“I deal with anxiety almost every day at some level. And sometimes it’s worse than, or sometimes it’s better than other times, but anything to help people understand that they’re not alone.”

Jeff Allen, a mental health advocate and host of Simple Mental Health Podcast shares his journey through anxiety, how he overcame shame and stigma around seeking help, and taking medication.

  • How Jeff discovered he had an anxiety disorder.
  • Backlash he received from churchgoers for opening up about his mental health condition.
  • Spiritual doubt process that he went through 
  • Prayer, medication and therapy
  • His journey of spiritual deconstruction and reconstruction
  • More about his podcast called Simple Health Podcast

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Simple Mental Health Podcast

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Transcript of Episode 32

Carrie: One thing I have learned about my listeners since we started the podcast, is that you all love personal stories of individuals who are struggling with anxiety and OCD. Those are often our most popularly downloaded episodes. So today I have another personal story for you. And that’s Jeff Allen.

He’s a podcaster. I had the opportunity to be on his podcast, which was how we met and then decided to have him come on and share his story on this podcast. He talks about some backlash that he received in the church when he started to talk publicly about his experience with anxiety and taking medication, as well as some spiritual doubt processes that he worked through. So I hope that you will enjoy this story. 

Okay, Jeff, so thank you for taking the time to come on today and tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Jeff: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. You said my name, it’s Jeff. I live near St. Louis, Missouri, actually across the Mississippi River in Illinois.

And I’m married for this June will be 11 years and we just had our first son and man life is crazy right now and crazy awesome right now I work at a church and I do a video production among other tech things here in St. Louis. 

Carrie: So you’re the behind the scenes guy making stuff happen. 

Jeff: That’s right, yep. I used to be a worship leader. I kind of needed to step away from that for awhile. So now I’m a behind the scenes guy.

Carrie: Awesome. You are very important just as the scene people. Okay. Why did you want to come and share your personal story about anxiety on the podcast? 

Jeff: Yeah, I love to share it any chance I get, because I feel like it’s an opportunity to smash some stigmas.

I want to take down the stigmas that have been in place by culture, that everyone seems to think that it’s such a bad thing to talk about mental health issues. And I want to get away from that. I want people to find freedom. I want people to know they’re not alone. So for me, it’s important to have any opportunity I have to…

I deal with anxiety almost every day at some level. And sometimes it’s worse than, or sometimes it’s better than other times, but anything to help people understand that they’re not alone and to just smash stigmas. That’s the main reason for me. 

Carrie: I’ll say, I think that’s one of the reasons that the personal stories episodes have been so popular on my podcast is because when people hear someone else talk about.

The story, they go, oh yeah, me too. Like, I deal with that. And it helps me realize, I just thought I was alone and going through all this stuff in my own head and nobody else was dealing with it, but then they hear somebody else talk about it on a podcast. Then they just feel the sense of relief, you know. So when did you first start experiencing symptoms of anxiety, even if you didn’t necessarily know that that’s what it was?

Jeff: Yeah, well I can pinpoint back to as early, as like five years old, I found a picture on Facebook, not too long ago that someone had tagged me in. And it was me as a little kid. They were family friends, this person who posted it. And we were out this like touristy place locally here in St. Louis called Grant’s farm.

And I could see myself standing kind of away from the other group of three kids, they were all hamming it up for the camera. And I was like off to the side, just like always just kind of like staring like out of like in concern, you know? And I’m thinking, man, I remember that feeling that that little boy has right there.

I’m like, I know it, I still know it. And I can remember every time we would do something, I’m an only child, so I don’t have siblings. So we would always go and hang out with other families. And when we did that, I would be around those kids. And I could always remember telling my mom and I really would rather stay home.

I don’t want to go, can I please stay home? And she’d say things like, you’re going to have a good time. You know, you’ll have a lot of fun and she was right, but always ended up being fun. But the journey to that place was just full of anxiety. I didn’t know. That’s what it was, you know, as a kid. 

My mom understood probably that she had an anxious kid, but didn’t know that, it might actually be something that was diagnosable because that would have been like 1990 and I just don’t know that very many people were talking about child mental health. 

Yeah. I mean, I’m sure. I once saw that the word, the term generalized anxiety disorder, GAD, I once saw that they didn’t even start, like, they didn’t have a name for that until 1980.

