For a long time, I’ve felt like this post needs to be written, but I didn’t want to write it. I don’t like to be vulnerable, especially with strangers on the internet. I tend to not share my emotions with people, except for a few people in my inner circle, but I’m writing this as a step of faith in God. For a while, I’ve been feeling that the Lord has been calling me to write this post.

Breaking the Stigma

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. One of the main goals of this month is to break the stigma associated with mental health. Through this article, one of my hopes is that there will be a wider awareness of mental health issues. Anyone can suffer from a mental health issue.

Mental health is one of the biggest challenges among people in my generation (Gen-Z). According to Pew Research, depressive episodes are rising among both boys and girls. According to this study, depression has risen by 65% in just the past ten years. If these statistics are true, there are over 3 million teens yearly who struggle with depression.

For those of us who have grown up in Gen-Z, I believe we have grown up in an entirely different world than our parents. Most of us got these things called cell phones when we were in 6th or 7th grade, sometimes earlier. The cell phone has connected us but also torn us apart. Social media is changing the way we think about ourselves and the world.

Every day since we were 12 or so, we’ve seen photos of people living their “best life” and we (or at least I) feel like that’s the life we need to live. But we only see the good parts. That’s one of the things I’m trying to change with this article. Share your struggles, it’s such a liberating feeling.

I have two main goals in writing this article: First, if you don’t struggle with anxiety or depression, I hope you take from this article that this is a very real problem. I have an amazing life and still struggle with anxiety. Second, if you do struggle with anxiety or depression, you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to, you can always contact me. Anyone can have anxiety or depression.

The “Perfect” Life

I am a classic overachiever. Everything I do, I try to be the best. I’m the 4.0 valedictorian with a really good SAT score who received a full-tuition scholarship for college. I could have gone to just about any college I wanted, either through my schoolwork or sports. I was a pretty good football player with some small school offers and had interest from a bunch of D-1 schools. I was a good basketball player who scored 1,000 points, leading my team as a captain to the best record in school history. My teammates from basketball are still the brothers I never had. I have had a stable and loving family my whole life.

I’m not writing about these things to try to flex about my accomplishments. I am writing about these things because they were never enough for me. I thought these things would make me happy. They didn’t. Throughout high school, I always thought getting the big scholarship would make me happy. It didn’t. I always thought being a successful high school athlete would make me happy. It didn’t. Some of you may be reading this and be thinking I am just an ungrateful, spoiled, kid. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. I think I was trying to find my source of joy in the wrong place.

My Battle with Depression

To me, depression is a big scary word. I have tended to try to convince myself that I was never depressed. I would say, people who are depressed have hard lives, I have a good life. People who are depressed have struggles at home or with school, I don’t. People who are depressed try to kill themselves, I never have. I’ve found that burying these feelings makes my mental health issues harder to deal with.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” Furthermore, “Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”

I’ve realized that I have suffered from mild depression. For most of my life, I have found my identity in what other people thought of me. My struggle with depression began a few years ago after someone close to me, that I admired, told me that I was a “pathetic loser.” Even at that exact moment, I knew they didn’t mean what they said, but those words “pathetic loser” stuck. Words hurt.

There’s that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s the opposite for me. I don’t really mind physical pain, but I, especially in the past, really cared what people thought and said about me.

After this instance, for a long time, I believed I was valued based on my accomplishments. So I studied more, went to the gym more, tried to make more money. I tried to show that I was valuable though my earthly accomplishments. It was never enough. As my father says “At the top of the ladder is another ladder.” So, since I just tried to fill my void through material things, I spiraled deeper and deeper into a depressive spiral. I felt worthless. I was never was truly happy. I had thoughts (though they weren’t that serious) of ending my life.

I remember my feelings on my 18th birthday like they were yesterday. I’m tearing up a little bit, thinking about it right now. I remember it was the evening, and I was surrounded by my amazing family. There was cake and singing, as there should be on a birthday. There was so much joy in the room. I had no reason to be sad, but I just felt sad. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I felt depressed.

How I’ve Found Peace

August 2018 was probably my lowest low regarding my battle with depression. However, after August, things became better and I began to rebound after I changed my perspective. I’m sure a lot of you Christians out there as you have been reading my story have been thinking, “Zac! Zac! Don’t find your identity in others, find it in Christ! Christ will fill the void!” In the Fall of 2018, I finally realized that.

