I had just transitioned from leading a college ministry to serving as the teaching pastor at RockHarbor Church (RH), a young, vibrant church plant. I was honored and amazed at the opportunity God had set before me, and desired to make a good impression for those who had trusted me with this role.
Four days after I started at RH I injured my knee playing basketball and found myself hobbling around with a torn ACL, MCL, and PCL. Surgery was performed five weeks later. That first night out of surgery I lay at home unable to sleep. I'm still not sure what happened, but it felt like I was suffocating. I felt a crushing weight on my chest and my heart began to race. I couldn't focus. I was unable to relax. I was completely, and irrationally, terrified.
I managed to get through the night in a Vicodin-induced haze, but my anxiety didn't go away. It grew progressively worse and I spent the whole next day with a relentless sense of nervousness. I had never felt so strange. Nothing sounded enjoyable, and no matter what I tried I couldn't distract myself from how I was feeling. I was embarrassed to be so weak in front of my wife and the visitors that stopped by. The next night was as miserable as the first and by the second day, I was a mess.
I began weeping uncontrollably. I woke up each day with a constant feeling of panic. I didn't know what to do. Praying, journaling, or reading the Bible didn't help. Everything I normally enjoyed lost its spark and became just another reminder of how dark everything had become.
I tried explaining this to some of the leaders at my new church, but I didn't understand what was happening well enough to articulate it. I just knew that I went into surgery as one guy, and came out another. So when I was reluctant to start preaching again, they were naturally a bit confused. I remember one painful conversation at a local park where I was reminded that people had continued to preach as they were dying of cancer, so why couldn't I preach?
On top of the constant anxiety, a deep sense of shame settled upon me. I was humiliated by my struggle. I was the lowest I had ever been, far beyond my ability to cover up.
I lived under this burden for the next three months somehow teaching, pastoring, and trying to understand what was happening. On Easter morning, three months to the day after my surgery, the anxiety went away. Just like that.
Over the next several years the anxiety and depression would come roaring back, seemingly out of the blue, and then disappear after a time. I battled it the best I could, but it was taking a toll on my wife and my colleagues at RH. I vividly recall one Saturday night, walking around in our backyard in the rain, sobbing and calling out to God for help. I had to preach the next day on brokenness and absolutely hated being the illustration. There were times when I simply wanted to run out of the church during our weekend services, rather than try to preach through this.
Some friends finally convinced me to see a Christian counselor. I also went to my doctor and he prescribed some anti-anxiety and sleep meds. I had been fearful of getting on medication, as I didn't want to be "hooked," and I didn't want to believe that God wouldn't heal me. I finally capitulated and promptly gained 50 pounds and lost all interest in sex. I felt less anxiety, but my sense of shame only increased. RH had grown substantially and I was now very publically looking like Jabba the Hut. I asked my doctor about this and he said I could either be fat and happy or skinny and depressed. If those were the options, then I'd gladly choose my new Jabba physique.