I’ve been so grateful recently to see those who’ve stepped up for mental health awareness (e.g. Prince William, Princess Kate, and Prince Harry) and the attention it has received due to celebrities having passed away who fought it (e.g. Carrie Fisher). To be clear, I had always felt sympathetic for those who’ve struggled with mental illness because my own mother is a bipolar and manic depressant, and my late grandmother (her mother) often had “fits” as they were called when I was a child where she’d either faint or begin seizing. Having grown up and seen it affect those I love dearly, I couldn’t fully appreciate it until about a year ago when I started living in my own nightmare.
Conditions were such that a lot of life changes were occurring for me. I was finishing my Ph.D. which entailed completing, revising, and defending my dissertation. I faced a rather stressful year that got worse with one individual whose role in my life was such that I couldn’t escape them without leaving my ministerial job, which I ended up feeling I had to do. On top of these, we were interviewing with Glendale, where I currently minister, looking for a home and scheduling a move. Too much was going on. Not to mention, unbeknownst to me I was struggling with health which included IBS which depleted me and often left me feeling tiresome and weak. While all of these were going on, I began having episodes that got worst.
One particular Sunday morning, I was scheduled to preach where I worked. For some background, I was only the associate minister and did not preach every Sunday. However, that morning, I awoke to a panic attack. My heart raced, I felt as if I’d had an adrenaline rush, the room was closing in on me, and I couldn’t escape my own body. It was utter hell. I phoned one of my elders to inform them that I couldn’t make it, and then I let the cat out of the bag and confessed to him that I had anxiety and was on meds for it. On this Sunday, I was in the period of transition of having already informed my current church that I was leaving and accepted the other position. My mind worried, “What if this is so debilitating that I lose my new job and since I’ve already said I’d leave my current job, I become jobless altogether and ruin my family?”
You see, my anxiety had anxiety, and that made everything worse. I then phoned one of my new elders to inform him. I told him that I had anxiety, and said that if the Glendale wanted to back out that I’d understand. I didn’t know how long I’d fight this, and I didn’t know what sort of toll it would have on my life. After I’d sung my swan song to him, he began chuckling and assured me that I didn’t have to worry and that they’d work with me and would be praying for me. I never expected that response. Phil was this elder’s name, still is, and he assured me that they (the elders) had my back. That was a weight off. Later that day, Phil had apparently informed the other elders, and they began texting me with their love and support. That’s what I needed: to be loved. They have continued to support me, and I’ve kept them abreast along the way of my health. They have told me that they want me to be sure that I care for myself and that I be myself because that’s who they came to love and hire. Again, more assurances that God knew I needed.
As I reflect back on this past year of living with anxiety, I have so much to be thankful for and so much to complain about too. I won’t lie, I hate having a mental illness, but it has helped me tremendously in some ways. I recently read an article about people with anxiety as to how they tend to be more empathetic and cognizant of other people’s emotions, and I feel that to be true of me. I can read facial cues and body language more often than not and see when someone’s in distress or anxious. This has made me, I hope, a better comforter of others in their own struggles. It has helped me to want to love people more though I often jokingly say that I can’t stand people—an irony if ever there was one considering that I’m a preacher.
The parts I’ve hated have been when in moments of stress, those nightmarish feelings of being in my own living hell resurface. It’s a battle I’ve fought a few times before, and so I suit up and fight it the best I can. By God’s grace it has yet to get the best of me because when I combat the battle, I combat it by praying very ardently so that God will fight it for me. When those moments come on, here’s what I’ve learned about myself:
- You need to sleep. Often sleep deprivation or a few nights of poor sleep contribute to an episode.
- Be sure to eat. If I don’t eat enough, these episodes come on. I recently had a stomach bug that wreaked havoc on me, and I’ve had some micro-episodes only because I had nothing to me and was depleted of nutrients, I suppose. I also try to eat more natural foods since I don’t know what all is in processed foods that may contribute to anxiety.
When, however, I have episodes, there are a few things that I take to help with immediate effect.
- My wife and I use Young Living Essential Oils, and Frankincense gives immediate relief to anxiety. If I’m having an attack, I can use Young Living Frankincense and put about 2–3 drops of it under my tongue, and within minutes I’m calmed. I’d only ingest Young Living because I know they’re safe to ingest so I wouldn’t recommend or not recommend this for anyone. This is what works for me.
- I will take magnesium supplements too. A magnesium deficiency can be a cause of anxiety. This doesn’t necessarily give immediate relief. The only thing I’ve found that gives immediate relief other than a sleep aid or something with an antihistamine in it is ingesting YL Frankincense.
- A b-complex supplement is helpful as well and can provide assistance within some time, but it hasn’t been immediate and usually takes a bit of time.
Lifestyle changes I’ve made:
- My diet consists of a lot of greens. These give my body essential vitamins.
- Probiotics. When my gut is healthy, I feel a lot better. I will take a refrigerated probiotic and/or drink Kombucha tea which has b-vitamins and probiotics in it.
- Regular exercise is a must. I do heavy weight lifting and Japanese Jujutsu and Brazilian jiujitsu. Each of these has their benefits, but I find them to be great stress relievers.
It has taken me this whole last year to find things that work and doesn’t work for me. I still have a busy schedule, but I try to never neglect my exercise time and a good night’s rest. For me to do the best I can do as a minister, I have to take care of myself, and that often means saying “no” to things I’d love to do if it interferes with what I need to do for my health. God has been gracious to me, and those in my life have been good to me too. I still fight the battle, but I’ve learned to strategically manage it so that it doesn’t run me.