Tag Archive for anxiety

I’m Mentally Ill, but It’s Not My Fault


I’m meeting Alyssa for the first time. She is a First Access counselor for Behavioral Health and she is facilitating my intake. She calls me in and asks me some questions. The questions are easy and difficult at the same time. I know all the answers, it’s the saying them out loud that is hard. I start rattling off about hospital stays, self-harm, suicidal ideation, accidental prescription addiction, withdrawal, fear, anxiety, depression, PTSD, disassociating, past therapeutic experiences.

She applauds me on the different coping strategies I have employed like getting a tattoo on my left arm so I will see that beautiful inscription instead of seeing my wrist as a canvas for cutting. I tell her how I am terrified at night when I try to sleep, afraid of that space between closing my eyes and actually falling asleep. Afraid of not falling asleep. Scared of the memories, intrusive thoughts, anxieties, flashbacks that haunt me when the shadows come.

I’m sleeping so much better these days but those times still come, and I’m 5 years old and alone and scared. I don’t know why my my mom is gone or why my brother and I are living in a different home. I just know it’s a loss. A devastating loss that will never be healed. I live from that loss every day. It is a magnet that draws predators, tormentors, damaged peers, and it brands me as damaged, too.

I am a foster kid. A child of the system. I’m 10, 14, 17, and I’m damaged. I’m separate, I’m less than. I’m lost. Monthly visits with my birth mother do nothing to assuage the grief that has clawed itself into my heart. I have to leave. She has to leave. I have no certainty that she will show up next month. Kids ask why I leave school early or why my parents’ name is different than my own, and I am so ashamed to tell them. I am so other. I will never be one of them. I won’t have the security of a home that never crashes into shattered hearts, minds, and bodies.

I just know it’s a loss. It’s a devastating loss that will never be healed. I live from that loss every day.

I’m a number and a check every month. I’m a family appendage who is the perfect target for abuse. I’ve been groomed by loss. They can see it, these men and women, they know I am split right down the middle and will never be whole enough to tell the truth about the recreational role playing, about the boy in the basement, the neighbor, the foster father, the teacher, the youth pastor. I will never speak about the men I see everywhere, exposing themselves in alleys, touching themselves under train cars, sitting in their cars naked. I’m a magnet for depravity.

All of this seeps out of me when I am asked questions, It’s all of a piece. Why I can’t sleep, why I detach, why I collapse at 3 every day and wonder why it’s worth it? Why tomorrow? What’s the point of it all? When the sun starts fading, I do too. And it feels like grief. Every single day, I have to push through with truth, with the people who love me, with the belief that I have a purpose. It’s difficult for me to exist, to be present to myself and others, it is a challenge to be all there in that place at that time. It is physically exhausting to keep all this inside, not knowing who to tell, who will understand, who won’t judge me for all the things I have failed to accomplish while I am overwhelmed by fatigue and stuck in my dark reverie.

All this accumulates in the silt of my heart until it is stirred up and swirls inside me. I leave with mixed feelings. Being heard breaks my heart wide open, I am being drawn back to the earth, I am reminded that I am a bodily form, that the space I take up is okay, I’m worth sharing it with, it’s not too much, I’m not too much, I’m enough. Being seen at my lowest and weakest and not only accepted but affirmed, adds weight to my spirit and lands it back inside me. Reflecting on the fact that I now have two counselors and a psychiatrist can mean only one thing. I am mentally ill. I feel the shame of the stigma, the feeling of failure because I need so much help to maintain daily normal interaction and good mental health. I am dizzy and detached with the knowledge that this is lonely and long work.

