Happy Birthday to Me

I turned 38 a few days ago.  My daughter told me to be careful not to trip as I went over the hill.  The problem with raising children when you are a naturally sarcastic, snarky person is that they tend to turn out the same way.

The last few years, as my birthday rolled around, I found myself cranky, frustrated, and easily irritated.  The fact that another year had passed, and I was still here, still stuck in my unending darkness, still angry at my body for its failings, still feeling alone and ashamed of my illness, made my birthday not a day to celebrate – but a marker of the years of my life that I was missing out on.  I should be happy and healthy and enjoying these days with my husband/family/friends. . . and instead I was sad, and worried, and uncomfortable in my own skin.  And just stuck.

Even when the illness is “good”, even when I’m “better” – the turning of the page on another year lived left me sad and frustrated thinking of all the years wasted; worrying that the years to come would also be disjointed and broken.  I would spend a few days wallowing in my sadness, and then set about making the equivalent of a New Year’s Resolution.  A New Julia Resolution.  This year I would do better.  I would be optimistic and upbeat, I would prioritize my self-care, I would find time for Jesus, I would be a patient and fun-loving mother.  I would get involved with a charity and volunteer my time.  I would lose 10 lbs and get my hair colored.  I would schedule dates with my husband and time for my children.  I would get that tattoo.

I resolved to do them all each and every year, so that when my NEXT birthday rolled around, I would look back and think of what a wonderful year it had been, how happy I was to have lived it, how vibrant and ALIVE I felt.

I’ve never actually managed to do them.  And the next year was never much different.  The busy reality of life, the anxieties of my heart, the darkness of my mind, the exhaustion of my body – all worked to keep me dreading that next milestone reminder of another year gone.

And then.  This year happened.

I would like to tell you that after making all those New Julia Resolutions, that I kept them and THAT was the golden ticket.  But I didn’t, not really.  I did find time to go the gym a bit more often, and we’ve joined a small group that means I’m getting a little more Jesus time in my life.  But, I’m still impatient and tired with my kids, I still haven’t lost 10 lbs or gotten a tattoo, and I’m still in dire need of a haircut.

But some other things have definitely changed.  Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but I really don’t think so.  I’ve noticed that I’m doing a few things a little differently and I really hope its sticking.

 

  1. I’m talking about my mental health.  There is love in the sharing, but there is also healing in the openness.  It hasn’t magically made my issues disappear but talking openly is lessening the stigma and helping me find purpose in my story.  It is an easier burden to bear when I have a tribe of people helping me shoulder it.
  2. I’m talking about love a lot more freely. And giving love a lot more freely.  Saying “I love you” to people I’m not related to has always felt weird to me.  But then my best friend moved ridiculously far away, and telling her I love her as she left felt slightly empty and too-late.  I realized I needed more people in my life to love – to give it out and to let them know.  So now. . .if we’ve known each other more than a month or so (maybe even less, it depends on the day), and I feel like it, it’s very likely I’m going to just tell you that I love you.  And sometimes it still feels a little weird – but the weirdest thing by far – is that I actually do. I love you.  The new friends at small group, the old friends with a group text that is hilariously embarrassing, the friends I see only rarely, the friends I never see, the friends I’ve made online through the blog, the friends I’ve made at the gym while occasionally trying not to cry through a workout. . .I love you.  Just as you are.  Broken and weird and quirky and busy and impatient and depressed and anxious and questioning Jesus and not believing in Jesus and left leaning and right leaning and hangry and hilarious and beautiful.  I love you. And then, in throwing love out like candy at a parade, I’ve found that I love myself a little easier.  It just got all mixed up in the thought and the action and even though I’m broken and weird and quirky and busy and impatient (oh my gosh y’all – so impatient), I’m loving me a little better.  And I’m recognizing that in loving others, and loving myself, I’m catching a tiny glimpse of Jesus and how He might love me.
  3. I’m not giving up on hope. It’s still hard some days.  I’m not going to pretend that it I’m running around with joy and happiness on tap.  But I’m not giving up. The proof of the existence of a slightly better day, either recently or in my memory, gives me hope that even better days could be ahead.  Hope for my own health, both mental and physical; hope that I am lovable and worthy, born in my love for others; hope that by speaking out I’m making a difference to someone somewhere.  I’m not giving up on hope.  I’m holding onto it as my lifeline and carrying it with me everywhere I go.