And, you know, don’t quote me on that, but I’ve read that on the internet, so it’s gotta be true. And if that’s the case, then 10 years later, like why would my mother in the Midwest here know that maybe there’s a diagnosable anxiety disorder with her kid. So it’s been that long. So since 1990, at least, but I can remember up until like the sixth grade or, you know, just before I started having the choice of who I wanted to go hang out with.

It would have been from that point on that I knew that I had anxiety. 

Carrie: Well, what was that process like of coming to a realization of, okay this is a problem that I may need help for and getting a diagnosis. 

Jeff: Sure, it wasn’t until, 2010 was the year I got married that my wife helped me see that, this was more than just a character flaw or something. Thank God, actually. Because I had a few relationships that I think ultimately ended because of my anxiety. Like I made decisions or treated people a certain way or, maybe felt too much. Like I was going to lose someone or didn’t trust the relationship over anxiety.

And my wife is just very tough, you know, so I think she was able to deal with that and see past some of that better than other people. So it was in 2010, I was leading worship at a megachurch in Illinois. I remember being on stage for a rehearsal one week. I thought I was having a heart attack. I’m 25 years old at the time.

I’m like, man, this is crazy, heart palpitations. I go to the doctor or go to the ER and they’re like, no, you’re fine. You know, you’re forced to send me home. So went home not long after that. I’m on stage. And I get off stage for the sermon, our pastors preaching. And I go up to my colleague and I said, I got to go home, I’m sick. I’m going to throw up. He was able to back me up so that I could leave. And my wife at the time, my wife worked at the same church at that time that she was in kids ministry and I texted her. I said I’m going home. And then when she met me at home, I said, I feel fine now. And she said, you know, I’ve been thinking about this because you’ve struggled with this for when we go out to eat with couples, you know, you struggled with feeling sick because what if you have an anxiety disorder?

And so I was kind of embarrassed because of the stigmas that exist. Like damn, that’s tough. So I decided to ask my general practitioner about it. She said, man, that sure does sound like social anxiety and maybe some general generalized general anxiety disorder started on Lexapro right there.

Carrie: What was that like for you when you first heard that? Because you talked about experiencing some stigma but was it this sense of here I am in a church leading worship? Did you feel like, well, I shouldn’t be struggling with anxiety like I’m supposed to be more spiritual than that or something.

Jeff: You know, I did kind of feel that way, but I think it was more like in the back of my mind, really.

I didn’t really want to tell anybody about it at first because I just thought that that was like a private thing. You know, if you’re dealing with some anxiety or depression, I also went to see a counselor at that point. When you go see a counselor, that those are things that you just don’t talk about.

Like that’s private stuff. Those are the dirty laundry, or that’s the stuff you keep in the closet. So, I don’t know that I thought I should’ve been more spiritual necessarily, but I definitely thought it would be looked down upon to come out with it 

Carrie: It’s more like this is embarrassing and I feel ashamed.

Jeff: Yeah, that’s right. 

Carrie: And what happened after that? Like how did that progress? 

Jeff: So, there’s a blogger, now he’s a podcaster. He was a worship leader. His name is Carlos Whittaker. I don’t know if you know that name or not. Carlos is a great dude and he was. This was like in the prime of blogs, nobody, you know, everybody used to have a blog and now everybody has a podcast. 

Carrie: We’re trendy.

Jeff: Like when blogs were a big and one day he just, I was looking at his blog and there was just this picture of a prescription bottle of Paxil. And he’s like, this is the church’s dirty little secret. He said a lot of us, he was a worship leader at the time. He told the story of his almost exact same story as mine.

He was on, on Sunday, although he had actually like gotten dizzy and passed out and had to have a doctor come up and he had had a full-blown anxiety attack on stage. And then he just talked about it, like, man, a lot of us in ministry or a lot of people in general have struggles with this.

And so I rely on, God prayer and Paxil, and I’m like, man, that’s good. And so I decided I’m going to speak out about this a little bit. So I remember taking a Facebook and saying, man, this blog really hit home with me and you know, here’s why, and, and then I got a few nasty emails from churchgoers. So that left a bad taste in my mouth for church, even though I was serving, I still am serving at church just saying, you know, Hey, you’re leading people astray. If you’re saying that you need medicine, it’s bad. And my man people, I think you, for your listeners, you, uh, were on my podcast.

