(a conversation starter)
*Todays post is about my journey with mental illness. I ask that you please do not put yourself at risk if reading content surrounding depression & anxiety disorders could (or will) be harmful to you at any degree. These topics will not be graphic, however, they will be discussed.
Today’s post was inspired by a simple hashtag that filled our screens this past week. You remember the one, right? #BellLetsTalk. I know, I know, I’m late to the party but better late than never. Bell let’s talk day is a simple, important mission by real people, for real people. It serves as a reminder, to all of us, that people struggle. It keeps our hearts and minds in check by remembering that people who may seem to have it all together, actually do not. And by remembering that people who look like they need encouragement probably need it more than you could ever imagine, and now more than ever.
Also it reminds us that people are people, and that life is tough, and that’s okay. And that we, as humans, need to rally around each other because the way we love each other is important. Please, I begging you. Do something about what so many people all around you, or you yourself, are facing. Talk. I, along with many other people across the nation, believe that through talking, we can really get somewhere. Maybe for you, somewhere is anywhere. Somewhere is obtainable because there is a real power in words. Also, friends, I understand this is a very heavy subject. This is the reason a lot of people hold back, but I believe it needs to be all the more reason to dive into the conversation.
My journey started in the summer of 2015, about two years ago now. I was young and I didn’t know how to deal with stress.
Let’s stop here really quick because dealing with stress is a skill set. It’s more like a trade, where you need a toolbox. Your toolbox will grow, undoubtedly with experience, but you’ll also need to work hard to learn how to use a tool. This is not always easy, but once you have it, you’ll be guaranteed to have it for life. And one more thing about this tool box, these tools come in handy so today I’m going to show you a few that I picked up along the way.
Okay, where were we? My fifteen year old self. Okay, I had no idea how to deal with stress. I barely knew stress was even a real thing. But then one day, all of a sudden, I got thrown into a massive pile of it and I couldn’t handle it. The problem was, I wasn’t supposed to handle it. I was supposed to give everything to my Jesus, for him to carry. But as a very flawed Christ follower, I told myself I was done, and I couldn’t handle the stress anymore. You see, over a period of about 6 months, I went threw like 5 major life changes. It was a lot for anyone to handle.
I started school that fall and I don’t think my palms stopped nervously sweating. I don’t think I walked into a classroom without my entire body shaking. I had panic attacks when a teacher would call on me in front of everyone. The amount of worrying I did over my grades that year was overwhelming. I can’t explain to you how it felt to worry so much about my grades in school, and then be too tired or sad to actually put the work into them. I can explain that my grades were completely fine, and the stress I put on myself about classes, was completely unnecessary.
From this, I picked up many tools. A very practical one was that of productivity. I was taught, through professionals, as well as experience that there is no point in stressing about things that I simply cannot control – this is true. But, what are you going to do about the things you can control?.. Now, I don’t worry about what the outcome of a test will be, I just do my best to do it. Until I get my grades back, I patiently wait. I don’t stress unproductively. However, I healthily use my stress to push me into being as productive as I can be, with enough breaks and rest as I need. When I get my test back, I’ll study the questions I didn’t do well on, or the ones I struggled with. As well, I’ll celebrate the questions I worked hard to get correct – as it is important to not only recognize when you made a mistake, but also to recognize when you did well – and then move on. This isn’t to say I don’t understand stressing about a test. I get that. I really do. But, I have gotten to a place where I have learned how to be healthy in managing stressful testing. A verse I want to leave with you, that encouraged me immensely is 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast ALL your anxieties on Him, because He CARES for you.
Along with my anxiety, I experienced the darkness of depression in full force. I began to cry about going to sleep at night. After I began crying through the dead of night, I never slept. When I did sleep, it was shallow and I had night terrors that were so unimaginable I think the Lord has taken most of them from my memory, so I do not need to be reminded of that darkness any longer. But through those long nights, this was how my brain coped with absolutely everything. Soon my diseases brought me to a point where I would spend the time between classes in a bathroom stall, putting scars on my legs, where no one would ever see. When I looked in the mirror, all I could see was ugly, and like 100 extra, invisible pounds, thickly covering every inch of me. Everything I ate tasted like the disgust I felt toward my own body. I couldn’t stomach, literally, the idea of food entering my body. I would study over lunch so no one would question why I wasn’t eating This is a big reason why I pushed myself hard in sports, too.
With that, too came anxiety, thought. I didn’t eat enough nutrients to get me through the day, let alone through sports practices and games all week, every week. My anxiety, as I said, set in here as well, and I started using a puffer because I my lungs would freeze under pressure. I used the steroids as an escape from the anxiety of my tough coaches, and pressure of the game, or as I saw it, just another test. These mindsets overtook my whole life.
