Hi, it’s me again.
Moments like these remind me of why I try to stay consistent in writing, but I’m back and I wanted to talk about something near and dear to my heart.
For those over on Instagram who participated in answering some questions I had surrounding mental health – thank you. Those same people might have noticed that I suddenly disappeared and never updated about the blog post that was supposed to be up that same week.
Really, there’s no excuse, but there is. I was finishing up projects, studying for exams and preparing for the Vacation Bible School (VBS) we had at our local church. And during all of that, I had been researching and researching until finally deciding that I should just start with my own experience rather than give you some statistics.
I do not claim to be an expert on how I’ve dealt with my mental health during the years nor do I claim to have the medical cure for it, but here’s my experience.
So, my first sign of experiencing mental health came when I freshly moved to the Netherlands at the age of 12. I had been having a really rough time adjusting to life in a new place and in only a year, so much had changed – good and bad.
At 13 years old, I had lost my grandmother. It was a very sudden thing when she passed and no one knew how to process it. It was the first major loss I had experienced in my life, because my grandmother was basically a mother to me and my brothers when my parents were working to provide for our family. It was such a gap that couldn’t easily be filled and as I got older, I felt her absence more and more each day. I didn’t really know what mental health meant and what signs could be detected when experiencing anything related to it, so I just shrugged it off as grief and continued on with life.
At around 14/15 years old I had found myself in a situation where I had been bullied and I lived terrified and it affected me so much that I dreaded having to be at school most days. At hours where we had a free period, I would hide myself in the library or computer room, just so I didn’t have to encounter the people who were bullying me. I would cry myself to sleep many times and would think of alternative ways to end the suffering I felt. Thank GOD I never dared to do anything I would regret. Not to mention, change of seasons in the Netherlands did not make it better for me as I started to experience a lot of depression and anxiety all at once. Once again, I had no clue what mental health was and I just shrugged it off as a teenage phase I had to get through in order to continue with life.
Next step after high school
It took over a year of enduring the people who bullied me before I would finally graduate high school and continue on to pursue an Associate’s degree in Marketing & Communication. After finishing high school and never having to see these people ever again, I started doing better, went to see my family and friends on Aruba and even attended my first ever VBS and met many amazing people at Peniel Baptist Church Aruba, the church where I am now a member of. Moreover, I had come to know more about who Jesus is and what He did for the world. I started seeing hope, like a light at the end of the tunnel.
But all good things came to an end when I came back from Aruba and started my Associate’s degree and began to stress out. I couldn’t understand why I was pursuing something I didn’t really want in the first place and why I couldn’t just get out of my comfort zone and actually try to pursue something I really wanted. So, I started to lose interest and motivation in school and cried to my parents over the decision I had made. Depression and anxiety meant that you saw me quiet, smiling, or just giving off the impression I was not really going through much, but deep down, I was so broken, crying all the time, and I didn’t know how to express my thoughts properly.
My way of coping was through music and writing, playing my guitar, drawing and coloring, but also humor (hence why I love a good stand-up comedy). I loved those things so much and it was what had made me happiest in the worst times. I had gotten a camera from my parents for my sixteenth birthday and that camera is still like my child and I love taking pictures with it.
The decision to move
At nearly 17 years old, I had convinced myself that it was time to think about leaving the Netherlands. I had just finished my first year in Marketing and I had one more year to go before going for my Bachelor’s degree. And so, mom and I looked into the University of Aruba and considered the option, but it wasn’t a total yes that I would move back, so I still looked for degrees in the Netherlands. But by the end of the year, I was convinced I would move back to Aruba and my dad and stepmom were full on board with that and got me my ticket to move back.
From 16 to 18 years old, I started experiencing so many things as a teenager and I often questioned why God permitted these situations and circumstances in my life. I wanted to experience the teenage life to its full potential: having a boyfriend, going out with friends (not that I didn’t do that, but I wanted to be a little more daring) without being a lame grandma about it, travel more (However, I am very thankful for the countries I was able to visit up until now), and whatever else teenagers experience. I was so caught up in wanting what others had that I simply lowered my self-esteem and my anxiety and depression would become worse.
But thanks be to God for allowing me to not go through many things I had seen others go through, because I would not be where I am today if I had been severely misled.
Anyway, fast forward to me turning 18 and finally moving back to Aruba. Life was great, we were enjoying the summer, I started going to church, reconnecting with old friends and making new friends. I came to Christ about six months later and was growing in the Word each day.
