How do I be there for someone in the depths of depression?

How do you give hope to someone who feels hopeless? You keep putting hope on for yourself. Every single day. You strengthen your own heart and your own soul with hope so that you don't become depleted. You extend hope to others in your life as well. You make hope your anthem rather than mustering up hope for someone who has an empty tank. There is nothing wrong with wanting to extend hope to someone who is missing it but you must cultivate hope for your own soul and wellbeing, first. Only when we take care of ourselves can we healthily care for the others. 

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Put on your strength: a step towards mental health.

If I could speak one piece of advice over my 7-year battle with mental health, I would just say this: "Don't let fear be the thing that stops you from getting the help you need. If anyone else were drowning, you'd tell them to reach out and grab the life jacket. Don't ignore the symptoms of drowning."

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I will walk with you through the woods.

January is a month that hoards memories for me. I can hardly look at the word "January" scrawled thick across the banner of a new calendar and not remember all that happened in this month three years ago. It's all still with me.

I remember the plane rides back and forth between Atlanta and Connecticut. I remember the multiple doctors, all with their differing opinions about treatment moving forward. I remember the hotel rooms, sitting on the phone for hours with friends because I didn't want to be alone. I remember the drowsiness of sleeping pills and the feel of the carpet against my cheek as I got down on the floor once again and begged God for a shred of hope, one small poke of light through the thick fog of depression.

Depression is never an easy topic to write about but I know it's necessary. Today, as I was reading in Isaiah, I noticed the words: I have been anointed to bring good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners of darkness. 

There are prisoners of darkness. This is an accurate description of how depression feels. Sometimes you feel like you are in this small, stone box. You're stuck at the bottom of it. There's no light pouring through the cracks. You can't find a window or a door and you're gasping for breath, pounding on the sides of that box in the hopes that someone would just hear you and let you go free. You're stuck. It's scary.

...

I get emails all the time from people asking me to write about how, just how, to walk with someone through the woods. Through the pain of depression. Through a dark valley of an unseen illness that steals sleep and daily ambition.

I'm writing now but with great hesitancy. Mental illness is such a tender topic and it's important to just come out and say it: there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Each individual is different. Each experience with mental illness is unique. I don't possess all the answers. Not even close. I am simply one person who deals with depression and it would be wise to gather the stories of others to make this narrative more complete. So here's the little prayer I said beneath my breath as I wrote this: God, help me to be wise when writing about such a tough topic. Give me grace in the areas where I get it wrong. Highlight & amplify the places where I speak your truth the loudest. 

I'd so appreciate your grace on this topic too!

...

You are not a lifeboat. The signs of depression may be pretty straightforward. However, figuring out how to respond to those signs is a different beast. You love this person. You naturally want to make it better for the one who is stuck in a thick fog. The first thing to remember: your presence is appreciated and essential but you can't heal a person of their illness. That's not your role.

Don't get frustrated by this. You have many other roles you can take on. You can make the tea. You can let them crumble into your arms and hold them why they cry. You can listen. You can learn.

More importantly, depression is a heavy thing. It can feel burdensome. Depression, itself, is the burden. The person who is suffering is just the host of the burden. Burdens, however, are not meant to be shouldered alone. Be mindful of your limits. Don't try to hold this all on your shoulders. It is possible to be crushed under the weight of trying to show up for someone you love. 

Be mindful of your limits. Don't try to hold this all on your shoulders. It is possible to be crushed under the weight of trying to show up for someone you love. 

Stay surrounded by a support system if you can. Be plugged in and be in communication with the other friends or family members who are walking alongside this person. Sometimes it takes a small village and hey, sometimes you may need to pull over on the side of the road and take a pit stop. That's okay. I say this because it's easy to start a journey with people but it's harder to finish it. Take care of your health. Lean hard into your people as someone with depression leans into you. Exercise boundaries. Be aware of how you're feeling as you offer another support.

 

...

Be a truth-teller. Much of depression is like hearing a soundtrack of lies blasting loudly in the background of everything you try to do yet being helpless to find the knob that turns the volume down. We need people to reach in and say, "Hey, I see you. I know the things you are believing right now but here's some truth to sustain you."

Remind that person of who they are. Remind them that they are not an illness or a failure. Depression is not a weakness. Remind the person you love that they are a fighter and that they, too, will come out of the woods. 

It might be tempting to say, "Snap out of it. Get yourself together and just move forward." You have to remember that the person battling this mental illness wants to believe the same things as you. They've tried to snap out of it. They are likely trying as hard as they possibly can so coercion to "get over it" won't work. Be kind and graceful.

Sometimes it won't seem to make any sense. And that's okay, too. Depression is a hard thing to understand and the best thing you can say sometimes is, "Hey, we both don't fully get this but what is more important is getting through this."

 

...

You're okay. These are my two favorite words in the English language. I use them constantly to remind others of how strong and brave they are. This is a big one: help is sometimes necessary and there doesn't need to be a glowing orb of stigma around getting it. Doctors exist for a reason. Medicine exists with a purpose. Not everyone needs medicine but it's okay if the door gets flung open.

It's one of the most powerful things in the world to remind a person who is fighting through the dark: you're okay. You're okay and if you need me to, I will go to the doctor's office with you. I will hold your hand. I will help you pick up the medicine and take that first pill.

Again, treatment is not a one-size-fits-all thing. I reached a point in my own journey where medicine was the only option to recovery and I still remember the friend who dropped me off at the doctor's office. I remember her bringing me back to her place, tucking me in on the couch, and going to Target to pick up that first prescription for me.

It's tempting to want to think you are crazy for having to take pills to make your brain better but that's the last thing you are. You are not crazy. You are not a lost cause. I had to remind myself that each small pill was a step towards recovery. It didn't mean I would take the pills forever. It simply meant that, in this moment, there was a little extra assistance and that was perfectly okay.

Another thing you might have to say: you're okay. And it's okay if you need to go somewhere like a hospital. It's okay if you need more help.

It was two weeks into my medicine that my community and I made the decision to go to the emergency room. I wouldn't have gone if people hadn't surrounded me and said, "It's perfectly okay to go where there is help. Don't be afraid. Don't believe the lie that you are broken beyond repair."

"It's perfectly okay to go where there is help. Don't be afraid. Don't believe the lie that you are broken beyond repair."

Thoughts of suicide are a reality for some of those battling mental illness. It is imperative that we ask the hard questions and we follow-up with help options: Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about hurting other people? These are not silly questions and they need to be asked sometimes even if it feels uncomfortable.

 

...

Little victories. I owe so much of my recovery to a small band of women who surrounded me and refused to let me be alone. There were days where I just wanted to be left alone. They would invite me over. They would call and ask me to join them for errands. This is huge. Really huge. It would be easy enough to sit with a person experiencing depression and let them talk all day about their worries and fears. This won't always be helpful though. Instead, plan something active. Propose going for a walk or doing a yoga class together. Ask them to join you on a trip to Target. These activities help a person get out of their own head and enter into the world. The depression will likely scream, "No! Just stay home. Just stay alone!" but it's okay to be a little insistent. Even if you don't feel it, your presence is a breath of fresh air to someone who is worn down by the prison in their brain.

