Trigger Warning and Editor’s Note: This post is part of our mental health series. In this post, Campus Missionary Christina Boatright tells her story dealing with trauma related to car accidents and loss of loved ones and her journey dealing with the aftermath of PTSD and anxiety. She tells her story in vivid terms that may trigger some readers. This is intentional: we wanted to illustrate an important part of healing from PTSD, which is gradually learning to relive and accept all parts of the event in detail so that the brain can place it in the past instead of the present and realize that those cues and triggers are not dangerous. The fact that she can publicly relay her story in such detail in a sign of the healing God has brought. Our intent is not to sensationalize her story but to inspire others to share their stories and seek healing.
June 24, 2016. The day my life forever changed.
I was so excited for the summer of 2016! After a few months spent walking through cancer with my dad, my family had finally gotten good news that the cancer was gone for the time being. With renewed strength and hope, I was determined to fill this summer with friends, mission work, and laughter. The summer was not going to disappoint, and it didn’t. Until that day. . .
My summer missionaries and I were headed back to Trenton from Super Summer. We were laughing and sharing about our camp experiences when I noticed something strange: debris. At first, I thought it must be a blown tire, but when I looked up, I saw a van smashed into the backside of a semi-truck. Smoke billowed from the front of the van, and a woman driver was trapped in that van.
Without thinking, I immediately pulled over and called 911. When I finished the call, I hurried to my summer missionaries who were trying to help the driver escape her vehicle. I could hear her screams of terror and agony.
Without warning, flames shot up the front of the van and the back of the semi. More cars stopped as we all desperately tried to rescue the woman. First Responders were on their way, but it was going to take time for them to get there – and time was something we didn’t have a lot of.
People helped every way they could. Some had saws. One police officer used his fire extinguisher. But nothing worked. We could not get this woman out of her van. This woman I didn’t know, but will now never forget, took her final breath. When the screaming stopped, I knew she was gone.
There are no words to describe that moment. In shock and utter horror, I fell to my knees. Praise God, someone grabbed me by the arm and pulled me from the wreckage before everything went up in flames.
We waited by my car as police, firefighters, and EMS showed up. I was briefly questioned, and an EMT asked if I needed to be looked at (I had breathed in a lot of smoke). I told him I was okay, and the officers told us we could leave. Just like that. We were no longer needed, but we needed someone because we were taking the wreckage home with us in our minds and hearts.
The Beginnings of PTSD
In the midst of great trauma, God met us where we were that day. When I realized I couldn’t drive home, God led us to stop at a cafe whose owner sat with us, prayed with us, and waited with us. God provided dear friends who dropped what they were doing to drive us home. When we couldn’t be home alone, He sent us people like David and Cortland Hendrick who took us in for a week just to process without prying eyes.
In a matter of mere hours, the anxiety, anger, and panic attacks began. I didn’t fully understand the severity of these symptoms. As days ticked by, the symptoms persisted and worsened. I tried to push through the havoc inside me by working and never being alone. Sleep became a luxury because I hated closing my eyes.
As that year progressed, I worked harder and longer to avoid that pain. But in the wise words of C.S. Lewis,
“Pain demands to be dealt with.”(C.W. Lewis, my paraphrase)
June 6, 2017. The day my life changed again.
I was approaching one year since the accident. Life seemed to be getting better. I felt like I had a handle on things. Then came June 6, 2017.
It started like any normal day. I was prepping for a board meeting. Then I got a phone call asking if I had heard from my friends, Malachi, Matheson, and Micah Knapp, or Trey Shaw. I would be an obvious friend to call because they were so connected with my work for the Baptist Student Union. Malachi was even working with me as a summer missionary that summer. I said I hadn’t heard from them, but I would call around, confident that at least Malachi would answer. He had to be at that board meeting I was prepping for, after all! So, I called, but there was no answer. Strange.
As the day went on without a word from any of them, my gut said something was wrong. Groups of friends and family were searching with no sign of them. When my board meeting began and Micah wasn’t there, I knew something was really wrong. We got our answer at the end of our meeting.
