Tag Archives: personal

what I’ve been into

TV that I’m into: “Playing House” on USA with Jessica St. Claire and Lennon Parham. I’ve been binge-watching this show, and I LOVE it. It’s exactly my sense of humor. It also has the added bonus of having Keegan-Michael Key in it.

TV that I’m looking forward to: “I’m Sorry” with Andrea Savage on TruTV

Books I’ve been reading: I’ve been reading A LOT lately, which is good. Just finished a historical novel called The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. It’s based on a real incident, and pulls a lot from history including the Spiritualism craze, Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. I just started my second Erik Larson book, In The Garden of Beasts. It’s about the American consulate in Germany during WWII and his family.

Work stuff: Just finished a book on Ethereum, which is Bitcoin’s competition. It’s unique in that you can create applications on its blockchain, it’s not just for currency. If that makes no sense to you, look it up, I’m not going to summarize the book again. I usually just get blank stares. Still working on the book for my Gildshire articles, too, just finished up editing and writing the intros.

What I’ve cooked/baked lately: Made no-bake brownies with black beans and dates. It’s more like fudge than brownies, but it’s delicious. Getting out a slice is kind of like digging for fossils, because they have to be frozen, but it’s worth it. I also made homemade tomato sauce the other day. It was a bit runny, but I can thicken it up by just reducing it some more. I didn’t make this, but we tried Ben and Jerry’s “One Love” ice cream flavor, which is banana ice cream, graham cracker, caramel, and chocolate peace signs. Chris says it might be his new favorite.

Fitness stuff: Still using the good ol’ mini trampoline and rowing machine most nights. I take just one day off a week. Also got myself a resistance band, which is very convenient. Looking forward to having the toned arms of my dreams. It’s been gross and hot lately, so haven’t been exercising outdoors as much as I (or Yoshi) would like, but what can ya do. I know weight isn’t the goal here, but I am happy that I’ve successfully went down to about 155 after plateauing at 160 for so long. Paying attention to macros and sugar has made the difference. It doesn’t matter if I’m eating just 1200 calories if way too many of them are coming from sugar.

Novel stuff: Still steadily working on my Harley Gray novel. I filled out one notebook, so I’m on to a new one. That feels like an accomplishment. Been focusing a lot on trying to actually picture my characters moving around in the world I’ve created, so I can convey that to the reader. That means writing a lot of stuff that won’t actually end up in the book. I’m still figuring out how to get that in the story without actually putting it in the story (like a character’s whole marriage, basically), but I enjoy the challenge.

So that’s pretty much it, that’s what I’ve been doing. Small group meets again soon. Chris’ parents will be visiting, which means beach day!

 

 

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birthday thanks

Today is my 26th birthday, and I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who wrote on my Facebook wall. Even if it was just the for the millisecond it took to type out the words, it means ya’ll thought of me, and that means a lot. It’s people who make life worthwhile, and that’s going to be true as I enter the next year of existence.

I’d like to give a special shout out to the special people in my life:

To my parents, who are two of my favorite people in the world, besides being my     parents. They model a fantastic marriage, are both intelligent, compassionate, curious, and funny. My mom, who gave me my love of books and the curl in my hair; my dad, who always believed in me and never made me feel any less because I was a girl; they are both inspiring.

To my brother, my younger twin, who never betrayed himself and what he was about even when his peers didn’t understand. He hid his own pain and fought his battle alone when my depression was the focus in the family, and came out strong and never bitter. Here’s to over two decades of inside jokes, weird childhood stories, and wordless communication that could only happen because we share a bear (brain).

To Erin, my best friend, who always accepts me just as I am, and teaches me how to be a better person. She is the most inspiring and humble person in the world, without a cruel bone in her body, and fights tirelessly for what she believes in.

To Lilly, my cousin, the girl with naturally-curly hair, who I played Barbies with when we were young, and now share political rants with over Facebook messages. She’s always been more of a sister to me than a cousin, we share the same intensity about life, and the same resting bitch face we inherited from our mothers, but ya know, bitches get stuff done, and she’s definitely getting stuff done.

