In the Wilderness

In the Wilderness

I’m a highly-functioning, anxious depressive.

Doesn’t that sound fun? I hide it extremely well — the gift of being considered highly-functional. No one sees the panic flaring in my chest as my carefully-controlled world descends into chaos or the agonizing oppression that weighs me down when too happy becomes so, so sad. I’m guessing that sounds familiar to a couple of you out there.

words + photographs TARA HATHCOCK

There were many descriptions for what I felt growing up: highly competitive and low self-esteem were among the most popular. Church youth group taught me, with God’s help, there was absolutely no reason to suffer such typical teenage melodrama and angst. Pray it out, they said. And oh, I did. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I prayed as I drove home from church on Wednesday nights, sobbing for no real reason and wondering what it would be like if I simply drove off a bridge. I prayed a little more on the mornings I could barely drag myself out of bed, on the mornings when I was too numb to care. 

I know, beyond doubt, I am still alive because of those desperate prayers and because of my lifeline to Jesus, the One who Sees. He saw me in those wilderness moments. He sees me in all my moments. And while He kept me alive, He chose, and still chooses, not to remove this burden of anxiety and depression from me.

I could say I don’t know why. I could say I blindly trust His wisdom. But I do know why, and I don’t trust blindly. He doesn’t remove this anxiety from my mind because it’s what Paul might call my thorn. Much like Paul’s confession in 2 Corinthians, this weakness keeps me from becoming conceited, from forgetting who my source of life and strength truly is. I know this because I’ve done it. Often. Even with a malady that keeps me ever-dependent on God, I still try to force my own way and forge my own path. A spiral of my own creation that always leads back to Him.

God will likely never remove the burden of anxiety from me. I understand that. But He does give me resources to fight against it. Prayer, of course, tried and true. I never actually wanted to end my own life, not really. I just wanted a world that was quiet. I wanted peace from the constant attacks of loneliness, fear and despondency. I wanted to be with my Lord, without the difficulties and stresses of this life. Without my lifeline to Christ, built through decades of demonstration and dedication, first in the home of my parents and then in practice in my own home, I’m not convinced I wouldn’t have followed that voice trying to ease me off a ledge of my own creation. But by the grace of my Lord, I didn’t.

I wish I could say these feelings, this disease, have left me or even grown weaker during my adulthood and that ever-steady march towards 40, but they have not. In fact, they have only grown stronger. Case in point — I’m writing this from the discomfort of a small motel room, less than one mile from my second airport in as many days. I’m currently praying desperately for my rescheduled flight to take off in the morning with me on board. Because, despite my well-organized, best-laid travel plans, there is nothing I can do about flight cancellations. Operational issues, they say. No flights today for Tara.

Foreign city; foreign airport; and 1,200 miles from home. No cars, no flights.

I am trapped. I can’t get home. I may never get home. And all I want is to go home.

LEFT Tara revels in being an aunt to three nieces: Addie and her baby sister Rosie (cover picture) and Right Harlow. Tara was visiting Addie and meeting Rosie when she was stuck in an airport, 1,200 miles from home.

But there is nothing I can do. I’ve called. I’ve messaged. I’ve searched for any flight to any airport in Missouri. There is nothing. How can this be? How can there not be a single flight, on a single airline, to a single airport in Missouri? But alas, there is not. And I’ve finally accepted the situation is entirely out of my hands.

Mind you, it always has been. I just hadn’t realized it until this moment. And now anxiety gallantly steps aside for despair. I am all alone. No one cares. I am no one, and no one will miss me when I am gone. 

None of these words are true. They may feel true, but they are words whispered by Satan in the middle of the current wilderness I find myself stranded in.

And in that wilderness, finally, God speaks: 

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you will go.

Words straight out of the Old Testament, originally spoken to Joshua in the midst of war, now spoken for a weak, homesick control freak who’s had all control stripped away. And yet I know, without doubt, they are true. I know God will go with me. Continuing to pray, I will pick myself up and follow Jesus wherever He leads. It clearly isn’t going to be in the direction, or at the speed, I prefer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t follow.

I’m not one to divulge my feelings. I’d rather pretend I don’t have any. It’s how I’ve dealt with anxiety all these years — numbness and avoidance. But clearly, this foolproof method isn’t working. And I have a sneaking suspicion there are plenty of you who can relate. It’s not comfortable for me to talk about my struggles. I’d rather not. But what’s the point of weakness if not to magnify God’s grace and strength? Make lemonade out of lemons when you can.

Paul really said it best. I don’t enjoy struggling through bouts of anxiety and depression. I wish Christ would remove them from me. But since He doesn’t, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” (2 Corinthians 12:9). TH

A believer since the age of 10, Tara Hathcock‘s goal has always been to honor God with her service, first as a healthcare worker and now as an author. She and her brother, Trey, founded quiet + kin, a publishing company in Springfield, Missouri, committed to helping authors succeed. Visit taranhathcock.com to purchase Tara’s books.


+ MENTAL HEALTH FOR EACH OF US | After reading Tara Hathcock’s description of how it feels to struggle with anxiety and depression, we didn’t want to turn the page without first pausing. We appreciate the time taken by Joann Weston, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor at Eaglecrest Counseling Center in Springfield, Missouri, to speak with us, to begin a conversation about mental health. For those who resonate with Tara’s words or for those who love someone who does, God’s eyes are on you. He loves you. He is with you. Please join us in reading “Mental Health for Each of Us: A conversation with a licensed professional counselor.”


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