According to a 2019 study done by the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in every 8 people, or 970 million people around the world, are living with a mental health disorder. Anxiety and depressive disorders top the list as the most common.
Recently, I sat down with Nick Waters to talk about his experience of living with anxiety. Here’s what he had to say:
Chelsey Williams: When did you first notice that you were having some issues with anxiety?
Nick Waters: I don’t think I realized it until maybe a couple of years ago. I went to my doctor and she diagnosed me with General Anxiety Disorder and started going through some of the symptoms. I could remember having some of those anxious thoughts when I was a kid. When I was 8, 9, 10 years old, I remember not being able to sleep because my mind would just race. So it’s actually been there for a long time. Growing up, I think a lot of men are taught not to show weakness. So I always wanted to put up a strong front and work through things on my own.
CW: Are you able to look back and pinpoint a reason for why you started having anxiety?
NW: Not exactly. My parents went through a divorce when I was very young, maybe four years old. But although that was difficult, I can’t really pinpoint a moment in time when it started. Looking back, I feel as if it was something I was more likely born with than something that was caused by some external stimuli.
CW: Are there things that continued to fuel that fire over the years until you got to your breaking point? When did you decide you needed help?
NW: I’ve always fought the belief that I’m never good enough or I’m not going to be good enough. On one hand, that thought made me really driven because I was always trying to prove that wrong. But it can be difficult to keep that fight up. So one of the things that kind of led to that breaking point is that I got tired of fighting that voice, and then it started winning. I wasn’t doing anything to fight back against it.
It started after I left my job at the fire department to run a tree business full time. After a few years of doing that, my wife (a busy realtor) and I realized that we were basically paying somebody else to raise our kids. So I stayed home for a while. At that point, I really didn’t have ways to prove to myself that I was good enough. I’m not saying I had the right mindset about that, but it’s where I was at the time. We also have a child who is on the autism spectrum, but at that point, he had not been diagnosed yet. So that was really hard to deal with because I love being a dad, I love being a parent, but I felt like I was failing so much, especially with him. And being at home instead of in the workplace with other people was isolating. So the isolation, the negative self-talk, the anxiety, and maybe some PTSD from my job as a firefighter eventually started to break me. The weight of it all just became too much to carry.
I decided to tell my wife about the struggles I was experiencing. I think it surprised her to hear about it, and seeing her reaction to it made my fear grow even more. I felt like I lost some respect in her eyes or something. That may have just been my perception, but that’s how it felt in the moment. I decided to reach out to my doctor who prescribed medication that took the edge off. And I also started EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) therapy which I found really helpful. But I sort of felt like I was in this place of waiting in my life – I was just waiting for my life to happen instead of being able to go out and live it. It was brutal.
CW: You mentioned that you spent time in counseling. How did that help you along in your journey?
NW: It helped me in a lot of different ways. It helped me with my marriage, with my own mental health, and with my relationships with some other family members that I had carried grudges against for years. Overall, it helped me to change my mindset. I learned how to reframe things that happen in life so instead of beating me down, they just become a bump in the road that I can learn and build from. So it was very helpful, but it definitely wasn’t easy.
It’s really hard to put the good, the bad and the ugly out there in the open and confront it. When you’re talking about these hard things, there’s nowhere to hide. You can’t take a pill, you can’t drink, you can’t use some other substance to make it go away. You’re just sitting there staring at it. One of the things I realized is that when people deal with anxiety, a lot of times we try to block out the thoughts with some other distraction, but that doesn’t cut it in the end. I’m still in touch with my counselor and will occasionally make appointments when I need to work through something.
CW: How do you feel about your mental health right now? Do you feel like you’re in a good place?
NW: Overall, yes. One of the things I’ve learned and try to apply to my daily life is that there’s never really an end to the battle. You never get to this place where you think, “Okay, I’m done with this” and then there aren’t any more problems. We’re always going to have problems in life, but they’re temporary. You get through something and then something else comes along at some point. So I know now that the difficulty of the day is going to vary depending on what’s going on. When I can stay in the mindset of things being temporary, I get through it a little easier and I’m in a pretty good space. But when I get into the mindset of feeling like whatever situation I’m in is never going to end, then I don’t feel as good. So I guess it’s like anything else – it’s up and down.
