How do I know when times get tough?

by Wahoo

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28

I know it’s true. But right now I don’t see it. It has been a struggle. I don’t really know if any of you feel concerned for me, but I know there are a few on here who have expressed interest in how I have been doing and where I’ve been. Well, put bluntly, bad, and in a bad place.

Many of you know me as Wahoo, a young man with a lot of energy who loves the Lord and loves his friends and family. I have been on and off here, but the stretch of time when most of you got to know me was an amazing time in my life. I was growing up and learning so much, I was incredibly blessed to have such great friends and a comfortable lifestyle, there were no worries and I felt on top of the world. My Christian Faith was something I took pride in and defended relentlessly. I figured that God must be proud of me for my courage. After all, everyone online seemed to be.

That me may come around now and then, but there’s another me. The me that has plagued me lately is not one that I like. These have been some dark days in my personal life.

There’s a long background story here, but I’ll try to keep it to the point and include only what is necessary. Senior year of high school was amazing, but like all good things, it came to an end. I spent this past summer doing little but hanging out with my girlfriend at the beach and getting all of my college things together. I was living in the moment, and it was the time of my life. Until, certain things began to be revealed to me.

It started physical. Not that it isn’t still physical, but it is so much more than physical now. One day in early September I became ill and vomited several times, right in front of my girlfriend. I was humiliated, and didn’t think too much of it, but pretty soon I wanted to vomit again. Very quickly, this became a habit, and everything that I put in my stomach wanted to come up. How terrorizing the feeling was. I felt that I would never be able to eat anything again, and I would waste away and die. Sound absurd? Of course it does. It does to me too now, thankfully, but in the moment there was nothing that felt more real than this fear.

I went to the doctor several weeks later and I was already starting to improve. Close monitoring of my eating was helping me, as well as little tricks such as eating slowly and taking deep breaths between bites. All good things, no doubt, but totally not necessary. Turns out, it was all in my head.

Of course, the doctor didn’t tell me that. She diagnosed me with some sort of reflux disorder and I even took medicine for it for a couple of weeks until I realized something truly eye opening and revolutionary in my mind. When I stopped thinking about my fear that I would throw up everything for the rest of my life until I wasted away, I could eat. Stunning.

Not that it went away in an instant. It did, however, improve dramatically as I learned that the problem I had was mostly mental and that I was allowing to take myself to the worst possible scenario. Bad idea. Seems obvious now, but in the moment I really was convinced.

So, I felt a little better, but pretty soon after that, there was another fear I couldn’t shake. The problem with this one though was that it wasn’t as well defined. I mean, I knew I was fearing something but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Actually, I’m still not completely sure what it is. And come to think of it, I’ll probably never know what it is.

But anyway, I thought it had something to do with my girlfriend. And, it does. After a few days of feeling some anxiety and thinking that my anxious symptoms were coming back (I had been diagnosed with anxiety when I was 12), I suddenly got the urge that God might be telling me something. So, I listened, and prayed, and struggled, and came to the conclusion that He must be telling me that I should leave my girlfriend because it seemed that all my fears surrounded her.

But as you can imagine, that was a thought that overwhelmed me with sorrow and confusion. I didn’t really understand, but in my mind I just knew. This was such a strong force it just had to be God. So I struggled for the last two weeks of October and into November, still deeply troubled by all of this. I didn’t want to alarm her so I didn’t say anything around her, but it soon became too much to bear on my own. Looking back, I know I should have brought it up sooner.

Right around this time, my parents were starting to express some concern regarding her as well. She wasn’t going to church, and even though she always identifies herself as a Christian, her actions don’t always show it. But I thought that since mine don’t either, it would be unreasonable of me to expect anything different.

So my fears and confusion over the whole situation soon turned into all out panic, and eventually an uncontrollable obsession which took over my life and prevented me from doing day to day activities. I was throwing up again. I was also struggling to sleep. But at the same time, it took an unbelievable amount of energy to get out of bed. For some reason that I still have not yet determined, I’d obsess over it as my day went on, but around eight in the evening or so, I’d suddenly feel relaxed and could smile again. Every night I would hope that the change was permanent, and that I had overcome whatever was making me anxious. But every morning, those same fearful thoughts would return, and it took so much effort to do the simplest of things.

Eventually, it got to the point where I was physically drained and mentally unstable. And coming as no surprise, I was getting nowhere. I’d think about the same things over and over in an effort to make sense of it all. But I always ended up more confused than ever until I’d finally get my mind off of it and feel better.

One day, I had had enough. I could have sworn I was having a message from God though. See, it just came to me. I had to leave my girlfriend. That was the only way out. It made me so sad. But at this point I felt like there was no turning back. It was like my mind just made itself up in an instant. I started reading articles online in Christian magazines about relationships and came to the same troubling conclusion the more that I read. We just weren’t made for each other. What incredible pain.