There were days where all I wanted to do was run myself in circles around lies I couldn't piece together. I wanted answers but that's the thing about depression: it wants you to obsess over things you cannot change and it wants you to be helpless to move forward.

I wanted answers but that's the thing about depression: it wants you to obsess over things you cannot change and it wants you to be helpless to move forward.

One of my girlfriends, Chrisy, stopped me in the middle of obsessing one morning. She said, "Okay, we are not going to wallow in this anymore. I want you to get up and I want you to do something." She instructed me to go to Target and buy a pack of thank-you notes. She told me to write a thank-you note to any person who'd been with me in this dark pit. She asked me to write down every tiny thing I did from now until the end of the day, in monotonous fashion: Went to Target. Wrote thank-you notes. Took a shower. Met with Heather. 

Little victories are one of the best things you can point a person towards when they are in a pit. Little victories, stacking upon one another, help a person climb out of themselves and see the world once again. Depression is an illness that wants you to focus inward but action steps propel you forward. This is also a great chance to encourage self-care. It's easy to neglect things like bathing, working out, or eating right when you are depressed. Just the thought of a shower can seem so overwhelming but breaking the self-care into baby steps, little victories to be met, helps a person feel empowered and capable of trying again the next day.

Help the person in your life count the little victories, no matter how small. Write them down or track them in a phone. Rejoice with them. Celebrate the smallness. Grab their hand and assure them, "Little victory upon little victory, I will walk with you through the woods."

 

I would love to read your words and thoughts on this topic in the comment section below. The comments section is often a bright light for others, all on its own. I invite you to contribute- your words are appreciated in this space. 

Daily vitamins made simple & personal.

Let's be honest: The whole process of vitamins overwhelms me. I know I need to be taking them but which ones? And what brands? Can I just have the Gummies? Why does health feel so hard sometimes?

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The fight to keep your "normal."

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I've told this story a few times before. It happened in November 2014. It was the week of Thanksgiving and I was on the verge of a 4-month battle with severe depression. I say "verge" because, even though the depression had technically set in, those first few weeks were nothing compared to the rock-bottom I would encounter throughout the months of December, January and February. Talking with my good friend Clifton, I balled my fists up and huffed at him with frustration, "I just want to go back to normal."

It was clear though that my "normal" had brought me to this destination already: tired, anxious, burnt out and unable to keep the facade of "driven, inspiring young woman" going any longer. I was at the end of myself.

"When a tree gets struck by lightning it never goes back to normal," Clifton said. "It makes a new kind of normal."

 

...

Making a new "normal" is a monotonous task. I won't sugarcoat it and make you think otherwise. When your life falls apart-- or when you realize you are in grave danger of soon holding in your hands the remains of a life that has fallen apart-- the trek towards something different isn't easy. The road is rarely paved. The signs on the trees don't give clear directions. Much of forging a new life feels like fumbling around in the darkness until you find that next patch of light that tells you, "keep going."

I only write this because I've been let down by way too many covers of Women's Health magazine before. I've bought into the "7 simple steps" and the "transformation in 8 weeks or less." I've wanted transformation, rebuilding, all of it, to be as simple as the world told me it could be. It's not though. Baby steps aren't sexy but they're real.

...

ROUTINE IS KING

I go through gaps in my therapy where I feel like there is nothing to talk about. Friends, let me assure you that there will alway be something to talk about. It's in those gaps that my therapist will ask me, "What's coming up?"

She knew over a month ago that I have a very busy fall coming up. I am speaking at a dozen places. I am working on a book. I am getting married in less than 3 months. It's a time of craziness.

A month ago, we started poking holes in my schedule and asking the good questions: How will you continue to work out when you're staying in hotels? What food do you want to eat on the road? When will you rest? How will you handle meal prep? 

I am the sort of person who thrives on routine. I need routine to feel my best and do my best. So our mission has become this: how do we keep "normal" happening in the midst of a chaotic calendar?

Here comes a small handful of things I did to ensure my routine stays intact for the next few months:

  • I went ahead and ordered a bunch of toiletries, snacks and household items in advance from Amazon Prime Pantry. This way, I am not overwhelmed when I come home from a trip because I need toilet paper or ran out of toothpaste.
  • I bought extras of items like razors, toothbrushes, and even my iPhone charger so I could keep one set in my suitcase and another in my home. Losing things can seriously throw you off your A-game so why not keep extra?
  • I packaged up little "snack packs" for each speaking engagement ahead. I fill quart-sized baggies from IKEA with my favorite beef jerky, granola bars, vitamins, etc. so I am prepared for every airport and rest stop I come across.
  • I am planning to look at my calendar in the next few days and draw a big "NO" over some of the dates from now until December. That "NO" will symbolize a day where I cannot pour myself out through coffee dates, meetings, or social events. If I don't carve out my rest in advance then I cannot complain when the fatigue shows up at my door with a cup of coffee and a tired grin.

If you know that you are the kind of person who thrives with a routine then you will have to fight extra hard to keep that routine when things start to feel chaotic.

RECORD YOUR VICTORIES

Plain and simple, you are the sum of your victories. You've already told yourself-- for far too long-- how you don't manage to add up. What if you added something else up instead? When I was in the middle of the woods-- that severe depression that hollowed me out-- I would make lists of all the tasks I managed to accomplish. My lists held things like "did my hair" and "went to a diner" or "sent an email to Tammy."

You would think those tasks were too small. However, when I added them all up, they meant something. They meant I was living. They meant I had kept on living. They meant I hadn't gone back to bed that day. And on the days when I couldn't do anything but go back to bed, they meant that I would be able to start again. I would not have to go back to START. I could pick back up at Victory #17 or wherever I'd stopped.

RETRAIN YOUR MOUTH

I am still working on this one every day. I have a great ability to talk down to myself and belittle my own progress. I need reminders (too often) of just how powerful language is.

For a long time, I said I suffered from depression. I placed myself into a victim role when I said the word "suffer." It's not that I didn't struggle, grapple or, yes, even suffer at times. There were 2am hours full of night terrors for an entire month where I know I suffered. However, there are better ways to acknowledge my mental illness.

I deal with depression. That is what I say now. To say I "deal" with depression implies that I am handling it. I am figuring it out. I am applying new wisdom daily. I am learning the foods I should eat in large quantities that will curb my anxiety and the foods I should steer clear of. I am learning about supplements and natural treatments. I am dealing with it.

I like the idea of "dealing" with depression because it gives me more control. I deserve more control. Because here's the thing: I am not my depression. I am not defined by it or confined by it. It happened to me. It still happens to me. My depression does not, on any day of the week, give me a new name though. It will never have that sort of permission.

No mental illness, no horrific tragedy, no person who did you wrong or left you broken is allowed to name you. It does not work that way, no matter what other people tell you.

