On Anxiety & Depression

Life is really weird right now. We can all stack hands and agree on that, right? I was never taught how to handle a global pandemic while I was in college, I think I’d like my money back. It feels like a constant flux of boredom and exhaustion. Peace in this new slower pace and extreme frustration over what we’re missing out on. I feel both discouraged by where our world currently lies and hopeful for what the future may hold. And inpatient. So inpatient.

There are days I wake up with the sun (this is new for me, thanks, Corona) and feel ready to take on the day, and other days where I wake up wondering if getting out of bed is worth it. It’s a mixed bag.

The temptation for me is to look around, either as I pass people on the street or on the internet and compare my heartaches and frustrations with the store window of ourselves that we all walk around with on display—but it’s my firm belief that to compare our insides with someone else’s outsides will rip the joy right out from under us.

I don’t know what this all means, in so many ways I am still trying to figure it out. But here is where I will plant my flag; we have to do this together. We have to be honest with one another. What we are currently experiencing is a gigantic collective trauma, one that simply powering through could eventually wipe out our insides altogether if we aren’t careful.

I have been really encouraged lately by the belief that we belong to one another. This doesn’t just call us to love and care for one another well, BUT ALSO allow ourselves to be loved and cared for. This is not always so easy.

I was talking with a friend yesterday and sharing with him about my long-fought battle with anxiety. After describing for him what this has, and currently looks like for me, I ended by saying, “But the truth is, without this thing that haunts me, I am not sure I’d ever understand how much I need both God AND people living in me, with me and through me.” While I am an expressive, emotional person, I don’t prefer to be a vulnerable one. I prefer to think I can do it all on my own. (All of my close friends are rolling their eyes right now.) But extreme bouts of anxiety and depression have a real funny way of reminding me that to live with this idea could drown me.

In that same spirit, the one of doing this together, I want to share a couple things that have been helpful for me. Maybe they will be for you…and if not, that’s ok too. There are many balming ways to combat this beast, these are simply what I’ve found to be the most useful in the trial and error that has been caring for my mental health.

Move Your Body.

I started running in high school—back then it was because solo sports were way less intimidating to me (ha), but throughout college and especially now I do so primarily to keep my brain in check. Between the chemicals released while running, and the feeling of accomplishment, this works far better for me at combating my unsteady brain than anything else ever has. I know some folks might roll their eyes at this, not everyone likes running. That’s understandable, but find what you do like—yoga, walking, swimming, anything…just move.

Find A Morning Routine.

I am not a routine person, it’s not where I thrive, but I’ve found having a consistent morning ritual of sorts is a game-changer for me. It feels weird to share this, as it feels like a pretty sacred space, but this has been so helpful during this season, so feels worth letting you in on. Each morning I wake up, make coffee, read either my Bible or another form of devotional, journal and then go for a walk and talk to God about it. I do that last part out loud, so it’s quite possible that my neighborhood folk think I’ve lost it completely. But the intimacy of speaking out loud to our bad-ass God as I walk is so special to me. It breaks some of the barriers that I can sometimes feel between Him and I. I imagine Him walking beside me as I speak and then I listen. It’s in these moments where I hear God speak the most tenderly and clearly.

Your morning can look different than this. Find what works for you and breathes life into your insides. It’s so worth it.

Look to Those Who Have Gone Before Us.

My favorite thing about the Bible is how often I read stories of those in crisis and feel understood. The culture has changed, but the messages are as true as ever. Currently I’ve been reading about Advent—the period of time before Jesus’ birth. The nations were in turmoil. There was a tyrant dictating over the people and hope felt lost. They had been told there was a savior to come, but the waiting felt unbearable, and doubtful. (read: WAITING ALWAYS FEELS UNBEARABLE AND DOUBTFUL, can I get an amen?!) Nowhere felt safe. But Jesus came, as promised and flipped this world on its head through the most unlikely person, in the most unexpected way. GOD SHOWED UP. And He keeps showing up.

My prayer each day is “Lord, enlighten my heart to see you moving in and around me.” (adapted from Tim Keller’s book Prayer.) And He will. I promise.

With that said, also know that anxiety and depression do not equate a lack of faith or relationship with our Creator. My therapist once said to me, “You are trying to pray yourself out of anxiety and it’s actually making you more anxious. God is not mad at you for being afraid, He is in it with you and there are tools He has given us to walk us through it.” I found this statement incredibly freeing, as for so long I felt an intense shame that if only I trusted God more, I’d be healed of these fears. And more often than not, that is just not the case.

