The space began to close in on me. My ears received nothing but noises. My breath became shorter.
That was the first time I experienced a panic attack during a work meeting. I thought it was merely exhaustion, since I was surviving on 3-5 hours of sleep each day.
At that point, I was working as a full-time writer while teaching part-time at a college. My daily schedule was packed with writing, meetings, planning lessons, marking papers, and looking after home matters.
At first, it seemed fun to be rushing from one appointment/task to another. The adrenaline rush propelled me for a while. But over time, I felt like I was running a marathon with no finish line.
Still, I didn’t think cutting back on my workload was an option, as the projects I was handling weren’t huge undertakings. I thought that if I had just a little more time and worked a little harder, I might be able to complete everything.
However, four months into this, my mental state crumbled. I was in tears every other day. I felt like I was drowning, and I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do next. It didn’t help that my anxiety and depression had impaired my judgement.
As my projects gradually collapsed around me, I began to lose all sense of self-worth. By then, my bosses noticed my work performance had dropped and I’d become withdrawn. Out of concern, they suggested that I take a month off from work. I hesitated at first, but when my mind began to harbour suicidal thoughts, I relented and went for my one-month break.
I was grateful that I had sufficient savings to tide me over this period. During the break, I intentionally chose activities that would help me recover emotionally. I spoke to my therapist, went for a short vacation, and chatted with my friends.
With nothing urgent on my plate, the uncomfortable silence in my mind told me that there was unprocessed grief over having lost some things; emotions behind my burnout state that I was terrified to confront.
I knew I needed to get well, so I decided to use this precious time to spend time with God, even though I didn’t know what to expect.
I started to process my thoughts by journalling them, and as I sought the Lord, He began to reveal my heart issues. One problem is that I often equate busyness as being productive—the more stuff I churn out, the more productive I am.
In Exodus 23:12, God commanded His people: “Six days do you work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.” Sabbath is about resting so we can reflect on God’s providence and goodness, and so be restored.
I knew about Sabbath, but I find it hard to practise in my life. My heart and my mind often wander to tasks at hand, rather than taking a step back to reflect on what God has done for me.
Beyond resting, Sabbath is about ceasing from work as an expression of trust, believing that God has deemed rest as good, and that He will provide for us. Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, wrote, “The core spiritual issue in stopping [Sabbath] revolves around trust. Will God take care of us and our concerns if we obey Him by stopping to keep the Sabbath?”
Simply put, I was having trouble trusting God. I didn’t trust Him enough to provide for me financially. I didn’t trust God to guide me when I encountered work issues. I stubbornly held on to what I had, which I thought I could handle by myself.
For us to put our trust in someone, we have to know what they’re like, and what we can really depend on them to do, especially when in times of trouble. It then dawned on me that perhaps I’ve forgotten who God is in my life. Even though He had come through for me in the past, I was still afraid, unsure if or how He would keep helping me.
So, I began to dig up Bible verses about who God is and what He would do, listing them down one by one in my journal:
- He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8).
- His steadfast love shall not depart from you (Isaiah 54:10).
- He knows the gift we need. If we ask for bread, will He give us a stone? (Matthew 7:10-11).
- He watches over us (Psalm 121).
- He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).
These verses help me stay anchored when the going gets tough. When I feel God is distant, His Word reminds me that He is near, and His immense love will never depart from me.
Understanding who God created me to be
Theologian St Augustine wrote this beautiful prayer: “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know Thee.”
Self-awareness is not something that comes naturally to some of us. Often, we let our work or the world tell us who we are.
Amid my burnout, I realised that I didn’t know who I was, because all this time, my sense of identity was based on what others said about me and what I did. So, when I struggled to keep up with my workload and personal responsibilities, I began to doubt myself. I had forgotten who I was in God’s eyes and how He had created me for His purposes.
I also wanted to live someone else’s life, instead of the one God had intended for me. I have seen people juggling full-time work and freelance work and thrive in doing so. I wanted to be like them—to be able to achieve so many things and to always be open to new opportunities. Deep down, a part of me believed that the things that I’d been doing weren’t as significant or meaningful.
As I thought about my state of discontentment, God reminded me of something I’d experienced when I was a student. When we had singing lessons in school, I had always wanted to be a soprano because they got to sing the melody. However given my vocal range, I was classified as an alto, which meant the harmonising parts. This frustrated me, even though I didn’t exactly enjoy singing.
In my conversation with God about all this, He reminded me that there was nothing wrong with being an alto. In fact, they play an important role in providing harmony, which makes a song richer in texture. But instead of seeing myself as a person made to worship God, I’d been intent on stretching myself to the limit and doing as much as I can to prove myself capable, which is not what God had created me to do.
Slowly, I began rediscovering who I was in God’s eyes—I care deeply about people, I’m passionate about the things I do, I’m beautiful at heart, and I’m a fighter. God has made me unique in advancing His kingdom, and it’s a great privilege for me to join in this adventure.
I’ve been back at work for a few weeks now, focusing on my full-time job. As I attempt to find my rhythm once again, God reminded me of a passage in Ezekiel 11:14-19—how He promised to gather His people from the nations and bring them back to the land of Israel. And that He will give them an undivided heart and a new spirit, and make them new again. As I reflected on this passage, I received the impression that indeed, my spirit too has been made new again.
My recovery is an ongoing journey—I know there will be ups and downs. Just a few days after my return, I noticed I was slowly sliding back into my old ways of thinking. I began to worry about what if I couldn’t accomplish my tasks at hand, what if I messed up my life again, etc.
Instead of letting these thoughts spiral further, I prayed to God about my struggles with all honesty, and with courage, I picked myself up again, knowing that I can trust Him who will never leave me nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6).Back to Homepage