I Kept My Anxiety a Secret Because I Was Ashamed
Written by Grace Lim, Australia
Living with anxiety feels like living with this giant called “fear”, shadowing me everywhere I go. I had little confidence in doing new things and meeting new people. I had a lot of battles of the mind which could be quite negative, chaotic, and exhausting.
Sleeping was an issue most nights. I found it hard to fall asleep and when I did, I would wake up in the middle of the night with a troubled mind. This was especially true when I needed to wake up early for work or when I was triggered by something at work.
As a retail pharmacist, my work can be highly demanding and stressful, especially when dealing with difficult customers.
Whenever things get tense, my heart rate goes up dramatically, I feel nauseous and find it hard to breathe. I want to run away and hide from the situation. Once, a customer screamed at me, and it brought on a panic attack. I broke out in cold sweat, had blurred vision, palpitations, felt a shooting pain through my back, and had difficulty breathing.
How it all began
I first encountered anxiety when I was a pharmacy intern at the age of 22. I passed my exams and thought everything was all right.
But as I was waiting for my pharmacist registration to be approved, my boss kept pressuring me about my pharmacist registration as there was a shortage of pharmacists at work, though there was nothing I could do to speed up the registration process.
I could not handle the stress and my mind was in a constant state of worry. I did not have energy to do anything and I was always fearful about going to work, not realising those were the warning signs of anxiety and depression.
The stress from my boss about my pharmacist registration (which was eventually approved after some time), was so overwhelming for me that at one point I thought of ending my life. I remember sitting in my room, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just end this sadness?”
I started drinking alcohol, and was about to take some sleeping tablets, when I heard a voice going, “What are you doing?” I remember vividly how the Holy Spirit touched me at that moment, embracing me and comforting me, and it was then the veil on my eyes were opened.
I realised suicide was not the answer. But soon after this realisation, I felt a mixture of shame, guilt, and self-condemnation. All sorts of questions popped in my head, “How can a Christian like me be so depressed and worried? Have I not prayed enough? What is wrong with me?” and so on.
I thought of resigning from my ministry as a worship leader, as I felt unworthy and also condemned because of my suicidal thoughts.
However, I kept it all a secret as I was feeling ashamed about it. I could not talk to anyone at church, as I believed that a Christian is not supposed to have mental health issues. And I could not reach out to my non-believer friends, as I felt like I would bring shame to my faith.
With no one to confide in or turn to, I tried coping on my own. I would go for walks, binge on comfort food, or talk to friends—anything to distract me from my anxiety. On some days, I’d break down and cry in my room. I would listen to worship songs and pray, even though most of the time, all I could say was, “Jesus I need you” or “God help me”. There were times when I felt God was silent and I was not sure if He was still listening to my prayers. Other times, He showed Himself in ways that I did not expect, for instance, through a rainbow, a message from a long lost friend, or even just a sudden embrace of His presence. Through it all, I still believe He shows up to whoever seeks Him even though it might not be in the timing and way we want Him to show up.
How I decided to seek help
I struggled on by myself for a few years—listening to podcasts or preachings on anxiety and depression—before I decided to talk to a few friends about it. I considered talking to a professional counsellor but I did not know where to start. Also, the thoughts of opening up to a stranger scared me.
It was not easy to seek help at the start, since my friends did not know much about mental health issues. Some said that I was too sensitive, followed my feelings too much, and that I should shake off the negative thoughts. Others said that I needed to surrender to God more, to pray more, and to simply have more faith—then I would not be so anxious. However, their advice added more confusion and questions in my mind, as I had already been doing all of that.
The journey of healing
I was pretty exhausted (physically and emotionally) from the anxious and depressive thoughts I had at that time. I had bought into the lies that I was not loved, that I was a failure, and that nothing good was going to happen in my life. So at one point, by the grace of God, I said, “enough is enough”. I confessed that I had depression and anxiety, and asked God to shed light into my darkness and help me. The moment I admitted that I was weak and needed help was my turning point.
I was determined to do whatever God asked me to do so that I could start on the journey of healing. One of the ways was to involve godly people in my life and be held accountable in my healing journey. This involved me reaching out to my mentor, cell group members, and a counsellor.
I had to fight my fears and thoughts in seeking help, such as, “Is it a sign of my lack of faith?”, and people judging me for being a Christian with mental health challenges.
Also, it can be a tough and terrifying process to find the right counsellor. Someone once said, “Expect healing to be messy, it is not linear, and it takes time, but just as physical healing takes time and hurts sometimes, it’s worth it.”
And yet, the best support I received throughout my journey was the counselling sessions with a friend who was majoring in psychology. We discussed God’s word and worked through a program called Empower by Dr. Robi Sonderegger, whose teachings are based on Christian values.
Those sessions taught me to be more mindful with my thoughts and to keep holding on to God’s words like never before. I held on to 2 Corinthians 10:5, of holding every thought captive and making them obedient to Christ. I have post-it notes with Bible verses around my room so that I can always read them. Whenever I have a negative thought, I would try to preach God’s Word to myself. And whenever I felt condemned, I would remind myself that there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1).
Throughout my journey, I wondered why these things happened to me and when healing would ever come.
I can see now how He has been working in me through all of the past experiences to build me up to this moment. It has taught me more about God’s character, that His sovereignty and goodness are the foundations to go through my current struggles. Without these revelations, I don’t think I can reconcile my faith in Christ when life gets challenging. I now know that He is good in my life, even though circumstances seem to be out of control.
I believe these challenges are to press and prune me. Similar to how grapes are pressed so that they can produce wine, I believe God is processing every impurity (my insecurity and self-pity) in me until I’m pure and clean. In turn, it has made me more compassionate and able to empathise with others, especially Christians, who are going through their own mental health struggles. As I share my own story with them, they open up to me as well.
It’s definitely by God’s grace that I have started finding healing. Being able to write this reflection to tell you some of my experiences is one of the forms of healing. I experience fewer panic attacks now, and I can manage my anxiety better compared to where I was a year ago. But, I’m definitely still learning.
My prayer is by sharing my story, it can be an encouragement to other Christians to talk about their mental health issues, to seek help, and to continue to find healing in Christ.
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