Thursday, August 29, 2013

i love you, i love you, i love you

"I am your God, I have molded you with my own hands, and I love what I have made. I love you with a love that has no limits, because I love you as I am loved. Do not run away from me. Come back to me -- not once, not twice, but always again. You are my child. How can you ever doubt that I will embrace you again, hold you against my breast, kiss you and let my hands run through your hair? I am your God -- the God of mercy and compassion, the God of pardon and love, the God of tenderness and care. Please do not say that I have given up on you, that I cannot stand you anymore, that there is no way back. It is not true. I so much want you to be with me. I so much want you to be close to me. I know all your thoughts. I hear all your words. I see all of your actions. And I love you because you are beautiful, made in my own image, an expression of my most intimate love. Do not judge yourself. Do not condemn yourself. Do not reject yourself. Let my love touch the deepest, most hidden corners of your heart and reveal to you your own beauty, a beauty that you have lost sight of, but which will become visible to you again in the light of my mercy. Come, come, let me wipe your tears, and let my mouth come close to your ear and say to you, 'I love you, I love you, I love you.'"

--Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

it was then that i carried you

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes of his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the LORD. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it:

"LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me."

The LORD replied:

"My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints...

It was then that I carried you."

Most people have heard of or read the "Footprints" poem, and I hesitate to post it because of its over-use. But I hope you keep reading.

There is a night that I return to often in my memory. A night that I will never forget, because it was the night that I was at the lowest I have ever been, and hopefully will ever be. 

It was the night when I discovered what true love is.

When I moved to Denver to be near my boyfriend, Michael*, we were so excited about being in the same place after dating long distance for a year, that we didn't think through how challenging it would be. Take the normal challenges of quitting your job, moving away from your friends and roommate that you love, leaving your family, and starting over and add onto that a mental illness and you've got a recipe for disaster. I just didn't know how sick I was. Denver showed me.

I had a job that I hated, I couldn't make ends meet financially, I was living alone, my family was 1,000 miles away and I had no kindred spirits. No friends beyond friends -- people who knew me, loved me, and were safe. The people I met and knew and befriended in Denver were amazing and I don't mean to  toss that aside. But being so sick, so depressed, living in such darkness, I just needed people who understood and loved me no matter what. But all I had was Michael. 

And he became my rock. My confidante. My best friend. My everything.

And he never abandoned me. Not when I would scream at him for no reason. Not when I would fight with him over nothing at all. Not when I would cry desperately for his attention when he had other things to do. Not when I threatened to crash my car on my way home because I couldn't stand to be alive. He never left and never gave up.

But this one particular night, it was worse than ever.

Michael and I had made plans for the evening to get together and watch a movie. I was counting on him to come over, but what I thought was a set plan was a "maybe" to him -- a simple miscommunication. But I couldn't handle it. My mind took this as this ultimate rejection, the deepest pain possible. It's not something I could ever explain. Everything seemed to come crashing down in that moment. I just felt so desperately alone and sad that I couldn't take it anymore.

I tried to get out of my work clothes and into my pajamas, but as I got undressed, the weight of the world and all my pain and sickness and darkness crumbled onto my shoulders and I fell to the floor in hysterical tears. I couldn't stand up.

I lied there crying in my underwear for I don't know how long. I tried to get up to brush my teeth, but on the way to the bathroom, I collapsed again. I saw the bottle of sleeping pills on the bathroom counter and I thought, "What would happen if I took as many as I could?" What would happen? Would I finally be able to die and stop feeling like I was locked in a prison cell? Would I finally be able to breathe? I couldn't handle the weight. I couldn't handle being so desperately sad that it was physically crippling. 

Clutching to my faith in God, I reminded myself once again that I would never, never do that. With whatever determination I had left, I crawled back into my room, forcing myself to move one inch at a time. This took every ounce of willpower I had.

When I got through the door, I collapsed in a heap on the floor. I somehow managed to call Michael and say, "I need you."

Before I knew it, Michael came to my apartment and saw his girlfriend, lying on the floor with no clothes on. So desperate, so miserable, so vulnerable, so broken.

No words were exchanged. Michael came to me right away and with all the love in his aching heart, he swooped me up off the ground into his arms and carried me like a baby into my bed. He dressed me and rubbed my back as I finally drifted off into sleep, the safest haven I had from my sickness.

He saw me in my brokenness and loved me anyway.

It was then that I carried you.

Michael has blessed me with the gift of a selfless love that is the truest reflection of Christ's love I have ever seen. He saw me in my weakest, darkest, ugliest place and loved me anyway. Not only did he love me, he carried me. He picked up my burden and took it upon himself.

But the beauty is that Michael is not Jesus, and He cannot be my everything. Part of the reason Michael suggested I move home in April was because he had become my everything. He needed to step out of the way for Christ to come forward, for Jesus to be my everything once again. 

