I don't feel like the same person who started this blog. I don't feel joyful. I feel a lot of things, but joy is not one of them. I am searching for me.
I love this meditation from the Little Flowers of St. Francis and I come back to it often. It was my favorite when I first read it as a teenager. It was the subject of my senior essay at St. John's college. It was the first thing I wrote about in this blog. Joy, perfect joy, is in the cross.
This is the antidote for the dissonant bells and clattering noise of pop-theology. Everything is not going to be OK all the time. God didn't promise that. He promised a cross. The sheer arrogance of some theologies, bubbling over with promises of wealth and happiness (as these things must indeed be related) is offensive. But let's not chase that rabbit trail today.
Today I want to talk about wellness.
I want to share something which won't surprise you: someone you know and love has been treated for anxiety or depression. I am not outing anyone. People can tell their own stories, or not, as they like. I am telling mine. Mine is still in pieces and I am only beginning to put them together. I want to let the light and fresh air in. I want to talk about it. I want to dispel a few clouds.
I have been dealing with anxiety and maybe depression. It has been getting worse for some time and this weekend was particularly bad. I had a panic attack. It was not the first, but it was the worst. I was scared. I was throwing up. I was shaking. It was a long few days of recovery, even when the panic was over.
I realized that my baseline is not acceptable. This should have been obvious. For months, I could not listen to music which affected me emotionally (so...um...no good music), because it might trigger a panic attack. I could not exert myself physically, because if my heart started beating too fast I would have a panic attack. I could not watch TV or movies which were actually dramatically interesting, because it might trigger a panic attack. Most startling to those that know me best: I could not engage in argument. Especially political argument. Heart racing. Nausea. I walked out of one argument literally seeing stars- my head was spinning. (In my defense: Trump.)
I've had trouble describing what is happening sometimes. Nerves. Or Anxiety. Fear. No matter what word I used, people want to know what the object is. Why am I anxious? What am I afraid of? Sometimes there is a rational answer. Sometimes there is an answer, but it isn't rational. Sometimes there is no answer. You know the physical feeling you get when you are scared? That is how I feel, but with no object. There is no fear for you to dispel. It isn't a feeling. I mean, it is. It is a physical feeling. The one associated with fear- you know- the pit in your stomach, body shaking, coldness... but I am not afraid. That is the wrong word.
Want to laugh? During Lent, I sat down with my family to watch the Prince of Egypt. Remember that animated telling of the Moses story? I had to leave in the middle of the movie because I couldn't breathe. THEY WERE KILLING THE BABIES!
For all of this, I have just been adjusting. I walked away from the children's movie I couldn't handle and calmed down alone in my room. I thought I was fine. Because I could calm down.
But I am not fine. I am hiding from life. And you cannot hide forever. This weekend knocked some sense into me.
So, I made a long overdue appointment with my doctor and I asked for prayers on facebook. I shared a small bit of my story in a closed group people who have Apert syndrome and their families. I said I am suffering from anxiety and maybe depression. I expected comforting words of support. I expected promises of prayer. I did not expect the deluge of people telling me that they had been through this too. Some were public. Some sent me private messages. Some people sent detailed stories. It wasn't just support from people who loved me. It was solidarity. And it wasn't just in the special needs network, it was everywhere. Friends from everywhere I have ever made friends.
Someone you know has been treated.
And some of them felt ashamed.
I heard from people who thought it was a weakness to need medication. I heard from people who thought prayer should have made it all better. These are the common and devastating lies. This is the stigma which keeps people away from getting help.
I still love The Little Flowers, and specifically that meditation on perfect joy. As Christians we are called to take up our cross. Sometimes that means coping with unavoidable difficulty. But sometimes taking up your cross means facing the difficulty head on. I do not know what God's plan is, but I know that if he gives me the tools to take care of something and I leave it to him anyway, that's on me. Using tools is not a lack of faith or a weakness.
I do not yet know what the path to wellness looks like for me. This is terribly unfamiliar and I am scared. I have been saying, for probably a year, that even if I won't do it for me, I should do it for my family. I am not a good mom. I am not a good wife. I am not a good friend. I can fake it as well as anyone, I guess, but no one who lives with me is fooled. I need help. I am confused, but I am not ashamed. And I am going to get better.