When we last met our heroine (back at the end of November – seriously, I’m terrible at updating this thing), she had reemerged on the social media scene after a short absence. We’ve returned a few months later to find her… Okay, I’m done with the 3rd person. Hi, y’all. How’s everyone doing?
So, I’m still not going into tons of details about last semester, but I am in a strong enough place to say that I was very, very depressed and that sort of snowballed into the giant mess that was last semester, of which I am still feeling/dealing with its nasty after-effects. BUT, and perhaps this is the most important “but” in this blog, I am doing so much better now. Even if people can’t see it on the outside, internally, even though I’m probably just evening out on the emotional level most people function on, I feel like I’ve just won tickets to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my closest friends who are also obsessed with Harry Potter.
Okay, maybe not quite that much excitement, but it is sort of like an adrenaline rush after doing really well on a class presentation, only all I actually did was get out of bed after achieving a full night’s sleep. So, on the one level, that may give you a gage for how crappy I’ve felt for the past 4-5 months, but on the other hand, yay for being able to feel positive emotions again (!), even if what would normal level happiness for most people is feels double that for me right now. When you’ve been that low for that long, a 1 on the happiness scale feels like a 5 until things level out.
However, here’s how I know my depression is actually, really getting better -with the help of regular therapy and a wonderful support network. For the first time… well… ever… my thought the last few weeks or so when I’ve being treated or spoken to in some pretty hurtful ways was, “I’m worth more than this.”
If you know me at all, you know that I NEVER think things like that, no matter how terrible I am being/have been treated. So this isn’t a prima donna, privileged ego trip. Seriously, this is growth for me… And hopefully, eventually one day, I’ll get to the point where I can actually harness that belief, and verbalize my feelings out loud and not allow myself to be used, treated poorly, and run over by people… But baby steps, people. Baby steps.
I don’t fully know what is different this time around (though I have a few ideas). However, I do know the stars and planets have somehow aligned and I’m apparently doing the right combination of things with the right people to actually make genuine progress in my mental health. This is not to say I don’t still have my bad moments or days, because lord knows I do. But for the first time in a very, very long time, I feel like I’m in control of my depression and not the other way around. Everything about right now feels different from all the other times I did therapy and tried to get a handle on things. Though, to be honest, a part of me is wary of saying that just in case things suddenly start going downhill and I crash and burn everything and everyone around me (again)… Okay, obviously I still have a lot of work to do in the positive thinking department. Remember. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
For now, though, I’m in a really good place. Things are still stressful, as per grad school usual, but this time around I know I really have a safety net below me and harness attached to my body. Even if I fall, this time around I won’t be crashing so hard, because I have people who love me that are watching out for me, I have weekly therapy so the net is there and ready, and I’m really starting to believe I deserve* to be safe, happy, and healthy.
* FYI, if you’re someone who doesn’t think I deserve** those things, please see your way out of my life… Does this count as standing up for myself, even though I’m like 95% sure anyone reading this would not be in the category of people who don’t think I deserve happiness and health? #babysteps
** Okay, yes, there is an entire philosophical/theological/ethical debate that could be had around if anyone “deserves” anything, especially happiness (Christian Moral Theology, coming back to haunt me again), but let’s just operate under the assumption that by “deserve” I mean that you don’t think I should be in a constant state of crippling depression, thus making my and others lives infinitely more unpleasant. If you do, please see asterisk 1.
I had written out a really, really long blog post explaining why I had deactivated my Facebook and withdrawn from social media, as well as withdrawing in “real life.” And then I slept on it and realized that if someone wants to know the reasons why, they can ask me in person. At most, I’ll say that this hasn’t been an easy semester, for a number of reasons and on a number of levels.
What I do want to say, since it is Thanksgiving, is that I’m grateful for the patience and compassion people have shown me during this time. I know it has been an especially frustrating time for a few people close to me who knew what has been going on and I owe them so much for sticking with me until I was able to get myself to the point of reaching out for help.
