I have battled OCD and General Anxiety Disorder for the majority of my life. I am well aware that anxiety is a very common disorder in the world today, yet it is often not talked about enough, especially in Christian circles. You’re often hit with the “just pray about it” or “the Bible says not to be anxious” response. While not intentionally harmful, these statements create a stigma within Christian circles and make it feel unsafe to open up for fear of being dismissed as overreacting or “not faithful enough.” My favorite thing about the CWCS community is how honest and real everyone is, yet how at the same time Jesus is at the center of it all. With my story, I hope to contribute to this culture. So here it goes …
I grew up in a Christian home, and I can remember talking to Jesus from a very young age. There actually isn’t a time I can remember when I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. My parents raised me in a way that made me aware of the fact that faith was a relationship between Christ and I. Therefore, I was lucky enough to never feel pressured or like I was in a toxic, legalistic church environment, something I know many young Christians experience. While I would say my faith upbringing was healthy, I still had my fair share of struggles.
From as young as 8 years old, I started to develop irrational phobias. These phobias controlled my everyday life. They even resulted in physical illness a couple of times. Without going into too much detail, when I was 9 years old I saw something at Disneyland that triggered one of my phobias. That night, I threw up multiple times and had to stay in the hotel room for the rest of the trip. Situations like this happened quite often, and I had to go to counseling at the young age of 10. While I didn’t get any diagnoses at this point, I did work through some exposure therapy, which helped with the phobias. In addition to this, I displayed many OCD tendencies at this age that were linked to my phobias. Looking back, the phobias I had and compulsions they caused were very clearly OCD. But for whatever reason, I didn’t get diagnosed until later in life.
Fast forward to high school. I can remember having my first intrusive thoughts the summer before freshman year. Intrusive thoughts are basically what they sound like – thoughts that pop into your head that you feel like you can’t control and usually cause distress. They make you second guess yourself and everything you know about yourself. When I began having these thoughts, I started reading the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) out loud. This was always comforting to me as I know the words of Scripture have power. I still read that passage out loud today when I am struggling, and it always calms my mind. However, as many of you know, sometimes the things we hope will be a quick fix aren’t.
During my junior year of high school, I made a series of decisions that led me into a deep depression. I was lucky enough to have a supportive and loving family at this time. There are a lot of things about this two year period that I have no memory of. All I remember is that I was severely suicidal, was failing classes, and came home after school and lay in bed all day. I was a shell of my former self, and I actually think a lot of this depressive episode was driven by undiagnosed anxiety. Therapy became a regular occurrence for me, and things started to get better. I completely attribute it to Jesus that I’m still alive today. While therapy, medication, and support of family and friends were very uplifting, it was ultimately the healing power of Jesus that pulled me out of my suicidal state. It is hard to put into words how intense and dark this period of my life was, and I think that’s why my mind has blocked a lot of it out – emotional trauma.
It was the second semester of my senior year of high school that I was diagnosed with OCD and General Anxiety Disorder. I began having intrusive thoughts again, and they were so bad that my parents thought I needed to go back to therapy. I began seeing a Christian counselor three times a week. It was a huge blessing because she took mental health and mental illnesses seriously and saw things through a medical eye, but also with a Christian perspective and fully understood the healing power of Jesus. This is a combination that I feel like can be difficult to find in a counselor. During my counseling sessions, I worked a lot on exposure therapy, which is basically purposefully exposing myself to the things that triggered my OCD and intrusive thoughts so that, over time, they wouldn’t have the same effect on me. I also worked on a lot of mental exercises and tactics that I could use when it felt like my OCD was taking control. This helped immensely. Throughout college, while I still struggled with OCD and anxiety, I felt like I had control over it and could take ownership instead of it taking ownership of me. Giving this struggle to Jesus was at the core of my success in overcoming it.
College was great. While I definitely still struggled, I knew all the techniques I needed to use when I was feeling anxious. However, I failed to realize that my anxiety disorder was very deeply rooted. This is something that I came to terms with when I started having severe panic attacks.
It all started my senior year of college. I began to become extremely anxious about the future, and it affected me physically. I was planning on taking a gap year to do a nearly year-long international missions trip, and I remember getting a variety of responses – positive and negative. I vividly remember, after the most negative response I got, my anxiety got so bad that I was barely able to eat for a week. My appetite was completely gone and I was constantly second guessing everything I was about to do. I had never experienced anxiety affecting me physically like that before, and wasn’t really sure why I was unable to eat. However, this passed, and I kept giving it to Jesus. The appetite problem was resolved, and I left for my trip the summer after I graduated college.
