Written By Marissa Cathey, Mexico
Walking out of the metro station, I was suddenly met by foreign smells and swarms of people. The ground was covered in what appeared to be soot, and as I pushed through the crowds, I felt my own thoughts being drowned out by the overwhelming noises and sounds coming from street vendors, bargaining customers, and chaotic traffic.
I struggled to find an alley or a side street where I could catch my breath. I was starting to hyperventilate and inwardly panic due to all the disorderly activity going on around me. I finally found a less busy street but soon noticed liquid dripping from the apartment buildings on both sides of the narrow road, all around me. These drops, probably from the air conditioning units, likely carried millions of germs, which led me to freak out even more.
That’s how one of my many anxiety attacks started.
My struggle with anxiety
When I moved to Hong Kong in early 2017, I couldn’t have been more excited and overjoyed to finally be fulfilling the call I’d received as a child. Raised in a strong Christian family in Mexico, God put a burden for East Asia on my heart as kid, and with time, I developed a desire to someday use my multimedia skills in a church to help make Christ and the gospel more known.
I have to be honest though. Every day since moving here has been a battle against endless fears: lack of order in public places, being surrounded by crowds, and a number of other anxieties regarding social interactions. I’ve struggled with anxiety since 2014, but it spiked significantly once I moved from my small Mexican town of 2,000 people to metropolitan Hong Kong with 7,000,000 people.
Anxiety can be crippling for me. Most days I don’t even want to leave my bed to face people and ministry responsibilities. On days when I do leave the house, there’ve been times when, because of the amount of people present, I’d start hyperventilating during a church service, and would need to escape the sanctuary until either I calm down or the service ends. On the metro, if it becomes too crowded, I would have to get off at the next stop and let the oncoming trains pass by until one pulls in with less people on it.
Thankfully, my resolve to carry out the duties given to me by the church usually outweighs my desire to avoid crowds. But what has helped me particularly is remembering how God’s presence has been with me in the past, and how He has helped me make it through all the bad days. That’s what motivates me to keep moving forward and being faithful in service.
God is with me
Growing up in a Christian household, I’d become accustomed to hearing “God will never leave you” (Deut. 31:8), “God is always watching over you” (Ps. 121:5), or “God is your comfort in the storm” (John 14:27). But I never truly understood these truths until I started experiencing pain for myself. The peace these promises give has been instrumental in my growth and perseverance in life.
In times when I experience sensory overload or near panic attacks in public places, God literally brings calm to my heart by helping me recall a worship song or a Bible verse I’d read recently. When I participate in weekly outreaches in the red light district, or as I learn to lead in my church’s youth group on Friday nights, God gives me a boldness and a love for people exactly when I need His help.
Jesus tells His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, emphasis added). This verse has come to mean a lot to me, reminding me that I can’t experience peace in trials if I’m not in Jesus, if I’m not resting in Him. This trust in Him, this kind of faith—this is true intimacy with the Lord. And we get to experience the safety of this intimacy during our troubles and strife!
God knows the beginning and end of my day. He knows how things will turn out, and He carries me through it all because He knows I am “but dust” (Psalm 103:14). It’s the same for us all. Ultimately, experiencing difficulties while trying to stay in tune with God’s will can help us become stronger in our faith and experience deeper levels of grace with God that we didn’t even think possible.
The church is with me
One thing I have found very real in my life is that God uses my willingness to open up to others to bring about healing and encouragement. As I grew to trust people in church, I began to share my struggles with them. And as a result, I felt deeply cared for and looked out for like never before. Each time they sensed me dealing with an anxiety attack, they would come over to randomly give me a hug, pray for me, or text me to ask how I was. This has given me more comfort and peace than I can say, and has shown me what it means when the body of Christ ministers to one another.
Though it’s hard for friends and leaders to understand my full spectrum of anxiety, I have only ever been accepted and treated as a child of God. I have been blessed through fellowship with other believers in both the good and bad times.
At the end of the day, our present troubles are nothing compared to the glory set before us. Our future leads up to one thing: spending eternity with Christ. All our time on earth is meant for us to learn dependence on God and enjoy intimacy with Him. This carries us through trials, sufferings, and storms of all sorts. He wants to use us to bring others into His family, and He also uses our challenges and weaknesses, for in them His image best shines forth as people see more of Him and less of us.
This isn’t to say that my battle with anxiety is easier or done with. Actually, far from it. I continue experiencing good and bad days every week. But I’m still here. And God is still providing for me. He is still bringing people in my life to push me forward. He is faithful even when I’m not. And He is still everything I’ll ever need.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)