Good morning Baltimore.
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.
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.
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.