Three months ago yesterday, I moved back to Tallahassee after what felt like the biggest crash-and-burn of my life.
Today, I look back over these past few months and stand in absolute amazement and gratitude and with a deeper hope than I ever thought imaginable.
It’s not a hope that comes from an ease of circumstances or comfort of life.
No. In fact, it’s a hope that was born out of adversity, and is firmly rooted in my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And that’s what I want to share with you today.
I’ve shared on here before how over the past couple years, I’ve felt that my rosy-colored glasses have been taken off. I used to be a girl who saw things in the most optimistic light, but then things in my life happened that flipped my whole world upside down. And for a while, I kept just trying to see the rosy tint. But eventually, I realized it wasn’t there. It was a false hope. Because you see, optimism without real hope can’t last. Once the glasses are gone, you see things how they really are.
That sounds so depressing–but hang with me!! This is not a wollowy self-pity post. I’m just trying to pack in this gigantic lesson I’ve been learning into one post!
At the beginning of May, I left my Disney College Program two weeks early. I began having panic attacks and anxiety up the wazoo while I was there, and I literally could not finish the remaining 19 or so days I had left. I felt as if something in my brain had broken, and that if I stayed I would break it even more. I don’t know that that would have been the case, but I’m glad I didn’t stay.
I had my first panic attack at work in mid-March. At the time, I didn’t know it was a panic attack, all I knew was I almost passed out in the middle of the break room, my heart was beating like mad, and I literally asked the guy in the ambulance if I was going to die. I guess maybe they’re not really allowed to totally assure you you’re not gonna die, so he didn’t say anything, and to that, I thought “welp, see ya in a few, Jesus.” I joke, but it was really a scary experience. I had never had panic attacks before. It was then that I went home to recover. While there, I contemplated leaving the program then, because I knew there was a bigger issue below the surface. I had a sense that something was fractured–not literally, but the picture I kept seeing in my mind was a fractured ankle. When you fracture an ankle and you’re a runner, YOU DON’T KEEP RUNNING ON THAT ANKLE. You have to rest it and take some time off from running to let your bone heal. I felt that sense about my brain, that something needed to be rested and healed. But I’m not a quitter, I told myself.
So I pushed on.
I made it another month or so in the program before I started having panic attacks again, and this time more of them. The last week of the program, I barely slept. I knew then that I had to go. This wasn’t an issue that I could just brush off anymore.
Lesson #1 I’ve been learning) You are not quitting if you hit a mental stumbling block and need to remove yourself from the game. Don’t ignore it and think it’ll go away. It’s going to keep resurfacing in other areas of life.
This really isn’t entirely about the DCP, I just haven’t written about that on here. Bottom line: I left there feeling scared and shattered in pieces.
I moved back to Tallahassee still feeling more broken than I’d ever felt. I was thankful to be back in a place of familiarity, but I felt different.
One of the first weeks back, a couple of my friends and I decided to have a pizza and wine night. That night, we sat around the table and chatted about each others’ lives, what our goals and plans were for the summer.
That night, I decided that I wanted so desperately for this to be a summer of healing.
And God is so faithful, friends. He’s taught me so much about healing, and I just really want to encourage anyone who’s struggling with a healing journey of their own.
Last night was August 12, 2019. Last night, I was excitedly researching graduate schools and getting excited about my future in the field of nutrition. I sit here today so excited about life because Now rewind to May 12, 2019.
May 12, 2019–I packed up Trudy (my gold minivan that has no air conditioning) and moved back to Tallahassee. One of my roommates and I moved back on the same day to spend the summer in Tallahassee, so we chatted for a little about the previous semester and the summer. I just remember feeling so overwhelmed with emotion that I just started crying in the kitchen with her, feeling honestly just not excited about anything in that moment, depressed, and desperate. I was in emotional survival mode.
There would be too much for me to write every little detail of this summer, but the biggest thing that I want to emphasize is that I actually got WORSE before I got better. I know a lot of people say this, but it is true. Healing requires surgery, and surgery must inflict a wound!!
For me, that looked like going to a therapist, who helped me dig deeper into the thoughts and feelings I had about my circumstances and, in turn, helped me discover the roots of my anxiety and depression. Lesson #2 I learned about myself) I have a tendency to minimize HUGE things in my life, thinking “oh, it’s not that bad.” (Again, going back to the rosy colored glasses). I didn’t even recognize that in myself until my counselor told me, “From a therapist’s perspective, what you just told me would be considered a pretty traumatic experience.” YIKE.
Then at the end of June, I fell even deeper down the spiral of depression. There’s evidence that shows that emotional pain and physical pain lights up the same area of the brain. I just remember in that chunk of time, I felt an overwhelming amount of emotional pain, like I was in the middle of a dark tunnel and couldn’t see an end in sight.
I felt like something in me had broken, like a part of my heart had shattered and would never be the same again. I felt like this was my new normal, and that scared me.
I’ve never longed for heaven more in my life. That also sounds super depressing, but I actually believe it’s a very real feeling that people are too afraid to talk about because of the stigma surrounding mental health. But the thing is, I actually think that’s a totally VALID feeling–we live in a really messy world where pain is inevitable, of course we long for the day when we will live in a place where that is no more!! Literally Paul talks about this feeling to the Philippians; “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” But while that is a valid feeling, I was scared because I felt like in my weakened mental state, that something might snap and I would do something that was uncharacteristic of me.
