Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Heart With A Limp

Sometimes I write about my experiences with depression and anxiety.

But too often, like lately, I stay quiet.

I do this in part for valid reasons, but (if I’m painfully honest) primarily from fear. But lately something’s been tugging at the corners of my mind, inviting me to let bits of my story spill over the edges of the rigid regulation of my shiny social media image.

When my husband and I moved post-wedding, initially all my attention was focused on the tasks at hand: unpacking. Finding a job. Settling in. Getting stabilized financially. Finding a routine. Figuring out how to get to the grocery store without a GPS.

So it wasn’t until well into our time here that I started recognizing that I really hadn’t set up mental health habits well in this new location.

Over the past seven years, I have set certain routines in place to help with the healing process that I suspect will be ongoing for most of my life. If I keep the process moving, I am higher-functioning than I (or many of the people around me) would ever have dreamed I would be when I was a teenager. But when those habits get disarrayed, or when a trigger disrupts them, I begin to fray around the edges.

After May being the best month in a very long time, the past few weeks have seen days at a time where things unraveled again. The feelings of waking up with lead instead of lungs, of being suddenly too exhausted to move for no reason at all, of knowing with pain stronger than rationality that nothing will be OK again, of struggling to keep food down or even to breathe because someone used punctuation in a text that your hyper-analyzing, anxiety-fueled brain is sure means they suddenly hate you-- these things elbowed their way into my days again.

None of this is new, and for the sake of perspective, it’s nowhere near as bad as things I’ve faced before. But if I’m honest, that doesn’t mean it’s not intensely discouraging at moments. I keep refusing to let it win, refusing to let it stop me from being kind, trying to connect to people, exercising, cooking, working, laughing, reading, singing-- breathing. And sometimes my fear of being rejected or written off as an ungrateful complainer means I don’t mention the fight at all, a selfish lack of honesty which I know ultimately does more harm than good to everyone around me. But there are moments where I’m just impossibly tired of this.

I repeat my life back to myself like a list to remind myself that this isn’t all there is to me: I am named by Grace Himself, not by my actions. I am in love and loved, with a marriage that’s been so smooth it’s almost unnerving. I have a kind, grace-full apartment-mate who miraculously actually chooses to hang out with me. I have some of the most amazing friends in the world, and even if they’re distant most of the time, I get to do things like get on a plane to go see them. I am working my dream job with incredible bosses who I respect and trust, and coworkers who it is a joy to walk with. I have a family who I am fiercely loyal to, and who returns that loyalty to me.

And I’m thankful for all those things. So thankful that sometimes I spontaneously start crying because they are a grace I have not earned and barely dared hope for. I frequently need reminders that all these things are true. 

But one of the most frustrating things about depression and anxiety is that they often refuse to respect reality. I can wake up to face a day full of music and coffee and work that’s really more like play… and still feel like I’m breathing ash, like my life isn’t an event worth getting out of bed for.

This isn’t going to be a post with a tidy wrap-up message. Although as I write this I’ve had a string of better days, I hold them loosely, knowing I am still vulnerable. I have to give myself permission to admit to my incompleteness.

But what this experience does keep pushing me back into is this reality that I wrote about a couple months ago: there has to be more than circumstantial alignment, than relational ideals, even than wellness, to lend order to this disordered heart. I may not be able to resolve that tension entirely on earth, but navigating it is a huge part of my faith journey. Not because Jesus is a self-help method or a cure-all for the unpleasant (that is a version of “gospel” that I find incredibly hollow and untrue), but because in my personal story, I have rarely been so grateful for the presence of God as I am when Christ comes quietly into my aching and sits beside me. The Heart that weathered Gethsemane whispers simply I know.

Though I will by no means ever give up on getting well, on letting these experiences make me compassionate, on becoming more myself every day, there is a part of me that can be almost grateful for the fact that my heart walks with a perpetual limp. I will never have to look far for reminders that surface level success and circumstantial gifts are transients in my life. I carry in myself the constant reminder that I need a much more permanent kind of hope to move in to stay.

And for those of you who read this from the heart of a similar battle: if you’re breathing today, you are brave. Don’t give up.

I know one day all of our scars will disappear like the stars at dawn
and all of our pain will fade away when morning comes.
And on that day when we look backwards, we will see that everything is changed
and all of our trials will be as milestones on the way.

- Thrice