Anxiety was no stranger to me when I moved overseas eight years ago.
I had struggled with anxiety back during my childhood and while I went through seasons where it faded into the background, it always seemed to be there. Like a pesky leak, anxiety had found its way into every crevice of my being, impacting my physical health, my spiritual walk, and even my relationships. Before I even got on a plane to China, I was nervous that I wasn’t resilient enough to weather the storms of overseas life. If something was going to prevent me from finishing my first year, it was definitely going to be my anxiety.
I ended up surprising myself when I made it through that first year, but it was still a struggle. As I walked through unhealthy team dynamics, I didn’t feel I could trust my mental health struggles with anyone. I felt isolated and lonely. There were nights I lay awake with hot tears streaming down my face, wrestling with God. I questioned his faithfulness and his love for me.
I reached a point where I knew that I needed to ask for help. One summer, I got connected with a fantastic Christian counselor and I began to share with her my mental health struggles, my issues in China, and what had triggered my anxiety over the years. She helped me realize that even “small” traumatic events can leave a lasting impact on a person’s mental wellbeing. As we began to unpack events in my life that I had not healed from, she brought up using EMDR therapy with me. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that involves reprocessing painful and traumatic events from the past so that they no longer cause distressing psychological symptoms. Initially, I was quite skeptical of this approach, but in the end, it was one of the tools that helped me the most with my anxiety.
A couple years after my first sessions with my counselor, I hit a wall. The stress from my job was overwhelming, I had lost a loved one, and I was also experiencing some big relational changes in my personal life. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing panic attacks on a weekly basis and it was beginning to impact my physical health. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and I felt like my nervous systems was in hyperdrive. The attacks felt debilitating and when I wasn’t experiencing one, I was anxious about the next time I would.
I went home for a visit during that year and met with my counselor again; we spent more time doing EMDR therapy and while it did help, it was a slow process. I returned to China with fewer panic attacks, but my physical health had suffered from the constant stress and anxiety I’d been under for months. Shortly after, I received a diagnosis related to my digestive system that required me to make big modifications to my diet and lifestyle. I began having monthly online appointments with a nutritionist back in the States and we worked to create a healthier routine for me when it came to food. As I began to be more mindful of what I ate and how I moved my body, I slowly noticed a change with my both my physical and mental health. It wasn’t a quick fix that miraculously happened overnight, but a slow and steady marathon.
When I cried out to God to remove my anxiety, I didn’t expect that he would use a Christian counselor, EMDR therapy, and even my nutritionist to bring healing into my life. For a long time, I had viewed anxiety as a singular issue with a singular cause. But over the years, God has reshaped my perspective on mental health and I have come to realize that it can be a multifaceted issue that requires a multifaceted approach. He slowly peeled back layers, showing the root causes behind my anxiety. He exposed lies and half-truths that I had believed for far too long. As he did that, he brought support and encouragement to me physically, spiritually, relationally, and mentally. I came out of that dark valley trusting him in a way I had never experienced before.
If I could go back and speak to the woman I was 8 years ago, I would tell her she’s not alone. I’d tell her that there are so many women who struggle the same way she does. I’d let her know she’s not weak or less of a Christian for battling anxiety on a daily basis. I’d encourage her that asking for help is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. And I’d let her know that despite how isolated she feels, Christ will never leave her side.
What people or tools has God brought into your life as part of a journey toward health? How does he remind you that you aren’t alone?
Please check out our Resource Page for organizations and tools for your journey. You are not alone.