Sunday, December 27, 2015

one-way street

I read an interview with folk singer-songwriter Carly Simon about her recent memoirs, specifically addressing her broken relationship with James Taylor. The two were married for over a decade and had two children, but the marriage went down in flames and after they divorced, he stopped speaking to her. She says she still loves him and wishes they were still on speaking terms. She expressed the desperation she's felt over the relationship, wondering what she did wrong that made him upset. But she said that she realized while writing her memoirs that love is not always a two-way street and sometimes you love without being loved.

I was really touched by Carly's words...I can relate a lot since I felt a very similar desperation in a few relationships that crumbled to pieces. I thought things were good between me and the person, but they just flipped the switch and decided to freeze me out. In that kind of situation, you blame yourself and wonder in circles what you did wrong. But I think that more often than not, the real culprit is the other person. For some reason or another, they just couldn't handle the relationship at that time. Or they just didn't take responsibility for the relationship and keep in touch with you. Or they were grappling with their own issues.

There have been times in my life where I thought I might be in love. I doubt I was most of those times, but I do wonder if I was a bit in love with the guy I was interested in this past year. It's hard to say since he never let me get very close to him. But I did really care about him and was definitely ready to put his welfare above my own. It was devastating when he decided to start pushing me away. I wanted so much to support him and get to know him better, even after he did and said some really hurtful things to me and started dating someone else.

So Carly's words about it being okay to love even if you're not loved were a comfort. For one thing, it was nice to know I'm not alone; even famous musicians feel alone, betrayed, unloved. But I also think she hit on something: love isn't just a mutual feeling between a couple; it can be something you feel for someone who could care less about you. That's painful, but sometimes it can be helpful to acknowledge reality so you can move on and heal.

sunshine & sick minds

Yesterday night, my mom asked me how I was feeling that day. I had been thinking about it earlier, and I shared my realization that I actually had been feeling pretty okay, physically and emotionally...and that that felt very weird because I'm so used to feeling like crap most, if not all, the time.

I remember having this moment that day where I thought, "Wait. Do people feel like this all the time? Is that why other people are happy and think depressed people are so weird? Is that why other people think it's so weird and awful to consider hurting or killing yourself?"

In that moment, it became even clearer to me that mental illness is an illness. I know so many people doubt it, but now, having had a taste of what it's like to feel normal, I am even more assured that what I feel the rest of the time is not normal. People shouldn't have to feel hopeless, bleak, weak, and constantly hurt. It isn't healthy - and it's a sign that a person isn't in good health. There's no shame in that, and it should be common sense that that person should get help. And it is their right to get good quality, thorough, judgment-free care.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"so useless and all"

I am a depressed, emotionally unstable woman without a job or a college degree. I feel useless to and in the eyes of the world. Even my own father thinks so. Sometimes I think even my counselor and psychiatrist judge me for my situation. I know that even people who pretend to be understanding and probably judging me as well. Surely if I pushed myself harder. I could hold a job or get through school. If I were more disciplined I wouldn't be in this place.

Kind of like how we think that alcoholics who can't quit just aren't disciplined enough or gay people could become heterosexuals if they just tried harder.

Honestly, sometimes I wish I had the courage to kill myself. Sometimes I wish I could die so everyone would stop judging me and maybe even start sympathizing. Sometimes I wish I could stop being a burden on everyone's hands, including my own. Life feels like one giant stage to try and prove that you have a right to be here.

people are so careless with their words and it makes me fly off the handle sometimes into an inward rage. It's scary to think though that people have this power over me that their lack of love could make me hurt myself over my anger at their unkindness.

My family all make fun of me for staying up late and sleeping in and being tired all the time and it's of course all justified in society's eyes because I'm not performing up to par. But what if I was physically handicapped and my family made fun of me for not being able to walk up the stairs?

I was walking in a public place the other day and saw an older man with a limp. In an effort to be positive, I thought, "I can be thankful I'm not physically disabled or sick even if a lot of other things are going wrong for me." But then it hit me: I almost feel as though I am living life with a limp. I do have a disease. I have to go to treatment and check-ups for it regularly and take medicine and endure its side-effects. I endure pain and fatigue on a daily basis. It's harder for me just to do the simple tasks of life that most people take for granted. And I live in an almost constant state of pain and frequent remissions. But people don't believe me and people don't want to hear about your pain. I feel embarrassed even telling counselors about my darker moments or the suicidal desires or the self-harm.

I let slip today when talking to my sister that sometimes I just want to sleep so that I don't want to die and I could tell she was horrified. I just wanted to erase my words from time. But on the other hand I want people to know that the pain is real. The sickness is poignant and crippling.

And the careless words and judgmental looks are equally destructive.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

barbed wire

I've been really into watching this show about people who rescue and rehabilitate hurt Australian wildlife. One of the most common issues rescue staff face is animals getting tangled in barbed wire or fishing nets and fish hooks. Of course the issue with these traps are that the more the animals struggle, the more caught they get.

Tonight, I feel like every which way I turn, I just get more hurt. Another barb sticks into my flesh. Reminders of friends who have moved on with their lives. People who have graduated early and celebrate with their oodles of friends they made at school. Friends who turned down my offer to hang out and then turn up on Facebook smiling at a restaurant with another friend.

I feel listless lately. Useless. Purposeless. Even like my life doesn't matter. I simultaneously see it slipping through my hands, wasted, and feel like I don't know what else to do with myself but sleep, especially when I feel so crappy physically.

What really tears at me is the realization that most of my friendships are basically over.  People aren't going to keep up with me. It's so painful.

I feel like so many things haven't worked out for me. It doesn't seem fair. In particular, it's discouraging how little people seem to care about my music. People only seem to want to listen to what's popular. Even friends who have said positive things generally don't listen to my stuff more than once.

Things just seem a little pointless, I guess. Which is disappointing because I really want to have a point. And it makes me feel like, if I don't have a purpose here, then why not just sell yourself for other people's benefit?

I think about the guy I liked so much this past year, too. For some inexplicable reason, acknowledging that maybe I'm not so over him and maybe I do have some regret we didn't get together, brought some healing. I've let myself wonder...what if the door isn't totally closed? But the sad thing is I don't think he is a kind person. And I think that I do deserve better, even if I don't necessarily feel that way.

But I still wish I knew more...did he ever feel anything for me? Does he regret how he treated me? Is he happy with Her? Has he noticed that I cut things off? Was that song about me? Does he ever think about me? Worry about me? I feel a bit bad for him since I can tell he suffers from Dark Cafe Days. I feel bad because I can tell he's insecure and that's the root of some of his unkindness. I also think it's a shame that he puts fitting in and pleasing others above being his own person. I wonder if he's really happy staying at That School because She's there, etc. since he didn't seem happy. I wonder how my life would have been different had I left the first time I thought I should.

But who knows...I guess these things just fade with the carousel tune as you walk away from the Circle Game.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Circle game

Growing up in the Evangelical Christian culture, I had a sense of what might be called linear history instilled into me. That is, everything that happens is part of a plan orchestrated by God and is ultimately being used to achieve his purposes.

