The night before our trip, Jarett – the quiet young man from our outreach program who struggled with severe anxiety – had taken a leap of faith and committed himself to going with us on our weekend retreat to Berea. Josh, the young volunteer leader who had mentored Jarett, would pick him up and the two would travel to the camp together – meeting the rest of the group for dinner halfway up, and aiming to arrive at Berea at approximately the same time as the bus.
At least that was the plan.
As with most issues of mental health, right when we all thought we were taking one step forward, it appeared we had actually taken two steps back.
As the rest of our volunteer leaders, approximately 30 students, and I were boarding a very loud, raucous school bus, Josh was working to connect with Jarett, as Jarett wasn’t home.
The bus was well on the road before I got the first phone call from Josh – Jarett didn’t think he should go anymore. The entire prior evening, after agreeing to go, Jarett had experienced multiple anxiety attacks and now he was again doubting himself. However, Josh stated he wasn’t giving up on him yet – the timeline was off, but flexibility was part of the reason why we had made the ride accommodation in the first place. Those of us on the bus committed ourselves to prayer – both for Jarett and for Josh.
The next few hours are best described by Josh himself when he said, “It was a lot of work…working first to get him in [my] truck to get him to [his] house to get his stuff. Then getting him out of the house. . . it was probably 2-3 hours of work to just get him ready to go. [However] I knew what Berea had in store and I didn’t want him to miss out on it. Jarrett kept saying that he needed to get out of his comfort zone – and so [I kept repeating] 'Let’s do this! You’ll get out of your comfort zone – but it will be somewhere safe.'”
When I finally got the call that Jarett was in Josh’s truck and they were on their way, myself and the other youth leaders let out an audible whoop! We didn’t know who we were more proud of, Jarett for taking the step, or Josh for being his support as he did so.
The bus arrived at Berea and as our other students and leaders got settled in, I went to talk with camp staff about other accommodations for Jarett that we were anticipating supporting him through. We would allow him to stay in a balcony area during worship sessions, give him unlimited access to his cabin if needed, and work out how to procure meals for him if the dining hall was too claustrophobic.
In addition, I prepared to do battle with all of our other students over our last major accommodation – we allowed Jarett, and only Jarett, to keep his cell phone for the weekend; despite our youth ministry having a firm “no technology” rule for our Berea trips. However, we again felt this was needed. As Josh recollected, “He wasn't going to go up without his phone…so we let him take his phone. Him having his phone meant that he could get ahold of me at any time – if he was having an anxiety attack or something, he could get ahold of me. In addition, he could call home and talk to someone at home if he needed to talk to someone from back home to help calm him down.”
With the stage set for a great weekend, I felt my heart drop when I got my last phone call of the night from Josh – they had arrived, but Jarett was having an anxiety attack, and begging Josh to drive him home then and there.
At that point in the evening, my mission became two fold – support Jarett in the midst of his anxiety attack, as well as supporting my newly minted volunteer who was now completely mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. After five plus hours of pouring into a student he cared deeply about, Josh needed a breather. So I tagged in and we let Josh tag out.
Together Jarett and I worked air back into his lungs as we took a walk around camp (which conveniently ended at the cabin he was staying in for the weekend). Next I called in further reinforcements—our other male volunteer, as well as another student who was close to Jarett—to carry Jarett’s belongings to the cabin for him, and meet him there so that there was some of the familiarities of home, and to further encourage him in his ability to stay the weekend. As the panic subsided and Jarett got a chance to look around, God’s grace was tangible.
Over the course of the weekend, Jarett shook off more and more of his insecurities and truly flourished. Although there were moments of unease, he stated he felt like he took a giant leap forward in his battle with anxiety, and the weekend proved to him that he really could accomplish anything that he set his mind to.
Jarett took advantage of the balcony accommodation during every worship service, but never had to utilize a meal accommodation. In addition, Jarett stated, “Definitely riding up with Josh helped – that way I didn’t feel so crowded on the bus, and it was more personal. I was able to get to know him better one-on-one. [I was] able to feel safe.” Josh agrees. “I got to connect with him first. If I hadn’t connected with him before, I don’t think any of this would have happened. It was just him and me going up the whole time… all that time to keep building the relationship. [When we were going miss dinner with the bus anyway] we stopped for pizza in a place of my choice, in a town I grew up going to every summer. We talked about how much that town meant to me, and I think even that helped build the relationship.”
All in all, Jarett had a great weekend. As an outreach student, although he did not fully accept Jesus into his life, he reports that he is now sure that God IS real, and, that God might just really love him – a concept that is sometimes hard to grasp when you have a hard time loving yourself.
When asked what Jarett would want everyone to know about his experience, Jarett said this, “I had to just swallow my pride and tell you about the issues. It’s still scary talking about it, because you feel weak sometimes – you don’t feel normal. You feel alone – even though you’re not. We need to recognize mental health as being very real – it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from – it can happen to you. People feel alone, like it’s just me and you can’t control it. It’s a personal battle – it’s scary because it’s between you and you. As weird as it may sound sometimes you have to tell yourself “shut up” and just do it. Basically, when you come to a crossroads in a decision between the yes and the no, majority of the time take the yes. It’s scary in the moment, but in order for you to grow you need to do things that are scary and painful. I’m not going to lie and say it was a walk in the park – it was scary and painful. But in the long run, it makes it a little bit easier and a little bit easier. “
Many thanks to Jarett and Josh for allowing me to tell your stories in this blog series. Due to their request for their stories to be made known, their names were not changed.