My parents were pretty sad about it too. They haven’t always shown a ton of support for the relationship, so I thought they would support my decision. But they really didn’t take a side one way or the other. Just talked with me about it for hours. This happened on Veterans Day, a Saturday night. For some reason, the conversation inspired me to confess almost everything. At least a lot more than I had told them before. As it turned out, confessing things we did wrong in our relationship out loud really revealed to me just how bad things were. We were not in any way living in a Godly manner. And as you can imagine, that just made me feel even more confident in my excruciating decision to end the relationship.

So I scheduled a meeting with my pastor to be counseled for the Tuesday after. But on Monday, the day I was supposed to break the news to my girlfriend, I suddenly felt happy. Not about what was going on, but just in general. When we saw each other, I decided to give it more of a chance. But this time, we were going to try to do things right.

I met with my pastor the next day and pretty much put it all on him and asked him what I should do. I was so tired of trying to figure it out myself. He spoke so calmly, which immediately put me at ease. In short, since he once worked in an emergency room, he helped me to see that the main problem was my anxiety. I had associated my girlfriend with my panic disorder and therefore she was a trigger. But he seemed certain that God was not telling me that I had to leave her by torturing me. His suggestion was to try to make changes in the relationship, but get treated for my anxiety and evaluate it again when I was thinking more clearly.

I was elated. There was a lot of work to do, but there was hope. And I felt that I had received an accurate diagnosis. Looking back now, it was an important step. But there is more to the story.

In the midst of a couple of really good weeks, we began to slip again. And likewise, I started feeling symptoms of anxiety again. There was definitely a correlation. I made an appointment with my doctor and knew that I had to be treated. There was hope with medications, as they can help my condition immensely. But as it turns out, my condition is a little bit more than I originally thought.

Part of my issue which soon became obvious was how often I would take to the internet to try to find answers. I spent hours, probably days at this point, of the past few months reading WebMD articles and numerous anxiety and depression forums. They normally made me feel better momentarily, but would only make things worse in the long run.

Something I discovered, however, did shed some light on the whole situation. When I ran across the article, I immediately diagnosed myself. I have obsessive compulsive disorder. Looking back at all of my struggles, it made a lot of sense. Why did I weigh myself constantly when I was worried about wasting away? Why would I habitually think about my girlfriend when I was convinced she was the problem, or constantly go to the internet to try to find answers? They are obsessions, constant things that I do that my mind has convinced me will make me better, but only reinforce the problems in the long run.

I brought this up with my doctor and it turns out, I have tendencies of someone with anxiety, depression, and OCD. She wasn’t ready to give me a strict diagnosis, but it doesn’t matter. I have been put on an SSRI, medication to give some extra serotonin to the brain, a chemical which is often thrown off balance in someone who suffers from these conditions.

Three weeks in, my mood was improved. I am still amazed at how such a small pill can have such a dramatic impact on thoughts. This is, after all, a mental disorder. And somehow, this pill has the power to really mess with my mind and block parts of my brain which have convinced me that my habitual actions (compulsions) are necessary as a result of my fears. (obsessions).

But as much as medicine can help control symptoms, it’s no cure. My problems were beginning to impact my spiritual life as well.

Soon after the obsessions over whether or not my girlfriend was right for me or not set in, doubts about my faith did as well. There were so many thoughts going through my mind and so fast that I couldn’t even keep up and keep them rational. Basically though, I didn’t feel God’s presence. The whole thing no longer made any sense. I thought that I had probably been brainwashed into being a Christian because that’s how I grew up. It would be logical that however we humans are brought up is normally how we’ll stay. That doesn’t make a Christian special, it makes us normal and predictable.

In the midst of this though, I still went to church and still considered myself a Christian. It was off and on that I was having these doubts. Sometimes I would feel like God was there, and sometimes I’d really wonder. But the constant was that it would always be on my mind. I feared losing my faith. Looking at all the statistics about college students falling away from their faith, I thought I might be next. It consumed my thoughts for a while.

I also feared committing suicide. I never thought I would do it, and was never on the brink of doing it or anything. But feeling such deep depression made me think that I would never get over it and would eventually have had too much. That thought scared me too. Then the thoughts combined. I would definitely commit suicide if I fell away from my faith and felt depressed. Especially if I had left my girlfriend. Then I would truly have nothing to live for. What a horrible fear it was. At this point, I didn’t really know what I was fearing, I just felt depressed and knew that there were so many fears, it didn’t matter which was in the forefront of my mind. My brain literally hurt. My life was a mess.

