You of Little Faith

I have a hard time getting out of bed. To a point, I think all of us have days like that: days when it’s rainy and damp and chilly; days when we’re so tired because sleep didn’t come easily, if at all. And I don’t want to diminish those days because I never want to invalidate anyone else’s feelings, invalidate other people’s bad days.

My “hard to get out of bed” days are my every day. Every day it’s hard for me to get out bed: the weight of the world and the weight of my pain are too heavy; the fear of “if I get out of bed, I will die” is too high.

One of these feelings is new, relatively speaking. The other one has been my lifelong companion, a friend I didn’t ask for. One that’s moved in, crashed on my couch, invaded my personal space, crowded me out, made me feel like a stranger in my own home. This is anxiety: the constant feeling that I’m going to be late for an appointment I didn’t even make, the impending due date for a major project for a class I’m not even taking, hearing the Imperial March but never running into Darth Vader, discovering a bomb and hearing the beeping get faster and faster and faster but it never exploding. All the time. 24/7.

I’ve always felt this way. I never realized that it was abnormal. I always thought everybody felt this way: so unsure of themselves, feeling like they were going to throw up every time they opened their mouth to speak in class, unable to make eye contact whenever talking to someone, never wanting to meet someone new because “what if they get to know me and then they discover that they don’t like me?,” wanting to find the nearest exit every time they are in a room with more than five people.

I don’t want to say that my anxiety controlled my life when I was younger. But, it did. I was so unsure of myself that I didn’t want to take up people’s time. So, I didn’t talk to people, didn’t ask family members to play games with me, tried to make myself as invisible as I possibly could. And, on the days when I was super stressed, when I had actual tests and was afraid to go to school because of the bullies, I would pick at scabs until they bled. Scarring my body before I even knew what self-harm was.

Growing up in the church, I was always told that God was an all-knowing, ever-loving God. He so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son and so on and so forth. He formed us in our mothers’ wombs; He knows the number of hairs on our head; He knows us inside and out, and He has a plan for our lives.

I was also told that He would never give us more than we can bear. And if we read our Bibles enough, pray enough, are a good enough Christian, He’ll protect us from the bad. Bad things happen to bad people; good things happen to good people. If I really, truly loved Him with my whole heart, if I surrendered everything over to Him, He would protect me from the evil in the world.

And I believed it.

Then one day when I was in eighth grade, I was raped in a school bathroom. When you’re 13 years old and already so unsure of yourself, what they tell you becomes what you believe: slut, worthless, unlovable, ugly. Those four words have been on repeat in my head, and sometimes, at the worst moments, I relive those 15 minutes over and over and over again.

And because of the anxiety I had carried with me for years, I didn’t tell anyone: I was scared, didn’t want to be blamed, just wanted desperately to be loved, didn’t want anyone to know that I was now dirty. I cleaned myself off, went to my locker, grabbed my backpack, climbed into my dad’s car, and kept silent for a year of running into them in the hallways every day, having one of them breathe down my neck as they sat behind me in class, having my stomach do somersaults everytime they smirked at me.

And sometime in that year, I met a new companion: Depression. He moved in and with him, the doubt came too.

Was I not a good enough Christian? Did I not love God enough? Did God not love me enough? Was there even a God? Because if there is a God, how can He allow things like this to happen?

Sometimes depression is sadness. Sometimes it’s anger or despair or hopelessness. Sometimes it’s complete numbness. And that’s what I was: numb. For three or four years, I felt nothing. Yes, there were occasional moments of happiness and laughter, sadness and tears. But that’s all they were: moments, beautiful but fleeting.

And because I wasn’t feeling anything, I started self-harming. Physical pain was better than emotional numbness. And then, when that wasn’t enough, I stopped eating. We all want to feel in control of our lives, and I could control the number of calories I ate. So I did. I restriced and restriced and restriced because I wasn’t deserving. I didn’t deserve to eat.

I tried to erase the parts of myself I didn’t like, tried to erase the feeling of their hands on my body. I tried to make myself someone worthy of love despite the continual fighting off the demons in my head who were telling me otherwise.

And then one February night during my Sophomore Year of High School, I stopped fighting. For one second, I stopped fighting the voices in my head. I was oh so tired.

I could use a million metaphors to describe what happened next, but this isn’t Star Wars: there’s no “metaphors be with you” to lessen what I’m about to say:

That was the night I attempted suicide. I wrote a note, swallowed pills, laid in bed, and then watched the snow falling outside my window sparkle in the moonlight. When I think back to this night, there’s a disconnect in my brain: because on one hand, it was beautiful: the fluffy snow sparkling in the moonlight. But, on the other hand, there’s nothing beautiful about feeling like there’s no hope, there’s no way out.

In the next moment, as I’m able to quiet my racing thoughts, there was a still quiet voice in my ear, “You’ll be ok.” 

And that was enough. In that moment, that was all I needed.

I found that suicide note a few years ago, tucked away in a polka dot notebook I forgot I had. I would like to say that after reading it, ripping it up, and throwing it out the window as I drove down the expressway, I never wrote another one, but that would be a lie.

