I don’t know the exact timing, but some five years ago I began my long, draining battle with depression and anxiety disorders.
The seasons since have fluctuated in ferocity and been riddled with counselor meetings, psychiatric appointments, medications, and even suicidal urges. For two months I can be entirely carefree, simply enjoying life and living it fully. Then, I can be falling in and out of reality for five months through anxiety attacks, hallucinations, and weariness.
For the longest time, my greatest struggle was the effects of agoraphobia.
The effects played out in a very physical manner. If I was anxious or in any way panicking over something, muscle tension spread throughout my body and grew uncontrollably so that I inevitably reached fatigue, exhaustion, headaches, and a complete lack of strength.
My mind seemed to never rest or take a break. It was like a machine whose wheels never stopped turning—constantly analyzing, always strategizing the quickest way to find what I needed and exit the store, to weave through the crowd and be out of it, to arrive anywhere early because in my head if I’m early I’m on time but if I arrive at the set time, I’m late.
It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s cruel and exhausting.
On more intense days, irrational fear sets in when walking out in public, on the street, or while riding the subway. The intense anxiety can lead to hallucinations of a heavy object falling on me from the sky, usually in the form of a car. The utter frightfulness of the hallucination momentarily paralyzes me and then snaps my body into a jolt or short spasm. My vision blurs and most times there is no feeling left but complete helplessness and yearning for the safe place that is home.
On more “normal” days, anxiety infringes on daily life in less intense ways. I forget to perform even the simplest tasks like eating, showering, or brushing my teeth. I experience both lack of sleep far into the early morning and excessive sleep during the day.
Finding balance between accomplishing ministry responsibilities, maintaining friendships and social connections, and taking care of myself seems like an insurmountable task most days.
I have questioned myself time and time again, wondering if I’m mentally capable of being useful. I have questioned my abilities as a missionary, friend, and overall contributor to society. Often times, I feel like a burden and that, because of my mental health, there is no way I could succeed in my dreams of getting a degree, writing, and someday becoming a mother.
Looking at God’s Work
And yet, in the midst of all this, I am reminded that never once have I been abandoned by God. His love and help have been very much felt throughout each storm. As I reflect on the verses I have recorded during these stormy seasons in my journals, I can proclaim that as a daughter of God and as His beloved I am given:
- His assurance of forgiveness and salvation – 1 John 1:9
- His peace through life (not necessarily ease) – John 16:33
- His commission to share these with others – Matthew 28:19-20
My purpose in life is to glorify God with all I am and in everything I do (1 Corinthians 10:31), and my disorders cannot take this away from me. I am learning to walk in this truth by simply being obedient and faithful with what He places before me.
As I look back over the past five years, I realized that life has very much “happened” in spite of my weaknesses. I completed a college missions training program in eastern Europe, moved to Asia for missions work, have been serving in a ministry that helps sexually exploited women leave the sex industry, gained much experience in cross-cultural ministry in several countries worldwide, and even got married to my sweet love this year. What’s more, we will be heading out as missionaries to a new country in 2020!
My anxiety and depression have not crippled me. Instead, God has been accomplishing His purpose through me, and helping me to grow and gain strength I didn’t know I had.
Some Things That Helped
Along the way, I’ve found helpful ways to cope with my anxiety. For example, I’ve started distracting and busying my mind with creative outlets, and these have turned into actual skills and gifts I’m cultivating every day. I’ve discovered a passion for the arts, and it has given me opportunities to express myself and to serve people.
Being creative feels like I’m taking all the chaos in my mind and organizing it on paper, whether through writing or drawing. The results leave me mesmerized. Is it possible that I really made this? Was I truly able to create that?
Though it can be hard to find motivation to do anything when we’re mentally struggling, if you experience similar battles, let me encourage you to not be afraid of trying new things. Find activities and places that bring you joy and serve as an outlet. This is not only helpful to our mental healing process, but helps us move forward from the mental challenges that engulf us.
I have also reached the point of normalcy in reaching out and asking for help. It began with my parents and close friends, and eventually my fear of “self-exposure” lessened, and I started seeing counselors and then psychiatrists. It is so important to receive professional or medical help for mental illness, and I encourage you to do the same if you’re struggling. If you wouldn’t leave pneumonia untreated, don’t leave a chemical imbalance untreated either.
The truth is, our bodies are imperfect and will fail us. But that doesn’t stop God from giving us purpose (1 Peter 2:9) and the strength to live it out. He certainly doesn’t require physical or biological perfection, but rather willingness of heart and surrendering of the soul in order to transform us into His perfection, His magnificence, His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Behind the curtain of anxiety and depression, I have the hope that rests so assuredly and peacefully in my heart—the hope that I have a future in the hands of my Creator (Philippians 1:6).
As do you, my friend.