 

And so, when my birthday rolled around this year, my husband bought me flowers, my son made me toast and brought it to me in bed – haphazardly spread with globs of cream cheese, my daughters sat with me and snuggled and said I love you, and everyone sang Happy Birthday over a store bought cake, and I danced and goofed off while they sang. And then it hit me.

I was happy.

It was a Happy Birthday.

The last 12 months were not perfect or rosy, but I was happy to have lived them.  To have shared them with my people.  To have grown and changed and loved and hoped and shared.

Here’s to many more.

Happy Birthday to me.

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Easter – a View from Saturday

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“It may be dark now, in the waiting, on Saturday.  Dark and confusing and uncertain, huddled in a room hiding from the authorities knowing that Jesus is dead.  But we can all rejoice.  Because we aren’t going to stay here, Hallelujah, this isn’t the end of the story!! Because. . . . SUNDAY IS COMING!!!”

I can still hear those words from an early childhood Easter week sermon.  In my memory they are given with the fervor and emphasis of soulful gospel preacher, pausing for effect and to give the crowd time to murmur an “AMEN!”  In reality, my childhood church wasn’t really known for a lot of congregational input – but its possible that we were visiting a community program of sorts, or we had a visiting preacher.  It’s also possible my brain has added what it feels like is the appropriate level of drama for the memory.

Regardless, the idea of rejoicing in the truth of the coming Sunday during the Easter season is a true one.

And regardless, it always felt slightly challenging to me.

It’s a weird uneasiness to feel my heart pulling in two directions as we move through this Holy Week.  I imagine the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the pure and humble love of the Last Supper.  I sometimes find myself wanting to skip over the true agony and sacrifice of Good Friday, the confusion and fear of the apostles, and get straight to the resurrection. Let’s all agree to jump right from the love to the victory, ok?  Let’s not dwell on the dark parts of the story.  Let’s get to the happy ending!!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  The dark parts of the story are necessary for the victorious part.  Without the sacrifice, without the pain, there wasn’t a way for Jesus to fulfill what was required to save us.

Good Friday – the brutal beatings, the political machinations, the mockery and taunting, followed by the crucifixion and ultimate death of Jesus?  All dark parts of the story, that are absolutely vital to the ending.

But Holy Saturday –  the day in the middle; the waiting and despair and brokenness of the apostles on that day speaks to me the most.  Can you imagine, to have followed this man for 3 years – convinced of his identity as the foretold Messiah, anxiously awaiting the day that he overthrows the government and puts the Jewish nation back on the map?  And then. . .without a fight or even a word in protest – he seemingly gives up, is beaten, crucified, and dies.  And you are standing there with every dream and belief destroyed.  In fear for your own life, and so very, very confused.  And heaven is silent.

Battling with mental illness, can be a lot like living through that Holy Saturday.  Repeatedly.  Its dark and uncertain and full of fear.  Its confusing and overwhelming and often feels as though everything is wrong and may never be right.  And it’s so very, very easy to stay there, living repeatedly through Saturday.  A form of Dante’s Limbo, routine and monotonous and seemingly without hope.  And while the dark parts of the Easter story are required for the victory, I don’t know if the same is true of my story.  Is this dark and twisty path somehow a required part for me?  I don’t know.  I’m not sure.

But, even though the disciples were huddled in fear and dismay and doubt, even then, the grace and love of God was raining down on them as He worked out His perfect plan to save us.  I know that sounds extra churchy/Jesus-y for my blog.  It feels a little weird to even write.

But oh-so-true.  The ridiculous passion of God for us, the love beyond reason that He has for each of us, was poured out on the disciples even as they failed to hold to their belief.  And also, on me, even as I fail.  Even as I sink into the routine of living in a Saturday, forgetting that Sunday is coming. Even when I let my worries consume me, when I forget that He has called me worthy, when I forget that the web of lies my own mind tells me are in fact lies.  Even then.

But Sunday is coming.

Sunday came, actually – the victorious part of the story is where we can find hope even when we don’t feel hopeful.  Especially then.  And the best news is that Sunday came, even though the disciples didn’t believe, even though they gave up and hid, even though they felt crushed under the fear and defeat.