I’ve written more than I can count. In the last three months alone, I’ve written at least 15 on the nights that I’m not sure I’ll make it through the storm. But, after the storm subsides, when the winds calm down, and the waters recede, I delete them from my phone, erasing the words I’m so ashamed of writing.

Being raped shattered me, as it would anyone. And nine years later, I’m still trying to pick up the pieces. Nine years later, I’m still trying to rewrite the definition they gave me.

 

I’m 23 years old now, but not much has changed: I’m still so unsure of myself; I invalidate my own feelings to make room for other people’s; I don’t want to take up people’s time;  I’m still learning how to ask for help.

Somedays I still self-harm. I have flashbacks and panic attacks, mostly at the gym because there are too many guys that I don’t trust, and not enough people that I do. Two months ago, I almost drove into a tree. On purpose. Because sometimes I’m still convinced I don’t deserve to be here. One month ago, I drove myself to the ER because instead of writing a manual on using Skype for Business, the only words on the screen in front of me were: I want to die. I need to die. 

Somedays, I use up all my faith when I get out of bed and trust that the floor won’t collapse beneath my feet.

And I want you guys to know two things: 1. There’s a difference between what I feel and what I know: most days, I feel like I want to die. But, I know that I actually do not want to die. And 2. that you can’t fix this. There’s nothing you can do to take all this pain away. But, if you rephrase the question “What can I do (to fix this)?” to “What do you need?,” the number of things you can do skyrockets from zero to so many: I need a hug. I need prayer and support and encouragement and love. I need people to sit there with me as I’m trying to work through what I’m feeling in that moment. I need people to listen to what’s going on in my head. I need people to let me feel what I’m feeling and not get frustrated. Because, trust me, no one’s more frustrated than me.

I’m frustrated because I should be better. It’s been nine years, and in those nine years, I’ve felt nothing; I’ve felt anger; I’ve forgiven, and I’ve tried to move on. I’ve been hurt and harassed and there are stories that I’m not ready to tell. I went to Guatemala and led a young girl to a God that I wasn’t even sure I believed in at the time.

And why haven’t I left? Why haven’t I walked away? The truth is, I have. For so long I was angry at God for letting this happen to me. For abandoning me. For leaving me for a younger, prettier, less broken model.

But, here’s the thing: so many times over the years I have been reminded of God’s grace, of His goodness, of the love He has for me. On the night I attempted suicide, He whispered, “You’ll be ok.” He snapped me out of it as my car was heading for a tree. He gave me the strength to ask for help, to drive to the ER even though I was terrified, because I was terrified.

Right now, I’m oh so weak. But God, He’s strong enough for the both of us. He’s carried me through things I wouldn’t have made it through on my own.

And even though I have so many questions: Why did this happen? Why did I survive when so many people do not? What on earth kind of plan do you have for my life? Does beauty really come from ashes?, I know that there are things that my finite brain can’t even begin to comprehend.

Sometimes, all we can do is give a name to the darkest parts of ourselves, and turn the rest over.

My name’s Kaleigh, and I have Generalized Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Major Depression, PTSD, and Suicidal thoughts,  and I’m letting God do the rest.

Because that’s all I can do–all any of us can do. Because I can’t fix this. You can’t fix this. Medication and therapy can’t fix this. They can make it more manageable, but that’s it.

Only God can fix this. And I’ve come to accept the fact that maybe it won’t fix this in the way I want Him to. Maybe depression and anxiety and the memories will always be a part of my life. He knows what He’s doing and the plans He has for my life. I still struggle with guilt and shame and the feeling that everything that’s happened in my life is somehow my fault. But, sometimes, every once in a while, He’ll fill me with this sense of peace, a reminder that He’s got this, even when I have no faith, when I feel hopeless, when I’ve lost sight of the light.

Last Sunday, I woke up and my anxiety was through the roof. I felt out of place, uncomfortable, a stranger in my own body. I got up, went to Sunday School, and went to Church, trying to maintain normalcy when all I wanted to do was die. As the last song was ending and the closing prayer was started, I collapsed in my pew and started sobbing. And then, somehow, I don’t quite remember how, I ended up at the prayer rail, still sobbing because God reminded me in that moment that He’s taken my guilt and shame; He reminded me that I’m worthy; there’s no one too broken or dirty. And when I finally stopped crying, when I finally found the strength to stand up and turn around, there were a whole bunch of people surrounding me with open arms and tears in their eyes, reminding me that I’m not alone in this. None of us are alone in life.

So, yes, somedays are hard. Most days are hard. But on those days where I can’t get out of bed, where my faith seems too small, where I’m afraid that despite my best attempts at self-preservation, my suicidal thoughts will win out, where the depression and anxiety seem like too much to bear; on those days, I look at the lines on my hand.

They remind me that the same God who created the stars in the sky, the falling snow, the sunrises and sunsets, the rainbows, and the color-changing leaves of autumn stitched me together piece by piece.

And sometimes, that is enough.

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Moving On

The first cut is always the deepest.  The first cut always hurts the most. But then the second and third cuts come, and after a while, you become addicted. You become addicted to the release it brings. For one minute during your day you feel something. You are allowed to feel something.