This is your life. These are your lungs. This is your space. You get to breathe here and you get control over the language that covers you. Let them be good words. Let them be kind words.

Hungry love.

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1.

I’ve been writing a lot about anxiety recently for my book chapters. Without knowing it, anxiety is a bigger character in the story I am telling than I anticipated to be. 

I am writing this story with Lane’s permission. There aren’t many parts of Lane and my’s growing relationship that I’ve shared on the internet. I’ve been a blogger for 5 years now and so I have learned how important it is to separate your life from what is happening on the screen and what is taking place off of it. Relationships can easily be muddied up when two people are invested in the image of their relationship rather than the character of it.

My heart for every reader-- as I write my truth-- is that you will invest your life in a person who is more of a map to you than a story. Stories are beautiful but maps take you places. Remember to go, and see, and do. Put down your phone and live love out loud, not just through captions and tags. 

2.

I knew really early on that Lane was my person. I wasn’t expecting it to happen that fast but it was our third date that made it clear to me: I was falling in love with this man. He cooked me scallops at his home. He showed up at the door with an easy smile and a flannel. He bought me a bottle of wine with a gold-glinted wrapping because he said the story of the wine, on the back of the bottle, was something I would like. It was all about roots and finding your home. We baked brownies and watched Garden state. It was the first time I knew I could build a life with this man.

It wouldn’t be true if I said it were that easy though. Even with this deep knowing in my gut that I’d found a man to cover my thin places, I had all this anxiety about fourth and fifth dates with Lane. He knows this. He knows that much of his security was met by my insecurity. I’d scripted this untrue story in my brain before I met him that I was never going to be certain when the right one was standing in front of me. I would never have a way of knowing. That story was dangerous because the more I told myself it, the harder it became to undo it. The story gained power. The story had momentum.

3.

Anxiety will have a field day with whatever you feed it. Your anxiety is happy to feed on your love life, your relationships, your career, and your purpose in life. Your anxiety wants to be fed something substantial, something that matters most to you, so it can feel full and still hold a purpose in your brain.

Daily feeding my relationship with Lane to my anxiety was like going to the gym and then eating a number 7 from McDonald’s an hour later (I hope there is a number 7… I’m not so sure!). I would pray in the morning but, by 11am, the anxiety had hold of my brain. I never could have clear thoughts about Lane because I was only looking at our relationship with anxiety brain. I didn’t know at the time that anxiety can be managed.

4.

I felt like I needed to write about this because a lot of us can so easily be governed by our feelings. We want to believe in our feelings but our feelings aren’t always accurate. They trick us. They distort truth. They want you to go on thinking you never need to tame them, fact check them, or test them. Feelings want to be followed. Falling in love is not about following a feeling, it’s about making a daily choice to pick one person and then following through.

I cannot claim to be able to cover all the grey area thats come with relationships. I know it’s not as simple as choosing a person and then never doubting. People choose us and then leave us all the time. It happens and we can’t control that. I never want to belittle those stories or make my story seem like it’s above that. However, the most pivotal point in our relationship was after another spell of doubt and fear that maybe I was making the wrong decision. I would have these doubts all the time. I would let the doubt tell me what it wanted and I would be left anxious and afraid as a result. Love is not about fear. The two don’t coexist. One has to live longer than the other. You decide whether you’re giving the oxygen mask to love or fear.

5.

I had to make the decision, at that point in the relationship, to not feed Lane to the lions of anxiety in my head. I told Lane that yes, I had anxiety but it wasn’t towards him. I denounced the anxiety trying to come at Lane from every angle. I told the anxiety, “After tonight, this is not your home. You don’t get to live inside of this relationship anymore.”

I really said those things. I really kicked out the anxiety from the relationship and spent hours, in the next few weeks, continuing to kick it out. Every time it came back, looking for a home, I turned it away. I wanted Lane’s love for me to finally have the chance to be bigger than the fears I’d let half-love me my whole entire life.

You are allowed to starve out your anxiety and leave it homeless. It’s hard work. It’s constant work. It might not completely release but you can start to make baby steps and micro choices towards choosing what you allow your anxiety to feed off of.

It’s Monday. There are precious things we get each day. We get to the be the stewards of people and things we don’t deserve. You could keep feeding your anxiety or you could look up and see that love is hungry too. Love is hungry to come through the doors and make the comfort food on the stove.

Don’t be afraid to let love in. Don’t be too scared to let love eat.

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Fear's last love song.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 1.10.10 PM Hannah- 

So…I was really hoping I could come back to you a month later with some huge spiritual experience and an “I’m out of the woods” story.  I don’t have one.

Instead it has been baby steps forward, only to stumble back again.  Some days I’m fine, some days all I want to do is lay down and cry because it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Darkness has been so evident lately and I’m so scared of falling into it instead of God.  I know it’s really not my battle because I'm not strong enough to fight against it…but I don’t really know how to surrender it to God, either. I'm not really sure how to trust someone I can’t see, feel or hear but I want to.

I want to hate the darkness and be free from it.  I want to be okay again and stop falling into fear, doubt, depression and darkness.  It feels like an endless cycle and I’m even scared of getting out of it because then what happens if I fall again?

I’m so tired of fighting. I just don’t want to feel like i’m constantly fighting to believe & against the darkness. It’s so scary…I don’t want to fall. 

You write about how God brought you out of the darkness…how? Was it sudden, or more of a gradual thing? 

J

 


 

 

J,

Fear wrote that last email for you. Fear legitimately pushed you off balance, kicked you out of the computer seat, and wrote that last message. It clicked send. It patted itself on the back for striking once again. It curled back up into its usual position, waiting to pounce on whatever next step you tried to take to get out of the woods. That’s the way fear operates— it preys on your action steps while writing songs about your failures. 

I know fear wrote the email because I lived for a really long time letting fear dictate my daily actions. Fear drove conversations. Fear made me retreat. Fear allowed me to say “yes” and “no” to things. Fear drew a thick chalk circle all around me and announced into the tight space, “This is your comfort zone. Good luck leaving it.”

 

There’s a few things to know about your fear.

I think that’s the fear way you start to tackle and dismantle something: you figure out what you’re actually up against.

First off, your fear is terribly unoriginal. Yes, you feel alone in it. But that’s just a tactic of the fear. Fear wants you to believe you are the only one. It’s isolating. It’s like coming across a Taylor Swift song you really like, listening to it on your own for a solid ten years because you think no one else will get it the way you do, and then figuring out that everyone else knows the words too. Your fear— the one that feels so catered to you— is actually lurking in the hearts of a million, billion other people. It’s a ballad and we know all the words to it. You’re not alone. You’re not off on some island. You’re not solo on this pilgrimage. We know all the words, J.

Secondly, your fear is a jealous lover. It wants you to sleep alone with it at night. It’s greedy. Your fear doesn’t want to share you. It doesn’t want you to go out there and talk to the others. It doesn’t want you to have hard conversations, and solid dinner parties, and community that refuses to leave your side. Fear wrote you a story a long time ago and it doesn't want you to outgrow the plot line.

