This past Wednesday we had ISU Wesley alum Jeff speak. He spoke about mental health and our everyday encounters with it. First we heard about struggles he had growing up, trying to please and control everyone and everything, but then he reminded us of God’s connection to it all. We were reminded that Jesus was not only a preacher and teacher, but a counselor as well.
It’s easy to think we are all alone in the way we feel, but Jesus experienced anxiety and fear as well. In Matthew 26:38-42 Jesus pleads with God and even claims he is “deeply grieved even to death”. This pain, experienced by someone who we perceive as “having it all together”, is powerful. The one person we know will be there through it all, the one who says “do not be afraid”, experienced the pain of anxiety and fear.
Jeff also helped us visualize the spectrum of mental health, meaning mostly stable, all the way to mental illness which requires professional help. If we experience continued and persistent anxiety or depression, that requires professional help, but it is also possible to experience degrees of anxiety and depression within our lives.
Last Sunday night I was coming back to my dorm from a day at home and found myself very sad. It was a deep sadness I hadn’t felt since freshman year. Freshman year I went home every other weekend, trying to hold back the tears when my parents dropped me off. I assumed this would go away, I would focus on eating and doing homework. The entire time I was in the dining hall and as I got out my homework, though, I felt this same sadness.
I looked at my planner trying my hardest to focus on it, but all I could see was a blurry mess of pen and highlighter through the tears in my eyes. I began to think about all of the things that were coming up this week, all of the things that required me to do something or be somewhere. All of the expectations. All of the deadlines. I began to hyperventilate trying to focus on my economics homework. It may not have made sense before, but now it didn’t even seem like English.
I would then proceed to stare off into space for periods at a time, crying and wondering how I could feel so alone and helpless. I knew I was capable of finishing the assignment, I knew it. I couldn’t though. I began to gravitate towards all of the places I had to be: work, class, meetings, class, set-up, work, etc. When would I have time for myself? My brain began to scramble for anything it could take, distort, and blow out of proportion.
After going on for awhile I decided it was best to wait until tomorrow to try and be productive, that night I was going to get nothing done. I got ready for bed in a jumbled mess, crawling into bed with my face in the pillow.
I still don’t know what caused my anxiety attack, there were probably many factors (including the momentous amount of coffee I had that day). This is an example of experiences and instances in our life where our mental health spectrum shifts. The idea that Jesus experienced anxiety and fear, so much so that he was “deeply grieved”, is such a powerful reminder for me that I am not alone. Not only Jesus, but many people have feelings such as these. Although many people deal with similar issues, this is not to belittle anyone’s feelings. Each should be treated with the utmost care and respect.
Jeff mentioned that he was a people pleaser, people would tell him “you should do this” “you should be this” and that made him feel like he should. I can identify with this in my life as well. Sometimes I have trouble distinguishing my decisions from the decisions others make for me. We constantly have to be aware of the things we value, and we have to make the hard decisions even if they are not the most poplar or no one told us that we should take that path. We do this because God wants us to get rid of our fear and anxiety to become closer to him.
We looked at 1 Peter 5:6-8 and in that it states “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”. We come to God in the midst of it all so that he can lighten our load and free us of our burdens.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Sometimes we need help. We can’t do it on our own, and if we try to the pain may become unbearable. The fear of failure is something we have to set aside. We aren’t able to escape the pain or the circumstances of each day, but if we try and reach out for help then we might find joy in the midst of the pain. Peace in the midst of struggle.
As Jeff mentioned, our brains were not built to deal with this modern world. Our fight or flight response is out of order when originally it was meant to help us escape from predators. This being said, our brains are also adaptable. With the right help we can train our brain to help itself. This help can come from many areas, but the one who says, “do not be afraid” is already reaching out to help us. Through pray and being intentional we begin to uncover this outstretched hand. We find that this outstretched hand is actually helping us stand up straight.
If you need to talk with someone about something you’re going through, please feel free to contact any of us at ISU Wesley or reach out to ISU Student Counseling Services.