What brought me to this place, physically and emotionally, wasn’t my fault. And that makes me angry. Angry at my family for sacrificing my life because they were selfish and wounded and sick and lazy. Angry at a system determined to help but falls short every time, they place you but you never feel placed. Angry at the system because there were few safeguards back then, there was no child advocacy to insure children had a voice and the words and the safety to speak the unimaginable experiences they’ve had. Angry at foster parents for not seeing me, for trying the wrong things, for not asking the right questions, for fulfilling the requirements but not hearing my heart. Angry at the foster parent who tucked me in at night and then helped himself to my self. Angry that I had to carry this now, alone, burdened down with all the other abuse. The blind eyes, the manipulation, the power plays, the roving hands, the man of God who told explicit stories to impress me, who cornered me and kissed me in the dark church while the other kids played games. Angry at God for letting this all happen. Angry that I now carry years of shattering and I am doubled over by the weight of the secrets and sickness.

I now carry years of shattering, alone, burdened down with all the other abuse, and I am doubled over by the weight of the secrets and sickness.

I am mentally ill but it’s not my fault, but I have to do all the work, have done all the work for all these years to stay alive. That label rips me apart inside, makes me want to curl up so small until I am subtracted into nothing and sucked into the void that resides on the perimeter of my soul. The hours I’ve spent with therapists and psychiatrists and doctors and social workers and peer groups have added up to weeks, months, years of my life I’ve spent attempting to undo what was done to me. My feeble, faltering attempts at healing the wounds, becoming whole, filling up that gaping maw of need in the center of me, have cost me so much and cost my perpetrators nothing. I am furious that I have to enlist the help of so many people to keep me out of the hospital, away from sharp objects, distracted from thoughts of annihilation.

I am mentally ill, but it’s not my fault. And yet I pay for it. With strips of skin I peel off my body to expose what’s underneath. With fingerprints on my teen-aged throat as I choke myself into unconsciousness to escape the loneliness. With ink on my wrist to discourage the knife. With a medicated brain to help me not be overtaken by catastrophic thoughts or groundless worries, or the anvil of anxiety crushing the breath from my lungs. I pay for it with aching throat and tightened jaw that holds the tears at bay because most of the time I don’t know how to cry. I pay for it with numbness and detachment because I don’t know how to feel the pain anymore.

I am mentally ill but it’s not my fault. Yet I am branded by it. When I walk through the doors of the clinic marked behavioral, when I sit in the waiting room with the other clients who know why I am there, when I pick up my medication at the pharmacy from the same pharmacists I’ve known for years, who now know what I take every day. I am branded by it when I isolate myself and hide away because I don’t have the energy or presence of mind to interact, to make eye contact, to respond to questions. I am branded by it with all the appointments marked in my calendar, a constant reminder that I am not okay. I’m mostly okay. But mostly doesn’t get you off the meds or allow you to shrug off the shame of the depression and anxiety that are the evil twins birthed by PTSD.

I am mentally ill but it’s not my fault. I was born to an alcoholic who was unwilling to give up her addiction in exchange for her children. I was born into a family who would not keep me and called child services to take me away. I was born into a family of desperately broken people. I was born into poverty and fatherlessness. I was born into impossibility. Hopelessness. I was born into death.

It’s my responsibility to tell the truth about how I’m feeling that day.

I am mentally ill but it’s my responsibility. I have to learn how to care for myself when I don’t even want to be myself. I have to take the medication, lined up like straight-backed amber sentinels, on the shelf that takes up a third of the cabinet. I have to say no to events and invitations because I have to keep my appointments, the ones that rattle me and settle me. It’s my responsibility to tell the truth about how I’m feeling that day, that the darkness is closing in, that I don’t want to be present, that I’m having trouble coming out of my detachment, that I’m having hopeless thoughts about tomorrow, that I am paralyzed by fear and anxiety.

I’m mentally ill but It’s my responsibility to speak up and shoulder the shame with other survivors and sufferers. To not hide because I’m scared or embarrassed, to not care so much of what people think of me that I withdraw and withhold. It’s my responsibility to offer hope to others while my own hurt is crushing me and my own heart is struggling to beat. It’s my responsibility to bring awareness to the heaviness that is weighing people down, the weight of secrets, self-blame, self-loathing, and self-harm. It’s my responsibility to create a space in myself for others who need a space to be loved and seen and convinced they’re not invisible or alone or disposable. It’s my responsibility to not let someone else’s sickness make me sick, too.


