The Gift And Sorrow Of Today

I watched the rain fall outside as I waited for Firestone to do my oil change.

Next to me, a man watched the Seahawks game on the small TV in the corner.

To my left, a couple was laughing about something.

I watched cars come in and out of the mall parking lot. I wondered if people were shopping for Christmas already. I wondered if the mall was decorated in twinkly white lights.

I thought about church, the people I love so fiercely.

“You are hard to love.
You are awkward. You embarrass yourself.
Everyone has to keep firm boundaries with you because you’re exhausting.
No one really wants you. They only love you because they think it’s what God wants them to do. You’re charity.
Everyone is just waiting for you to fail again. You might as well just end it. You’re exhausting everyone and you’re hopeless and no one wants to keep going through the trauma you’re putting them through. You think this is all about how you’re suffering, but how about the way you’re making them suffer? No wonder you feel alone. Who would sign up for this?
What is your problem? People are trying so hard to be there for you, but no amount of love anyone shows you is enough.
This is as good as it’s going to get. Accept that. Learn to be completely content with being your own parent. Because that ship has sailed. No one will ever love you like that. In that way, you are alone. And you will always be. And if you can’t accept that, you should just call it quits. You’re going to wear everyone out.
No one has to love you. You don’t have parents or siblings or a husband or children. No one has to look you in the eyes day after day and still choose you. You’re all alone. And even in the ways you’re not alone, you will be. You’re going to alienate everyone,”
the Enemy said.

I shook my head free of the torment and took a sip of my third energy drink of the day.

I am a mystery to myself. I feel overwhelmed with grief and overwhelmed with gratitude.

I feel alone and not alone. The only parent I have, the only one who’s going to daily tell me good morning or goodnight is me. It’s too much to bear. And why? Why do I have zero interest in my own company? Why isn’t it enough to be taken care of by myself? Why can’t I hold within me the love people have for me and use that as fuel for the fight?

Why–when all day long I all day long rehearse truth and gratitude, and look for moments to laugh, and pay attention to when I feel joy–can’t I make myself want to live?

I think of the kind gift from Camilla, the prayer Rory prayed for me with her hand warm on my back, the latte from Christie, how I never doubt Pauline is happy to see me, the smile and “I love you” from Laura.

Why isn’t that enough to make me want to live? What is wrong with me?

What do I need? What do I want? How do I fix this?

I sat there, my eyes filling with tears. “It’s too much,” I thought. “There’s too much happening in my brain. Too much happening inside of me. And I don’t understand any of it. I’m so tired.”

The game kept playing. The man to my right stood. I never looked up at his face, but I saw his shoes as he walked past. Gray Vans.

It’s funny how you notice things that don’t matter when you’re standing somewhere between life and death. It’s like the insignificant things keep you afloat. Your brain doesn’t have to be afraid of shoes or the smell of the tires in the waiting room or the gentle hum of the pop machine. They are safe thoughts. Weightless.

I thought about the medication in my purse. I could stop taking it. I could hoard it. I could be done with this exhausting mess.

I watched the rain fall. “I’m done,” I thought. And instantly, I felt relief.

“What does ‘done’ look like?” I thought next. I didn’t know. Does it look like not taking my medication anymore? Does it look like death? I wasn’t sure. But in the moment, it looked like watching the rain, laying down the death grip on this sword I’ve been wielding so long, surrendering to whatever felt like rest. Peace.

“You’re heading down a dangerous path,” a small voice inside of me said.

“I don’t care,” I responded.

The rain kept falling. Cars kept coming in and out of the parking lot. Life, continuing.

*

Twenty minutes later, I was sobbing into the phone, leaving a message for the man who prescribes my medication.

“I don’t want to say goodbye to Arlow. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I don’t want Laura to have to bury me,” I wept. “But I’m tired. I can’t make myself want to live. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I’m so tired.”

He called back two minutes later. I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to cry to his actual voice. Machines are safer. Had he answered when I’d called, I would’ve hung up.

“My initial reaction when I got your message,” he said, “was, ‘I’m so glad she called,’ because it means part of you does still want to live. You haven’t given up on the fight.”

Then he reminded me of ways to cope. Things I already know, but I appreciated his effort.

The problem isn’t that I don’t know how to cope, the problem is that I don’t think I want to anymore. I’m so damn tired. All day, every day, I’m “coping”. And sure, I can drag myself from one day to the next that way, but I’m TIRED and what’s the freaking point?

Jesus. Jesus is the point. I know this, of course.

But also, nothing can separate me from His love. And death means heaven. If I died, God would forgive me. And I’d finally get to be held by a Parent and have reprieve from a fight that is so much bigger than me. He’d finally be able to hold me and say, “This is why you were hurting so badly.”

And yet, that thought only brings me comfort until I think about this life of mine, with its so much good in spite of my inability to want to live it.

