My Bout with Anxiety by Alec Hill
Empathy for Those with Anxiety and Mental Health Issues
It started with a low potassium count, and anxiety followed.
The imbalance showed up on a blood test during my annual physical exam. The solution seemed simple enough – take supplements. But, for whatever reason, that didn’t work.
What ensued – waking up abruptly in the middle of the night, feeling claustrophobic, shaking, and experiencing high body heat – gradually increased in intensity. To relieve these symptoms, I took walks at odd hours. Once, during a camping trip, this meant strolling through the bear country at 2 a.m.
Four months into these episodes, I landed in the emergency room at midnight. It was indeed one of the scariest events of my life. I couldn’t bring my body and mind under control. Eight hours after it all started, I was given anxiety meds to calm down. This was all new to me, having never experienced anything like it before.
Following the ER visit – and before a new med regime took hold – I fled our home several times to get outside. I couldn’t take hot baths. One Sunday, I had to leave church mid-service. Insomnia kept me awake at night. It wasn’t perfect.
Thankfully, my new meds have solved the problem.
Reflecting, three lessons stand out from this most challenging season.
The Line Between Mental Health and Unhealth is Thin
Before my chemical imbalance, I always assumed I was firmly ensconced on the safe side of the mental health divide. While aware that many of my friends had struggled in this area, I smugly regarded myself as immune.
I had presumed that I was not susceptible to this type of emotional roller-coaster for my whole life. But I learned that the line between calmness and high anxiety is as thin as a 10% drop in potassium level. That’s scary. Or my whole life. I now realize I’ve always lived close to the edge and didn’t know it. We all do.
We Can’t Do This Alone
At my low point, I contacted several friends and asked them to pray daily for me. And they did. A few who had struggled with similar issues were advised about breathing exercises (to “distract the monkey brain”) and being less reluctant to take more potent meds.
When dealing with issues like this, we must not walk alone. A small community of family and friends is necessary to check on and love us. Companions on the journey quiet these condemning voices, share our load, and lift our spirits. It’s too easy to get down on ourselves, to feel unworthy.
People Who Battle Anxiety are My Heroes
Perhaps the most radical change has been my shift in perspective from judgment to admiration. Rather than looking down on those who struggle with emotional issues, I now admire them for getting up every day and heading out the door.
It takes great courage to face the headwinds of uncertainty and fear. To go to work, deal with conflict, and care for others requires remarkable resilience. I’ve learned what it’s like to fight to stay above the waterline. The impulse to escape is powerful and often controlling.
I now regard those who daily cope with mental health issues as my heroes. Walking with the equivalent of 40 pounds on their backs, they still trudge up hills. What is so easy for the rest of us requires extraordinary effort on their part. And yet they do it. Amazing.
Will I ever fall into emotional disequilibrium again? Maybe. Is this prospect scary? Yes. Do I now have some coping tools that I didn’t have before? I believe so.
Whatever happens next, I have a new appreciation for the community I’ve now involuntarily joined. Friends with anxiety and depression issues have been remarkably kind to me, and I love them for it. As a result, I’m becoming more sensitive and less condescending.
Lord, may this continue to be true. As friends have been healing agents, may I be so for others.
Alec Hill is president emeritus of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He is also the author of Living in Bonus Time: Surviving Cancer, Finding New Purpose.
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