— falling —
The spring semester of 2019 found me putting up a busy and smiley facade while plodding through one of the lowest lows I’d experienced to that point. After a couple years of thinking my only mental battle was generalized anxiety, I was suddenly also diagnosed with mild to moderate clinical depression. I’d only just started getting used to the anxiety label and here was another one being slapped in my face. I didn’t believe the diagnosis at first — didn’t want to believe it.
But I wasn’t healthy and I certainly wasn’t mentally stable. Any one of my friends could have told you that. I think I was just too proud to acknowledge they were right. I fought it by over-committing: I worked three campus jobs (that I loved but didn’t realize were draining me), took the maximum number of credits for a semester, filled my Friday and Saturday nights with socializing… anything to numb the gathering storm clouds in my head. Ironically, the very thing I wanted to fight was also the reason I was fighting it so unwisely in the first place.
The things that once brought me joy simply weren’t enjoyable or motivating anymore. I struggled to carry out normal one-on-one conversation with my friends and pretty much only intentionally surrounded myself with larger groups of people. Honestly, looking back on it, that should have been a huge red flag. I don’t operate well in large groups, and one-on-one situations are ideal for me to give love and/or receive love. But in my unconscious desperation to hide from my own intrusive thoughts, the silence and intimacy of quality time made me uncomfortable because it meant I had to be aware of how disengaged I was, how reluctant I was to open up, or how ill-equipped I was to listen and be there for people. At least in a large group the noise and constant stimulation eliminated any chance of my brooding or stumbling down these foxholes of bitterness and despair.
At the same time as wanting to numb myself from the bad, I desperately wanted to stimulate the good, however fleeting. So I drank black tea and coffee and soda and ate chocolate any opportunity I got. My mother’s warning voice rang in my ear and each time I ignored it. Certainly having anxiety and experiencing sensory overload all the time was better than feeling no sensation at all? But then the sensory overload caused me to dissociate which caused me to lose my sense of reality which caused me to panic. All of this contributed to sleep deprivation, and the cycle would begin all over again.
Spiritual attacks became scarily frequent, probably due to all the above reasons and various others. I was in a very vulnerable place, and temptation along with intrusive thoughts and self-hatred became Satan’s biggest tools. But God always had this impeccable timing. A friend would “coincidentally” text me when I was throwing a tantrum on my dorm room floor. Emily would be there when I had a panic attack at three in the morning. Psalms 42 and 121 clung to me like a cat that won’t stop purring. My professors that semester each had their ways of reminding students of God’s faithfulness: liturgies, prayers, moments of silence, and books that stretched our minds beyond ourselves. My friends faithfully stuck through the storm with me (and would continue to). God also miraculously gave me new friends in the midst of this mess, when I didn’t even want them or deserve them.
It wasn’t all bad. This isn’t supposed to be a series of essays about sadness, really. It’s about looking back over 2019 and realizing that I needed to be completely emptied of some heavy baggage before God could start replanting. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I closed out the semester with one of the craziest April-to-May moments I’ve ever had. My friend Maddie and I were offered the huge opportunity of being editors in chief of the student paper, and we jumped at the chance. But this meant that on top of our other jobs we also had to start training and slowly taking over various things from the current editors. This contributed inordinate levels of stress to my already overflowing plate. Campus was rolling into finals week (which usually feels more like finals month) and, consequentially, moving-out week.
Unsurprisingly, I got really sick and developed a blazing fever the weekend before exams. By God’s grace alone I pounded out research papers in the measly hours before they were due, barely studied for my exams and passed every single one… except for my history gen-ed. That day I felt so sick I went to Student Health Services (shout out to Davis and Cat for driving me back and forth multiple times). So I emailed my professor and asked him if I could possibly pass the class without taking the exam. Mercifully, he completely understood, and even offered to let me take it another time. But considering there was only a day and a half left before I had to move out, and I still hadn’t packed a single item in my dorm room, I opted to flunk the exam. I’m not sure what I felt more: empowerment or shame. My friends and family seemed to have mixed reviews whenever I broke the news.
By some crazy only-God-could-have-made-this-happen miracle, I packed up all my stuff and flew home for a week and a half of rest. I thought the worst was over. The semester was behind me, England was ahead, and I was ready to dive into a summer of being filled after being so drastically emptied (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). I thought the only way left to go was up.
No surprise here, but God was seeing something very different.