Find Your Home Team.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given in this battle are the people who love me well, and who I get to love in return. I have a small number of friends who on the really hard days I reach out to walk me back to myself and to Jesus. Somedays these are texts that simply say, “Red alert,” which my people know means I am in the thick of it and need prayer/support as soon as humanly possible. Somedays it’s tearful phone calls begging for prayer. This can look however you want. Find your people you can personally reach out to and ask to walk alongside you. Courage and faith beget one another—it’s ok to lean on someone else’s faith, courage, mental stability, etc., when doing so on your own feels impossible. In fact, I’d argue that it’s imperative. We cannot do this alone. And we don’t have to. And that is kinda beautiful.

I would add here an encouragement to not do this via social media. Social media can be a great tool for sharing parts of our lives, but it falls short in actual intimacy with others and can leave you feeling more alone than supported.

You Are Not Alone and You Are Not Crazy.

I cannot state this emphatically enough. I recently read that somewhere that 7.3% of the world has diagnosable depression and anxiety disorders—that is one out of 13…and that statistic was taken before the dumpster fire that is 2020, so I think we can assume the numbers have gone up.

The biggest lie we can tell ourselves is that we are the only ones who feel the way we do, and therefore shut ourselves off from others. The truth is, the more honest I’ve been about my own struggles in this area, the more I’ve learned I am not only not alone, rather I am in the company of some of the greatest people on the planet (shout out to Michelle Obama).

Truthfully I will probably never stop praying for this monster inside me to be gone. I’ll probably never stop begging it to leave, he’s not my friend. But this is not the whole of who I am, nor is it you.

You are whole. Right here, just as you are.

And you are not alone.

I am not the Voice of the Voiceless.

This piece is the second edit of another piece I wrote on this topic in 2014. It seems even more fitting now than it did before.

I am not the voice of the voiceless. And neither are you.

I know this might not sit well with some, but it needs to be said.

You are the “voice of the voiceless.” I’ve been told this for most of my adult life, due to the nature of my work and the platform I’ve been given for advocacy. 

It’s a moniker I see people adorning all over the place, especially now in our current climate. It seems to have taken on legs and now walks around inflating the egos of the privileged and often self-appointed voice boxes—drawing attention to those “fighting for justice,” and stealing attention away from those they claim to serve.

But in the vast majority of advocacy, the people we are claiming to fight for are not voiceless. Each human has a voice, but sadly, many who would love to use theirs have been silenced.

Silenced by broken systems, abuse, and oppression.

Silenced by the way they have been dismissed and overlooked because of the color of their skin, their gender, their socioeconomic status, sexual identity, orientation, or some other “less than desirable” characteristic deemed by society at large.

Silenced by fear.

Silenced by exhaustion as some simply got tired of their desperate pleas falling on deaf ears of the elected.

But they are not voiceless.

I spend a good portion of my life walking beside homeless/formerly homeless people and people of color—and I do speak out on their behalf, because whatever the different reasons may be (accessibility, vague understanding of both worlds, college-bred ability to articulate my words onto paper, the privilege of being told what I say matters), my voice is heard louder. But the reality is, everything I am saying I learned from my friends who have been there or are there now.

I have teachers who have been patient and gracious with my ignorance and walked me into understanding.

I hold the space I have been lucky enough to be invited into dearly, and I love hearing others’ stories of truth and justice as a result of this position. But, in the same way that I am not your voice, I am not theirs either—they are. I am simply groomed (err, sorta 🙂 ) and have been trained by the world as to what my place is, and sadly in many cases, so have they, with a less honoring outcome and message. Many marginalized and disenfranchised people have been conditioned to believe that their voice is less powerful, less worthy, and/or less pleasing.

They are not voiceless – but perhaps we lack the humility to listen.

This is not some self-righteous plea asking you to stop reading my words or speaking your own, in fact, I hope you don’t. There is power in storytelling and in hearing different accounts from different lenses. There is absolutely a time and place for advocacy and allyship—and that is my heart’s desire—to speak up for my friends when and where I can, not as their voice, but rather as my own, sharing what I’ve learned and experienced where I can and when necessary. As well as using any platform or privilege I possess to amply the voices of those we need to train our ears to hear a little louder.

Are you really pro-life?

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She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I’m pregnant,” she said, “and I’m scared.”

Tears filled my eyes too, as I knew her options were few.

Kiana was only 17, living with her family who struggled to make ends meet.

