Coping with Despair: The Importance of Emotional Health
By August Lai
A number of years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic auto-immune disease. At that time, I had been living what I considered a full life. I had a job which I found meaningful, was actively serving in church, plugged into a life group, and had just participated in a major musical production. I felt good about myself and excited for the future. Then one morning I awoke with severe double vision. It persisted, so I sought treatment for it. After weeks of doctors and tests, I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis.
In the initial weeks following my diagnosis, I propped up a brave front for everyone around me but behind that sat a bubbling cauldron of despair, anger, and sadness. I started avoiding my friends, withdrawing from my family, and I couldn't concentrate at work.
It was in the midst of this that I gave up trying to make sense of the disease. I was adrift in a storm at sea and I realised I was trying to control the weather! I could only turn to God. After weeks of wrangling, I was challenged to release all the control and plans I had over my life. It was as if every bit of control I gave up to God would be exchanged for a small piece of supernatural peace. Months passed before I could honestly declare to myself that my life truly belonged to God.
In retrospect, one of the most challenging aspects was how this emotional roller-coaster affected my life. When my emotions were ragged and frayed, it was difficult to connect with others, rest well, make good decisions, and be rational. Emotional health is not a state in which there is a lack of stress or problems; rather it enables one to cope well when life unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse. Here are two lessons I learnt which I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.
In times of crisis, we need others who are willing to come alongside us to share the burden for a season. That's when friends and family with whom we have strong relationships will rise up in prayer and support; trusted leaders can offer sound counsel when we are too exhausted to make good decisions. Without a supportive network, even a small one, I would be mired all alone in my irrational thoughts and fears. An engaged community can encourage you to anchor daily upon the truth of God rather than despair. Proverbs 24:6 tells us, 'For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.' Do not underestimate nor forsake the power and safety that comes with community!
Prior to the diagnosis, I had never seriously considered what it meant to be a child of God. I was not living from a position of surrender, so I would try to fix every problem I encountered with my own wisdom. Eventually I ran into a problem that all my wisdom could not fathom nor resolve, and I was forced to turn to the One higher than I. He then taught me about the heart of an Abba Father and I learnt how to be His child. I love this quote which goes like this: ‘God never promised us a storm-free, life but a storm-proof one.’ Within our relationship with Him can be found all we need to weather the storms of life - and it starts with knowing who we are in God! Isn't that amazing? When we are assured about our God-given identity, we can then do what Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to: 'Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.'
By God's grace, I was eventually healed from my condition. I am grateful not only for my health but also for my purpose which He continues to uncover for my life. There is great value in tending to your inner life, ensuring that you are emotionally stable and secure in who you are. I pray that you will be blessed in your season and discover renewed strength from the revelation of His great love for you!