And I think you said it on there. You know, if you have high blood pressure, nobody ever says you shouldn’t take medication for it. You know, if you have this, nobody says, but for some reason, church folk like to say that for mental health issues, you should not be taking medication that doesn’t even make sense.

So I kind of had that same response to the particular person who said, you need to be relying on Jesus. I’m like you think I don’t already do that. You know me better than that. Sure. So it must be enough, to seek help from science and the wonderful things that God created for us to manage.

Carrie: Yeah, I’m a firm believer that you can have Jesus and science, Jesus and therapy, and I don’t understand why that’s such a hard thing sometimes for people to grasp in the church. Because we embrace science in all kinds of other ways and other avenues. And we encourage people to get treatment for a variety of illnesses and diseases.

And we’ll still pray for people too, that are going through cancer, but we also want them to go see their oncologist as well. Like it’s interesting, both and thing, and the same thing for anxiety, you know, we want to pray for you and encourage you and love on you. And also we want you to get professional help, and those two things can work together and…

I just believe God uses everything that’s available to us to meet us right. Where we’re at. And some people, medication is a great option for them. Some people have a hard time with medication or finding one that works with their system really well and just want to pursue counseling. And I’m just kind of like whatever you want to do, I’ll support.

Jeff: Yeah. I have seasons where I need both, like, I need my medication adjusted or whatever. I have seasons where talk therapy is something that I really need. I have seasons where I don’t have much to say. It’s always, the way to manage for me is that combination.

Do you eventually made this decision to leave the on-stage worship ministry experience. Was this a part of that process towards health for you? 

Jeff: Actually, it wasn’t a spiritual way. Not necessarily an anxiety way. I was kind of going through a spiritual deconstruction situation and I wasn’t sure where I was in that walk anymore.

And so I really felt uncomfortable leading people. When I wasn’t so sure myself and, you know, a lot of people I’ve talked to have gone through spiritual deconstruction and they never went through reconstruction. And so I was happy that for me, I was able to find the reconstruction aspect and come back and feel like, okay, this is a faith that I am 100% in. Right. So, but no the anxiety portion wasn’t, thankfully wasn’t a part of that decision. At least not directly it’s possible that it was somewhere in there, but for the most part, it was a spiritual decision and just maybe even in sort of an integrity move.

Like I just felt like it wasn’t a good thing to kind of not, almost not believe anymore at that point and still sing and lead people. I just didn’t think it was honest. And so I wanted to be honest at this point, I would feel comfortable going back to it. 

Carrie: Can you tell us a little bit more about what that spiritual deconstruction and reconstruction looked like for you? Because I’m sure that there are other people listening to this that have doubts and questions and are going through their own faith process. I know that I had to process, my faith has evolved over time as I’ve become a part of different churches and different streams and faith systems and having my own experiences with God and the holy spirit has definitely shaped things and change things for me as well. So I’m just curious what that process was like for you. 

Jeff: Well, I mean, it all just kind of started, you know, they always talk about the seed of doubt that’s planted. And I guess it sort of started with a seed of doubt where I just started to think is this all just make-believe. My buddy was like, oh, you’re just going to pray to your invisible sky daddy. He’s not a believer that I’m very good friends with. And, he would say things like that. And I mean, you know, I don’t know. Maybe that is what this is. I need to figure it out. And then there were some things that I don’t want to get too in the weeds about, but there are just some things that I’m like, man, I don’t know about this. This doesn’t seem like a God that would, that just doesn’t feel like the God that I know and that I experienced, there were some early, you know, I grew up in the church, so there was some guilt shame, things like that were there for me that I don’t think were fair. I think they were planted by people and not God. So they were like getting rid of beliefs that were based on those things. And then ultimately it was just saying, I’m going to live in this space of doubt and uncertainty for awhile and see if God meets me. And I did feel that it was almost like I’m not going to say it was prodigal son-like because I didn’t leave to go pursue something that on purpose. That was not of God. I just needed to find, I think I needed to find God again and God needed to find me again is kind of where that was. And now my relationship is just so much different. It just feels more authentic and real and less… How can I put it? It’s just not the culture of Christianity that we, a lot of us… I’m 36 years old. A lot of us grew up in anymore. Not that. You know, no making purple at youth group kind of vibe anymore. It’s not that these are the harsh rules that it’s more of the God loves you just as you are a much more, and I’ll get pushed back for saying something like this, but I’m much more comfortable living in that space.