I learned so much after coming out on the other side of these attacks, though. It landed me the score of throwing a couple more hunks of metal in my tool box. I’ll share two with you. The first one I use for depression is one I still need from time to time. There isn’t really a name for it, but I deal with my depression. I don’t just have depression. I don’t just tolerate depression, or hide from it or run from it or ignore it or deny it. I wake up, and I put one foot in front of the other, and I deal with it. Dealing with depression means different strategies for different people. From going on walks or runs, to listening to uplifting music and reading God’s word more everyday (I recommended the Psalms, if you don’t know where else to go). Some people need to take medication, I did for a while, as it was prescribed by my doctor. Some people need professional counselling. I definitely did for a while, and still do every once in a while. (I would highly recommend getting connected with a solid, Jesus loving counsellor. These are people who want to help you, will not judge you and will always go above and beyond for you.) Dealing with your depression means intentionally taking steps, daily, to stay on your feet. But this is what is so good about the Lord; look at what He says in Isaiah; I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear, I will help you (Isaiah 41:13). He’s 110% ALWAYS, beyond a shadow of a doubt there for you.
The second one.. let’s just call this one the hammer, also known as, arguably, the most important tool in anyones toolbox: Self love. Exercise should only be done when it’s healthy: When you’re getting the nutrients, sleep and care (hygiene) your body needs. And you should exercise. Being healthy means sleeping healthy, eating healthy and living healthy in body, mind and soul. Also, dealing physically with emotional pain doesn’t need to happen if you have someone to talk to. And seeing yourself the way God alrighty sees his beautiful, incredible master piece that he designed and created means that disgusting is a four letter word. We should be taking care of our bodies and not harm them, or sin against them because we are made in the image of God. Which means that God looked at himself, and said he wanted to physically create you to be like him – beautiful. Take care of your body (1 Corinthians 6:19), not because the Bible is a big list of rules, but because our heavenly Father loves us. He is telling us these commands because of how deep His love is for us.
I wish I had of been told this, or when I was told, I wish I had of listened. Because sometime along this journey, I quit socializing. This was a slow process. For a long time, I knew how to pretend like everything was okay. Sometimes I could even convince myself I was okay, even though I definitely wasn’t. Some days, the brave face was just too hard to put on. This was a combination of having both depression and anxiety. Some days I could do it though. I could be the fun, bubbly girl that people knew and loved. But somewhere along the line, I didn’t know how to act like her anymore. I was so crippled and tired and weary. Friends would invite me to go places and do things, but I always declined. After always getting a negative from me, eventually the invites stopped coming. I skipped out on as many church events as I could, including the regular youth group and Sunday school. The only social thing I ever did was play sports, and even then, I kept a lot to myself. I gave up on a lot of friends. I didn’t socialize with teachers or strangers by avoiding almost all eye contact.
The tool I used to get me off the ground in this situation was extremely important. Metaphorically, consider this tool to be (something along the lines of) your favourite wrench; People. Community. Communication. Talking. Opening up. Being real. Letting out your worries and problems and feelings and happiness and joyfulness and sadness into people who love being there every single tear and every single laugh along the way. When we start talking about our problems, we start to realize the people around us are going through and have gone through the same type of stuff. And we can learn a lot from each other. There are a ton of verses about how important fellowship is but I think this verse completely sums up why we need to TALK to each other about the struggles and the hardships. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:24-25.
Why am I telling you all this? What’s with the 2000 word essay? It all amounts to the realization that deaths grip is real. Suicide happens when people take a lot at their lives and say “I’m not worth it” or that “I can’t do it”. This is the extremely heavy, hard, tough, dirt, raw stuff. I had completely formed a plan to commit suicide. I’m not going to sugar coat it, to break the stigma, we can’t sugar coat it. I will spare everyone the details, though, for the sake of the emotional heaviness. What’s important is I am here. Two years later, I am here. And I don’t think I went through everything I went through if I can’t open up about it all. I haven’t hardly ever disclosed, so openly, all these details at a single time, and in a single place to a single person ever before. But I believe what satan meant for evil, the Lord used for good. His ultimate good, that would benefit us.
The pain and the loss of time, broken relationships, and stolen joy is something I can’t say I wish I could reverse, though. Because through all of it, God worked all of it out for good. He restored me – which is everything I thought could never, ever be stored. Death’s grip on my life couldn’t even hold me back from him, and that’s remarkable. God did a miracle in my life and I know I need to share it. When Bell told us to talk, they knew it would bring healing to a lot of people. But I’m here to tell you that you can have hope, too. Because in the same way that my joy had been stolen and restored, yours can be too – through the faithfulness of God Almighty, Abba Father, Emmanuel, who broke every chain I ever was being control and held captive by.
I think that’s enough for now but there’s one more thing: A little shout out to Bell for getting the ball rolling. For encouraging people to start these conversations and for donating to the cause of breaking the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. But an even bigger shout out to my God, who not only changes lives by breaking us out of the bondage of fear, shame, guilt, death, and so much more, but who will use any circumstance for the good of those who love him, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).