From a very early age, I knew I had some form of anxiety. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I always figured something was off because I was always told I worried too much. I thought way too far ahead and panicked about things that were never on a normal kid’s mind.
High school was when I started to realize that I wasn’t just a worrywart. Early on, when something would happen with a friend, boyfriend, or someone in my family, anxiety would set in. Big changes and travelling were also triggers of mine.
The Experience of Anxiety
I couldn’t eat or sleep when these things happened because the anxiety put my stomach in knots. I constantly had tightness in my chest and a lump in my throat to match. When the panic attacks would start, it felt like all my insides were trembling. I would start shaking from my abdomen to my chest, and sometimes even down to my knees. It got difficult to slow my breathing and my heart rate.
I would turn my phone off for hours at a time just to try to escape whatever situation was bothering me. I even had my parents turn off my texting for about a month because I was anxious that some mean high school girl would tell me an awful rumor about myself, and I wouldn’t be able to control the situation. I was a nervous wreck. What kind of high schooler wants their texting turned off?
There were nights spent pent up in my bathroom, crying and shaking on the floor – too embarrassed to try to explain to anyone in my life how I felt. I couldn’t even tell my parents, although I knew they would understand. (I could tell them I was an alien, and they would hear me out and love me anyway. That’s just the kind of people they are.) I just really didn’t want to be told anything was wrong with me. I wanted to continue to be the volleyball-playing, boyfriend-having popular girl.
Coping with Depression and Anxiety
I didn’t really know what depression was until my senior year. It’s supposed to be the “most fun year of your life” or whatever. It wasn’t a specific thing that brought it on, really. I was just sad. I felt like there was no point in investing in the people around me because we were all going to college (another anxiety trigger) in a year anyway.
So, I stopped. I stopped reaching out to people, and they stopped reaching out to me. I didn’t care. I knew something was strange about that.
I would come home and take naps until dinner because I genuinely didn’t want to interact with anyone or be a normal, happy, contributing member of society. I felt hopeless. I had that middle school, angsty “I hate everything” attitude, but I was 18 years old.
Finding Someone Who Listened
After opening up to my mom and telling her that I think something is wrong with me, she suggested I “talk to someone” about my feelings. I went and saw a sweet, Christian lady whose title was simply, “counselor.”
I expected her to tell me that my faith wasn’t strong enough because I felt anxious and sad. I expected her to tell me to read verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 4:7.
But she didn’t. She validated my feelings and listened to me. It was a really big step for me because A) I told my parents and B) I told a complete stranger about my worries.
Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health & Faith
Counseling helped. It helped because she seemed to understand me and was very empathetic no matter what I told her. But my panic attacks did not stop. The hopeless feelings did not subside. I couldn’t ignore or sweep these things under the rug anymore. Truly, the rug was lumpy and stuff was spilling out.
I felt like a bad Christian because no matter how much I prayed, no matter how many quiet times I had, and how many older Christian women I sought leadership and guidance from … I still felt anxious and depressed.
So I went to a psychiatrist – a board certified, medicine-prescribing, multiple-degree-having doctor – and I was diagnosed with anxiety and clinical depression. He told me what was going on with me mentally and physically and that I can’t help the way I feel – in fact I was handling it extremely well for not being on any sort of meds. I left the office with that weighty diagnosis, a prescription, and a sense of relief. Somehow, everything he said made me feel normal.
Fast forward to a year and a half later. I halved my dosage as I continued to get better and understand myself more. That took a whole lot of Jesus, patience, and a little cookie dough ice cream.
Getting Help is Not Weakness
I know many Christian people who have been raised to believe that mental illnesses are not real and taking anti-depressants equal weakness … or that you have an insufficient, puny faith in God. I hate this so much. I equate the diagnoses I have to things like heart disease. You would take medicine for that, right? The health of the heart and the brain are equally important.
I’m not sure how having anxiety or depression is any different than any other disorder. Mental illness is not taboo. I will always stand by that. I will also stand by the fact that nothing is too big, too dark, too sad, or too bleak for my Jesus.
He was with me while I was on my bathroom floor. He was with me in my dark room, curtains drawn, sitting in silence trying to console myself. He was also with me when I started my journey on medication. He will be there if and when I get off of it. And even if I never do, He will love me all the same.
“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Keeping Faith & Encouraging Others
I didn’t see a way out of my depression in high school. I felt like a prisoner in my own head. I hate to think about how different my life would be now if I hadn’t sought professional help then. Getting help, along with prayer and encouragement from my closest friends and family, changed my life for the better and has been an integral part of my testimony.
I believe the Lord knew what he was doing when He made me. I want to encourage others, especially Christians, struggling with anxiety and depression. I’ve wrestled through the tough questions and doubts. It’s not some terminal diagnosis, and it’s certainly not anything to be ashamed of.
If nothing else, I want people to know that I am living proof that you can have a strong, grounded faith in God and still have anxiety. You can rely on the joy of the Lord to be your joy, but still be depressed.
You’re Not Alone
I got to start over at a university that was as welcoming as it was fun. I got to meet precious people, including my husband, who now fully knows my heart and loves me anyway. My family is incredible and loves me through every season.
Since college, I landed an amazing job in ministry. I continue to go to counseling to learn more about myself and how to deal with big feelings and overwhelming situations. I’m even pursuing my Masters in Clinical Mental Health to become a licensed professional counselor – all because of the kindness and empathy I’ve been shown from counselors over the years. I’m grateful for this journey and for everything I’ve learned along the way.
Life is good. God is good.
If there’s one thing I would encourage with if you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or just ongoing stress … please know that you’re not alone. Help is available. There is hope. And God is with you.
“For I am the LORD your God
who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear; I will help you.”