In July 2015, while serving as a missionary in the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission, my mind received an unexpected visit from a stranger called anxiety. There are many ways to describe what anxiety is and why it shows up almost suddenly in our lives. Many say it’s an automatic alarm clock that goes off when one feels threatened or under pressure. Was I threatened or under pressure? Why was I getting this visit?
I remember suddenly experiencing a lot of physical pain in my chest and shortness of breath. I visited the doctors many times, but no amount of checkups could pinpoint what was causing me to feel ill.
As the months went on, I began to feel less and less energetic in the missionary work. That spark that I had seemed to have disappeared. I felt so alone and so lost. I couldn't seem to get my feet on the ground. I felt like I had lost balance and purpose and I couldn't find any explanation as to what really happened to me. Everything I did felt like it was an effort even when I would give it my all.
I began to panic when doing even the simplest things. Opening my mouth to preach the gospel was so difficult because I had lost confidence in myself. I began to run away from everything that made me feel pressured or in danger. I remember days when I didn't feel peace or hope. My mind would go on and on and would not stop. I had so much anger and frustration inside. I was strapped between two walls that were closing in on me, and I was suffocating and no one knew it. My thoughts all consisted of “What ifs.” What if I had lost my true self forever? What if other people found out about me, what will they think? What if I had changed forever? What if this is the way I will spend the rest of my life?
No one understood what was going on inside my head. As a matter of fact, I felt like everyone was against me. I felt like Heavenly Father was punishing me for something I did. I felt alone and abandoned by my Savior. This feeling went on for about three months, and after much prayer and consideration, I decided that the best thing for me to do was to return home. I knew it would be difficult. I knew a lot of questions would be asked and I knew that going home would be just as hard as staying.
After returning home, I battled for months to adjust to everything. My family did not know what it meant for me to have anxiety so I knew I was on my own in figuring it out. They interpreted it as being fear, but I knew anxiety isn't entirely fear, but is a result of it. I remember telling someone I had anxiety and they said to me, 'How come you have anxiety when you're serving God?' Just imagine how that made me feel. I was basically told that I was not supposed to have anxiety or fear because I was serving God. Truly, I felt like a broken alarm clock that could never be put together again. I felt broken physically and mentally.
I finally came to the conclusion that I was either going to remain how I was or do something about it. I went down on my knees feeling broken as ever and poured out my whole soul to God. I expressed to my Heavenly Father that I was going to put all my trust in Christ and His atonement to heal me from this mental illness. I knew that if I did my best to help myself, my Savior would meet me half way. After that prayer, I have felt a peace that I hadn't felt in a long time. I felt a new sense of belonging and purpose. I had to truly access that healing power.
I went on a journey to learn everything I could about anxiety. I began to study about the different causes and treatments of anxiety. My road to healing began when I was able to figure out what type of anxiety I had. I came to realize that I have generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. I could now give a name to my persistent worrying and intense fear and usual shaking and nervousness. I learned that I had to make a lot of lifestyle changes. Among other things I began to exercise every day, sleep more, eat less sugar, and drink more water. One of the greatest things I had to do was to learn how to control my thoughts. I had to have a period where I worried; I called it “My worry period.” I learned about the different types of therapy, including one Aaron Beck called “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” In this type of psychotherapy, negative patterns of thought about oneself and the world are challenged in order to alter unwanted behavior. With this new knowledge, I had the power to control how I felt.
Today, I have never felt more alive. I still have days where I feel panicky, anxious and worried, but I know how to control my thoughts and not allow the fear of the unknown to overtake me or cause me to be thrown back into that place. I know who I am now as a person and what my purpose is as an individual. I want to help others overcome what I overcame. I have never been more alert, strong, and optimistic about the future.
My anxiety keeps me alert from mental and physical danger. It keeps me humble because I know my limitations. I know I can’t run faster than I have strength.
The person I am today did not exist two years ago. I have received new eyes. I see the world so differently now. I can now behold those that are suffering from mental illness. I know what it feels like and I have developed the empathy that I needed to help others. The Lord did not take away the anxiety, but He gave me the strength to live with it. He healed my heart. My healing came in the form of me being able to understand why it happened and how I can use it to help others.
I believe more than I have ever before that Heavenly Father will never give us more than we can bear. He loves us and it is always out of love that He allows certain things to happen in our lives. They make us stronger, and they are a stepping stone for others that are struggling. I believe that if we embrace our trials, if we embrace whatever the Lord gave us to carry, and if we look at life with an eternal perspective, they will become easier to bear. He knows better than we do, and sometimes that means that He will change our paths so that we can be who He wants us to be.