For me, it was summer camp. This was the place where my struggle with anxiety began, around the age of ten. Growing up, I quickly learned that anyone who hasn’t experienced the nauseous, dizzying, shaky throes of anxiety will have a hard time understanding these reactions and what it even means to have “anxiety.” My experiences were more than just the stress of school or worrying about the future, they were more like a feeling of terror that would wash over me, sometimes leading to full-blown panic attacks. I have also learned that there are many of us who have experienced this, whether it’s often or just once.
Since this began for me at a young age, there have been different things over time that I have found particularly anxiety provoking. They range from social anxiety, to being away from home, to hot weather, to getting sick. Believe me, I know how silly some of it may sound, which is where a lot of the shame around anxiety can come in. Despite their seeming triviality, these types of things have at certain times caused a real and consuming fear in me. They’ve forced me to learn the hard lesson of knowing when it was good to push myself and when it was too much for my own health.
One of the most difficult times in my life was in my first year of university. I was living a few hours from home, which was the farthest I had before, and I suddenly found myself being swallowed up in a mega school that was full of unknowns. Sliding down a slippery slope, I was constantly anxious, unable to sleep at night, and shutting myself away in my single dorm room just to try and cope. I remember having to coach myself through going to class each day, a feat that was overwhelming and exhausting. This battle began to snowball as I started to question whether or not I could stay in school, and if I didn’t, then fear ensued of what I would do with my life. Yet I knew going to this school was something I didn’t want to give up, and believed that God had placed me there for a reason.
The Bible study group that I was apart of (which was run by that same summer camp, where I had become a Christian, and went on to work at for many summers) soon became a major support system for me, and with the help of my parents and professional counseling, the dark cloud slowly started to lift off me. Verses such as Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” quickly became words that I clung to. I began to grow in confidence in my own ability to deal with my anxiety psychologically, but was also brought into a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty and trustworthiness in my life.
Now, a few years later, I find myself living across the country and going to graduate school! The unlikelihood of this happening still makes me laugh, as well as others who know me from home, and is a testament to the power of our God. There is no other explanation for how I am able to live and have my life here. Not to say that anxiety is completely in my past, I definitely still do have days, even weeks, where I feel weak and disheartened, and am still seeing a counselor. Yet, in moving here I felt like the Lord had promised me that ‘He would take care of me.’ And this care has been an overarching and unyielding experience of my time here. In moments of darkness, His deep love has abided with me. I have felt both immediate comfort in my anxiety from the Holy Spirit, and also the slow, gentle act of Him removing burdens from my shoulders. If anything, these times of weakness have created space for God to act, to feel the need to depend on Him, and for that I am grateful. We love a God who is with us and for us, and yearns to be our help. Remembering how far He has brought me, and feeling His imminence with me continues to renew my hope for the future.
I pray that if you have had similar experiences, your anxiety and fears will also be replaced by the hope of the Lord, who is our “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).