72 Hours and Deep Breathing

It has been a brutal last 72 hours.

There comes a moment when everything in me tightens and I can feel my brain spiraling into this panicked state. I start wondering why and what and who and how and when and what if. I start answering those questions for myself based on limited evidence. I make decisions about what is actually happening. I effectively make myself feel completely isolated, unlovable, despicable.

I’m learning to put the brakes on in those moments. I am learning to breathe through it. I am learning not to fight against it or demand it be different. I am learning to breathe.

I am not strong enough to dig deep, trying to get to the foundation of why my pain is so intense. I am not skilled enough to problem-solve my way to a less painful state. I am not capable of changing hearts or minds. I am not able to change the past.

So I breathe.

“You have to love yourself through it. You have to do the brave thing of accepting yourself, good and bad, and continue putting one foot in front of the other,” a friend of mine said recently.

I was so entangled in shame and self-hatred in that moment that I could barely breathe. But I knew she was right. Life is full of crossroads. Choose life or death. Choose. And self-hatred feels a lot like death. All we can do is breathe and love what is, ourselves included.

I love how happy Arlow is when I walk him off-leash.

I love friends who stand by you even when it’s hard.

I love the flicker of candles and the smell of my aromatherapy diffuser.

I love sunny days and flip-flops and starting the morning off with an energy drink.

I love touch. I love when arms or legs are intertwined, when someone reaches over and rubs my back, when I’m able to squeeze someone tight around the shoulders, when someone kisses the top of my head.

I love “dancing” in the car when a good song comes on.

I love feeding the birds in the neighborhood.

I love freshly washed bedding.

I love days spent outside and laughing with friends and impromptu road trips.

And while I can’t add “I love me” to the list, at least not after these last few days, I am working on it. And I do love pieces of me. Bits of who I am that I can hold tight to and say, “That thing about me isn’t a mistake. It isn’t bad or wrong or hard to love.”

I love that I’m a born writer.

I love that I can make people laugh.

I love that I am gentle and nurturing.

There are other things I would’ve added to that list a few days ago. I would’ve said I love that I care for people and that I’m a fighter and that I invest in my relationships. But now I don’t know that any of that is true.

It’s been three days of a battle unlike any I’ve ever known. It’s not a battle against panic or wanting to kill myself, but a battle in which I am trying to stay standing while the wind and rain whip and beat against me. And I feel bruised and bloody, raw and wounded.

It’s hard to see the good in the last few days. It’s hard to see how I can pull myself back up and get back to a place of being able to look myself in the face. But I can choose not to cling tight to the words spoken and fears they brought up.

I can choose to breathe.

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Reality

Sometimes it’s hard for me to know what’s real.

I don’t mean to say that I am out of touch with reality, (although that too, sometimes ;-)). I have no problem being able to say, “This happened today,” and know that’s true, but the trouble comes in when I, without realizing it, start assigning meaning to the events of the day.

I look at the facts and start answering for myself “why did that happen?” and “what does that mean?” Like an architect examines a structure for stability, I pace back and forth over the events of my life, examining them second by second, inch by inch, asking the questions: “Is this thing solid? Am I secure? Am I safe?”

I don’t feel very safe today.

And that’s why I say I don’t know what’s real. Because nothing bad happened, it’s my own analysis of events, my own answers to the “why’s” and “what’s” that has me feeling like the ground I am standing on is shaky.

And is it? Am I safe? Is it shaky? I DON’T KNOW. I don’t know what’s real and I’m scared because I need to know I’m safe.

Which brings me to another one of those fork-in-the-road moments though, doesn’t it? I can either choose to act out of my fear, or I can choose something better for myself.

I can choose to view my day through the lens of fear and trauma, or I can choose to view it through the lens of: “Where was God?” That doesn’t make it any easier for me to know whether or not I’m safe, but it does help me get back to the basics of what ACTUALLY happened today.

Remove the emotion, get down to the facts: Where was God?

He was in my slow-start morning.
The willingness of Laura to bring by my medication.
Having people to call when I need to be emotional and messy.
The warm day.
Watching Arlow play at the dog park.
Finding a ball at the dog park, after realizing I forgot to bring one of ours.
The woman I met, who I talked with about her divorce and daughters and dogs.
Not hitting traffic on the drive back home.
A good sermon.
Flickers of hope.
The invitation to have dinner and s’mores at a friends’ house tonight.