To Brynne, from the peanut-free table in high school to bridesmaid in my wedding to teacher in Kenya. She always worries that she isn’t a good enough friend to me, but the truth is she’s like my sister in that we don’t have to talk a lot, I know she would always be there when I needed her.

To Hannah Rasmussen, one of the most intense people I’ve ever met, who is going to do the kind of things that the world notices, and I can be like, “I know her!” She loves Jesus more than anyone I know, and it overflows to everyone she comes into contact with.

To Lauren, the first friend in Oregon. She grabs life by the horns and teaches me how to have fun. She and Jason welcomed me and Chris into their lives so quickly and warmly, I’m so grateful for their friendship.

To Kelia, the kindred spirit I thought I lost, who is always ready to talk out boy issues and laugh at random Instagram posts I send her. Even though we’re super far apart and I can only see her through her cracked phone camera, I feel like she’s right in there in life with me.

To Ronny, always cool-headed and calm, but full of an inspiring energy and sense of justice. She’s amazing at her job, always insightful, and always ready with a “Parks and Recreation” reference.

To Jess, with the artist’s heart, and like a crouching tiger, has a hidden dragon inside. She is always fighting to be able to do what she loves, and going out of her comfort zone. She’s grown so much since I first met her years and years ago, and whenever I see her, I will start crying at some point, because she invites vulnerability and honesty.

And last, but certainly not least, to Chris. I know we’ve had some really rough times, and we’re still braving the storm, but I’ve only grown to love you more and more. You bring out the “me” in me, and I want to be the best version of myself. I love the life we have, the tiny moments like getting ready for bed and knowing Yoshi is going to start licking your pillow, and you turn it over; or watching a TV commercial for a new burger, and you’re going to make a “yum” noise; your kindness, and respect for every human being you meet, your willingness to always make dinner when I’m working…the list goes on.

 

Yoshi Arrives

Yoshi came home yesterday! He was wiggly and as bizarre as ever. After a 4-day car ride, he was itching to run around, so we took him to the park. That meant he had to endure a 15-minute ride there and back again. He was pretty good, though! No screeching. He just ran back and forth in the backseat, looking out the window, and crashing into stuff. He loved the park. He wanted to smell and rub on everything, and he only barked once, at a dog that surprised him.

He slept through the night. In the morning, he decided to test us. I tried giving him his pill, and he wanted NOTHING to do with it. He wouldn’t even come over. He does this thing where he looks at me over his shoulder, and prances away. When I told him to sit, he did so, but very slowly. Eventually, Chris was able to get him to take it. I figured if we just kept bugging him with it, he would see that we weren’t giving up, and resign himself to his fate. Then he played fetch with his pig’s ear for a little, and we all went back to sleep.

I only heard him bark twice this morning. Once, when Chris left, and then a little later. He stopped after a few minutes though. Very good sign. It really helps that he can’t see out any windows, and the fan covers a lot of noise. Right now, he’s passed out underneath a coffee table. Today, he’ll probably be very sleepy. He’ll get a walk later. My goal is to give him a good walk every day around the neighborhood, and then on the weekends, take him to Minto.

It feels like our family is complete again, and we’ll all happier and healthier than the last time we were together. I can’t find the words to thank Tom and Marsha for taking care of Yoshi for these past three years, and giving him the best home we could have asked for. You’re both superheroes.

stress thoughts, folk music, and sweat

Screenshot 2016-08-19 at 3.39.14 PM

I’ve been getting a lot of stress thoughts at night. These are the unpredictable, persistent thoughts that pepper my brain when I can’t fall asleep quickly enough, which is every night. Yoshi is coming home soon, so that’s been preoccupying me. I’ll start thinking things like, “What if he hates it here and the neighbors complain?” and then, “What if he dies? What if he gets so excited that he has a heart attack?” Then I’ll worry about Baxter, and go lie in his room so I can hear him rustling around, which proves he’s alive. My pills have been acting up and being weird, so if I don’t take the last one with enough food, it makes me sick. That’s a new development, and it’s not fun. They just can’t cooperate, can they?

Penny & Sparrow is my favorite band right now. Chris thinks they’re too “chill,” and that they make him want to fall asleep. He says that like it’s a bad thing. My music tastes have changed so much. I tried listening to Skillet recently, one of my favorites from high school, and I was not impressed. Too loud. I’m old.

