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.

All The Painful Things

I am in a season of growth. Which means, ironically, that I am in a season of dying- dying to myself.

I think people hear that, the call to die to ourselves, and think that means growing up. Maturing our hearts. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and accepting that life is hard.

That’s not what it means to me.

Dying to myself is not the same as no longer believing in magic and hope and beauty. To me it means absolutely refusing to give up on those things, but trusting God with the outcomes of my life.

Dying to self means letting yourself be sad about something, without trying to force a solution.

It means lifting your heart up to God, holding firm to the “child-like” belief that life is, at its heart, good, (because HE is good), but letting Him decide what will be. Dying to self is surrender.

And surrender? I think it’s a process of grief. You have to grieve what isn’t, and grieve not having any control over what will be. Surrender is saying, through tears sometimes, “This hurts, but I trust You.”

It hurts.

But I’m reminded there have been many times in my life when I’ve caught myself in a moment and thought, “Nothing right now hurts. Everything, in this moment, is good. And I’m glad to be alive.”

Pain is a liar. It comes blabbing about “forever” and “unbearable” and “pointless”, but none of those words are words God uses when He talks about pain. Rather, He says something along the lines of pain producing endurance, endurance character, and character hope.

Pain, when handled well, causes us to choose surrender. And when we do, we are essentially speaking over our lives that we believe God is good.

And He doesn’t disappoint.

I don’t know how to get from where I am today to where I want to be, but I know that the only way to get there is by choosing to walk this road that God has me on.

I have to choose to engage in this process. Even when it hurts.

Our pain isn’t pointless.

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

The Battle Continues. And So Does The Laughter.

“Your eyes aren’t smiling today,” my coworker said. Which surprised me because that means my eyes are smiley most days.

*

I keep having to remind myself that life is a gift. Life was God’s idea- the same God I desperately want to be held by. This life is a reflection of Him. It IS Him holding us. We are here, breathing in the stuff of miracles, surrounded by the work of His hands. His fingerprints are everywhere.

The suffering of life wasn’t part of His plan, of course, but the good? The good can reveal to us the heart of our Father, if only we have eyes to see.

*

The dysthymia precedes the panic, every time. Suddenly the world goes dark- black. I try desperately, fiercely to keep my head above water, but I can’t. The current is pulling me down to a place where there is no oxygen or light.

How many nights have ended with me squeezing my eyes closed in bed, my throat tight, my heart racing, repeating: “What I’m feeling right now is a lie. I am alive. I am alive. This life is a gift. I am alive.”

There are moments when suddenly I see and feel about life the way I used to. And those moments are like desperately needed oxygen, loosening the tightness in my chest, lessening the weight on my shoulders, showing me how, even in my best moments, I am weighed down by this fight. And but suddenly these moments of clarity hit me and there’s lightness and relief and something like joy, and I think, “Ah, yes, there you are, Life! I knew it wasn’t supposed to be so hard! I knew you were worth it! I knew you were, at your core, good!”

But the moments are fleeting. Like a blink. And suddenly I’m back in this life where every single decision I make throughout the day is a response to the question: “How can I keep from having a panic attack?”

It’s the panic I can’t do anymore. It is hell. And always, in every moment, I am running as hard as I can away from that, that place that feels like hell, that place that makes me feel certain this is a fight I won’t win.

*

There are moments that make me want to weep with relief because I forget I’m fighting. I’m surrounded by the best kind of chaos, and belonging, and love. And I forget that the sun is setting and that nighttime is hard for me.

God is holding me. He is the breath in my lungs. My throat is tight, but He is my breath. And so I close my eyes and remember I am alive and this life was His idea.

*

And it won’t end. The best parts of this life will continue in heaven.

So when I can’t feel any pleasure in the good of this life, when everything feels empty and meaningless and my heart starts to beat with the wildness I’ve become accustomed to before a panic attack, I can tell myself, without a doubt, that my brain is lying to me. Because even if not all of life is good, some of it is good. And that good has His fingerprints all over it. Life was His idea. And death is an illusion. Those of us to love Him will live forever.

Life is a gift.

*

Here are some things I know:
1. Not everyone feels this way. My brain is sick. Life isn’t this hard for everyone. Which means there’s hope for me. There’s hope that my brain will get healthier. There is hope that the life I knew for 20-something years will return to me.
2. God doesn’t blame me. He knows how I’m fighting. He knows my thoughts and my heart. And there is no condemnation in His eyes. Only love.
3. I am human. I am flawed and weak and sinful, and I vacillate constantly between thoughts and emotions, lies and truths, fears and desires. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be human because God’s grace is bigger than the width and depth of my need and depravity.
4. I am never alone.

*

I don’t know if it’s going to be okay this side of heaven. When I ask myself that question, my response is always, “It HAS to be.” It has to get better or I don’t know if I’ll survive. My desire to fight? It’s huge. But the panic is bigger.

And so I surrender. I embrace not knowing. I accept that this is my fight right now. I breathe. And I say, “I don’t know. I don’t know how or when or why or what’s next. But thank You.”

And I do. I thank God for air, for breath and belonging and moments where life feels real to me and worth it. I thank Him for love and family, laughter and sun, Arlow and the moments before sleep when all feels okay.