Not only does this belief shape Christians' basic concept of human history, but also their understanding of people's personal stories. When misfortunes fall on people, Christians' go-to words of comfort reflect and enforce this belief:

"Everything happens for a reason."

"When God closes one door, He opens another."

"It just must not have been God's timing for things to happen right now." OR "We have to trust God's timing."

"It's all in God's hands."


Up till recently, I, too, clung to these mantras, even though I battled and resented them at the same time. With every job or internship refused me, every club I was rejected from, every guy who didn't return interest in me, every desperate prayer that went unanswered (or answered "no", I suppose, as many pastors love to remind us that "no" is an answer to prayer), I tried to console myself with the assurance that it was all part of God's plan. Surely something better was around the corner.

I always felt a desperate hope that sometime soon I was going to have my big break of sorts...maybe the guy I liked would finally ask me out. Maybe my blog would suddenly gain a thousand readers. Or my music. Or I would find inspiration for my great novel. Or find some work or club to be a part of where I could finally make friends and have projects and a feeling of fulfillment and purpose.

I still find myself waiting to finally break out and become recognized, empowered, accomplished. I still have those thoughts that come to find without prompting...

"Maybe today, while you eat lunch, some handsome man will approach you and strike up conversation, enamored by your beauty."

"Maybe college didn't work out because I'm supposed to become some great artist."

"Maybe my friends here at home will form a band with me."

"Maybe my sister will quit  her job and start a business with me."

"Maybe college didn't work out so I wouldn't go on the conveyor belt to a brain-sucking job."

But lately I'm starting to think that maybe life isn't a straight line to a destination with perfect little plot points along the way that make the character develop like one of those diagrams you filled out in writing class in elementary school.

Maybe life is just a scatter plot of random points: up, down, forward, backward. A seismograph of raggedy big and little waves, constantly moving, changing.

Every time I felt like I finally had turned a corner this year and was going to start my champion run towards greatness and recovery and normality and success and fulfillment, I felt myself yanked back around some new yet strangely familiar old corner.

This medicine should finally get you back on track. Oh, wait. It leaves me sitting on a church pew, dying inside surrounded by twelve of what are meant to be my closest friends.

Maybe if we take you off the Klonopin you'll feel less tired. But, like, do it in less than a week. Oh, wait. That leaves me literally shaking all over, trying to laugh with everyone until I become paranoid I said something stupid in front of my friends. Then I totally spiral downwards as worship starts and I hear the words, "He loves us, ohhhh, how He loves us, oh how he loves." I stop singing and shut down inside.

he doesn't love me. And I sure have my doubts now about whether He loves me. I notice that he seems to notice but doesn't do anything. And it's a little his fault anyways that I'm upset. But I grab my phone and slip out as soon as the opening prayer ends and everyone transitions into practice mode. I head for a sound-proof practice room in the music suite and dial home and ball my freaking eyes out and mop up enough snot for a daycare of three to five year-olds with head colds with my sweater. I have to call a friend and ask them to bring my stuff outside from choir practice so I can remove myself to my room as discretely as possible and lie to my roommates that practice let out early.

maybe now that I've dropped out from school. Maybe now that I've had the summer off. Maybe now that I'm starting classes. Maybe now that I've applied to this local school that seems to offer such great, personable service. Maybe if I go on this medication. Maybe now that I'm going off the medication. Maybe now I'm finally done with withdrawal. Oh, wait. Now it's getting worse. What will I do without something to help these dark though and anxious obsessions? Because now I feel like I did just a little over a year the edge of slipping into that hole again.

And, after all, didn't I then find out that he was almost-dating the Other Girl and lose grip completely and fall down into darkness. And aren't I still upset over how he wrong me, over how no one wants me, over how I don't have any chances.

To me history just feels like a Circle Game, as Joni once said. For me, I doubt these dark cafe days will be only a phase.

And what more will they keep me from accomplishing? Enjoying? Loving?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What if Elmer's was toxic?

Last post, in my random train of very extensive thought, I touched on something that has been a big issue for me the past three years: Toxic relationships.

Relationships are hard to navigate because, obviously, since we are all flawed people, we will all hurt one another in relationships and not fulfill the standards we should as friends, spouses, parents, kids, etc. So we have to constantly evaluate whether relationships are worth sustaining and working at, or whether they are doing more harm than good and are better being abandoned, or even severed.

This is especially difficult when you become emotionally attached to people ... and those people have issues of their own. And you lack self-confidence and are desperate for affection and fun. When you have faith in that person and want to help them. When you cling to the memories of the time they have supported you or you connected or they were in a good mood and they made you laugh or they laughed at your joke or they said something positive about you that you've always wanted to hear.

I guess the tricky thing is that people aren't all good or all bad, though we like to paint them that way because it makes things much easier. None of us can really say we're a good person because we can't fully see the consequences of our actions and inactions or the way we've hurt or helped others. Similarly, I'm sure you've had a time when you found out that someone you've always found despicable actually did something very kind or you hear about the terrible childhood they had and you realize they never had the chance to be better than they've turned out.

I've really struggled to figure out when to draw the line on unhealthy relationships and walk away. There are ones, namely, romantic-tinged ones, that I wish I had walked away from sooner. The two that I especially think of kind of bookend my romantic life so far: my big high school crush that went nowhere and my big junior year crush of college. Both are pretty similar stories: I really liked the guy and he gave indications that he liked me so i became obsessed with him but we didn't hang out enough to really solidify the relationship but I kept hoping and he kind of floundered but I kept pushing to try to get to know each other and he was just awkward and eventually arrogant and even rude. eventually I gave up on the relationship, but not after a lot of pain and hurt from his ignorant comments and non-committal flip-flopping.

There's no real resolution to the pain of broken, disappointed relationships. I wonder if that's why so many people, once they've had one significant other start serial dating, always needing to have somebody. Right now I feel caught between feelings of intense loneliness/isolation and frustration with the dysfunctional-ity of relationships in general. Ifeel like I expend so much energy trying to keep up superficial connections with people who are just too busy to invest in a friendship. I keep chasing because I'm lonely, but I only end up lonelier because the desperate efforts at keeping things up and the apathy those efforts are met with just serve as a reminder for how alone I am.

people don't want to talk or invite you to their wedding or tell you they're on a trip they always said they'd take with you.

How I wish I could cut out the part of me that wants companionship. I wonder how much happier I would be!

No one seems to have the answer for how to heal the pain of past hurt; I think that pain is the root of many of our problems.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I wish I had thicker skin

One difficult thing about suffering from depression is how easily little things can get under your skin. This problem is compounded by the fact that people are pretty insensitive to your situation, so they make a lot of ignorant comments and assumptions and think you're ridiculous for over-reacting to things.

When I was suffering from my really awful depression this spring, I was absolutely overwhelmed with how insane my mood swings were. I would spiral into a dark mood because of small slights and comments and let downs. Rejection - even small rejections such as people not being able to come to a party I organized for a perfectly good reason - now hits me really hard. It sends me back into those particularly dark places. It's hard to insulate yourself from that pain though because it means that you can't really do much of anything.