It’s been in the 90’s weather-wise. I don’t I’ve ever sweat so much in my life. When I work out, I point the fan directly at myself, and it makes a big difference. Otherwise, I think I would literally die. It would not be safe.

I wish I could work on my novel more. I have a notebook where I scribble a few lines or pages as often as I can, and I need to type that up. One of my characters changed a lot from my first draft. She went from being really sweet and sensitive to kind of a tough cookie. It was not at all on purpose. I guess that’s just what she’s meant to be.

 

when fear asks the wrong question

The greatest disagreement Chris and I have had in our relationship is children. He’s always wanted kids, and when we got married, he knew I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but I was very young, and we both assumed I would gradually come around to the idea. I haven’t. In fact, I’ve become more resistant to it.

We’ve had a lot of tough conversations. There have been lots of tears. It seemed like the question we both had to face was, “Do I have to choose between the person I love or the life I always imagined having?” For Chris, that life meant children. For me, it meant not having children. We reached an impasse.

I knew something was wrong with the question we were asking. I’ve always been very analytical and self-aware, and any question that seemed designed for heartbreak made me suspicious. I fully believe that there is no fear in love, and to be so fearful meant there was something going on.

I’ve had to ask myself a million times, why don’t I want children? It always comes back to my mental illness. The idea of pregnancy terrifies me. The medication I’m on has such a bad rap that there’s a thing called “Effexor babies,” where women have sued after being on high doses while pregnant, and having children with birth defects or who died. Of course, the healthcare system insists the risk isn’t too bad, but they have a horse in the race. Reading stories from actual women has convinced me that any kind of strong antidepressant is going to mess with the natural development of a child. However, the other option, going off medication, is just as scary and risky. Severe depression can affect a fetus’ growth just as much as a drug.

My fears don’t stop there, though. No matter what route I go, that’s just 9-10 months. It’s doable. But, then the baby is born, and it’s here for the rest of my life. It’s overwhelming. I’m at a point where I can just care for my own mental state, how on earth can I be expected to take care of a kid? Another human being, who is essentially a sponge? And then there’s the increased risk of the child also developing a mental illness, so that’s another layer of responsibility.

In going over my reasons, I noticed that Chris was entirely absent from my thought process. And then I realized that the reason I’m so overwhelmed is because I imagine dealing with all the complexities of parenting + mental illness by myself. I don’t have confidence that Chris would know how to deal. I’ve never imagined my life with kids because I’ve never known my life free from the ever-looming presence of mental illness, and I’ve never known what having a real partner in the fight is like. That doesn’t mean that Chris doesn’t support me or is unhelpful. It’s just that depression/anxiety has always been my “thing” that he comes in and out of, it isn’t something he lives with like I live with it. If we’re going to be a real team, we both have to live with it. If we were truly united, I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed about the idea of kids.

The real question isn’t choosing between us or a kid. It is, “How do we get on the same team when it comes to mental illness?” That’s something a counselor can help us with, and has lots of solutions both practically and spiritually. It’s a question we can tackle without feeling like we’re just butting heads. Fear always likes to ask the question that only has one, usually horrible answer, but that’s not how love works.

With Unexpected Speed

I did not expect to be dealing with all this so soon.

I had recently passed my two-year anniversary and was looking out the car window at the blur of fields and barns. Occasionally we would pass clumps of trees, but they would fly by so fast, it was like they had never been there at all. When I tried to focus on a small detail like a single branch or house in the distance, it would immediately bleed into the oddly-linear hues of gray, green, yellow, brown, and blue. My mind was wandering. It had only been two years since I signed a piece of paper, said goodbye to my dog as he left for his new home with my in-laws, and woke up a married woman. In a lot of ways, it seemed like yesterday. However, it also seemed like forever ago. In those two years, me and my husband have dealt with mental breakdowns, horrendous medication withdrawals, a crisis of faith (ongoing), employment turmoil, sexual identity questions, loneliness, relationship doubts, and looming financial challenges. I was not naive when I got married. I knew all this and more was part of the deal; I just didn’t expect it all to happen so soon and so quickly.