And Sunday will come for us too.  Even if your view is from a Saturday perspective right now.  Hold on to hope.  Keep going.  Even when you are crushed under fear and defeat – hold on to hope.  Sunday will come.  The abundant love of God, the grace and mercy are there – steadfast and completely poured out for you.  Even when you don’t feel it – even then.

 

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Hosanna.

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In church recently, we’ve been walking through the life of Jesus from the start of his adult ministry to his death and resurrection.  We’ve made it up to his entrance into Jerusalem on what is celebrated as Palm Sunday.  The imagery of celebration and worship, of palm branches and shouts of Hosanna are hard to reconcile with the imagery we know is coming with the betrayal, trial, and death of Jesus.

The upcoming Holy Week always reminds me of the complication of Jesus as God and human.  He rode the rollercoaster of human emotions, the ups and downs of fickle friendships, the celebrations of successes and the crush of defeat.  So those emotions that I feel, that maybe I feel like I should hide from the world and from God – aren’t unfamiliar to Him.  He lived through them, obviously on a much grander scale than I – but He knows and understands.  He may not have reacted the way I would react, but he gets it.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph – crowd screaming his name, clamoring to see Him, waving palm branches in adoration, and shouting “Hosanna”.  Interestingly, when the crowd cried out “Hosanna!”, this was historically a plea to be saved – think of the Egyptians calling out to God to be saved from their enslavement, and then used as a praise when celebrating the fact that they had been rescued.  The crowd is calling out for Jesus to save them, to establish a kingdom that removes Roman rule and frees them once again.  Save us. Save us.

 

Save us.

Save us.

 

How many times have I called out to God to save me, save my friends, save my family?  Save us.  Save us.

Save me from this illness.  Save me from this pain.  Save them from this heartache.  Save us.  Save us.

Living with mental illness can make it hard to shout praises of joy, to imagine yourself in a scene of jubilation and palm fronds.  But to connect with the longing to be saved?  Oh yes.  THAT I can get behind.

 

The crowd in Jerusalem that day, had the wrong idea of HOW Jesus would save them, but the fact is, that He DID save them, in a much more beautiful way than they could have possibly imagined.  And I often have my own ideas of how I would like to be saved from this illness, or on a larger scale – how I would like my whole circle of people to be saved from the heartache or pain that goes with living in this world.  And yet, it rarely happens like I wish.  It certainly hasn’t happened in regards to my depression or anxiety.

But it has happened.  He has saved me with medication, not once – but twice.  He has saved me with the peace to take that medication without shame.  He has saved me with the courage to speak up and reach out to others, and He has saved me with friends to love and support me.  I may not be saved from my illness, but I am saved nonetheless.

I am thankful for the way He has saved me.  And yet I will continue to cry to Him, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” – in the hope that he will continue to save me.  Every day.

Save us. Save us.

I will cry it for myself, and for you.

Fighting the Fight

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I’m fighting the fight.

I texted a girlfriend recently. “I’m fighting the fight.” I was OK, really – but tired and defeated and needed someone to know.  Fighting the fight.  It felt like the most honest four words I could string together.  I’m here, I’m fighting.  I’m not giving up, but gracious, it is a battle today.

My friend reached back out immediately to make sure I was really OK (I was, and am), but the truth is that some days are still harder than others.  And I’m sure that is true even if you don’t struggle with your mental wellness.  But here’s the deal: (spoiler) I do.  And some days, it’s a fight.

“Fight the good fight.  Finish the Race.  Keep the faith.”  I can’t count how many times I heard this growing up in church.  It’s possible we had t-shirts.  The idea is of course, to stay strong, to keep going, don’t quit. . .and overall its good advice.  Both in daily life and as it relates to our faith.  But in the shallowness of my understanding, at least for me, it was distorted.

My assumption of this verse was that it was a call to not just fight the good fight, but to emerge victorious; not just to finish the race, but to win it.  In my mind, obviously we had to be winning this battle, right?  Why else would we call it a good fight?  What exactly is a good fight, if not something we are OBVIOUSLY going to win?  And yet, so many days I don’t feel victorious.  When exactly is this winning of the good fight going to show up?

Our world is full of people fighting a good fight.  You may be one of them.

A good fight.  A day with broken hearts that we hold together, even if just for a moment.

A good fight.  A relentless night that fades with a coming sunrise and the hope of a new day.

A good fight.  A weakened body that continues to look for answers.

