I lost my calm
On June 29th 2020 I received a phone call from my parents; one of my biggest fears had come to pass. I had lost a loved one, my grandfather was no more. To make things worse I was in a foreign land, all alone and away from the physical comfort of my family whom we had always faced such difficult moments with.
Additionally, I was in the middle of working on my dissertation. I felt extremely helpless as going home was not an option, considering the ongoing pandemic and the height of restrictions at that time. Although, I received support from both my family who were constantly calling and friends in the UK who went out of their way to console me, it only took a few days after the burial, before I started sinking.
The immediate change was the anxiety I experienced whenever I was alone in my room, I could no longer fully focus on my work as I did before further, I lost the ability to stay calm.
Some of the techniques that would help me relax under normal circumstances such as reading my bible, listening to music or sermons, going for a walk, showering, seeking encouragement from friends and family among others, seemed to only work for a few moments. Nevertheless, I kept trying.
Overtime these feelings of anxiety transitioned to a struggle with negative thoughts. In those moments, all I could remember were the negative things I had done, said or had been done and said to me. And for some reason I just could not control or divert these thoughts as I normally would have.
After some time, this translated to insomnia, on normal occasions I can comfortably sleep for 8-10 hours uninterrupted but this time round I slept for 4 hours only to wake up and struggle with my thoughts again. This became a cycle. My productivity and focus levels declined, yet my deadlines were fast approaching. Initially I didn’t want to trouble my parents, because I was aware that they were also mourning.
Reflecting back, this was a bad decision as immediately after opening up to them they offered me great support, including guidance on how I could enhance the quality of my work. I resolved to keep calling home whenever I experienced extreme stress.
Lessons I have learnt from my breakthrough
I never stopped praying
First, I didn’t stop praying, even though I felt as if God had left me through this dark season of my life. It was as if He no longer heard me. But by His Grace I still held on to the knowledge and truth that God was still able to save me. My prayers were narrowed to ‘God help me’ or ‘God send me help’ because the situation had completely weighed me down and looking back, He actually did.
I remember waking up to one of those dark nights and this bible verse was strong in my heart “Don’t be afraid. ·The army that fights for us is larger than the one against us Those with us are more than those with them].” 2nd Kings 6:16 GNV.
I opened up to friends
Secondly, I was very open with what I was going through to my friends in Edinburgh (despite knowing them for a very short period) because they were the closest to me, in fact it was one of them who helped me pinpoint that I had a problem. She did this with so much grace and even advised me to stop beating myself down.
Other friends cooked and brought me food, constantly called to check on me, provided support for school work and one even gave me a key to his accommodation so that I could go and work from there at any time I felt overwhelmed. My friends from home called to pray with me and cheer me on. They also reminded me of my positive abilities, that I was struggling to see at that time.
Third and probably a very important step that facilitated quick recovery was 8 weeks of therapy offered by both my Edinburgh Church (through zoom) and School (through the phone). This provided me a platform to candidly share and process the many thoughts that were running through my head in these safe spaces.
Finally, much Grace is needed for such seasons of life and after experiencing this, I realized that just like winter comes naturally so does such a season. It is not necessarily because we did anything wrong. Although in other instances it may be fully triggered.
Although we might feel ashamed and weak when we go through such seasons, these feelings are not a reflection of the truth. Mental health illness is a type of sickness just like any other, imagine if people were ashamed for having malaria or any other disease? How many people would we have lost?!
We will always overcome as God has His own ways which are higher than ours. He has already placed the right people on our way to help us, so trust Him by trusting them. Despite my struggle I was awarded a distinction in my dissertation. I didn’t think I would do it, but I believed that God would still make a way. Keep the hope alive!
Veronica Winja Otieno