It started with a tingling feeling on my hands and feet. I was working on my computer and the distracting sensation made me stand up and start moving around. The numbness did not get better. Instead, my heart started racing uncontrollably and horrible thoughts invaded my mind. I was dying. I just knew it. I was 25 years old when the first panic attack occurred. That episode started a myriad of doctor visits and countless tests, confirming that there wasn’t anything wrong with my heart or brain.
After several months and a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, my doctor suggested that I should start a treatment with anti-depressants. That was a very troubling thought to me. I was young, healthy and had just started a journey as a born-again Christian that same year. It was very hard to understand what was happening to me. I denied the treatment, relying on my faith to sustain me and on God for complete healing.
I prayed, read my Bible, participated in study groups and yet, the panic attacks did not subside. As a matter of fact, they got worse. Another visit to my doctor did not change the diagnosis or the suggested treatment. But my doctor mentioned something that changed my perspective of things: “You told me you have been under stress for three years, working long hours and sleeping very little. Your brain knows it – your levels of serotonin must be extremely low and they will not get back to normal without help. If I said you were a diabetic in need of insulin, would you deny the treatment? This isn’t any different.” I finally decided to accept the help and in a matter of weeks started feeling better. The treatment lasted a couple of years, and I was able to stop the medication gradually.
I believe that many people of faith can relate to my struggle. Having to take medication for issues such as anxiety or depression is still taboo for those who claim to believe and rely on God. You don’t hear much about it in our church environments and yet, sanctuaries are filled with people in need of help to overcome certain neurochemical disorders. Many are afraid to be judged as lacking faith. I know I was.
There certainly are instances when anxiety or depression are a mere consequence of the problems we face or situations that we cannot help. I also believe that in many cases, healing comes from learning how to truly surrender our troubles to God. Since those episodes almost 20 years ago, I have been through difficult valleys in which I was able to handle my anxieties through prayer and by meditating on God’s word. But we must be ever so very careful not to judge our neighbor’s circumstances. No one wants to depend on a pill to feel better. And although many do chose them as an easy way out of their pain, many more do not have a choice. They don’t need judgment. They need healing. They need grace, love and understanding.
It took me many years to realize that it’s OK not to be super-woman. God did not design me to be one. He designed me to be dependent on him and to be aware of my limitations and accept help when needed, without shame. I am thankful for the pharmacists, doctors and counselors, who are often used by God not only to help us navigate life’s valleys of diabetes, cancer and other diseases, but also to guide us through the shadows of anxiety and depression.