this is what I’ve learned.

the great big north american adventure is over.

It’s been a wonderful trip. I went there thinking this was going to be mainly about the counseling program and as a consolation prize I’d get to see my friends…well that’s not exactly how things turned out.

The gift and the blessing was getting to see my friends. Meeting new people. Being blown away and overwhelmed by how generous and kind people are. I literally spent $350 CAD during my entire month-long trip (excluding the airfare of course). Everything else was provided for – food, beds, couches, hotels.  I stayed with people I didn’t know. I was toured around by friends of friends. It was amazing. It was something I badly needed – to be reminded of the goodness in people.

A bigger blessing was having the freedom to strip away everything people have told me about myself in the past couple of years and just feel free to be myself. No judgments. No unwelcome opinions. No one speaking into my life telling me what is and isn’t wrong with me. I learned so much about who I am as a person and I learned to stop trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I will always be one of those people that straddles cultures, that is forever in the camp of the outsiders and people who are labeled “not easy to understand”. That’s OK.

Some lessons I learned on this trip:

  1. People that are truly helpful will just help you. I met so many people that were willing to house me, feed me, tour me around. And yes, some were old and dear friends, but some were strangers – friends of friends that had heard that a girl from another country needed a place to stay and someone to host her. It was amazing to hear people say “What do you need? Let’s make it happen.” instead of just “I’ll pray for you.”
  2. Sometimes, the problem isn’t me. During the course of this trip I felt free to just be myself. I would say something about how shitty I felt or how angry or hurt I was…and instead of hearing “well, maybe it’s you” I heard “that’s such a horrible thing to go through”. Or “that doesn’t seem fair”.  Maybe it’s a cultural thing but back home it always feels like people are uncomfortable with “negative” emotions. If you are feeling angry or hurt or let down then you should find a way to deal with it quickly and move on. Never blame the other person. Never hold anyone accountable but yourself. It was so refreshing to be in an environment that seemed to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly. All in all it was great to have my feelings validated.
  3. Standards of beauty are different across the world. Where I live, people freely toss around opinions like “you got fat” or “you look tired” or “your eye bags are so dark!” (because you decided to forego makeup that day). While I was in North America not once did someone tell me to go put on more makeup. I lived in sneakers and leggings for a month and never felt more beautiful and accepted – even when I noticed that I had gained 8 lbs.

The biggest thing that I learned on this trip is to be myself. And to have the courage to fight for that authentic self – that beautifully broken, messy self. So that’s who I’m going to be from now on.

The Middle - Jimmy Eat World

The Middle – Jimmy Eat World

It has taken me 2 and a half months to actually write this down. This trip was so meaningful that it literally took all that time to process and organize my thoughts.

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of milestones and men.

2014 was a year of EPIC realizations. As I recall everything that happened over that year it feels like a veil has been lifted. In hindsight I see the fingerprints of God over all the good and bad experiences I went through. I see how God has been hemming me in to a place of surrender, to a place of brokenness, and a place of submission. So today I wanted to take some time to write down exactly how my life has changed and list the milestones I had in 2014.

The year started with me being fed a different view of Christianity. I read a book by Mike Erre titled “The Jesus of Suburbia”. It rocked me to my core. I realized that I had missed the whole point of Christ – of his movement. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about being a better person, or the 5 steps to being happy as a single, or how to be a better employee. I was ministering to the healthy and completely ignoring the sick. I was treating my fellow image-bearers as “less than”. It was mortifying to be faced with the ugliness in my heart. And it was also humbling and freeing to accept it and allow God to change me.

I started to explore this “radical” view of Christianity more. I was started reading books about Christians who had given up everything for the sake of the gospel. For the sake of being able to serve God and His kingdom by loving the “least of these”. I grew dissatisfied with the church I was attending. I looked around and saw the focus on small groups and ministering to other Christians override the mandate to reach a poor and broken world. I grew angry when I heard fellow Christians talk about isolating and separating themselves from less than desirable people – y’know, those people who curse, smoke, drink, have sex, lie, cheat, and steal. I grew frustrated when I heard my guy friends talk about women’s bodies and whether or not they “looked good” standing next to each other. I hurt for women when I heard men say that because they were “damaged” in some way, they would not be considered as prospective life partners. I grew confused when I realized that no one wanted to rock the boat. People didn’t want to confront or convict. Rebuke was nonexistent. It was all mildness and meekness and no change. I looked around me and thought…is this Christ? Is this Christianity?