Nothing can make me weep quicker than thinking of the ones I love who I’d leave behind.

*

I held my medication in my hand for a long time tonight. I looked down at the white pills and I felt angry. No part of me wanted to take them. But I did.

I don’t know what is going to happen to me. I don’t know how this story will end.

And I can’t commit to picking that sword back up. But I can commit to doing one more day.

And there’s a God who fights for me when I’m too weak. He’s coming in power. Even though I can’t see it, He’s doing battle on my behalf.

This situation isn’t hopeless.

I am still Someone’s child.

I am tired.

I am held.

I am so blessed.

I am so loved.

Where Hope And Exhaustion Meet

Every day feels like a series of hard and/or scary things that I have to do alone.

And what do I get at the end of the day as a reward? Just the satisfaction of having to do it all over again tomorrow.

And I pray, constantly, to see God in my day.

And I do. I see Him when I reflexively reach out and place my hand on my client’s unwashed head after she bumps it getting into my car. “Are you okay?!” I ask. And I know that simple love and concern for her is less me than it is Jesus.

I see Him in the sheer awe I feel at the way the mountain looks as the sun is coming up in the morning.

I see Him in how I can’t help but cry during worship, watching my church family, arms raised towards heaven, proclaiming over their pain that our God is GOOD.

And I feel Him, like electricity, running through my veins. It’s like being hugged from the inside.

And yet, somehow it’s still not enough.

I told my new therapist all of that this week.

Yes, I have a new therapist. Because the last one fired me. Which seems like the opposite of therapeutic when my primary source of pain is that everyone gives up on me and walks out of my life.

I had poured my heart out to my former therapist, and yes, in her defense, I’ll admit I’m a mess, but isn’t that sort of to be expected when someone comes into therapy because they can’t make themselves want to be alive?

And this former therapist of mine looked me in the eyes, bi-weekly, and made me feel secure and safe with her…

Only to decide that actually, she was going to contribute to that theme of abandonment in my life.

This new therapist of mine met me for the first time last week. I sat down on her couch, pointed at myself, and said after a brief introduction, “So, good luck with this one.”

We talked and she look at me, expressionless. Then she said she isn’t sure what to do with me. She said she feels like I’m doing everything right.

I’m practicing coping skills and reaching out and guarding my thoughts and trying to pave a future for myself that feels like hope. I can list twenty reasons I’m grateful, and at least half as many times today that I felt joy.

And I can still say, I’d rather be dead.

I can look forward to things, I can laugh, and I am still, every single second, having to battle the constant thought, and resulting emotion sitting heavy on my chest, that this life isn’t worth it.

“Why can’t I make myself want to be alive?!” I asked her. “What am I doing wrong?” And then: “I’m so, so tired.” And then I wept.

She said she doesn’t think I’m doing anything wrong, and that it’s a mystery to her why I can’t feel any desire to live.

“I think,” she said, “this has more to do with how your brain has tried to cope with all the trauma. I don’t think this has anything to do with you not trying hard enough, or being ‘weak’, or ‘not having enough faith’. I think this is about your brain.”

I don’t know if that feels like hope to me or not, but it does help me feel compassionate with myself.

I told Camilla, who asked me that same question, that I wasn’t sure I felt more hope, but that I felt more compelled to give everyone the middle finger every time they look at me with judgment or harbor the belief that, if there wasn’t something wrong with me, something I could control, then I wouldn’t feel this way.

“The human desire to survive is very, very strong,” my new therapist said. “And if you truly can’t feel that, then something is wrong. And I don’t think it’s your fault.”

I’ve been trying to think of a metaphor for what it’s like to live this way, and all I can come up with is that it’s kind of like when you have a cough- not a deep cough that earns sympathy and maybe time off of work and a doctor’s prescription, but a constant tickle in your throat.

And you know everyone around you is annoyed because you can’t stop coughing, and you’re annoyed with yourself too. So you try to tell yourself you don’t need to cough. And all day long, you are fighting against what your body naturally wants to do. All day long, you’re trying not to cough, and the pressure in your head just keeps building from the never-abating tickle, which endlessly reminds you that something isn’t right.

All day long, I am fighting against what my body naturally wants to do- die. All day long, I am battling a part of myself that I have no real control over.

I wonder how much of this is spiritual.

“Look for reasons to laugh!” I tell myself.
“Look for Jesus!”
“Smile at strangers!”
“Don’t let yourself, even for a minute, think hopeless thoughts!”
And so I do.

Last week, on two separate days, I almost left work without telling anyone. I almost just drove away from the building, picked Arlow up, and went home.

And what would I do when I got home? I wasn’t sure. Would I kill myself? Run away? Did it matter?

It scares me to see myself so close to doing something that would so completely derail my life.

I drive across the bridge my client jumped off and I have to tell my brain to STOP. I have to force myself not to think.

