When I was 12 years old my mom and dad sat me down at our kitchen table and explained to me that they loved me and they loved each other, but that they could no longer remain married. When my parents told me they were getting divorced, I had my first experience with anxiety. My mind started replaying every memory I had with my family, every fear I had felt, every moment that I did the wrong thing when I could have chosen the right choice so that my parents might not be hurt or upset. The thought that I could have done something to change the reality that they were getting divorced.
My mom and I moved in with my grandma while my dad stayed at the house I grew up in and I was trying my best to fall asleep on the couch in my grandmothers living room while I heard my mom crying in the next room. Suddenly it was like a brick landed on my chest and I couldn’t breathe, my mom ran into the living room and assumed I was having an asthma attack, so she rushed me back to my childhood home to get my inhaler. What she didn’t know was in the moment of being unable to catch my breath, my thoughts began repeating to me that my dad had died. I knew for sure that when we got to my house, we would find him and that would be my new reality. When we got there my dad came out of the garage just fine. My thoughts and fears were real and reasonable but they were not based within reality.
My battle with anxiety and depression at that time were only just beginning. I had no idea how I was going to cope with the emotions and fears I felt. It made me feel like a crazy outcast and there was no way I was going to tell anyone the thoughts that I had constantly running through my mind, especially not the people at the church my mom made me go to. I remember times when I would literally rock back and forth and repeat over and over again “I’m not crazy, I’m not crazy, I’m not crazy”, and I knew that none of the people that seemingly had life together would understand how that feels, to have to remind yourself of your sanity.
Before I started following Jesus, there was no sign of hope and no light that I could see as a way out of the darkness that I wore like a robe. Keeping my thoughts to myself led me deeper into depression and self harm with no way out, and I can remember the moment I made the decision to take my life because of it. It was in that moment, standing on the edge of a balcony and preparing myself to jump, that God met me; in my weakest, darkest, most vulnerable, messiest place. And I gave it all over to Him. I believe that there’s a real enemy that enjoys isolating us because when we feel alone, we’re easy to manipulate into darkness. I think he likes things to be easy because he’s not strong enough to handle things too difficult for him.
Over the past few years, I’ve had panic attacks, and I’ve had days when getting out my bed has been one of the hardest things to do. I’ve had days when I sit in my dark room and cry all day because things begin to no longer feel worth it. But I’ve had revelations of truth in the midst of those times, and I want to share them with you.
The first truth
I’ve learned that emotions, feelings, and fears are real and valid, but they’re not based within reality. With anxiety, you often have thoughts that seem reasonable, because they are. When I feel like everyone is annoyed with me and I’m not good enough and everyone would be happier if I wasn’t around, those are rational thoughts that could be true, but they aren’t reality.
I’ve learned comes from a thought I had while looking at this beautiful tree in one of our garden’s here in Townsville. We focus a lot of time looking at the branches that we can see, but what’s creating them? When I see my fear and sadness coming through I can’t help but think that there must be a root that’s being fed and watered in order to grow them. I had to come to terms with the first thing that created anxiety and depression within me and find out how to no longer feed into it.
I’ve learned that it’s always been my choice. Now I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist and I don’t know everything about how the mind works, but I do recognise that there are chemical deficiencies within the brain that creates a higher tendency into mental illness. I don’t want to disregard the reality of feelings and emotions, so I’ll say that I believe you don’t get a choice as to what emotions you feel, but you do get to choose how you react to those feelings and emotions.
I believe that we’re warriors and we’re in a battle with a battlefield that looks a little bit different. The weapons drawn against us are things that we can’t always see, but they’re very real, and you get to choose to fight or surrender. But I urge you, as just a young girl who’s still fighting against my emotions every single day, that choosing to fight is hard. It won’t take away your anxiety and depression over night but choosing to fight will change you’re entire life forever.
You’re strong and not alone. You’re worth every bit of joy and freedom that your King has already offered you.
Steph grew up in North Carolina and has joined us here on staff in June 2016. She works as part of our Kitchen crew, has lead an outreach team to Papua New Guinea on the Pacific Link, and she staffed this past July DTS! Steph is very thoughtful, funny, and she loves surprises! Latte’s and chicken quesadillas share a soft spot in her heart.