The Art Of Staying Alive

I pour myself into the things that matter.

I try not to think too hard. I try not to FEEL too hard.

I try to lay every thought and feeling down at the feet of Christ.

I try not to pick back up anything that is a lie. Or anything that is too heavy for me.

I joke with my clients,

and I celebrate eighth grade graduations,

and I dare to let seemingly meaningless things, like new earrings, matter to me.

I feel the warmth of the sun as I lay out, my legs intertwined at the ankles.

I read a book under a tree, while pine needles periodically fall down around me like snow.

I smile at a little bird who found his way into a coffee shop where I was drinking a chai tea latte.

I am learning that it’s okay to pull people close, to grab their arm and lay my head on their shoulder, and let myself feel close and held and loved,

and I’m learning that even when I’m alone, I am still close and held and loved. I don’t need to hold so tight all the time.

I am saying no to pizza and brownies and yes to Mediterranean paninis and carrot sticks.

I am saying no to sleeping fourteen hours and yes to long walks in the fading sun.

I am laying it all down. The tightness in my throat. My sense of feeling disconnected from being alive. My fears and hopes and dreams. I am laying it down.

And I am grabbing tight of what is:

I am alive. My life matters. God doesn’t make mistakes. I am loved.

When You Come Back To Life

Something inside of me is coming back to life.

I say that hesitantly, like when a branch on a plant you thought was long dead takes on a faint hue of green. You hold your breath and you agonize over whether you’re going to squash the life right out of it if you water it too much or not enough, give it too much sunlight or too little.

I told my therapist recently, “People who have labeled me as depressed have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Whatever it is I usually feel, it’s so much bigger and deeper than depression. It’s deadness. Inside, I am dead and nothing feels worth it and nothing feels real, no matter how many eyes I look into or birds I hear chirp, none of it matters AT ALL. Constantly my brain is telling my heart: “This thing MATTERS,” but my heart can’t feel it.

That’s not depression. And I know that because I’m still depressed, but I’m far enough away from that place that I can say, “No, that wasn’t normal. How I felt back then isn’t part of the normal human experience.”

People tell you to try harder, or cope better, or just suck it up and accept that life is hard. No, that is shit advice. You can’t tell a sick person to get well. You can’t belittle them or tell them they are doing something wrong and that’s why they’re sick. I was sick. I was sick. And I’m still recovering.

At least, when I look at that sprout of green, I hope that’s what it means- I hope it means recovery. The process of blooming back to life.

I was driving the other night with Will and Gabe, and the golden glow of the setting sun was coming through the trees, and I thought, “This moment matters to me.” And my heart agreed.

Green.

I’ve laughed with coworkers, and while I still can’t fathom doing life indefinitely, I’ve distinctly been able to label the moment I’m in as “worth the fight.”

Green.

And even in my sorrow, when I choose to endure it and then hand it to God, when I choose to see things from the right perspective rather than through the lens of my pain, when I choose to go to bed and try again tomorrow rather than reach for the alcohol and pills… When I lay my head down at night and everything inside of me hurts, but I’m able to believe that maybe tomorrow will be better?

That, too, is green.

A Little More Wonder

I read recently: “God must be a pretty big fan of today, because you keep waking up to it.”

God’s perspective on today–the day as a whole, and the day that I am individually going to live–is positive.

My perspective is not. Even when I engage in mental gymnastics, trying to will my insides to cooperate, there’s something inside of me that is dead to life. Life doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

*

I was kayaking with my friend today. Good company. Nothing heavy on my heart. Sunny sky. Cool water. All was well. And yet, I looked around me, I took in the lily pads and the cottonwood floating through the air to land on the water around me, and I looked into the face of my friend, and I still could not understand how anyone chooses to live. How is anyone doing it?

And I paddled my kayak and silently willed the dead part of me to come back to life. I reminded myself that GOD HIMSELF CREATED THIS LIFE; there is goodness all around me. There are reasons to live all around me.

The bad doesn’t negate the good. The good is still here. And my inability to commit to living this gift? It isn’t because life isn’t worth it, it’s because something inside of me can no longer register the miracle of simply existing.

I can make a list of bad things and good things about life, but you know what? Neither of those lists carry much weight with me right now. My problem isn’t that life has too much bad or not enough good, my problem is that I can’t feel any desire to be here. I am disconnected from it all.