After another meeting with my pastor in early December, I was starting to get it. As it turns out, fearing losing my faith is another obsession. So is a fear of hurting myself. This isn’t uncommon, and as for my girlfriend, there’s a condition for that. It’s called ROCD. You probably haven’t heard of it, which is why it took me so long to find it. But if you’re interested, this is EXACTLY what I am experiencing.

I would like to focus in on the fear of losing my faith a little bit more though, because there is more to that one. There are, as my pastor told me, times in our lives when we have spiritual dry spells. It doesn’t feel like God is there for whatever reason. While I have never really previously experienced one of these, I believe that I now understand what they are. I’m still not sure if the dry spell goes hand in hand with the doubts, if one causes the other, or if they’re completely independent, but it doesn’t matter. Having my condition where I question everything that once seemed so important to me and being in the midst of a spiritual dry spell has led me to notice something very important about the faith of each one of us.

God is there whether we feel his presence or not. Now, that’s easy to say, but it really hits you when all of a sudden you don’t feel His presence and all sorts of unwanted, intrusive doubts enter your mind. It is then when your faith is truly tested. Now, I don’t know, but maybe some Christians are fortunate enough to go their entire lives feeling that God is there. Lucky them. I guess life isn’t fair.

This all reminds me of John chapter 20 when Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus and instantly believed. He cried out, “My Lord and my God!”. But Jesus responded in verse 29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now, I know that Jesus was talking about his literal body in this context, but I wonder, can’t this still apply to us? None of us have seen His pierced hands or feet, though many of us do witness various things in our lives which make the reality of our Savior clear. But what about when we don’t have these things to fall back on? Do we need to look harder?

I would argue after going through a period of time when God is not making his presence to me clear that those of us experiencing spiritual dry spells are who our Lord is referring to in verse 29. Not that any of us believe perfectly, not even close. I know my doubts have been far too many recently. But it just goes to show that even right after his resurrection, Jesus knew the struggles we would face, one big one being not seeing but needing to trust that He is still the only way.

Thinking about this has really allowed me to delve deeper into the root of my problem, and really the root of a problem I know a lot of people have. Many of us are very emotional beings, which has its perks. Unfortunately however, when we allow our feelings to overcome us, everything depends on them. But the bottom line is, feelings do not change the truth. They sure do change a lot though. And when they do, it’s confusing and frustrating.

I can’t help but think of Tobymac’s Feel It, in which he states, “everybody’s talking like you need some proof but what more do I need than to feel you.”

It sounds great, and I used to love it and live by it. It shouldn’t, however, be our proof that there is a God. We might feel it in our heart and in our soul one day, but then the next we feel like the big bang happened. I don’t mean to criticize Tobymac too much because it’s an easy trap to fall into. We can feel God. It isn’t why He’s there though, and we’re in big trouble if that’s why we think He is.

I’m still a little confused on this though, because there has to be some element of feeling that is an essential part of our faith. After all, how else would we even know of Jesus if we weren’t impacted somehow at some point by the message? I don’t understand, because that’s kind of like relying on feelings. I’ve spent a lot of time going over this in my mind as well, it has become an obsession. I guess some things aren’t for us to know.

Going back to my story, we’ve almost made it to the present day. I was taking the medicine for a few weeks and it made a huge difference. Right before Christmas, my doctor decided that since it was helping but she thought it could help even more, I should increase the dosage. I started doing that and now I’ve started feeling badly again these past few days. Could be the increase in dosage, could be coincidence, I don’t know. But hopefully the medicine will still help me a great deal.

As it stands, I don’t know what is going to happen with my girlfriend. We have some problems, some key differences, and I don’t know if they can be overcome. It is such incredible pain to write this and admit that our relationship might someday come to an end. But that is a dark reality I guess I have to keep open.

I still obsess about her, about my faith, and about other things. I now understand my condition a lot better. What I’ve been struggling most with lately is that even if I do have ROCD, which I know I do, that doesn’t mean my relationship is right. It just means that the obsessions that I have about it should not be real concerns. But there are real concerns. So, I’ve been trying to differentiate what is ROCD and what is real. It’s so tough because ROCD feels so real. And I’m still having a really really hard time.

But that’s exactly where I would like to stop to hopefully really drive home the point, because this isn’t about getting sympathy. Everything has been so hard for me lately because of how I feel. As it turns out though, in so many cases, feelings are fake. It’s amazing, and it’s so hard to make sense of. Sometimes we have to just trust. I have to trust that my feelings are fake. Others may have different struggles in which they have to trust. But it’s all about trust, even when you don’t feel it.

I pray that God will help us all trust, whatever our struggles are. I pray that He would lead me to do what is best without fearing and obsessing over every decision. And I pray that someone can someday learn from whatever this all was in my life. I still can’t even make sense of it, but I know that all things work for the good.