Rewind to last week, if you will.
It’d finally arrived– the Festival of Faith & Writing. I’ve been looking forward to this event for months- years, actually. I’d been wanting to attend this festival since college, and I was ecstatic– filled with excitement and expectation of what was to come. I got there Wednesday evening after a smooth airplane journey and got to hug so many friends that I’d only known through my computer screen (through launch teams and twitter and the like). I was searching through the program to decide what various panels and workshops I was going to attend while drinking wine and giggling with the friends I was rooming with. It was great.
Until it wasn’t.
Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the fact that this night owl somehow awoke naturally at 6:30 am the morning the conference began, but right around 9 am that morning, as I was trying to write for a workshop assignment, a wave of anxiety and darkness hit so thick I lost my breath.
The record player of darkness hits began to play on repeat in my head: You can’t do this. Why are you here? You shouldn’t even try. Give up. You don’t deserve to be here. Quit trying. You’re not worthy.
Some days the record spins quietly, a dull voice in the background of everyday life. Some days it plays at full speed and full volume, making it hard for me to hear anything above the noise.
(it was the 2nd option on this day).
So instead of returning to the workshop empty-handed, I sat in a booth in a hallway mindlessly scrolling in hopes to catch my breath. I never did that day.
The anxiety lingered, a cold shiver up my spine in my quiet, alone moments. It would eventually lessen, but it was never fully gone. It never is.
The darkness of depression lingered too, covering the whole first day in a fog– a veil covering my eyes and my heart from fully experiencing the joy and wonder of the moment I was in. The numbness of depression set in as the anxiety lessened, and it wouldn’t let me go. It never does.
I was in a sea of fellow writers, readers, friends, and people of faith-- yet I felt completely alone. Depression isolates you in a way nothing else can. Click To Tweet
I was listening to these brilliant writers teach me things about writing and literature and faith, but somehow I could barely scrape my pen across the page to take notes. (I went back and looked at the notes from this first day versus the last two, and you could see a physical difference in the amount/the handwriting. It’s astounding to me what a difference a day makes).
My friends had conversations around me at the dinner table, but I played on my phone, my head spinning at 100 miles an hour, hoping no one would ask me questions or try to get to know me while I was in this headspace (they didn’t).
I tried powering through one last session, thinking that if I just kept going the darkness would go away. My logic is so logical, I know. I had to do all the things to get the most out of this conference, so I tried. I thought that would make everything okay. I ended up leaving halfway through after a migraine with accompanied nausea set in, leaving me quite close to throwing up in a trashcan (it never came to that, thankfully, but it came pretty close). I immediately got to the house, puked a couple times, then crashed into bed, exhausted in every sense of the word.
I tried to outsmart my mental illness, but my body outsmarted me.
The physical pain of the migraine was enough to distract me from the mental anguish of the day. It was kind of nice to have a physical ailment to use as an excuse to go to bed, instead of saying my depression and anxiety were crushing me despite being at a dream come true place in my life.
Yeah, I’d rather hide behind the migraine, because this is one of those moments where mental illness makes zero sense.
How could I be in this place I’ve wanted to be in for so long and yet feel this way? How could this place that was evoking such joy and happiness and love also evoke sadness in my mind? How could I feel anxious and alone surrounded by friends and things I love? How could I be depressed when I’m so happy?
I still don’t have an answer to this question. It just happens like that.
Just because I’m in a happy place doesn’t mean my brain’s going to get the memo. It’s still in the same place: a place of darkness and despair and self-destruction. While I’m on medicine and have things put in place that help me in the struggle, every day that I have a good day is hard-fought for. And somedays darkness finds me still.
When I finally realized that I wasn’t just overwhelmed, that I was in the depths of sadness, I slowed down. I skipped a session (sorry Jonathan Merritt!), and sat down for a moment to breathe. I then texted my friend and mentor, my go-to person for all things when I’m struggling with depression (pro tip: find you a friend who understands. It makes all the difference in the world). I asked her if she’d had any similar issues with depression being more present during good/exciting/fun things.
She shared a thought that resonated with me: she said that events she looked forward to so much served as highlighters to the fact that she was still struggling with depression. She hoped to be healed by this or that event so she could fully enjoy it, but that didn’t happen. And it broke her open.
I totally, 100% get that.
Let’s be totally honest: 2017 wasn’t the greatest mentally, and 2018 hasn’t exactly started out stellar either. But in a way, I was hoping this conference would be the thing to put me on the upswing. Like, it would be the thing that rescued me, the event that propelled my struggle to go in the other direction.
But that’s not how this works, sadly. And when it didn’t, I fell apart mentally.
Depression nor anxiety care where you’re at, or what you’re doing: it’s just there, and it won’t hide away in the inconvenient moments.