A good fight.  A mind awash with the lies of fear and shame, refusing to give up.

A good fight.  A mom, holding her child through a panic attack, wrestling away her own fears as she stays strong for the moment, knowing she will have to face them later on her own.

A good fight.  A parent, struggling through a divorce, showing up to work and the kids’ sports, when all they wants to do is scream, and sleep.

 

Our world is full of people fighting a good fight.  You may be one of them.

Fighting, but not feeling very victorious.

 

In the original text, Paul used the Greek word “agonizomai” – a word from which we pull our word “agonize”.  He is literally saying he has struggled, contended with an adversary. . .intensely.  And no where does he say that he won.  The passage is not about victory, its about fighting.  The struggle, the strife, the continuous battle, the not giving up.  There is a prize waiting for him, but its still waiting.  Paul doesn’t proclaim that he is wearing the crown he has earned from his victories. . .the crown is still to be awarded, on a day yet to come.

 

So, hello there – my fellow fighters, my comrade-in-arms, my battle-weary companions.  I see you.  I understand.

 

But more than that, God sees you.  He understands.  He sees you in the fight – the long and tiring and frustrating fight.  I believe the victory will come – I have to live in that hope, but regardless, God sees you.

Keep fighting.  Don’t give up, don’t walk away from the battle.

Keep fighting your good fight.

 

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – 2 Timothy 4:7-8  (NIV)

Fear is a Liar

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I’ve always been a words girl.

When I was really young, I wanted to be a writer.  A published author.  It sounded perfect – the telling of stories with beautiful words and meaning; the entanglement of others in the tales you told; the immortality of the written word.  I gave it up, early in my life, when I realized that it was hard to get people to pay you for writing, unless you were very, very good, and very, very lucky.

But still, words mean something to me. If you’ve ever studied the idea of the Five Love Languages. . .I’m all about some words of affirmation.  TELL me how you feel, what is important to you, what you love about me.  In the opposite way, I take harsh words to heart immediately and mull them over for days and days, possibly never forgetting them.  This is super fun for my husband, who is a man of very few words, who would much rather show and receive love by acts of service.  C’est la vie.

Because of this, I think, I find myself more moved by music and spoken word than others.  I have to be cautious about what I listen to – simply because the words impact my heart, and I can find my emotions easily swayed by a song or speech.

Today – March 1, is Self-Harm Awareness Day.  And just knowing that through the magic of social media put me a bit on alert today.  I felt that I needed to write something, say something, and yet – nothing came.  I’ve been there, I’ve walked through it, and I’ve held the hands of others walking through it, and yet – for some reason – when I sat to write a post about it. . . the words evaded me.

As I drove to the gym at lunch time, I was feeling completely insecure about everything.  I should be at home writing.  I should go to the gym and take care of myself.  I should go home and take a nap.  I should actually be at home doing laundry. . . .just completely at odds about everything. I’ve also got a kid with an allergic reaction that was unexpected and I am panicking through these first new days of epi-pens when she isn’t near to me, and text messages of “how-do-you-feel-is-your-breathing-ok-do-you-remember-how-to-use-your-epi?”

I drove on towards the gym, arguing internally.  I’m still overly critical of my body and some days the gym helps and some days the gym is a glaring reminder of all that is still physically broken within me.  I debated turning around and going home to stare at my laptop and try to write instead.  To write words that weren’t going to come.

And then, a song on the radio by Zach Williams.

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar^^

I pulled into the gym in tears.  Fear IS a liar.

I’ve believed all of those things about myself, I’ve listened to the lies fear tells me.  And I’ve let it rob my rest and steal my happiness.  Fear.  Such a liar.

I made it through my workout.  My child made it to work with her epi-pen.  I sit here and write with the words pouring out, as another child is at her dance practice.  And my day goes on.

Some days the words don’t come, and some days the workouts are more than I can handle, and some days the fear of keeping my children safe and whole is more that I know my heart can take.

But God is with me.  And with you.  Even when we give into fear, even when it overwhelms us, even when our souls and bodies give up, and even when our bodies bear the scars of fears past.

The words still may not have really come through well – this post is a bit rambling.  But here today – on March 1, Self-Harm Awareness Day – please know that I see you.  I understand.  I remember.

But please also know that fear. . . is a liar.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26

Resources:
*The Trevor Project – Self Injury Support

*To Write Love On Her Arms – A non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.

