Life Beyond: the Psych ER and My Faith

Those of you who have read my blog over the past few months, or even the past few years, know that this is a place where I am open and honest because sometimes I have a hard time doing that in real-life. But lately, I’ve tried this new approach where I’m open and honest, telling people my real truths–the truths I tried for so long to hide–engaging in the tough conversations where I’m raw, exposing my broken and hurting soul to those around me.

You see, four months ago, I ended up driving myself to the Psych ER because all I wanted to do was die. I saw the exit sign on the road directly in front of me, blinking green as in “GO.” And I wanted so badly to take it: the road not taken.

I didn’t take the road not taken, and that has made all the difference. Instead, I took the road that lead me to get help–a road that has been filled with panic attacks and flashbacks and broken relationships and great new ones. It’s a road that took me to the parking garage of the hospital I was born in, where I promptly had a 25-minute long panic attack in my car and then stood looking out over the concrete wall, trying to convince myself not to jump five floors down.

It’s a road that has lead me to where I am now: trying my best.

I’m trying my best. I’m going to group therapy once a week and individual therapy every 10-14 days. I was put on medication for the depression and the anxiety and the panic and the suicidal thoughts, and when the first medication made me too tired during the day to function if taken at night and too nauseous to eat if taken in the morning, I got put on another, and I haven’t really slept in a week, so I have a medication for that, too–and if I have a panic attack, it helps with those also–it’s a kill two birds with one stone type of deal. Which is helpful because I’m big on multitasking.

But the medication and the double therapy and the heart-to-heart raw moments haven’t fixed me. If anything, it’s made me more aware of my pain and the demons I battle. It has to hurt before it gets better. And I am trying my best to get better, or at least make all of this more manageable.

But, I have to be honest, friends, there are days when I wake up, and the first thought that comes screaming into my head with a screeching halt is: Are you kidding me with this? I woke up again? I have to keep living? And then I instantly feel ashamed for thinking that thought because there are so many people out there who didn’t get a second chance, and I should be grateful for this life I’ve been given.

I am. I am. I am. I am grateful. But I’m also living with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, and sometimes I’m at the gym and sit on a bench for longer than I actually worked out because my thoughts are so bad, I don’t trust myself to drive. And sometimes, I think to myself I wish someone would just shoot me. Or, I wish someone would come up behind me and slit my throat. Because then I could die without being blamed.

I wish I knew how to explain to all of you that I don’t actually want to die, I just want relief: relief from the voices screaming in my head that I am not good enough; relief from the pain and the tears and the sleepless nights; relief from the panic that sets in; relief from what’s going on inside my head. Because mental illnesses are so exhausting, and I’m so very tired.

. . .

I got an email yesterday from someone who was referred to my blog by a friend of theirs asking me how I can still believe in a loving God despite all that’s happened to me.

I responded: for the longest time, I didn’t. All the way through high school and into college, I doubted. But, if anything, these last six months have made my faith stronger. You see, if God wasn’t real, I wouldn’t be here right now. The night I attempted suicide, He saved me from myself. I never ever would have found the strength to ask for help, to be so honest and open and raw and real about what’s been going on in my life these last few months if I didn’t have faith. Believing in hope when all seems hopeless takes tremendous faith. I believe in God because He’s strong when I am weak. I believe in God because He helps me through the days when I can stand. He holds it together when I feel like I’m going to fall apart.

That’s why I believe–why I still believe that God is good–despite, or maybe in spite of, my brokenness.

I believe because I have no choice. And honestly, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today if it weren’t for the battles I’ve faced. My doubt has made my faith stronger. My struggles have made hope that much more beautiful.

You see, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today if it weren’t for what I’ve been through–if I wasn’t raped, if I didn’t develop an eating disorder and start to self-harm, if I didn’t live with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts. (But don’t you dare quote “Everything happens for a reason” to me because I will not let you diminish how terrible and hurtful what happened to me was.)

You see, I was hurt by the church and Christianity in general. I don’t think it was on purpose, or that they even knew they were doing it. But I grew up being told, and subsequently believing, that good Christians lead good lives. Good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people. If I prayed, God would grant me what I asked.

So when bad things happened, I believed it was my fault. I wondered what I did wrong? Was I a bad Christian? Did I not pray enough, read my Bible enough, love God enough? Did God not love me enough?

Being raped shattered me, and when I tried to pick up the pieces, I had nothing to hold them together with. If I didn’t have God, I didn’t have anything. So, I entered into a relationship I definitely should not have been in–one that was emotionally abusive (probably on both sides), one that gave me panic attacks over and over and over again because I just didn’t want to be touched, ok? Didn’t want to be poked in the sides, and definitely didn’t want to be snuck up on from behind. And because I no longer believed God loved me, I tried to frame my identity around those around me–putting all my eggs in very holey baskets, instead of the Holy Basket. For so long, I had no idea who I was.

