Tuesday, August 12, 2014

but for the grace of God.

This isn't a story I tell often.

I am more than up-front about the fact that I struggled with an eating disorder for seven years - seven years of my life plagued with the thoughts that I was never going to be good enough and that I was too much. Conflicting, manic thoughts consumed my daily life, telling me I should stop eating entirely or that I should eat everything in sight. The more I walked through recovery for being in a relationship with someone who was an addict, the more I faced my own inadequacies of my youth; walking with me was a wonderful woman to whom I am eternally grateful for allowing me to recognize that I dealt with control issues, and at the heart of that, I could not trust.

I sought help for one problem and ended up working through an entire host of other issues.

But this story - this story is deeply personal. It still seeks to remain anonymous. It still whispers in my head that I was alone in fighting it and I am alone now. The difference now is that I know how to fight it. And I fought it. Miraculously without drugs or pills, but I can't say that there have been multiple times it's been suggested. I refused because of my own stubbornness, my own oxymoronic behavior to refuse to put anything unnatural in my body and yet indulge on processed foods that make me feel worse about myself rather than the nourishing sustenance that is growing in my garden that I know will fill me up and keep me moving.

This story is one that could have had a completely different outcome had it not been for a few key people in my life.

But for the grace of God go I. 

And I have been writing this post for a grand total of two months now. Somehow, with everything that's been written about depression and suicide in light of Robin Williams' death, I have the courage to say two small words, "Me, too."

Part of the reason it's taken two months to write this story is because I know there are those out there that refuse to believe that depression is clinical as well as spiritual. What they do not realize is that by saying that depression is simply spiritual, they have boxed in a disease that cannot be fully comprehended by those who have not felt its slimy, blackened hands close around their hearts and minds. There are so many different forms of depression. Everyone reacts differently to it; everyone has a different form.
For some, it's debilitating. Getting out of bed is not an option. The decision to have apple juice or orange juice for breakfast is impossible. The ability to think rationally is gone. Every day looks the same - hopeless.
For some, simply functioning is enough. Go to work. Eat lunch. Go home. Go to bed. Rinse. repeat. There is no room for happiness or sadness or guilt or joy. It is simply a state of numb functioning. It's not hopeless - it's just nothing.
For some, masks can be put on easily. Smiles. Laughter. Jokes. All those things around people whom you know expect you to be a certain person. And you can be that person for hours at a time, but when you go home, you don't know how to function. So you sleep. You forget to eat. You eat everything.
And there are countless other forms.

For myself, depression looked like anxiety. I was anxious about everything. And the worst comments were when well-meaning people would tell me, "you know in the Bible it says..." Yes. I know. Be anxious about nothing. Worry about nothing. God has everything under control.

Then why is He not doing anything about this? Why won't He take the weight off my chest? Why won't He fix this?


My depression, in its form of anxiety, made me do crazy things. I wouldn't eat. I wouldn't sleep. I'd take 21 credits of 300-400 level classes in one semester. I was able to smile, joke, work a job, and make it to classes. And that was when I was doing well.

But for the grace of God.

Rewind farther:

I dropped out of college after making it through my first semester with a 3.7 GPA. When I left, it was halfway through second semester, a week after I had made it back to the States from an international choir tour. My friends were mad at me because I was only focusing on myself; I was feeling incredibly guilty for doing so, yet not able to care about anything other than the fact that I wanted to die. My GPA had dropped to a 2.6. I was failing 5 out of my 7 classes, simply because I couldn't comprehend anything other than philosophy, apparently.

I went to a school counselor, sat in the chair, and said these words:

"I've been dealing with an eating disorder for seven years. Right now, I'm so depressed I can't get out of bed to go to class. I haven't eaten in a week. I don't want to live."

Their response was to suggest I be placed in my own dorm room to be able to focus and pray more.

I wrote a message to my family that day, explaining what had been going on since I was 8 years old. My dad and my mom decided it would be best if I wasn't in school anymore. I moved faster that day than I had in months, withdrawing from all of my classes, saying goodbye to all my friends. My roommate gathered as many trash bags as she could and shoved everything I had at college in them so that I could move out right away. My brother and dad showed up within 5 hours, held me close, told me they loved me, and brought me home.

