I suffer from mental illnesses. I can't tell you how long it took for me to not be ashamed or embarrassed by that phrase. Last April, I was officially diagnosed with depression and three forms of anxiety: general, panic, and separation. For years I was brushing it off because I was afraid of it. I was afraid of people only seeing as my anxiety and I was afraid to face the reality of it all. I have had people in my life tell me "everyone gets anxious," "it's just anxiety you could have worse things," and "it will go away." I didn't tell may people about these constant anxious thoughts in fear of hearing that again. I downplayed the anxiety that seemed to never go away from middle school and on. I made those thoughts normal in my head and lost countless nights of sleep and cried more tears than needed. I want to share part of my story to show that anxiety isn't "just" anxiety. It is so real and hard to see from the outside but is clear as day on the inside.
The end of junior year was extremely difficult as I had to navigate my parents' messy divorce while having teachers ask me what I want to do with my life after high school. That is when the anxiety really took control over me. I felt too overwhelmed to do anything. I fell behind in school and failed classes, on the days I didn't go to school I slept for 12+ hours a night and took naps throughout the day, and I pulled back from my friend groups. I tried therapy but was too afraid to say anything I was really feeling. My therapist left for maternity leave three appointments in, so I didn't even try to wait or find a new one. I just stopped going.
I was a mess but the only thing that kept me going was the community I have been so blessed by at my church. I had so much support from many people in my community and without that, I don't know what would have happened next. This time in my life is one of the biggest reasons why community is a big part of my testimony. I had friends helping me in my classes, people picking me up just to get me out of the house, and my friends instantly noticing that I was pulling away and didn't let that happen. The anxiety and depression felt more real in that time than I ever imagined it could. It felt heavy and I was tired but I didn't carry it alone.
Fast forward to a year ago, when I finally went to the doctor.
I was having sleepless nights and felt anxious constantly with no reason to be anxious.
I was having more panic attacks than I was previously and I felt the shame rising up. I felt anxious about having these thoughts again. I only shared this with a few people who know me almost better than I know myself because I did not want to tell anyone else who didn't much about me what was going on. Last April we had a message on anxiety at my church and it honestly made me nervous. I felt like my anxiety could be seen from a mile away and that was the last thing I wanted. I sat in the service and during the message I was just straight forward with God and asked Him, "OK, I hear this, so what do you want me to do with it?" I felt a nudge to tell someone and instantly shot that down. I was not about to share it all with someone who doesn't know much about me. The more I said no, the stronger the nudge got. So I did it, but I wasn't excited about it at all. I shared with someone I knew but who didn't know much about me. He encouraged me to see a doctor, which was something I never wanted to do. But he said he was going to check in with me and I have a fear of disappointing people so I made the appointment. The night before my appointment I had a big panic attack. I was so nervous for my appointment that I just lost it. In the midst of it, I literally cried out to the Lord begging Him to calm me and help me rest. Instantly, I started breathing normally and felt a strong peace. It was almost unbelievable how fast the Lord worked.
That's when I knew that going to the clinic will be OK and I'll be OK.
Now here we are a year later, in a global pandemic. No one would have ever known we would experience this in our lifetime. When this all started I had severe anxiety over not being with people and being by myself. This was an anxiety I never felt before because I couldn't go and hug the people closest to me and couldn't just sit with them and spend time together. One thing that I will always be thankful for is the walks I have gone in with people during this time. Something as simple as a 30-minute walk completely uplifted my spirits and really helped me through the first month of all this. Now I am writing this in a much healthier and hopeful mindset because of the Lord walking with me. Daily I have to surrender the day to Him and let Him into all of the anxious thoughts otherwise I start to spiral. The Lord has gotten me this far and I know He will see me through this all and beyond.
Anxiety, depression, any form of mental health look and feel different in everyone. It isn't something that if one person experiences it one way that the person to their right or left experiences it then same. I wish I didn't wait until last April to finally do something about it and not only go see a doctor but begin sharing my experiences with it more. The more I share about it, the more it helps me see that it isn't something I should be ashamed of. That doesn't mean that sharing it will be easy (trust me, it is still hard every time) it means that you're growing and slowly taking control back from it.
The month of May holds a special place in my heart as I read people's stories of not only redemption but trials.
One thing that is true for me is that I am better at sharing in moments of victory than moments of defeat. I don't have it together all the time. I am sitting here at 1:00 in the morning, tears falling down my face, writing this all down, and praying for those who see other people's stories of victory and compare it to theirs and feel ashamed for not feeling like they can write a post like that. Every story is a testimony of victory because we are breaking the stigma around mental health.
My advice to anyone who feels stuck or hopeless is to let people in.
We aren't designed to walk through this life alone. I wouldn't be where I am today without the constant support and encouragement from the people around me. The people who love you want to be there, which I know that saying you'll tell someone is easier said than done. Trust me, it is still some days so hard for me to share how I am really feeling. We can't do it on our own. I am here for anyone who needs someone to listen, pray, and encourage them.