I need the Lord to teach me how to live. To take me back through a childhood and adolescence and young adulthood. To teach me about wonder and curiosity and awe, about what family and love and security should look like, to create in me a desire to use my life for something that will outlast me.

*

I was watching a medical show tonight, and I found myself wondering if it was fair for the medical team to treat a person’s body if they suspected brain damage. Is it fair to fight for a person’s body to live if their brain is dead? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer for that. But I know what I’d want for myself, or for someone I loved.

Something inside of me is dead. And still, I am daily choosing life.

I am daily facing my giants of depression and dysthymia and panic and screaming aloneness and fear and grief and the desire to sleep forever. Every day I am choosing.

Every day, I show up for the battle, even though I don’t want to anymore. Neither I nor the giants have any desire to be looking each other in the eyes, and yet there I am, back for round two or twenty or two thousand.

But how do I fight for life when something inside of me isn’t even alive anymore?

I don’t know. You just choose, I guess. You choose and just hope you’re able to keep choosing well.

And today I chose to meet my friend to go kayaking. I chose to preach goodness to my soul by engaging in some of the best that life has to offer, even though I can’t feel it right now.

I laughed with my friend and I breathed deeply. I floated on the lake, dragging my hand through the water, and listening to the rustle of nearby trees.

And I prayed, “Lord, teach me how to live.”

Here’s Where You Get To Choose

It’s easy to love people when things are good. It’s easy to love them when you feel secure and comfortable and loved in return. But what about when loving someone starts to feel scary?

What about when it hurts like hell and everything in you wants to demand they fix it?

That’s when you get to decide what love really is.

Do I love people because I want to feel comfortable and secure and loved in return? Because that isn’t love; love isn’t self-seeking. Love wants the best for others, even when it’s uncomfortable for us.

And it’s the hardest thing in the world in that moment, when your emotions are so big, but you have a choice. And when everything in you wants to scream and cry and demand and control, but you choose not to? That’s when love puts on its work boots and becomes genuine.

*

What about when you’re misunderstood, and the core of who you are is threatened by a person’s inability to understand you?

What about when everything in you wants to tell them they’re wrong?

That’s when you get to choose.

It’s a moment, just a split second, and the decision and the person are both before you, and you want to let your emotional reaction have a voice because it hurts to feel misunderstood and they need to know they’re wrong. But that isn’t your only option, it’s just the easier one. And you get to choose.

After all, is it possible that the God who is too big for us to comprehend could have created two people who have different opinions for a reason, and that maybe neither of us is right or wrong?

*

When the walls are closing in on you and nothing feels right or easy and there’s an actual physical pain in your chest and a bottle of pills in the bathroom and you’re so, so tired…

That’s when you get to choose.

Am I going to do the easy thing, or am I going to do the thing that feels impossible?

Am I going to give in to despair or am I going to stand up, even when nothing in me feels it, and say, “I’m not gonna let life steal my hope.”

You get to choose.

*

Over and over and over again we get to decide: “Where am I going to go from here? What am I going to do with my pain?”

But at the core of all of these decisions is this question: “Am I going to trust God with my heart?”

And in that, too, we get to choose.

*

I make the wrong decision so often.

Thank God He can redeem it.

I

I’m people-watching at a corner table at Starbucks right now.

There’s the group of four older people, taking pictures with their phones of  a woodpecker outside the window beside them.

There’s the employee with the afro, and the woman wiping the counters. And I wonder if they’re happy. I wonder if people love them.

There’s the young couple, he with rubber bracelets on his arm, stacked halfway up to his elbow, and her with the Seahawks t-shirt and long, black ponytail.

There’s the couple at the table to my left, too. Their earphones in, their laptops open before them, papers strewn all over the table.

There’s the four-year-old with the mop of curls atop her head, crying because she spilled her hot chocolate. There’s her parents, drying off her seat and reassuring her there’s still some left in the cup.

And I wonder, if someone was people watching me, what would they see? Would they wonder why I don’t do my hair? Would they wonder why I’m sitting in a public chair with my feet on the seat and my knees up to my chest? Would they see the tears brimming in my eyes? Would they see the child within me reflected in my face?

*

At work the other day, my coworkers were talking about a client with BPD.

“What is that?” one of them asked.

“It means she’s a drama queen,” another one of them responded.

“Oh,” said the first person. “Then I feel less worried about how she’s doing. She’s probably just making it up for attention.”

I wonder if my coworkers see me.

*

I am tired eyes and a tender heart.

I am unruly hair and chipped fingernail polish.

