh.

When I heard of his suicide it took me by surprise.  I felt it on a few different levels.  First, it was the loss of an entertainer whose talent I have admired for decades.  Second, it was the unnecessary loss of life.  Third, I felt a kinship with him.

I also deal with anxiety and depression.  I was always a worrier as a child.  However, after the death of my mother, things got worse.  Shopping trips became torture.  I would strategically plan shopping trips for necessities during non-busy hours.  Anything to avoid crowds.  When I had a panic attack in my classroom at work, I sought help.  My doctor diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and prescribed medication.  Over the past decade I have been on a few different medications and have seen different counselors.  However well it is managed at the moment, it is still an enormous part of my life and a constant struggle.

It is hard to describe clinical anxiety.  As with most illnesses, unless you have been there, you can’t truly understand.  You don’t look sick and people constantly tell you to “just let go” or “stop worrying.”  If only!

I can give a few examples from my day today.  And today was while ON medication.  We had an insanely busy day planned, which is a cause of stress itself.  In the middle of getting all 5 family members ready for the first appointment of the day, my son knocks on my bedroom door saying he had a rash on his chest.  At this point, my true talent kicked in: imagining the worst possible scenario.  Measles.  Strep.  Chicken pox.  Shingles.  We called the pediatrician and got an appointment for 25 minutes later.  The diagnosis: virus. Not contagious.

I was supposed to be at a baby shower for my sister-in-law a few hours later.  So now I was worrying about whether he should be around my SIL.  Would he catch this from her and would it cause a complication with her pregnancy.  Now keep in mind, this was AFTER the doctor said he was not contagious.  My mind was STILL coming up with terrible possibilities.  A text to my SIL assured me that she agreed with the doctor and still wanted us to come.  So I headed an hour east through the city of Atlanta with my three children for the shower.  Driving in Atlanta causes stress for me anyway, but with this day already causing my head to spin, it was even worse.

At the shower my children walked between people talking and even got a bedroom door locked from the inside – with everyone else outside.  This required the door handle to be completely removed to open it.  Two of my children got into an argument that disintegrated into hitting each other with toys.  Time out left one daughter crying on the stairs while the other is climbing on a sofa with her shoes on and a plate of food in her hands.  All of this was pushing me to the edge of tears.  What would the other people think?  Would they think I am a terrible mother?  Would they think I have no control over my children?  Would this look bad on my mother-in-law?  All of this ran through my head in about 2 seconds.  Then we were late leaving and … well, see the trip through Atlanta above but add traffic this time.

All of this is amplified with my anxiety.  Everything is a crisis.  Everything makes you feel judged by others.  And.  You.  Can’t.  Stop.  It.

Now, I am currently working with a fantastic counselor who is helping me to work through my panic.  However, I have been where Robin Williams was on his final night.  I have been at the point where I felt there was no hope and I was desperate to do anything to stop the panic.  While I have never attempted suicide, I can completely understand how it can seem like a viable option.  I have had nights where all I can do is sit huddled in a ball in the center of my bed, rocking back and forth, asking God to help me.  I have had mornings where I laid face down on the floor begging God to give me the strength to get up and face another day.  I have had mornings where I couldn’t even form a prayer.  All I get out is “Jesus.”  I have watched my children or husband sleep and sobbed over how I felt they would be better off without me.

I have found comfort and strength in Scripture and Christian music.  I am attaching links to three songs that truly helped me.

I don’t know why I have these struggles.  I know God will use it somehow.  Someone will benefit from my experiences.  However, that can’t happen if I keep silent.  Others cannot learn from me or help support me unless I share my struggle.  I don’t look sick.  Many do not see this has a true illness.  However, those who support me want to understand it better.  That can’t happen unless I share.  God gave me a love of public speaking.  I need to use it to alert people to an illness I have experience with.  Maybe it will help keep someone else from feeling like they have no hope.  Maybe I can help keep someone from Robin Williams’ path.