I weep at Michael's love for me. I weep at his giving nature, his compassion, his selflessness.

And I think of what this shows me about Christ's love. Michael's love for me is absolutely insignificant next to Christ's. And when I think of that... my goodness am I overwhelmed.

Jesus' love for me is never-ending, infinite, selfless, giving, compassionate, nurturing, unconditional, understanding, empathetic... It is the love of a confidante, best friend, brother, father, husband... all in one. I am overwhelmed at the thought that anyone could love me that much.

But how can I deny it when He has given me the gift of a mirror that I know shows only a fraction of this love? 

It was then that I carried you.

Jesus was there that night, carrying us both. I cannot imagine the heartache my sickness has caused and continues to cause Michael. It is something I will never understand and I have a hard time forgiving myself for it, although I know it isn't my fault. But Jesus carries him as he carries me, through the suffering, the sorrow, the darkness. 

I am humbled and overwhelmed and at peace knowing that, even in my brokenness - no, especially in my brokenness - I am in the arms of the Man who loves me the most in this world.


*names will be changed in this blog to protect privacy

Friday, August 23, 2013

who i am: sassy, silly, sensitive, serious, and strong

So now that the dreaded first post is over, let me tell you a little bit about myself. There is much to say, but since this is a blog dedicated to speaking of my mental illness, I will jump right in to tell you the basics.

When I was 21 years old, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. This is a hormonal disorder that affects about 1 in 10 to 20 women. I will post details in the future, but what is important to know is that my hormones are not normal, and many women with PCOS struggle with depression and anxiety, irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and it is the greatest cause for infertility in our country.

This year, I was diagnosed with Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. This is also a hormonal imbalance that causes severe depression and anxiety for a time period of up to 14 days before a woman's period. It can be extreme to the point of suicidal thoughts, and is not something to be taken lightly. The symptoms are alleviated soon after menstruation begins, but begin again soon after, depending on how long a woman "PMDD"s before her period.

I have a history of depression regardless of these disorders, which has also come to fruition in anxiety disorders, including OCD tendencies.

I intend on sharing details about all of these things with you, especially because so many people are unaware of PCOS and PMDD. I hope to bring an awareness and to maybe take away some of the fear people have about the phrase "mental illness."

Although my blog is about my mental illness, this aspect of my life does not define me. It absolutely makes me who I am and I am grateful for the ways it has shaped me, but I want you to know about me.

I am sassy. I have a giant personality, I love to laugh (I have a hugely boisterous laugh), I love to talk, and I have an attitude. Not a bad one. Just an attitude. I can take being teased and I'll always give it back. I can be a little larger than life sometimes. I am silly. I grew up in a family that ranks each other from funniest to least funny. Seriously. (It's all in good fun). Humor is everything to us, and we have no shame in being goofy and ridiculous. Have I mentioned I love to laugh? I am sensitive. I feel things very, very deeply. I am empathetic and love to listen. I have a big heart and love to love people. I get my feelings hurt easily, but it's okay. I get incredibly upset if I think I've hurt someone else's feelings. I love to read books and spend time alone and write and look at butterflies. I am serious. I love heart-to-heart conversations. I love to analyze things and reflect on them deeply. I love to make deep connections with people.

I am strong. I've struggled with depression for ten years now, and I have been through the depths of despair (as Anne Shirley would say). I have come in and out of the darkness many times, and I want to share it with you and I want to let the light in. I want to share what I have learned in hopes that I can offer some of my strength to anyone who might be reading. I have learned so much over the years and I feel God calling me to write it down, as I keep journeying.

"Here I am... I desire to do Your will, O my God." 
--Psalm 40:7-8

PS -- I reserve the right to use whatever grammar and punctuation I choose in this blog. If it bothers you, I apologize. sometimes i love the way it looks and feels when nothing is capitalized. call it the e.e. cummings in me.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

breaking the silence

"There is no such thing as happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life. Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart! and never forget that until the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: wait and hope."
--Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

this is the story of my struggle with mental illness. this will be a place of hope, healing, joy, prayer, sadness, suffering, perseverance, and truth. 

i long to share my heart with the world, and feel called to do so. i hope my truth will touch someone else's heart in some way.

in high school i had a beautiful teacher who loved words. she had the soul of an artist, a poet, a writer, a believer. on our senior retreat she would give everyone a word - their word - a word that encompassed them as a person. she would tell us that this was the word we were born to say... the word we were born to be

she would say that there are so many silences waiting to be broken, with words that only you were born to say.

she gave me the word "soul-singer", and later, when i returned to the retreat as the spiritual director she gave me the phrase "song sung true."

i hope to live up to these words. i am breaking the silence and saying the words only i was born to say. i choose to live my life as a song sung true - a song sung from the very bottom of my soul. this will be a place to share that song with you, and i pray that you will find some hope and maybe even some joy along the way with me.

in loving memory of Kathleen Nicholas