When Prayer Leads to Just a Temporary Peace
I was always prone to worry, but was usually able to let it go through prayer. Then, in the final year of my postgraduate study, I descended into the abyss of severe anxiety.
I now see that a culmination of factors led me to that point: combining intensive study with work, living out of home for the first time, working through a broken engagement, discipling a new Christian with a multitude of doubts, and bearing a heavy load of responsibility in a Christian ministry.
One day in October 2012 I was reading Tim Keller's book The Reason for God, and was suddenly struck down by a panicky crisis of doubt. That faith crisis quickly descended into me questioning absolutely everything about myself and my life; not only my faith, but also my relationship, my sexuality, my very understanding of the world. It felt like nothing was certain, all was in flux. Everywhere I turned there was terror. And as often happens in anxiety, the terror itself was the most terrifying.
For about three and a half years, there was hardly a moment that part of my mind was not preoccupied with worry. Most of it, I knew, was irrational. But that knowing didn't help me shake it. I'd wake up in sweaty panic in the middle of the night, get triggered during the day by the tiniest things. In short, I was miserable, and felt guilty for feeling so when my life was otherwise going so well.
For and long time, I tried the spiritual route to healing. Meditating on Scripture, claiming God's promises, writing encouraging truths on paper and sticking them on my walls and wardrobe. Asking people to pray when I was in crisis. I won't deny that in many ways God was closer to me during this period than ever before. He gave me helpful Scriptures frequently, and prayer often led to temporary peace.
But ultimately it wasn't enough to give lasting peace. As a strong believer in prayer and healing, this was a difficult thing for me to admit. So I prayed for the right psychologist and he gave me the most wonderfully perfect fit. A Christian lady of a similar background who could read me like a book. She helped me challenge my thinking, face some of the childhood wounds that were fuelling my terror, and develop coping techniques. But even that did not amount to a cure.
A couple of friends from church had shared their positive experiences with medication, but I resisted this possibility for a long time. I didn't want to give up and resort to a chemical crutch; it felt somehow unspiritual. Plus, neither my doctor nor psychologist had suggested it. I realise now this may have been because I came across pretty high functioning — I was still working full time, maintaining (just!!) a serious relationship and not falling in a heap most of the time. And for some reason I always came up low to moderate on any scales they asked me today. But internally, it was utter agony.
I hit crisis point when a close family member experienced a sudden mental health episode of their own, and was spurred on by the success of their medication to finally try it. I have now been on 15mg of Lexapro for a year and a half — and I am finally myself again. I know it wasn't the medication alone that secured my healing — but the medication effected the physiological changes that enabled me to implement the psychological and spiritual techniques that had only been of limited effect previously. I am now a huge advocate for trying medication as part of a multi-pronged approach, and am troubled that in many Christian circles this is somehow seen as spiritual failure.
While my Christian parents and partner, and my mature and loving church family, were my absolute rocks during my anxiety hell, it was very hard to share a lot of what I was going through with Christian friends in general. Many didn't understand why I had to pull away from ministry and fellowship activities, or well-meaningly addressed my fears with simple scriptural principles — which I knew, but just couldn't absorb. I was terrified that expressing my doubts to them would make them judge me, and so I kept most of it inside while I internally imploded.
I now hope to inspire Christians with mental health issues to be kind to themselves and explore a range of solutions as part of God's healing. I seek to reassure them that God is very much with them in the darkness, but that mental health is complex and healing can take time — but full recovery is possible. Thank you Jesus!