I know my God.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

It makes sense, right?

I've found myself in the same spot again -- sitting at my desk, a blank blog post in front of me, with things I probably should be doing (ie: job applications, cover letter drafting, thinking about and making decisions, etc). Instead, I find myself pulled to this blank space, I find myself sitting down and writing. I can't fight the urge, and maybe I shouldn't.

It has been one hell of a year so far.
I wish I meant that in a good way.

Some of you know what's been going on in my life seven months, and some of you may be completely surprised at what I'm about to write. Look, I don't apologize for basically dropping off the face of the planet for a while -- I needed to take time to lay low and be around the basic comforts of life. My parents, my childhood bedroom, my hometown, I needed simplicity and silence as I picked up the torn fabric of my life and future plans, and began stitching them back together. Many people told me isolating myself was the wrong thing -- I should be surrounding myself with people and a community and get back out there. I'm sorry, but that wasn't (and maybe still isn't) true. I needed to be alone.

I want to be as honest and vulnerable as I can. I always have, and always want to strive for that in my blog. It's the thing people come back to over and over again, finding common ground in what I write, when I write honestly and authentically. For the first time, I have really struggled to find words to encompass what the last seven months have been like for me. I have wrestled with how to phrase, and more importantly, how to remember this trip to hell and back. I have written and rewritten, deleted and started over so many pieces of writing trying to get it right. And so once again, I find myself sitting down at my desk with a blank blog post in front of me, beginning to write.

When I last wrote, I was in the first few months of a new job, in a new city, at the start of what I was hoping would be a new career. I believed I had made the right decisions and choices, I believed the upcoming months would provide a foundation to my future -- my location, my job, my relationships, everything.

But alas, things didn't go quite to plan.

Shortly after last October, I got sick. I wouldn't realize how sick I was until January, when I ended up taking some time off work for continued treatment and recovery. November and December are a blur of trying to keep working and shove off the signs and symptoms of my illness while convincing myself that I needed to be here, to be with these people, and make everything work. Every morning I would wake up and force myself out of bed, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I would go to work and meet with students, I would mask my illness and the pain until I was home again, where my walls would shatter and I would crawl back into bed, alone. I struggled to eat regularly and lost weight. My clothes stopped fitting me and it stressed me out. I developed insomnia, waking up in the middle of the night, gripped by anxiety. This routine would continue for days, weeks, months.

It's enough to make a person depressed.
And that's exactly what I was.

In January, I was diagnosed with severe major depressive disorder, a diagnosis that was probably two months overdue. My therapist had mentioned to me last fall that I might have depression, but I wasn't convinced. I realize now a fear of mental illness and the connotation of something like "depression" had bore a hole deep into my heart, and I wasn't quite ready to jump into it. I thought I was just struggling with this transition, that my long distance relationship with Paul was taking a toll, that maybe finding friends or a community would solve everything. It took me crying in a front of a doctor to finally accept that I was sick. That my depression had a chemical element, and I would most likely need medication for a while to help stabilize my brain chemicals and mood. I left my doctor's office with a prescription for a high-dosage antidepressant drug, a strong recommendation to take a leave of absence from work, and a soul that was simply and completely crushed. I felt so incapable of doing anything, from the smallest task, to my normal routine. I would cry again that evening, as I took my first dose of psychiatric medication. Afterwards, Paul would hold me in his arms on the couch as I cried more tears. It felt like everything that fell into place last year, was falling apart at the seams.

You would think a diagnosis would give me relief, as in "I found it! I know what's wrong! And here are things to help me get better!" Unfortunately, I ended up feeling more like "Why is this happening to me? Why can't I make it go away? Why is it screwing up everything in my life?" Throw in all the wonderful things that happen when you start taking psychiatric medication, like side effects, mood swings, anxiety, a 4-6 week period until you even start seeing effects, and trying to be optimistic became difficult. I mean, optimism in general is pretty hard when you're depressed too. (PSA: telling depressed people to "think positive" isn't helpful. Especially if you have a chemical depression, you physically cannot think positively.)

And as much as I have advocated for mental health, that taking care of yourself, physically and mentally, is so important -- when I accepted that I had depression, it felt like a weight had dropped in my soul. I felt ashamed of myself, guilty that I had so many good things in my life and I just couldn't feel thankful or happy about them. It took months to realize that I needed to take medication, and accept the fact that I couldn't get better on my own. I felt like I was falling behind in life, watching on the sidelines as my friends and colleagues continued forming their lives and careers. My Facebook and Instagram feed became a cycle of comparisons, and I quickly took those out of my life, especially when I realized I wasn't feeling joy for my friends sharing news of engagement rings or diplomas. Instead, I felt guilty that my only accomplishment today was getting out of bed and brushing my teeth, while they were off in the world doing bigger and better things.

I spent January through April on medical leave from work. I did what I supposed to do. I saw a new therapist, I took my meds, I let myself walk away from work. I didn't tell many people what was going on -- I was still struggling with that whole "ashamed-of-my-mental-illness" thing. It isn't easy to tell someone you are depressed, and I was worried that it would affect what people thought of me. "Disability," and "medical leave" seemed to make more sense if you had a broken bone, or in a hospital. The first month of medical leave consisted of me feeling so damn guilty that I wasn't at work, that I left so much unattended to, and my students and coworkers would have to pick up my load. I couldn't bear to let others into that shame. Instead, I quieted my life, I deactivated my social media pages, I stopped calling/texting friends. I let myself be comforted by my parents, who have been the biggest source of support through this whole journey. I laid low, quietly functioning under the radar.