I just tried to organize a Christmas party with friends only to find that half of them couldn't come. Now I feel like a complete idiot and I have this well of anger and hurt inside's so strong, it's almost a physical feeling. And I feel stupid for being mad over something so small. But it's frustrating to feel like every time I muster the courage to put myself out there again, I'm rejected.

This summer, after I came home from school and new I wouldn't be returning, I decided to take a chance and audition for a local community theater production of my favorite musical since I would finally have the time to be in a play and it was something I'd always wanted to do. Of course, it ended up being terribly nerve-racking to audition and everyone else at the audition had acting resumes, headshots, obnoxious musical theater voices and personalities, accompanying music, etc. I was soft spoken and didn't have any of the above, so I didn't get the part. The rejection re-opened that old wound of feeling useless and angry and not good enough. I have confidence in my talent, but my frustration comes in trying to get others to see past my unimpressive facade to the worth underneath.

I think of the night that my choir group, which I had invested a lot of time and emotion into, voted on officers in the spring. I was really hoping to get a position because I really enjoy community leadership and I had been looking all three years at school for a way to be involved and serve others. I had sent hand-written notes to all the members of the group on multiple occasions and care packages to individuals, helped  with organizing events and appreciation gifts for officers and our spring tour. I felt like I had contributed a lot to the group even though I wasn't even part of the leadership. But I didn't get a position. and what really breaks my heart is that I can distinctly remember standing in a circle at the end of the meeting with everyone, waiting for the chance to break away, and thinking, "It's okay. I can just go cut myself after this."

People have not hesitated to share with me on numerous occasions that they don't understand why people cut. I think it disturbs them because it's an expression of pain that can't be ignored the way so many expressions of emotion can be. People are uncomfortable with other people being in pain, so we try to brush it off with platitudes of "You'll be okay" "It'll get better" "All things happen for a reason" "God will open other doors" etc. I remember being really upset when I realized my cutting scars were fading because I wanted to be able to have tangible proof of the pain I had endured. No one seemed to believe or be able to understand what I felt. There wasn't any justifiable cause for my pain, so people doubted its validity.

Being rejected by a man and betrayed by a friend wasn't enough either for people to affirm my struggle. So I tried to affirm to myself that I really was enduring a struggle. I hid my scars because they made people so uncomfortable but I also had this weird hope that if I shared them someday, people would realize that I really had been hurting. That they had let me down. That they had screwed me over. That they can hurt me even more with their rejection and judgment and lameness.

I have trouble telling even my therapists about my period of self-injuring because of the shame. Yet I also had trouble stopping because I felt like I hadn't done enough to prove my pain; I didn't have permanent or deep enough scars like other people. Maybe my pain still wasn't valid. It's hard because pain is such an intangible, immeasurable thing. I tried to push out memories of and downplay a lot of the pain I experienced because I wanted to convince myself and others that it wasn't that bad. I wish I had been capable at the time of recording more of what I felt.

But even though I don't have much of a record - the scars have disappeared and the memories have faded - I do know that I did suffer a great deal from this mysterious set of ailments that is mental illness and the human experience.

I remember my happy, energetic, dancing self being snapped like a dry twig by the aloof answers of a too-cool-for-you olive-eyed man and having the backbone of my soul snapped by overhearing said man casually share of his plans to date that jealous, bland waif of a girl. I remember I felt too sick to go on dancing, so I went to the coat check and grabbed my things and jogged back to the dorm as best as I could in my black pumps. And I remember sobbing on the bathroom floor..."You're an idiot, babe" ran through my heart and head. Those awful lyrics from that awful man who inspired that other awful boy's aloof coldness. And I broke my resolve to have thick skin once again.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dance like ever'body watching

One thing I really do miss about school is that we, being banned from alcohol and such shenanigans, had dances at least every other month. I never went to school dances in middle and high school, so I was surprised to find just how much I loved dancing whilst attending college functions.

I had the chance to go to a show of a favorite band of mine, Family Force 5, and dance my tiny little heart out. Good for burning off all the pent-up anxiety chemicals from withdrawal and an emotional conversation with a close friend. And good for self-confidence.

The highlight of my year from hell (last school year) was probably a Saturday night when a dance was being held for Freshman in the courtyard outside my room. The music reverberated through our whole building, giving me the idea that I should get up on the bed and dance along with the apathetic crowd outside.

I had a grand old time even though my roommate rolled her eyes and refused to join in, hard core judging me like I was a 54 year-old dad jamming out at a J. Biebs concert. To my delight, some people actually noticed me and started waving and imitating my moves. Some people noticed me and judged, but some people were really enjoying dancing with me from a distance and it was a really fun experience. I guess it was nice to connect with complete strangers, especially considering how most of my attempts to form connections or make a name for myself at that damn school had been chewed up and spit out and trampled on.

But it all ended in a split second when one straight-laced guy waved at me and then signaled for me to stop. The spell was broken and I immediately bounced off the bed and slunk to a corner to call my mom and cry, thoroughly chastised for goodness-knows-what.

Why can't we just encourage each other to let loose and have fun? It was a joy to see people at the concert when I watched the audience for the opening acts and see people who were obviously huge fans and sang along to every word like they were alone in their car. Music and dance are meant for joy, connection, and happiness. They bring together strangers and remind us of our common experience; remind us we're not alone.

It's sad that so many are too self-conscious or too worried about being deemed immodest or an embarrassment or crazy to do something as harmless and uplifting as letting your body move to beautiful music.

Instagram Christians

This week a video went viral called "Instagram Husbands", a commentary on the ridiculousness of young women's obsession with their image on social media. It's a pretty funny video if you haven't seen it, and, ironically, I found out about it because probably the most perfect, artsy basic white girl I know posted the damn thing on Facebook, laughing at it. The thing is - she is totally one of those beautiful girls who takes pictures in front of brick walls wearing a wide-brimmed black felt hat and a vintage dress. And she's graduating early and marrying her boyfriend from freshman year...You get the picture.

Funny thing is, she also paid a marked amount of inattention to myself and a dear childhood friend of mine who she happened to go to high school with. The first time we met, I pointed out our mutual connection, and lo and behold, a couple weeks ago (three years from when we first met) she wrote my friend and I about her revelation that we all knew each other.

Anyways, she embodies, along with the parodied subject matter of aforementioned video, a standard a cool beauty and popularity I struggled for a long time with envying. While I hate people being unoriginal and just following the masses to look cool, I always felt my self-esteem take a plummet when girls posted artsy photoshoots their friends had done with them and everyone threw flowers of likes and comments "omgs gurrrl u so pretty stahhhp ittttt not fair".

But I made myself miserable when I was obsessed with maintaining my image to the world and when I let my concerns of what other people think determine what I wrote on FB or did in life. There are all these unspoken judgments for crossing certain unspoken lines on social media and I think some people don't like how I like so many articles about mental illness stigma and research, but wow I thought this damn invention was supposed to be about connecting with friends. I find it obnoxious that my friends now see it as a way to create an image for yourself and they will delete things their friends post on their page because it's embarrassing. But maybe that speaks to the status of friendship today. Cuz I'm pretty disillusioned with how conditional I've found people's "love", "support" and "friendship" to be.