It’s not always right. That’s why I’m saying the pushback. It’s not always a comfortable place, 

but something feels right about it. And so that’s just kind of where I’m sitting right now with it. 

Carrie: It’s so much easier to have a free-flowing and open relationship with God when it’s based on love and not terror. And unfortunately, so many of us grew up in a Christian society where there are a lot of rules and a lot of religion-based things that man put on us, not what God put on us. And so If you have a relationship based on love, perfect love, casts out fear. It’s just different. The vibe is totally different. So I relate and jive to what you’re saying with that.

The rules have to flow out of the relationship and the guidelines for life have to come. The relationship has to come first, just like you don’t, you have a good relationship with your parents. You don’t want to do things that are going to disappoint them. You don’t want to be afraid of your parents like I’m going to get in trouble all the time. It’s a very different feeling for sure. 

So you went from not wanting to talk about this being ashamed of it, and now you have a mental health podcast. So how did that come about?

Jeff:  Well, I was a part of a podcast with my friend. His name is Chris and he had a podcast called pond offs anonymous because he is a recovering alcoholic.

And his faith is a very interesting one. He is very close to God. He also has a very dirty mouth. So you can listen to any of those episodes. We have to mark them explicit. He’s just a very honest person. He is who he is, and doesn’t really apologize for it. But I started producing this podcast for him, just helping with the technical side and the first podcast, he starts talking to me on the microphone. And I’m like, okay, here we go. I don’t have a microphone. So the next episode we did, I made sure I did. And I sort of became a co-host in a sense where he would talk about sobriety and addiction and sobriety. I would talk a little bit about the mental health part of it because I just experienced anxiety, I experienced depression. We ended up kind of talking about both things. So it was supposed to be more of a podcast about addiction and sobriety and recovery. And it ended up being about that and mental health. And we went on a hiatus. We’re still on hiatus. We’ll probably end up back sometime this year. Just a lot of life changes that need it. I mean, I had a baby, but also he had some major life changes. He had an adoption go through, so he had a kid too. So we’re on a hiatus. So I thought, “man, I miss talking about this.” There were some things that like when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t realize, and maybe this is dumb, but I’ve heard other people agree with me. I didn’t realize that you could go to your general practitioner and they could diagnose you with an anxiety disorder or depression. I just didn’t know that.

So my podcast is called simple mental health and the whole idea is to break it down as simply as possible. Invite people on to share personal stories, but also invite professionals on. I was so glad to have you on there. You broke down anxiety and maybe the clearest way I’ve ever heard it broken down before. It was perfect. I quote you all the time to friends and that’s the whole idea of it. 

I wanted to do a few episodes just to help people. Maybe they’re experiencing, we’re still in the end of a pandemic year, maybe a guess they say it is that we’re still in it.

And so everybody’s feeling anxious. You know, it may not be diagnosable, but everybody’s having anxiety. And so I guess I wanted a place where people could go and hear people like them. And then people who are professionals who would speak very plainly and in layman’s terms about anxiety, depression.  Maybe in some future episodes, maybe we’ll get into some other things, bipolar, OCD, things like that. So that’s really why we started. It was supposed to be five episodes and then I was going to be finished, but we have grown a community online. We have a Facebook group of over 500 people now out of five episodes of the podcast. And they are demanding more. So I’m so happy about that and we’re going to do more.

So I think I’m just going to do a season one, five episodes, season two, five episodes, and go until people stop listening.

Carrie: That’s great. That’s awesome. Just something like so small that has grown big and that just shows you that there’s a need for it. There are so many people out there struggling with anxiety and depression and OCD, and they’re looking for answers. They’re looking for what are other people doing in their day-to-day life with this. How do we manage it together.

Jeff: Yeah, for sure. I really see that for sure. You know, people have had a lot of people reach out. And just say, I didn’t even realize that these might be symptoms of anxiety, just like 20 years of my life had no idea that I had anxiety. So I’ve had people reach out in that way. And I’m really glad.

Carrie:  Towards the end of every podcast, I like to ask the guests to share a story of hope, which is a time in which he received hope from God or another person. 

Jeff: Well, I think for me, the hope that I found in God was through that reconstruction that I was talking about earlier. I really found that I began a deconstruction because of the doubt that was placed in my heart, but also because of my childhood upbringing in the church. I grew up in a very conservative church in a very small town in my understanding there, just made for a lot of duty-guilt obligation style faith.