And though you know you deserve better than a lover who controls your every move, you still stay. You stay because no matter how jealous fear can be, it wants you. And we like to be wanted. You stay because, after all these years, fear has become comfortable and rhythmic in your life. It’s become reliable. You know its motions. You know how it will shut you down. You have stood in the face of fear so many times and it has tried to tell you who you are and you have believed it. 

Lastly, your fear— while I’ve just talked a lot of smack about it— is necessary. Fear is basically synonymous with Russell Crowe in Les Miserables– he was always meant to be a character, sure, but someone let him sing too much.

Don’t look back and think, “I wish I hadn’t let fear beat me up so badly.” You needed the bruises. You needed the battering. In that, you figured out that there had to be something more. Only when the fear is smothering and we can’t sleep at night, only when the fear has taken from us over and over again, can we even dare to imagine that something might be better than this. Fear is the birthplace of courage. Fear can be a catalyst towards God. 

 

I’ll say it again: Fear can be a catalyst towards God.

And as you push closer towards God, you will realize that he isn’t fear. A life shrouded in fear does not come from God. Quite the opposite: he is love. And love— when you allow yourself to get close enough to it— will not resemble fear. Just like you gave fear the permission to grow, you have to give love that same chance.

Because love? Well love is ten times a better builder than fear ever could be. The structures are strong. The foundations are solid. The shelter is reliable. When you speak out love instead of fear, people actually get brave. They get hungry for victory. They transform and it's wild. I used to only write about fear on this blog. I liked the idea of love but I didn't actually know it. So any attempts to write about it were noble but fleeting.

Letting God be love, instead of fear, has made every difference to the way I stand and walk today.

 

The date is November 17.

Tomorrow is the 18th. November 18. And I can’t begin to describe to you how that date on the calendar is such a benchmark for my life and the person I’ve become in the last year.

It will probably be a normal day. I’ll do some work. I’ll buy some groceries. I’ll visit a coffee shop and people are never going to know or see that November 18 is such a huge day for me. I’ll be celebrating inside though because November 18  is forever a day to remember that the darkness didn't win.

My friends and my family know what happened on that day, how my life flipped upside in the worst way possible and how the charade I was putting on for everyone took its final bow. Whatever was left, that’s what I had to work with.

It was a lot of fear. Paralyzing and crippling fear. It was doubt. It was worry. It was a stealthy attack. It was one step forward and two steps back again as I plunged deeper and deeper into myself. I could not use my brain. I could not eat. When the darkness was the heaviest, I didn’t eat for 12 hours at a time. I would get these brief moments of perspective, a chance to breathe, at the end of each day. I would cry in my mother’s arms— yes, at the age of 26— that I didn’t want to have to go back to sleep because I was afraid to start all over again the next morning.

Still, I would take the sleeping pills and go to sleep. I would wake up to the darkness waiting at the foot of my bed. And we would start the wrestling all over again.

I chose to wrestle with the darkness morning after morning. I was determined to find its roots and expose its tricks. I was enamored with the darkness. Now, looking back, I see that I was wrestling with the wrong thing.  Why wrestle with the darkness when you can wrestle with God? Him and I, we were the real problem. I had prayed an honest prayer to really know him and have him show up for me. He honored the prayer, my act fell apart, and I was unwilling to meet him in that. I was unwilling to come out of hiding and say, “Here is who I really him. Here is the reality. Here is what I can’t stand any longer. I don’t think you are who you say you are. I’ve made you too small and I’m the one who does not believe.”

When the darkness pushes us into ourselves, there we figure out what we truly believe about God.

The God in my brain was flimsy and lukewarm. He was jealous and wrathful. He was angry with me and disappointed constantly. I was always falling short to the God in my brain.

The bible writes a lot about idols. Did you ever think that the wrong image of God— the one you constructed— could be an idol too? We could spend our whole lives falsely worshipping the God we built in our brains just to keep us from humbly opening our bibles. Opening your bible is an act of humility. It’s laying down your lies in order to seek a truth that could go on without you.

 

Open your bible, J.

Open your bible. Keep opening it. When you feel like it and when you don’t. When you want to and when Netflix sounds a lot more appealing. The bible is rich and fatty and good for you and still the culture tells us the bible is like lettuce. It’s not flashy. It’s not proud. But it is the living, breathing word of God. If you want to hear him speak, it’s a whole book of him just talking to you.

Meet him. For ten minutes or an hour. As corny as it is to make this comparison, it's like dating someone who is obsessed with you from date one. They've been waiting for you. From the start, they want you so badly. And you, J, are guarded and careful and unsure. But you've heard good things. And other people seem to like him. But still, you aren't sure. So would you plunge right in? No, probably not. Would you trust him immediately? No, probably not. And yet this weird sort of longing exists inside of you to be loved carefully, to have someone come along and scale your walls. That longing has always been there. So you creep closer and what do you do? You resolve to know the person. To understand them. To hear their side of the story instead of always screaming out your own. Your own story is not going to teach you about someone else's. To know someone else is to shut up and listen.

You would do all these things for another human, J, so what about God? What if he is one who is obsessed with you? What if he is the one who has been waiting for you? What if he is the one who wants you so badly and yet you're still unsure? What if it is his name that keeps coming up in conversations and makes you long for something more? Resolve to know him. Understand him. Read him. Hear his side of the story instead of always screaming out your own.

Open your bible and realize that as long as we try to fight for God or analyze him or measure him, we miss the point. We gear up like diligent soldiers ready to go after the heart of God and he just pauses the whole story and says: this isn’t about you. Wait. Look closer. This is how I fought for you. And how I won for you. Take heart in that, child. You want to fight but I already won. 

 

You asked how God brought me out of the darkness— was it sudden or was it gradual?

It wasn’t sudden, J. It was seriously gradual. It was hard. It still is hard. And there are still days when I want to pick the world over God, but I know what I left behind. It was sitting with the bible when I didn't want to. It was writing down scriptures, though they didn't thrill me, until they seeped into my heart and did some sort of transformation I cannot take credit for. It was like taking medicine-- though I didn't want it, it promised to heal me.

I remember talking with a guy from church who I look up to and asking him what I should do, because I was tired of fighting and I just wanted to be out of the dark.

"Bread of life, babe," he said to me, patting me on the back. "Bread of life."

I remember I hated that answer. It was just him telling me to go back to the bible and back to the bible and back to the bible. Why did I hate it? Because still, God was whispering through that advice, "To love me fully is to lose what you thought actually mattered. And even as you let the things go, you're still going to want them to matter more than me." 

It's going to be long, J. It's going to be slow. It's going to be bread and life though.

Following God is not a romantic comedy. It’s not funny and capable of playing out within two hours of your time. It’s a lifelong dedication. It’s, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “ a long obedience in the same direction.” It’s the start of new habits and the killing of old. God isn’t the one you meet in the drive-thru, he wants to meet you at the table and teach you how to make real meals.