But to wrap things up, I guess the whole Instagram Husbands video highlights the ridiculousness of the social media lifestyle and the way it consumes your thinking. You start staging your life. How does that affect your relationships? Can you be genuine? Do people serve to cultivate your image? Because a lot of boyfriends and fiancees seem to be mere keys to unlock the world of artsy wedding shoots and finally justified Wedding Pinterest boards.

I guess I'm being too cynical. But I do think this image-obsessed culture results in shallow relationships. I've felt pretty hurt over the past few years by people resenting my attempts to share jokes or keep in contact via social media because it looks stupid. I've been hurt by people judging the number of times I change my profile picture or the number of things I like or whatever b.s. it is. Peoples obsessive underlying insecurity really comes out. And there is definitely an art to knowing just what kind of posts will get likes ... and what kinds won't.

Enjoy a display of a carefully crafted Instagram Image by the woman who ruined my sister's life
Can you count the Bible reading photos??

An even More carefully crafted online image for your personal and moral edification

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Celebrate [mediocre] times...c'mon! (duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-DUH-DUH)

It hasn't been the greatest week or so lately...I made the decision with my family and psychiatrist to go completely off of the SSRI (anti-depressant medication) I was on (Zoloft). I first went on an SSRI (Paxil) about a year and a half ago in hopes of alleviating my lifelong general anxiety and social anxiety issues. Since then, I've tried out a number of different medications to try to treat my anxiety issues and then the serious depression that arose at the very end of 2014. It turns out I have a very finicky little metabolism so none of the medications really seemed to be effective. In fact, my family and I speculate that some of them might have actually made things worse since genetic testing revealed that I have difficulty metabolizing many different types of psychiatric meds, most notably SSRI's, which are the primary medication used to treat anxiety disorders and depression. GO FIGURE.

Medication is obvi a big issue in society at large and the journey of treating mental illness, so I definitely plan to explore my experiences with that in other posts, but for now I will leave it at this: Going off of the medication has not been fun. I really didn't expect that since I have been weaning off of the stuff for close to a month and I really wasn't even on a very high dose and SSRI's aren't really that powerful of a medication, and certainly, as far as I am aware, aren't considered addictive. But I guess since 1) my body has been through a lot of medication changes in this one year, and 2) I am not replacing the medication with another one, it is understandable that my body and mind have been taking things kind of hard.

Last week I was really grouchy, irritable, easily annoyed, tired, etc. I felt physically and mentally pretty crappy and then my mind would kind of involuntarily fixate on certain things that irritated me. Then I would just keep turning that thing I was frustrated around and around in my head and blow it out of proportion. I think it's safe to say that anyone who has lived or interacted with people knows a little bit what I'm talking about. So I had some blow-ups at my family, which isn't really like me. It all culminated in a major flip out over a bunch of things accumulating in my hyper-sensitive anger stash and then when I was pushed over the edge, I stormed to my room, locked myself in there and just thought of ways to let my family know how frustrated and hurt I was. Suffice it to say, none of them were very healthy, but I am glad to let everyone know that I am still here and, thankfully, so are my breakable possessions and works of art I've made (though my scrapbooks are a little battered), and I've found most of the things that I threw across my room.

I did, however, end up screaming that my life didn't matter after I threw said scrapbooks into the hall and announce that I should just kill myself. This really upset my poor mom, who demanded I unlock my door, which sent me into a crying fit because she sounded so angry and I felt so stupid, but God bless my older sister, who came and did a really amazing job of calming me down. The funny thing is that she has Asperger's Syndrome, which means she has trouble communicating with people and understanding social cues, so people often think she's cold or impolite, but she's actually one of the most caring, loyal, sensitive people I know, as is my other friend who I suspect has Asperger's. People with Asperger's are very loyal and caring...many write them off so they don't get to see that side, sadly. But my sister has also been through a lot of really hard things, which gives her more empathy, I think, even if she has trouble with the concept in the abstract.

Anywho, Big Sis talked to me in a really considerate, concerned voice and was very sympathetic and explained the situation in a way that my emotional mind needed to hear and I just lay on the bed ashamed and wept. I didn't anticipate telling you all this since this is the messy, embarrassing side of mental illness and not what most people who know me would expect from me, but I guess it's refreshing to be honest and it needs to be shared.

I've been better emotionally since then. I definitely do see that I am more anxious though in the sense that I have the extremely irrational anxieties that I had before going on medication, namely, this ominous, overarching fear that I or members of my family will die at any moment or just general abiding thoughts and worries of death, the afterlife, the shortness of life, etc. Not to mention worries that I will go to hell and be separated from my family forever because my faith in/relationship with God has been very weak in the last few months. These are all my worst fears and even though medication had its bad points, it did help take away a lot of those illogical fears that overwhelm me.

Beyond this, I've had more panic symptoms arise: racing heart, whirring head, faintness, etc. And bad dreams. So all this may make you wonder, "Wow, why on earth did she go off these meds?" So I say this: At the same time, I have a certain clarity of thought and optimism that I didn't while on meds. I do feel less dragged down by the fatigue that's dominated my year. I feel like I can put this Year From Hell behind me and rebuild my life in 2016. My life was completely derailed this year, which has taken a lot of time and emotion to deal with and accept. It will take more time to deal with the effects, but I think I am coming to a place where I can start over and rebuild. I have hope again that I can even use this complete blow up of my life and plans for good; I can use this as a way to get on track with myself and the dreams that I've had since I was a little girl but that I decided to put off in favor of the practicality of college.

At the same time, I have had reminders of the disappointments of this year; going on Facebook one evening last week, I was bombarded with painful images of the life I am missing at college. I do still mourn for the get-togethers with friends, having people right down the hall to hang out with, inside jokes, weekend mattress surfing parties (no alcohol needed for a good time #drycampus), performing at coffeehouses, etc. And I especially mourn the friendships that I've lost since leaving school.

I'm not sure what sparked it, but I had this moment where I realized anew recently how shocked and hurt I was that very few of my friends said anything when I let them know that I wouldn't be returning to college this school year. I mean, some people who I was very close to said NOTHING. What is that?? And then many of them have only contacted me once and said hi. A couple have never contacted me at all. I know people are busy or they feel awkward and don't know what to say, but that's some serious bulls**t and it makes me intellectually angry at the injustice of it.

In a culmination of lameness, yesterday my period returned after an extended absence and WOW did it return with a vengeance. SSRI's are also used to treat PMS, which ended up being a lovely extra benefit of being on one because I have had issues with extremely painful cramps, to the point where I would throw up almost every time I got my period starting my sophomore year of college because my body was in so much pain. Yesterday, I wanted someone to just kill me or give me a hysterectomy, I was in so much pain and felt so nauseous and faint and weak. YAYYYYY.

