It’s all in your head — an expression I will never use again.
I was recently taking classes in a higher education doctoral program. I was trying to balance family, work and school. What I neglected was my own health and sleep. One particular week, I pulled an all-nighter, followed by a busy day to complete a paper and attend a conference. It went against my better judgment, but I knew I could handle it. I was confident that not feeling well after something like this was common, so I was not too surprised when I had a hard time keeping food down. However, these symptoms were different than most, in how long they lasted. I was losing weight and had no appetite, but I figured I would feel better soon enough. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. It became normal for me to be cautiously aware of exit doors, trash cans, restrooms — anywhere that I could quickly go if I needed to “get sick.”
Family convinced me to go to the doctor. At this point, I convinced myself that there had to be something physically wrong, since there is no way that stress and anxiety could cause this. Sure, I had heard of physical effects of such, but that was what happened to other people. I pride myself in being “laid back” and “go with the flow.” I was a little frustrated that the doctor asked me what seemed like a thousand questions about my schedule and stresses. I thought, “Look, man. Of course I have some stress, but so does everyone. My problem is I’m throwing up after every meal. That’s my problem! Not stress.” After a swallow test, a couple of unhelpful medications, and having a tube ran down my throat to find nothing, I started to realize it really might be anxiety.
The hardest thing to “not stress about it” is attempting to not stress. My slow process of feeling better started with admitting I was stressed. Next, I had to say no to some great opportunities. I swallowed my pride and confided in mentors. I actually listened to advice. I drastically changed my portions of food. There is no “wow factor” in how I began to feel better because it took weeks, with each day being a tiny bit better than the prior day. Part of me feels a little silly even sharing this story as I know there are so many people with much greater health concerns.
What motivates me is to let you know that we all need help from time to time. God expects us to ask for help. The church is most like Christ when we are there for each other. We are there for each other when we are aware of the needs around us. We are aware of the needs around us when someone is bold enough to ask. Until now, I just thought that was what other people were supposed to do.
I strive each day to see the heart of every conversation. Every single person has some level of brokenness and that is actually great. God can shine much brighter when we are real with each other. Read Colossians 3 and let it sink in. Verses 2 and 15 scream out to me — “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” and “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
Look to a roommate, suitemate, classmate, close friend, professor, minister, counselor, doctor, the older lady at your home church that you think is awesome or (if you really want your street cred to drop) contact me. I’m not a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor. I’m not sure I can completely explain the difference between stress and anxiety, but I will lift your name in prayer and walk with you. It’s not “all in your head.” It is real. Let’s face it together.
Written by Zach Neal, Dean of Students