The medication has run its course through my body and is fully washed out, now. Now I am empty; now I am doing this on my own.
People keep asking me why I chose to go off antidepressants. I was doing well, I was stable, and there were no side effects. Talk about a miracle drug. I could be happy and as close to carefree as I’d ever been, and it cost me nothing.
But maybe you can understand? These blogs, they’re not unlike my journals. They’re full of anguish, frustration, hope. And yet as I looked back at what I wrote even a year ago, I saw intense emotional upheaval over events and situations that didn’t merit it, things that felt almost childish.
I thought, maybe, I’d grown up since then.
So this is what I told people who asked about my decision with genuine concern: I feel more stable now than I ever have before. I had begun to look at the pill in my palm each night and wonder why I was taking it. I had never intended to be on the medication forever.
Did I feel shame about taking it? Not really, not anymore. I had felt shame at the beginning when my grandmother passed away, and I felt as though I was trying to be happy when I should have been grieving for her. But now I know that there is no shame in getting help, in realizing when I can’t do it on my own.
But now I believe I can. I believe I can do it on my own, and not because of trying harder or having more faith. Instead, this time of medical support has taught me through experience to see redemption and goodness instead of despair. It has shown me that life is not as bleak as I once thought, that my mind is not a prison, that there are good things within reach and this is not the end. It has distinguished between the real me and the sick me: the one who believes her friends talk about her behind her back as a burden and wish she weren’t around, the one who can do nothing but sit and cry, the one whose every word is a plea for attention and affirmation.
I know now that I am not that girl. I was finally able to explain to my friends the other person that I am sometimes, to tell them what she needs and feels, to ask them for their help. Just sit with her and listen; nothing you can say will make it better. Talk about something else at first; she can’t get the roiling, bitter words out of her head just yet. It takes time, and she believes you don’t want to be there; she will keep saying sorry, sorry, sorry. Offer to pray for her.
The praying helps. It is calm and quiet and hushed, words outside of my own head that ground me, that prove to me the world is not all in turmoil. Music, too, is a near-instant tranquilizer for me—hymns and acoustics, reminders of God’s goodness. If I quiet my body and breathe and listen… just let the music take the place of my surging thoughts… everything becomes okay again. My muscles slacken. My eyelids sink. My breathing evens. I find that there is something stable and real outside of my inner turmoil, that the panic won’t last, that I have not lost control over my mind and myself.
Music that grounds me.
The medication taught me these things and for that I am grateful. I am grateful because I know myself now, and I know I am not the desperate, hopeless, needy girl that takes over sometimes.
Instead, I am someone who is funny, who is kind, who wants to believe the best of others and to love them without trying to change them. I am sarcastic and loud and silly, and I am at home in stillness. I am honest to a fault. I care about people first, more than work or academics. Of course I am imperfect, always making mistakes, saying things wrong or saying the wrong things. But I am no longer defined by the voice in my head that tells me I am the wrong things.
The bad days are few and only come when my world is upset. An argument, an insult. There have been anxiety attacks and tears and phone calls to my mother. These things would have happened even if I was on medication, just maybe at a lower decibel. The difference now is that I know I will get through them, that this is not me, and that the people around me know who I really am and are ready and willing to help me get back to her.
And the other difference? I have finished my first year of college and I have changed.
Since I got home, I have thrown out and donated bags upon bags of my things. I have gotten rid of papers and bank statements and airplane tickets and music sheets dating back to elementary school—things that I will never use again, but had never been able to get rid of before.
But I never could. I held onto everything because I was afraid. Afraid of change, afraid of scarcity, afraid of betraying something that held memories for me or giving up something that I’d spent good money on. And I didn’t know myself well enough to know what was really me and what things just didn’t fit into my life or my personality anymore.
And if now, suddenly, I am able to move on, throw out, say goodbye—then I know I have changed.
Or like this—I used to agonize for weeks over cutting my hair. Should I cut it or not? How short? I’d cry over it, let it consume me.
This time, I got home, set up a hair appointment, and chopped off several inches with hardly a thought. And for the first time ever, I wasn’t near an emotional breakdown in the stylist’s chair, and I didn’t need my mom to come with me to the appointment. I do not return to the mirror again and again, questioning my decision; I simply smooth the curls and feel free.
I have the sinking sense that these are steps I should have made a long time ago, steps that came much earlier in life for everyone else. I feel ashamed that I was a child in so many ways for so long.
And yet I am grateful. I am grateful because I made it, finally, to a place I didn’t know I ever could.
– – –
Today I found a letter among the piles of papers, a letter from my mother that she gave to me before I left for Iowa in 2015. It was my first solo trip, and it was at the time in my life when I had just begun to seek help for my depression, when I wasn’t sure I could make it through the two-week camp without breaking down and going home. I imagine my doctor had pulled my mother aside less than a month before and told her I had considered self-harm. I imagine it because he must have—he was required to by law—but she never said anything. She only continued to love and support me, to tell me that she wanted to know what I was feeling even if it hurt her.
The girl she wrote the letter to is someone I’ve almost forgotten. A girl who was scared to leave home, scared to disappoint everyone if she failed. A girl who needed to be reminded of all the people who supported her, who needed to be reminded that they supported her because they loved her. It was not about success or failure, but about an opportunity, a chance to go be brave and do what she loved and hopefully find herself in the process.
I see now that going to Iowa was not just about going to writing camp and becoming a better writer. It was also about leaving home, flying across the country, doing something I wasn’t sure I could do alone, proving to myself that I could do this even in the face of my mental illness.
The girl who received that letter didn’t know if she could. The girl I am today knows she can, and is now doing the very things she once felt powerless against: cutting her hair and cleaning her room, living away from her family, traveling, going off the medication, talking openly about her anxiety, saying with confidence: that other girl is not me. Not today.
– – –
Traveling where, you ask? I will be in Orlando, Florida, this summer at Youth With A Mission’s Discipleship Training School. It’s a missionary training program that will focus on building my faith and teaching me how to serve overseas.
I would like to say that God dropped this opportunity into my lap. I think that he did. I feel that what I will do and become there is what I deeply need: to grow in my relationship with God and his church, to challenge my preexisting notions and beliefs, to become softer and more open towards others and more willing to serve and to love as God calls me, to learn by trial and error how it is that I want to serve with my life most.
Want to support me? Jump on board here: https://www.gofundme.com/toris-ywam-training
Want to read my recent guest posts? Here are a few:
There is a reason why I don’t talk about God very much when I talk about mental illness. I think it’s because I’ve felt its sting myself. On hard days—days where panic rose in surges like a loose wire inside my chest, where I felt as though something inside my head had caved in and all the lights had gone out—I would try to express this struggle, try to ask for help. … [read more]
You do not have to hide. I see you there, hiding yourself, hiding from the people around you, hiding from God. And I know what it’s like to hide. I lived in hiding for a long time. See, I hid for the same reason that Adam and Eve did in the garden: I felt ashamed. … [read more]
Sometimes I feel I’ve lost my voice. Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to say, no encouragement to give—like I’m in a stuck place and can’t free myself, let alone help someone else find their way. And I wonder why God has called me to this: to be a writer, encourager, empathizer, counselor. … [read more]