When feelings feel overwhelming
“I feel so out of control. I am such a mess. I feel CRAZY.”
I have spoken these exact words, or some rendition of them, more times than I can count over the past two months. My story with medication for depression and anxiety began a few years ago, but this was an unexpected turn.
See, in 2015–16 I was “struggling” with anxiety. What I really mean is, anxiety was flattening me with its unexpected attacks and the overwhelming fear that came with said attacks. I was diagnosed with depression, seeing a counselor, praying more than ever before, yet still finding myself on the floor of the bathroom, passed out from hyperventilating. It seemed that in this “struggle” with anxiety and depression, I was losing.
It was a rough time, and I needed help. My doctor had run some bloodwork, knew my situation well, understood that I was seeing a counselor, believing in God, seeking help from a mentor, and engaged in community ... and still encouraged me to consider taking an antidepressant. I didn’t want to at first. I had said to other people, “There’s nothing wrong with medicine! If you were diagnosed with cancer, you’d go through chemo. Take it! It helps! It’s fine!”
But I didn’t know if I really believed those things for myself. Did taking medicine for mental illness disqualify me from ministry? Did it mean I was too unstable to be trusted or listened to? Did it mean I wasn’t a good enough Christian somehow, because I couldn’t pray my way to health?
The enemy tried to tell me these lies day after day, and I was tempted to believe them.
But through prayerful consideration, conversations with my husband and family, and advice from trusted medical professionals, I believed this was the right step in my story. I started taking medicine, and within a month I was seeing drastic improvements in my mental health and emotional stability. I was smiling again. I was more calm and less afraid than I had been in a year. I could have a conversation with my husband without sobbing for no apparent reason. I felt like myself again. This was all happening with the continued help of a professional counselor, ongoing conversations and Bible study with a mentor, daily time spent with the Lord in His Word, and open, honest communication with my family and friends. But I could see medication was making a difference, and I was feeling better.
I spent two years on that same medication, allowing my mind and body to receive the help it needed to produce the chemicals that had been missing during that season of depression and anxiety. I felt, more or less, in control of myself. I had few to no panic attacks in those two years, my emotions were relatively stable, and I felt like I could handle anything that came my way. So a few months ago, at my two-year checkup, I told my doctor, “I’m ready to come off my medicine! I feel great. Let’s try it!”
What happened next felt like the great unraveling of everything I’d worked for over the past two years.
My doctor did not tell me about possible side effects of withdrawal, but I quickly found out about them on my own. It started with some physical symptoms, like sweating more than normal and feeling nauseated. Next came the crying spells. And I don’t just mean a few tears were shed, but great big crocodile tears for hours at a time, with no apparent cause. I was irritable beyond words, to the point of having to walk into another room and grit my teeth so I wouldn’t shout something ugly. A few times I found myself in my car, actually shouting just to let the frustration out. I could cry when the wind blew, I was angry all the time, and I felt like a literal ball of emotions that had been shaken up and poured out on the floor.
“I feel crazy! I am out of control. What on earth is wrong with me? Why am I such a mess?!”
This conversation happened with myself, my husband, and with God more times than I can count over the past two months. All the time that I spent on medication, seeing a counselor, working hard to gain composure over myself—it seemed to be crumbling to pieces, coming undone right before my eyes. Was that for nothing? Was I even improving, or was it all the medicine? Am I actually crazy and just didn’t see it before? Is it going to feel like this forever?
On the calendar, two months is not that long. But when every day feels excruciating, uncertain, overwhelming, and emotionally draining, two months can really do a number on your heart.
At my lowest point in the process, just a few weeks ago, I pulled out my Bible and sat before the Lord, desperate but numb. I felt so discouraged, so tired, so emotionally drained that I didn’t even have words to say. So I opened my Bible to a psalm and opened my journal. After a few still moments, I wrote out these words:
Lord, help. Please. I don’t know what to say. But you know what I need. Please. Hold me close.
I read a few verses, put my pen down, and shut my Bible. That was all that I could muster up the strength for that day.
