The last few weeks have been a lot. I’ve been under some stress that just kept building and building until, before I knew it, I was well into a depressive episode. For some reason, they usually take me by surprise.
I was having migraines every day, almost all day, for two weeks, not eating, doing the bare minimum at home and work, and withdrawing from everyone in my life before I recognized what had happened. I thought I was treading water. But in reality, the water was 100 feet above my head.
Have you ever had an experience where everything just seems to fall apart all at once?
Remember that workplace trauma I told you about? A really difficult relationship with a colleague and a reluctance to address it by leadership triggered the hell out of me. The details were different, but it felt all too familiar. And the more they dragged it out, month after month, the less safe I felt. It felt like I was being attacked, rejected, and abandoned all over again.
And I thought, “how could I be going through all of this again? Is it me? What am I doing wrong here?” And then, once I remembered that I’m not responsible for the way other people behave, including when I ask for help, I just felt alone, yet in the same place, again.
But I couldn’t just go forward like it didn’t matter. Something in my spirit wouldn’t let me. So, I set a boundary. I told leadership that I couldn’t, wouldn’t, interact with this person until they addressed the issue. Eventually, they at least had a conversation. But the sense that it wasn’t enough wouldn’t allow the burden to lift.
Around the same time, the new relationship I had developed with a tenderhearted man was beginning to shake. We were unequally yoked – two people who wanted to be together, but were walking at two entirely different paces and not always in the same direction faith-wise. I had known from the very the beginning that this was a possibility, a certainty really, but I went forward anyway. And as the relationship crumbled around us, the painful rejection I felt was compounded by my own lack of wisdom in the first place.
A week or two later, I would find myself in the middle of another break-up. It was the end of my time with my out-of-state EMDR therapist, a person whose work with me had been truly transformational. There was no blow up, no drama, the rules just wouldn’t allow it anymore. So, though we knew the end was coming, it didn’t make saying goodbye any easier. Up to that point I had been filled with dread, but it turned to grief when everything was said and done.
And finally, a dinner with an old colleague and his wife that I had hoped would have been an enjoyable experience, ended up being the exact opposite. Instead of laughing and cracking jokes with the man who regularly checked-in with me, I found myself constantly dodging questions about why I wasn’t married or had a boyfriend from his wife. And in the wake of my recent breakup, I wasn’t ready for any of it. The dinner had only been an hour and a half, but when we parted, I felt like I had spent hours being judged and had come up short.
It was A LOT to endure all at once. I thought I was maintaining – treading water. But the pain of each scenario pushed me further and further below the water’s surface. And when I finally opened my eyes and looked around, I saw that I was in a familiar place. I was failing at life – again – and that made it worse. More tired than anything else, I just wanted to give up on everything, including life itself.
Before I decided to follow Jesus, I thought that being a believer would take those negative feelings away forever. I thought I would never experience pain, make mistakes, or feel alone ever again. But in the years since, I’ve learned that isn’t true. I wish I could say that I pushed my way through the despair that I felt or that Jesus suddenly washed it all away. But neither would be true.
What I did was cry a lot, get angry with myself and God, repent and do it all over again. But there’s one thing that made the difference. When I accepted Jesus, I also accepted his spirit, the Holy Spirit, and invited them into my heart and my life. The Holy Spirit leads us in ways that we can’t always see at the time. Moment by moment the Holy Spirit directs us to the things that will comfort and restore us, even as we struggle.
It can start with something as simple as a glass of water. That bit of hydration can give us the clarity to take a shower, then lotion our bodies, have a little food, or take a nap. Bit by bit, he leads us to just keep going, one thing, one step at a time. And slowly, over time, you notice the despair lifting. It’s not a “suddenly” kind of thing, at least, it hasn’t been for me.