The #OurStory series is my attempt at sharing the stories of others, of showcasing different perspectives and viewpoints. I named it 'Our Story' because I believe we have more in common than separates us, that we're all here trying to figure it out, that if we spent more time looking through others' eyes we could see a whole lot more. These are people's stories, but this is also my story. This is your story. This is our story, as a whole. --Robert
Why do I feel this way? I don’t understand, I’m lonely, I feel empty.
How do I feel again? How do I ask for help? How do I ask for someone’s help? Who would I ask? What is even wrong?
I’m inadequate. I am not worthy. I’m a burden. I don’t understand.
That’s one journal entry from a few years ago. I was genuinely confused about what was going on with me.
I had no reason to feel the way I did, my life was great. I had my dream job working for two world class horse trainers, I lived on a farm with a great family, and had a supportive church. But there was still a deep loneliness, some empty cavity that would suck me in and leave me defenseless.
Depression didn’t care that I had everything going for me. Anxiety wasn’t interested in my seemly bright future.
That was in 2013, I was 18. That’s where the story of my struggle with mental health starts. The first time I experienced any kind of mental health issue, I was working an internship in Pennsylvania.
Why do I feel so broken? I love my job and where I live. What’s going on?
During that year, I learned that there is nothing people need more than Jesus and other people.
There was nothing I needed more than Jesus and people, and that's what I lacked.
I got to the point where I felt so alone, I wasn’t sure about God anymore. I grew up in church and I’ve always known about Jesus, but a lot of my beliefs had come from my family and the people that were around me. Now that I had no one around me- I was left with a big question mark.
I had no idea what I actually believed about God. The ache in my heart, the fogginess in my head, and the dread in my soul didn’t push me towards God. I stopped going to church for a while because of that, but eventually went back because of a yearning for connection.
I still felt out of place and disconnected. Like somehow something was so wrong with who I was that I couldn’t even make friends at a church geared towards young adults.
I tried, I really did. I went to bible studies, attended services, and tried to get plugged in but I just couldn’t do it. It felt like no one wanted me, no one wanted to care. I started to feel drained by the thought of trying to make connections. So I stopped trying, I stopped caring. I never voiced this to anyone, except maybe my best friend who was 600 miles away. Maybe this was one of the main problems.
I’m a burden. I’m annoying, I’m just not supposed to have people in my life. I’m supposed to be alone.
After a while my trainer (my boss) brought up to me that I had been acting differently. That I was lethargic, that I didn’t seem happy, that I wasn’t who I once was. She told me I could go home if I wanted to.
So after crying and shouting out to a God I didn’t have real relationship with, I choose to head back to Georgia. With the feeling of failure looming over me, I made the call to my parents to let them know I was coming home.
I guess everyone needs to know when to give up. I give up.
Of course now I see I didn’t actually fail. Just because a situation is no longer good for you doesn't mean you have failed. I learned more in that 15 months I was working for my trainers than I could have ever wished for. I learned about people, business, and mostly I learned about myself.
While I improved slightly, I continued to struggle with loneliness and anxiety back in Georgia. I yearned to feel belonging, so I tried to get plugged back in to the church that had surrounded me with love during high school. Except now I had started to question what I grew up believing, doctrinally speaking. I grew up in one denomination, but after listening to other pastors and attending a different kind of church I wasn’t so sure about it.
Since I still needed to find community and yearned to learn who God really was, I started looking for a new church. I feel like I need to say that this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not only was I struggling with my faith (which I did my best to hide because I’ve always been the “church girl”), but with that cavity of emptiness that wanted to pull me under. It was hard trying to convince myself to get out of bed already, let alone to go sit in a new church.
Again- it needs to be said that I still wasn’t telling people about my emptiness. Hindsight is 20/20: now that I know more, I wish I could tell my old self to ask for help.
Jenna, it’s ok to tell someone you wake up every night with your heart racing. No Jenna, it’s not just stress when you lose your breath, your head is pounding, your stomach is upside-down, and you feel like every muscle in your body is tied in a knot. I should have reached out. I should have said “hey, something is definitely wrong here.”
Leaving the church I grew up in brought on a new set of challenges. I felt like I was abandoning them or betraying them. But I had to find a community, I had to experience family again. I was tired of being stuck with myself all the time. I was tired of the fatigue that the lonely ache caused.