*Suicide Prevention Lifeline –  tel:1-800-273-8255

^^ Songwriters: Jason Ingram / Zach Williams / Jonathan Lindley Smith

Fear Is a Liar lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing

Worthy

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When I was 8 or 9, I was asked to be a flower girl in the wedding of one of my Sunday School teachers.  I was a little old to be a flower girl, but whatever – there were pretty dresses and romantic stories and flowers.  I was so excited.  I remember shopping for the flower girl dress and how beautiful I thought I looked in it.

Another girl my age would be wearing the same dress and one night after church my mom and I stood at the edge of the parking lot chatting with her mom about all of the preparations.  For reasons I don’t remember, the other girl’s mom was asking where we found tights, my mom replied with a store name and said they had several pairs in my size – implying that the other mom would easily be able to find tights for her daughter there as well.  The other mom cast a critical eye at me, reached out and ran her hand down the side of my hip and thigh and in the dwindling light of evening said, “Well, she’s a little thicker than my daughter.”

Record. Scratch.

I don’t remember how my mom removed us from the conversation, or the ride home, or really even much of the wedding I had been so excited about.  I remember that comment.  Between the cast of her eyes, the tone of her voice and the way she had touched me as though estimating the size of a horse in hands – it was abundantly clear that my body was . . . wrong.  Defective.  Obviously not as beautifully made as her daughter’s.

I’m almost 38, and I can remember every detail of that conversation easily.  I don’t remember what I thought of my body before that – I’m assuming quite honestly that I didn’t think of my body much at all.  I was young, and for all of my excitement about the wedding, I still liked climbing trees and playing dodgeball, and my body seemed just fine for all of those things.  I’m also sure that if it hadn’t been that comment from the other mother, at some point some other comment from someone else would have made me aware that my body wasn’t perfect.  It is a painful reality, almost a rite of passage for most girls.  Mine just came exceptionally early.

Over the years I’ve bullied and hated my body in many ways and in many seasons.  I had dreams of carving off my thighs, I’ve refused to wear clothes that showed my legs (I’ve literally spent entire summers, in the Georgia heat no less, in jeans – so that my hideous legs stayed hidden), I’ve kept exact diaries of my food intake – obsessing over every calorie, I’ve prioritized a brutal workout over my family, and I’ve cried and cried and cried.  I’ve cried in dressing rooms, and in my closet, and after leaving the gym.  I’ve hated my body so strongly that I’ve skipped gatherings and events on days when I’m feeling less secure, and even when I do go – its often after a complete meltdown around how I look.  You add this body image issue to my anxiety and it can be a nuclear event.

Additionally, as an adult, I was diagnosed with a chronic physical illness that essentially means my body will be weaker and slower to recover and less responsive to workouts than other people’s, easily tired, and easily run down.  And I find myself talking to my body in terms of how incredibly STUPID it is.

Ridiculously, stupidly, broken – in every way.

My body has grown and nurtured three of the most amazing humans on the planet today.  My legs have carried me through long hikes to the bottom of the Niagara Gorge, and to the top of mountains, and up and down a million sets of stairs to do the laundry.  My arms have hoisted crying children long past their infancy and my heartbeat has comforted them.  My mind has worked through complicated math and coding problems and given me employment opportunity to provide for my family.

And yet – I look in the mirror and see nothing but a ridiculously, stupidly, broken body.  Because it does not fit the mold that I believe it must in order to be “worthy”.

The body positive movement is so needed and I’m so grateful that it is happening.  I make a concerted effort to talk to my daughters about how strong and healthy they are, about making healthy food choices, and that we eat food that fuels us and makes us feel good – and I make an effort to talk to myself that way as well – and I tell them that we are not defined by the size of our jeans.  But it isn’t enough.

The world tells us – despite the growing focus on self-love and body positivity – that our worth is dictated by SOMETHING about ourselves.  We are worthy because we are pretty, thin, smart, talented, kind, pick-your-poison.   The problem with this – is that any of these things can change, either over time or in a heartbeat.  It also promotes division between groups, superiority complexes and the ability to see ourselves – and others – as less than.

But God has made it strikingly clear, over and over:

We are worthy, each of us, all of us, because we are His.

Because He loves us.

Because He gives us worth.

He know us, completely and thoroughly, and still He loves us.