But the next day, I pulled my Bible back out and tried again. This time I wrote a few words, read a few verses, and started to really think about the Scripture instead of just sitting still in my emotions. I took my eyes off of myself and my feelings and set them back on Jesus. I was journaling, writing down things I had not seen before in that psalm, and smiling about the goodness of God. Instead of praying for myself, I just praised God for His character and the fact that He never changes. I put my Bible away and went on with my day.
The next day, I did the same thing. I picked up in that same chapter, wrote out a few more verses, and started digging into His Word. I was feeling a joy in my heart that I had not felt for months. I was becoming excited because there was hope in the character of God that I did not feel in myself. I was taking my eyes off the feelings and putting them on the solid truth of who God is. And the Lord was using that time to pull me back into the joy that is His presence.
On the fourth day of actually studying the Word again, He pointed out a new truth to me from Psalm 81. In verses 7–10 the psalmist writes (emphasis mine):
In distress you called, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
The Lord opened my eyes to a truth about my heart that I’d been blind to. All this time, the two years of “normal” and the two months of chaos, I was idolizing and worshiping something unintentionally. That “strange god” in my life was this little idol called control. I was mourning the loss of “control” over my life that I had worked hard for after experiencing such extreme anxiety. I thought that by simply gaining control of my emotions, I could handle anything life threw at me.
But you see, I never really had control to begin with.
I had become prideful of having a calm heart instead of praising Him for the peace He had provided the past few years. I have no regrets about taking medicine in a time when my heart and mind were truly sick! But in response, I was clinging tightly to the control it afforded me instead of turning that back over to the Lord.
So, when the control wavered, I had called to Him in distress, but I wasn’t really listening for His answer. I wanted to be rescued from “the secret place of thunder,” but I didn’t want to be admonished. I wanted to be healed, but I didn’t want to be broken first. I was so frustrated with these “side effects” and quick to blame the medicine, that I wasn’t even considering that maybe there was some heart work that needed to be done in this process.
Maybe going through this process of withdrawal wasn’t something that just “happened to me”—maybe it was the Lord trying to fill me up with Himself.
So my prayer that day was simple: “Less of me, Jesus, more of you. Fill me up with your presence. Get me out of the way.”
The past nine days (yes, I’ve been keeping count) have been good. As in, a turn for the better that I was desperate for. Maybe some of it has to do with the medicine finally being out of my system. Maybe some it was just time to heal and recover and regain my stability. But most of all, I believe the Word of God and the nearness of His presence have brought peace and joy that were missing in these past two months of chaos. See, the Lord was always there, but I was too focused on my little-g god of control. Instead of surrendering myself to Him in the process, I was focusing on myself and my feelings, frustrated that my emotions didn’t seem to be cooperating with what I wanted.
I wish I could say, “Lesson learned; this will never happen again!” But I know myself. I know my proclivity to hold tightly to the things that make me feel in control and give me a sense of peace over my circumstance. I want to remember that whatever circumstance comes my way, there is no real controlling this life apart from Christ. He’s the one with the final say, and I want to plant myself under His Word.
So what is it you’re clinging to a little too tightly? What little-g god have you been worshiping unknowingly? Is there room in your heart for the Lord to come in and fill you up? How can you surrender to Him the control He deserves in your life?
I’ve seen Him rooting out these ugly pieces of my heart that needed to be surrendered at His feet, and though it’s been a hard process, I’m starting to see the fruit of being planted nearer to Him. I want to encourage you today to sit still in His Word and really listen to His answer when you ask Him to speak. Trust Him at His Word and surrender whatever control you’re tempted to hold on to. I promise, you’re safer in His hands than in your own!
Today I am sharing about my story with mental illness, antidepressants, and hope in Jesus along the way. I wanted to share from my honest experience, but I am not a professional or medical doctor! Please seek professional help if you are struggling with mental illness or battling feelings of depression and anxiety. I pray that this glimpse into my story would encourage you to ask for the help you may need.