I survived but went back to suffering from symptoms of some kind of virus I've been fighting lately. So today when I (finally) checked my phone and found I had missed a call (typical) from Colonial Williamsburg about a job I had applied to on a whim last week, I wasn't feeling super up to calling back, but felt like I should since, well, job etiquette. Unfortunately, I got a very sassy, grouchy lady on the line who informed me I needed more information about whoever called me (even though she sounded suspiciously like whoever left the message) so she could pass on the call. Result: I felt very stupid and discouraged b/c


Anywho, you get it. I felt generally lame and discouraged because of my current situation and someone else's rudeness. I've had a number of people treat me very rudely this year because I'm young and soft-spoken and I'm really tired of it. And I've felt so stuck lately because I feel too daunted to get a job or even volunteer because of the interview process, training, and commitment rules. I used to be pretty good at interviewing, but I did so much of it this year with so little success that I just don't have the heart to any more. It's so nerve-racking anticipating the interview and phone calls, meeting new people, going to new places, etc. all send me into a state of absolute terror and physical discomfort. It's miserable. And then I've had a number of bad experiences with people being unprofessional so I guess the whole thing has left a bad, post-traumatic taste in my mouth. And even volunteering nowadays requires applications, interviews, training, background checks, stringent & lengthy commitments, etc. And try explaining to people that you've been to three years of college but you're taking a break. HAHAHA. It's not awkward AT ALL.

The sad thing is, the summer I spent working as a museum education intern was probably the best summer of my life. Even though I was physiologically depressed and struggling with social anxiety, I was really happy because I loved having projects to work on and I loved learning new things and having a chance to contribute to the community. I loved exploring a new place and basking in the beauty of nature. I was even okay being away from home. I was so proud of all I was accomplishing and I did do a lot to push myself out of my comfort zone. I think a lot of people look at people who are depressed or have social anxiety and think they're lazy. I had a close friend judge me a lot this year because of the toll my depression took on my energy level. But I believe a lot of us are very motivated, ambitious, hard-working people who feel chained down by their illness.

Depression physically took a lot out of me; when I was working that summer, I worked 40 hour weeks but would come home and fall asleep for two hours (nap), then sleep nine hours and still have trouble getting up in the morning. I never had such a physically-impactful bout of depression as the one I had this spring where I just could not keep my eyes open and had to take two or three naps a day. For the first time in my school career, I had a problem with sleeping in and missing class. I could tell my roommate was super judging me, but it really was no choice of mine (I even started drinking coffee to try to help me stay awake). Even this summer, I slept ten hours a night and then would still have to take naps during the day. When I say "have to", I mean it. Yet, I have trouble just sitting and watching a TV show unless my hands are busy (if anyone needs their holiday presents wrapped, I will do it FOR FREE to satisfy this pathological need to wrap presents.) I long to accomplish things and I am constantly doing multiple craft projects.

Similarly, with my social anxiety, I constantly avoid participating in activities I really long to. I wonder how much more I could accomplish if I wasn't so terrified of new people, new situations, and conversation. The summer of my internship, I made huge strides in terms of my social anxiety, even though they seem more like little mincing baby steps: I went to England with a bunch of people I barely knew (okay, that was pretty big and I can't believe I did that and my aforementioned nightmare MAY have been related to that experience), I lived with strangers, I met a lot of new people, I interacted with children, I went on intern runs to relay messages to people I had never met before (one of my biggest fears), I went into small shops where the owner stares at you while you look around and asks personal questions, expecting you to make conversation. I even went on a boat full of middle-aged people I'd never met and made friends with my supervisors. Wow. At the same time, I felt like a total failure at times because of my absolute terror of people in other areas of my life. I lived in a house with two other interns who were both very nice people...who I was terrified of interacting with just because I have a crippling mental illness. I wouldn't eat dinner many nights because I was afraid of going into the common area and bumping into them. I didn't know what to say and I felt really awkward. I felt so rude and anti-social and I really wanted to make conversation with them, but it was also my worst fear. My life was dictated by that fear, which is what makes a problem a disorder.

Similarly, now my social anxiety prevents me from calling old friends on the phone to catch up, or even just calling my grandma to tell her my plans have changed and I can't come over today. It prevents me from joining a meet-up group or volunteering with a cause or going to an open mic night or getting a job. I think many people just think I'm making excuses or look at my life and think I'm being lazy: not finishing college or working? But it's all so much more complicated than that, isn't it?

All the same, and here I finally come to the point I planned to make in this out-of-control post, I have to give myself credit for the things I have accomplished. I have made a lot of art in the past six months. I started going to a therapist and I have opened up to her and made a lot of strides. I have adopted new animals and taken care of them even when I could barely take care of myself. I have gone to some doctors and dentists appointments even if I backed out of others due to anxiety.

Most of all, I am really proud of myself for having the courage and wisdom to remove myself from an emotionally destructive situation. People wouldn't hesitate to tell a woman to get out of an abusive relationship, but often we are reluctant to encourage each other to leave emotionally destructive situations. I think a lot of people live and work in life situations that make them miserable, lonely, discouraged, self-hating, etc. because they feel pressure from societal expectations to follow a certain life trajectory. I think that a lot of people my age are in very unhealthy situations in college whether because they are partying, they are in abusive or unsupportive relationships, they are mentally ill with little support or treatment, they are struggling to find purpose or to achieve academically, they are homesick, they are depressed or stressed or anxious....Yet society continues to push kids into this broken system and to turn a blind eye or even encourage them to self-medicate with binge drinking, recreational drug use, binge sexual activity, unhealthy peer relationships, etc. by perpetuating stereotypes that these are just things everyone does because they're young. Then society looks down on people who decide to leave it or forego it. And scratches their collective head over the enormous number of college students seeking counseling, committing suicide, binge drinking, partying...

I chose to avoid a place that encouraged the practice of these unhealthy methods of self-medication, only to find that students instead drove themselves ragged with stress, not sleeping or eating properly, neglecting friendships for fear of grades, creating their own exclusive communities and locking out others in an effort to give themselves power and worth. Involving themselves in romantic relationships in an effort to fulfill expectations for their life path and trying to find self-worth and an elevated social status.

That world tore me to pieces just as being involved in the world of binge-everything party party Uni would have. Emotionally, it ripped me to shreds. But people see it as the norm. They even see it as healthy. Look at these good, Christian kids studying hard, taking 21 credits, applying for internships, planning for the future, dating beautiful, seemingly-perfect (bland soul-less) people who they will marry in two years, being president of five clubs and playing guitar in chapel. Bless them! It's so good to see some kids taking a good path in life...

But a person came to mind for every example in that sentence...and all of those people were unhappy. The 4.0 GPA workaholic who knows exactly what career she wants also never has time for friends and burns herself out doing homework every waking hour not spent in class. She hurts the friends she pushes away for school and career. The devout Christian girl is engaged to her boyfriend of eight months but you wouldn't know it if you were with them but I guess they like each other because they post about it on FB and they have similar goals and faith...There is the guy who has stretched himself too thin and has the joy and humor of life robbed from him, and the people who he can't be there for because of it. There are a lot of hurting people overlooked by people too busy to stop and notice and too afraid of not knowing how to help. There's the guy dating the girl because he's supposed to be dating someone and being an RA to prove his worth to everyone and being friends with people he doesn't like to have a status he feels like he has to want. In secret, he's depressed and homesick and spiritually sick, conflicted, and he takes out his frustration and wounded pride on others to weak to fight back.

I guess I just wonder how much about people would change if they took time to step back and reevaluate everything. But then you have to deal with have everything you thought you knew stripped away and torn apart. It's a messy, long, seemingly unproductive process. It leaves you vulnerable.