“I don’t believe in abortion,” she told me, “but I don’t know what to do.”

It took a few weeks of calls, appointments and paperwork, but we were finally able to help Kiana find an organization that would help her with prenatal care. Days later however, they called to tell her they were at capacity and couldn’t serve her after all. So she made the appointment to get an abortion.

The appointment came and went—she couldn’t go.

I promised to walk with her, to do whatever I could to help find a clinic that would see her. After several attempts, we finally found a place that was open to giving her care; it was Planned Parenthood.

I walked into the waiting room with her apprehensive—I’d been raised my whole like hearing how awful Planned Parenthood was. “They are the baby-killing factory,” I thought. But they offered to help. They provided everything she needed to safely stay pregnant, including vitamins and follow-up appointments. And then their funding got cut.

For as long as I can remember I was told that to be a Christian meant to be pro-life. As a kid I marched in anti-abortion rallies and firmly held the belief that terminating a pregnancy meant murder. I held strong to the notion that women who committed such atrocities were heartless and selfish. I even went so far as to audition with a speech on the topic for my fifth grade graduation. (It should come as no surprise when I tell you I was not chosen.)

While I still hold to my pro-life convictions, I’ve come to learn that the topic is far more nuanced than I’d once held true. As Christians we have a responsibility that is far greater in the matter than simply branding a woman and picketing her decision.

This last week the Alabama Senate approved a measure on that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, setting up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the case that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

“I had to do it,” Kiana told me. “Ultimately I was the one who made the choice, but I think about that baby everyday and it hurts. I felt trapped and like it was my only option. My parents told me if I had the baby they would kick me out—and I had nowhere to go. And now with this new law and all the yelling on the internet I keep seeing, it feels like everyone is stabbing already broken women, reminding us that we are bad. It’s easy to point fingers, to tell me I was wrong and going to hell—which half the time I already believe myself because the guilt is so bad—but then there’s this other part of me that wants to scream back, ‘How can you judge me when you never offered to help me or anyone else in my shoes?’ I tried to find help and in the end it just wasn’t there.”

She’s right.

Unless we are willing to address some of the major factors that lead to abortions I am not sure we are justified in calling ourselves pro-life at all.

Pro-birth, perhaps—but not pro-life.

For the last 10 years I have worked with various homeless and marginalized populations. Both professionally and personally I’ve walked with several women after they have chosen to terminate pregnancies because they felt as though they had no other options.

My friend Lisa explained it to me this way, “Having an abortion was not something I wanted to do, but I knew I couldn’t care for a baby while living on the streets. I know people always say that adoption is an option, but the reality is, there are thousands of babies and kids in the system, waiting to be adopted who never will be—I was one of them. I couldn’t in my heart have a baby who I knew would end up custody of the state, in an unsafe group home or on the streets, wondering if they were loved, like I was.”

To be pro-life we must deem all life as valuable.

If we are going to choose to be pro-life we must not stop advocating once the baby leaves the delivery room. It means we must be willing to enter into the lives of the least of these; either offering resources to mothers who desire to keep their babies, reforming our adoption and foster care systems or partnering with and defending organizations serving those in need either with our vote, our finances or our time.

To be pro-life we must believe that all life is valuable; including those of mothers who are contemplating or have chosen abortions and caring for them as such. It means that instead of picketing and screaming; instead of focusing on laws to shame women for their choices we need to consider how to better enter into the lives of our sisters who are hurting, caring for both them and the unborn little ones in our world.

To be pro-life we must also be in support of working women.

Another friend explained her decision to me this way, “I had finally reached a point in my career I was proud of. I’d fought long and hard to get where I was, both finally getting to acknowledgment and position I’d been most qualified for, for years and financially I was finally able to make ends meet without major stress. I knew if I had a baby that would all change. Was it selfish? Yeah, maybe so, but I felt stuck.”

It’s often assumed that to be feminist; to believe in equality for women one must also be pro-choice. In fact, the opposite is true. Revered suffragist Alice Paul said, “Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.” It is the assumption that a woman must choose between career or family. It is the assumption that to “make it” in the working world a woman must give up success or reroute her dreams in order to be a good mother. Through lack of of options, our society often tells women that to pursue her goals in the workforce she must remain childless.

If we want to truly be pro-life we must look at the factors that contribute to this assumption; lack of affordable childcare, the wage gap and lack of policy concerning maternity leave. To be pro-life we need to support women in the working world, as opposed to creating further obstacles to overcome once she conceives. We need to celebrate the unique ability of a woman to carry a child and not penalize her career for it.

