When I was very young, my parents parted ways.
Though my mum remarried, I still never got to experience what growing up in a stable family is like. Essentially, I’ve never had parental figures in my life.
This was something that really affected my self-esteem, as I grew up to become a rather insecure and unconfident person.
In desperation, I derived my worth from relationships – successful friendships and relationships made me feel accepted and loved.
My life and self-worth hinged on the validation of my friends.
I derived my worth from successful friendships and relationships.
So during my first year in university, I grew extremely close to someone. But the closeness was unhealthy. It caused me to derive a false sense of security from the friendship.
Whenever she said nice things about me, I felt happy. Whenever she made me feel important in her life, I felt validated.
At this point, you can probably already imagine how scary things would get if this friendship failed.
Well, it failed. About a year into the friendship, she suddenly blocked me on WhatsApp.
“This is weird,” I thought to myself. I mean, our conversation seemed like it was going fine. There was no warning whatsoever and it didn’t make sense.
But because my self-worth rested on the success of my friendships, losing a friend so dear to me caused my life to crumble to pieces. My self-worth had been shattered.
As a psychology student, my self-diagnosis based on my symptoms told me that I had fallen into depression.
It was a rough time. I was constantly mentally exhausted. Lacking appetite, I didn’t eat enough to have much physical energy either. I kept wanting to sleep and felt very sluggish.
I wasn’t functioning. It was hard to force myself to even get out of the house.
And as things spiralled, I couldn’t bring myself to care about anything – let alone my studies. I actually skipped the last paper of Year 1.
Things had gotten so grim that I contemplated suicide.
About a month after my exams ended, I hit the lowest point in my struggle.
But it was also at my lowest that God reached out to me through my church leaders.
Prior to this, they had known me to be rather enthusiastic and outgoing. But the Russell they knew had become downcast and exhausted, so they knew that something was off about me.
“You have to do something. Or at least, try to.”
Having shut myself out from my spiritual community previously, I found that I lacked the willpower to climb out of this emotional pit alone.
But when my church leaders asked me if I wanted to get out of the state I was in, I found myself nodding. I wanted out.
That was when my leaders said this: “You have to do something about it. Or at least, try to.”
The encouragement was simple, but it gave me the boost that I really needed to try and get better. Of course, my breakthrough wouldn’t come overnight.
It was a journey, and I was just beginning to take active steps toward recovery.
For a start, I turned up for my cell group’s steamboat gathering even though I hadn’t said I would (considering how long it had been since I last joined them in a gathering).
That was a first step in moving forward, one which helped me make the decision to face my fears head on. This meant turning up for church events even if it meant having to face the friend I fell out with.
It wasn’t an easy step to take, but my cell group leader patiently walked me through it.
“You can’t hide from her forever anyway,” she encouraged. “Instead, let this be a growth process for the both of you. Look up to God and not to your circumstances and fears. And remember this, choose God always.”
I’ll always be thankful for those words she imparted to me. Because of her encouragement, I mustered up the courage to face my fears.
So when it came to the question of church camp, I told God: “I’m choosing You by deciding to go for church camp though I’m tempted to do otherwise. I’m going to face my struggles by surrendering to You.
“Though I’m not mentally prepared, I believe that You will make a way for me.”
And as I surrendered my heart to the Lord, He met me.
During the first night of church camp, I went down to the altar to get prayed for by my church leader. While waiting to be prayed for, the Lord first spoke to me through my pastor.
My pastor said: “The Lord wants to minister to those people who have depression. God is saying to persevere. From James 1:2-5, God reminds you to persevere because it will end.”
I broke down when I heard that, and sobbed. When I approached my church leader, he then gave me a hug. He said that God wanted to give me a hug.
It was the hug from a father that I never had.
Though I had experienced God’s love so tangibly during church camp, I still haven’t entirely crawled out from this deep pit completely.
Even today, there are still times when I feel more down than usual. So I’ve come to realise that this is going to be a lifelong battle.
But here’s the difference. God has equipped me with the tools and skills to climb out of the pit, should I fall into it again. I’ll share some of the best ones below.
4 HANDLES FOR HOPE
1. Trust your community
I avoided community in the past, but I’ve come to learn that community is where I can experience God tangibly.
Community is a place where I can journey and struggle alongside fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Knowing that I’m not alone in this life, I choose to trust in God by trusting the people that He has placed around me.
So if you are going through similar struggles as I am, sound out to the peers around you. Let people know. Build a support system. Figure out your triggers, then allow your community to journey alongside you.
2. Learn that it’s okay not to be okay
My initial instinct was always to give up and retreat to my escapism mentality.
But now, I’ve learnt that it’s simply alright to be weak and to struggle. Not too proud to recognise and acknowledge that, I am then able to surrender my heart to God in prayer.
In the past, I would keep asking God for all the whys behind having to go through these struggles. Now, I’m simply able to trust that this is part of my story that God is redeeming and helping me through.
3. Anchor yourself in truth
For me, these are my anchor verses: James 1:2-5 and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
They remind me then when I go through tough times and am weak, it is also a chance for God’s strength and power to shine through.
It also reminds me of a humbling truth: that I’m still able to serve as a leader in church is not because of my own capabilities, but by the strength of the Lord.
4. Remember it will end
Each time these waves of emotions hit the shores of your heart, know that they will soon come to a stop.
Just let it happen, go through it and let it pass. Don’t try to control it, or it may get worse. Don’t get too fearful when it happens.
Simply take it to God, and remember that it will end.
Looking back, I realised that I’ve been deriving my worth from fleeting relationships and the friends around me.
While I was busy with that, I had failed to realise this: Someone out there has already realised my worth and purchased me at a high price.
That person is Jesus Christ. Some 2000 years ago, God the Father had already considered me His prized possession when He sent Christ to die for me on that cross.
As I hold on to that truth, there’s no longer a need to establish my worth on worthless things.
Jesus paid the ransom for my life with His blood, so I’ll always know my value lies in Him unshakably.
- What does identity mean to you?
- What are the top 3 things that make up who you are?
- What if you lost those 3 things, or the ability to do them? Who would you then be?
- Have a conversation with God. Tell Him you’re willing to be simply who He says you are.