One semester is down, seven to go to a Bachelor of Arts degree. In some ways I can’t believe I’m actually studying in university, fulfilling this long held dream of mine. There were times through my first semester that I wanted to quit, where I had complete meltdowns, ate cake, and crawled into a hole until I had to resurface and face my assignments with deadlines looming.
With the first semester done, I am excited about heading into the next one. Many people have told me that the first one is by far the hardest and it will get easier; I don’t understand how that works but I would be okay with it if they are right. I’ve had to massively restructure my writing style. I am an extremely informal writer that tends to break a lot of rules (evidence on this blog.) I got docked for run on sentences then I got docked for sentences that were too short. Okay then. Seriously though, if you are going back to school as an adult and haven’t done traditional high school, it’s possible, but I would recommend taking an English course prior to starting that would help to give you a foot up. It’s been a huge learning curve- starting university, but it has also provided a richness and a fullness in my life that I didn’t know was missing. I’ve settled into a routine with it, yet some days I still walk the halls or sit in a lecture and my breath catches or I find myself smiling as I recognize the fulfillment of some of my dreams and goals. It is hard. It is also worth it. Bring on semester two.
**Trigger warning** content covers depression and suicide- Do not read if you are triggered by discussions of suicidal thoughts or mental health struggles. Reach out to someone instead. Do NOT struggle alone.
Canada’s crisis service hotline number is 1-833-456-4566 and is available 24/7/365.
This post wasn’t to be all about university. Moving on to heavier things in classic Jan fashion, I’ve been processing the last few years. I divide the years a little differently than most do, thanks to my repatriation back to Canada in the fall of 2020, so when I speak of last year, I’m referring to the fall of 2020 through 2021. I’ve been sitting on the idea of this post for awhile now, maybe years in some ways. It has been pressed on my heart but it is also deeply personal and has been a painful journey for me. In addition to the personal aspect, I don’t love being the kill joy that brings up the dark and heavy stuff, so there is that too. However, I am also convinced we need to talk about this far more than we would like to, especially in the church and in the Christian world, that is, the realities of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations. These things are real, and we must stop pretending that quoting a bible verse heals all things. If that works for you, I’m thankful, I don’t want to negate the power of scripture. However, that is not my story, neither does it align with the personal stories I have heard from others. So let’s talk about it.
My journey with mental health begins from as early on as I can remember. I was an anxious child who would silently disappear to curl into a fetal position any time my parents were away, especially my mom. I would be paralyzed with fear and in a state of panic, but too ashamed of my fears and anxieties to tell anyone. Losing my parents was my all time biggest fear that terrorized me and would overtake me anytime I was separated from them. I’m sure this separation anxiety could be linked- at least in part- back to the loss of my birth mom when I was a baby, but that’s a different story for another time. My pre-teen and teen years were riddled with confusion and darkness. I faced suicidal ideation and what I now realize as an adult was deep depression. I never talked with anyone about it which meant I faced it alone in isolation, only strengthening the power of it. I begged God. I prayed. I fought to rid myself of it. The harder I struggled the deeper it seemed to take root. It threatened to drown me, to choke me, to suffocate me.
One day when learning about mental health in a medical course I was taking, I found myself in the pages on depression. I couldn’t shake it, it felt relieving to have a name for it, so much was starting to make sense but I also hated the label. I wasn’t okay to call it depression, I wasn’t supposed to have that. I was supposed to be joyful and happy, to cast my cares on Jesus and pray it away. Well. that worked out well.
Last year, I couldn’t handle it anymore and something had to change. I finally reached out and got honest. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to talk about it before. I had, but this time I got painfully honest with a life coach. He made me promise to call my family doctor. The years of undiagnosed health issues, overseas living, new undiagnosed health issues, silence from God, the death of some dreams held close, and countless life changes had finally caught up to me. I had run hard and fast for a long time. I was exhausted. I was not going to make it if I didn’t do something radical to change the trajectory.
Going back to the weekend that led me to reach out for help, I was home alone, self isolating in a cold and dark basement due to C symptoms and waiting on a test result. I was temporarily living with a friend who had also just returned to Canada amid the pandemic, but she was gone a lot. I was already struggling to cope, but that weekend I spiraled out of control in a new way. It scared me, because I wasn’t sure that I could stop myself anymore. I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was dark and terrifying and I didn’t know if I would see the light of day ever again, both literally and figuratively. The temptation to end my life- that the world would be better off without me- wasn’t new for me, but that night I felt the restraints that had always held me back lift. It scared me. I didn’t know if I could stop myself anymore. As I lay on the couch in the middle of the night wrestling, it came clear to me I had two choices that night. I either could end it all, or I could reach out and actually tell someone the depth of the darkness that I was facing.
I wrote a message to my life coach.
That choice saved my life.
Sounds cliché, but I’m not kidding.
In my next zoom session with him I struggled to retch out the words. I don’t know how much I said or what I said but dang, I’m glad he understood at least to some extent the seriousness of the situation. I left that session having promised to call my doctor.
That conversation with my doctor was one of the hardest I’ve had. I tried to be honest, but it’s hard to even know what words to use, much less string a sentence together in those moments. She met me with compassion and gentleness that day and has continued to be such a good support. After a long conversation about the effects of long term stress on the body, about depression, and about how medication works, I left with a prescription, a therapist referral, and a thread of hope.
This was the beginning of a journey out of the darkness, but it definitely hasn’t all been uphill. Some days it looks more like careening off sides of cliffs and freefalling while I wildly panic again that I’m going back to the darkness. I land though, and realize I don’t fall as far as I used to. The path out gets a little easier to find each time. I have so many more resources now. My brain is balancing, maybe for the first time ever. I feel hope in this new year that I haven’t felt for many new years before this one.
That hope breathes life.
If you find yourself relating to this, or if you are in a dark place, tell someone. Isolation and silence breed hopelessness. Do not wait as long as I did. It really is only the power of Someone bigger than me that kept me that night and all the other times before that. Even though in the moment I couldn’t feel anyone with me, and I felt utterly abandoned by God himself, maybe he was there, maybe that’s who gave me the courage to type out a short SOS message. I don’t know. When hope dies, there is nothing left. Hope was dead for me in that space, but maybe the one who defeated death also was with me that night.
So I keep going forward. Walking a day at a time. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling flat on my face, sometimes carried by grace. Hope can be resurrected and brought back to life. Hopelessness doesn’t need to have the final word. It didn’t for me. It doesn’t have to for you. Let’s talk.
Hope can resurrect within our hearts because the Creator of Hope is stronger than death and darkness.