Please hear me, I am not trying to shame anyone on either side. I still cannot fathom the idea of choosing to terminate a pregnancy without it turning my stomach and bringing tears to my eyes. But I also can’t imagine the difficult decision to raise a baby in a place in which there is so little support for single mothers, working mothers and unaccompanied children.

We HAVE to do better, pro-lifers. We have to be willing to reform systems and care for babies, children and their mothers after birth. We have to be willing to use our resources—our political backings, our money, our time and energy into caring for those who this issue impacts most, not simply sitting on our pious high-horses, claiming to care and doing nothing to show it, but yell on the internet.

THIS IS NOT A WITCH HUNT

The past couple months our country has been set ablaze with talk of sexual misconduct, abuse and harassment. It’s nearly impossible, it seems, to go a single day without reading a new report of accusations, arrests and firings. Couple that with social media movements, such as the viral #metoo posts and it can feel like nothing and nowhere is safe. And, if nothing else, it serves as further proof that we have a long way to go in healing our gender relations.

A few weeks ago I wrote a Facebook post that, to be honest, I thought was fairly innocuous…because I admittedly continue to be fairly naive when it comes to social media and mass thinking.

It read:

“People claiming ‘it’s a dangerous time to be a man’ are wrong.
It IS a dangerous time to be a creep, a pervert and/or a sexual predator. And it’s about damn time.”

For the most part, the feedback on the actual thread were positive and in agreement. But privately the messages were a bit more mixed and nuanced.

The majority of responses I received were gracious, even if in opposition. A couple friends addressed the issues of potential false accusations and the like. I am not writing to address those, although I’d implore you to read this, if that is your fear.

What I would like to address however, is the concern several men have expressed as to what is allowed and what’s deemed harassment.

“I’m more afraid than ever that I will offend or hurt someone,” one man wrote. “So many men are being raked through the coals and that scares me.”

“Here’s the thing,” I replied, “I believe, unless I am sorely mistaken, that you are a good man. I cannot speak for all women, but I can speak for myself and tell you, that even as someone who has been assaulted, I never walk into a room and assume it’s about to happen again. If anything, I’d probably assume you were my ally should anything go down.”

And I believe that’s the truth for most women. We are not looking to accuse innocent comments or gestures as abuse.

What we are looking for is respect and equality. That’s the thing I believe is missing in each and every one of these instances of harassment and assault we are seeing reported. People don’t harass, belittle or abuse those they see as equal partners and humans.

I don’t believe I, or any of my female counterparts, have ever been raped, assaulted or felt threatened by a man who truly respected her and cared for her well-being.

If you’re still nervous or unsure, it’s okay to ask. Ask the women in your life if you are doing something that makes them uncomfortable. And ask yourself, how would you want you mother, your daughter, your sister or your friend to be treated.

Where we’re at currently in or society is not a witch hunt and it’s not a cry for attention. Nor is it an issue of men vs. women, but rather, both men and women vs. sexual assault and abuse.

What we’re seeing is a reckoning; shining light on a dark underbelly that grows stronger when kept hidden. This kind of violence can’t thrive in fresh air. The courage of both those who are speaking up and those who are listening and responding is a powerful thing and it’s long overdue.

Looking Hope in the Eyes

As I’ve mentioned in my previous writing, this last year has been a difficult one in many respects. It’s been full of highs and lows, heartache and grace and a lot of confusion, as I attempt to clean out some old garbage and replace it with Truth.

One thing I have come to terms with is while I’ve always suspected it, I’ve never fully embraced my white-knuckle fear of hope. It may sound kind of silly, but it terrifies me. Hope confuses me. But I am—or am at least trying—to learn to trust it. To look it in the eyes and stay.

A few weeks we had Young Life Club and I was responsible for giving the talk/leading the discussion. If I am being honest, I didn’t want to; I felt tired and ill-equipped.

When I’m struggling I often find it difficult to know how or what to say or not say when sharing with these kids I hold so dear. I strive to be honest, but it can be hard to feel like my struggles are valid. Many of the kids I get to walk with have seen and been victim to harsh realities of the world I will never fully understand and that can be hard to reconcile within myself.

I am a pretty big believer in teaching from where you’re at personally, so I decided to share the story in Mark 4:35-39.

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.