Resources and Support

For Mental Health:

nostigmas     twloha     facingus-house     nami

NEDA    nimh    adaa   band back together2     project semicolon


In Chicago:

Thresholds logo

Thresholds Veterans Logo



sidran     healmyptsd    

For survivors of sexual abuse and assault:

rainn     vandf     NO+MORE_STACK_TAG_RGB     nsvrc-circle.preview     joyful heart    

For Men:

1in6logo-print     Bristlecone-Project-1in6.org_     obs-landing-logo

For veterans and active-duty soldiers:

Safe-Helpline-Logo-Teal_250w     mtc_ani     lg-icon-ptsd-coach

military_with_PTSD_strength_warrior     ptsdusa     sod

Mourning the Life You Thought You Would Have

Denver Skyline (1)

When my husband and I got married we moved from Miami, Florida to Wake Forest, North Carolina. We were beyond excited to get out of Miami. I wouldn’t say we hated Miami, I think we were just longing to see what was out there. We wanted to experience a different life from the one we had always known. So we walked down a church aisle, said I do, and then packed our bags and headed north. We loved our time in North Carolina. I went to seminary and earned my degree in Biblical Counseling. We spent weekends exploring nature trails and farmer’s markets. We drank sweet tea and ate venison. We eased into life, enjoying the seasons and Southern hospitality.

North Carolina is a beautiful place, but soon we fell in love with a different city. We set our sights on Denver, Colorado. The first time we visited the city we were in awe. The city felt young and vibrant. The people were full of dreams and adventure. And the mountains, well, the mountains are truly majestic. We really felt like it was a great fit for us. A group of our friends were preparing to move to Denver to plant a church and they wanted us to join them. They definitely didn’t have to twist our arms. My husband and I both had a heart for city life and the church, we felt like this is where God wanted us to be and were eager to do life and ministry in a place we loved.

It started out just fine. We bought a home and prepared for the birth of our first child. We met together with our church family, ate at new restaurants, took our dog to the park. Life was exactly as we hoped it would be.

But then something changed. After our son was born I was dealing with postpartum depression. I felt alone and anxious and every bone in my body wanted to run away from this life. I was so confused. I had always pictured that motherhood would be amazing. I thought for sure I would be a natural. I had this idyllic view of early motherhood. I imagined rocking my sweet newborn to sleep, feeling a close bond, passing him around to our friends who would ooh-and-ahh over him.  Instead I had a baby who spent most of his time screaming, never slept, wanted nothing to do with anyone, sore breasts, and dark thoughts about ending my life.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. I didn’t feel as if I was thriving, I was barely surviving! I loved my son but wondered if I was doing it all wrong. My husband and I were not connecting at all and I spent most days resenting him. I was no longer participating in our church and barely communicated with any of our friends. I felt like a failure: as a mother, a wife, and a missionary.

I retreated into myself and all I wanted was to be close to my family in Miami. After a lot of tears and discussions and threatening (on my part), we moved back home with our baby boy (and another surprise baby on the way). I still had a lot of issues to deal with. I was still depressed and anxious and our marriage was on the brink.

Moving home didn’t exactly solve all our problems, but we were able to seek professional counseling and gain support from our family and friends. I am beyond thankful for the way our family showed up for us in real concrete ways—babysitting, giving us a place to live when we had nowhere to go, drying my tears.

I am beyond thankful for the prayers of our friends—their advice and encouragement. Without this tribe of people I don’t think I would have been able to find my way out of the fog of depression. And my husband, I am so thankful that my husband always remained strong and held me up when I could barely put myself together. I still remember a hard conversation we had—we were arguing about some nonsense and I was crying and finally I blurted out, “I just wish I wasn’t alive!” The words barely escaped my lips when my husband started sobbing and he held me. He just held me. And in that moment that was all I needed.