The last couple weeks have been me trying to take those slow, painful, first steps towards getting “better,” which now includes reactivating Facebook and being present again in the lives of my friends. I know that I’m not at 100% and won’t be for a while but I’m learning that being honest about where I am and how I am feeling is much more helpful than withdrawing or lying about how things are going.
On a related note, today I finished Allegiant, the final book in the Divergent trilogy, by Veronica Roth (I promise it’ll make sense in a minute and there are no spoilers) and there are three quotes from it that stuck with me. They are sort of like my reminders of the how and why I’m trying to get better:
There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone have you ever loved, for the sake of something greater
But sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.
That is the sort of bravery I must have now.
“Yeah, sometimes life really sucks,” she says. “But you know what I’m holding on for?”
I raise my eyebrows.
She raises hers, too, mimicking me.
“The moments that don’t suck,” she says. “The trick is to notice them when they come around.”
Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage.
But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.
You can partially blame Zayna for me coming back to social media since she introduced me to this series and it was when I finished Allegiant that I decided it was time to “be brave” and reactive my Facebook and swallow my fear of being present, and therefore vulnerable, with people again, both online and in real life. So, to everyone, I’m sorry for my absence, both virtually and in real life. I am truly grateful for each one of you and Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.
And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.
Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
- James Martin, SJ, “A New Serenity Prayer”
I figured I need this after the last few particularly angst-filled posts on here… Lord in your mercy.
Letting go is hard stuff. Moving onto a new path. Accepting that things will never be the same. Trying to live with the excitement and passion you once had. It is all hard stuff.
It is the stuff that keeps you staring at the darkened ceiling of your bedroom night after night after night.
It is the stuff that causes the world around you to slow down, almost stop, at random times, in random places when you remember what used to be and then remember that it will never be again.
It is the stuff that makes you become silent. The slow tightening of your chest. The uncomfortable contracting of your heart. The desperate clenching of the jaw to keep that anguished sob from breaking forth into the world and admitting the truth that something is deeply, powerfully missed. And yet even in places and with people where the truth can be spoken, the words cannot come because there are no words to convey the true depth and breadth what has been lost.
What words are meagerly said are met with pitying but dismissive looks that one gives a child deemed to old to be crying about falling down. Looks that say it is time to move on; it is not that bad; you are not hurt. Looks that are utterly ignorant or forgetful of what it is like to lose a part of yourself, to lose a sense of identity and purpose, to lose what had grounded you for years and years… to lose what had saved your life time and time again.
It is the stuff that makes you want to find the tallest building or highest mountain and scream until your voice is hoarse and your body numb. To let the whole world know the anger and fire in your soul, the only sense of “passion” you have left. But the world doesn’t want to hear your complaints because you are not the only one to have been burned. Your story is like so many others… Only their stories get told as the brave ones who stayed. The brave ones who fought. The brave ones who are supposed to be the inspiration for everyone else.
And they are brave. And they should be honored for fighting against an unjust system. And they do inspire.
But I am tired of being labeled a coward. I am tired of being dismissed as weak. I am tired of the unspoken, “I told you so.”
I am tired.
Because there is strength in walking away… In leaving behind something that your life, goals, purpose, and decisions had revolved around for so very long…In trying to find a path that does not constantly leave you with a diminished sense of worth… In having to live in a bitterly lonely limbo where you do not belong in the former world or the new world, not because the new world does not accept you but because it was not your world before and you are still, in so many, perhaps too many ways, the person you were before you walked away.
Because there is strength in endeavoring to find your place somewhere else, no matter how difficult it may be or how long it will take. Somewhere that you no longer have to pray for God to change you to stay. Somewhere that may be foreign but is accepting.
Because there is strength in letting go, but sometimes there is also unimaginable pain that is only known to a darkened ceiling in the quiet of night, where once in a while a muffled but anguished sob breaks free and the truth enters the universe that this is all hard stuff. And that is when I have to believe God cries too.