Things couldn’t be worse… until I started college a year after moving.
At 19 years old, I had begun college and all started really well and I was slowly making friends and enjoying some of the courses I had. But things started to get hard and I couldn’t really keep up with the courses, and I had been involved with someone I considered a good friend and things spiraled out of control. I was miserable and filled with anxiety and basically failed my first year at college, because I didn’t make some the grades I needed to pass – not even with the help of my great friend (he knows who he is), but I was also very distracted.
I had just turned twenty and I had jumped on a plane to see mom and stepdad, my brothers, the rest of the family and friends I hadn’t seen in two years. All was great, I was happy and with someone I really liked, even loved at that point. I was very optimistic and had found peace with doing my first year over again.
But just a few months in, I began to not be too serious with college again and also went through what was basically a break-up with the guy I had been involved with. Life was a mess in my mind and my anxiety sky-rocketed like I hadn’t experienced in a while. I began isolating myself as I tried to cope with my first heartbreak and college had been going so horribly that I considered dropping out and looking for other options. But I got out of that funk and started to become a bit more serious with school when the new year began.
When the world changed
Fast forward to March of last year when the whole world went into a lockdown and we had to be cooped up in our homes for over two months. Let’s just say that quarantine was a bittersweet experience. I was able to spend SO much time with my family, but I also missed my friends and church so much.
God was definitely teaching me a valuable lesson during those months in lockdown. School, however, was not the most fun experience online and it took time to adjust to sitting behind a laptop for long periods of time. By the grace of God, and help from my awesome friend (again, he knows who he is), I was able to finish my first year of college. Studying for those exams were so nerve-wracking and definitely affected my emotional well-being, but I made it and that was amazing.
Then second year came around and I had started out okay and doing well with assignments, so all seemed good and I was in a good place mentally for a while as I had just gone through a great summer vacation with friends and family despite the world going through a literal pandemic. By the end of the first block of the semester, I had realized I was not doing good and I was overwhelmed with combining university and two jobs. So, I quit my jobs and tried to put all my energy into school, but with being online and constantly home, I was so unmotivated that I had decided by the new year to consider the option (again) to dropping out of college and working until I could pursue another career elsewhere.
Starting over… and over again
By December of last year until around February of this year, I had been through the worst depression I had felt in a long time and I was struggling with so many awful thoughts and even doubted what God’s plan was for me during this awful season of my life. In my finite mind, I couldn’t understand why God could permit me to go through so much and still struggle with mental health issues when I was just trying to do my best.
I had to sit down with my parents and talk it out with them, and talking with my pastor as well. And to me, those talks were extremely important, because I tend to be very emotional and I was so deep into my mental health struggles that I was about to just give up those years in college because of the emotional struggle I was going through. I was so distant from God and isolated myself from others, I cared little for my physical, mental, and emotional health. I will say that I struggled a lot with my thoughts and struggled a lot with sin as I went through this period and it was not easy.
God in His infinite grace and mercy, through lots of prayers, helped me get out of that horrible period I found myself in. I had started my second semester at school with high hopes and definitely with more motivation than before, and things were going great. I sought true peace in Christ and reminded myself daily of what God’s peace is. It was so hard, but God remained so good and so faithful while I doubted Him. And I have to say, it was the hardest semester I had gone through as well, but with a lot of determination, time spent in the books and just being in communion with God, I was able to successfully pass all my courses. ALL my second semester courses. Praise be to God!
And so, here we are. From mid-February until now, I had gone through too many projects to count, exams, VBS preparations, VBS week, and I am now working during the summer. I can definitely say that God was been so amazing through it all.
The countless times I’ve failed to show up, He still came through and He has blessed me more abundantly than words can even express.
And here’s the thing: I still struggle with mental health, mainly anxiety, and it’s not an easy journey nor is me being a Christian making it any better. But I believe that God is helping me through my mental health journey and I’ve also been changing up certain habits I had and all those little changes have made a huge difference for me.
I’m reminded that the sufferings here on earth are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18) and He keeps in perfect peace those whose minds are stayed on Him and trust in Him (Isaiah 26:3-4).
This journey is not over, there’s still so much to talk about concerning mental health and the church (to the believers struggling and to believers wanting to stretch out an arm and help those struggling).
But for now, I leave you with these:
What helped me through this process
Here are a few verses that helped me through this period and season of disaster, but also restoration:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.Romans 8:18
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:2-4
casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:7
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.Isaiah 26:3-4