It’s been a few years since we moved back to Miami. I’m grateful to be home, close to family and part of a church that is there for us, but there is a part of me that feels sad. For a long time I could not even speak of Denver. It was like a bad word that tasted sour in my mouth. It took a while and lots of prayer, but I no longer feel resentment towards the city I once loved. I even reached out to some of our church family back there and reconciled all the bitter feelings. Making peace with our church plant, and the city of Denver in general, took a weight off my shoulders. A lot of my depression was alleviated, but if I am truly honest there is always a small part of me that wonders, “what if…?”

Our kids are a little older now and the postpartum depression has passed. My husband and I are in a great and loving place. I feel a lot more “normal” and at ease these days. But when I look back at our time church planting in Denver I feel an ache in my heart. I look back at pictures of our home or read updates about the church plant, and I feel loss. I wish we were there. I wish I would have been stronger. I wish we could start over and do it right.

Sometimes I feel like I walked away from a great opportunity that God had for me and our family. Maybe this would have been a great chance for growth and cultivating true community. Maybe this would have been an incredible learning experience that I could have used for ministry. Maybe I would be a better person today if I hadn’t walked away. Why wasn’t I stronger? Why didn’t I have more faith? Why didn’t our church family show up for me when I needed them? Why did we have to leave so suddenly and abruptly?

The reality of the matter is, we are here now. Miami is our home. These are our people. This is our ministry field. I have to mourn the loss of the life I thought I would have but embrace the one that actually is mine. I’m a firm believer that God directs our steps and if we’re in this city He must want us to be here. So not my will, but His be done.

I know I am still young. Lord willing, I have quite a few years left on this earth. Who is to say what the future holds? Perhaps God still has another adventure in store for us. I would be lying if I said I didn’t long for more than what our current life has to offer. Until then, I will just wait and trust in the Lord. My one desire is to glorify Him, whether that’s in Miami or to the ends of the earth.

When We Find Life in Leaving

phillywiss (17)

Standing over the stove, you can tell she’s in her element. The woman can cook.

She may not be able to recite the recipe exactly, and may have to tell you in three separate phone calls the revisions to the recipe, but cooking is her love language. That and waking up at 5 am to make sure your pants were hemmed when you needed them.

Service has always been the way she supported.

You see her there, dicing the onions, and her hands look tired and worn.  She’s done the work of a hundred men in her time, I’m sure of it. Never met another woman who could do what she’s done; raising five kids, keeping a 6,000 square foot house and owning a clothing business. That’s nothing to thumb your nose at.

Sometimes it feels like she’s a million miles away and she probably is; her story is a beautiful and a broken one. Filled with so much loss and leaving, when you hear about it, it makes your heart feel a physical pain. Most folks don’t know what to do with that pain.

I want to honor her pain by recognizing the way she has fought to show up to her life.

They’re not sure what to tell a woman who started out in this country already misplaced. A refugee from Budapest, her family was supposed to head to Washington D.C. Instead, the government sent them to Washington State. Her stories of feeling “wrong” from the start, with her accent and pierced ears, always did make me think differently about my peers who felt like they were on the “outside.”

They’re not sure what to tell a woman who lost a brother and almost a mom to suicide. Not sure what to tell her when they find out that alcoholism runs in the family and losing twin siblings in a fire must be tough. Not sure what to tell her about depression and anxiety that rears its head often.  Not sure what to tell her about the way her family was ripped apart when her marriage ended.

They’re just not sure.

And, she’d tell you honestly, she has a lot to account for in her life. Years of her own drinking and perfectionism that hurt her and our family. You can tell the moments when she’s sitting with this pain, and how obvious it is that she feels it in her core.

But still, she’s here.

By the grace of God, she still shows up to her life. Even in the most painful moments, when I’m sure she wanted to run away, she has continued to show up.

She talked about the strength it has taken to leave addiction behind.

I remember when she began going to AA meetings on a regular basis. When she took ownership of her addiction and things began to change. I remember what it felt like to start to trust her again, the slow unfurling of the knot that was in my stomach.

