Hearts in Your Eyes

I’ve never quite been able to figure out if the fact that the acronym for Singles Awareness Day would be SAD is purposeful or sad happenstance, but I’m sitting in my office writing cover letters on February 14, so I’m definitely leaning towards purposeful.

Valentine’s Day has never bothered me before. In high school, I bought cards and presents for my female friends. In college and grad school, I mostly buried my head in my books and pretended nothing was happening. I joked about celebrating Half Price Chocolate Day on February 15 and assumed that I would eventually have someone to celebrate with.

It’s not that singleness is bothering me this year. I’m perfectly happy being single. The girlfriend dumped me back in October, and it was as awful as I’m assuming most first heartbreaks are, but I’m mostly over it. I know that there will be other loves and other relationships in the right time. It’s not the singleness.

It’s the aloneness.

When you become estranged from your family, you don’t just lose contact with a few people. You lose a community, a sense of history, and a sense that someone has your back. You lose the knowledge that there are people who are tied to you through blood and tears and however many years of hard work it took to make you the person you are today. Even if there isn’t a lot of love there, or even if the relationships are dysfunctional, there is something about having a family that means having a safety net. I didn’t want to move home, but I always knew that if something happened, it was an option. Now, there is no option. There is no safety net. There is no sense of history or community. There is no one I have regular contact with who knew me before the age of 14.

I’ve been job hunting for months, and I’m not getting anything back. I’ve had interviews, but no one calls to let me know I’ve been rejected. My friends have mostly moved away, and I’m the only one who stayed here who isn’t working yet.

I’m starting to feel a little invisible.

There’s supposed to be a happy, hopeful end to this. I’m supposed to make a Princess Diaries reference and then talk about how God always sees us. And God does always see us. And it’s important to remember that. But right now, I don’t want to be happy or hopeful. Right now, I want to eat my weight in chocolate. I want to scream and cry and throw things. I want to go to sleep and not have to wake up. Because life is hard, and I’m doing everything right, and it’s not getting less hard. I’m still always broke and usually alone. I still feel unseen and unheard most of the time. I still feel like most of the people in my life forget about me if I’m not directly in front of them, and that’s not a fun feeling.

Right now, I want more than anything to be seen.

I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. I hope you felt loved and cherished and special. I hope someone hugged you. I hope someone was happy to see you. I hope that you go to sleep tonight with the knowledge that you matter to someone.

Tomorrow, try to see someone. Whether it’s the homeless man begging for change at the intersection or the person who hands you a bulletin at church or the person you sit across the breakfast table from, try to acknowledge someone you usually wouldn’t in a really meaningful way. Maybe that means listening to them. Maybe it means sharing a meal or a cup of coffee. Maybe it just means making eye contact.

Go forth and see.

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It’s Going to be Alright.

It’s been a rough week.

I’m doing everything right.  I’ve been drinking lots of water, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and spending at least seven hours in bed every night.  I’ve even gone to the gym a few times.  I’ve been spending time with friends, going to therapy, and taking my meds.  I still feel terrible.

People talk about depression like it’s just about feeling sad.  But for me, depression has always been more about feeling empty.  I start to feel like I’m moving through molasses.  Everyday chores like laundry and cooking become a huge struggle.  It’s hard to get out of bed or off the couch.  It’s hard to leave my apartment.  There’s so much to do, but I’m so anxious about everything that I get paralyzed, stuck, and it all just keeps piling up.  Everything seems so hopeless.  I can’t stop telling myself sad stories.  I start to wonder why I should even try.  I always think that King Solomon must have been depressed when he wrote Ecclesiastes.  “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”

On bad days, it becomes a struggle just to take care of myself.  My appetite is weird, and I’m so apathetic that I’m usually dizzy before I really start to think about getting something to eat.  I’ll get thirsty or cold, but I won’t do anything about it until I have to get up for something else.  I find myself thinking about razor blades as a coping mechanism.  It gets ugly sometimes.

When I first started struggling with depression, my parents treated it like a major moral failure.  They acted like I’d gotten addicted to drugs or been sleeping around and picked up an STD.  They still talk about that period that way, and I’ve internalized the idea that my mental illness is a character flaw.   Deep down, I still feel like I wouldn’t be dealing with this if I were an intrinsically better person.

