Months six through thirteen of living in Kenya were REALLY hard. In December I completely overworked myself and then towards the end of December I started having weird health issues: unexplained allergic reactions, the flu, stomach problems, insomnia, anxiety attacks and bouts of depression. In the first six months of 2016 there were about a month’s worth of nights that I wasn’t able to sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation doesn’t look good on anyone — especially when it’s caused by a mix of an upset stomach and anxiety. It was a very specific and very unpleasant feeling I got when I was unable to sleep. Most of the nights that I wasn’t able to sleep it was after going out with my friends. This caused me to feel anxious about going to do fun things and made me feel like I was doing something wrong or irresponsible if I stayed out past nine, even if it was a weekend and I didn’t have responsibilities the next day.
The sleep deprivation made me lose my appetite and therefore a little weight that I didn’t want to lose. I was emotionally fragile. Simple decisions were difficult to make. I was constantly apologizing to people I was having conversations with because I found it difficult to string a sentence together. It was like all of the parts of my brain were spinning but nothing productive was happening. I was scared of the decisions I might make in my exhaustion and loneliness.
This was my first half of 2016. And yet, I had joy. In the bottom of the pit, Jesus was there with me. I did not walk through the valley alone. Because of that, I was able to put one foot in front of the other for six long, hard months. At times it felt like it wouldn’t end. Those close to me were really worried about me, which in turn made me more anxious.
I continued to show up for life on days that I dreaded leaving my apartment. I kept a picture of me with three of my best friends by my door. When I left for work in the morning I would look at the picture and say to myself “those people love you and you can do this.” I took care of myself, which is something I’m not great at. I scheduled doctors’ appointments and went to counseling. Even though it terrified me, I addressed relational problems that were causing anxiety. I set boundaries with work (like taking off public holidays) and with how I allow people to treat me (whether friends or strangers). I started to speak up when I was uncomfortable. I grew in confidence and my ability to assert myself– to be able to say, “No, it’s not okay.” I learned to lean in to my identity in Christ instead of just “trying harder.” On the bad weeks of anxiety I stayed at my teammates’ house. I learned about my humanness, my weaknesses, my sinful inclinations. I learned to offer myself grace in difficult moments and to keep moving forward, even if it felt like just inches at a time. I allowed others to take care of me, something that in my self-sufficient pride I am loath to do.
During this time my confidence was shaken. I had a difficult time believing the truth about who God made me to be. I had many friends here and back home that encouraged me. One in particular told me multiple times, “Hannah, don’t sell yourself short.” He reminded me that I did a great job learning a new language this year and of the bravery it takes to move to a new country just out of college. Even now, when I’m nervous about pursuing new connections in the community or stepping into new areas professionally, his words are comforting. I’m so thankful for the people who reminded me that I have things to offer, even when I wasn’t sure that I did. Over this time my confidence was also rebuilt and is stronger than it was before, less based on external affirmation and more grounded.
This week I was reading II Corinthians and really connected with the following passages:
II Corinthians 1:3-10 (NIV 1984)
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have recieved from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted it is for your comfort, which produces patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
We do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the provience of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond out ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,
II Corinthians 4:7-11;16-18
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are acheiving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
My troubles in this season did not feel “light” or “momentary” but they pale in comparison to eternity. They did not last forever. I was indeed renewed day by day. I was comforted in my time of need. When life brought pressure beyond my ability to endure, God enabled me to stand and even to sing. The days filled with tears also had laughter. There were triumphs, new friendships made, a deep feeling of closeness to God, and so much more to be thankful for.
It’s been about two months now since my last anxiety-filled, upset stomach, sleepless night. I still don’t really know what the root of all of the issues was, but since I started marathon training again I have been better. I have known for years that exercise is important for me to manage my mental and emotional health, but I didn’t realize just how crucial it was. I could (and probably will) write a whole post about running and how theraputic it is for me. I feel like I have stepped back into the sunshine. I know that I will likely have many more difficult seasons in life, but I think I may finally be out of the woods on this one.
Thank you to everyone who encouraged and prayed for me during the past several months. It makes a world of difference to know you aren’t alone in your struggles.
If you are currently walking through difficult times, I promise the darkness doesn’t last forever. You are not alone.