But I'm glad I'm doing it.

And I'm glad I removed myself from a place of living in fear, loneliness, betrayal, emotional roller coasters, let-downs, judgment, rejection, stress, under-handed insults, exclusivity, favoritism, egotism, being ignored, not being allowed to hurt...I'm glad I don't have to hurt like that any more and that I can be surrounded by people who love and support me UNCONDITIONALLY.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fair Weather Faith

since I've been out of school, my mom has been accepting of my no longer attending church, but I know she still wants me to remain a Christian. Suddenly, I am seeing everything in Christian culture from the outside, and it makes one realize just how alienating it must be to listen to if one isn't inclined to give their life to God.

when I attended church my first weeks home from school, i felt so empty and isolated listening to the admonitions of the pastor to have joy in Christ. the music was all one loud call to have hope, to look happy. how was i supposed to do any of these things when i felt abandoned by God, broken and battered? my hopes and dreams shattered. and the whole time i was beaten up, i had been trying so desperately to serve God. i had put faith in him time and again after being disappointed. i had begged for help, for mercy. instead, i was only more broken. when i shared my hurt with others, they only gave me empty assurances that it would get better, that God had a plan, that when God closes one door he opens another, that they would pray for me, that God was in control and i just needed to have faith in him.

well, i kept trying new doors and every damn door was shut in my face. God has just shut all the doors so i'm backed into a grimy corner with nowhere to go. i just lie here stuck on the floor. i never gave up hope before, but now there's no escaping this stuck-ness. it's even worse in some ways than when i was in terrible darkness.

people say they accept whatever you want to pursue or who you want to be, but, in reality, we all have an opinion. demi lovato once said that when she was unraveling suffering from mental illness and substance abuse while doing her music full time, people kept putting band-aids on her and propping her back up. i feel a bit like that. instead of getting to the real heart of my problems, people just want you to look happy again, so they apply temporary fixes. and people don't want me to pursue risky ventures: music, entrepreneurship, etc. or turn my back on the religion i grew up with. so they constantly nudge you away from that. but what if those things helped me find a new, better path for my life?

and thats why people try to pacify you with empty platitudes. they dont want to hear the nitty gritty of your suffering because it makes them uncomfortable to see you suffering. but band-aids don't fix bullet holes, as taylor swift kindly reminds us every hour on pop radio.

i guess this is a time of stepping back from everything i took for granted in life and reexamining it's place. but i don't have answers for what i need or believe. and it's overwhelming to have everything you built your life and identity on put in front of the firing squad. but i can't help it. its like my soul is rejecting it like a transplanted organ i had put in years ago.

i never thought this would happen to me. i don't know where to go. i don't have the answers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Give your heart a break" or "Your mom goes to college" pt.II or "Babe, Don't you know that you're toxic??"

Even though a large part of me really did not want to go back to school, it was still hard to walk away because of the emotional bond I'd formed with the place and people since it had been my home for three years. I still have moments of grief when I'm reminded of some event I'm missing or the fact that friends' lives are moving along without me. I'm not even sure if I'll ever be able to wrap my head around the fact that I'm not there. It's surreal. It feels like I'm still on summer break most of the time.

But although I haven't told many people this, I knew I needed to leave that place because, for me, it was toxic. Even when I wasn't in a really bad place in terms of my mental health, I was not in a good situation emotionally, and I considered transferring more than once even before this year.

It really breaks my heart to think about how disappointed I was by my college experience. High school wasn't so great for me...being a shy, socially anxious girl, I had few friends and just felt generally uncomfortable being surrounded by people and threatened with group work. I was too anxious to get involved with after-school programs either. My general anxiety problems combined with my school's immense pressure on taking high-level coursework left me a mess.

I chose to go to a small Christian school because I thought it would be my chance to be with people who liked to have fun without getting drunk and learn too. I had these dreams about how happy I would be. The school seemed like such a good fit and I was so excited about going. I saw it as my chance to come out of my shell and I dreamed of being an amiable tour guide who would pass lots of friends on my tours who would wave hello and give some cool shout out and I would have a cute boyfriend and graduate at the top of my class. The classes seemed so fascinating when I pored over the catalog and I thought I knew just what I wanted to do for work. There were so many clubs listed and I would circle all the ones I was interested in...

When my family left after moving me in, I called my mom after standing on the sidewalk for five minutes in the same place they had left me and sobbed into the phone that I needed them to come back and take me home. I couldn't believe when other girls on my hall said they hadn't called home once the whole of orientation week. I called home pretty much every day the rest of my three years there.

I introduced myself to one girl after another but soon despaired of ever actually forming any friendships. We had seemed to be all on even ground when we came in. But you are never on a level playing field. Certain girls just clicked or even had the benefit of already knowing people. They dated guys on our brother hall. They got to start on the path of future fraternity sweethearts. I felt like every time I met a person I clicked with, they disappeared and I never saw them again. Or if I did, they had moved on to make other friends.

After one semester, everyone seemed to be set as far as friends, so forming new relationships after that point was even more difficult. I bravely set out on my journey to find a group to be involved in - I love having a community to contribute to - so I could make friends. But this was to be the bane of my existence my three years there. I tried for and was rejected from the following:
     - Chapel worship team (I actually didn't even get an audition...)
     - A women's Bible study and mentoring group (I was waitlisted. Guess Ill have to wait on that spiritual growth...)
     - A women's honorary service society (because you have to reach a certain caliber of goodness to be qualified to do nice things for others)
     - Homecoming weekend coffeehouse (Twice. But then I figured out that this was because all the slots were given to attractive males. I guess that's why the all-female audition panel looked so bored while I played.)
     - A group that put on concerts (Because you need a small, select group of people for that. And this was after they walked you into a dark room and made you sit in front of an overhead projector while disembodied voices asked questions to gauge your professional experience like, "Who would win: Batman or Superman?")
    - Librarian job (In spite of the fact that I spent probably 5+ hours in the place every day of my freshman year...And I have the soul of a librarian.)
    - My long-dreamt-of Tour Guide job (Because shy people are obvi incompetent. Whatever. I didn't want to memorize your canned, basic white college speech anyways.)
    - Probably some other stuff
    - Happiness (just being melodramatic now.)

So I ended up in an emotional state of loneliness and disappointment, feeling like an outsider (still), rejected and unable to break into the cool crowd. I felt angry because I knew I had talent and a heart to serve but people were making you go through ridiculous audition/application/interview processes so they could power/ego-trip and then pick their friends.

Living in such a situation, as you might imagine, made things even worse when I had a severe bout of depression in the Spring of my sophomore year. I was a wreck physically and mentally due stress and panic attacks that kept me awake for hours every night. I fell into a pretty bad state of depression and struggled with suicidal thoughts. I felt so worthless and insignificant, disappointed and frustrated.

Junior year, I was finally able to join a group and loved having a social outlet where I was, amazingly, able to break out of my shell quite a bit and make many friends. But over Christmas break, I fell into another Major Depressive episode, probably my worst yet, and things broke back down into their original miserable state of being. My moods were very erratic, such that I questioned if I had Borderline Personality, and small slights hit me hard. I had struggled all my time at school with feeling unsupported by friends, unaccepted by cliques, unpopular, barred from serving as I dreamed, too far from family...all this came to a head in that semester.