I hear in a training about the most deadly combination of pills and alcohol. I hear how alcohol thins your blood and makes you bleed out faster. And I have to yell at my brain to STOP.

I hug the ones I love and look into their eyes and tell myself, “They need you.”

I text Camilla every single night something true. Like, “God has a good plan for my life. This fight is worth it. I have so much to be grateful for.”

I mentally make a list of goals, (getting my LICSW, finding a place to live in Gig Harbor…), and things to look forward to, (Madison coming over, spending Thanksgiving with the Sarnos…).

I count down the days until I can see my therapist again, not because I think she’ll be able to help me, as we’ve both confessed not knowing what to do with me, but because it gives me an hour in which I can stop fighting my brain. An hour of rest. I can lay all my cards out before her and weep over the confusion I feel- all the loss; the so, so much good in my present; the desire to die.

I laugh. I reach out to people and tell them I love them. I force myself to stay present with my clients, letting them know I see them, I hear them, I care.

And I beg God to show up. To supernaturally get me from 6:30 a.m. until I finally pull into my driveway at the end of the day.

And at the end of the day, I arrive home. I take a long shower. I cuddle Arlow. And I crawl into bed.

“This moment is good,” I think.

“I like my job,” I think.

And yet why, if both of those things are true, do I feel so compelled to give up on living?

And so I lay in bed, and breathe deeply, and think of things that are good, even when my emotions don’t recognize them as such. I try to talk myself into looking forward to tomorrow. But it doesn’t work. I just feel panic.

So instead, I soothe myself with all the good in this moment: my snoring dog, his head underneath my chin; being warm in my bed; the gentle hum of the heater.

And I try not to think about the fact that tomorrow is coming.

Tuesday

“Do you have family around here?” my coworker asks.

“In theory,” I tell her, and then elaborate just enough for her to understand.

“So, you’re all alone?” she asks.

“Well, aside from my dog,” I say. “And my church.”

She looks thoughtful for a minute. “Well, you have a new family now.”

*

“He killed his mom,” I’m told after leaving a client’s house.

“What?”

“Stabbed her to death,” my coworker tells me. “Not to scare you or anything. But you should know.”

“I’m not scared,” I say. And I mean it.

*

I took my client grocery shopping this afternoon. I trailed behind her and smiled as she got three cartons of eggnog. She grabbed grape jelly, orange juice, and eggs as well, but put them back when we got to the register and she realized she was over budget. The eggnog, however, was a non-negotiable item.

“So!” I said as we climbed back into my car and headed toward her home. “Now that you have all this yummy food, what’s on the menu for dinner!?”

She smiled, not looking at me. “Meatloaf,” she said.

When we got back to her house, I helped her carry her groceries inside. “Here,” I said to her as I set stuff down on the counter. “Why don’t you stay inside and put these away, and I’ll run back out to the car to bring the rest of the groceries in?”

She accepts that and I head back into the rain. And I wonder how often she has people do kind things for her.

*

“He had a great day!” they tell me when I pick Arlow up from daycare this evening. “He played all day long with a Husky.”

I smile and tell them how in the morning before we leave home, he knows where we’re headed, and he gets so excited that he grabs a hold of my purse with his teeth and tries to pull me towards the front door.

“It makes me feel good,” I say, “to know he’s spending his day so happy.”

When he sees me, I caution him against jumping up in his excitement. He tries to control himself, but it’s a work in process. I smile again at the woman behind the counter. “He’s crazy,” I say, “but I love him.”

And I wonder as we head out to the car, if I so passionately desire happiness for Arlow, how much more does God desire that for me? How much more does He desire that I excitedly grab His hand at the start of a new day and pull Him towards the door?

And how much more does He love me, exactly as I am?

I don’t have to try to love Arlow. I don’t have to talk myself into loving him. Nothing he does, even when it’s naughty, makes me love him less. I don’t wish he was different. I love him just as he is because he’s mine. His place in my heart is permanent.

And through that, that effortless, unconditional, present, selfless, “walk through fire” love, I know God is speaking to me of how He loves me.

*

I finally get home after driving through off-and-on rain, in stop-and-go traffic.

My car was too hot, but if I turned the heat off, the windows would fog. So I drove with the heat on and the window down, the rain pelting my face.

As I drove, I saw an ambulance and, like a reflex, I found myself wondering when the next time would be that I’d be in the back of one. I can’t decide if I hope that day never comes, or if I don’t care.

I make my way inside and set my purse on the coffee table. I can’t wait to shower and climb into bed.

When I go into the bathroom, I see bird feathers all over my bathroom. The cats have had a busy day.

With more than a little trepidation, I scan the whole house, hoping I don’t find a dead bird anywhere. I don’t.

*

The smell of shampoo fills the air and I close my eyes and let the warm water soothe me.

“I don’t know how I’m going to work forty hours a week for the rest of my life,” I pray.

And like the shower water, the words fall all around me: “Let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s take it a day at a time.”