I went to church when I didn't want to. I opened up to others when I didn't want to. I opened the bible and started with John, then Matthew, then Mark, then Luke. I looked for clues of who God was in these stories, not who I was supposed to become. Turns out, he's bigger than my hopes to be a better person. Still, he is bigger than my fear and my ego combined.

So I guess that life long dedication begins with you deciding you will stay and let God meet you in a world that will tell you the key to getting out of the darkness is to run. Don’t run from it, J. There’s light ahead. And there’s love. And there’s real relationship. And hard conversations that break down the craziest of crazy, high walls.

You could be a new person if you’d just let someone scale your walls for once.

You could come to the table instead of hiding in the woods. You could finally, finally eat.

I'll hold you in the light.

Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 3.41.31 PM I.

One of my girlfriends invites me to yoga and I say yes immediately. Before I even know the time of the class, I am finding my Nike tights and wrapping my hair into a bun. I am checking the trunk of the car for my mat.

I agree to go to a hot yoga class for the simple fact that I don’t like yoga. Not even a little bit. The breathing. The stillness. The presence. All of it makes me nauseous and panicky.

I walk into every class always optimistic that this will be the day when I fall in love with yoga. When I become one of those people who can’t go a day without getting on the mat and knocking out a few downward dogs.

It’s always the same pattern though: I’m only on the mat for 10 minutes, in the stickiness of a hot yoga studio, before I want the class to be over. I wonder why I agreed to this.

I mean, what is yoga to a woman who is impatient and squirmish? What is a yoga to a woman who is thinking 5 hours ahead and 2 years back always?

So it would make you wonder: why spend the money? Why take the class? If you already know you’ll hate it, why go? Why submit yourself to the torture?

Plain and simple: just because I don’t feel like doing something isn’t reason enough to not do it. There’s a mountain of things in my life that I don’t feel like doing and I do them anyway. Yoga is just a 60-minute reminder that if I push past my feelings then something better will win.

II.

The whole yoga class, my mind is on prayer. We are pushing up into positions and holding a posture. We are balancing and my mind is racing with the thought of knees-on-the-ground prayer. Don’t mistaken me for the holy-- I wasn’t actually praying during the class. I was rolling around in my mind why prayer is so hard for me. As we keep moving posture to posture, and I try to remember to breathe, I keep thinking that this restlessness and desire to move which I feel in yoga class somehow mirrors how I feel when I go to pray.

It’s the same restless, I-don’t-want-to-do-this feeling I get with both yoga and prayer.

III.

I’ve only written about prayer once before and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve put in this corner of the internet.

But I must reiterate that: I’ve only written about it once. I’m the farthest thing from an expert. I like to write about the things I have decent experience with and prayer just feels like a practice that fails me. I pray, yes. But I wish my prayers felt more active, less forced. More powerful, less staged.

 

IV.

There are three people on my heart today who need something-- one wants a baby, one wants a love story, one wants a miracle. And I keep thinking of these extravagant ways to pray for them. I keep thinking that I should devise some plan that will keep me in prayer mode and I can then be able to measure how much I prayed. How long and how hard and how diligently I prayed for them.

And while my brain runs wild with ideas, this little voice inside of me speaks, “Why don’t you just start? Why don’t you cease thinking about the idea of praying for people and just say their name out loud? What is holding you back?”

Fear, I guess. It’s not even fear that my prayers won’t be answered.

For years, I told people I was praying for them but never really doing it. It was like a default answer when something would happen, “Oh, oh, I’ll pray for you right now.” No, those prayers never burned in my palms or my brain. No, I never cried out in desperation to God.

I guess, as a result of years not doing what I said I was doing, I wondered if people didn't really pray for me either. I wonder if they faked the motions too.

It’s a combination of that and the fear that my faith will never grow. That my prayers will never be bold enough. That I’ll never be one of those warriors-- one of those people who can write the answered prayers down and, at the end of each day, cry out in awe of the faithfulness of God.

I want proof to hand people that God is working but my fear stands in the way.

V.

I’ll hold you in the light.

That’s what the Quakers say when they want someone to know they’ll be praying. I’ll hold you in the light. I think I really like that. It says without saying it, “I see you.”

I see you.

You’re right here. Your arms might be flailing and your body might be restless but you are right here. The dark might seem endless, but I am holding in the light. All of you might want to give up but there will be light, baby. The light will come.

I’ll hold you in the light. When your faith is failing. And your lungs want to give out. And you don’t understand God-- how he moves and how he operates. And you know what? I don’t get it either. There are those mornings, and those nights, where I want to kick and scream and just give up on God. But where I would go? Where would I go that it wouldn’t be darker?

VI.

Sometimes you pray and sometimes you are the prayer.

Your scars aren’t mine until you show them to me.

VII.

I have a friend who, for the years leading up to the time he met the love of his life, would pray for this person every time he came across a dime. In change piles. On the sidewalk. In between couch cushions. He would pick it up, mark a “P” on the dime, and then pray for that girl. Short, quick silver prayers.

On the day he asked her to marry him, he dumped out jars and jars full of dimes. Jars and jars full of prayers, said in advance for someone he didn’t even know when he first started praying for her.

I like to think about what it felt like to be that girl, the one with all the jars full of dimes poured all around her, to have someone show her, “I prayed this much for you. I prayed this wide for you. I prayed this thoroughly for you. Even if it was just picking a dime off the ground by the train, it was a thought I drew captive and dedicated it to you.”

What’s more beautiful than someone who holds their own thoughts hostage long enough to draw your name in the lines?

We could be those sorts of people. There isn’t even a need to do something extravagant when it comes to prayer. We don’t even need the dimes. It just requires we show up. We stay when we don’t feel anything. We keep whispering a person’s name out loud until this faith grows inside of us that we are heard.

We are heard. And we are wanted. And we are seen. We are heard. And we are wanted. And we are seen.

 

VIII.

I keep thinking I must light a candle. I must posture myself for prayer. But God wants me in the car. He wants in the grocery store. He wants me anywhere that I am standing to just ask him for help. No big productions. No grand proposals. Just him and I and all the honest conversations we’ve yet to have.

Honest conversation with God #1 (AKA prayer):

Make me want you.

I know that sounds like a rap song but it’s all I want to ask of you: make me want you. Make me think about you. Make me draw back to you. Make me want to ask you for help before I go out and seek to stitch my own cape.

Here is my honesty.

Here are my bare bones.

Make me want you.

Make me want you more.

Good morning Baltimore.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 11.19.16 PM

I take two white pills every night before I crawl into the sheets. They are a reminder to me, more than anything, that November happened.

...

November happened.

And so did December. January. February. A collection of months I wished, for so long, I could scrape off the calendar. I thought I knew darkness before those months. In a lot of ways, I didn’t know anything until those months came crashing on top of me. Sometimes you think you are fine until everything around you falls apart. And then you see the truth: everything was not fine. You were dying inside. You were clinging to other people to complete you. You were desperately in need of rewiring. 

...

