It Was Good: Finding God in a Mental Breakdown

 

It’s fascinating, my therapist said as he looked over my emotional diary cards on Monday afternoon. You either feel everything all at once, or you feel nothing at all. There are lots of 4s and 5s and there are lots of 0s and 1s, but they never exist on the same day. Except for Thursday. What happened Thursday?

Thursday? Thursday, I didn’t know how to bridge that gap, to fill that uncomfortable silence with the even more uncomfortable words: I had a mental breakdown.

You see, the problem is, I finally answered, with me, it’s all or nothing: yes or no. And I know that the world isn’t black and white, and life is really like 5,000 shades of grey, but my emotional scale is binary. I feel everything or I feel nothing. I absorb the feelings of everyone around me. I carry my own pain and everybody else’s, and I don’t know how to stop. I need to learn emotional regulation: how to adjust to my surroundings, slowly and deliberately, like a boat entering a lock on the Erie Canal, and water gets pumped in or sucked out accordingly. But I can’t do that. I don’t know how to remove myself from someone else’s pain: to positively disassociate myself from their feelings and their experience, to be empathetic but not carry their burden. And on Thursday, the tower I’ve been building during this healing process just collapsed, like a Jenga Tower, the wrong block was removed at the wrong time. The levees broke and New Orleans flooded all over again.

What started it? He asked me, with concern in his eyes, because not two minutes before we were laughing at a stupid joke I made (apparently, I use humor to hide how much pain I’m in. But, whatever, I didn’t ask his opinion).

Everything started it, and nothing started it. It started because I got home on Thursday from being an introvert in an extroverted world, and the cars were not in the order they needed to be for Friday morning. And that was enough; that was enough to send me into a tailspin. That was enough to leave me shaking before I could turn off the car engine. That was enough to just. . . just. . .

When I say everything started it and nothing started it, I mean exactly that. Having a mental breakdown over the cars being out of order seems ridiculous to some, impossible to most. But, that was the last straw in a series of straws that broke the proverbial camel’s back (and by camel, I mean my sanity).

You see, there have been many days lately where I’ve felt like I’m barely holding it together, like at any moment I could just start crying wherever I am, like at any moment people are going to start throwing stones at the glass house that I live in and shatter everything I’ve tried so hard to build. The more I’m vulnerable to try and save myself, the more I hurt. It has to hurt before it gets better.

And I know that there’s a power in vulnerability: in airing out our hurts to make way for healing. But at the same time, if I don’t expose it, I don’t feel it. And to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure all the emotional pain I’ve felt over the last few months has been worth it. Is the healing I’m going to get worth the pain and suffering at the moment?

I’ve always had this problem when it comes to emotional pain—I think a lot of us do in different ways—I’d rather deal with physical pain than emotional pain. Slap a Band-Aid on it; grab an ice pack; pop an Advil, and I’m good to go. Sit down and talk about my past and my hurt, and feel the pain and hurt? Yuck. No thanks.

I’d much rather slice open my skin than deal with being raped, than deal with feeling nothing, than deal with feeling everything.

I did. Sometimes, I still do.

So, you had a mental breakdown, Kaleigh. What does that mean?

Simple. It means my system crashed. Normally before your computer dies, it starts slowing down and giving you the loading circle of death.

My brain’s been giving me that for a while: panic attacks every time I stepped foot in the gym by myself, suicidal thoughts while I was lying in bed at night, telling me to drive into a tree every time I got behind the wheel. You know, normal things.

And then Thursday, well, actually starting Wednesday, my brain overheated: too much stimulus going on all at once, not enough time to process it all—too much being extroverted for this introvert to handle.

And just the thought of having someone be inconvenienced Friday morning because they had to move my car was enough to push my sensitive soul over the edge.

The memories of being raped came flooding back, the memories of the night I attempted suicide came flooding back, every mean thing people said to me, all the hurt and pain came rushing in. And there’s no doubt in my mind that if my dad hadn’t gotten out of bed after I called him from the driveway, if he hadn’t met me at the top of the stairs, hadn’t stopped me before I could enter my room, hadn’t asked me “why are you crying?” I would have killed myself.

And that’s the honest truth. There have been many nights in the last six months where I’ve had to call the suicide hotline. There have been many nights in the last six months where I’ve been lying in bed wondering if I’m going to make it through. But Thursday night, I had a plan, and my mind was only focused on one thing, and I can’t tell you how scary that hour was. I can’t tell you how scary and emotionally draining that hour of sobbing and screaming was. It was complete inner turmoil, a civil war deluge of real-life bullets when the only thing I had to protect myself was a plastic spoon and a metal trashcan lid.