I want to be better. I don’t want this to be the cross I bear. I don’t want to spend hours overthinking or listening to the voices in my head tell me I suck. I’m sick of feeling like I’m hanging by a thread and wishing I had a do-over on this life. I hate living in a shell of myself, living with a dark cloud hanging over everything I do.I'm tired of feeling like I'm never going to come out on the other side of this sinking sand of sadness and struggle. Click To Tweet
I’m nowhere near better, nowhere near okay. Honestly, I’ve taken a backslide since moving home last summer, and despite being in a decent place right this second, that’s not to say that something could happen to unravel me even further. I’ve had 2 medicine increases in less than a year, one just being a few weeks before this conference.
Why couldn’t I just have this one moment in time where my depression hid in the corner of my soul and just let me have this time and trip to be fully me?
No matter where I am, what I’m doing, or how I want to be feeling: mental illness has a way of showing up. In every fun moment, every trip, every laugh, every hug from a new friend later finds me grieving, wishing I didn’t have this grey darkness wrapped around me reminding me that I’m not fully myself.
It sucks. I hate that I lost a whole day at this beautiful conference with wonderful friends because I wasn’t fully present. I barely remember the sessions I went to on that first day; if I didn’t have notes I wouldn’t remember anything at all. I hate that after all that was put into me being at this conference (time, money, travel, etc), I couldn’t be 100% happy when I was finally there. (I never feel 100% happy, now that I think about it. But that’s another story for another day). I hate that it took this conference to remind me that I’m not OK, that this was the highlighter that reminded me that I’m still depressed and anxious and in the doldrums of life. I hate that it forced me out of my bubble and made me sit in my sadness during such an incredible weekend.
I hate that I spent my first day in a fog, there in the flesh but not there– skating by, session to session, feeling like I was just going through the motions. It’s one thing to go through the motions in daily life (it happens all the time when you’re a depressed person), but when you’re doing something you love, with people you adore, at a place you’ve been counting the days down to go to? It’s really a rough place to be.
I really was hoping that I could put my depression and anxiety away in a box for just a few days and really enjoy myself. I expected it, truthfully– that if I just got here to this place with all these friends and writers, I would be pulled out of the depths. It was a naïve thought, especially from someone so seasoned with this struggle. I really wanted to be better in this place, y’all. But no, I wasn’t even allowed that. And I’ll never understand why.
But I won’t let these illnesses take away the joy of my life. It can take my happiness at the moment, sure, but I will still find and revel in the joy this world and the people around me show me.
The darkness of depression or anxiety can NOT take those things away.
After that first day ended with me falling into bed, physical ailments greater than my drive to fight through the darkness, I woke the next morning a little more like myself. Was I 100%? Nope. I’m not 100% still, and honestly, I doubt I’ll ever be as long as these diagnoses are a part of my life.
As the day went by, however, more of myself came out from the darkness until it was nothing more than a flicker in the back of my mind. The record player faded into static noise beyond the laughter and music and wise words and advice shared.
When I named my struggle and pulled it into the light, it faded back into the background; when I finally realized that I was struggling despite my longing not to, I was able to catch my breath and fight the darkness. I got to enjoy the rest of the conference learning new things, laughing at Jen Hatmaker (twice!!), giggling with girlfriends at the house we shared, having intimate conversations about life and love and singleness and beauty. It was all so needed. And I was able to finally be present for it.
As much as I hate that I was zombie-like on my first day thanks to my depression, I’m grateful the fog lifted long enough for me to really enjoy and absorb the rest of the conference. I took no hug or conversation or session for granted; I took breaks and deep breaths and bought books from the authors I was moved by. I was there, and I was not going to live the moment down.
And I didn’t.
Depression and anxiety follow my every move, in good times or bad; they steal my breath and frustrate me to no end, the ever-present backseat drivers of my chemically-imbalanced brain. The tag-along siblings I didn’t want but won’t leave me alone for five minutes. And it sucks, royally. There’s no way to tie a pretty bow around this mess until I’m healed of it one day, whether on earth or in the presence of Jesus.
I can’t change it. But I’m not going to let it take over my life, either.
I’m still going to travel to places and visit friends and hug friends and laugh and probably (definitely) cry. I’m going to try my best to put my struggles with darkness in the back of my mind on the days I’m enjoying life and being filled with joy; but when I can’t, when it overpowers my meds and other measures of defense, I will not let it win. I will find and revel in joy despite my sadness.
Even if I have to fight it with all my might, I will figure out how to not let my mental illness steal my life from me. A day stolen at this conference was enough; it’s not going to steal my joy or the things that bring me happiness along the way.
Mental illness might tag along in my life, but it does not get to control my joy. My joy comes from the Lord, and sometimes that looks like hugs and books and writers in rooms practicing their craft with each other. Praise be to God for joy in all its forms, even when depression and anxiety try to steal it from under me.
I will not let my depression be what I remember about this experience: I will instead remember the joy I found in spite of it. Click To Tweet