I am unreliable. I have, as they say of the Fyre Festival, over promised and under delivered… in almost every aspect of my life. I live in a state of near constant, mostly hidden panic trying to desperately become something I’m not. It’s debilitating and I cannot attempt to function like this any longer.
Because, here’s the thing. I’m not always well. I’m not always capable. I’m not always in a position to say, “Yes” to that project, that exciting event, that coffee with a friend. I’m not and it’s because mental illness has incapacitated my ability to function well.
Oh, yes, I have attempted to function. And by function, I mean mask the reality of my situation. Rather than turn to family or friends or counselors for help, I put on a mask. I have gotten into the habit of plastering a smile on my face and saying, “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” when really everything is falling apart inside me.
For years I implemented the “Try Harder” approach. You feel miserable? Try Harder. You failed a friend? Try Harder. You missed that deadline, that appointment, that airplane? Try Harder. Lady, you are messed up and you are running on empty and you are a disgrace to the name of productivity. Just. Try. Harder. If it sounds ridiculous that’s because it is. But this is the state I lived in for countless years. I was in that place of Try Harder for so long, I’d forgotten what it looked like to find Rest. I’d forgotten how to be honest because I spent so much time trying to hide the state of my mental health. And now? I’m exhausted.
So try harder is a flawed approach to say the least. Fatally flawed because there is no mercy available to the loser in this battle of wills. And I am always the loser in this situation. Over time my mental health became a weapon formed against me in my innermost being. My mind, instead of helping to solve problems, became the problem. And still I flailed around like a fish out of water, gasping for the next breath, trying to survive.
And then it all came apart for real.
I’ve had hard moments in the past where I was unable to hide the struggle; brief interludes of counseling and support groups, hints of the trauma that was sitting just below the surface. I “managed” to pull it together and put on a brave face time after time. The reality is that what I managed was to keep trying to push down the depression, the anxiety, the binge eating. It’s like trying to sink an iceberg in the bathtub. You don’t have the arm strength, believe me.
Even after receiving help – new tools for the tool box and all that jazz – I would fall back onto old pathways because I still hadn’t gotten to the crux of the issue. I was trying to do well on my own. I was trying to be well – be healthy and level headed – on my own strength.
For a girl who claims to love Jesus, I sure have had a hard time letting him in. There was always a part of my heart that was guarded but not for the right reasons. I never allowed myself to fully let my guard down. You can imagine that trying to hide from the God of the Universe doesn’t actually work too well.
This past year I came completely undone. Pursuant to God’s great grace, He wants all of us, not just a portion. I gave my life to Christ when I was twelve and, at forty, he said, “enough is enough. It’s time to stop hiding. You said ‘yes’ once, a long time ago. It’s time to stop being afraid and step into the place I have called you. No more holding back.”
All the things that I was once capable of masking were being revealed. My ability to cope disintegrated. My mental health suffered along with my family. My kids didn’t know what to make of me, so often was I oscillating between calm / quiet, and angry / raging. I stopped sleeping. I didn’t want to burden my husband so I attempted to keep my overwhelm to myself. You can imagine how well that went.
My “bottling it up” culminated in an explosive event that rivaled the destruction of Pompeii. The day that I completely lost it over a cut finger (a wound I gained due to my own careless hurry) is a story in and of itself. Suffice it to say, my distress at not being able to stick with my plan resulted in a complete come apart. Words flew as did cucumbers (it’s a long story). I was falling over the edge of instability and I had no parachute. Stepping back, I realize that angry outbursts had become my go-to, my new “coping mechanism” to deal with the raging sea within me.
My mind was in overdrive and there was no way out. I kept trying to keep it together. I prayed, I cried, I shook. But I couldn’t shake my angry heart. Throughout it all – this complete coming apart – I kept pressing in and asking God to help me.
God will always give you teachers when you ask. Sometimes the lessons are hard, but even hard truth is wrapped in love. Over the last year I have watched myself turn to rubble and begin to be rebuilt again. Grace and wisdom has continued to reach me in the midst of the chaos. As head knowledge becomes heart wisdom, I begin to see the picture a little more clearly.
Over the last year I have watched myself turn to rubble and begin to be rebuilt again.
This past weekend I experienced IF: Gathering 2019. IF offers Christian women an opportunity to come together to learn, to worship, to speak truth and be refreshed by torrents of living water. It is an experience not to be missed. God met me in a big way, bringing His Word to life in new ways. God gave me teachers anointed by Him and I soaked in His presence.
Here’s the thing… All this while I have been trying to shove down the ugliness of mental illness. I’ve been trying to keep a lid on all that I see as weakness in me. I’ve been trying to hide real parts of me. I refused to see that ALL of me is available and accessible to God. ALL the parts, not just the ones I have polished and shined to make them “acceptable”.
I have been flailing around looking for a life raft when it’s been within me all along.
The Apostle Paul lamented the thorn in his flesh – the unnamed thing that tormented him throughout his life. He wrote to the Corinthians, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NIV, emphasis mine).
If you don’t know Jesus personally, then this probably doesn’t make much sense. But I have felt the presence of God, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. I have experienced the grace that comes in moments of surrender to God. And last night, while I watched the IF live stream from my living room, I met with God. I learned and wept and was changed. I found myself on the floor pouring out my life all over again for the Lord. I found myself relating to Paul in a way that I had not understood before. And I experienced an infilling of God’s peace that washed my fears away.
Here’s what I know for sure:
- It’s not up to me to hide my weaknesses.
- It’s not my job to wear “I’m Fine” like a badge of honour.
- God is bigger than even my biggest brokenness and He will meet me in my weakness.
Anxiety, depression, binge eating disorder, all these labels describe parts of who I am and how I function. Sometimes I struggle. But my mental health does not define me. I am more than the sum of all my broken parts.
I am no longer afraid of these monsters that hide in the recesses of my mind and heart. I am willing to face them head on because I have something bigger in me that resides in the center of my being. As I continue to ask for light and love, God continues to shine in my life.
I am no longer wasting my energy trying to drown an iceberg in a bathtub. Instead, I’m calling on the God of living waters to run through me, clean through me.
I’m praying to be a conduit of grace, an open book, honest and authentic enough to know when to say no, when to slow down, and when to ask for help. I’m asking for the courage to continue because I know that each of us struggles with something that we try to hide. It’s my hope that God’s light will shine through the broken parts of me and continue to spread to all those who have been trying to hide in the darkness.
You can come out now. It’s okay to be broken. You don’t have to have it all together to be enveloped in God’s grace. You don’t have to live in the land of Try Harder any longer. Grace and peace wait just beyond the doorstep. Open the door and walk through. He’s waiting for you.