In reality, I’m doing everything that I can.  I’m going to therapy, taking my meds, and doing the best self-care I am capable of.  Most days are just one foot in front of the other.  Monday and Tuesday were brutal, and I didn’t leave the house or put on real clothes.  Tuesday I took a shower and ran two loads of laundry.  Yesterday, I ate three meals, showered, and went to work.  Every night, I remind myself that I get another chance tomorrow.  Every morning, I try to make today a better day.  If it’s a bad day, I make my goals “eat something” and “take a shower.”  If it’s a good day, I’ll try to get to the gym, do a little cleaning, and spend some time with my guitar.  If I’m somewhere in the middle, I prioritize a healthy diet, good sleep, and overall improvement.  I’m getting better at rolling with the punches.

Maybe someday my brain won’t be my worst enemy, but in the meantime I’m learning not to be so hard on myself.  Bad days happen, but life goes on afterwards.  Missing a few checks on the to-do-list on those bad days won’t ruin my life.  My life is going to happen, no matter what, and I’m going to make it the best I can.  It’s going to be alright.

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Six Years Later (A Letter to My 19 Year Old Self)

College was an incredibly dark time for me.  I struggled with anxiety and depression and considered taking my own life several times.  My 24th birthday, almost exactly five years after everything got ugly, was incredibly special to me as it was the first birthday in years that I was truly happy to be celebrating.  At that point, I began trying to write this letter as a way to say goodbye to the part of me that didn’t survive those dark experiences.  Several months ago, I finally got it right.  Today, I am posting it in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week with the hope that it will help and inspire others who are struggling in the midst of similar darkness.

Hello, 19 year-old me.

I’ve been trying to write this for almost a year, now.  I’ve thought about it on the bus and in the car.  I’ve put pen to paper time and time again, only to crumple it up and throw it all away.  But I think I’m finally ready to come back and talk to you, to consider the girl I left behind.

Life seems pretty confusing, doesn’t it?  The bottom has dropped out of your world, and right now, you’re in free fall.  You feel scared.  You feel alone.

I want you to know that it gets better.  (That will be ironically funny in a few years.  Just wait.)

I also want you to know that first it gets worse.

The free fall ends with a bang.  You drop out of school in lieu of failing everything.  You feel like a failure anyway.  You go back to your parents on hands and knees, trying to make the world make sense again, and spend a terrifying six months adrift in a sea of your father’s rages and your mother’s standards while trying to remember how to wear the masks and dance the dances like you used to.

In the end, you realize that you will never get that person back.  In the end, you will realize that you cannot tie the blinders back on and go forward in the old, comfortable ignorance.  Instead, you learn to detach.  For a while, you detach from everything, which is almost as scary as that seemingly endless free-fall.  But little by little, you start to wake up again.  The cold, dead parts of you thaw and find that life is still worth living.  You remember how to be passionate about things.  You find a way forward.  You learn how to love and be loved, and you find out what real friendships are like.

It’s a confusing road.  There is no map.  There are hard decisions to make and stand by.  There is medication and boundaries and therapy and journaling and razor blades.  You gain about a hundred pounds.  You chop all your hair off, grow it back out, and then realize that you were happier keeping it short.  You have panic attacks.  You get good at deep breathing exercises.

I wish I could tell you that in six years everything will be wonderful.  I wish I could tell you that after all of that, life makes sense.  The truth is that sometimes I still wake up and wonder if getting out of bed is worth it.  There are still nights when I wish I had a handy razor blade.  There are still days when it’s hard to leave my apartment.

But the truth is also that there are more good days than bad, now.  The truth is that you will learn to have grace for yourself, and the bad days don’t seem as terrible after that.  The truth is that having all the answers seems less important now and that forward progress is the only measuring stick that really matters.

The truth is I have hope.  You will have hope.

I want you to know that even in the darkest moments of the next six years there will be flashes of light.  I want you to know that God never fails to provide for you or to rescue you, even though he seems late a few times.  I want you to know that the loneliness doesn’t last forever.

There will be a day when, after months of wishing you could fall asleep and never wake up, you will wake up and be happy to be alive.  There will be a day when you crouch outside of a classroom having a very quiet panic attack and then find the strength to go inside instead of going home.  There will be a day when you look at a graduate school website and know that you are not good enough, and there will be a day when you finally get your acceptance letter from that very same school.  There will be many days when you wonder if you will survive to walk across the stage at commencement, and there will be a day when you receive two degrees with honors.

Your life looks different than you planned, but it is beautiful all the same.