And that love will endure forever.

We do not need to be ANYTHING, other than accepting of the love He pours out to us.  And that is where we find our worth.

Isaiah 43:4

You are precious to me.
    You are honored, and I love you.

You are worthy, lovely, loved, and precious.  Regardless of what it is about yourself that you believe makes you less than.  God has called you honored and loved.

You are worthy – cling to it.

I promise that I’m trying to do the same.

To those who love us

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It is February – the month of love, when everyone thinks of hearts and roses and Valentines.  And so, as I begin to think of watching my not-quite 6-year-old address 23 valentines to his classmates, and decorating a shoe box, and all that the holiday entails. . .I had a casual conversation with my husband about something new that I was worrying about.  And his response was “Yes.  I know you are worrying about it.  And that you will probably keep worrying about it forever.  You don’t have to keep worrying about it, but it’s ok.”

And it just made me think.

 

It must be hard sometimes, I’m sure.  “Sometimes” may even seem like “most times”.  Hard to keep loving us, to keep supporting us, to keep repeating the mantra of “it’s ok, I love you, it’s ok.”  As exhausting as it is to live with mental illness, it can also be exhausting to be the one who loves someone with mental illness.

The constant worrying, the walking on eggshells wondering if you are saying the right thing, doing the right thing, even BEING the right person to help them.

Selfishly, I rarely thought about this until my experience with Bella.  I thought mostly that other people didn’t understand what I was going through – that the words they said were kind, and helpful – but I never thought of the impact to their own hearts and lives as they walked with me through my journey.

But during my turn supporting Bella I truly began to understand how hard it must be on my husband, my friends, my family – because despite feeling like I had a firm grasp of what she was going through, that season was hard on me.  I was scared, and tired, and worried, and frustrated and overwhelmed.  And so, as I think back to my own journey and my own support system, I’m thankful that they have never given up, never thrown their hands in the air and told me to deal with it alone, never walked away.  But it can’t have been easy.  Not that they were perfect of course, because no one is and no one expects that, but that in my darkest moments, they continued to show us love.

So I would just like to take a moment to thank those who are loving those of us with mental illness.

For every compliment our spouse gives – our immediate reaction is one of dismissal and cynicism; we have to fight to believe their words.  For every worry we voice, and every reassurance our friends supply – our heart does not believe them and we often bite our tongue to keep from telling them how wrong and naive they are.  For every day that we felt worthless or useless or that the light would never return to our life – and we turned a deaf ear and blind eye to the love that they showed us, because there was no way that we were worthy of such… you were still there.  Ideally, we would like to apologize – AND to tell you that it won’t happen again, and that we are so very, completely sorry.

 

And we are – so very sorry.  But we can’t promise that it won’t happen again.  We can promise that we are working on it, we are trying to let your love and support filter into us and impact our responses to life.  But it will most definitely happen again.  And we are sorry for that too.

But we can promise – that we hear you.  That it matters, that it helps, that your love and support really do change us over time, that you are exactly the right person to help us – because you love us and want to help us.  Its not instant, but its cumulative, and that the darkest moments are made lighter by the knowledge that you love us, and that you’ll still be there after our storm clears.  You have been, in so many ways, life changing; and in many other ways – lifesaving.  We have been broken and you have held us together.

So, thank you for not giving up, thank you for loving us in the darkness, for continuing to stay beside us even when you are exhausted and we are not responding the way you hope we would.  Thank you for propping us up when we are falling over, for calling us out when we need it, for wiping our tears, for all that you do.

There is a famous set of verses from First Corinthians that we all know from every wedding, all about what love is, and what love isn’t.  And this part speaks to me the most:

 

Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

– 1 Corinthians 13:7

 

Thank you, to those that love us, for living this love daily – For putting up with all things, trusting all things, hoping all things, enduring all things.  Thank you.

Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.

Thank you for being the greatest.

The Secret of the Therapy Mess

 

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“Listen,” she said.  “Coming to therapy can be a bit like cleaning out your closet.  The one you’ve ignored for some time, and now you’ve decided to clean it out.  And in order to do so – you’ve got to pull everything out and throw it all over your bed and the floor, and try it all on.  It’s going to get better eventually, but it may feel like it’s getting worse first.”