I think there are times in our lives when we need an upgrade. Or a software update. And then there are times when we need all the little things inside of us to be rewired. I held it all together on the surface. I claimed I was fine. Really, I didn’t know how to turn my head upward to God and just be “enough” for my own self.

If you claim you love God and then don’t somehow commit to that most basic gesture, there’s probably a lot of wires inside of you that you’re resistant to let anyone touch. 

 

...

I went through depression once before.

Everyone told me afterwards to be thankful for it because a movement of love came out of it. I am thankful. But it doesn’t make me hate the dark any less. 

I didn’t know the statistics. The statistics say if you’ve struggled with depression once before then there is an 80% chance you’ll go there again. I kept telling myself it would never repeat itself. Bad things don't repeat, I whispered.

I refused to see a counselor. I began to close myself off. I fell deeper into sadness as September danced. I ignored the warning signs. 

A girl at my speaking engagement last night asked me, “How can I make sure I don’t go through it again? The depression.”

“You can’t,” I told her. “But you can keep track of the warning signs.”

 

...

There were warning signs. Usually there always are. There was sitting on the floor of my office space-- after consuming an ungodly amount of cups of chile-- crying.

“I think everything will probably turn around in March,” I told one of my best friends. It was October. I thought if I could just push hard enough into a "new season" then God would follow suit.

She only looked at me. Nodded like she wasn’t convinced. “I don’t know if that’s true.” I hated her for being honest. Today I love her for only being honest.

There was Halloween night, surrounded by all of my best friends. I was wearing a T-shirt with the letters “LIFE” across my chest. A fitting role for Life, I passed out lemons that whole night-- plucking them out from a plastic Jack-O-Lantern bucket and planting them into the hands of strangers at the party.

I remember being surrounded but feeling completely alone. I drove home crying that night (no surprise). I remember wishing I didn’t have to wake up in the morning. There was no reason for getting up.

There was sitting in my car on the morning of November 18th. My best friend didn’t leave my side. I slammed my hands against the steering wheel and screamed, “I don’t want this.” 

“You are not going to get out of this until you learn to be content.” She had told me this several times before.

I didn’t want to learn to be content. It seemed like such a distant and unattainable feeling-- the feeling of contentment. 

“I am content,” I told her. “I have given God everything.”

“You are not content,” she snapped back. “There is so much you are not letting him have.”

All of these things-- and then a dozen more-- were warning signs. Warning signs that I was tumbling right back into the darkness.

 

...

My life broke into two on the afternoon of November 18th.

It’s a day on the calendar I will never forget. Nearly 9 months ago. People ask what I mean when I write “broke into two.”

Here’s the truth: some things in life don’t come with all the right words to describe them. All I can tell you is that I remember sitting with a friend in the conference room of our workspace. I asked her to pray for me because I was so sad lately. She prayed. I kept my head down and tried to convince myself that the prayers would actually work. At that time in my life I prayed to get attention and to make the Varsity team for heaven, not because I actually believed God was listening. 

I remember how she started talking about something after she said Amen. I was listening. And then pain. Sharp pain. All across my body. This sweeping feeling covering me from head to toe. All of a sudden, I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t move. My mind started racing.

“I feel so sick,” I told her. “I have to go home.”

Really, my mind was begging: What’s wrong? What’s going on? What’s happening? 

Sharp pain. Heavy fear. Tidal waves of anxiety crashing mercilessly into me. I didn’t understand. I thought I was going insane. Can life actually flip in a minute? 

The intern outside the workspace tried to bring me into a conversation about the time he went surfing with Rob Bell. I was trying to get in my car and leave.

“I’m sure Rob Bell is great,” I told him. “I’m sorry but I have to go home.”

I got into my car. Got home. Crawled into bed. Pleaded with God that whole night but the voices were stronger than I’d ever heard them before, “You’re no good. You’re a liar. You’re a fake. You are nothing.” 

I fell asleep shaking. Shaking with no answers.

That night was empty. I was afraid I was hearing God say the words he’d wanted to tell me all along, “Hey girl, I don’t choose you. I just don’t want you. I just don’t choose you.” 

 

...

The next morning I couldn’t get out of bed.

Not by my own strength. It took me a solid half-hour to just rise and put on pants and a heavy sweater and a bright red cap. I had a flight at 10am for Baltimore. A speaking engagement.

I sat in my coffee shop before heading to the airport. I tried to drink a London Fog but my hands were too shaky. I kept writing down questions: What is happening? What is going on? Why do I feel so paralyzed and sick?

It was 0 degrees in Baltimore. The most I ate there was two slices of hotel pizza. My hands trembled the whole time that I spoke. I remember telling myself I would never go back to that city again.

I hid inside of an empty terminal- my body sprawled across three seats as I lay curled in a ball crying and shaking. Not really caring if anyone could see me.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” I texted to my closest friends. The ones I knew would pray. I’d been dealing with the paralyzing fear for over 48 hours now. It hadn’t ceased, only grown.

I vomitted several times in that airport. Out of fear. Out of terror. That would be the start of months of no sleep and no faith that God was coming back for me.

Nine months ago, Baltimore became a place on the map I never wanted to return to. In the next few months, a list of places I never wanted to remember again would assemble itself.

 

...

The paralyzing fear was relentless for over four months. You wouldn't know that if you scanned social media but life was utter darkness. I bring that point up only to say: we have to be extremely careful about assuming we know a person's life based on what they post online. We have to be gracious-- no matter what-- because everyone is fighting a battle we cannot see. Sure, we like the idea of being real & raw on social media but honestly only a few will ever feel safe posting the real mess out there for the world to see. We rip into one another too easily for that. But be gracious, please. And maybe sometimes remind yourself:  it's a lot of filters and pretty things but that's not reality. Reality cannot be cropped and contrasted. 

In those four months, I slept. A lot. I didn’t watch movies. I didn’t go to group events. I wrote down every "small victory" on sheets of paper. We planned my move back to Connecticut. The mornings were the worst. It felt like heavy blankets of despair were being piled and piled on top of me. I'd get up at 4am because I could not sleep and I would sit wrapped in blankets holding a Bible that I struggled to believe in anymore.

I went from the most driven girl to the one who could barely perform three tasks in a day. Doctors gave me all these drugs with long names. The parts of me that lost friends to drug addiction was terribly afraid to swallow them. They just wanted to calm me down. Stop the tears. At night, there was sleeping pills. My favorite part of the day was going to sleep because-- for the first two months-- nothing stole life from me in my sleep.

I slept on an air mattress in one of my good friend’s apartments for a lot of those nights. In the morning I would crawl into his bed and he would hold my hand as I cried. It felt like I was trapped in a tiny room with no windows and no doors. I would cry out in agony because I could not escape the fog.

“I just want to fog to go,” I would murmur through the tears. “I just want the fog to go.”

He would squeeze my hand tighter and call me “baby girl.” 

...

I remember being curled in the corner of a doctor’s office in Atlanta. The man kept asking me questions. Do you think about hurting yourself? Do you have thoughts of hurting other people?

I wasn’t doing my makeup anymore. I wasn’t doing my hair. I’d lost 10 pounds. I was tired. I was wired.