This space was healing, in many different ways. When my meds kicked in, it was like God himself opened the skies and the world became colorful again. The first time I felt optimism again was a Saturday morning about a month and after after I came home. I was stuffing my face with blueberry pancakes at Denny's with my parents, when I sat up and just said "You know, I feel kind of good today." Not having the pressure of showing up to work everyday gave me the space to work on myself and heal. Simple routines became comforts. Coffee and reading the newspaper with Dad every morning. Sitting on the patio with my mom's dog. Watching Jeopardy with my parents each evening. I dug deep into scripture with my new therapist. I began to spend my nights praying myself to sleep instead of crying. I began to talk to my friends again, even though they were down south, or up north, anywhere but here. When I told them what happened, they offered support and love. I let that love wash over me. It was an incredible feeling.

At the end of April, I decided to resign from my job in Monterey. I received nothing but support from my coworkers and students, and for that you have my deepest, and sincerest gratitude. Know your quiet support and positive vibes have been greatly appreciated, to the farthest regions of my soul. After everything that happened, I just couldn't return to that role. There were too many triggers in that space. Even my apartment, where I had spent so many nights crying myself to sleep, became a space that brought back memories and feelings I couldn't handle. It an emotional experience moving back home. Taking my belongings and life out of Monterey, almost a year to the day when I had decided to move there, felt like I was looking at the future I set for myself and slashing it apart with a machete. Driving out of town with a car full of belongings, my Mom gently told me that I could come back someday. I hold onto those words with hope.

My future doesn't look anything like I thought it would a year ago. A year ago, I had just graduated, Paul and I were preparing to fly to Hawaii for vacation, and then move to our new life up north. Now, I'm home in Dinuba, newly single, unemployed and living with my parents. The fabric of my future has so many tears, and rips, and pieces torn away. Any reasonable person would not want it. Any reasonable person would say it can't be repaired. I used to be that reasonable person, with notebooks full of plans and steps and to-do lists. I used to believe the road to my future was a singular path, and falling off that path was not an option. But if this whole experience has taught me anything -- it's that no matter how broken or torn up or completely destroyed something is on the surface, it can be redeemed.

The last two weeks since moving home have not been easy.

I have had to look at the fabric of my future, messy and stained. Torn, ripped, and shredded in most places. I could fold it up and forget about it. I could take the anger and bitterness that have dominated my soul for so long, and let them fuel a fire to burn it. I could take it up with me to the mountains, wave it in the face of my God, as proof that He has forgotten me. I could do any of those things, but surprisingly, it's not what I want to do.

I want to choose healing, and redemption, and hope. Honestly, those felt like the last things I should want right now. Shouldn't I let myself be angry and bitter? To point fingers and blame? To say the hurtful things that have reverberated in my mind, allow them to take shape and target the flesh and blood that have broken me? But where will that take me? What will that do? It will only create more stains. It will only burn more holes. It will only tear, and rip, and shred.

It will not heal, it will not redeem, and it will not create hope.

I like to imagine myself sitting down with this battered and beaten fabric, a sorry-looking blanket over my lap. I think of myself picking up a needle and sewing the pieces back together with threads of forgiveness. To a God I swore abandoned me in the midst of my fight, to myself for the words I told myself (and others) in my darkest moments, to the one who broke my heart just a few weeks ago. I imagine myself washing away the stains in an ocean of grace -- a body of water so large, it cannot be tarnished by whatever I wash away. Grace for myself, grace for others, grace from a God who still provides new mercies every morning. And suddenly, the fabric of my future doesn't look so miserable anymore. I want to hang it on my wall, nailed into a firm foundation with gratitude. It does not look the same as before, there are stitches and scars, the occasional hole and tattered edge. But then again, I am not the same as I was before either.

Hope is a funny thing. It has reappeared in my life when I least expected it, suddenly and without warning. It is what's given me the courage to finally put into writing what this journey has been like, and share it with you. It is what has given me back the confidence to say good things are ahead. It is what makes me believe in redemption of things once thought to be lost. It is what encouraged me to send that message, gently asking to reconnect.

I don't know how to tie everything I've written together, to package this post in a neat way. Maybe that's fitting -- there is no neat and set out path for me to take from here on out. I don't know what the next piece of fabric looks like, or when it will appear in my life. But I have found myself repeating this phrase to myself over, and over, and over again. "I know my God." It's a line from Chance the Rapper's song, "Finish Line/Drown," which surprisingly has been a huge source of comfort and wisdom for me in this season. In a verse sung by the rapper Noname, she details the way God continues to bless us despite our fears and failures, and that even when we feel as though we are drowning in emptiness, still He remains.

My life, if defined by anything, has been a constant cycle of trusting God and seeing His faithfulness at work. It has taken months for me to accept that this is another cycle, and I must continue to fight the good fight. His faithfulness has been evident tenfold, I know that well. There is no way, absolutely no way, I would be where I am right now without Him.

And so I continue to commit this season, and continue to commit this life to you, Lord.
May you continue to lead me towards the finish line.

Respectfully submitted,
Leah

I know my God. 

I know my God seen His breaks and His edges, 
Are jagged for giving that pain to His city in gold. 

Like everything is everything, 

Like all them days He prayed with me, 
Like emptiness was tamed in me. 

And all that was left was His love. 
And all that was left was His love. 
And all that was left was His love.

2 comments

  1. This was sobering, beautiful, and encouraging to read Leah. Love you and thank you for sharing!
    Also, I just watched that Chance the Rapper video four times in a row.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, thank you, Tori.

      Chance has been a strange, but perfectly fitting, source of encouragement in all this. His mixtape, Coloring Book, is so insanely good. You can find the rest of the album here: https://soundcloud.com/chancetherapper/sets/coloring-book

      Hope you are well. Thank you for your kind words!

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