Because in that moment, it wasn’t just about the car: it was about everything and nothing, and I wanted nothing more than to die. I wanted to die. And I would have died if I hadn’t felt my father’s arms around me, rubbing my back, rubbing my head, if I hadn’t put my head on his shoulder and cried out all the pain I’ve been keeping inside for the last nine years of my life.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

There’s a beauty in this, a parallelism really. There’s nothing beautiful about a mental breakdown; the beauty lies in the after: the rising from the devastation, the flowers from the ashes. Because in the moment that I felt so helpless, alone, and weak, God reminded me of how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been, how strong I am, how much He loves me.

He’s brought me through my hardest days. He’s shown me the power of forgiveness. The power of love. He reminds me that in my doubt, my faith isn’t any less. There is hope even if I can’t see the light.

Sometimes, you just need a good mental breakdown, I joked to one of my pastors earlier today as I was chilling like a villain in his office.

You look better, more refreshed. He answered, which is a weird thing to say to someone who’s just had a mental breakdown, but it’s true.

It is true.

I do feel better. And it’s hard to describe how I feel better because it’s not really mentally or emotionally or even physically. Because the truth is, I’m still exhausted. I’m still finding it so hard to make it through a day alive, finding it hard to keep on keeping on.

But, also, in a way, I’m not as tired. I’ve found rest I haven’t had in three months. The mental breakdown did a hard reset of my system: I still have bugs in my programming that I’m trying to decode, but I now have a newfound strength to try to decipher everything. I have a newfound strength to keep on fighting. I have new life.

Because here’s the thing: I cried out My God, My God why have you forsaken me? And he whispered right back, I’m here. I’ve always been here.

I felt my father’s arms around me, and it was good.

 

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Bear Hugs from God

When my dad discovered that I was self-harming, when he pulled up my sleeves and noticed the fresh-that-morning cuts on my arm, he pulled me into a giant bear hug—the kind only dads can give—and refused to let go.

I imagine God is the same way, especially when it comes to those who have walked away, those who have doubted, those who have lamented and struggled.

I doubted for a long time, but I’ve had faith for longer.

Doubting is easy, having faith is hard.

When you’re being raped, it’s hard to have faith that one day God will use this for good.

When you’re cutting yourself open and starving yourself, it’s hard to have faith that God made you, and will continue to make you, beautiful.

But there I was, having faith I was starting to outgrow. When I was little, it fit like one of my dad’s t-shirts: large and floppy. Now that I had struggled, it fit like one of those old t-shirts it’s time to get rid of: too tight in the middle, with holes in the armpits.

It’s hard when your faith is shaken. You begin to wonder if it was strong enough to begin with, if you were a good-enough Christian to begin with. Doubt begins to creep in when your faith doesn’t seem big enough.

I never stopped having faith, but I let doubt take control. I was like one of those tight rope walkers who tense up and fall when they look down and realize how far away the ground is.

The night I attempted suicide was a night much like this one. I remember it vividly: the house was quiet; snow, sparkling under the light of the moon, was falling outside my window. The roads were covered in snow, and tree branches were dancing in the wind. It was beautiful and magical, serene and tranquil, but it wasn’t enough to save me.

My doubt was.

As I lay in the darkness of my room, waiting for the pills to do their job, I could see the light of the moon shining bright.

The doubt I had been feeling for years had eroded a place for hope and faith. And I know that doesn’t make sense, but believe me when I tell you that one the night I tried to kill myself, I was angry at the beauty I saw outside. I was angry at the way God had created nature and man, called both good, but he had seemingly abandoned me.

I was angry, but I still held on to a little bit of hope.

So as time slowed down and the earth began to slip away, I made a last ditch “I don’t know if God exists, but if He does, I hope He hears this because I’m all out of answers, and I can’t do this alone” cry.

And He did. And He answered, not with a shout, but with the gentlest of whispers.

“You’ll be ok.”

He answered with a whisper, but I’m sure He was like: “Finally! I told you that you couldn’t do this alone, and I was here cheering on the sidelines like an idiot screaming, ‘Come on, you can do this!’ But you weren’t paying any attention to what mattered. You were too focused on your past to think about your future or your present.”

And He’d be right. I was.

When my dad discovered I was self-harming, he pulled me into a bear hug.

When he discovered I tried to kill myself, he pulled me into his lap and threw his arms around me, as if to say, I’m never letting you go.

I imagine God did the same when I finally surrendered my pain, my past, my failures, and returned to him.

I imagine him saying, “Come on, Child. We can get through this together.”