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.

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.

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.