In the meantime, keep pushing forward, even when it all seems uphill, even when it’s too dark to see.  You’ll come out on the other side.  I’ll be there waiting.

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I’m baaaaaaack!

I took the month of May off.

I realize that if you click back one entry, it looks like I actually took the month of May plus the last eleven days of April off, which is true for blogging, but really, really not true for everything else.  What you can’t see is that the last eleven days of April were one long, terrifying push to get all of my final papers written for school, do three people’s jobs on one person’s hours at work, and not kill anyone in my project groups.

That last one was actually more difficult than I should probably admit.

But all of my finals were turned in by May 1 (except for the group that could not get it together!!!).  So . . . what happened the rest of the month?

I slept a lot.  I read trashy fiction.  I watched the entire first two seasons of Say Yes to the Dress on Netflix.  I saw my therapist.  I got more connected at the so-progressive-my-parents-will-probably-disown-me church I’ve been attending.  I worked 30 hours a week.  I went out with friends.  I babysat.

Looking at that paragraph, May was fairly productive.  But honestly, I spent May in survival mode.  My apartment is a mess.  Laundry is the only household chore I’ve done consistently in the last five weeks.  I’ve eaten a lot of takeout and fast food.  I’ve eaten a lot of yogurt and frozen dinners.  I ate cereal out of Tupperware for a while.  At this point, I think that every dish I own is dirty, and I haven’t really bothered to do anything about it.

I was also supposed to be looking for a second job this past month, planning that curriculum I’m supposed to write, and thinking about my thesis.  Those things didn’t exactly happen, either.

But . . . today is June 1, which is the incredibly arbitrary deadline I gave myself to start acting like a real human being again.  So this morning, I stripped my bed and ran a load of sheets and towels.  I gathered up the trash to take out and started the long and somewhat disgusting process of loading the dishwasher.  I have a list of jobs to apply for and some time set aside to work on my resume.  I’m writing a blog.

I think the time off from real life was good for me.  I think giving myself permission to collapse a little bit, to rest and recover from a whirlwind semester was a good thing.  I’m a chronic over-scheduler, and sometimes I don’t recognize that I need a break.

It’s also exciting (in a sad, I’m-obviously-still-recovering kind of way) that I continued to function somewhat this month.  I kept going to work.  I always had clean clothes.  I went out with friends.  I didn’t hide in my apartment and refuse to get out of bed.  Yes, I felt overwhelmed at the beginning of May, but I feel better now.

That’s a victory in itself.

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One Step Forward . . .

I’ve put this off as long as humanly possible, and it’s still really scary to think about, but . . .

I think it’s time to go back to therapy.

I don’t want to.  It feels like defeat.  I want to be in a place where I can handle things on my own.  But I have to admit to myself that the tell-tale signs are there, and I need some help dealing with some of the questions I’m asking myself right now.

I’m not sleeping well.  I’ve been getting about five hours a night, but last night I had one of those restless, insomniac nights reminiscent of the period right before everything went to hell in a hand basket in college.  I eventually got up, read some fluff fiction and had a glass of wine to help me relax, but that’s not exactly a reasonable long term strategy.  I’m in graduate school.  I’m busy, and my schedule is only going to get stretched thinner as the semester winds down.  I need to be able to sleep!

Additionally, I’m getting that itchy, strained feeling that I associate with the impulse to self-injure.  I struggled with self-injury off and on throughout college, but I’ve been completely free of both the habit and the impulse for almost two years.  The last couple of weeks, however, I find myself wishing that I hadn’t thrown away that box of razor blades when I moved.  This tells me that something is wrong.

I know what the issues I need to work out are.  I know why they are problematic, and I know that I’m probably not going to be able to work them out gracefully on my own.  I know where the counseling center on campus is and how to go about procuring an appointment.

I just have to pick up the phone.

Asking for help is hard.  I’m not good at it.  Asking for help requires vulnerability, and I tend to envision myself as a strong, self-sufficient woman.  I don’t need a man . . . nor anybody else.  I can do this on my own, thank you very much.

But lately, I’ve been increasingly aware of how important community is.  I want to be in relationship with others.  I want to have friendships and mentorships and people I can trust and rely on.  I want to be part of a church family that knows me and loves me, warts and all, and will support me and help me and challenge me and cheer me on.  I want to be able to give back to that community in some way, to be a valued and valuable member.

I’ve been in a lot of bad relationships, both inside and outside the church, and I know that going back to therapy is part of fixing that.  I need to learn to be comfortable with myself, to relate to myself well, in order to really be comfortable in relationship with others.