I know that God works in seasons. He knew when I needed what and who. He knew where I needed to go to learn about him and He knew who would love me the way I needed. That may sound like Christian-cheese, but I honestly believe that He brought me the place that I could receive His love the best. He brought me to the place He could show me his nature and bring me to people who love His bride and teach out His Word.
I’ve been at my current church since May 2014, and I have never felt more loved. I met people who loved Jesus first, and love what he loves. I started learning more about the bible, God’s character, and community. I started to pursue a real walk with Jesus, where I'm chasing Him with all I have.
I still struggled with depression, but I slowly started recovering. I am happy to say I don’t struggle with depression anymore.
I wish I could stop right there. But that’s not authentic, that’s not how the metaphorical cookie is crumbling.
At least for the time being, I’m not battling depression. However, I am struggling with anxiety. All the time. I wish I could have exited the battle with mental health without residual effects, but that’s just not the case.
It got really bad for a while: no matter how much good community I had, it didn’t matter how much I “let go and let God”. Anxiety isn’t interested in cliché Christian advice. (Tweet this!) Panic attacks don’t care about how much scripture you've memorized, what conferences you go to, or what Lysa Terkeurst study you're doing (no offense Mrs. Terkeurst- I actually really like your studies).
I needed help, not clichés.
So what does that look like? How do you ask for help the first time? I had been telling people in church, been telling students, “if you need help, you need to ask for it.” Yet here I was, struggling with something out of my control and too scared, stubborn, and/or prideful to ask for help.
Finally, I ended up asking for a reference to a counselor from a pastor. After encouragement from friends and organizations like To Write Love On Her Arms, I went to the doctor. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder. I started being more responsible and tried identifying what triggers I could. I started learning more about it.
The good thing is that I’m actually really comfortable talking about anxiety now- the bad thing is that a lot well-meaning Christians aren't very good help. I now work at Revolution Church, so I meet a lot of church people, which for the most part is AMAZING. But when it comes to being open about mental health, sometimes there is a disconnect.
If I tell you I’m struggling with anxiety, the proper response is not “worry is a sin issue.” Neither is “be anxious for nothing.” I know, you mean well, but seriously- that’s not going to make anything better. That actually pushes me away from God and community. I worry about my ability to minister to students. What is my credibility if I can’t pull myself together? How am I supposed to look a student in the eye and say “Trust that God has a plan for this” when I am faltering with worry? At times, I’ve felt like a bad Christian because I feel like I’m not trusting Jesus. If I trusted Jesus would I feel this dread? Would I worry over nothing? After all, let go and let God right?
Unfair questions. I can’t just decide to have different brain chemistry. Truth is I’m not choosing to feel panic, I’m not choosing to be afraid, I’m not choosing to feel overwhelmed all the time.
But like I said- I think God put me in the right place for me to receive his love best. For all the people in church that I have encountered that give me cliches, there have been twice as many that have met me with a hug and a “That sucks” or “Me too.” or “I’ve struggled with ___”. I think that’s important to acknowledge.
While I don’t think the Church is anywhere near where it needs to be as far as talking about mental health, I think the tide is starting to turn.
I still get panic attacks. I still get overwhelmed really easily. I still get fearful for no apparent reason. I still dread being by myself, and I still feel worrisome at night.
But I have people I can turn to.
I have a Truth I hang on to.
I have people and places I can go to.
I can talk about it.
I struggle. That’s okay, because I know I’m not the only one.
And neither are you.
Moral of the story- my mental health story: ask for help. Keep asking until you find help. Don’t be afraid to change things in order to make you better. That’s not selfish- it’s responsible. Get the help you need. Period.
You’re important and I’m glad you're here.
Jenna Laza is 21 years old and lives in Canton Georgia. She is currently pursuing a non-profit administration degree at Toccoa Falls College, and is on staff at Revolution Church as the Student Ministry Assistant. She enjoys long boarding, eating pizza, and watching movies with her friends.
Interested in sharing your story? Find more details here. I'd love to hear from you!
Other entires in the #OurStory series can be found here!
Stories are posted with minimal editing for grammar or structure, not content. To change what someone else wants to say to fit a narrative I want would be to betray the underlying belief behind the project.