The past month has brought out a whole spectrum of emotions. Most of those emotions were related to saying goodbye to a number of dear friends who have moved away and are preparing to start their ministry in a variety of settings. But underneath all the happy tears and smiles for the amazing work that my friends and colleagues have accomplished, underneath the joy of seeing so many pictures of commissioning services, new parsonages, and new churches, underneath my own outward excitement for new role at Park Ridge Community Church (PRCC) and beginning my Master of Theological Studies degree, underneath all of that have been emotions I am not proud to admit feeling.
Anger… Sadness… Frustration… Even jealousy…
For every positive emotion I felt for my friends as they moved on with their lives and ministries, I also felt like there was a knife getting twisted one more notch in my heart. For every Facebook status I read announcing a first appointment and the sense of relief at finally getting to live out a calling, I second-guessed my own call, second-guessed my decision to leave the UMC, and second-guessed whether my desire to one day have the chance of finding a partner and starting a family, and live openly in that relationship, was something I should have sacrificed in order to live out my calling in the UMC.
The day I joined PRCC and officially left the UMC to be a part of the United Church of Christ (UCC) was an incredibly happy but also heartbreaking day. My heart was filled with such a sense of joy and acceptance during the service and afterward at the reception. I felt like I had a true church home again. Yet, the moment I drove out of the church parking lot, I cried… and I cried the entire 30 minute drive back to my apartment. And I’ve cried a number of nights since then. I let something go that day that PRCC and the UCC, at least at this point in time, haven’t been able to completely replace.
Today, I met with my pastor to discuss some of the process for my ordination in the UCC. When I got home this afternoon, I did more research and started creating my own checklist of things I have to do, as well as create a timeline of the time-period requirements for my Association of the UCC.
At least one year membership
Then at least two years at In Care status (think certified candidate in UMC terms)
In total, at least three years… Three years before I can have the chance to be voted on to be approved for ordination and even then, it will be who knows how long before I am able to find a call (welcome to the search and call system).
And I get it. I understand why the time requirements are there. I understand that I will not be the typical person because I already have my Master of Divinity degree. I understand that the church and the Association need to get to know me, to see for themselves proof of my calling, my abilities, and my preparedness before approving me. But understanding in my mind doesn’t take away from the hurting in my heart. It didn’t keep me from crying on my front porch this afternoon after reading through all the documents a third time, still hoping to find some loophole that will let me take just a year off the process.
Understanding doesn’t take away from the pain and frustration of feeling like I’m just biding time for three years for something I know I’m called, qualified, and equipped to do.
To be completely honest, I did not want to do the MTS right after my MDiv… My plan had always been to graduate with my MDiv, go work in a church for a while, pay off some student loan debt, and then go back for the PhD… But plans change. Things don’t always turn out the way you hoped they would. And with those changes and transitions often comes pain, confusion, frustration, and anger. You grieve the loss of what was and what was “suppose” to happen and do your best to live and deal with the present. And right now I’m having a hard time living and dealing with the present because I feel like somehow I’ve failed
And before y’all start yelling at me, I know I haven’t really failed. I know I shouldn’t second-guess the decisions I’ve made. I know I’m still called. I know that what will be, will be.
But I also know how I feel right now, even if its illogical.
I know I’m still grieving and I know I’m still hurting. I know I’m frustrated and angry at myself, at God, and at the UMC. I know I’m afraid that I’m not going to have the energy, passion, or drive to keep going forward with the process. I know I have never felt so alone, confused, or unsure about a process. I know I feel like I really don’t have anyone to look to for guidance in this process. And somehow, it just feels wrong to keep denying those facts.
So, what’s the point of all this? … I honestly have no idea… What will be, will be. I’m grateful that I have the ability and chance to do the MTS degree and continue to read and write. I’m grateful, no matter what happens, that I’ve found an amazing congregation to call my church home and I’m grateful that so many of my friends have been appointed or received a call or found a job. I know they are going to do some amazing things in the church and the world and I could not be prouder of them. If things don’t work out for me, I at least know that they will continue to fight within the UMC and the Church universal for full inclusion, so others won’t end up like me, trying to find where they belong in an effort to live out a calling from God to live authentically and serve God and the people of God.