I needed unconditional love and support but found people were busy, flaky, unsure of how to deal with an emotional basket case, or even judgmental. New friends meant fun outings and inside jokes, but also let downs, being an outsider of closer relationships, and occasional insensitive comments (mostly from males. Insert eye roll. Then go into a corner and cry.) Not to mention the tumultuous rise and fall of an inaccessible romantic interest who chose another girl. These things all tore me to pieces. I, sadly, started tearing myself to pieces with it, feeling it was what I deserved.

In the midst of my bold attempts to finally break free of my shackles of shyness, I was imprisoned by other old foes: depression, rejection, loneliness. I had these beautiful moments of freedom: dancing on my roommate's bed to a freshman dance going on outside the room in the dorm courtyard. Dancing my little heart out before finding out the man I thought I finally had a chance with was going to make it official with an apathetic hipster. Doing improvised lunchtime sit-down stand-up comedy for friends at mealtimes....

But the flip side was eating alone 2/3 of the time. Not having the energy to go without taking two naps a day. The cold stare and offhand comments of my overachieving roommate. The nights crying curled in a ball on the bathroom floor. The sweater inseams covered in dried snot from phone calls home in the vacuum closet. The showers spent lying on the tile, letting the torrents wash over me. The smattering of red scratches on my upper thighs. The social events ruined by a look or eye roll or short remark.

I had to walk away.
It's easy to see myself as the problem child: Too emotional. Unbalanced. Not committed enough. Lazy. Taking things too personal. But I also see myself as sensitive, generous, compassionate, concerned. And brave. This week I am proud of myself for walking away from a toxic place. I have attributed my relief from the worst of my depression to being home, but today I am giving myself some credit for the recovery: I removed myself from a harmful place even though I knew people would judge, abandon me, not understand, etc. I always rag on myself for being so dependent on others, but I made a choice to protect myself instead of just following what everyone else expected.


Give yourself credit for something.

Your mom goes to college

As I've mentioned before, I'm in a bit of an awkward place right now because I withdrew from college after attending for three years. Living in a place where the majority of the population has at least a bachelor's degree, this can be kind of, well, frowned upon. I feel like there is an invisible clock over my head ticking down the time I have before I go back to school.

I guess the problem comes in where I don't really want to go back to school. I know to society that makes me look lazy, but I decided to withdraw because I thought it was better to take a step back and examine what I really wanted in life before finishing. And I wanted to wait until I was really ready to put my all into my schoolwork so I'm not just wasting my time and my parents' money. It doesn't seem wise to go to school just because you feel like you have to if you are going to just scrape by.

So I guess I've been trying to accept the place where I am. I may not be doing anything valid in others' eyes, but I am trying to build skills on my own that I had always neglected because I was trying to "focus" on school: art, communication in relationships, self-reflection, self-expression. Letting myself come up with crazy ideas for future ambitions. Life is a process and even great minds need a period of development. Problem is, we're always pushing ourselves to accomplish things NOW, get famous young, finish in three years instead of four, etc.

Meanwhile, I think about many of my friends who are in school still and how few of them really have their heart in what they're doing. They're all hard working people and they are managing good grades, but I never met anyone who really had a passion for learning and doing school while I was at college. Everyone acted like they'd rather be anywhere else doing anything else. Dorm room door whiteboards boasted countdowns to upcoming breaks. Why keep trying to shove a square tube through a circular hole? And spending $25,000+ to do it? Most of us don't even know what it is we want to do for work.

Being home, I've realized how interested I am in entrepreneurship. I always kept as far away from business classes as possible because I never considered myself skilled in that area, but taking time to dream and scheme has made me reconsider the use of business classes should I go back to school.

Beyond the practical use of time off, I'm proud of myself for making a decision that was best for me and my health. I know that's not the first thing that comes to mind when people make a judgment on someone dropping out of school, but it was a major factor in my decision. And it isn't easy to decide to buck tradition and put your own wellbeing first. But I'm glad I did, and I hope I continue to wisely consider my life path instead of succumbing to the pressure to scramble to follow a certain expected life trajectory.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Not Enough

Since I've withdrawn from college after this spring semester, I've mostly occupied my time with trying my hand at different art and craft projects. I've redecorate my room, painted furniture, scrapbooked half a decade of my life, brushed off my sewing machine from high school, build bookshelves, you name it. I've always enjoyed a good project and I've been proud of how all my projects have turned out, but I can't seem to escape this gnawing need to do more, to have some goal I am working towards, some accomplishment I can contribute to the world.

This is a driving need I have felt most of my life. It's good to an extent in that it pushes me to work hard and to correct mistakes, but it also is somewhat torturous. I can't seem to enjoy the things I've made because I'm constantly thinking about what I need to do next that's better. I feel unsatisfied with myself. I am never good enough. And I even feel afraid to do things I love, like write, because I feel such an immense pressure for it to be perfect.

I was thinking a lot this weekend about my experience in religion over the years, and as my dissatisfaction with my work as an artist has culminated this evening, I realized that this drive towards perfection played a significant part in my religious experience as well.

As I helped with a church event this weekend, I reflected a lot on how alienated I feel from God. This is a place I never really thought I would be in. Starting in sixth grade, I became very passionate about being a Christian and having a relationship with God. I read an memorized my Bible and became very involved in my church, leading Bible studies and teaching younger youth about the faith. I went to a Christian college, hoping to have my faith further nurtured. Always I was propelled by a drive to be a more virtuous person, to grow closer to God, to do what I knew was best. I felt an immense pressure from within to pray enough, read my Bible enough, identify shortcomings in my life, identify a lesson I could learn in each sermon, find a way to use my gifts to serve God...

Sound familiar? For years I have felt so frustrated with my inability to be disciplined enough to have a focused devotional time each day. I can't seem to follow a schedule I set for myself. Every semester of college, I committed at the beginning to this time spend time each day reading my Bible and then panicked and felt so ashamed of myself when I didn't follow through. Same with my commitments to be better about procrastinating on writing papers or keeping up with textbook reading.

I don't have much of a point for this post, but I guess I wanted to process this realization because I think it may be a crucial one. And maybe it's a first step to accept that I can write something that has no point to it. I've always tried to figure out a purpose for things that happen or try to justify the way I spend my time or money, but I know it will be more freeing just to let go and enjoy the process of each thing. Otherwise I'll always be holding back from doing things. Maybe it's time to take a breath and tell myself it's okay to just be. Not everything has to have a purpose. Some things can just be for enjoyment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

To Be Honest

No, I'm not okay.

No, I'm not doing any better.

No, things aren't getting better.

No, I don't have a plan for next year.

No, I haven't applied to any more jobs.

No, I haven't heard back about the application.

No, I'm not sure if I'm ready to go back.

No, I don't know if the new medication is helping or not.

No, I haven't played my guitar much lately.

No, I don't think I'll make it to church today.

No, I didn't clean up my room yet.

No, I didn't call the doctor.

No, I didn't go to the appointment.

No, I don't want to get out of bed.

You think I'm a failure?

