In an email I got on Monday from a fabulous human, I was asked the following question:
From last November to the one we are standing inside of right now, what’s the best thing you’ve learned?
Looking back at the past year is not an easy feat for me, for a multitude of reasons. But last November? I can’t look back without wanting to cry. (I may or may not be crying now, in fact).
Last fall/winter (basically October through December) was one of the worst times of my life–but no one knew it. I was in the midst of mental hell. In October, I had been diagnosed with GAD, and it basically spiraled deeper and further as the months went by without me taking care of it. I was a walking zombie, barely sleeping any at night because the panic attacks and anxiety were keeping me up all night. I’d cry myself to sleep, afraid I wouldn’t wake up the next day. Praying God would wake me up each day. And getting up the next day numb and exhausted, only to do it again the next night.
November I was right in the thick of it– finishing up the hardest semester I’d ever had, on top of the mental illness I was refusing to deal with. Instead, I didn’t sleep, I pushed myself through it– and to the brink of a full mental breakdown.
I close my eyes and go back to that time, and I can’t believe that was my life just a year ago. The pacing, the sobbing, the yelling/screaming at God about how afraid I was. The isolation of no one seeing how broken I was on the inside, because I kept the outside looking as normal as possible.
I barely told anyone what I was dealing with, and literally told no one how severe it was until the end of December when I finally broke to a friend.
I can’t look back at that February post without crying. I was still in such a fragile state when I wrote that. I was still having a hard time putting last fall into words, because i wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Some days it still feels like I’m in the thick of it. And in some ways, I am. Because this hell never ends– it ebbs and flows, but it’s probably never going to be something I’m fully ever ‘over.’
It took me awhile to understand that– that I’m not the same person I was before October 4th, 2014.
(even typing that date out sends chills up my spine).
I’ve had to grieve who I was before that day. I was a lot less worrisome (though some would argue not ;)) about every day life– I didn’t let fear control every little thing like I do most days now. I was a lot more closed-off, unwilling to be vulnerable; I’ve learned that that helps no one, especially not me. Sometimes you’ve just gotta speak your crazy out loud to know you’re not alone. I’ve learned that this year. I was a lot happier, in some ways. Living in fear isn’t exactly an exercise in happy. Panicking yourself to tears until you sleep isn’t all that cheerful.
But in other ways, I’m happier now. I’m more aware than I was– a lot more aware about how I’m feeling and what I can do about my feelings. Aware of how destructive my thinking is, and how to combat it. And I’m more aware about mental health and the stigma about it– how I contributed to the stigma before I went through it, and how i’ve seen the stigma in the reactions from people (most have been good, mind you. a few have missed the mark). I don’t feel as alone as I did before– I wasn’t alone before, but now I feel like I can be more open and honest with my people. Community has become a much more important facet of life these days.
This whole thing woke me up– it forced me to come alive in ways I hadn’t before. It made me depend on God to simply get through the night- a kind of dependence and trust I’d truly never had in God. I’ve had to lean on people and community more than I ever have in my life– I’ve had to ask for (and actually accept) more help and prayer and love than I’ve ever let into my life before. As much as I hate this whole mental illness thing, it’s opened me up in ways God has been working on for years. He’s been after me to be more open and trustworthy and personal–with Him and other people– for years. It’s been one of my greatest struggles, this wall I’ve put up to let Him and others barely able to break through the cracks.
GAD broke that wall down. Now I have no choice but to be real, to be honest when people ask “how are you?”, to be vulnerable about when I’m in the pits and not just when I’m happy. It’s taught me to share my whole self, and not just the perfect social media moments.
The wall broke down, and love broke through. Love in the form of “me too” and hugs and friends praying when I ask them to (and sometimes when I don’t). Love in the form of singing and memorizing Psalms, and David knowing an anxious heart better than any self-help book I can find. Love in music and books that make me cry because they are words written in such ways that capture my heart and mind right where I need them to. Love in the form of banagrams and walks around campus when my life feels frazzled, or friends just sitting with me or texts checking on me in the mornings to make sure I’m OK.
Love comes in many forms, I’ve learned.
As much as I hate this mental illness, it has completely changed my life. I’m a different person than I was 1 year ago– and personally, I think it’s mostly for the better. As much as I cry and scream and ask why this was the battle I was given, why this was the mountain I was given to climb, I decided to climb with my hands wide open instead of clenched like I wanted to. I still want to somedays. I still ask, still cry, still get angry about why me– but that doesn’t change how much this has taught me, and how this has refined me into the me God is making me to be. I take community more seriously, I’m not as afraid to be honest and vulnerable, I laugh harder and deeper and don’t take as much for granted (as cliche as that one is). I enjoy moments and things and people more now; I celebrate the small victories and the things I check off my to-do list instead of letting them terrorize me.
This has made me less of who I wanted to be, and more of who God wanted me to be.
I still worry and give in to the anxiety somedays– but it doesn’t change the fact that God is using this mess to make me better. To make my life more for Him and his glory as opposed to my own.
If the past year has taught me anything good, it’s this: even then in the midst of my mental hell, in the questioning and frustrations, He is still God. He’s who he says he is, even when my life is changing in every way about me. And he is still good. Even if questions don’t get answered and I still feel this bitter anger about this year, He can take it. He takes it all and somehow uses it, despite me being me. And that is how he is still good. Even in my questioning and anger and sadness, He is still good.
I’ve learned that God is still God even when I’m not who I want to be. Or who I wish I was.
Except now, I don’t know if I wish to be anything else. Life past October 4th, 2014 has been hard as hell. But it’s given me so much more than life before it did. And maybe that’s what I’ve learned most of all.
It may not be how I wanted Him to change me, but I’m more of who I need to be now than I was this time last year, even if the road to getting here was dark and terrible and hard to look at.
Maybe someday I’ll be able to look at November 2014 without crying about the darkness and the fear. Until then, I can look back at November 2014 and the months since and see how God uses terrible circumstances and situations to change people into who He’s wanted them to be all along. As much as I hate that this has been my struggle the past year (and indefinitely), I will praise the one that uses the scary things to refine and make me into something new– something better than I could have ever done for myself.
I’m still me. But I’m a new me. And I love him every day for it.
Two songs that got me through it: The Mountain (Jon Foreman) and Love Broke Through (Ellie Holcomb)