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Long Battle with Anxiety Ended in Closeness to God
Fear and its relatives of hopelessness, joylessness, loneliness and dread had trapped her in a dark tunnel with no way out—until she learned she didn't have to battle them alone.

In my life fear has been a Goliath—a giant I had to defeat. It has paralyzed me, isolated me from others. It quenched my dreams and robbed me of my God-given destiny.

It all began … with a very normal case of insecurity and self-consciousness.

It all began in my pre-teens, with a very normal case of insecurity and self-consciousness. When I turned 12, my family moved to a new city. I became the quiet, shy one, desperately afraid of what others thought of me. It felt like I had entered a dark tunnel.

I grew afraid of any kind of public attention, such as public speaking—or even just being pointed out in a crowd. I avoided the popular kids at school; they were far too intimidating. I became extraordinarily cautious, and wouldn't risk doing anything which might make me look foolish. I blended in with the crowd, never drawing any attention to myself.

Isolation and anger

My fears began to subtly choke out any joy and freedom I'd felt as a child, and I grew increasingly selfish and angry. I had enormous fights with my parents, and felt no one understood me. God became less and less relevant, and my faith subsided.

In grade 9, I began being home schooled. I thought this would be my saving grace; but it only served to keep me more apart from people. Over time, by living in isolation and not addressing my anxieties, I experienced fear spreading like a cancer through my life.

Now, I wasn't only petrified of being under any kind of spotlight; I also began to have very real fears of dying, illness, the dark - and the list grew. I once thought I was dying of cancer for more than a year, because I feared a physical affliction which turned out to be just a minor rash. I can still feel the emotions of that year.

With all this pent-up, untreated fear and anxiety, I not only became angrier, I also grew more depressed. I found solace in food, and watching TV.

Renewed hope

In 1996, we spent Christmas with our extended family in Ontario. While there, I renewed my faith. It all happened during a God-ordained visit with some family friends. They prayed for our whole family. It was as if a dam holding back tears broke, and I began to cry and cry. That day I re-invited Jesus Christ to become a greater part of my life.

But with the responsibilities of ministry, I began to crumble.

Life got much better. I had renewed hope and joy. I also had a new sense of purpose and destiny. As I got more involved at church, I made great strides in my social skills. I began to stretch myself by singing and playing piano with the worship team. I also developed great friendships—and began to date my future husband, Mika. Life was pretty good.

But anxiety still controlled a large part of my life. In fact, it was around this time that a ridiculous fear of the dark began to take root; and I had ongoing nightmares. I felt incredibly afraid being home alone at night. Just to be able to sleep, I had to have a light and the radio on.

After three years, I got engaged and then married to Mika. Life continued on quite happily; but about two years into our marriage, things began to fall apart.

Mika became youth pastor at another church. At first, I was very excited, because our life's dream was to be in ministry together. But with the responsibilities of ministry, I began to crumble. My passion for music ministry was affected. Every time I was scheduled to sing, my stomach was in knots, and I couldn't eat. When the moment to sing approached, my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I felt physically ill, and overwhelmed to the point of tears.

Silent struggle

As a pastor's wife, I also found being in the spotlight overwhelming. Greeting and meeting new people was very stressful. My insecurity, about what others thought of me, assaulted me from every angle. I felt like a scared teenager again. While others around me were talking and laughing, I was in deep distress, afraid of humiliating myself or appearing foolish.

Even though I had taken great strides to gain confidence at our previous church, I felt like I was thrown right back to where I started. That's when I decided I couldn't battle this on my own any longer. I needed help. I removed myself from leadership with the student ministries, and I began attending a program at our church called Freedom Session.

Over an intense year, I dealt with past negative experiences and memories; I gained some healing, and began hoping for a 'cure.' But though I had taken some important steps, every time I started to feel depressed or afraid I continued to seek some sort of escape.

One evening, at home alone, I remember courageously allowing myself to feel the feelings I was trying to escape. There was a torrent of dark emotions: hopelessness, joylessness, loneliness, fear of the unknown, loss of control, dread. Yet, as I allowed myself to face the reality of the dark tunnel of fear I was in, I met God. Jesus was with me, and I was not alone. I realized afterward that I was learning to walk with God through the dark tunnel, and not to try escaping from it. The only way out was through.

This experience birthed a beautiful, intimate relationship with my heavenly Father. I met with him regularly, especially while fighting fear and depression. I learned so much about his loving nature, and my desperate need of him.

Taking fear public

After this year of healing, I began to sense God leading me to get involved with student ministries at our church again. My pastor, who was aware of my struggles, asked me to share my battle against fear with the church during our three morning services. I felt panic just thinking about the possibility; but as I thought about it some more, I knew it would be an important step. Sometimes, when we expose our secret struggles or 'giants,' it causes them to lose their power.

Though I'm still battling fear, it has been significantly weakened by my open sharing.

As the day arrived, I sensed a surprising peace. Lots of people came up and surrounded me on the stage with prayers. Some came crying and others hugged me. Still others approached me afterwards, and thanked me for having the courage to put a spotlight on this issue—and making them feel they were not alone. I felt loved and accepted, not humiliated. I felt cared for, not isolated.

Though I'm still battling fear, it has been significantly weakened by my open sharing. I know that soon I will be walking in full freedom. Since my sharing, I now lead worship for the women's and senior high student ministries; and I am stepping out in other new ways. It's still a journey—and honestly, still a battle at times. I still have to confront the fear of terminal illness; and routine doctor's appointments can cause my heart to race.

However, I now no longer feel alone. I'm walking with my Jesus—and I'm walking with my family and friends, who fully support me and pray for me. I'm so thankful to God for bringing me this far, and I'm excited to see all the encounters and adventures I will have as I continue the journey.

I'd like to encourage anyone reading this, who may be struggling with varying degrees of fear and anxiety. It is wise to seek help and counsel from your church, counsellors or physicians, to investigate possible causes. God desires you to have healing and freedom. Don't walk this journey alone!

When I ventured unknowingly into this tunnel at the age of 12, I had no idea it would take me this long to begin to see the light again; however, the lessons learned, and the closeness I've encountered with my heavenly Father have made the trip worthwhile.

Tamara Kostamo works with her husband, Mika, who is youth pastor at Cedar Grove Church in Surrey, B.C.

Originally published on Global Girl Network, and was reprinted in B.C. Christian News, March 2007.




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