Just this year when she was visiting, she told me that it was her nine year anniversary of sobriety.

We sat with that a bit. Quiet, letting the reality of 9 years sink in. And then we talked about what a long road it’s been, still longer to go, yet. She talked about the strength it has taken, does take, to leave addiction behind; to feel the ache for the thing that numbs your pain and then choose to look forward instead of back.

And I just felt so grateful, for this woman who is a survivor in the best sense of the word. You can tell when someone has survived significant things in their life; there’s weightiness to them.  That’s what it’s like with my mom, you sit with her and you know. You feel that there is such a story there, begging to be told.

She has a lot more life to live, so many more meals to prepare. But I don’t want for her story to be forgotten. I want to honor her pain by recognizing the way she has fought to show up to her life, and to believe the truth of who God made her. I’m grateful for her legacy of perseverance in the face of daunting tragedy.

I’m grateful for what she’s left behind, so she can be here now.

Same Leaf, New Perspective


I desperately want to make a clean break from it.

For more years than I can remember it’s taken up camp in the pit of my stomach and invaded my mind like a Philistine army with a Goliath heading the charge. It’s followed me around, rocked me violently to sleep, crawled, slithered, sunk into my soul.

What many people experience as this separate thing they feel sometimes, I can’t separate from the core of who I am. It’s so central to my experience that I often flee while it remains.

A thorn in the flesh, yes. More like a poisonous thorn releasing slow toxin in my blood stream that ever-so-carefully cripples and withers first mind, then spirit, then bone. It happens every year, several times a year. My inner fight to keep it manageable runs out, and I’m a mental, spiritual, physical less-than. And I figure, I must be weak, that it alters me like this. I must not be up for the challenge like the rest of them.

I was fine yesterday. Just fine. And then evening rolled around and I’m engaged in conversation and I’m enjoying the moment. I’m completely unsuspecting one minute and the next I feel like I’ve been hit by a wild wind with ice cold edges.

What matters is breathing. Sanity. Keeping my sights on the tiny flicker of Living Hope that I know exists.

My face starts to feel tingly and numb, I can’t feel my fingers, and I realize that I’m not taking full breaths. I’ve dealt with it long enough to realize I need to breathe, to voice the panic aloud, and it never escalates. But it takes its toll.

I’m laid out for the whole night. It’s a bit like shock for the soul. The emotional and spiritual centers start pulling life blood to the core, settling into a survival mode that cares little for the extremities and details of what kind of mood you’re in and whether or not I returned the phone call, made the appointment, picked up the table after dinner. None of it matters. What matters is breathing. Sanity. Keeping my sights on the tiny flicker of Living Hope that I know—I know—exists.

When the evening spills over into the next day, and I can’t shake it like the well-meaning advice of so many might be, it triggers the hopeless and the not capable and the what’s the point? I throw the goals and the dreams and the someday-I-hope-tos on the floor in the corner and turn my back on them. It’s easier to make a clean break from the things that will never happen, or so I tell myself.

It’s a lie.

A lie based on the deep-seated fear that my worth is based on what I can offer to you. And when all I can offer is a few deep breaths and a pile of crumpled may-have-beens in the corner, well, it feels like I’m not worth much.

So what is a girl to leave behind, to make a clean break from, when the thing she so desperately wants to leave behind clings like campfire smoke?

In the middle of it all, I am loved.

She leaves behind the old perspective, the one that builds identity out of success and affirmation and nodding heads. She leaves behind the voice that screams, “You are not if you do not!” She leaves behind the fear of weakness. Because this weakness of mine, it’s done nothing if not made me especially passionate about weakness.

Not weakness that I once had but, Look, now I’m strong! Not that kind. The kind that I’m living in the center of, the kind that is right now. The kind that I want to talk about because it is a living and tangible experience of grace.

I am not. I can do nothing. But right there in the middle of it all, in the middle of the darkness that chokes and cripples success and production and glory, right there, I am loved.

So fiercely loved.

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