“It seems you have severe depression,” he said to me. That wasn’t news. I didn’t need another doctor to diagnose me-- I needed someone to grab my shoulders and yell loud, “You are coming out of the woods. Do you hear me, girl? You are going to come out of the woods.”

And then he stopped scribbling. He looked at me. I locked eyes with him. I didn’t want him to turn away.

“Are you a Christian?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“That’s not a question I can ask,” he answered. “But my job aside, I want you to know-- the devil is rejoicing right now and we will not let him have that.” 

That man-- in his white coat-- was one of the many beacons of light that convinced me I could keep going. I could keep fighting. I could be like Moses, in that moment where Moses had nothing left in him but he let the others hold up his arms.

That’s what friendship is at the end of the day-- people who will hold up your arms.

 

...

I don’t have all the answers.

Not even a few. Honestly, I hate typing these words. I really do. Because I wanted to be passive for so long and believe in things like Karma and not ruffle feathers when it came to God. But as powerful of a source of light in this world that exists, there is also a powerful source of darkness. And if we don’t talk about the darkness, it starts to win.

The darkness can refine us but we cannot let it win. We must not let it win.

So let's be real: I never planned to write this.

Let's be more real: I am hesitating to publish it.

But I looked down at my plane ticket today and realized I was going back to Baltimore. A layover in Baltimore. And all I could think was, “I don’t want to go back to Baltimore. I don’t want this mess to take my body and my brain again.” 

And then, then I knew that I would write because no one benefits from silence. No one will talk about the darkness if we all try to act like it isn’t real, like it doesn’t matter.

 

...

It matters.

Mental illness matters. Warning signs matter. Not standing alone with your ghosts matters. You matter. And you are precious. 

I’m not saying that to be corny. I am saying it because I fought desperately hard for my life in the last few months. I fought really, really hard against mental illness to be able to be standing today. I wanted to give up. I suddenly understood why people even think of taking their own lives.

I've walked the line in the last few months of wanting all my memories of the darkness to leave me and knowing that I will never be able to shake the sleepless nights-- the dozens of stories I haven't shared yet-- because they made me. The darkness made me. It burned me up and shook me good and I fought until I could finally breathe and say, "No." No, the darkness cannot have me. There is far too much left for my little life. 

Life is such a precious gift but when a fog covers your view of reality it’s so hard to rest your body in the gift. It's easy to be ashamed of the fog, the sickness, the illness. But what if we broke the shame with words? What if we dismantled the stigma by figuring out how to hold up the arms of others?

So here's a baby step: Please talk about the fog. Please talk about the emptiness. Please don’t let yourself stand in the mess alone, so much so that you cave inward and you hoist up a white flag without anyone ever knowing you were dying inside.

Please speak. Please speak.

Don’t be afraid to go back to Baltimore.

Just don’t be afraid of Baltimore.

Give her back those silent nights.

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I want to tell you that 2010 was the year that leveled me and flattened me good.

That would be a lie though.

If I properly retrace my memory down to the bones of it then 2010 was the year I acquired baggage. Lots and lots of baggage. Except I didn’t really know how to call it that at the time.

Looking back, I see what I didn’t see when I was graduating from college and moving to New York City: I heaved around suitcases of heartbreak as if I were the inventor of suitcases, myself, and I handed out sleeping bags to every “not good enough” comment rattling in my head. I gave all the baggage room to sleep. And the longer you let baggage sleep in your mind, the harder it is to clear that baggage out and call it all lies.

I know this all happened in 2010 because at the cusp of 2011, in the middle of a party with hats and cheesy bread, I felt like I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was just a girl with lots of baggage. I could trace the faces of my friends and I wondered if they looked at me and thought to themselves, “Where’d ya go?”

And I didn’t know how to let go. I mean, how do you even start to let go and just give yourself permission to be free?

It was 2011 that leveled and flattened me out.

I know it now for sure. I don’t know if there are any real defining moments you’d pick out from the crowd but I remember the pieces that made me feel like dust: I was a full-time volunteer. For an entire year, I’d made a commitment to make no money and serve in the Bronx, New York. New York City had been sucked dry of all her romance as I struggled with the unworthiness of trying to be something “chic” with a $25 a week stipend.

I was riddled with an eating disorder. My eating disorder was a quiet whisperer throughout the day. She controlled every step and action, every crumb that did or did not reach my mouth. She watched me until I went to sleep. She sang me stingy lullabies as she sat stiff in an armchair I never did learn how to like.

It was the parts of me that were hungry that would come out of hiding after.

After she took her eyes off of me.

After my roommates went to sleep.

After the lights flickered down the hallways.

After I could crawl from my sheets and tiptoe down the long hallway and sit atop our kitchen table with a bowl full of food and finally admit to the the ceiling and mice hiding in the walls, “I am hungry. I am so hungry. To love. To be enough. To stop being so fearful. I am so hungry to not hate myself so furiously.”

The nights were never silent back then. No, they were never were so silent.

That year was full heartbreak for me.

I look back and think I was young, and maybe naive, but I knew how to decode heartbreak and the breakdown was still pretty titanical to a girl who was 22 and trying to put her life together. And it was hard to write a whole book on that year because I struggled daily with wanting to call my editor up and just say into the phone, “I don’t know how to focus on anything but heartbreak. How do I change the story? How do I find the good in what I long-convinced myself would always be bad?”

That’s the hardest hurdle you’ll ever get over, writer or no writer at all: Deciding that you're going to love the mud that once transformed you. Deciding you are going to finally pass a buck of grace to yourself for not holding the world together all the time.

I just remember this one time, at the start of 2011, where we went on a weekend retreat to Atlantic City for the volunteer program. It was before the boardwalk got obliterated by Sandy (that little tyrant). I remember how cold it was outside and how I tried to breathe hot air onto my fingers as I forced myself to run that boardwalk. Up and down. Up and down. Because sometimes running makes you believe in new beginnings again. And the sweet Lord knows, I needed to believe in something good and optimistic in 2011.

But more than anything, I remember getting to the cottage. And my roommates and I found our separate rooms. And I nearly cried because there was a full length mirror hanging on the wall. As if God was giving me a present, there was a full length mirror waiting for me.

I took that mirror off the wall immediately.  And I cradled it in my hands before propping it up on the floor in the closet. I got down on my knees and crawled into the closet. It was such a compact space, whoever once lived there never needed much room for clothes.

I sat Indian-style, facing the mirror. I closed the door to shut me in. And I wondered how long I could just sit there. How long it would take to reconcile the pieces of this broken girl.

Call it dramatic. You know what, I will call it dramatic before you do but that’s all I really knew how to do during that time in my life when I wasn’t crying: sit in the mirror and look at myself and wonder what I was doing. I did it often. On several occasions. In bathrooms. And fitting rooms. And the quietest places I could find in New York City.

I wanted to know why I was my own wrecking ball. I still want to know that: why we decide to become our own wrecking balls when life is just a miracle we’re asked to hold.

