In the mental health community there’s a lot of talk about triggers. A trigger is anything that causes uncomfortable emotions. It can be something small like a song you hear on the radio or something big like news of a death, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it triggers you and sends you reeling into panic, anxiety, depression or mania.
Strangely, one of my biggest triggers is a place I love. My church. When I’m in a bad place, just walking into the building can trigger panic and anxiety. It started a few years ago when I went through the worst depressive episode to date. I was sitting in the third row, a silent observer. It was the first Sunday of the February, a communion Sunday. My pastor talked a lot about gospel transformation, allowing the gospel to take hold and transform. And as the music started and people filed to the kneelers for communion, I started to shake. For so long I had longed for this gospel transformation, longed to let the gospel take over me with its power. I watched in the semi-darkness as those around me experienced that transformation, the very thing I was missing. Or at least, that’s what I imagined was happening. So I pulled a scrap of paper from my Bible and scrawled these words, “I quit. I can’t keep doing this. It’s too hard. I can’t keep trying only to end up back in this place of darkness time after time. I’d rather not get my hopes up that [gospel] transformation might happen.” The room grew darker by the minute as my heart filtered out the light. I couldn’t force myself out of my chair and up to the kneelers that morning. Couldn’t feast on the bread of life or drink deeply from the cup. I was turning to stone. A stone that was being crushed under the weight of depression. And in the sacredness of that moment, I gave in to the darkness. I let it wash over me without resisting it. The weight was oppressive; suffocating. The fight had gone out of me. Darkness was my only companion.
The next few days are a blur. I went into one of the deepest depressions of my life with thoughts of death and pain clouding my heart and mind. I had been in this place before, but this time it felt scarier, more intense. While it’s true that a change in my medications was partly to blame, there was a battle being waged and my heart and mind were the battlefield.
But I didn’t quit. I continued to go to church, though for weeks after that experience, walking into the building produced an extraordinary anxiety. I took Klonopin just to make it through the service. I sat in my chair shaking, the medication barely taking the edge off the anxiety. How could something so close to my heart cause my heart cause such deep pain? Why did I continue to go? Why subject myself to the pain? Because deep down, I knew that it was my only hope. The only place speaking truth in the darkness.
Even now, communion can cause anxiety to rise up in me. I sit and watch, sometimes unable to make it to the kneelers to partake. Some Sundays, I force myself out of my chair. Others, I just can’t do it. There’s too much at stake. The days I do, I kneel, forcing my heart to calm itself, barely able to pray, barely able to take in the beauty of the table. Feeling like I am somehow less because of this feeling inside my heart. I long for an anesthetic to numb the pain of my longing. But maybe that pain is good. Maybe it is God’s way of drawing me close. If I could only let it—let Him, in. The pain could be a signpost of God’s transformative power working in me.
So I’ll continue to push through the feelings and make my way to the communion table. I’ll push through the anxiety and allow God to transform me. Let the gospel take root in me. I’ll fight the darkness with the truth of the Light. But transformation is a work in progress as God slowly walks me through this journey. And I’m further down the road than I was four years ago. Even four weeks ago. And as Paul writes, the one who calls me is faithful, and he will do it.
©stephanie g. pepper