"It is Time for Healing, My Daughter"
I’m here. After over a year of planning, I am finally here on Idjwi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It feels strangely surreal while also completely natural. I’m the only American on the island and 95% of the time, I am in a place where not a soul speaks English; and yet I feel incredibly connected to the people around me and it feels like I am meeting a huge family that I never knew I had.
In all fairness, I did not come here with such high expectations. My fears had nothing to do with the location, or the people, or the work that I would be doing. I was afraid of myself. I am not a particularly open person when it comes to sharing emotions or vulnerabilities, but I am finally at a point where I believe sharing my story is important.
I believe that in many ways, our experiences are gifts that we give to others – gifts that may encourage them, perhaps give them hope, and if nothing else make them feel like maybe they are not struggling alone. For a long time I thought I had to mask my struggles, “I had to be strong”; after all, that’s what people wanted from me, or so I thought. I’ve realized now that I don’t think people want “strong people” as much as they want “real people.” This is my attempt to be real.
I was a student missionary in Nicaragua from 2011-2012. It was my first time leaving the country, and I was naive. I was immediately homesick and culture shocked, and our only means of communication to the “outside world” was a HAM radio. In the first month, I was depressed – my first experience with depression ever in my life. As time progressed, amongst other major challenges, the environment that my fellow student missionaries and I were in became very abusive spiritually, emotionally, and verbally due to a perhaps well-intentioned but very toxic American director. My defense mechanisms fought hard for a little while. Then I broke.
I started developing obsessive thought patterns and anxiety, and I slowly began to slip farther from reality and into my own head – a place that very quickly became suffocating and dark. I mentally divorced myself and began a downward spiral of depersonalization and obsessive/compulsive behavior. I would look at pictures of my life before this and I wouldn’t know who that girl was, not just figuratively but literally. I didn’t understand what was going on. It was the scariest time of my life. I was so fortunate to have my twin sister there with me who tried desperately to hold me together as I fell apart.
My relationship with God suffered tremendously, nearly to the point of nonexistence. I understood if God was not going to calm the storm around me, but why wasn’t He calming the storm within me? I was in the mission field, trying my best to follow Jesus and serve others, and He was just watching me succumb to mental illness. I was confused, angry, exhausted. But I painted a smile on my face and pretended like I was okay. You can’t let them see you struggle. Brianna Hartin has it all together; don’t let them think otherwise.
I thought it would get better when I finally came home after 8 months. It didn’t. With serious resistance, I saw psychiatrist after psychiatrist at my family’s urging but with no success. It was frustrating to me because I felt so weak – that something so “minor” compared with the rest of the world’s problems was what broke me. I shared my illness with no one besides my immediate family and very closest friends. It controlled me and consumed me, and it robbed me of living my life to the fullest. I couldn’t travel; I couldn’t be alone; I couldn’t be in certain situations. I felt the Holy Spirit calling my heart back to international missions, but my “anxiety” reminded me that that was impossible.
It wasn’t until almost two years ago that God finally said, “You have suffered long enough; it is time for healing, my daughter.” I had been hanging onto the knot at the end of my rope for years, and it was finally time to start climbing back up it, hand over hand with the strength of my Heavenly Dad, my incredible parents, and my loyal and loving twin sister. After four failed attempts with different psychiatrists, I finally met my fifth and final psychiatrist, Dr.Timothy Jennings.
After many hour-long sessions, Dr.Jennings finally diagnosed me with OCD and anxiety disorder, with other various issues secondary to these. We spent weeks experimenting with different medications until we found one that finally worked for me. At the same time, God brought other healing factors into my life – the most prominent one being my best friend Ivey. He sent this precious little angel, not even two feet tall at the time, into my life, and without even realizing it, God used her pudgy little hands to grab ahold of my heart and pull it out of the pit that it had been trapped in for the past three years.
So here I am now. I traveled 7,700 miles to get here. I am “alone”. I don’t have control over many of the situations that I’m in. I am living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And I am happy, healthy, and strangely at peace. For years, I thought all of this to be impossible.
The fact that I am here is not a statement about a brave, young, independent woman who moved to a third world country by herself. The fact that I am here is a testament to a God who allows us to suffer for a time in order to grow us into the people we were created to be and then who rescues us and conquers the mountains in our life that we once believed were insurmountable and impossible (Lamentations 3:31-33). Although suffering is painful, I believe that it ultimately always feels worse to remain who we were never meant to be, than it does to be broken so that we may become who He intends for us to be.
I don't know what the future holds. I don't know what challenges may come my way while I am here. But I do know that my God is with me and He works eternal purpose and good through all things if I allow Him to. I have a restored life that needs to be lived to the fullest, and I think this is where it starts.