Here’s where I get on my nutritional soap box for two seconds: don’t restrict your diet too much unless it is a legitimate health concern. Like, really, now (i.e. when you’re dealing with mental health struggles) is not the time to be trendy. During that time, not only was I trying to wade through massive hurt that was weighing on my heart, but I also decided to go vegetarian, in addition to already trying to eat gluten, dairy, and refined sugar free, while also cutting caffeine. No freakin wonder *slaps forehead*. I’ll be the first to admit that I did a dumb one there. Now I’m not bashing eating a vegetarian diet–I’m just saying that there is also research that have found a correlation between vegetarian diets and mental disorders. I did my research, and I decided that it’s not for me. It was then that I decided to go back to eating meat, as well as the other things, in moderation. Additionally, I started taking vitamins again, and BOY did things start to honestly improve just from there! But this is a whole different topic for another time, so I digress.
In this deep, deep despair, I sobbed to my therapist a lot. But she always told me, “if you can’t cry in your therapist’s office, then where else can ya cry?” I’m so thankful for all the tissues and reassurances that I wasn’t losing my mind. Really, I felt so much unlike myself that I actually thought I might have been having a mental breakdown.
There was a point where I actually considered stopping going to counseling because I felt like it was making things worse. I felt like I was in more pain than I was before I started going to counseling.
BUT THAT’S THE KICKER. The only way out was through. When you’ve been numb to feelings for so long, and then have to start feeling them, it HURTS. It’s like frostbite. But it’s also SO HEALTHY. If you are in this boat right now, PLEASE don’t stop going to therapy. It only means you’re on the road to healing even more!
Towards the end of June, when I was experiencing that really low point, I remember sitting on my bedroom floor crying to God. Asking for healing. I just wanted something to give me hope.
Then I cracked open my Bible, and I started flipping to Ecclesiastes. I wanted to find the verse about there being a season for everything, and while I was flipping, I saw Ecclesiastes 7:13-14,
“Consider what God has done: who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made one as well as the other.”
I had to reread that a couple times! He’s sovereign over EVERY OF THE TIME. (Really hope someone gets that reference). And as I began to think about that truth, I had this picture in my mind of me standing on the shore of an ocean. I could see the waves rolling and crashing in. And in that moment, as I watched the waves, I thought to myself, “no matter how hard I try, I can’t get the waves to move the way I want them to. It just doesn’t work like that.” Then I pictured myself surfing in the waves, and I don’t surf. Literally wouldn’t know the first thing about riding a wave. But as I was in the middle of one of the waves, I pictured a dude ride (ride? I don’t know surfing terms?) up to me on his board. It was Jesus. He said to me, “I know you don’t know how to ride this wave and you’re scared. But just follow my board. I know this wave–just stick by me. You’ll probably get some salt water in your eyes and it’ll sting, and you might fall off, but I’ll turn around to help you get back up. Just follow my board, trust me. Shaka brah.” I’m literally laughing out loud as I write that, that I pictured the God of the universe shooting me a hang-loose-hand-signal. But no kidding, I found myself shaka-ing (also probably not a word, but I don’t know how to make shaka a verb? Maybe it is a verb? Hahahahaha) whenever I was feeling a big emotion or a difficult situation, and it reminded me that I can’t control the wave, but I can follow His board.
Things began to slowly improve, and I started seeing how the skills I was learning in counseling were helping me to walk through the difficult things I was facing.
It all kind of culminated this past week, when I had a conversation about hope with my brother. He pointed out the hopeful outlook I have on certain situations, and in the moment, I accidentally attributed it to my optimistic outlook. But after the conversation, that felt like a really bleak thing to say. Because that would imply that my hope came from within myself, and seeing where I was for the past few months, that would have essentially meant I whipped it out of my ass. And the hope I have is not just a “oh yeah it kind of just came out of nowhere” or a “search deep within yourself” kind of hope.
Nope. Like I said, this hope was tested through the furnace of adversity. This is a hope that is not from this world, and the best part is, IT’S FOR ANYONE. Jesus invites anyone who would believe that He is Lord and that He loved them enough to take the punishment for their sins so they wouldn’t have to.
The next day, I happened to read Romans 15:13,
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that hope flows. It’s a hope that isn’t in people or circumstances. It’s a hope that is stronger than that.
Another verse that caught my eye was Romans 5:1-5,
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And that hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured our His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us.”
YES AND AMEN. On my way to counseling today, (yes, I still go even though I’m not struggling like I used to, because you don’t have to be struggling to go to counseling!!) I thanked God for this journey He’s taken me on, because through it all, I’ve come out with a REAL sense of this hope that does not disappoint. I’d read that verse many times before, but today I really GET it. And while it took a hell of a lot to see it, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world, truly. To know that I have this hope that has withstood the test of a fiery, fiery furnace just strengthens my trust in the Lord even more, because literally nothing can overtake Him!!
And looking over all those moments where I cried out for healing, I can now see He was. It was a process, but He never let me go in all of it. Healing takes time, and sometimes it hurts more than you thought it ever could.
My therapist told me one of her favorite testaments to God’s faithfulness is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It’s her favorite because after they’ve been thrown into the fire by the king, they come out unscathed, and not even smelling like smoke. But while they were in the fire, the Lord was in there with them.
I love that, because today, I can stand here and say I was in the fire earlier this year. But in this moment, on this afternoon of August 13, 2019, I can also say that God was with me in that fire.
And I don’t even smell like smoke.
*there’s so much more detail I could go into, but that would be a whole book I think. If there’s anything that resonated with you and you want to talk about it, or have any questions, please feel free to reach out. I couldn’t have made it through this without the help of people, specifically therapists. I know it can be scary to ask for help, but I promise that there are people who want to help you.*