I grew angry with myself. Because I am that person. Who will choose to ignore the less than desirable human in favor of the one that readily receives my love. I am that person who will judge another based on appearance or past circumstances. I am that person who will not speak up in favor of keeping the peace. I am that person who will try to sugarcoat a friend’s sin so I don’t run the risk of losing them. Plank, meet splinter.

I moved to a new church. I heard a lot of things that made me uncomfortable. I learned about being passionate but being compassionate. I learned that I was not too much because I felt strongly about certain things. I learned I could be mad at God. I learned I could have different convictions and not worry about being condemned or secretly judged. I am learning to do all those things for others.

I started to become dissatisfied with my job. Prestige, power, travel opportunities, a huge paycheck…I had it all. And it left me hollow and empty. It did not satisfy. It did not ease the ache of emptiness in my heart. I started to take personality tests. I learned that I was an ESFJ – a caregiver. As an ESFJ I am a people person. I derive great joy and satisfaction from being able to help and serve others. I am also extremely organized and love to create order. This was a shock to me – I knew that my job did not fit my design as a person.  I started contemplating other options. Perhaps I could go back to school and start a new degree. Perhaps I could study to become a counselor or psychologist. I applied to several schools in other countries. I received acceptance letters from most of them but have yet to hear back regarding financial aid.

I felt compelled to get my 2nd tattoo. I realized I was in the throes of major life realignment and needed something to remind me to be brave. I thought about it for a month and got a line from an encouraging worship song tattooed on my back. I felt God was clearly speaking to me that He was going to be taking me “deeper than my feet could ever wander”.

I began to feel overwhelmed with everything God was revealing to me. I felt like my life and everything I had known was spinning out of control. I fell into a deep depression (which I am still struggling with today). For the first time in 5 years, since my last bout with depression, I contemplated suicide. I trusted only a few close friends with this knowledge. My oldest friend was a rock of support for me. I saw Jesus over and over again in her. I also trusted other close friends. Some really came through for me. Others let me down. They seemed to give up on me and stopped investing their time in me, all the while promising to pray for me. I opened myself up to new people. Unexpectedly they were there for me. I learned a thing or two about making new relationships, deepening friendships, pruning relationships, letting go of friendships, and forgiving people. 

I opened up to my parents about my depression. I told them of my fear of losing control over my life. Of the idols I had put in my life to replace God. How my identity was so rooted in my career, my position, my apartment, my paycheck. I was so tired of feeling fearful and striving for control all the time. I wanted to give everything up so I wouldn’t be afraid of losing everything anymore. I worried I would not make sense to them. My parents gave me their full support. My mom told me that if I had to spend everything to find myself and be happy, then I should do it. I knew it was a miracle.

An opportunity to become certified as a counselor came up. I felt a strong pull on my heart to pursue it. I didn’t have the money. My counselor committed to praying with me for financial aid. She also is trying her best to help me obtain a work/study agreement with the program director. While I was thinking about this opportunity I also started to wrestle with the idea of leaving my job permanently, taking a hiatus to take the counseling program and then work and serve at churches and charities/nonprofit organizations for a couple of months. Again, the issue of finances reared its ugly head. God began opening doors. My friend and her husband offered to pay for a pair of tickets. They offered me a place to stay. Another friend offered me another place to stay for a time.

I took a trip out of the country to get my head straight. I was able to remove myself from worry and anxiety for a couple of days and just enjoy myself. On this trip I even managed to develop a deeper relationship with my brother and see my sister in another, more positive light. I met with a dear friend who encouraged me saying “I know this is going to hurt, but I’ve never seen you so close to where you should be before.”

Slowly but surely God was opening doors. And I grew more terrified. I wrestled with God in the mornings while I would sip milk tea, eat a chocolate bar, and do my devotions. He kept bringing me verse after verse on the importance of losing my life for the things that mattered, how important it was to be humble and vulnerable before Him, to give Him control, to not worry about the obstacles in my path. I kept insisting for a grander and bigger sign. One day I felt a peace and a confirmation that I had to do it. I had to leave my job, trim down my life, and seek Him. I had to pursue a different dream – one that is in no way fleshed out but requires inordinate levels of faith and trust in Him.