And then it’s not just days; it’s months, it’s years of this daily release. Then one day, you hit your lowest point. Your skin is not skin anymore. After years of being bloody from fighting daily battles, it’s become a puzzle to be put back together. It’s become a battlefield marked with the gravestones of those lost. It’s become a maze or a timeline; traceable lines mark the path you’ve walked, how far you’ve traveled.

One day you trace the scars that you’re so eager to hide from judging eyes, because you don’t know how to explain to people that you’re not trying to kill yourself; you’re trying to stay alive:

How have I made it this far? I’m stronger than I think I am.

How did I get here? I’m left looking back on things I’d much rather forget.

Where do I go from here? I have no idea.

I have no idea.

But I’m taking it one day at a time. Because when you didn’t think you’d make it this far, planning the future and looking too far ahead is terrifyingly intimidating. Life is stressful. You take it one day at a time so you don’t forget to breathe.

Through all this, you have to learn how to move on with your life. I’m learning how to move on. I’m learning how to make it through the day. I’m learning that God loves me despite it all. I’m learning that even at my worst my friends are there to fall back on.

I’m learning how to love myself again, which is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s so easy to compare yourself to everyone else. And this game you play, you lose every time, which destroys your self-image. So you have to undo all the damage done—years of losses has left your Self-image so badly damaged there’s no choice but to tear it down and rebuild it from the bottom.

This rebuilding is a process. It’s looking in the mirror and telling yourself you’re beautiful even when you don’t believe it. It’s telling yourself that you are worth something when you’re entire being is telling you that you’re better off dead. It’s learning how to block out the voices of those who once hurt you (not that the memories won’t hurt, because they will. But that’s ok. You’re alive).

And it’s so much more. It’s learning to ignore the people who judge you. It’s learning to ignore the people looking at you, whispering about you as if you can’t see them. It’s learning how to cope, how to deal with the thoughts that can destroy you. It’s learning how to let the feelings out in healthy ways (even if it’s crying at Youth Group). It’s learning that it’s ok that big groups make you uncomfortable, that you are always on the verge of a mental breakdown. The people who matter won’t love you any less.

It’s learning that this is a Mental Illness; the feelings won’t go away, but they’ll be like waves. It’s learning how to make the most of them.

It’s learning that you are worth being loved. It’s allowing yourself to be loved and valued when the right person comes along.

It’s learning to say look how far I’ve come. Look at what you did to me, but look what I’ve done with my life. Look at me prove you wrong.

Faith

This blog post is a little bit different than my normal blog posts; but after spending my weekend up in the woods at a camp with other teenagers, I need to share what’s on my heart. 

I am a Senior this year, and with only 6 instructional days left, my whole life is about to change. At the beginning of this year, I was nervous. I was nervous about leaving my friends and creating new ones. I was nervous about leaving everything I’ve come to know over the last few years. I was nervous about venturing into the unknown. But, looking back on my four years of High School, I’m not so nervous anymore. You see, High School has tried to make me fit in this 8″ by 8″ box. After a while, my edges were sanded away, everything that people considered “different” was removed, it’s as if a big chunk of me is missing.

 Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

For a long time, I have had trouble trusting God with things because I have questioned whether or not he really cares and whether he’s really there. “…certain of what we do not see.” Believing in something that I cannot see is hard for me. I like to be able to touch things. I like to be able to see things with my own eyes. How do I know things exist if I cannot see them?

But then I realized how stupid that all sounded. I don’t have to see God to believe that he exists, because I’ve seen him work around me. He didn’t desert me when I was at my lowest, deepest, darkest point. He didn’t desert me when I wanted to end it all. He didn’t desert me, not ever.

Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

NEVER. What a great promise that is.

I know God exists because he saved me from myself. He has answered my prayers, sometimes in the most unconventional ways, but, nonetheless, they are answered.

There was a time when I couldn’t make it through the day without cutting myself at least once (How I got to that point is a story all of its own). But my depression got to the point where I felt nothing–no sadness, no pain, no happiness, nada. I had to feel something. I needed to make sure I was still alive.

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

He was always there, through it all. Through all the doubts about my worth, my inner battles, my anger at him, he was there. Always.

June 16, 2010, almost two years ago, was the day that I last cut myself. To say that it’s been easy would be a lie. Everyday I struggle with inner demons telling me I’m not pretty enough, I’m not good enough, I’m not worth anything. There are easier to resist now though. God has changed me. He’s made me stronger by pushing me to my limits. He’s made me put all my trust in him by putting my life on the line.

“You’re not pretty enough. You’re not smart enough. You’ll never amount to anything.” Those lies don’t have a hold on me anymore. Because God is stronger than that.

 

 

I don’t know what is beyond this bend in the road. I don’t know what is ahead for me in the next few years. I don’t even know what I want to do with the rest of my life (maybe I’ll write a book). But, I do know that God will be with me every step of the way, even with my doubts, my insecurities, the questioning of my faith. For He will never leave me; nor will He forsake me.