*

I heard a sermon today about the men who lowered their friend through the roof of a house to get him to Jesus. They would’ve done anything to get their friend to Jesus. They weren’t concerned about being impolite or interrupting or making a hole in someone’s roof. They just wanted Jesus.

And I heard that, and I thought about my theory about love. How loving someone means doing the least selfish thing.

But what those men did? That was pretty selfish. And it might not have even been motivated by love, but by need. And yet, Jesus still responded to it.

People can’t handle desperation. People can’t handle it when you come to them with a “cut a hole into someone’s roof” category of need. But God can.

With Him, I’m safe.

But He’s not here.

He’s in my day, but He’s not here.

And I wonder if it’s more important for me to love Him well in the midst of this life that is too hard for me, or if it’s okay to come to Him desperate and ruled more by need than by love.

Endings and Amen

“Lord, the one you love is sick.” John 11:3

I’m sick.

I can feel it in the way my eyes see the world. The way my heart responds to good things. The way my brain twists everything up so much that nothing feels real anymore.

I can feel it in the panic that hits me out of nowhere, like a freight train, completely leveling me. But, unlike being hit by an actual train, I don’t get an excuse from living life. I don’t get to wave a white flag in surrender. I still have to smile and function and act like I can breathe.

How many times this week have I thought, “I’m going to drive myself to the ER. I need help.”

How many times have I had to force myself to walk away from the vodka at the grocery store?

How many times have I had to cry to heaven: “PLEASE help me choose You! Please, please, please help me remember what I really want!”

Oh, I could write a long, long list of reasons to live. I could write a long list of things I’m grateful for, ways I’m blessed. I’m loved. I’m loved and there’s nothing that matters more on the whole planet. And I love. Oh, how fiercely I love.

But the problem isn’t in the logistics of living. Yes, each day has trouble of its own, but the good outweighs the bad.

“How’s your day been?” I get asked. And always, or almost always, my answer is: “My day itself was good. It’s what I bring to the table that’s hard.”

It’s the panic. The depression. The fact that dying is as unthinkable as continuing to live like this.

My brain is sick.

I called my doctor three times today. I cried. “I’ve done all my coping skills,” I sobbed. “I’ve spent time with loved ones and read and listened to music and worked out. And everything I do makes the panic worse because nothing I do helps me feel connected to life. I can’t break through this inability to feel any good.”

I don’t know what’s worse- thinking someone could save me, or knowing no one can. I felt less panic when I believed there was help outside of me. That illusion has been shattered. No one can fix me. They can only love me. And that should be enough. Love should be enough. I will always preach that love is enough because I believe that right to the core of me. So why isn’t it enough for me right now?

“What if you choose to believe you were safe?” I felt that question linger in my soul this afternoon. What if I stopped fearing lack and scarcity and abandonment and loss and failure? What if I truly saw myself as held, and trusted that God won’t punish me for doing the best I can?

I’m sick.

“Lord, the one you love is sick.”

But if you know scripture, you know the story didn’t end there.

The Saving Power Of Subtle Love

Sometimes love wins in subtle ways.

You’ve got the pills and you’ve got the vodka,

but there’s an eleven-year-old boy who says all he wants on the day of his birthday is for you to come over.

And there’s a dog who thinks of you as mom. And he’s crazy and wild and it takes a special soul to love him, but he’s yours and you’re his, and at the end of the day you are each other’s home.

And there’s a friend who believes in you. Who sees good in you, even when you’re weak and fragile. A friend who speaks hope over your future and life to your heart.

And there’s another friend who thanks you for loving her children.

And giving up on life no longer feels like comfort. Because life and love are intertwined, and how can you give up on love?

And you call your therapist and you’re angry because it’s not fair. It’s not fair that you’re filled with so much love, and so little desire for life. And you wish no one loved you so that you could give up.

But people do love you. And you do love them.

And that’s how love wins.

Love doesn’t always rush in as power and boldness and the booming voice of God.

Sometimes Love is an eleven-year-old boy who just wants to celebrate his birthday with you.

And so you pour the vodka down the drain, not for the first time, but hopefully for the last. And you flush the pills. And you call your therapist and you sob into the phone, asking him to please, please, please tell you you’re going to be okay, that this battle will be worth it.

But in the meantime, even while Life is elusive, Love is standing tall and strong. Subtle, but impossible to ignore.

And part of you wishes you still had the pills.

But a bigger part of you would rather have the love.

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.