Isn’t marriage supposed to have a honeymoon period? You know, that brief time when everything is rose-colored and you’re just happy to wake up next to your person every morning? I’m not saying I’m unhappy to be waking up with my person, but there was never a time when that happiness wasn’t mixed with anxiety and questions chewing on my brain like termites.

Is my unemployment a burden to this clear-eyed, optimistic, occasionally goofball-ish man I’ve yoked myself to?

Will the pharmacy screw up my medication again and disrupt my entire week with crippling muscle pain, headaches, and frantic doubts about everything? Are those bone-shaking doubts just symptoms of an unstable mind, or legitimate concerns I should be listening to?

Should I have gotten married when I did? Am I too young and immature? 

Will I ever be in a place to have kids? Do I even want kids? What happens to us if I don’t want kids? 

Even before we got married, we were faced with having to give up our dog Yoshi and the distinct possibility he would never be adopted. Thankfully, Chris’ parents took him back to Indiana with them, but that raises its own issues, like feeling the self-inflicted internal pressure to make enough money to get a place where we can take him back.

Do other married people have these problems? I’m sure they do. And I’m positive that couples have faced worse unemployment, worse debt, worse mental illness, and so on. I want to always be aware of the privilege I have, but I’m selfish and self-pitying. I see other couples with Instagram-perfect lives and go between feeling glad I’m not a fraud, and then furious that we’re not them. I see other couples having or planning babies, and I’m flabbergasted that they aren’t freaking the f*** out every minute of every day. I envy identity/orientation confidence. I envy white-picket fences and Tuesday date nights and dishwashers. But mostly, I fear.

I fear I will never be happy at the same church as my husband.
I fear 9-5 jobs and “work shoes” and imperfect bosses.
I fear eternal debt.
I fear little pink capsules and inefficient pharmacies.
I fear loneliness because I don’t dare get close to other women.

I fear God and His timing, which is so unlike our own, that to Him nothing is “unexpected, “too soon,” or “too late.” 

God of the Tar Pits (Part 2)

While seeing depression as a result of spiritual frailty or sin has become outdated, there’s still some odd Christian teachings about it. Depression is viewed as a season and something that – with time and prayer – can be overcome. All my life people have told me to be patient, that they were praying for me, and that I would one day know the freedom and joy that only Jesus can bring. The longer the depression stayed, the less people talked about it. They got tired of telling me they were praying, and I got tired of hearing about it. Believing that depression is a sign of spiritual weakness is not popular, but if you suffer from prolonged depression, people start to wonder.

Depression “success” stories are remarkably popular. Christians devour personal tales of fellow believers suffering from crippling anxiety and depression who have been transformed by God and grace, whose marriages have been saved, who have found peace, who have overcome brain chemistry and been “freed” from medication. They were lifted from the tar pits by Jesus and as one of those Christians who have depression, I was encouraged to pray for similar redemption. At a conference, a friend told a story about a young man who went to be prayed for and was healed from depression in that moment.

“How did he know?” I asked, confused.

“He just…knew,” she replied.

“That sounds like bull crap.”

“Do you not believe that God can do miracles?” she probed.

I didn’t know how to explain to her that that wasn’t the issue. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe God could heal me from depression, it was just that I knew if it happened, it wouldn’t be with just the snap of a finger. I had never seen God work that way. He didn’t seem to really be into that whole instant gratification thing. When I had that conversation, I was at the point in my life where I didn’t even want to be healed from depression. I was beginning to learn that it was just something I would have to live with, like a scar. Sometimes it would act up and interfere with my life, while other times I could almost forget it was there. I didn’t want to overcome; I wanted to persevere.

When I recognized that depression was going to a permanent fixture, I stopped struggling. The discovery came in stages, but was punctuated by the end of my second year of college, where things were going so well that I stopped taking my medication. From the outside, my life looked perfect. I had gotten into my dream school, was doing well, and making friends. I was also part of a faith community that emphasized spiritual warfare, and I believed that I had successfully conquered all my demons. Then a childhood memory rushed brutally to the surface and my brain broke. I locked myself in my room for three days straight and didn’t move. People had to bring me food so I wouldn’t starve. It was finals’ week and all my hard work seemed wasted. It seemed like I had won against depression, but it came back with a vengeance, like it had never left, or like it had been gathering strength. When summer came, I went back to my psychiatrist and was put on the highest dose of a new medication. For the first time, I accepted it gladly.

