I cried in several different women’s restrooms.
I cried in the middle of Lower Beamer.
I cried in Stupe.
I had a full on panic attack outside of SAGA.
I called a professor while sobbing.
I cried in my car.
I cried in the Disability Services office.
I cried at numerous restaurants and scared some waitresses.
And I’ve just generally gotten used to the looks you get when you cry on the way to class.
Admittedly, me crying is a fairly normal thing. I cry over everything–happy, sad, embarrassing, exciting–but I don’t cry in public.
There are plenty of friends who’ve seen me cry, but strangers? Look weak in front of acquaintances and people who don’t know anything else about me? I don’t think so.
But not recently.
I feel like most people here have watched me fall apart in the past few days. This past week has been one of the shittiest I can remember and the tears came too frequently to hide.
I’ve been raised in a pretty Christian-ese world, so I don’t know a strong enough string of curse words to describe what having an anxiety disorder feels like. (I’m open to suggestions.)
There are few things quite so humiliating as mental illness. Being someone who’s perfectly confident and in control one hour but then curled up in a ball and shaking in fear the next was never a dream of mine.
There is nothing quite like when the anxiety hits and you can hardly think through the fog. Waves of terror pound through your entire being, leaving you shaking and sobbing and so, so fragile. All you want is to be somewhere that feels safe, but there’s no where to go because the thing terrorizing you is your own mind.
In many of those moments this week, my boyfriend has had to wrap me up in a hug so I can cling to him like my life depends upon it. Later, when the anxiety has passed, I feel humiliated that I was so “emotional” and “needy.” I can’t help but wonder at what point he’ll start to get tired of me and this illness he can’t see.
But in the moment it’s a matter of survival, and his arms are one of the few places that feel somewhat safe.
The shame and self-hatred that comes along with a mental illness is very real.
I hate needing help. I despise the moments when my boyfriend or friends have to hold me while I shake and cry and fight my own mind. Even well intentioned words of encouragement often feel like a slap in the face. Anything more than “I love you” feels like sympathy.
This week has been humiliating. I’ve cried with and been comforted by more friends than my pride would ever want to admit. I’ve been given legitimate excuses from Disability Services, allowing me to postpone exams and homework assignments when my brain won’t cooperate.
This week has been terrifying. There’s the fear from the anxiety itself, but even more, there’s a deep fear that the anxiety won’t go away. What if I’m like this forever? What kind of a woman will I make? What kind of wife? What kind of mother? What kind of employee?
This week God has forced me to be absolutely still and simply work through the here and now.
Supplements, medication, therapy, doctors, rest, self-care… that’s all I can focus on right now. And in the moments without anxiety, (which have been more frequent the past two days, praise God), I’ll focus on the people I love.
All of this to say, while I’ve dealt with an anxiety disorder for most of my life, my anxiety this semester and this week has been almost unbearable.
~ ~ ~
Please don’t read this and think I’m in the depths of despair.
This week I have also seen with new eyes the incredible hearts of those I call my friends. They have held me and supported me and made every accommodation necessary to help me walk through this. My family sacrificed time and money to stay with me at my lowest points and help me find solutions. Despite the embarrassment that comes along with this illness, as I walk through it I feel more and more secure in my relationship with my boyfriend.
I have a newfound appreciation for this college. Wheaton pushes you and pushes you, often leaving you feeling like you’re not good enough. But when you’re struggling? These professors and staff are there for you. You are supported and loved.
I’m not writing because I need sympathy. Lord knows I don’t want that.
I’m writing because there are many, many people who struggle with mental illness.
Those illnesses are invisible, they’re humiliating, and they are real.
You are not alone. Reach out and be willing to cry in public. Be willing to be raw and vulnerable with those you trust.
I’m also writing to explain why I’ve dropped off the face of the earth recently. I haven’t posted on the blog in months.
Something about Wheaton has made me want to change the way I write. Something about this environment has made me think I need to write more polished, accomplished stories. You know, the “put together” Christian thing.
And if there’s one great thing that’s come of this illness, it’s that I’ve been reminded again that I am not a “put together” Christian.
I’m a falling-apart-at-the-seams, sometimes-use-the-word-fuck-when-I-pray, so-glad-it’s-all-about-grace kind of Christian.
Through the anxiety attacks and the “failures” that surround them, I’ve been continually brought back to a point of broken humility. The kind of humility that lets you sit alongside other broken people and through a mix of laughter and tears finally just say, “Well, I guess God’s got this. Even if I don’t.”