Sometimes, I still don’t. But I’m trying my best to figure it out. I’m learning to deal with my thoughts and feelings, not push them aside. Because for so long, I kept everything pushed down and bottled up, not letting myself feel the hurt and the pain, not allowing myself to feel, deal, and heal. Until six months ago when I reached my breaking point, culminating in a flashback at the gym (Notice how everything happens at the gym? Maybe I should stop going).

I’m going to be honest, guys. These last few months have been the toughest of my life–filled with panic attacks and sleepless nights and countless thoughts of ending it all.

But, here’s the thing: I’ve also cracked more jokes in the last few months than I have in my entire life. Sometimes I may not feel like there’s a lot of hope, but I know there is as long as I’m still laughing.

If you can’t laugh at where you are in life, it’s like you’ve admitted that there’s no hope of anything getting better. And I refuse to believe that life won’t get better.

I’ll never be normal. I’ll probably never not struggle with Major Depression, General Anxiety, Social Anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts. But I have hope. So much hope.

Because life is about embracing the crazy, embracing your weakness, giving a name to the darkest parts of yourself. I’ve done that, and I’m letting God–with the help of therapy and medication–help me manage the rest.

Because my faith is stronger now than it ever was, than it ever has been. It has to be if I want to keep living. And I do. I do want to keep living. Because life is so beautiful and laughter is so precious and there are so many wonderful conversations out there to have.

And I want to see a Christianity where we can have the tough conversations. I want to see a Church where we can share our stories, shed light on our dark, dreary places because things left in the dark dreary places tend to be ruined. And I don’t want people to feel ruined.

Because sometimes I do. Somedays I feel ruined. Somedays I feel like there’s no hope. But I want everybody to know that there is always that whisper in the back of my head, the whisper that comes on my hardest nights, that carries me through the tough places: You are my Child, and you’ll be ok. I’ve got this.

I want a Christianity that isn’t perfect because life isn’t perfect. I want a Church that isn’t afraid to be real and raw and honest. Because I have to be in order to carpe each diem. I have to be to survive.

And I think we all occasionally need to be reminded that there are people out there who understand our dark places. We need those willing to help us shed some light: to feel, to deal, to heal.

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And Jesus Wept

I was sitting in the first row of the choir loft of the sanctuary today, listening as my pastor prayed for peace of mind and hope and strength. And when he concluded, as my mind started to wander, and my thoughts started to get the better of me, he interrupted me, thankfully, by asking, “Out of all the thousands of Bible verses you have memorized, which is your favorite?”

Instantly, I panicked. My mind went blank. All the verses I have cataloged in the back of my brain by reference and topic instantly were sucked out of their storage containers by the cosmic vacuum that proves that the universe has a sense of humor. I could not remember a single Bible verse.

I eventually settled on Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” And then I added, I also love Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the Heavenly realms.” 

But now, as a few hours have passed since my caught-off-guard moment, and all the Bible verses have reorganized themselves in my brain, I have a better answer: Ephesians 6:7 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”

I’m kidding; I’m kidding, sort of.

John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, states simply: Jesus wept. 

And for me, this is the most powerful verse in the Bible. You see, sometimes I think I’m alone in my pain–nobody understands how I feel; nobody will love me if they find out how hard it is for me to stay alive.

But, you see, Jesus does. Jesus understands how I feel; He loves me despite what’s happened to me, despite the battle raging inside of me. And He loves you, too.

I share my story because I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as I feel sometimes. I don’t want people to feel like they’re alone in their pain, alone in their shame. I don’t want people to feel like nobody could ever understand what they’re going through.

As I’ve been open and honest about my story, especially how hard these last few months have been, I’ve noticed something: I have become the support system for other people. I have friends who message me when they’re having a panic attack because I understand what it’s like. I have friends who tell me “Hey, I was raped, too.” I have friends who tell me that they have also lived with depression for a while but have kept it to themselves for fear of being judged.

And here’s the thing, guys. I love every minute of it. I love every minute of hearing other people’s stories and having those people in my life who are brave enough to reach out. Because it’s taken me this long to figure out that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Maybe I can’t stop my own panic attacks or pull myself out of the darkest nights, but if I can be there for others, you bet your bottom dollar that I will be.

Here’s the thing: this week has been harder than most. I’ve been trying to hold it together all week, and I feel like I’m failing. Tonight at the gym, instead of sitting on the bench for five or ten minutes to collect my thoughts, I had to sit there for nearly an hour, blaring music, trying to drown out the world. And on the way home, I had to pull over because I could not stop the tears flowing from my eyes; right now, life is so hard, and sometimes I feel so alone and like nobody understands.

But here’s the thing: God does. He weeps right along with me. In the moments when the panic sets in, He walks me through it. And during the nights when I’m not sure I’m going to live to see the sun, He wraps me up in His arms and carries me through the darkness.