 

I was surprised by the counselor’s words.  Surely coming to therapy the first time was the hardest step?  If you showed up, and started talking, and were honest and transparent, wasn’t that the magic formula to get better? Maybe not immediately, but surely it wouldn’t get worse?

 

There are things that no one tells you about deciding to try to get control of your mental health.  I mean – people WILL tell you all kinds of things.  If you are lucky, you will have people that tell you they love you, and that they understand, and that it’s ok.  Otherwise, you will have people tell you that you should get outside and exercise more, that you should focus on the positive, that you should think of all the people in the world who have it worse than you, or that you should “snap out of it”.

 

But the truth about therapy (that closet metaphor is 100% spot on), the truth that finding the right medication is an art and not a science that can take quite some time, that even the right medication can have side effects that may make you question if they are worth it – those are things that are often not talked about.  And with good reason – if you or someone you love is reaching out for help, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that the journey may still be hard and uncomfortable.

 

However, if you find yourself there, at the moment of reaching out, please know that it is worth it.  It is hard, and it is messy, but let’s be honest – life is hard and messy and long and if you are fighting with mental illness it feels harder and messier than everyone around you.  But you . . . you my friend are so incredibly strong and brave.  Even if you don’t feel like it right now. You have fought this alone for long enough, and you are ready to reach out, you are considering reaching out, and that in itself is an act of supreme bravery and hope.

 

And it is worth it.  You are worth it.  Whether you dive headfirst or are gingerly placing a toe in the water of counseling, medication, telling a friend, or calling a crisis line. . . .the healing is worth the mess you will uncover.  Because the thing about THIS mess is that you won’t be working through it alone.  Your counselor, your doctor, your friend, the stranger on the other end of the phone will be carrying a portion of your burden.  Propping you up in your weakness.  Holding you, praying for you, loving you.  Reminding you that you are worth the effort, celebrating every success, and pulling you forward when you feel like quitting.

 

Growing up, I remember memorizing Proverbs 17:17 for one of my Sunday School Classes.  We would recite verses for candy, I think – and this one was short and easy.  “A friend always loves, and a brother is born to share trouble. Proverbs 17:17”.  My translation at the time was “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. In my child brain, this meant that a brother was born to CAUSE trouble – which made a lot of sense but also led to a lot of confusion about what God thought of my brother.  But no – God provides us with friends and family to show us love and help us through the battles we face.  And our battles with mental illness are no different.

 

So yes.  It may be a messy thing you are facing.  It is worth the mess.  You are worth the effort.  Be brave, reach out, let someone help you heal.

The mess is less of a mess with someone beside you.  And we will be beside you.  You are not alone.

 

 

Raw

It’s been about a week since I shared the most recent chapter of my story. And the response has been so encouraging, so positive, so understanding. I’ve been overwhelmed with the number of people who have reached out with their similar tales. I’m thrilled that anyone is finding help and hope in my sharing.

And yet. It’s been much harder than I expected. In my imagination the hardest day was going to be the first day. The first chapter. The first post.

But hitting “publish” and “share” hasn’t gotten any easier. Each time I fight the anxiety and have to make myself publish the post and then walk away, battling not go back and delete it, or obsess about who might be reading it and judging me.

It’s also been more challenging than I expected to relive some of my darkest moments, to face them again and again as I write and edit. In fact, this last week has been extremely tough. Like sunburnt skin that hurts to the touch, I am Raw. I’m edgy and sore and hiding. I’ve found myself sleeping more, easily irritated, and ignoring my to-do list in favor of something mindless. It was bad timing honestly, to start this endeavor during the holiday season. We are all so busy, so tired, so frazzled.

But the thing with mental health is that it is ALWAYS bad timing. It’s never a good time to be fighting depression or anxiety.

I haven’t finished sharing my story; I still have to tell you about how angry I got at God, how I swore at Him and called Him names. And how He was faithful in the waiting, even when I wasn’t. Or about when someone I love so very dearly admitted to fighting the same battles and I stood in the trenches with her, crying and begging God again for healing for her. And how that time….I made sure she knew that God loves her, that she was beautiful and loved and lovely, that needing help didn’t mean her Faith was diminished, that help could come in the form of therapy and medication without shame.

I’m still here. I’m still fighting. For myself and for others. I don’t get to share from a place of victory, but from a place of empathy and compassion. And I have to believe, that maybe this is what the world needs, that this is victorious in its own way.

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