Antidepressants are notoriously tricky. The most prescribed class of medication for people like me with major depressive disorder and anxiety are SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors). These were created based on the belief that depression and a host of other mental illnesses like anxiety is caused by a lack of serotonin – a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness- in the brain. The reason they are controversial is because of the nearly limitless side effects that have been reported, like loss of sexual interest, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, and insomnia. They are also labeled with a “black box,” which means a side effect of taking the medication might increase suicidal thoughts and tendencies. When I first started taking medication in high school, I was required to see a psychiatrist once every two weeks and tell her if I was experiencing this side effect. I can’t say if these sorts of thoughts increased because of medication, but many of them did little to reduce my depression while also gracing me with flu-like symptoms, severe exhaustion, and muscle pains. On particular medication I took over a summer made me sick every morning for two weeks.

Constantly adjusting medications that didn’t seem to help much, but succeeded in making me ill was frustrating, but when I had that breakdown sophomore year, I knew I needed medication. No amount of prayer alone could fix brain chemistry. I was arguably in the best place I had ever been spiritually, I knew I wasn’t possessed, but still my head reeled and I couldn’t will my body to move. That experience taught me that I can’t pretend my depression is gone just because I feel okay. I have to anticipate it, plan for it, accommodate it. That’s what medication is for. Finding one with minimal side effects was worth it and when things are going well, I may be tempted to stop taking it, but when the other shoe falls, medication is there to balance out any craziness the body throws at me.

Once I realized that depression was going to be a part of my life in varying degrees, my expectations changed. Instead of trying to match everyone’s achievements, I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t like “everyone else.” Certain things will never be easy, like making a phone call, getting to class every day, or hanging out in a large group. There are things I will never do, like travel alone, go completely off medication, or hold down a high-pressure job. It’s a good week if I get out of bed every day. And that’s okay. That is just who I am.

There are also things I know that other people don’t because of the depression. I understand hopelessness. When people ask why anyone would commit suicide, I have the answer. I don’t have a neat, happy success story, but I have a story that says, “Depression never goes away, but it doesn’t have to control or define you.” I can see where traditional mental health services failed people, especially religious ones, because it has failed me. What I learned most from depression is that it’s the place where I met God. He wasn’t in a counselor’s office, where I was given lists of mood-boosting activities, or in a required chapel where I felt completely alone while surrounded by other Christians. He wasn’t in books or sermons.  He was- and still is – in the tar pit.

It would be understandable if I had abandoned my faith at some point during my struggles, but something kept drawing me back. Some of it was fear, yes, fear of venturing off into the unknown, but most of it was because I could see the marked difference between how my fellow Christians saw mental illness, and how God seemed to see it. The Bible is so full of references to persistent, bone-crushing sorrow that it can be overwhelming and triggering to read. People are constantly weeping, renting their clothes, pouring ashes on their heads, and lying on the ground, unmoving, for days. Jesus himself prayed with such agony before His death, that his sweat had blood in it. He is described as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” The one verse that has stuck with me most is from Psalm 34: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” I used to be frustrated with this. I understood the first part, but what about the second? Where was the “saving me” bit? When I accepted my depression as something that was just with me, my definition of “salvation” changed. It didn’t involve being pulled up from the tar in a bright beam of light and suddenly “knowing” I was “cured.” It didn’t involve some big success where I suddenly become someone I’m not. It’s the little things, like being loved. It’s having insurance for medication. It’s graduating from college, no matter how long it took. It’s finding people who understand. God had been saving me every day, bit by bit, keeping my head above the tar.

I should make it clear that not all of life is being in the tar pit. Good medication and healthy choices help keep me grounded and productive. It’s just that no matter how good things are going, that tar pit is never too far away. There’s no real rhyme or reason to why I fall in. Sometimes it makes sense, like the death of a family member. Other times it’s random, like the wind changed directions. I used to be terrified of that movement when I felt the tar rising up my legs, pulling me down. I would struggle and berate myself.

