I am over you, but I will never stop fighting.
My battle with you began my freshman year of college. Dizzy spells began my first semester away from home. A tinge of panic would occur, and I would immediately feel as if I were going to pass out. I would grab tightly to the nearest object to me, and continue to panic that if I would pass out, I would “make a scene.”
I remember the first “dizzy spell” I experienced. It was the day you began to show that ugly face of yours. I was sitting in one of the floor seats at chapel. I was surrounded by about 1,000 other college students. I felt the floor begin to move beneath my feet. I felt as if there was not nearly enough air in the room for me to breathe. I felt as though the walls might collapse around me. “Stop it, Jess. Get it together,” I thought. “If you pass out and make a scene, everyone will be watching you. Everyone will be worried. Everyone will talk about you. Plus, who passes out during chapel? That’s so lame.” In my mind, I tried to recall what I ate for breakfast. I had dealt with low blood sugar levels in the past, so I tried to dismiss it with the fact that maybe I just did not eat enough for breakfast. But I ate a large breakfast that morning. I ate biscuits and gravy and fruit and juice. My blood sugar had to be fine. Just in case, I shoved a piece of gum in my mouth to intake sugar. I chugged water because I thought I might be dehydrated. My muscles tensed in fear that I may “make a scene.” My breathing slowed. I gasped for air. And this was the beginning of you invading my life.
You came, and you were not wanting to leave. I took a trip to the hospital because of you that weekend. The doctors dismissed it as vertigo, but I was plagued with worry that it was so much more. The next week I visited two doctors, and they too dismissed it as a severe episode of vertigo. I found myself four hours away from home in a state of frustration, confusion, stress and intense worry.
As you progressively wrecked my life, I became restless. My symptoms worsened. I struggled to fall asleep each evening because I was taunted by worry. I worried about my family. I worried about my school performance. I worried about my relationship. I worried about my future. I worried about inadequacy. Eventually, I began to worry about the amount of worry that consumed my life. Not only was I drowning with worry, but I also began forgetting details, large and small. I struggled to remember names of familiar faces and friends nearest to me. At one point, I was working three calendars at once in order to remember important events, my work schedule and homework deadlines.
I could not handle day-to-day living without feeling like an induced state of panic would send me into a spin and my world would then crumble. I found myself emotionally, physically and spiritually drained. My prayers for healing felt as if they were bouncing off the ceiling and coming right back, only to knock me down. I no longer attended church because the stimulation, noise and nerves continued to cause an overwhelming sense of dizziness, a fast heart beat and fear that if these feelings worsened, I would have to make a scene. I felt too small for this all-powerful, healing God. One day, I asked myself, “Am I mentally ill?” I began to worry that something was severely wrong with me.
Seven months had passed since my last doctor visit, and I was referred to a local Ear, Nose and Throat doctor because there was speculation that something in my ears was causing imbalance. I would finally receive treatment for vestibular migraines with a prescription that is typically used for epilepsy patients. Worry continued to plague me that something was wrong with me for not being able to figure out where these “migraines” were coming from. But you did not relent.
Summer came as a relief. I imagined that you would dissipate as the stress of the school year did, but you did the exact opposite. You attacked every ounce of my being. And you were no longer an illusion. I began to recognize you as I was having my first, full-fledged panic attack. I found myself explaining my 40-hour-work-week, ridiculously tough summer classes and unstable emotional situation to a close friend, and I was gasping for air, I felt as if my feet would give out beneath me. My world was spinning. And it was in that moment that I realized that I was not okay. Not only did I realize that I was not okay, but I understood that it was okay to not be okay.
I could no longer deny the fact that I was dealing with you: an anxiety disorder.
A mental illness.
And I was preparing to fight you.
I knew this would not be an easy battle. I knew that I would have to make large changes to my lifestyle to get back to “normal” health. So I started to prioritize and strive toward balance. Through the guiding of the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ, I began to take steps toward healing. I checked myself into a local church counseling center because I recognized that I could not do it on my own. It was a humbling realization that I could not overcome something so powerful at my own will. I needed something greater.
A lifestyle of balance and rest helped me to do just that. The first aspect that needed balance was my walk with Christ. I desired to fix it and be better and then bring it to Him, but He wanted me in my mess. As I was powerless over this illness, He was powerful. This balance came through a disciplined desire to spend time in His presence. It came through early bedtime apart from technology and early mornings in His Word. It came through prayers begging for peace that transcends all understanding, and oh, He gave it.
Rest was heavy on my soul. I needed stillness in the midst of chaos. I committed to the habit of doing at least 20 minutes of something alone each day that I enjoyed. I began running the anxiety away with my sweet roommate. I found myself digging into books for my own leisure. I played piano, journaled and slept a lot. I sought out relationships with people who would love me, pray for me and simply be there.
Slowly but surely, the dizziness, fear and worry began to dissipate. I am making this battle sound a heck of a lot easier than it actually has been, because it has been a process. I cannot take credit for the healing that has happened. I have been challenged by multiple counselors to keep pursuing healing and a healthy lifestyle. I have been loved by a Heavenly Father, encouraged by sweet friends who He put in my life, and guided by His Spirit living inside of me to battle the illness that also lived inside of me. God has been faithful to teach me that if He is good in the good times, He is just as good in the bad ones.
As a psychology student, I am realizing that mental illness is a taboo thing within the church. Those who suffer from mental illness often face even further challenge from the church. It is not always as easy as “Cast your cares upon Him because He cares for you,” because even when you do that, sometimes prayers feel as if they bounce off the ceiling, hit you in the head and throw you back down onto the ground. Church, at large, we are failing at coming alongside those who fight this battle. We dismiss it and tell people “Just pray.” This is NOT me undermining the power of the Cross, prayer and the Holy Spirit. Christ won this battle before I even began fighting it, I know this full well. This is me saying that rather than dismissing it as “Pray it away,” then changing the subject, we should be willing to sit in the mess with the person, our brothers and sisters who are fighting it. Jesus sat in the mess on the cross for us 2,000 years ago. Let us not fail to sit in the mess for other brothers and sisters today. Let us not fail to be encouragers, lovers and shoulders to cry on with arms wide open. Jesus opened his arms for us 2,000 years ago. Church, let’s do that today. Let us talk about it. Let us listen. Let us love.
I have not defeated this battle with anxiety. God is, and continues to be, defeating it. I still have days where I cannot stand in church during worship because the stimulation might be too much. I have days where I cannot overdose on caffeine like your typical college student because caffeine does bad things to the person who battles any sort of anxiety disorder. I have days when class work piles up, I become overwhelmed and I find myself in a daze. Even on the days that I am fighting off worry about being worried, God’s presence in me is greater than the presence of this illness in me. I am not my anxiety, I am a child of God. I do not “have anxiety.” I will not be labeled as a “sufferer of anxiety.” I will be labeled as a fighter, not because I have the power to fight, but because Jesus Christ does and He lives within me.
Anxiety, please know that you are being fought by Someone so much greater. You are no longer the king in my life. Someday, you will be completely defeated. When I am in my Heavenly home, you will have no place in my life. I am over you. I will still fight you. God will be glorified because of you. The Spirit of God will never stop fighting for me.
A Daughter of the One True King