This trip was a pivotal experience for me. It was incredible and I made lifelong friendships and had once-in-a-lifetime experiences. My eyes were also opened to some of the negative sides of missions, and I am still not sure how I feel about them after going. That’s not the point though, the point is how this was pivotal for me.
In month six of my trip, I became extremely sick. Not sick to my stomach, and not from some mosquito-transmitted illness. My body started to act like it never had before. I stopped being able to sleep. I had never struggled with insomnia before, but no matter how tired I was, I was unable to sleep. Soon after this started, I began having chest pains and heart palpitations almost 24/7. It’s hard to describe what this feels like, but for me it was almost like I could feel my heartbeat radiating throughout my entire body and adrenaline was always surging around in my chest. It was scary and I ended up going to the hospital. Throughout this time, I was sitting with God for hours on end, journaling and listening and talking to Him. Through this time with Him, one thing became very clear: I was supposed to go home early.
I didn’t want to go home. But I knew that was what God was telling me to do. And this was when I experienced some of the most toxic responses from fellow Christ followers that I ever had – and I understood why so many people felt unsafe talking about their mental health in Christian circles.
I was told that I wasn’t able to sleep because God didn’t want me to and that I should utilize my sleepless nights to read my Bible.
I was shamed into believing I was weak and giving up. I was told to “toughen up.”
I was told that if I would just pray more it would go away, and that I must not have been giving it to God. (Mind you, I had been spending hours a day with God).
When I finally listened to what God was telling me and what I knew was right, I was told “are you sure that’s from God?” And was gaslit into second guessing my intuition and what I knew I had to do.
I felt like a lot of the people on my trip didn’t believe that anything was wrong or that anything I was saying was actually happening.
I ended up going home, and it WAS the right decision. When I got home, I went to a lot of doctors, including a cardiologist. I wore a heart monitor for a week, got an echocardiogram, and everything in between. My sleep eventually got better, and I thought things were looking up. When the doctor finally told me what was wrong, I was frustrated to find out all of those symptoms had come from severe anxiety. Of course I was happy nothing was wrong with my heart. But it made me really get thinking and feel like something was wrong with me. It was almost as if when I finally felt as if I had control of anxiety in my head, it came out in my body instead. This discovery has led to a long path of healing that I am still on today.
I still get heart palpitations almost every day. I still get chest pains too. And I still struggle with talking about it because of the times in my past that it has been minimized. I do everything I can to fight it. I journal, exercise, and have even started drinking decaf coffee. I have come to terms with the fact that this anxiety is something that is very deeply rooted, and I truly do believe Jesus can set me free from it. I pray for that every day.
I still struggle with intrusive, spiraling OCD thoughts as well. While I am able to recognize them for what they are, it is still very frustrating. This is another thing I have had to learn to give to Jesus, because these thoughts are all lies. In Jesus comes truth, and He has power over lies.
My purpose in sharing this is to hopefully help open up more of a conversation in the Christian community about mental health and mental illness, because I so often believe that it is stigmatized and Christians in certain circles are shamed and their struggles are diminished, even if that is not the intention of the people doing it. I feel as if many Christians who don’t understand mental struggles think those of us who do just “haven’t surrendered it” or “don’t have enough faith.” This is completely false. I, along with the majority of other Christians who struggle with these illnesses, give it to the Lord every day. Having a mental struggle doesn’t signify lack of faith. And the Lord never promised we wouldn’t have struggles in this world.
I 100% believe in miraculous healing. I believe that you can pray and be healed completely. I also believe that sometimes you can pray and that doesn’t happen, no matter how hard you pray or how much you surrender. I don’t fully understand how the Lord works and why he miraculously heals some and not others, and I don’t think anyone else should pretend to either.
Circling back, I believe we as Christians need to do a better job in supporting our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with mental illness, whether we understand what they’re going through or not. Whether we can see it or not. We are supposed to be a body that makes its members feel safe to walk through their struggles openly with Christ at the center. And I have firsthand experience of how Christian communities can fail and be dismissive about these things. If we want to introduce Christ to others, we have to be as much like Him as humanly possible. And that sometimes means meeting people where they are and walking alongside them as they seek healing.
I truly believe Jesus will heal me from anxiety, whether it be in this life or the next. I keep my eyes on Him when I am having bad days, and I do everything I can to be healthy. I have found a community of close friends who I can be completely honest with about panic attacks, anxiety, and OCD. Sometimes I still have bad days though, and that is okay. I have learned to give this to Christ, and trust Him through it all. Through this I have found peace.