For now, this is where my story ends. Me standing on the edge of something bigger and greater and unimaginable. Petrified that I am doing something incredibly foolish and irresponsible. Terrified of being homeless, hungry, and most of all…useless. Trying to push back the doubts and trust God.

January 2015.

Honeycomb

depression is a black hole that will eat you alive.

I knew going home for 2 weeks would be a bad idea.  After the 4 day vacation I had with my sister last month and the volumes of hurt that I received in those 4 days I knew going home and spending 2 weeks with her would only make things worse.  I thought long and hard about whether to spend Christmas away from my family for the first time in my life.  On Dec 19 I packed my bag and flew home.

By the second day she had accused me of taking advantage of my father’s generosity.  By the 3rd day we had a 3 hour conversation (moderated by my mother) where I had to sit and listen to how awful a person I was.  How selfish, how self-serving, how abusive I was.  How she didn’t have one good memory of me.  It felt like my heart was a big raw gaping wound and she was rubbing salt everywhere.

By that 3rd day I saw myself as UNLOVED. UNWANTED. UNAPPRECIATED. I felt overwhelmed. It was the last straw on a year that was sending me steadily into depression.  I texted a good friend telling her I wanted to die to end the pain.  She texted me back that “things will get better”.  I had called her the day before – she had never called back.  She was going through something as well she said, but that was dealt with and now she could text me.  There were no calls from her.  Just a few texts meant to offer comfort.  I have no doubt she meant what she said.  I have no doubt she’s praying for me.  But by the end of that day I also felt INCONVENIENT. A HASSLE. TOO MUCH.

This is a person who I love and I believe, loves me back.  Who has called me crying and I dropped everything to talk to her, to be with her. She’s been there for me multiple times as well.  She’s held me through tears and walked with me through difficult situations. She’s taken care of me while I was sick and alone. But I have never needed her more than last night. And all I had were her texts.  I texted another friend. She also loves me. She’s also been there for me multiple times. I got a text about how we shouldn’t focus on how people fail us because otherwise we will be on the losing end.  I never felt more alone. I struggle to remember that these are friends that love me. I struggle to remind myself that just because they aren’t giving me what I need does not lessen their love for me. Even if I understand that it doesn’t erase the hurt.

Depression is like a black hole. I have been here before and I’ve tried to kill myself before. And just like those times, when I attempted to reach out to people, instead of getting their comfort or sympathy or presence…I got “it will get better, you’ll see”.  “You need to focus on the blessings you have”.  “Have you prayed lately? Maybe you need more time with God”.  “I also feel that way sometimes”.  I understand this is meant to be comforting. But to a depressed person this is not comforting. Unless you mean you also have tried to kill yourself, no, you haven’t felt that way. Unless you can see the future and see this getting better for me then no, you don’t know that things will get better.

My best friend lives across the world from me. She has 2 kids, a husband who was trying to fly back home for Christmas in the middle of bad weather, and her parents were over at her house. She shut herself in her room and talked to me for half an hour.She said she didn’t know what to say but that she loved me. She said she was hurting for me.  She let me talk and vent.  She didn’t tell me what to do or what not to do.  She wanted my number so she could call and check in on me. I know she’s praying for me but what she did meant more to me than any prayer she could offer up.  She sat with me – disgusting, angry, blasphemous, hurtful me, and listened to me and loved me anyway.

Sometimes I feel like Christians suck at dealing with depression. A non-Christian would not feel the need to say “you need to spend more time with God” or “you can overcome this through Christ”.  Remove for a moment the God factor. How then would you talk to a person with depression? When did Christianity or having a relationship with God become a cure-all? I may never be free of depression. Just because I love Jesus and He loves me does not mean that I will be free of depression.  This may be a burden I carry through my whole life.  I don’t know.  I dare anyone to tell me that they know, without a shadow of a doubt, that my genuine love for God will set me free from everything that plagues me.  I knew a pastor whose good, loving, godly wife died of cancer.  I don’t know anyone who knew Christ more.  So is mental illness different from cancer? Christians seem to think so.  It’s like if I TRY and DO more then I will “beat” depression.

