I grew up in a family that had high expectations of me, and I have personally struggled with anxiety. For several years, I thought that my anxiety was a normal part of life. I didn’t realize that I should not have been having full-blown anxiety at the age of nine, but I was.
My family didn’t believe in mental illnesses, besides those that were obvious to the untrained eye. We did, however, attend a church regularly. I was highly interested in Christianity and studied it on my own. I was able to combat the unnatural anxiety through my relationship with God, and was able to overcome the anxiety throughout middle and high school. College, however, was different.
My anxiety increased exponentially in college. My family, again, didn’t understand. My mother tried to convince me that I was just overreacting, but the anxiety had grown so crippling that I would occasionally stop breathing or lose consciousness altogether. I kept my problems to myself, though, and told no one.
In college, I went through an angry phase, due to corruption in the church that I once called home. In a sense, I had increased anxiety, and had less of a relationship with God. This can prove to be a dangerous combination. My anxiety eventually morphed into self-mutilation disorder, which was manifested by branding my body with hot metal. I just wanted a stimulus stronger than the internal turmoil. The scars left upon my body during that period were originally embarrassing, but now prove to be representatives of my past. They show me where I was, and show me where I do not want to be.
In 2014, I transferred from a state university into a smaller college to study nursing. Naturally, my anxiety increased once more. However, I was less angry at the world, and was looking to religion to quell my anxiety. I was able to control my anxiety until my last semester of nursing school, when I began to lose consciousness again. I also began having flashbacks of an earlier point in my life, when I was actually mentally and emotionally abused. My mind had blocked those memories, and, at the end of nursing school, began unearthing them. Great timing, right?
All of the added stress was directing me toward the idea of self-mutilation, but, for the first time in my life, I had been able to open up to two friends about my past. The fact that they knew my temptations protected me; I had told them that I would never repeat those actions, and they had believed me. Here is some unintended advice: Tell people when you struggle. Find a Korean older brother and tell him your problems. In my case, doing that may have saved my life.
So I went to the clinic, which was run by my teachers. I was apprehensive of starting an anti-anxiety medication, but I couldn’t sleep at night. I was having flashbacks, I was unable to breathe during tests, my blood pressure was elevated — I was falling apart, and I looked like it. I didn’t really take care of myself, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t speak. My teachers had been waiting for me to come to them; I had been advised to get treated for anxiety on multiple occasions by multiple teachers.
The nurse practitioner who had taught my mental health class was the nurse who spoke to me. I was surprised by how understanding she was. My family had simply avoided any type of conversation regarding anxiety. She listened, and she genuinely cared about what I told her. She told me that I needed to see a psychiatrist to combat the flashbacks, but she could prescribe me an anti-anxiety medication to finish the semester, because finals were on the way. Let me tell you: Buspar is a beautiful thing.
I was also curious about how one person who was not even in my immediate family could have had such an impact on my self-esteem and peace of mind. I had an excellent mother and father, even if they didn’t recognize my anxiety as abnormal. They cared about me, for the most part. I told her that, and she simply looked into my eyes. She said, “Maybe it is because the one and only time that you really needed someone to protect you as a child, no one truly listened to you.” Mind. Blown.
I struggled with the medication at first. I was conflicted, because I didn’t see my anxiety as an actual illness. I thought that I was just weak, and needed a medication to overcome my weakness. I believed that we are beautifully and powerfully crafted by God, so how could I be overrun with anxiety?
One day, a Canadian friend, whose husband and daughter I had met in Honduras during a mission trip in 2011, sent me a Bible verse after learning of my anxiety. Jeremiah 29:11, which is a verse that I had read often, says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
Upon reading that in the theme of anxiety, I began to realize where medication falls into place. God wants us to be happy, to be at peace. He wants us to live unmolested by turmoil, but the world isn’t perfect. If medication helps us get from point A to point B, if medication can give us peace, then where is the problem? The medication calmed me during rough patches and let me evaluate life clearly as opposed to a state of panic. That was the purpose of the medication: To give me a little more reaction time.