“How could you be so stupid?”

“Why did you let your hopes get up?”

“You know you can’t push yourself too far; why did you try?”

The voices are quiet now. The tar pit doesn’t frighten me as much. I just keep breathing and let it happen. Eventually, the tar thins out and I’m free from it for a while, with renewed focus and gratitude. Life goes on, and I have two choices: look back with regret, or keep moving forward with hope. I choose hope.

God of the Tar Pits

*trigger warning: self-harm, suicide*

Part 1 of 2

I always felt sorry for prehistoric animals that died in tar pits and whose fossils scientists have since discovered. The lucky ones would die by being attacked by opportunistic predators; the unlucky ones would have to wait. They would either starve or suffocate in the thick muck, their deaths drawn out and agonizing. In my experience, this is what depression has felt like, and as a Christian with depression, the tar pit is especially draining.  Other Christians wander around you and dish out advice like, “You’re letting the devil have his way,” “You must be doing something wrong and it’s weighing you down,” or “Just pray that God will take you away from this.”

Christianity has been slow when it comes to recognizing mental illness. In the recent past, the most commonly-held belief (especially in Evangelical circles) was that having depression, anxiety, or any of the wide range of mental ailments was a spiritual weakness. Historically, this is a shift from much earlier thoughts about mental illness. Many saints who exhibited classic symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses were actually held up as examples of holiness. St. Margaret of Cortona was a cutter, Therese of Lisieux starved herself and most likely died because of it, and St. Augustine went through intense periods of depression. As time went on and the Catholic Church no longer became the sole representation of Christianity, intentionally inflicting suffering upon the body and mind through starvation, cutting, or other means no longer became popular. This isn’t to say that the Catholic Church still encourages this kind of suffering; it too has gone through many evolutions, but it does tend to admire suffering as a way to get closer to Christ a lot more than other denominations. Those denominations emphasize joy, and not being joyful is often linked to due to a lack of faith or even selfishness. There are still many Christians (who have influence) who hold to this and scold sufferers of anxiety and depression, saying, “It’s a commandment to never worry, and by being anxious or depressed, you are sinning.”

It’s gotten a little better out there; countless churches and spiritual counselors recognize the progress of science and the fact that mental illness is not a character weakness, but the result of numerous factors like genetics, brain chemistry, and situational events. Still, do an Internet search on “Christians and depression” and you see articles with titles like, “How can Christians be depressed?” “Should Christians take medication for depression?” and, “Is it a sin to be depressed?” Even when depression is recognized for what it is, the solutions include things like, “Pray more,” and, “Read the Bible.” When famous pastor and author Rick Warren’s son committed suicide, it sparked a heated debate in the Christian community about how a Christian could succumb to suicide and if Rick Warren’s son was in heaven or not. John Piper, a major figure in Baptist and Evangelical circles, reluctantly admits that medication is useful for mental illness, but should only be used temporarily because working with peoples’ minds is “tricky.” His comments mirror a talk I had with a former partner, who was uneasy when I first went on antidepressants because he didn’t “trust” doctors. He suggested I try to take a more natural route. As someone who experiences systematic and constant suicidal thoughts and behaviors without medication, these conversations are terrifying.

Though I suspect I have had clinical depression since I was ten years old, it never truly affected my life until I was older. In high school, the depression took control. I spent weeks lying on the couch instead of attending school. When I wasn’t watching TV, I was sedating myself with melatonin capsules, a natural supplement that is supposed to be regulate sleep schedules, but affected me like a powerful sleep drug. My high school was a private, Christian school that made much of its sense of community, but when I was at my lowest, it never reached me. No one emailed me or picked up the phone. In a class of 9 people, we were all close, at least in proximity. Perhaps they believed I needed space and privacy, but if they knew anything about mental illness, they would have known complete isolation is not the answer. Isolation reaffirms dangerous thoughts like, “Would anyone notice if I died?” and, “No one cares about me.” I started seeing a counselor at a Christian therapy clinic, but she seemed to believe that me just talking about my problems was enough to solve them. She failed to realize that I wasn’t confused about my feelings; I needed solutions on how to manage them. The counselor rarely spoke and after nearly a year of talking to myself, I just never made another appointment.

