Two years later, my hair is still falling out and I am still going to counseling for anxiety*.
May 2016. I started month 9 of the World Race in Guatemala. A series of different events all converged to leave me feeling broken, confused, and utterly helpless as I flew from Los Angeles to Guatemala City. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Guatemala, nothing was okay. And it really hasn’t been since.
When I decided to leave the World Race early, it was because crippling anxiety made it impossible for me to function on the mission field. I assumed that removing myself from the situation would immediately correct it. Returning home was absolutely the right decision; I had so much peace about it at the time and I still do. But I ended up making a lot of decisions after coming home that worsened my anxiety instead of helping me heal. It has taken me two years to actually start healing and dealing with the anxiety that began to rear it’s ugly head in Guatemala.
It’s hard for me to untangle the mess of the past few years of my life and honestly I don’t think it would be a helpful exercise anyways. Anxiety, chronic illness, depression, transition, endometriosis, processing trauma, graduate school, wedding stress, loneliness, and lack of sleep all collided and contributed to what has been a really difficult season. Anxiety might be the thread running through all of these, but truthfully they were all in the arena prodding and propelling each other on. Anxiety might’ve thrown the first punches, but endometriosis was right there behind it with a few roundhouse kicks, followed by the incessant slaps of overwhelming stress.
Healing and managing all these different areas was not an overnight miracle. It’s been a long, painful process that has taken tons of time and energy.
When I came home from the World Race, I wanted to tell everyone that I was fine and that everything got better once I was off the mission field, but that just wasn’t true. Anxiety is a complicated and nuanced beast and taming it can be a full-time job. I’m still processing and trying to adjust to my new normal after surviving malaria. There is almost NO research on the long-term effects of cerebral malaria, but I have my theories. The meager research that is available on cerebral malaria suggests that it may be linked to future mental health disorders, and I think it would be ignorant to completely dismiss that.
It was not my choice to get cerebral malaria and it is not my choice to deal with anxiety. It is my choice to do everything that I can to fight against it. Through a lot of research and seeing a naturopath, I’m learning to manage my physical health. Through counseling, I’m processing and learning the necessary skills to fight anxiety. And through discipline, setting boundaries, and a lot of hard work, I’m eliminating sources of stress in my life. So, two years later, I cannot say that I’ve conquered anxiety, but I can say that I am finally in a better place to start trying. For the past two years, I have just been surviving anxiety. Now, finally, I am ready to start thriving with anxiety.
The Lord hasn’t miraculously healed me, even though I wholeheartedly believe He can. He has walked with me through every step of the past two years and He continues to give me unending amounts of grace. Through His love and His word, through the love and constant support of my husband, and through learning lessons the hard way, but still learning. Two years of uphill battles, but also so much growth and healing. Healing that is still in progress. And it’s okay to still be in the middle of the process.
To anyone dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders, I want to tell you that it is okay to still be in process and not quite there yet. Don’t wait until your story is polished and has a happy ending to start sharing it with the world. It’s okay to share the messy pieces and the brokenness and the in progress, painful steps forward. Healing is more of a winding river or a jagged, zig-zagging path rather than one giant leap. I’m not quite there yet, but I am closer than I was yesterday. And maybe even closer than two years ago.
*“It’s important to note that everyone feels anxiety to some degree regularly throughout their life – fear and anxiety are adaptive and helpful emotions that can function to help us notice danger or threat, keep us safe, and help us adapt to the environment. Anxiety disorders represent states when fear or anxiety becomes severe or extreme, to the extent that it causes an individual significant distress, or impairs their ability to function in important facets of life such as work, school, or relationships. It is also important that risk factors don’t at all imply that anxiety is anyone’s fault; anxiety disorders are a very common difficulty that people experience.” – from https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety