Written by Beth Richardson. Media by Taylor Harpster.
A testimony is ongoing; it is not something you can ever finish writing down. Because of this, I will offer a snapshot—a glimpse into an important time in my life that has shaped and continues to shape me.
The fall of my junior year, I traveled to a country seven time zones away, to a house and a family I did not know, with people I hardly knew. I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain for a semester. It was exhilarating, eye-opening, and transformative. What came before this journey; however, was anything but.
Two weeks before I left for Spain, I wrote this in a journal:
I will be perfectly honest with you: I am not ready. If I could tell you how many prayers have been prayed and how many tears have fallen surrounding this whole experience, I would. But I can’t because I cannot will my feelings into eloquent enough words. I am terrified. And I feel as though these thoughts are inappropriate because ‘I’m lucky to go to Spain.’ ‘Lots of people want this opportunity, and here you are taking it.’ I understand. The aching still thrives and the terror and anxiety still hold me captive. I thought I would be ready by now. But I’m not. I won’t be. But I will go. I will push myself farther than I have ever pushed myself. It will be terrifying. But I hope it will be freeing.”
It might help to explain how the previous three years brought me to who I was when I wrote that journal. Issues with fear have followed me my whole life, but when I came to Greenville in the fall of 2014, it felt like I was a new person. Everything was going right for me during my freshman year and I was having the time of my life. I decided to continue my luck by taking on an internship on top of my normal job, which led to twelve hour days. I quickly burned out, entering sophomore year unmotivated and depressed. I first attributed it all to the sophomore slump, thinking it would go away in a month or so. It never did, and I spent a lot of time bouncing between emotions. I pushed new friends away because I felt like I was a complete mess, and I put a strain on relationships with people I already loved deeply.
Last fall when I decided to come to Spain to study abroad, I was at first extremely excited, thinking I could escape everything that was my sophomore year. Obviously, that quickly changed. I do not remember when I had my first anxiety attack, but I do remember the one that changed everything. When people talked to me about Spain, I had to try really hard not to cry from fear. So many people were supporting me, and I felt that I needed to be strong. I remember learning of a change in plans which would shorten my parent’s visit, trying to hold it together, running to the bathroom, collapsing on the floor, and feeling like I could not get enough air in my lungs. I kept telling myself to stop, but my body was not cooperating. After what felt like forever, I finally made my way downstairs and tried to pretend like nothing happened. My mom came over to hold me and tell me she was sorry about the situation, which is when I started being unable to breathe again. She held me for a long time and I finally told her, “I just feel so anxious. All the time.” Opening up allowed me to shatter the stigma I felt around me.
Hebrews 6:19a says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Even in the midst of feeling tossed around, our hope is in God and He is the one who anchors us back down. It would be false to state that God didn’t give me more than I could handle. After all, it was three months away from my family, culture, language, and friends. I think God often gives us more than we can handle because that is when He invites us to turn to Him.
It is not that I never had another anxiety attack again. I definitely did and will probably still have them occasionally. I wish I could describe how at peace I felt when I boarded that plane, sat in the airport for four hours with my new housemates, and eventually landed in Spain. It is as if God hugged me for three months and battled my demons for me. Sometimes, the only way to change is to throw yourself into something that brings you fear and try not to drown.
Each morning, Psalm 139:18b entered my brain. “And when I wake up, you are still with me.” This comes from David’s praises to God. There were mornings that I woke up and did not feel like doing anything, but I remembered that no matter how anxious I felt about the day before me, God was not leaving my side.