Let me preface this post by clarifying a few things. I’m not seeking validation. I’m not seeking attention. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t claim to know the answer to everyone’s struggles. These are my experiences, and the reason why I’ve never done more than briefly reference my struggles is that, until recently, I didn’t think it was anyone else’s business but mine. But given recent events and the growing conversations, I figured now is the time to be a part of the conversation.
While mental illness has always been a hot button topic, it still continues to be stigmatized and a social taboo. I went back and forth in my brain how I can keep the conversation going since I, myself, suffer from anxiety. I asked myself time and again if I was in any place to talk about my own struggles, since they pale in comparison to those who suffer from it far more severely than I do. I’ve gone back and forth in my head asking myself whether or not my own experiences were enough to validate me speaking on mental illness. But I figured that as long as I’m honest, my experiences will be valid, and will hopefully resonate with anyone else going through similar things.
For as long as I could remember, I’ve quietly lived with anxiety. I would have bouts of melancholy even though present circumstances were fine, and there would be thunderstorms inside my head even though it was sunny outside. Though these feelings would come around every now and again, with enough counseling and introspection, I’d be okay to function.
While this past year has been an immense growing experience for me, there’s no denying how much of an emotional roller coaster it was. To give a little back story, this time last year, I was on the verge of putting my degree on hold, inches away from moving back to Sacramento, and crippled from being unaware of what was going to happen next. All of this would be easily solved if I found a second job to supplement my present income so that I could afford to pay for my final year of school, and thus be able to remain in Southern California. Luckily, a few weeks into August of 2016, I found a second part time job as a Marketing Assistant. I thought that things were finally coming together. My anxieties about having to uproot my life here and backtrack to Sacramento, putting my degree on hold, and depleting my bank account would finally be done. But I soon realized that this second job simply marked the beginning of a downhill spiral into corners of my consciousness I didn’t know could be so dark.
I’ve always been told that I carry myself with a certain confidence that just said, “I’m gonna do me and eff anyone who gets in the way.” But the truth is that I’ve always felt like I constantly have to keep proving myself and my worth to people. I saw an extreme side of this characteristic when I began working that second job. I wanted so bad to prove my worthiness of being in the position I was in. I was a math major pursuing a career in marketing and graphic design. On paper I was so unqualified for my job position, but I felt in my core that I was good enough because I wanted it so bad. But everyday I came into work, a piece of that drive was chipped away. My work was met with the least constructive criticism. I was told multiple times that I was falling short of expectations. I was treated like an outsider, a gold brick, and felt like I was terribly out of place. But the people-pleasing side of me kept pushing back to prove to my boss and my coworkers that I was worth investing in. But eventually, even the strongest person stops pushing and gives up.
I began to believe that I wasn’t good enough for the thing I was working hard to attain. It seemed like no matter how fast or far I would run towards my goal, it would be taken away from me. My passion turned into an obligation, and soon I began to question every inch of myself and what I would be good for when (if) I got my degree. On top of this, I had other commitments to attend to: school, ministry, and keeping up with my social circles. Eventually, it became cumbersome to keep getting up every morning, only to keep being met with hopelessness and disappointment. I would have silent panic attacks at my desk and mental breakdowns on the drive home from work. I had asked myself ad nauseam what the point of bothering trying everyday was. The answer I kept coming back to: there was no point.
I don’t want to say that I was ever suicidal, but I’ve thought about death far too often this past year than I would have liked. When I drove to and from school and work everyday, I would create “what if” scenarios in my head that would eventually lead to my demise. It would only take one jerk of the steering wheel to escape the misery I was drowning in. No longer would I feel lost and useless, and I’d finally stop disappointing people. I was bound so tightly by obligations left and right, and shackled down by my anxiety, that the only way out I could come up with was death. Having now come out from under all of that, it’s heart breaking to know that I ever got to such a low point.
To those that are going through similar things, I urge you to believe that there’s hope. I know there’s hope because I found it. Amidst all of this, I realized that I had forgotten what the voice of God sounds like. I was focusing so much inwardly on myself, that I forgot how to focus upwardly to Jesus. I was looking at my failures and downfalls when I should’ve been looking at the cross. I thought that the only escape was my own demise before I realized that the real escape is God’s love. I was right when I felt like I wasn’t enough to solve my problems – that’s what the love of God is for. I may not be able to physically move mountains, but God’s love is strong enough to exhume me from death. I may fall short when it comes to satisfying some people’s unrealistic expectations, but God’s love is enough to overlook my sins and downfalls. I may not have the endurance to finish every race, but God’s love is long enough to last forever.
Anxiety always made sure I knew I wasn’t good enough and created drama and worry out of nothing. Anxiety made me seek acceptance and validation from people I didn’t need it from. Anxiety was that toxic friend that pushed me down and promised me they would never leave my side. Anxiety diverted my attention from God’s love time and time again. But once I finally saw and understood the love of the Lord, I no longer felt ashamed. His love brought me peace amidst my pain. His love turned my head away from my problems and towards the cross.
I’m not saying that I’m all better now – that’s not how mental illness works. I didn’t just pray one day and suddenly found myself in a field of flowers and rainbows. Anxiety is a daily battle for me and will always be a part of me. Anxiety is the cross that God gave me to bear, but anxiety will always be the path that will always lead me back to Him.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstance take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” -Ephesians 6: 13-18