I am “one day at a time” and sobbing myself to sleep.

I’m “throwing my head back laughing” and “aching for someone to hold my hand and never let go”.

I’m “pull the blankets up to my chin” and “kiss Arlow’s face until he pulls away”.

I’m picky about books and doesn’t drink enough water.

I’m “I know you love me” and “Tell me again you’ll never leave me.”

I’m so grateful and so scared.

*

I still sleep with my baby blanket.

I fall asleep every night with its worn fabric clenched in my hand, and wake up every morning with it still there, woven between my fingers. If I lose it during the course of the night, it wakes me up and I search for it, not falling back asleep until it’s been recovered from under my pillow or lost within the mess of other blankets on my bed.

I have never, not since the day of my birth, been without my blanket.

And I don’t know what it says about me that I, a thirty-year-old woman, still needs an fraying piece of yellow cloth, but I do know there’s a parallel between how I feel about my blanket and how I relate to others. There’s a desire to hold on, to grab on tight, to hold them close to my chest, to never let them go.

*

I don’t think any part of me is a mistake.

I don’t think my big eyes and baby-fine hair and innocence are a mistake.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that I sleep with a baby blanket and that I would rather have a mom than a husband.

I don’t think the ache of my heart and the way I love with all of me are mistakes either.

It would be a mistake, however, to minimize who I am. To decide that because I’m different, I’m less than. It would be a mistake to overlook the fact that I have been pieced together by a divine hand.

It would also be a mistake to take the screaming need inside of me and try to fit people into that ache.

It would be a mistake to not appreciate people for exactly who they are. It would me a mistake to try to make them be something to me that they are simply incapable of being.

It would be a mistake to overlook the fact that I’m in this place now, not because my relationships are somehow lacking, but because there’s something inside of me that is lacking.

It would be a mistake to give in to despair, rather than give in to God, letting Him grow me through the discomfort.

*

I’m “sleeps with a baby blanket” and “stops to move a caterpillar off of the sidewalk”.

I’m quick to hug and forever needing to be held.

I’m long walks and green tea lattes.

I’m yellow Converse and depression.

I’m thirty and I’m three.

I’m “It will all be okay” and “Tell me it’s going to be okay.”

I’m “I don’t know how to be a person apart from other people” and “Lord, teach me.”

I’m struggling to live and refusing to give up.

The Stuff Of Hope

I feel like I am watching a forest fire rage. And I am saying, “It’s okay. It’s going to rain. It’s going to be okay.”

And everyone around me is saying I’m wrong. That the forecast doesn’t call for rain. That forest fires happen and that’s just life and that everyone knows that.

And I don’t know that they’re wrong. But I can’t accept that they’re right either.

And I’m scared. Because my life depends on the rain.

*

I text Laura tonight. I said that I have to believe depression is from the enemy. That no matter what season of life we’re in, depression is a lie. Hard times? Inevitable. But depression? I think that God wants more for us than that.

And I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know how to get there, to this place where depression kneels before the Lord.

But I know two things: That there’s freedom and life to be found in surrender, and that God would never ask me to shut my heart down.

How do those things coexist- surrender and having a fully-alive heart? I don’t know. Honestly. Maybe just by trusting that the things of our hearts matter to God? We can trust Him with whatever they contain? We can let go of our grip on our life and still honor our hearts because both things are His and both things (our lives and our hearts) are used by Him to speak to us?

I don’t know.

But I refuse to abandon my heart. Even if it kills me.

I will keep speaking of the rain, praying that my tiny bit of hope will count for something. Praying that my speaking it will make it true.

*

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” -Rom. 4:18

Crises And Smart Choices

I called the crisis line tonight.

I called Laura first. I called her and I cried and she hugged me through the phone as well as anyone possibly can.

But then I hung up and I was alone again. And hysterical. And I realized two things in the midst of this:
1) No matter how much anyone loves you, you can’t take people and shove them into the empty an aching parts of yourself.
2) What’s left empty and aching is meant to be brought to God.

I knew this, even in the midst of my hysteria, but I also knew that the place I was in emotionally was absolutely no good.

So I paced the house, panic heating me up from the inside, tears running hot down my face. I paced and tried to figure out how I was going to fix what I was feeling. Because certainly enduring it wasn’t an option. (I’m saying that last sentence with something like a wink. But also I’m dead serious. If ya feel me.)

And then I grabbed my keys, without knowing where I was heading, kissed Arlow, and left.