I read an article on what not to say to a Christian struggling with depression.  I’m pasting it here because it was that good. The author talks about what Christians say to people with depression.  Some of the below I pulled from her article, some are my own examples of what Christians say (that they really shouldn’t say) to people with depression:

  • “Don’t curse” while you’re depressed.  I like to equate this to Christians saying “don’t be angry”.  Don’t express your rage, your frustration, your hurt over the situations and people that have contributed to your circumstances.  When you are depressed you are in a deep, dark, and angry place.  You lash out. You want to use the right words to express your rage.  And it can be ugly to people.  But this is how I feel – would it make people feel better to ask how I’m doing and then have me lie?  Sometimes I think so. They don’t really want to know how I’m doing or how I feel. They would be too horrified.
  • “Trust God” or “God is in control” is something they say as well.  I do trust Him – and here I am in the midst of this all-consuming depression.  Where the only way out I see is to end my life to ease my pain.  Now what?  I trusted Him but here I am dealing with this sickness.  Now what?  If He’s in control why do I want to literally go to sleep and never wake up? Did He plan for this to happen? Now what?
  • “You need to focus on how blessed you are”.  My mind is telling me I am UNLOVED, UNWANTED, and BETTER OFF DEAD. And all it will take to shut these feelings down is to shift my focus onto my blessings? Is there a switch I can flip to do that? Because I would love to be able to focus on my blessings. If there was a simple solution to depression don’t you think I would have tried it? I don’t like being depressed. It is not the least bit enjoyable and it is not a ploy for attention or sympathy. It is like living in a personal hell filled with pain and despair and hopelessness.
  • “You need to spend more time with Christians and with God and read your Bible”.  This is assuming that every depressed person has somehow stopped communicating with God.  I have found that I never pray as hard as when I am in pain.  And believe it or not, my reaching out and sharing what I’m going through is me spending more time with Christians.  But more often than not they don’t really want to spend more time with me. They ask how I’m doing but act uncomfortable when I open up to them. They give me cheap comfort in the form of platitudes as if somehow, that means, that they have “done their part”. If by opening myself up to them I will continually face rejection then I’d rather hide and struggle on my own…which never works because clearly I am not in my right mind.
  • “I just can’t be there for you the way you want me to.” Or “You’re just too draining. I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself”.  This I genuinely feel guilt for. I wish I wasn’t going through depression so I wouldn’t inconvenience my friends. I wish I had planned my depression better so that it wouldn’t be over the holidays and would instead be when they have their lives together or when they have free time.  But a part of me screams that life happens. Shit happens. And we can’t plan for it to happen at a better time so friends can be…friends.  Depressed people already feel abandoned. And then you throw in friends that leave. To people with depression it’s like proving what we feel about ourselves is true. That we are unworthy of love. That we are OK to have around during good times but not during bad.  During my first bout with depression I would go to my mother for help. She would often tell me that she had “enough problems of my own. I don’t need to deal with yours”.  I then tried to turn to my small group.  My friend actually yelled at me that I was being “blasphemous” by expressing my anger at God. Another friend told me to try to love my parents more and when I got upset yelled at me that she didn’t know what else she could do to help me.  I tried to kill myself 3 times in a year.  I felt rejected by my family and rejected by the Church.  The Church that was supposed to be Christ’s hands and feet. Is it any wonder that I felt God would reject me as well?

So this is my story. If you are asking how am I – I am currently in the throes of my second bout with depression.  I struggle with the daily choice to get out of bed and continue on. Some days I numb myself to everything but basic actions – wake up, shower, eat, sleep. And some days I manage to laugh at a few funny jokes and enjoy a minute, an hour, a day.  Most of the days I keep the pain at bay but it is a throbbing in my head that lets me know it is there. Some days I so badly want to reach out to friends but I am terrified of hearing that this is my fault, that I should spend more time with God, that I am doing something wrong that is causing this depression to worsen. And this is how I feel. I don’t want to make any friends or people responsible for my actions, choices, or decisions.  But I can’t do it alone. And I need help. For everyone struggling with depression, I wish for them a community of believers that would love unconditionally, listen without judgment, and offer of themselves their time, presence, and resources.

This post is my clumsy attempt to put something out there that will speak to people. If you are depressed then take comfort that you are not alone – there are people that actually understand how you might feel or what you are going through. If you are a friend of someone who is depressed, please take the time to learn how to deal with them. The link to the article I cited is a good start. Don’t try to fix them or offer solutions based on your own opinions. Get feedback from professionals, talk to other people going through depression and get their opinion. Above all, please love them through the good, the bad, and the ugly.