CW: You mentioned at the beginning that you felt like asking for help was a weakness. Knowing what you know now – you’ve been through counseling for a while, you took some medication and it helped take the edge off – do you still think it’s weak to reach out for help?
NW: No, definitely not. A lot of self-help experts and books will tell you that you need to be “self aware.” Essentially, what that means is that you have to be real with yourself and expose your own strengths and weaknesses. That way, you can guide yourself to the place where you want to be. So now I don’t see it as a weakness, and ultimately it’s something that’s very hard to do. And if you don’t do it, that is what’s going to make you weak at some point. When you take it upon yourself to reach out for help, you’re choosing when to act on your weakness.
CW: How does your relationship with God play into this?
NW: It’s been a really big part of it. There are days where I really just have to ask God for the strength to make it through. It makes me think of a verse from Corinthians. Paul quotes Jesus saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I wish I could explain it, but I understand that verse. When I accept my weaknesses, I believe God is there to pick me up and put me on a foundation to build upon. I know that God loves me and has my entire life. Even through the hardest parts, He was always there.
I remember a point where I was just so down. I prayed for God to please show me that He loved me because I wasn’t sure. I remember I was crying just thinking about it. The very next day God put some events into my life that just overwhelmed me with how much I was actually loved. Before that point, for years I thought I was in control of my life. But I always felt so empty. Knowing God was the missing piece. This whole journey showed me how fragile everything can be – marriage, relationships with friends, family, kids. Everything can all come crumbling down if you don’t have Him there to help you put it all back together.
CW: Has the community at PCC helped you at all?
NW: Yes, we have a small group and the community here at PCC has been awesome. From day one I felt welcomed and not judged. And I think that was always a big thing for me. I was able to share what I was going through with them. I also met with Bryan Pope for a while, and he worked with me through a lot of tough times. He was very supportive in a way that challenged me to take a good hard look at my own thoughts. He had a very good balance of listening to me and making me feel heard, but also challenging me to see things differently. He helped me through an incredibly hard time in my marriage where we weren’t sure if things were going to work out. I don’t know if any other friends I’ve had would have stuck it out with me through all of that. It was tough because he was friends with both of us. Through his friendship, I started to understand what God’s grace looks like.
CW: That’s beautiful. Has your view of God changed in any way?
NW: I wouldn’t say it’s changed. I think I just keep peeling back more layers of how great God is and how He really does make all things work out for good even though it’s so hard to see in the moment. If it’s possible, I do feel more loved by God.
At different points in my life, important people have either let me down, not been there for me or hurt me. So thinking about God as Father can sometimes be difficult for me. What I’ve learned through this battle with anxiety is that there are going to be things thrown at you that make you doubt your place in God’s kingdom and make you second guess how you feel about God and how God feels about you. But Jesus pretty much laid it all out for us. I take strength from that when I start to have doubts.
CW: What would you tell someone who is struggling with anxiety?
NW: I would say that first, you’ve got to admit it to yourself. Admit it to yourself. Maybe it’s as simple as writing it down. You don’t have to tell somebody, but you have to admit it to yourself and then find a way to deal with it. Explore different ways to lean on God and really study the Bible. Get in a small group and open up about what you’re going through. One thing that really helped me was finding something to focus on. I started a program called 75 Hard that gave me something incredibly challenging to work on each day. It took my focus off of the anxiety and really helped me gain mental and physical strength. It changed my life and gave me a ton of confidence.
If you open the door to something that you’re struggling with, that’s just the start of the difficulty. To get through it, you have to find things that will give you strength through the journey because it’s hard.
I had a lot of situations in my life where I could place blame and say “Somebody did this to me.” That’s why I am the way that I am. And even though I probably could have justified my actions, nothing really changed until I finally made the decision to completely own the fact that I was the person responsible for my difficulties. Nobody else.
Once I took ownership of it, that’s when everything changed. I stopped blaming my wife for troubles in our marriage. I stopped blaming my parents for things that they did. That would be my answer to somebody else in my situation. The only person you can control is yourself. Everything else is in God’s hands.
Thank you so much, Nick! If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, there is support available. Reach out here if you need help, and check out the resources below.
Mental Health Resources Page
Light in the Darkness – Message on mental health
Put Anxiety in Time-Out – Message on anxiety
Coping With Anxiety – PCC Podcast about anxiety
Managing Mental Health – PCC Podcast about mental health
You Are Not Alone – Article about mental health