I usually relate that moment to my eating disorder because that was the day I decided I couldn't fight the eating disorder anymore. March 31, 2008 is my official date of "no more eating disorders." It's my re-birth day.

But for the grace of God.

But that moment holds so much more. After being numb for 11 years, I saw it. Hope. I heard the voices of those who loved me. And the words they didn't say? I heard those too. I heard, for the first time, the void where most people said, "I understand" or "Have you prayed about it?"

And that void was filled with compassion and hope and love.

Rewind even farther.

I was in 7th grade when I decided I couldn't stand the weight that I was on my family. They had never told me such, but I firmly believed that I was too much for them to handle. My problems were too big, my love was too small. I couldn't stand pretending to be happy around them anymore. I just wanted someone to tell me that it was ok. That I was ok simply being not ok. But I felt guilty because my family didn't have a lot of money and even I knew that if I told them how I was feeling, they would send me to a counselor and that would cost money and I would be an even bigger problem. But I wanted peace. I wanted to stop feeling tormented, depressed, teased, and unable to explain how I was actually feeling because, at the time, I was feeling all of those things but couldn't even pretend to be able to put words to them. So I shut up and decided that death was the answer.

It wasn't A choice. It was THE choice. The only choice that my muddled, depressed brain could see was death. I won't tell you how I was planning on dying, simply because I know those things are triggers. But I had it planned out.

But for the grace of God.

There was one person who just happened to step in that day - who noticed my trend of being by myself, no longer laughing, smiling, but simply looking numb. She sent me to the school counselor. The fact that I refused to talk to the counselor is another story. And she wrote me a note that told me that my life was beautiful. She saw something in me that I couldn't see. And that was enough to make me realize that I could change my mind. That life was an option. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit was working in her that day. And that was enough for me to know that even if I couldn't care about myself, someone cared about me. She was the first person in my life to help me feel something other than guilt. She didn't judge. She just loved. She didn't tell me to pray harder or have more faith. She simply said that she loved me.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I was feeling the dark cloud consuming me once again. For the first time, I decided to reach out to someone who was professionally equipped to deal with my depression and to a group who understood the backstory. I consistently say that had I not reached out, I would not be here today.

But for the grace of God.

Today, I know love, light, laughter. I know joy, beauty, and satisfaction. I know a life without anxiety attacks, perfectionism, and the compulsive necessity to control life. I have the tools I need to be able to deal with the dark clouds, because, no matter how hard I try, they will not go away. And I've come to peace with the fact that they probably won't go away. They simply don't consume my entire sky anymore. I have people in my life that will listen to me. I have the courage to stand up and say something when things get hard.

But for the grace of God.

Not every story is like mine. And I am unable to say what will happen if I am dealing with debilitating depression at the age of 40, or 50, or 60. I don't know how my story will end. I just know that right now is all I have. And there is joy in the rain today. There is joy in the sunshine today. There is hope that this, too, shall pass. There is the peace that there are those who have struggled with life as much as I have and are willing to both stand with me in the sunshine and sit with me in mud puddles in torrential downpours.

The one thing depression does is make you believe that you are utterly and completely alone. As beings created for relationship, created with the longings to be known deeply, being alone is the worst feeling. The one thing we simply need to say is, "Me too."

I have not walked your path. I claim not to walk anyone's but my own. I simply implore you, if you are dealing with the slimy grasp of depression, that you find the courage to say something. And I understand if you can't. And I can't promise that things will get better if you do. Things will get different at first. But I will sit with you in the mud until the skies clear and love you no matter what. And I know that there are others in your life who will feel the same way.

To those who have dealt with a family member or a friend who has ended their lives tragically because of depression and suicide, my heart breaks for you. It was not your fault. There, most likely, was no way you could have known. I mourn with you.

To those who are dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, you are loved, you are not a burden, your life is not worthless. And I know those words seem empty right now, but they are true. I hold you tightly in my heart.

To those who have never dealt with depression, I ask you to be gracious in your words. Depression is not simply something that one can "get over." Yes, God works miracles and prayers do get answered, but more often than not, when one is dealing with depression, God seems far away.  Simply love. Please make sure that your words do not place blame or guilt on a person who is already struggling or on a family who has lost a loved one.

And remember, you too live in that same grace of God.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline