Not yet in her twenties, Jess saw first-hand the desperation that loneliness mixed with mental-health problems can lead to. Heartbreak drove her to look for more, and in that she found a caring God.
This is Jess’ story.
I had attended Hope City Church from the age of seven for about seven years, being involved in Whizz Kids and Neon Youth – but as a teenager I decided it was not for me anymore and stopped coming altogether. After leaving church I always felt there was something missing.
I joined the air cadets, but that didn’t help. Trying to fill the loneliness, I threw myself into friendships at school. I tried to gain approval and popularity at school by getting involved in under-aged drinking, smoking and spending lots of my evenings with the wrong crowd – but at the same time, I was lying to my parents, living a double life. I convinced myself that I HAD to do it all to be accepted. The guilt built up to such a point that I couldn’t leave the house without an intense suffocating anxiety.
My school work and grades suffered, my behaviour along with it, and soon I found myself constantly in detention. I started having counselling during my final years at school and was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder. I found myself dependent on medication to get me through each day. It was then that I decided to reach out to some of my old friends from my years at Neon Youth. I got in touch with a girl who had left too and we bonded as we started talking about struggling with the same problems.
I felt a little relief. After a few months, though, the pressures and issues she was fighting overwhelmed her. She took her own life. I was devastated. That was the final straw and it left me completely broken.
Life was bleak and one day I began to think that in order to find peace from what I was facing, I had to do the same as her.
But before I could do anything with that thought, my phone started ringing. It was a friend that I hadn’t heard from for years. I didn’t answer but she kept calling. When I eventually picked up the phone she said she had called me to tell me I was loved and that she was thinking of me. In that moment I knew someone or something was looking out for me. God was on my case.
When I went to my friend’s funeral, I met loads of people from church who I hadn’t seen in years. The openness they showed and the fact that they were genuinely interested in my life, eventually led me back to church.
Even after that decision, it didn’t get any easier. I almost turned my car around to go home that first Sunday, but something stopped me. When I got there, I was greeted with the same acceptance and openness, and before the service even started my heart was feeling full. At the end of the message the pastor asked for anyone who wanted to commit their lives to God to raise their hand. I had no intention of doing so. But I felt that God was very clearly trying to connect with me and urging me to respond, so I raised my hand.
From that moment my life began to change. I kept coming to church. I joined a Dinner Party and the Photography Team and began to find true friendships that didn’t come with expectations or demands but rather acceptance. I no longer felt lonely or the need to prove myself. I belong here. I belong to Jesus.
There have been times since then that have knocked me down and made me want to walk away, but through God’s help and the community I have been able to keep going with support and encouragement on every side. God has given me a new confidence in myself and I’ve begun to step out in areas I never thought I was capable of.
In the past I was so fearful of relationships and where I would go in the future. Now after learning and understanding that God loves and cherishes me no matter what I do or what I think of myself, I have a peace and hope and can look into the future, confident that He has it all under control.
I am no longer anxious about fitting in or belonging somewhere. I no longer feel worried about what I am doing in the future, and as of this year I am no longer dependent on medication to get me through the days.
It hasn’t been an easy journey and it has taken a lot for me to get here.
I can now confidently say how proud I am of myself and how grateful I am to God for where I am today! ■