I used to think that I was a terrible Christian because I was raped, because I have depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, because I sometimes still struggle with self-harm and battle an eating disorder that I thought I recovered from a long time ago.

I’ve come to realize that none of that is true. On the nights when I’m so tired, I can only let out a whisper of a prayer, God hears me. He has not forsaken me.

And one day, He’ll redeem me.

Because life is so so tough right now, but I have faith in the hope that I hold onto during the darkest nights.

I am a Child of God, and Jesus wept.

I’m Here

Friends, I call you friends because if you’re reading this, that’s what you are, many of you know my story; many of you have been on this journey with me for a long time. For those of you who don’t know my story or are relatively new to this blog, welcome. This is a place where I’m open and honest about my life and its struggles–from dealing with the aftermath of being raped, to battling an eating disorder and self-harm, to fighting suicidal urges and nine-year-old depression and lifelong anxiety.

I’m being honest once again. I’m not doing well, friends. I wish I could say I was. I wish I had better news. But these last six months have been hands down the hardest time of my life, the biggest battle, and there are many nights when I’m lying in bed absolutely 100% convinced that I’m not going to make it to see the sun rise. And I don’t want to feel this way. Sometimes I’m ashamed that I feel this way. Sometimes, I even feel guilty for feeling this way after surviving a suicide attempt, like I should be happy that I’m alive when so many other people do not get a second chance.

And I am happy. I’m so so grateful because there are still so many things I want to do with my life. But here’s the thing about Depression and Anxiety and Mental Illness in general: it doesn’t care about second chances and gratefulness and the love and support you have around you. It can hit anyone at any time. Girls carry pepper spray to protect themselves from creepy guys in the night. We carry guns and pocket knives for our own protection. But how do we protect ourselves from ourselves? How do we protect ourselves from the power of our own thoughts?

For so long, I tried to block them out: you’re worthless. You’re better off dead. No one wants you here. No one will ever love you. But the more I tried to block them out, the stronger and louder they became. It’s kind of like when you get a song stuck in your head, and the more you try to ignore it, the more it gets stuck. Or like when you’re lying in bed at night trying to sleep, and the instant you’re about to fall into complete and total relaxation, your mind decides that that’s a great time to start singing “The Ants Go Marching One by One,” and you try to fight it, but by the time you get to The Ants Go Marching 543 by 543, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you’re going to have to use the rhyme “the little stopped to climb a tree” one more time.

It’s like that.

And the problem with trying to block them out is that one day, you’ll be too tired. You won’t be able to block them out anymore, and then they’ll be overpowering. That’s happened to me exactly twice in my life: once on the night I attempted suicide almost eight years ago, and once on a Friday night at the gym about six months ago; the difference between these two times is that this time, they haven’t let up. It’s been six straight months of this feeling that I’m not going to make it out of this. It’s been six straight months of the worst anxiety I’ve ever had, full-blown depression, and straight-up panic attacks.

Back in September, I drove myself to the Emergency Room because I wanted to die. And since that afternoon, I’ve fought over and over and over again to stay alive.

I want nothing more than to be here, guys. I want nothing more to live a full life and to die in my sleep at the ripe age of old. I want nothing more than to be fixed–wholly and completely. But here’s the thing I’ve learned: this isn’t fixable. The therapy I go to and the medication I take isn’t going to fix how I feel. They’ll make it more manageable, and they’ll make the ground underneath my feet a little bit firmer, but there’s no magician on the other side of the rabbit hole of my thoughts waiting to pull me out of his hat and say, “Tada–You’re healed.”

But there is God. And there is hope. And every day I’m reminded of all of that.

And despite how hard all of this has been–feeling everything and nothing and hopelessness and hopefulness and wanting to die and fighting to live–I still show up. I show up to the gym and work and Bible Quizzing and family gatherings and church and all my scheduled therapy sessions–both individual and group. I show up to laughter and tears and music and writing and coffee with friends. I show up to life even if life doesn’t show up to me. I show up to feel, even if I can’t feel anything. I show up, despite the fact that most days, I have to stop myself from crying in public. I fight like hell to survive even though somedays the feeling that I’d be better off dead is so strong.

So, yes, these past six months have been the worst. And I don’t know when they’ll get better. And most days I’m not doing well. But I’m trying my best.

Because life is so so beautiful. There’s beauty in sunsets and sunrises and freshly fallen snow and laughter and sadness and happiness and tears. And I have hope, this indescribable “I can do all things” kind of hope that I try so hard to hold on to when everything within me is telling me to give up.

As he walked into work today, my pastor asked me how I was doing. And I replied, Honestly, not that well. Last night was hard and today is hard, but I am here.

What I didn’t say was that I was barely holding it together–I’m barely holding it together, guys.

But I am here. And I’m trying my best.

And I am thankful for that.