I guess I am afraid to find out that I am holding paper chains. Maybe that is my biggest fear, just like the one Marianne Williamson put out there: “”Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

I want to raise up my hands. I want to tell her and tell everyone that I don’t know how to be something apart from inadequate. So no, that quote doesn’t fit me so well because I don’t want to be anything other than the girl who messes up the bigger story. That’s silly to even admit— God is far too big and far too wide for you to ever worry about messing up his bigger story.

But inadequate is a sweater I’ve always worn, even if I don’t like the feel of the material or the itchiness of the collar. And who am I without it? I mean, who am I when I choose to say “enough” and just walk away from the smaller anthems that tell me I will never reach the point of Enoughness. As if it were a destination, I need to reach the land of Enoughness.

Enoughness is not a word but maybe it should be. Maybe it should be a program of studies at NYU. The Studies of Enoughness. Because we worship that word long and hard enough to make a science out of it.

We carry it like a suitcase— like baggage— into relationships. Into careers. Into family matters. Into all the places where we should have never been riddled with those sorts of questions: Who do you think you are? And why do you think that you matter? And will you, oh, will you ever add up?

Like I said earlier, I am afraid to find out that I am holding paper chains. I am gripping them so tightly. And it would just be a matter of ripping them— one by one— to be able to say to the paper and the staples that held the loops intact: you are finished. You are done. No more. No more.

I wish I could go back sometimes.

With all the strength and might that sits inside of me, I wish I could go back and wedge myself into the closet to sit beside the girl— the 2011 girl— who is trying to find her worth in a mirror. I wish I could wedge my way in and find a way to tell her the truth.

“Hey you,” I’d probably whisper. It sounds like a friendly enough introduction. “ Hey you, I am sorry all of this is happening. I am sorry that you are still in the muds of it. But you’ll be thankful one day. I just need you know that: one day the darkness will clear and you’ll crawl out of this tiny space and you’ll be thankful.”

Because only in the darkness do we know light. Only, and only, if ever there was a word called “darkness” would there be a reason to create another word to counter that word called “light.” And maybe that’s just life: patches of darkness and patches of light. Sometimes we see it all so clearly. Sometimes we don’t know the way. Sometimes we grab the hands of others too tightly and they’re just thankful— just so thankful— that you’re finally grabbing on and needing to be held.

It’s dark. And we weren’t called to walk the road alone. And you could always look up. Don’t you know that? You could always just look up if you need something to catch you. 

And maybe that’s why the stars are so pure and so golden. Maybe that’s why it is important to stop and breathe and bundle up and climb out on the roof to look at the stars at night.

The stars are beautiful. And reliable. And they ask no questions. They sort-of just let you be. They let you sit there and feel so small and ready in the still of silent nights and hopeful that the morning is going to come.

I don’t know about you but I believe someone made those stars. Every big, batch of heat and light was crafted and ready to serve a purpose. And it wasn’t an accident. Just like me, those stars were not an accident. They were not a mistake. They were just big balls of light that would one day make a girl like me so hopeful when I watched them stand there in the night sky. Not moving. Not budging. Not going anywhere.

That’s all I want to believe on any given Friday or Monday or Thursday: that if the stars that guide me home are enough to be adored, then I could be too.

I could be too.

No questions asked.

Please proceed to step out of the woods.

large You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

My god, you have no idea how badly I want to believe in those words. I want to say them on repeat. I want to grab people in public places and just shake them real good while those words shoot out of my mouth like promises I know I can keep.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

I wrote them in my palm. I kept opening and closing up my hand just so I could see those words, suck them in, believing for longer than a second that the words are true. They’re written in ink. I never want to stop reading them. I keep thinking they’ll act like a cloak that hangs over my shoulders and keeps me protected from the doubt and the insecurity that try to come crawling beneath my door at night.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

A friend of mine sent me a text the other day. She told me she’d had a dream about me. In thedream she saw me standing in the middle of a dark alleyway. I was hesitant. I was scared. I was unable to put one foot in front of the other. I could see the light that was waiting for me just outside the alleyway-- so much light just waiting for me-- but I couldn’t step out. And she told me, after she had that dream, that I needed to step out. Whatever was holding me back, I had to let it go. Whatever fears were burrowing themselves into my spirit, I had to find a way to let them go. She found me out. She found me out in that dream and she was telling me straight: you need to stop holding yourself back. The pity party must cease and you must de-invite everyone to your darkest parts. You need to stop thinking you have never deserved good things for your life. 

 

Just typing those words-- you need to stop thinking you have never deserved good things for your life-- makes me feel like I am the one punching my own self in the stomach. Again. Again. Again. But they’re true. They’re true on Monday mornings. They’re true on Wednesday afternoons and Friday nights and weekends that are packed with plans. We all, at some point or another, live with the lie that we don’t deserve good things. And it makes us hostile little creatures who don’t know to love things with our whole bodies.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat.

Someone needs to read that today. Just that. Maybe it’s you. Someone needs to know they are not the lies they've told themselves.

You aren’t the sob story. You’re not the victim. You’re not the one who always gets left behind. You're not forgotten. You're not second-string. You're needed. Can't you just accept that? You are needed. 

 

 

This world needs you. It’s scary, crazy-broken and it needs you. And let me be clear-- it needs all of you. And that means you must be willing to backburner your own insecurities so that you can become who this world so desperately needs right now. It needs the strongest version of you. The kindest version. The most refined version who is willing to go through the woods and out of the woods to ensure that someone else, someday, will be able to come out of the woods too. 

We all want to be out of the woods-- have we forgotten that we were supposed to help one another find the way out

The world needs all of you-- in your bravest skin. Please don't let the doubt that's falling on your shoulders keep you from your purpose. Maybe it’s been a while... maybe it’s been a while since someone came up to you and told you that you count. That you matter. That you play a role. We all play a role. And the point of this lifetime is not to look at other people and wonder why they got what you wanted.

The point of this lifetime isn’t to belittle yourself. It’s not to wait for the day when you feel worthy and good enough. It’s not to mark some date on a calendar when you’ll be a better version of yourself or a time when you think you’ll actually be able to look in the mirror without wishing someone else would stare back.

No offense, and not to be harsh, but we all need to step up and set expiration dates for ourselves. Expiration dates for the fear. For the doubt. For the lies we tell ourselves to convince ourselves that someone else is always going to have it better than us.

You’re here. You are here right now. And do you know how much that matters? Do you know how much that counts? Please-- for the love of lovelier things-- do not fling away your life and feed it to the lions in your head that tell you you don’t add up. You do. And the sooner you tell yourself that-- whether you believe the words or not-- the sooner you will find the backburner for yourself. And the sooner you find the backburner for yourself, the sooner you’ll understand what this life is really all about: helping others come out of the woods. The stories you tell yourself-- they’re lies. Lies meant to keep you in one place. Never moving. Never making the impact you said you wanted to. Those lies don’t have an expiration date... That should terrify you.

No one is going to change a thing for you if you don’t do it first.