A Missionary with Mental Health Issues: Alyson’s Story

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mental health

Since COVID-19 left me stranded in a remote part of Tanzania, I’ve been bemoaning the items I left behind.

First, I missed the comfort foods, a certain pair of shoes, an extra skirt. Then one day I realized that I was on my last few anxiety pills. As my supply dwindled, any of their positive effects were undone by my mounting fear of surviving without them.

This situation activated my inner Greek chorus: Why do I have to rely on a pill to keep me level? Does my anxiety make me a bad Christian? Maybe if I loved Jesus more, this wouldn’t be an issue.

(This last one is extra ridiculous since I am a physician assistant with experience in psychiatry. I know all about brain chemistry and serotonin levels. Yet, on bad days, the guilt and fear still outweigh the education and knowledge.)

With seven days of medicine left, my mind drifted towards two friends who made the brave decision to start psychiatric medication this year. I remember telling them that God gave humans the ability to make these medicines, so we should accept them just like any other gift from the Lord.

I also shared how often I write prescriptions for people with hormone or thyroid imbalances and never dream of judging them for what their body needs to function well.

My past advice came back to minister to me in the present. But it didn’t matter that I accepted my need for medicine if I didn’t even have access to it!

And the anxiety spiral and its accompanying chorus of fears began again.

Mental Health and The Master Emotion

With two days of medicine left, I pulled out notes from my last counseling sessions. I rediscovered the wisdom of Brene Brown: “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”

Aha! That old shame was creeping in again. I felt shame about being an anxious person.

Only by God’s grace could I accept myself as a wonderfully flawed human being. Only with His help could I have peace about my anxiety.

With no days of my medicine left, I told my husband, “I’m gonna need a lot of grace in these coming weeks.”

Thank goodness I married such a patient, steady man. He stayed calm and supportive as my body chemistry and mental health adjusted to life without their daily helper! It was a rocky few weeks.

And then, quite unexpectedly, through a pattern of events too tedious to detail here, I was able to get my medicine sent to me. Multiple people had to coordinate their efforts, and for a full 24 hours I thought it was lost, but it finally ended up on my doorstep.

(This is pretty amazing when you realize that we live in an area with no addresses, no street names, and only one long, winding muddy road to reach us!)

Sharing the worst

So if God works all things together for good for those that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), what good could come out of this time of feeling a bit crazy?

This morning I was asking God what I should write about today. This is what He put on my heart: 

Share the piece of you that makes you feel most vulnerable and scared. Bring it out into the light of my presence. Let my strength shine through your weakness.

So here I am! A missionary with mental health struggles.

A woman who can handle life without electricity or running water but is sometimes scared of what goes on inside her own head.

A person who believes Jesus’ command to be anxious for nothing doesn’t include a side note that this must be done without pharmaceutical help.

A child who turns to her Father with her every need, including mental health, and accepts His guidance in whatever form it takes.

My hope is that by sharing the most vulnerable part of myself, you will be empowered to bring the most vulnerable part of you to the Lord. And if you are holding onto any messages of shame, I pray that you will trust that God’s grace is enough.

Yes, even for that.

 

Alyson Rockhold has served as a medical missionary in Haiti, Tanzania, and Zambia. Check out her free 7-day devotional about learning to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10)! 

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