Yeah, me too sometimes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"God Won't Bless a Mess"

I remember once in high school when I was cat-sitting for a neighbor who is a devout Evangelical Christian. I always marveled at how clean her house was. It was meticulously decorated and organized. Anyone who has lived with me can assure that cleanliness is not my strong suit.

Going downstairs to do the dreaded duty of cleaning the litter box, I noticed an unmissable sign on the overhang of the basement stairs that read:


Shoot, I thought. I guess that means we're all in a boatload of trouble then. I haven't met one person who has their life together. Even quaint Bed and Breakfasts in Cape Cod have random crap shoved in a bathroom closet.

Recently, a friend shared an article criticizing Evangelical Christians for their obsession with exhibiting their imperfection rather than focusing on holiness and sanctification. I'm sure they had a good point, but I couldn't really make it through the article because after spending my middle, high school, and college years obsessed with self-improvement, I am now a USDA-certified Hot Mess. I know it and I sometimes hate myself for it.

Beyond my own (long) shortcomings, I have been made acutely aware in the past year of the shortcomings of other Christians, convincing me that they are WHO-certified Radioactive Oil Spills. My sister was backstabbed on a Julius Caesar-esque level by a woman who writes a lovely, flower-embellished Christian Mommy Blog. My heart has been broken by stories of and encounters with people destroyed by prejudice, judgment, and abandonment by Christians and the Church. I, myself, have felt very abandoned by God, Christian friends, and the Church. I find little help for tough times and can't rally myself back to the faith I once had.

What I've also realized in the past couple years though is that Jesus came for a world that is a Hot Mess and people who are really messed up. He spent time with the riff-raff. I don't even think I would want to hang out with many of the people he did. And many of these people are the very same that we look down on, condemn, push away, ignore, and accuse: the social outcasts, morally corrupt, crazy, disabled, annoying, poor, and crazy.

It breaks my heart to hear about many Christians shutting out family and friends in an effort to send a message of disapproval. God is the one who has the task of judging. He has given us the task of being His presence on earth and loving.

I also found this article's message concerning because I have found that people being honest about their struggles is the most helpful for teaching and encouraging others. I also think it is one of the best tools for reaching out to those who do not have a relationship with God. Even as someone who has grown up in the Church, I find it alienating how people put forth such a perfect facade. There is little guidance for dealing with hardship and failure because so much emphasis is placed on optimism and vague platitudes. In general, it is more comforting to hear another person's story than "I know how you feel. You will be okay."

I hope the Church can be more honest because I think that's what the world needs. People are tired of constructed images of perfection that they can't measure up to. Everyone is tired of putting on a mask of happiness and hipness. People need to know they are not alone: the Body of Christ should stand with them through thick and thin, just as Christ does.


Your song pairing for this literary meal

Just a Phase

All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes, dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days.
                           - Joni Mitchell "Last Time I Saw Richard"

 I've known for most of my life that I am not quite right upstairs. I first started being consumed with anxiety in first grade. The tyranny of my Type A teacher triggered the anxious tendencies I had inherited from my mom and I turned into a nervous wreck who would cry all the way to school and beg to stay home. The anxiety would manifest itself again throughout my school life. In fourth and fifth grade I became obsessed with the fear of getting detention, which was regularly threatened to us to "prepare us for middle school". When I was doled out this prison sentence in fourth grade after forgetting to do my math homework, I must have had to choke back tears, feeling thoroughly chastised. In fifth grade, my mom eventually told my teacher about my terror because I remember her pulling me aside one day and explaining I had nothing to worry about...I was a model student and she would never give me detention.

I remember crying while packing my bag for the first day of school every summer for the next several years of secondary school. I wept every night the first week of my junior year of high school because of the complete overwhelm I felt at the thought of taking three Advanced Placement classes (but it is an official decree of suburban high schools that if you don't take as many AP's as humanly possible, you won't get into college and so will work at McD's and die a premature death.) You can imagine the terror that was the first weeks of college and, well, the whole of college, for me. Five minutes after saying good-bye to my family, I called my mom and begged her to come back an take me home.

Here I am now after a year and a half of official treatment...concoctions of pills, heart-bearing sessions with stony-faced psychiatrists an counselors (conversations that cost a small fortune, may I add) unemployed, virtually housebound college drop-out who can't get a job or fit into any of her favorite clothes and is sometimes gripped with inexplicable terror of leaving the house.

Who sits dreading tomorrow because I have to 1) possibly interact with the maids coming in to clean the house, and 2) go to an appointment with my counselor. And dreads the day after because I'm supposed to 1) sit around the house anticipating going to the doctor; 2) go to the doctor with heart beating and stomach twisting; 3) talk to the scary receptionists who hate life and even more, hate YOU; 4) sit in a large napkin and talk to a stranger about all my shortcomings as a human being and than be mercilessly tickled and prodded and made to feel as uncomfortable AS POSSIBLE.

To make things brief: anxiety is crippling. It sucks the life out of you. And it takes you unawares. A month ago I was driving myself to community college four days a week and ordering bagels from Panera like nobody's business. I was still a hot mess, but I was semi-functional. Then something snapped inside of me and I found myself lying on my bed in the fetal position, whimpering like a little rescue puppy that I just couldn't go to class. I couldn't. I could barely get out of bed.

I know a lot of people won't get it. I sound pitiful and lazy and cowardly, no doubt, to many. I look that way to myself a lot, too. I have spent over a decade pushing myself to overcome this monster of fear inside of me, bullying myself for backing out when things got too overwhelming. This year, I finally just fell to pieces. And I seem to be stuck that way. My efforts to pull myself into some kind of passable working human being seem to just lead me to explode again. It's embarrassing. It's frustrating. It's a process of constantly going back to Square One...or Square Negative One.

I thought healing would be a lot easier than this. I thought this failure to meet basic human standards for living would just be a phase. I thought I'd have an epiphany or a turning point or a saving grace...It seems to happen to other people that I read about. When I went on medication a year ago, I never guessed I'd be one of those pitiful people you read about who has tried umpteen meds and is still a sad 45 year-old overweight TV addict on Unemployment. But I can't keep track of the opportunities that have fell through and the medications that haven't worked. And, damn it...I'm still waiting on a breakthrough.

This is my journey. It isn't too nitty gritty and dark, thankfully, but it isn't the blue skies I like to portray it to be. I want to honestly share my struggles in life because it has meant so much to me to hear other people do so and because I want people going through similar things to know they're not alone. I guess this may be hard to read because it's not exactly uplifting or optimistic, but if you will bear with me, I hope this can give you some insight into what life is like for those who struggle with mental illness.

The song I quoted at the beginning resonates with me a lot because it has this dark, desperate undertone of trying to convince oneself that you're on the mend and better times are just around the bend. I feel stuck hiding behind bottles in a dark cafe, dreaming up schemes to break free of the dark cocoon suffocating me -- a cocoon I was supposed to shed as my fellow pupae have done. But maybe healing, like so many things in life, is a long-term process full of setbacks and pitfalls and shortcomings.

For some people, mental illness is not just a phase, but a lifelong battle.

 Hear Joni Mitchell's "Last Time I Saw Richard"