I’ve been waking up at 4am sometimes, like this morning. On the 15th I’ll be 28 and able to declare that I’m a morning person. It’s not from the 4am wake-ups, it’s every day. Mornings are exciting to me now – not in the little kid ready for Christmas way, which was almost every morning of my childhood – but in a calm readiness and anticipation for the future.
Almost two years ago I was spending my weekends with friends, often staying up until sunrise. I was hurting. It’s hard to think about that time, even now as I write this. Every time the sun began to rise, wherever I was, my stomach would start to sink and an overwhelming sadness took over my being. I think in some small way I wanted to escape from daylight and sobriety, but I also wanted to live in it again badly. But how? Our first two years in Denver were lived by the best version of myself I had ever known. That girl joined a church, a friend group, a band, began crushing it at work, mentored, loved her first apartment as a married woman and often enjoyed the community pool.
For five years prior to moving to Denver I lived in Vero Beach, Florida. Those five years between the ages of 19 and 24 were my first season of growing up. Before then, as an 18 year old fresh out of high school, I was depressed, reeling from lies developed in my agoraphobic stage, uncertain of my worth, only interested in breast implants and living by the sea.
Let’s take it back to my eighteenth year. College was untenable to me at the time. I’m a hard worker now, and I was back then, but I couldn’t imagine dealing with depression and hard work any longer without getting paid. In addition, I never took the SAT. This decision was equal parts rebellion against the system and fear of a low score.
Recently I asked my dad what it was like to have a daughter who wasn’t concerned about straight A’s and didn’t view herself as smart. He responded by saying that I was quite intelligent, and would understand concepts quickly, but [like many people] if I didn’t care for the subject I wouldn’t try that hard. So that was good to hear. I do remember that I wasn’t motivated by grades, but by control. Instead of being a student I wanted be the teacher – then it wouldn’t matter if I was interested in the subject matter or not – I would try harder and do better because I was in control.
In elementary school my friend groups mostly obliged to my leadership and I would direct how our recesses were spent. In fourth grade I watched Remember the Titans in theaters and then promptly declared my passion for football. My mom bought me a necklace of thin black cord and a small silver football charm. At recess on Monday I told the girls, with the confidence of a lion, that I would be teaching them how to play football. No one wanted to play football, and no one really thought I knew how to play football, but because I said we were playing we played. Surprisingly my friends still liked me after these shenanigans – I was this way all the time.
In middle school that leadership was encased with envy for girls who had wardrobes of Hollister and Abercrombie. Maybe I had 2-3 shirts. I wanted a pubescent figure, but I was small and looked young for my age. It killed me. This aside, I had two very best friends; we weren’t popular, but we were definitely having the most fun.
Jealousy got the best of me when my two best friends seemed closer and more aligned. Looking back, I must have been a hard pill to swallow. It wasn’t always this way, but often I craved adoration and being the center of attention, as I would experience this as an only child; I simply didn’t understand why the world treated me differently. They still loved me, but in some ways I think I lost them when we went to high school, because I would not accept having less than the most attention.
Ninth grade was a blur. Most people might not consider their ninth grade year, but I did constantly for a while, because it was the beginning of the worst time of my life. The private school to public school transition wasn’t a bad experience for me, although it was difficult to adjust to new people. Girls asked me to hang out and I mostly declined, because I didn’t know what we’d talk about. It seemed as though everyone was carefree and not concerned about finding adequate conversation topics. In my head I would often think “just let me observe everything for a year and then we can be friends.” Previously I had only made new friends when I was in control of the situation, in my territory, at my private school, where I was in good social standing. Within this new world I did not know how to navigate.
Thankfully I had a spot at lunch, next to a long-time friend who made the private to public school transition with me. I did not find her interesting however, so I mostly sat in silence ignoring her and thinking about my life.
In March of my ninth grade year I had my first panic attack. The scary thing about panic attacks, and mental illnesses, is that they often come on during completely normal moments in your life. My experience was just that. I was sitting in my last period class, Social Studies, settling into my new seat, as Ms. Brown (I think that was her name) had just re-assigned our seats. A few things happened: (1) I was now seated next to a very attractive boy who knew the girl on my other side and they began talking over me, (2) that morning I did not have time to shower after my first period Swim class (yes, we had Swim class – it was required) and I felt disgusting, (3) my newish Social Studies best friend was across the room, so I had no idea how we would maintain the friendship, (4) my stomach was upset from weeks of eating nothing but jalapeno and cheese stuffed pretzels at lunch. — Insert first panic attack here — Somehow I made it through class, but my life was forever changed by a fear of something bigger than I could comprehend.
Have you ever had a nightmare where your loved ones die, you’ve lost everything and there is nothing but despair ahead? Okay, so then you wake up. It might take a few minutes or even hours to shake off the dream, but you realize that it wasn’t real and you are more thankful than you were before having the dream. A panic attack is like having that sort of nightmare, yet not knowing what you’ve lost, or what’s causing you to despair, and looking around at reality which is not in despair, fully believing that you can no longer live in it.