For my first year of college, I went to Northwestern College (now the University of Northwestern), a Christian college known for having famed evangelist Billy Graham serve as its president for a number of years. It wasn’t my first choice, but because my senior year in high school had gone so poorly, I hoped to heal in a somewhat familiar environment and then make a decision about staying on or transferring. I also hoped I would find friends who would give me the company I had lacked my last year of high school, but after months of trying to forge connections, I was perpetually lonely and struggling with getting to class every day. My self-harm and suicidal thoughts peaked while I observed others quickly form friend groups and enjoy the daily required chapel. I ate most of my meals alone and accepted the $100 fine for skipping too many chapels. When I started self-harming again and thinking of specific ways to kill myself, I followed the proper procedure and informed my RA, who referred me to the resident hall director, who in turn told me to go to the free therapist on campus. She was much better than my first counselor because she actually offered advice, but it was hard to follow because I didn’t have friends to help me with my increasingly debilitating social anxiety. While in high school I had only suffered from numbing depression, college brought on muscle-shaking anxiety as well.

Because anxiety is so different than depression, it’s odd how often they are paired. While with depression, I stopped caring about anything and everyone, anxiety made me too care way too much. I believed everyone was watching my every move and judging me. I spent hours planning out how I would conduct myself during the day, what I would say, how I would dress, and if something happened that wasn’t in my plan, I freaked out. Even when I was just lying in bed, I worried that I would forget how to breathe. I once heard that anxiety is actually an evolutionary trait leftover from when humans were in constant danger. That innate fear told them to run when something chased them and to be on the alert for predators at all times. However, as life changed, that need for fear dissipated. Anxiety is when the brain confuses harmless situations for dangerous ones, and sends a flood of adrenaline through the sufferer telling them, “You’re going to die! Run or hide!” Instead of running from animals, I ran from making phone calls, saying hello to people I recognized, or sitting next to strangers in chapel.

The anxiety got so bad that during prayer sessions with my dorm floor, when I became especially emotionally-vulnerable, I would have panic attacks that everyone (including me) mistook for demonic possession. The girls would hold me down and pray aloud until I calmed down. These exorcisms were usually followed by lectures on how to avoid succumbing to demonic attacks, which made me feel guilty. Satisfied with their participation in my healing, most of the students would go back to their rooms, leaving me exhausted and scared. No one mentioned the word “depression” or “anxiety” or asked if the medication I was on had side effects. No one seemed to have any sort of knowledge about what a full-blown panic attack looked like, let alone how to treat one. As the school year continued, I started having waking nightmares where I saw demons on the ceiling and sitting on my chest. At the time, I didn’t know that I was experiencing sleep paralysis, a phenomenon where the sufferer becomes unable to move and hallucinates figures (often demonic ones) in the room. This condition has been recognized for centuries and billions of people have experienced it at some point in their lives. Some (like me) experience it regularly and are unable to move for long stretches of time, often hours, while hallucinating or even hearing voices. When I brought it up to my floor, the RA told my roommates and I that our room had a history of spiritual warfare and to try praying Scripture over the beds before we slept. It didn’t help.

My freshman year was long and hard, and as the year ended and I went through with my plans to transfer colleges, I promised myself that I would try to stay close to the few people I had managed to connect to. After they ignored my texts and broke our plans, I gave up. The person I had felt closest to, my RA who shared my love of English, unfriended me on Facebook, severing my only connection to her. I remembered lying on the floor of her dorm room, weeping, and feel a twinge of regret that I became so vulnerable to a person who didn’t deserve my trust. I felt betrayed. These people were fellow Christians; our relationships were supposed to mean something. Had they just pretended to be nice to me because they felt bad about my desire to put my head in an oven? I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have had an easier time making friends if I didn’t have depression. Once again, I felt that mental illness had held me back in a big way. I was letting it win and people could smell it on me. I was like a wounded animal caught in a pit; something to be pitied, but also avoided.