The weird thing is that when I was starting the reconstruction, a lot of old songs from when I was a kid, things that we would be, you know, these old Christian songs that people would think are kind of like hokey now. So it would start coming into my mind. I’m having a thought about that song in forever.

Some old, like rich Mullins’ songs were popping up in my head.

Carrie: So good.

Jeff: And then I would just find that I would find this immense comfort in that. And so I feel like, I’m a musician and in a way, I had stopped leading people in worship. And so I kind of just put my guitar down and hadn’t picked it up in a while and I feel like God was meeting me back in that place with music again, God knew that he would find me there. And so my hope was in, in that, I would say I was starting to reconnect. I connected with a friend at church here. Another person on staff here who does not do music as part of their job. She is a fantastic singer. And we started during the pandemic. We started to record some videos for our online worship at the time, and we both found our passion for music and in ministry specific again, and maybe like even a calling was coming back. So into the hope from that, I found in that it was almost that like, I called it a reconstruction, but God really reached out and made that happen way more than I did.

I didn’t so much have to work on that as God found me again. I guess I was in a place where I stopped feeling God’s presence or stopped looking for God and God came calling. So that’s my place of hope, I think. 

Carrie: It felt like God pursued you.

Jeff: Yeah, in a way that I had never experienced when all my years of ministry. This is what I did as soon as I got out of high school as I went to college for a semester, but then I ended up on a traveling worship team and immediately started working in churches, My whole life I’m working in ministry and in a way I never have felt God call me.

 I felt God calling me back. 

Carrie: Yeah, that’s so great. What I love about that is a sense of God knows how to speak to each one of us individually like it’s an intimate relationship that we have with him. And so if he was going to meet you, it made sense that he was going to meet you through music.

And that was really cool. It was a beautiful picture. And just a reminder that God’s in the details and. I just, I guess I encourage people that if they’re going through spiritual struggles like that, to be open, to just remain open to God, meeting you where you’re at because God already knows where the condition of our hearts and minds in those dark seasons. I don’t know.

I don’t remember who the author was, but he kind of called it like this dark night of the soul, you know, where you have these spiritual wrestlings and you’re in a place of sometimes it’s sadness or grief or feeling like you’ve been wounded by God in different ways. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing that.

Jeff: Sure. Yeah. Another thought I was having, you know, with that, with kind of what you just said, and, and I shared this morning in my Facebook group is my background is for most of my life now has been in Western theology, a Methodist. So that’s kind of where John Wesley would have these group meetings. And he would always open up the group meeting with the question, how is it with your soul? And so I asked that question to my group this morning, the Facebook group that I was telling you about. And it was really interesting because it’s not a group. My podcast is not a Christian podcast but people’s worldviews come into play.

So if I have a Christian person on they’ll often bring up God, but I told him, I said, How is it with your soul regardless of your faith? What is it like? You know, I got a lot of not great today. You know, those kinds of responses I got. I’ve had some it as well with my soul kind of response. And so I just, I think about that, I think that that’s a practice, especially as Christians, that we could start utilizing a little more. Maybe wake up every morning and think how is it with my soul today? So that’s just a random freebie for the day because I was thinking about it today. 

Carrie: That’s good. I think just the sense of self-reflection that sometimes we don’t take the time to do, because either we’re super busy or we’re in our heads and we’re not in a. A full-body experience in our faith. 

Jeff: Oh yeah. And that’s one of those questions. It’s like, uh, how are you really question, right? How is it with your soul man? That’s personal, that’s deep, that’s offensive and it’s beautiful. Crazy. 

Carrie: Well, it’s been great having you on to share your story and how this impacted your faith and your faith wrestlings and all of that. It’s been really amazing and check out the simple mental health podcast. And I’m on episode one, if you want to check it. 

Jeff: Yeah. Check it out. She’s amazing. Thank you for having me as always. 

We will put all the links in the show notes for you to Jeff’s podcast, as well as the specific episode that I was on. If you have a personal story of anxiety or OCD that you might like to share, please feel free to contact me anytime through our website.

www.hopeforanxietyandocd.com. I am currently looking for someone who has overcome a phobia who would like to tell their story. I would also love to talk with someone who has worked through some social anxiety and how they process that. So if you have personal stories in either of those areas or maybe, you know someone who might be willing to tell their story, please have them contact me.

Thank you so much for listening.

Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing is completed by Benjamin Bynam. 

Until next time may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.