let's all stop pretending our lives are perfect
So, freshman year of life is kicking my butt. I’m sitting here in this coffee shop drinking a giant chai tea latte, and I don’t even necessarily like chai tea, but it makes me feel like more of an artsy-writer-bloggy person.
The second half of 2012 absolutely challenged every little idiosyncratic thought and belief in this little head of mine. About life, about what I’m passionate about, about how God feels about me, about how God feels about other people, about interpersonal relationships and dating and my own character. Mostly, it made me stare my issues and my fears and my crap straight in the face — my fears of being alone, of not mattering, of letting Depression and Loneliness seduce me into a life ruled by fear and insecurity. It forced me to take inventory of my idols, the things I believe in more than I believe in God some days, like that dropping my current life and running back to med school/law school/anything that makes a lot of money school will fix all of my insecurities.
I was talking to my friend Peter on Skype the other week, since he’s been in Spain this past semester, and regurgitated all of these fears to him (that he knows through and through, by name, in order of appearance, since they’ve been present throughout most of our friendship anyway) and he said to me, “Do you honestly think that God would have put you through everything you’ve walked through since you were a Bio major just to have you return to that?” And I sat with that thought for a few days, because it reminds of me that part in Proverbs…something like “as a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly.” And then it hit me. I think God put me through all of that so that I would be right where I am now. In a counseling program. In a world with people who have struggles and, I am noticing, are trying to suck it up and cope through things alone, since vulnerability is a sign of weakness, right? Since talking about your struggles means you’re not a good leader or that you’re not strong or good or brave, right? Wrong.
I don’t really care who knows that I struggle or what I struggle with. I’ll make you a list. I’ll go through every dark and twisty part of my story. Now, I understand the concept of how vulnerability can be reckless and unhealthy, and how we can overburden people with our problems. When I tell my story, the dark and twisty parts especially, I tell it because I believe with everything in me that it’s going to help someone out there understand something about life or about God or about themselves or about their own twisty darkness. I don’t tell it because I think that other people can fix my struggles. I used to think that; I used to try to put my burdens on other people all the time. I was like one of those people in the ocean after the Titanic sunk trying to climb into a lifeboat that had no room for me — that couldn’t help me — not because it didn’t want to, but because it just couldn’t. It would have just turned the whole boat upside down and that just would have made everyone’s lives a lot harder and that’s not fair. Maybe that’s too strong of a metaphor. But my point is, that’s why I have a therapist. And it’s a big part of why I think Jesus is such a rock star, because I can pray and maintain mine and everyone else’s sanity when I just remember that He’s a good burden carrier.
You want me to talk about the time in my life when I struggled with suicidal ideation and had to leave college for a little while? Good, because I will, because nobody talks about that. You want me to talk about how depression can come in and strip you of your identity and convince you that you don’t matter and that you’re all alone, and that God isn’t actually listening, and isn’t actually there, and doesn’t actually give a crap? Good, because I will, because I don’t care who knows that I’ve struggled with that. You want me to talk about my insecurities? I’ll make you a list of them; there are a lot.
I get how people can look at me and think, “Oh, depression, you can’t use that as a crutch forever,” and I agree, and I don’t want to. But it still affects me, it still hits hard at times, and I can use it to help other people. I can use it as a beacon and I can use it to say, “I know you feel like you’re in the middle of the darkest forest of your life, and that you’ll never find your way out, but I’ve been there, and I’m not there anymore.” It’s like I want to have a t-shirt made that says, “You’re struggling with depression? Please come talk to me about it.” Because for a long time, I felt weak for needing medication and like that must have meant that I didn’t love or trust the Lord enough, or whatever. I have depression, and I haven’t shaken it yet, but God-willing, I’m going to. And If I have to have it forever, then alright. Maybe that’ll help me keep on helping people.
I have a proposition:
Let’s stop pretending that our lives are perfect.
Let’s put all our crap on the table.
Let’s actually be vulnerable and try to help each other heal, whether that’s though sharing our stories, or saying, “here, this is my therapist’s number,” or praying or listening or whatever. I don’t know what works for you. But let’s figure out what does. This isn’t an excuse to wallow, this is an invitation to find freedom from the things that weigh you down. It’s a call to say to your condition or situation or weakness or addiction or hard thing, “You don’t get to define me. You don’t get to hold me back.” It’s a declaration that fighting back does not mean sucking it up, it means figuring out what kind of help you need and learning how to ask for it.
Let’s fight back against that voice that says, “Look how limited/worthless/small/ineffectual you are. Put on your fight face, keep your mask on, don’t let anyone see you sweat — or worse — cry or show weakness or not be perfect.”
I’m pretty done with the masks, and I have some choice words for that voice. I followed its instructions for a long time. It stole a lot of my life right out from under me, pick-pocketed me and stole my confidence, my joy, my hope in my journey. It convinced me that I couldn’t fight back. But I am fighting now, and I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I figured that out, but it had everything to do with letting people into my vulnerable places.
I don’t know what else to say. Mostly I just want people to know that they’re cared about. And loved. And valuable. And important. And that they matter. The more I think about what I’m passionate about, the more I realize that it’s all that stuff. Life is a really hard thing. Everybody is walking through something different, and I hate to think that people walk through those things alone. I hate that people think they can’t talk about those things, mostly. My point in all this is…please talk about it, please do it. People need to hear your story, I need to hear your story. I need to know that I’m not the only one who’s had chronic depression for four years and has been on seven different medications, none of which have really helped me have a breakthrough. I need to know that I’m not the only one who’s written off God for a while and stopped believing that prayer worked or wasn’t a waste of time. I need to know that I’m not the only one struggling. So I’ll be the first one to put on the scarlet letter. I choose to be an open book and I choose to wave my struggles and dirty laundry, because they tell a story of who God is and what He’s doing and redeeming in my life. I choose to make my life and time and apartment a safe space to talk about dark and twisty and confusing things, to take off the masks. I don’t see how it can hurt. I see a lot of potential in how it can heal, though, because I’ve been trying to live my life like that for a while. Community is really hard, but it’s a lot harder when we’re holding our breath, hoping that people don’t get close enough to see our imperfections.
Maybe my life looks good on the outside. Maybe my apartment looks like Pottery Barn. Maybe it looks like I took cookie-decorating classes, and that’s because I did, because God forbid I don’t make Christmas cookies that people lose their minds over. Maybe it looks like I’ve really got it all together. But it’s a big, big, big sham, friends. And I’m calling shenanigans. I struggle, I’m really insecure, and I’m not afraid of that, and I hope you’ll join me there. And I really believe, with everything in me, that the solution to this epidemic is open, flaming, vulnerability.