On being brave and learning to exhale.
At the tail end of a long work week, I found myself in a screaming match with a four-year-old. Certainly, it was not my finest hour—but if I get painfully honest, it was really just another snapshot in an ever-widening pool of evidence pointing to a truth I have long been avoiding: all is not well with my soul. On Saturday, I skipped yoga to go to a birthday party for my best friend's little boy, I volunteered for church, and I showed up at a music festival to support my hardworking husband who had been arranging and tweaking and plugging in and unplugging again since before the sun was up. Plainly, I was spent. I felt like I had been going and going. Even though all of the things I was doing were good, and even though I really had wanted to participate, I had started to feel a bit like a hamster trapped on an out of control wheel. By the end of the day, it was like I was staring off the edge of a cliff, and the next light breeze would be all it took to send me careening straight over. I left the concert early, fighting hot tears and trying to catch my breath—wondering how in all this world I got here again.
It shouldn't come as any big surprise to me that depression and anxiety strike indiscriminately and without warning. Their shadowy presence has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Even when I was a little girl, I often wondered if I was missing some impenetrable layer of protection that everyone else seemed to have. I turned darkness over and over in my hands, like a smooth river rock in the pocket, like a secret. Seeing the words written down makes it seem so intense and dramatic—two characteristics that I've always fought vehemently and never aimed to be known for. I would so much rather you think that I am steady, sturdy, and capable—someone who has her life together and figured out, and I'll do whatever I think it might take for you to think of me in these terms, even if it means I can't breathe. (Pride is the greatest downfall of Enneagram 2's, in case you were wondering, and I am the two-est two that ever lived.)
So when my friend Julie, who is our pastor's wife, brought up that I had alluded to my depression and anxiety on social media and asked what all that was about, I tried to play it cool and casual. When we gathered around a table with our four best friends at a house in the mountains of North Carolina and our friend JC dared us all to be honest about where we were at, I'm sure my face immediately betrayed the desire I felt to take my spoon and dig a tunnel to China as quickly as possible. I could feel my throat start to close up in a vain attempt to keep all this grief from bubbling up and escaping. One of the many lies that shame will tell you is that even the people who love you the most will discard you when they realize how broken you really are—after all, they're depending on you to hold the whole world together. Of course, the flipside of this lie is that they would all be better off without you anyway. (I realize how absolutely wrong this sounds.) In that moment, I was faced with a choice: be brave and admit my need, thus beginning the painstaking process of learning to exhale all the little things that have been breaking me, or keep preaching my own sufficiency. Both options seemed impossible.
Usually, when we think about bravery, we think about the leaps and bounds, the grand gestures, the dramatic movements, the eat, pray, love journey that takes us around the world and sells lots of books, the jaw-dropping before and afters. It's probably easier to think about it this way, instead of thinking about it in terms of small steps forward, slow and steady, little by little. In my experience, at least, it is easier to muster up the courage for the grand, one-time gesture than it is to cultivate daily discipline.
Most of the time, bravery looks like finding a counselor, choosing gratitude in the midst of hard seasons, showing up to the gym instead of the drive-thru window, taking the medicine, having the hard conversation, asking for help, being generous even when you don't know how things will pan out, rejecting flashy promises of quick fixes, putting your phone on airplane mode after work, saying no to good things so you can say yes to better ones, sitting in silence instead of rushing to fill up the space, and relentlessly agreeing with who God says you already are. Sometimes, being brave looks as mundane as doing the dishes and folding another load of laundry. Sometimes it looks like letting good enough be good enough and going to bed. At least, that's what it looks like for me these days. No fanfare, no awards, no book contracts signed. More than likely, I will be the only one who sees most of the choices. And that's okay. It is important, freeing and healing, even, to remember that the overwhelming majority of bravery takes place without applause.
My word for 2018 is garden. We are almost nine months into the year, and I have been hanging onto this word like a promise, holding on for dear life. The desire of my heart has always been for my life to be like a well-watered garden. My friend Megan spoke those words from Isaiah 58 over me a few months ago, and I am still trying to believe that they could be true. But, if I am ever to live a life like the lilies, the hardened soil must be broken. What's dead and dying must be cut away. Even what's alive must be pruned to create more space for my soul to breathe. Nancy, my yoga instructor, says we only use about a quarter of the space in our lungs just walking around in the day to day. I want to breathe deeper than that. I want to be full.
So this is me, laying down my pride and admitting my need for today, asking for the daily bread of mystery that somehow sustains. This is me, running through the house and turning on all the lights because I don't know how to live in the dark anymore. I know that tomorrow, I will be tempted to turn them all off again, but in this moment, I choose to turn them on because everything illuminated becomes light.