Carlie Ross is no stranger to the anxiety that plagues nearly 2.6 million adolescents across the United States. Her first memories of anxiety began when she was just four years old.
At four, Carlie was diagnosed with an arrhythmia. She and her parents learned that she might have to have surgery later in life, but at only four, the confusing word terrified her. Carlie knew nothing about what an arrhythmia was and felt certain she was going to die. This turned into a deep fear that crippled Carlie every day. She couldn’t sleep alone, socialize with other kids, and began having trouble breathing. Carlie refused to do anything that caused her heart to beat faster because she was afraid it would bother her heart. She never played sports and to this day won’t ride roller coasters because of that foundation of fear.
“A lot of my anxiety always stemmed around death, because I thought my condition was more severe than it was and I thought I was going to die. When I was seven, my grandpa died. Since then, and with each passing family member, it has built onto the anxiety of death.”
Between the ages of eight and twelve, Carlie had three surgeries to correct the arrhythmia in her heart. After the last surgery, Carlie’s heart has never had another problem.
But the anxiety didn’t heal when her heart did.
“My anxiety continued to grow when I was in elementary school. I didn’t have a lot of friends, so I had a lot of anxiety about school, making friends, being normal. When I was about to enter high school, another family member passed away and brought back all of the anxiety of death and it stuck until I was a freshman in college.”
Carlie has attended Pleasant Valley her entire life, and chose to follow Jesus when she was ten. Despite the security in knowing where she would go if she were to die, the anxiety wreaked havoc in her life. In eighth grade, Carlie began taking medication for the anxiety.
“I didn’t have a really strong relationship with God until high school. I had the opportunity to switch schools, and He surrounded me with so many people at school that were my community and we helped each other grow in our faith. God helped me have that opportunity then I was able to step away from the anxiety of socializing.”
Carlie grew as a leader in PV’s student ministry. She led worship, went on mission trips, and discipled other girls as she continued to grow in her own walk with the Lord.
It was in her freshman year of college that she was really tested to the extreme.
Carlie woke up every morning with panic attacks – she couldn’t breathe, her heart would race, her hands would shake, and she would overheat. Every single morning was debilitating as she worked through the anxiety that filled her every day.
“My whole life, I’ve prayed, ‘Lord would help me to someday not be afraid of death and be excited to be in eternity with You.’ Then came the anxiety my freshman year. I was alone and really couldn’t function during a normal day so I really had to trust Him. Being away from my family I found idols in my life, like finding comfort in home instead of Him. I found I had put my trust in my parents keeping me safe and the comfort zone of my home church in Kansas City – but not God. He was who I had to put all of my trust in. That was the biggest growth for me at the beginning of my freshman year. I was learning to put all kinds of trust in Him, and it was a turning point. “
Carlie began therapy for the first time as an adult, continued taking her medication, and worked on fully relying on the Lord to help overcome the anxiety.
“I think experiencing that anxiety so horribly made me long to be in a place where I would never experience anxiety again, and that made me hopeful for a day I wouldn’t have to be anxious any more. That transformation was gradual, but one morning I woke up and got up and started doing my normal things and thought, ‘I didn’t have a panic attack when I woke up this morning’ and I began to think, ‘this is getting better.’ It really grew my trust in Him and pointed out that I hadn’t trusted Him for enough and tried to do it all by myself.”
Carlie calls that season her “big mental breakdown,” and since then she’s still struggled with anxiety, but it hasn’t revolved around death.
“Now I’m excited to be in heaven because I never thought I’d get to be excited about it.”
In fact, in January 2020, Carlie was able to stop taking the anxiety medication she’d been taking for eight years. Carlie has learned to trust God with every aspect of her future.
“There’s nothing that I’ll experience now or in the future that He won’t be with me through. I feel a lot more joyful and at peace in general. Through the whole pandemic and everything, I’ve been able to sit back and trust that He’s in control and holding my life in His hands. He’s holding it all together for His purpose and glory.”
Carlie knows she’ll probably experience anxiety again in the future, but she knows she can look back at all of the times in the past where God has been faithful and carried her through.
“I’ve experienced it all to different extremes and severities… [God] was in each moment of panic and in my month-long breakdown. He brought me out of it all… there’s nothing that the future will hold that God doesn’t already know about and that He’s not already there.”
Through the highest moments of anxiety, and through the times where her anxiety is at bay, one thing has always been clear to Carlie. She is able to proclaim with a steady assurance that…
“Jesus is my peace.”