After reading the story and giving some examples from my own life, I opened it up to discussion. A few kids gave accounts of “storms” they have or are currently experiencing; broken homes, drug addictions, fear for the future, to name a few.

We sat for a minute in silence and then one boy said, “The disciples were scared shitless, but what’s crazy is that Jesus was actually IN the storm with them. He was experiencing it right along with them.”

Another boy then followed with, “Yeah, and even though he eventually calmed the waves he first let them go through it for awhile, that was probably real confusing…but it’s kinda cool I think.”

It was wild—and perhaps sounds a bit cliche, but in that moment I felt like I was no longer teaching these kids, they were teaching me. This story is not new to me, I can practically recite it in my sleep, but in hearing from these boys and seeing it through their lens, something in me began to changed.

God is here.

He’s letting the storms rock me, my friends, my Young Life kids, even our country, but He’s in it.

And He has the authority to change everything.

Look it in the eyes—that is HOPE.


Our Monarch Young Life team is currently participating in an end of the year campaign to raise money for 2018. Our hope is to raise $9,000 to assist in supporting those in emergent needs, getting kids to camp and securing our operating budget. We currently need about $5,000 more in one-time or reoccurring donations. If you feel led to give, here’s the LINK. We need you, love you and appreciate you.

 

PRESCRIPTIONS OF FAITH

I am, by nature, a fixer and a runner. It’s hard for me to stand by quietly or sit in the mess of life. When faced with discomfort, I’d much rather jump in to mitigate the problem or get as far away from it as possible.

I often move forward, facing conflict with haste, not so much as a means for resolve, as much as a one of ridding myself of feelings I dislike . And for a long time this method, more or less, felt like it worked.

Until it didn’t anymore. Until the facade of peace I bought and sold myself no longer held its value and things began to crumble.

Through continued trial and error, I’ve come to learn there is no quick fix to finding true growth and healing. That, for me, the only way out was to go in—to dig deeper and wait longer. To take in my full surroundings, retracing my steps and truly learning who I am and where I’ve come from.

Honestly, it’s really hard and some days I fear it swallow me whole.

This last year I’ve seen more pain and confusion in my own heart, and the hearts of many I care about, than ever before. It seems that all around me people are struggling with questions of identity, shame, deep heartache and fear— and what it all means when coupled with faith.

In an attempt to employ my previous method of attack, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time reading and listening to others’ proclamation of faithfulness, prescribing it to myself and turning it around and appealing those around me to do this same.

I’ve read and regurgitated verses from the Bible, like a coach—hyping myself and others up to get out there and take on life like a champion.

This in itself is not so wrong; I believe faith can beseech faith. Encouraging one another to keep going with the knowledge we’ve been given about God is a beautiful and essential thing. I wouldn’t have made it this far without a pretty solid team holding my hand and stirring me out of the dark seasons—and I consider it a great honor to tell of where I’ve been, standing in those same gaps for others.

So please hear me when I say, this is not a plea for silence or timidity. We belong to each other and sharing our stories is one of the greatest gifts we can give and receive.

But I fear sometimes we do it without really listening; without really standing in our own muck or that of one another long enough to look around and take in the whole scene.

Instead, we hear the discomfort, we feel the ache and immediately go on the attack. We sidestep true healing be reaching for passages and prose, accounts from our own lives or stories we’ve heard and apply a one-size-fits-all answer to pain, faith and uncertainty that’s all very relative.

It’s an easy thing to do—we throw solutions we know at questions we don’t understand. But it rarely works. With great matters of the heart it’s almost always a process as unique as we are as individuals.

We, as humans, are strange and wonderful creatures. We are complex and idiosyncratic. We have great commonalities with one another—but each of us has lived a different experience and therefore we see, hear and feel both life and God in unique ways. This makes it damn near impossible to fully understand one another without great effort and patience.

When choosing to be allies with one another, we need to sit down next to, not across from each other. Taking in the scene before us, we need to note each piece of detail in a true effort of understanding.

We need to listen longer and move slower—matching our pace with those in the process. It’s tempting to want and rush one another into healing—but growth is often strange, moving at inconsistent speeds, at odd hours of the day.

So together we wait. We walk. We cheer and we mourn. We fight and give up. Then we fight again. We find moments when words of great faith and hope bring pieces together  and others when only cold beer will do.

We will fail. We’ll misstep, finding ourselves faulty friends, offering imperfect words in crucial moments.

It’s okay.

We’ll find forgiveness.

We will heal.

Just don’t let go.

Stay.

We need each other.