So this week, I’m making the call.

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Everyday Best

I haven’t posted in ages.  I was sick most of last week between a badly timed bout of PMS and something that seemed to start out as a sinus infection and ended up as a bad cold.  I feel like I just can’t get traction this semester.  I feel like everything is moving too fast, and there’s no possible way to keep up.  I’m starting to feel the pressure of what-are-you-going-to-do-next, and sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m doing now.

When I was 8 years old, I felt God’s call to missions.  Over the years, I’ve wrestled with the details of that calling, as it led me towards Africa, then towards a specific country, towards teaching, then medicine, then finally public health.  And on one hand, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.  But another part of me is terrified that I’m not going to be in the right place to take the next step, and yet another part wonders what, exactly my “call to missions” will look like in action since I’m fairly certain I’m not interested in doing traditional missions or working with a heavily faith-influenced organization.

And then there’s so much else going on in my life right now.  I don’t have time to worry about the next step, because I’m trying to figure out how to keep from relapsing into depression and how to live like a normal person after 3 years of panic attacks and meds.  I’m trying to figure out who I am after all of that.  I’m trying to figure out what I actually believe about God and how that impacts my every-day life.  I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to be alone forever and how I feel about that, particularly since I can’t count on my family for support.

I’m trying to grow up.  It’s more complicated than it looks.

Life doesn’t stop so I can deal with things.  I’m honestly not sure I would get anything done if it did.  But somehow, I have to believe that God will offer me time to work out what’s important and grace for what’s not.  Somehow I have to believe that the part of me that wants stability and companionship isn’t somehow entirely outside of God’s will.

Maybe that’s my challenge for Lent.  Maybe it’s in this time of preparation that I need to begin to make space in my life for questions, not by allowing them to overwhelm me, but by putting boundaries around them.  Maybe I can fast from doubting and enjoy my life.  Maybe I can fast from worrying and focus on the present.

I’ve always been afraid of missing God’s “best” for me.  I think it’s a common concern for kids raised in evangelical churches.  But I’m beginning to realize that God’s best isn’t just in the broader arc of my life.  It’s in the smaller spaces, too.  God wants his best for me every single day.

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On Being Balanced

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl, and always have been.  Sometimes this is a good thing.  When I commit to something, I do so wholeheartedly.  I make projects that I am invested in a priority, and I am willing to go above and beyond to make them work.  This makes me a committed student and employee as long as I care about my classes and job.  If I can get involved in things I am passionate about, this is a definite strength.

At other times, my intensity becomes an issue.  I tend to over-commit.  I tend to dig my heels in and try to do something on strength of will alone.  Every part of a project feels like my baby, so I struggle to delegate or ask for help.

Also, I’m not good at balance.

Two weeks ago, I was feeling so much better.  I had some energy back.  I wasn’t dealing with so much background anxiety.  I made it to work on time, went to all of my classes, and ate fairly well.  I was starting to feel like I had escaped the slump and had my life back under control.

I dived back into things headfirst, and promptly over-scheduled myself.  I wanted to do ALL THE THINGS that I had been missing.  I wanted to socialize, attend lectures, and go to club meetings.  The first blush of normalcy after a period of depression is always a little intoxicating, and I got drunk on it.  I over-scheduled my weekend, shorted myself on sleep, and left absolutely no time to recharge.

Needless to say, last week didn’t go so well.

So, here I am, reminding myself that I am an introvert.  As much as I love having friends and hanging out, I need unstructured time to myself.  I need time to write and make music and read fluffy nonsense.  I need time alone without a to-do list or expectations.  I have to find a balance between social time, professional time, and “me” time.

I am also recovering from a long period of depression and a more recent small relapse.  I have to take care of myself.  I have to eat well and sleep well.  I have to move a little every day.  I have to watch my self-talk and monitor my habits for signs that things are not going well.

This weekend, I did better.  I worked some on Friday, but chose not to go to the career fair.  I spent Saturday at home, allowing myself the unstructured time I needed to recharge.  I spent Sunday socializing and working on homework.  Today, I woke up feeling well-rested and ready for my week.  I met with two of my professors this morning to talk about classes I missed, and now I’m settled into a to-do list full of homework and chores.  This evening, I’ll work for a few hours, finish up the homework, and go to bed with a clear conscience, ready to head to class bright and early tomorrow morning.

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