I thank Him that He holds me.

And I thank Him that whether my head is above water or below, He is there.

Being Mindful

“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” -Sylvia Boorstein

What is mindfulness really? I think it’s another word for surrender.

Mindfulness is surrendering our control to the God who is somehow more intricately involved in our lives than we can know.

Mindfulness is choosing not to analyze things to death. It’s choosing to let what is be. It’s choosing to feel the weight of your emotions and, rather than try to change them, to let them exist as they are, knowing they won’t last forever.

You know what the opposite of surrender is? Panic. At least for me.

I can feel the terror rising. I can feel my throat closing.

And under that?
“I can’t do this.”
“This isn’t how life is supposed to feel.”
“I have to make this go away.”

It’s like being under a wool blanket. It’s hot and black and there’s limited oxygen. And I can’t kick my way out from underneath it.

I know there’s a world outside of the blanket. I know there’s light and life and air. I know that exists. But not for me, not right now.

And so I practice radical acceptance. Gratitude. Thought-monitoring.

Mindfulness.

“It’s okay. It’s okay to feel this way.”
“Emotions don’t kill people.”
“Emotions don’t determine truth.”

Am I still under the blanket? Yes. Is it hell? Yes.

But when I surrender, I am inviting God into the hell with me. I am saying, “Here’s where I can’t,” and then trusting Him to meet me in that place.

 

When It Rains

After work today, Arlow walked in, went to the pantry, grabbed a dog bone, went to the living room to eat it, and then fell asleep on the couch where he is currently periodically farting.

Replace the dog bone with a beer and my dog is a 55-year-old man.

*

I told a couple people today that I feel like a flashlight in which the batteries are dying. I still put off light, but not enough to illuminate anything.

When I told my therapist that tonight, she paused a moment and then said, “Do you write this stuff down? Because sometimes I hear a book in you.”

I hope so.

#reasonstostayalive.

*

Midday today I found myself driving in the rain, surrounded by gray. And, for the first time in my life, I was not only annoyed with the rain, but I was actually pissed off at it. Like, angry enough to want to raise my fist to the sky and yell: “I am sick and tired of your sh**. Pull it together!”

Thankfully, I’m crazy, but not so crazy that I believe the rain can hear me, so I just silently fumed rather than actually giving the rain an earful.

Still, every time I got out of my car I felt angry with the cold and wet and lack of sunshine. I was raging against it, refusing to surrender to what was, and it was making me miserable.

So I decided to try to embrace it. I took my hair out of its ponytail, stood outside my car, tilted my face to the sky, and I let the rain fall down on me. And I breathed. I felt the coolness of the rain on my skin, my hair curling as it grew increasingly wet, and slowly I felt myself starting to smile. Because how often in adulthood do we take the time to stand in the rain? And really, water falling from the sky? It’s kind of incredible when you stop long enough to wonder again at the things we have become so desensitized to.

And so there I was, smiling at the sky. Once I stopped raging against the rain and decided just to accept it, I suddenly didn’t feel so angry.

I talked with my therapist tonight about how I think my panic is often the result of me trying to rage against the depression, particularly when it settles itself on top of me like a heavy, wool blanket. I try to kick it off, try to get out from underneath it, try to see some light, and I can’t. It’s all heavy blackness. And I can’t fix it . So I panic.

But when I don’t try? When I just accept that this is where I am right now? When I remind myself I haven’t always felt this way and won’t always feel this way? When I stop raging against it, stop saying, “I CAN’T FEEL THIS WAY,” and instead focus on breathing? The panic is much less likely to be next in the series of events.

Radical acceptance. Mindfulness. Thought monitoring.

I prefer sunshine.

But the rain won’t kill me.

Things That Keep You Afloat

She looked like an animal. Wild-eyed, teeth bared.

“She’s controlling me with her mind!” she screamed to the cop. “She’s only seventeen! She’s lying! Her name is Heidi Klum and her mom’s name is Michelle Obama!”

Two days prior, I looked at her and talked to her and knew her.

This day, she was a stranger before my eyes.

911 was called. Emergency personnel came.

“You’re not going to quit, are you?” my coworker asked, obviously seeing emotion on my face and being unable to read it.

No, I’m not quitting. I am more convinced than ever that this work I’m doing is important. To look wild-eyed people in the eyes and not look away or run, but to feel tender-hearted compassion for them? That’s important.

My coworker said she saw paramedics laughing at the scene unfolding before them. Laughing. No, there’s nothing funny about this. This is sad. Not pathetic, but tragic. Sad.

I wished I could fix it. I wished my relationship with her could serve as some sort of flotation device, something to help her silence the crazy in her head. I wished she could lock her eyes on mine and know I’m real and I’m not going anywhere. And maybe her head is full of things about FBI agents and having her brain hacked, but I’m real and I care, and I wished in that moment, somehow, that could matter.

At one point, I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and be like, “Actually, just take us both. Let’s just allllll go to the hospital.”

Victory happens in the choosing.

God isn’t holding out on me.

He is not deaf to the cries of my heart.

I will choose surrender.

And He will bring the victory.