I view my panic attacks as moments where parts of me died. The attacks became so severe that I did not leave the house, and in between panic attacks I was unwaveringly anxious. Nothing in my life mattered, because panic was just around the corner – a new part of me was going to die at any moment, and perhaps these deaths would continue until I became less and less and finally died for real.
[At any point in my life now, when I want to be particularly grateful, I think back on those times where I “died,” and remember that I’ve faced fear before, head-on, to it’s death, not mine. I am grateful to be alive, and not just physically alive, but with a peace that surpasses all understanding.]
…Real quick… The reason Christ is at the center of my life, my true identity, is because He found me in the depths of death. He travelled down to earth to fight for and win me. Without Christ I actually believe the only logical conclusion to life on earth is despair and death.
There are many great books written on this subject. I won’t go into detail now, but a few unparalleled reads are:
- Genesis in Space and Time
- The God Who Is There
- Escape from Reason
- He Is There and He Is Not Silent
All written by Francis Schaeffer.
During the summer before tenth grade, at 15 years old, my panic attacks stopped. My dad had taken a job as senior paster of a church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and we transitioned from the suburbs of Philly to Lancaster County. At this time a new brutality presented itself – loneliness. Though my panic attacks ceased my anxiety and depression did not. I was now in healing mode, which required a lot of sleeping, counseling, time to think and a lot of basic breathing. The idea of going back to school was impossible for me to accept, so my parents homeschooled me. Between healing and schoolwork I had unnaturally low energy. You might have heard me refer to this time period as my “Year of Isolation.” I was awake between the hours of 12 PM – 4 AM, eating poorly, wandering around our new home, often swinging on the swings in our backyard for two hours at a time, completing schoolwork, talking to my parents, watching tv and evaluating the normal lives of my peers on Facebook. My sadness escalated with every posted photo of friends who didn’t know if I still existed. I did exist, I was there, I witnessed their lives passing without me and the loneliness that ensued allowed me to shed my identity of being the center of anyone’s world.
Eventually I found new identities. There was an unnecessary relationship that I never should have gotten into, and I became someone’s idol. Followed by another person’s idol. After those identities I took on popularity and control, by sneaking around, trying to be cool and artistically dark. That one lasted for years. Obviously as an adult I didn’t have to sneak around, but you get the picture.
After high school I knew enough to know that I was miserable and didn’t particularly want to live. This is another reason why college was untenable; I couldn’t see my life going far beyond it. At nineteen I made up my mind to move in with my aunt, in a small coastal town near Vero Beach, Florida. But first, I needed implants. I worked at a Henry Schein distribution facility for roughly 6 months to save up for the new me… and once I got my implants I went to find new life by the sea.
It’s not true to say that God began working on me when I moved to Florida, because he began working on me before I was born, but I will say that sunlight was the first thing I recall Him using to heal me from my past. My aunt didn’t have wifi, and I didn’t have a smart phone, so I lived unplugged for a good long while. We had so much fun. Her home was essentially a dollhouse – pink on the outside and filled with treasures and cartoon-like tchotchkes on the inside. She had a white picket bench-swing hanging from her longleaf pine in the backyard, where I would escape and daydream, surrounded by lush flower beds and plates on sticks hammered into the ground like giant lollipops.
I landed a job at The Windsor Club, where Prince Charles used to play polo and the Swarovski family lived on holiday. This part of my life needs its own chapter. The main lesson I learned over five years is that the wealthiest of the world are not often living in abundance, freedom or joy. In fact, some were absurdly weak, imprisoned and suffocated by false security and imagined control. Walking away from Windsor I was profoundly grateful for the vocational growth, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and relationships and challenges that shaped me. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my life’s journey would not end in a place like that, and I would also make sure that it didn’t.
I met some of my best friends at a small church in the center of Vero Beach. The years spent with them were some of the greatest years of my life. Joe and I still fantasize about moving back and raising all of our families together. In fact, that fantasy has been the cornerstone of my life in Denver since we first arrived.
Living in a transient season of life does not mean that one’s investments should be transient. I am just now understanding this. Instead of anchoring myself to God when we moved to Denver, I anchored myself to a future life. By clinging to that fantasy I disordered my love. God was not in top order within my heart, and the fallout was complete disorder of everything below Him. I was in worse shape than I knew. I fell harder than I could have imagined. How could this girl, who finally learned of her identity in Christ and had grown so much spiritually before marrying and moving to Denver be losing herself? Certainly for me, when God is not prioritized in my life I am capable of unspeakable dregs.
I’m writing this today, because I was originally going to start my day with worship and continuing to read Romans, but I wanted a reason not to do that, so I decided to spend 2 1/2 hours writing this instead. I don’t have answers right now. I have a testimony, I have the love of God, I have an amazing husband, a beautiful first home, the greatest parents, and years of joy behind and ahead of me. But… I also think that something needs to be unlocked within my heart right now, and I’m not quite sure what it is.
And so, I would like to ask for prayer. I don’t think I’ve ever asked that before, but I guess there’s nothing wrong with it.
Signing off. ❤