I have been dealing with anxiety and depression since about my sophomore year in high school. It began much earlier, but the full effects weren’t seen until then. In junior high I was involved in track and field, I was in the choir, and I played the baritone. In ninth grade, I dropped out of all three because I didn’t feel like I could handle them. During the next three years I isolated myself. I stayed at home a lot. I only went to school and church. Rarely did I visit with the few friends I had. My friends were few because I made few efforts to make any. During this time I came close to agoraphobia, which is the fear of leaving your house or being in open places.
At the worst times I would shake physically and throw up in the morning before school.
The first significant step toward recovery came when my high school guidance counselor called me to her office during my senior year. She asked me about my plans for after I graduated. I had none, other than to stay at home as much as I could. I broke down, cried, and became unresponsive. She realized there was a problem and strongly recommended counseling. I didn’t want to go at first, but she was persistent and I went. Right after I graduated I had no job and no plans to go to college. About the only thing I had was weekly counseling sessions. My therapist officially diagnosed me as having Generalized Anxiety Disorder and prescribed medication, which I still take today. Through my work with an outside therapist I was able to get a job at a local restaurant after about 3 months. One year after that, I applied to and was accepted at Messiah College.
Being at college has been huge for me!! I am especially glad that I chose to continue my counseling through the Engle center. During my first year, I went without counseling. However, I found myself still struggling. The same physical shakes and nausea which I experienced in high school began resurfacing. So I filled out a form during my sophomore year and began seeing a counselor at the Engle Center. I can honestly say that I would not be half as far as I am today without the guidance I have received. This semester I have become involved in the Acclamation Dance ministry, something I never would have thought possible only a few years ago. Those who knew me five years ago would be surprised to see me today. Those who know me today would be surprised to learn of my past. I am a very different person.
I once heard Joni Eareckson Tada talk about mental handicaps. She made a good point which I definitely agree with. It had to do with the different types of disabilities and how they are perceived by others. Those who have visible physical handicaps, such as a broken neck or birth defects, are often given low expectations. This is seen in the quick response of those who say “Can I help you with that, do you need help, oh you poor thing, etc.” On the other hand, those with invisible, mental handicaps, such as depression or anxiety disorders, are often given much higher expectations. This is seen in statements such as “Just snap out of it, it’ll be ok, there is no need to panic, suck it up and deal with it, etc.” While others may mean well, such statements often do more harm than help for someone depressed. When I am depressed, I do a lot of internal self reflection.
Mental handicaps can be just as limiting as can physical handicaps, and take just as long to heal or to deal with. They may not be as visible as a broken neck or a cast on a leg, but they are just as real.
Sometimes I can’t simply snap out of it. I may even know that it is okay, and often times I become frustrated that I can’t feel okay.
When approaching someone who has depression or anxiety it is best to simply let them know that you are there for them. Let them cry on your shoulder.
If there is one thing that has been most helpful to me outside counseling, it would have to be my network of friends here at school. I do not have the strength to deal with anxiety on my own. I have found it especially helpful to confide in one or two others who can check up on me from time to time.
I must give credit to God for His gracious hand of patience in working with me. I believe that prayer and the blessing of God had a great affect on my recovery. There are many times when He has broken through at just the right moment. One was the time I broke down in front of my high school guidance counselor, another was my job at a local restaurant, and a third has been my time here at Messiah.