An Honest Story of Anxiety

Michele and her family have been missionaries for 13 years serving in the countries of Chile and Costa Rica. Michele has always had a heart to work with young teenage girls and women struggling through rough family situations. Her passion is to see them follow Christ whole heartedly and encourage them to find His purpose for their lives. Using her testimony she speaks openly about how God drastically changed her family.

It was February 2nd at 2:00AM when I felt a beating in my chest I had never experienced before. Every hour that morning for the next 4 hours, I was awakened out of a deep sleep to my heart pounding, dripping with sweat.  I did not understand what was going on as I cried out to the Lord “Father please help me!” At 6:00AM, I could not take it anymore and made my way downstairs, threw myself on the floor and begged the Lord to make it stop.  At 8:33AM I sent out a text in despair to my prayers warriors (fellow missionary wives in Costa Rica).  That past November, we had a powerful retreat together where our Area Director spoke about the different seasons of our lives.  I realized back then that I was in the winter.  Since then, we had started a group chat where we could share our prayer requests and I asked if they would be willing to come over that morning and pray with me.   

It was not long before some of my best friends on the mission field, as well as our Area Director were at my home. They sat with me as I struggled to explain through many tears what I felt in my body.  One sweet friend immediately knew what was taking place. She said Michele, “it sounds like panic attacks; I believe you are suffering from compassion fatigue and burn-out”.  I was in complete shock, as I had never thought that the human body could react this way. It truly felt as though I was having a heart attack.  It felt like someone had just dropped me into a deep pit and left me there to die. I could not make sense of it all; I was hurting and filled with so much fear.  

They began to remind me of all that we had just been through the past few months.  A ministry we had poured our hearts and souls into was over!  We had fought so hard to try to make things work. We invested 7 amazing years and were right in the middle of a huge building project.  We never expected that we would have to walk away from that ministry. I was never able to get closure and say a proper goodbye to the women and teens I had grown to love so much. I was grieving my loss, and my body was reacting to the grief my heart felt.  On top of that, our family was still adjusting to dropping our oldest daughter off for college and my husband had just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.  We felt as though our lives and ministry were under complete attack.

One of my friends recommended that I go see a doctor the next morning to make sure that there was nothing else going on.   I remember sitting in the waiting room feeling numb and really scared. I did not want to have to explain what I was feeling in Spanish.  When I met with the doctor, I stumbled through my words to express everything I was feeling. They ran a couple of tests and asked me a series of questions. Using the Hamilton Scale for Anxiety, the doctor diagnosed me with severe anxiety.  

He recommended I start taking an anti-depressant immediately.  I have never been a huge medication person, and really knew nothing about anti-depressants; so this made be very scared.  There was a stigma surrounding the idea of being on this medication my mind just could not get past.  I was praying and pleading for the Lord to just relieve my body of these symptoms.  I fought against taking the medication for about 3 weeks until my doctor said, “Michele, you have been through a lot this past year and your mind and body need help”.  I knew very little about anxiety and depression at that point. I was at the beginning of my journey with mental illness.  I wish I could say that the medication worked overnight. It was a battle for me to trust the process. Another fellow missionary  shared with me how the medication worked for her, and was there to encourage me.  

Due to some some side effects the first 3 months, I decided to stop the medication. I felt fine for about a month and a half, and then the depression and anxiety returned with a vengeance.   I did not understand; I was praying and seeking the Lord,  all of our friends and family were praying for me.  It became so bad, that I began to be afraid of being alone. I was paranoid and terrified of the dark, and it felt as though the walls were closing in on me.  I lost 12 pounds.

Many of our friends began to ask what was going on, but  I was embarrassed at times feeling like a weak Christian.  My husband struggled to keep things running in our home, while  being worried and frustrated about not knowing what to do.  This was the biggest spiritual attack we had ever faced and we were all growing weary.

Our Area Directors were keeping a close watch on me and finally felt the need to intervene in October.  It had been 10 long months of struggling with depression and anxiety.  They found a mental health clinic for me to go in Florida. We went back and forth for about 2 weeks before I finally gave in.  I was desperate for help and I prayed, “Lord, if this is where you want me to go, then open the door”. A spot opened up for me 3 days later.  

I spent 30 days in the program fighting through my fear, anxiety, depression, compassion- fatigue and burnout.  It was the best 30 days of my life. God revealed himself to me in so many ways.  I could write for days on all that the Lord did, but instead I will share with you a short journal entry from my time there.

October 19, 2018

“Lord today you have restored to me the joy of my salvation.  You brought me here to heal my heart. God, I now see that you wanted me all to yourself.  I feel free today, free to dance, free to laugh. Yes laugh, something the enemy tried to rob from me.  It has been a long road, but you have never left my side. You were here all along. You even sent friends here to visit me.  My mind is at peace just as your word says it would be. Isaiah 26:3 ‘You will keep in perfect peace all whose minds are stayed on you because they trust in you’”.

Friends, it was a long and scary journey and I never want to return to that place. But, it was the prayers of many that got me through.  You will never know just how much missionaries covet your prayers. Whether you are living abroad or serving in the U.S., we all desperately need prayer. The enemy is constantly at our heels with discouragement, fear, anxiety, depression, etc. He would love nothing more than to see us all fail.  In the ministry we were involved with, spiritual warfare was huge. We were literally ripping lives from the claws of Satan. It does not surprise me looking back, that the enemy tried to take our family out. However, thanks to the many prayer warriors that have stood with us, we will continue in the fight.  

Mental illness is real and I believe too many of our missionaries, and Christians alike, suffer in silence.  I now am not afraid to say that medication helped me;  God has allowed doctors to create medications and methods that really help.

Our family is so grateful for this organization that really cares about its missionaries.  If there is one thing we have learned about this term, it is that we are happy to be under the covering of the Assemblies of God.  We have supportive churches all throughout the United States that allow us the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We may get tired from time to time, but we will continue to fight the good fight of faith.  

Meryl Spadaro