I realized that in some respects, I’ll never be enough. I was striving to be perfect, I can’t be perfect. Only Jesus can. Once I realized that simple, but sometimes hard to grasp truth, my entire perspective changed. I realized that once I put my trust in Christ, He redeemed me. He took on the punishment of my sins. Through faith in Him, I am enough. There’s nothing I need to do except have faith in Him to be enough.

Thanks to some new people in my life and a fresh perspective, I realized that I had been placing my value in other people’s hands. That big hole in my heart became a lot smaller once I realized that true happiness didn’t come from earthly accomplishments, it came from a relationship with Christ.

Augustine of Hippo wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Once I decided to rest in the Lord, a lot of my struggles with depression went away. Doing this hasn’t been an instant cure, but it’s made life a lot better.

Anxiety

Anxiety is the big one for me. I battled depression and have relatively won, but anxiety has been the thorn in my side that I can’t get away from. I still often feel like I need to be perfect, though I know I never can be. I need to keep my 4.0. I need to get an A on all of my papers. I need to be the perfect friend. I need Adherent Apologetics to “be successful.”

During my first year of college, anxiety has been a real struggle for me. It was the worst this Spring when I felt super stressed about over some exams I had to take. For probably the first time in my life, I thought about giving up. But doesn’t everyone worry about exams? I’d like to hope. The problem was that I let anxiety control my life. There’s healthy worrying and unhealthy worrying. I was definitely on the obsessive, unhealthy side.

An anxiety disorder is, “A mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities.” In my life, I often have let worry control my life. Early in 2020, it was really bad. I would be working whenever I was awake. I told my roommate that as soon as I finished the exam, or the paper, or worked out, my anxiety would go away. He told me I would just find something else to worry about. He was right.

My Battles with Anxiety

Around March, I began to employ specific strategies to try to battle anxiety. I realized that my anxiety controlled my life, and I wanted to change that. Some of these ideas are spiritual, some of them aren’t. There are four main strategies I employ when battling anxiety. I’m nothing close to a psychologist, so I don’t know if this is what you are supposed to do, but these things have worked for me. If you struggle with anxiety, I encourage you to consider employing them.

1.) Running: I try to run 3 times a week outside, no matter the weather. I’ve found running a good way to clear my mind. When I run, I feel better and less anxious.

2.) Prayer: Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Whenever I worry about something, I try to immediately turn that worry to God. Prayer helps me realize that through it all, God is in control.

3.) Think About Dying: I know, that sounds weird, but let me explain. Whenever I’m worried about something, I’ll play a very short game (long can be dangerous) of worst-case scenario. For example, what if I fail this exam? Then, worst-case scenario, I fail the class, then I fail out of college, and then I work on a goat farm in Slovakia the rest of my life (my funny backup plan I’ve made), and then I die and go to heaven, and then I am in the presence of God forever.

The last part of this thought train is the most important. Thinking this way helps me realize that no matter what happens in this life, I will be in Heaven at the end, so everything is going to be okay.

4.) Time in the Word: I try to spend an hour in the Word of God and prayer every single day. I usually meet this goal, and it has made the most significant impact of all four of these strategies. I’ve found that when I make the time to spend time with God, He helps guide me through my anxieties by giving me peace.

The Battle Isn’t Over, but I Will Win

My struggles with anxiety & depression are not over, but thanks to the grace and peace of God, I’m in a lot better place. I don’t think there is a magic cure for anxiety or depression in this life. I think we liven in a fallen world, and like most other things, I won’t conquer my anxiety or my depression fully until I reach Heaven, where suffering will end.

For those of you who don’t struggle with anxiety and depression, I just want you to know that anxiety and depression is a very real condition that anyone (especially in Gen-Z) can suffer from. There are millions that suffer from depression and/or anxiety in the United States right now. No one outside of a couple of people knew that I struggle with anxiety or depression. It’s easy to put on a fake face and slide through the cracks.

For those of you who struggle, you aren’t alone. I am always here for you. Contact me. I will always respond. While I’m here for you, along with your loved ones and friends, you also have a Heavenly Father who loves you and created you for a purpose. With faith in Christ, you will win this battle. There will be a day where you win.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Revelation 21:1-7