should never be normal...
These days, anxiety and other mental illnesses seem common. But they should never be normal. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in 2018, and in 2021 I was diagnosed with a form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). However, my struggle with anxiety was severe and started four years before my diagnosis when I started college in 2014. I’m not sure if it was from being away from home for the first time, living with someone besides my brother for the first time, or really what triggered all of this. But when I started struggling with anxiety, it felt like a ton of bricks fell on top of me from the sky, or like an 18-wheeler smacked into my forehead. It came out of nowhere. I had never struggled with this before, not even growing up in a military household—sure, there was fear and worry that my dad wouldn’t come home, but this gnawing feeling in my stomach, this feeling that I’m constantly missing the last step on a set of stairs, this loss of appetite, this sleeplessness, this nitpicking - I had never experienced such turmoil.
If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that the Lord does not let even our most painful realities go to waste. However, the Church has not always done the best job at supporting those who struggle with mental illness. When I started dealing with anxiety, I really thought what I was experiencing was purely spiritual. Part of my belief was because I grew up knowing, seeing, and understanding spiritual warfare. But the other part of it was because the trusted spiritual advisors in my life at that time were telling me it was so. I was definitely part of the “you don’t need medication, you can pray it away” narrative, and while I think everyone’s intentions were pure, it did a lot of damage. The belief that my struggle was only spiritual—that it had nothing to do with the actual chemicals in my brain—kept me from seeing a doctor for four very, very long years.
darkest time of my life...
Fall 2018 was the darkest time of my life. I was deeply depressed, waking up every morning in tears. I was hardly passing my classes, underperforming at my jobs, and was strictly in survival mode…barely. In this season, my mom began talking to me about medication. I was ADAMANTLY against going on meds. I was terrified of it. I was so scared of becoming addicted to it and never being myself again. Anxiety and depression, while absolutely miserable, had become familiar friends that I was afraid to let go of. On a particularly difficult day, one of my friends asked me why I wasn’t on medication. He told me “Alyssa, when you have a broken arm, you go to the hospital…you don’t leave the bone to heal itself. Your brain is the same way.” This was the first time I learned that it was NOT normal for me to be waking up every morning in tears, feeling nauseous. “Doesn’t everyone wake up feeling this way?” I asked him. “No, Alyssa, they don’t. Most people can get up and start their day right away.” This was life-changing for me. After that conversation, many more conversations with my mom, many tears, and some days of suicidal ideation, I knew it was time - I needed to talk to a doctor. When I went to see a psychiatrist that October, it was the first time I received a formal diagnosis, complete with a prescription slip. I felt branded, like I had “ANXIOUS” stamped on my forehead.
anxiety has stolen so much from me...
Anxiety has stolen so much from me. It overshadowed the majority of my college experience. It has taken my peace. It has taken my sleep. It has taken some friendships. It has taken the trust I once had in myself and my intuition. But the one thing it hasn’t taken, in fact, it’s the one thing it’s made stronger, is my relationship with Christ. Through all of this, it would have been easy to walk away from the Lord. It would have been easy to blame Him for my struggles. And at times, I have. I’ve spent more hours than I can count crying out to the Lord asking Him why He made me this way. Asking Him why my brain is the way that it is, and why won’t He just heal me? Why do other people get healing but I don’t? Why am I stuck this way?
But through the years I’ve come to learn that I’m not stuck. I’ve learned that it’s because of my mental illness that I AM so close with the Lord, and that I can reach other people in a unique way. When clinging to Jesus is the only option you have—the only way you feel truly okay, sane, and alive—you cling on for dear life.
Every season of anxiety has looked different. I have had seasons of not eating much, seasons of eating too much, seasons of thriving, seasons of barely being able to get out of bed, seasons of medicating, seasons of distraction, seasons of constant anxiety attacks, seasons of super high highs, and the lowest lows. I have battled doubt, shame, confusion, ruminating thoughts, panic attacks, sleepless nights, and a whole lot of tears. But through it all I have learned the kindness of Christ. I have learned that He is gentle. Doubt, shame, confusion, guilt, fear - those things do not come from the Lord. In the midst of our brokenness, the Lord wants us to come to Him. We don’t need to walk away because we’re not perfect, or done up, or “whole.” We are free to enter the presence of the highest King exactly as we are.
the rest will fall into place...
And in case nobody has told you before, it’s okay to lean on Jesus and a therapist. It’s okay to trust in Jesus and be on medication. These things are not mutually exclusive. The Lord does not want you to stay miserable. He doesn’t want you to suffer. I promise, if you lean on Him, the rest will fall into place.
Alyssa is the owner of Daisy & Dahlia, a copywriting and branding company. Over the years, she's learned the art of appreciating the simple joys in life. Like, cozying up under a comfy blanket with her boyfriend, taking long drives, wholehearted worship to the Lord, and a stroll through a bookstore with a coffee in hand! For more from Alyssa, follow on Instagram @alyssa.burlingame.
Photos by Carly Kristin Photography. Headshot provided by Alyssa.