The me of the past would’ve done one of two things:
1) Called Laura back and been like, “No, but wait. I’m really not okay. Fix me! Love me! Do you still love me!?” or
2) Vodka.
…Because apparently my status quo is taking a bad situation and making it worse. Praise Jesus for growth, amiright?!

Anyway, I ended up at Starbucks. I had my book and my laptop and was still actively sobbing, but I figured I could go in, take a seat, and let some green tea (and the uncomfortable stares of others) help me pull it together.

But then there was nowhere to park.

Isn’t it funny how something like that can just really throw you over the edge? Because suddenly it isn’t even about the stupid parking spot. Or at least it isn’t entirely about the parking spot. And that’s how you end up bulldozing over every car in the parking lot to “teach them a lesson” or something, (“How dare you get here before me!”), and then the cops come and you’re all, “There was nowhere to park!” And they look back at you like, “Well, you handled that well. Way to go, problem-solver.” But really, that was just the final straw. The whole unfortunate series of events actually began much earlier.

Don’t worry, I didn’t actually bulldoze any cars. That’s not really my style. I’m much more the “park my car in the middle of the aisle so no one can get around me, curl into a ball on the backseat, and cry” kind of girl. Although, really, either way probably ends in cops, so tomato tomahto.

But anyway, back to my story. So, I was sobbing, my brain was on fire with unhelpful thoughts and fears, my insides were all knotted up because “how am I going to survive this night!?”, and then, in a last ditch effort to keep myself afloat amidst the tidal-wave of my emotions, I reached out to Starbucks for a hug and it (metaphorically) slapped my arms away.

Rude.

So I called crisis.

Because sometimes what you need in the moment, the people who love you can’t provide for you. The amount of crazy I was about to bring to the table could only be handled by one person: a stranger.

And you know what he said? A lot of not helpful stuff. But then he said, “You know, a lot of people struggle with being alone, especially at nighttime.”

And my next thought: “Bull. Shit. I am NOT going to be one of those people.”

So I thanked him, hung up the phone, drove my butt home (without getting my green tea, for the record), marched inside, kissed Arlow, looked up at the ceiling and said: “Okay, God. It’s just You and me. Let’s do this.”

And I lit candles, and made tea, and got some nail polish out and decided that I’m done. I’m doing being afraid of being alone. I’m done with the panic. I’m done.

Whatever inside of me is broken, whatever it is that is making panic a recurring theme, I’m not running from it anymore. I’m not running from it, and I’m not going to try to take anything else and fit it into that place inside of me that is broken. Because that isn’t the solution. All it does is keep me spinning in circles, looking to the wrong things to fix my hurt, and completely oblivious to why I’m hurting so much in the first place.

So tonight I hunkered down. I told myself I’d breathe deeply and that any thought I had or activity I did that made me feel even the slightest twinge of panic, I’d stop. I would be gentle with myself.

I told myself I’d give this night to God, letting Him speak to me in the quiet moments- through the things that made me feel fear, the things that brought me peace, the things that made me feel hope. And I would, in that way, find out what it is inside of me that is broken, and also, what is holding me together.

You know what I’ve learned tonight? If you let your brain fill up, and then trust yourself to sort through the thoughts to determine what is true and what isn’t, you’ve already lost. You have to catch the thought on the front-end.

Like a bouncer.

“How does this thought make me feel?” you have to ask as the thought shows up at the door in its party clothes, smacking its gum and twirling its hair. And if the answer is: afraid, panicked, hopeless, defeated, depressed, anxious, etc., then it’s not a thought from the Lord. Send it packing.

You know what else I’ve learned? When you approach uncomfortable emotions with a “how do I fix it!?” mentality, you’re essentially setting yourself up for a panic attack.

At least that’s true if you’re me.

Because most of the time, there’s no immediate solution. And if you’re looking for a solution, and no solution exists, you’re going to feel like a person gasping for air underwater. Enter: panic.

And so, it might feel irrational, but the best way to cope with whatever bullcrap emotion it is that’s causing you so much turmoil isn’t to fix it, but to let it be. You just have to ride it out, breathing deep, and letting the bouncer stand with its hands on its hips at the door of your mind.

And then you can endure without inviting panic in to complicate things.

Your mind is guarded,
you’re breathing deeply,
and your heart is safe because it’s in its Creator’s hands.

There’s nothing to fix.
There is only this moment in which to be present.

Inhale,
exhale.
And when possible, drink some green tea.