One of my board members, the Knapps’ pastor, got a call, and we could hear their mom screaming, “THEY’RE ALL GONE.” Then the line dropped. I immediately started having a panic attack as we tried to process what she meant.
Some friends and I drove to Jamesport, MO, an area the boys frequented, looking for answers. When we arrived at a friend’s house, we were told that they were all killed in a car accident. In disbelief, I didn’t process those words at all. We drove back to Trenton, waiting to hear confirmation that what we were told was true.
Back in Trenton, I finally received a phone call from one of the Knapp boys’ family members confirming that all four young men died in a single car crash. My brain seemed to stop working when I heard those words. Pain I had never felt before ripped through my chest. After much confusion and honestly, disbelief, I now knew it was true.
Another friend of ours had just arrived. She asked me if I had heard anything, I couldn’t think of how to even say the words to her. She began to shake me and ask what’s going on? I told her: they’re all gone. I realized I had to tell everyone else. I must’ve relayed the news to hundreds of people over the next few weeks.
Unraveling…and Getting Help
I shut out the grief and trauma and embraced ministry mode. It was a safe place until unfortunately, yet fortunately in many ways, I could no longer escape the undealt with trauma from the first accident coupled with the trauma from losing my friends. I was pummeled with the debris from both traumas: panic attacks, depression, and night terrors. I would have outbursts of anger; I would start shaking, and then I would sob uncontrollably.
Life just seemed to be beating me up: friendships were falling apart, my car got totaled in a freak accident, and I was completely overwhelmed with work. The BSU ministry that God placed on my heart became a burden. I didn’t feel like myself: I felt like a zombie just existing. I knew I couldn’t keep going like this. Living was unbearable.
I reached out to a Christian counseling group in Liberty, MO, called Diakonos Counseling. I met my counselor, Jules. In our second session, she noticed something about my grief no one had. I knew then she was the right counselor for me. Therapy was hard. I was diagnosed medically and therapeutically with PTSD, general anxiety disorder, and depression.
I didn’t think I was going to make it. I was having severe anxiety. I thought about death all the time. I feared tragedy every second of the day. I was in the hospital multiple times for dehydration, low blood sugar, and panic disorder. The grief and responsibilities of everyday life were overwhelming.
BUT God fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. He gave me therapy, He provided medication when I needed it. He gave me His Word. He gave me the strength and courage to lean into my friends, family, and church family. I don’t think I would’ve survived that year without those strong communities in my life.
Finding Strength in Jesus
I leaned into Jesus as He probed and cleansed wounds that needed healing. In my weakness, He became my ultimate strength. Strength is knowing how weak you truly are and asking for help. This is reflected in Scripture over and over again. Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10 said,
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Without admitting I was sick, I couldn’t find healing.
After three-and-half-years of therapy, I am the healthiest I have been my whole life. I still struggle with anxiety, but I now have tools and the support to deal with those feelings when they come.
My friends, today may be the worst day of your life, but life isn’t just terrible. I regret nothing in my life. I would change no decision I’ve made. I loved, I fought, and I chose hope. Choosing hope isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it lifts the soul and gives new meaning to pain. I don’t dread pain anymore because what is joy without it? Life is a beautiful mess of love, loss, hope, despair, tragedy, and miracles. For those who are in Christ, pain won’t be the end of our story. Glorious healing is!
If you are struggling today, let the strength of Christ lead you toward healing and hope by reaching out for help. Therapy, medication, a strong community and a God who cares for you CANNOT be beaten. You will always be in the midst of a battle on this earth, but Christ has already won every battle you will face for you. He has you here for a reason, and He loves you beyond measure. Don’t give up hope!
Are you struggling with PTSD, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues? There is help; there is hope, and you are not alone.
If you are a college student who needs help dealing with these issues, please go to this link where you can safely and confidentially request prayer and help.
If you are an MBC ministry leader, we have resources available just for you. Diakonos Counseling, where Christina received her therapy, is one of several counseling centers with a partnership with MBC to offer discounted counseling to ministry leaders. Please visit this link to learn more about how we can help you.