My heaving chest is a combustion engine blowing exhaust into the cold night air. I hyperventilate.
A hand on my shoulder pushes a wet washcloth towards me to wipe my nose, eyes, and the vomit from my lips. My eyes squeeze shut tight causing more tears to spill down my cheeks.
“I’m going to die,” I gasp. “My heart . . . it hurts. I can’t, I can’t breathe.” I am choking, my heart detonating. Gagging and cold and ridiculous. Embarrassed.
When my heart galloped against my sternum like the hooves of a runaway herd, my stomach retched forward like my guts were detaching, a creature within me that had come unleashed. I made it outside, the cool air slapping me before I threw up.
Josh calls out the names of my medications, each lined up like a tiny arsenal on my bedside table. “Alia, what do you need?” he yells down the hall.
I think, What don’t I need?
I unravel clenched fists, my palms spread open like I’m receiving communion. Two small white pills and a cup of water replace the emptiness of my shaking hands. I gulp them down and breathe and try to think soothing thoughts, praying it will pass soon, but in this moment I hate myself.
I hate when my body betrays me, and my mind is wild with anxiety. I hate that I am cold and pitiful and so scared.
This same feeling had sent me to the emergency room years earlier when I was certain I was having a heart attack or fatal arrhythmia. Two EKG’s, a CT scan, an X-ray, and a host of blood work later, a doctor with kind eyes took my hand and told me she wasn’t sure what was causing the abnormal EKG’s but I wasn’t going to drop dead on the spot and to follow up with my doctor.
“Take it easy,” she said, and I wondered when life had ever been easy for me.
I had prayed there was nothing wrong with my heart, but I should’ve prayed there was nothing wrong with my head.
Sometimes, great days are sprinkled in the midst — maybe even great weeks or months — and I feel unshakable for a spell and smiles make it all the way to my eyes. Like maybe all of this is behind me, and I’m finally free from the debilitating cruelty of mental illness. Maybe I won’t cycle again, maybe I won’t take another tumble into depression and anxiety, my heart wacked out and beating like thunder.
Maybe I’ll curl up on the couch by the fire, tuck my legs under a blanket and watch the storms come and I’ll feel safe and held. Maybe I’ll wear red lipstick on a Tuesday and go on dates with my husband to Costco, and I’ll take pictures of autumn sunsets and amber leaves clapping in the trees because they’re stunning. Maybe I’ll pull myself up in the morning with anticipation instead of dread. When those days come, I feel hopeful.
But then I have nights like this, and I’m once again gathering the pieces of me. My mind is numb, a dullness fueled by anti-anxiety medicine and exhaustion.
I am unraveled and raw, tender and weak in spots like fruit gone soft and spotty, my skin slipping too easily when pushed. And the world never stops pushing.
I am not fine today. I wasn’t fine last night. I may not be fine tomorrow.
There’s grace enough for that, but I don’t always offer it to myself. Lately, I want to run for cover. I want to step away and never come back. I don’t want to be asked how I’m doing and have to tell the truth that I’m not good, again.
I want to wait it out until I have something hopeful to share, something buoyant and beautiful. I wrangle beauty from my moments and collect them like altars along the way to remind me of God’s goodness, His presence and glory. I want to walk in the pristine garden of Eden with no thorns in my side. I’ve been afraid to fully return to this space because tomorrow might be harsh and cold and empty. And how can I share that again and again?
How can one moment be filled with dancing flowers blown by the breath of God and the next I’m retching and sobbing my soul into the earth, scarring it with tears and vomit?
I am a tremendous gaping need, with hollows so deep the darkness fills my sockets and blocks out goodness.
Some days, good things are so hard to see.
I have no fairytale ending this side of eternity. Life aches and overwhelms. To flourish, I look for Eden, proof that all things are being reconciled, but I often fail to see Gethsemane, to see Jesus, entering the dark and cold with me — a Man of Sorrow willing to drink from this cup for us.
For more on having faith and abiding in our now, Alia Joy’s book, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack, acknowledges our discomfort, desperation, and dependence is where God meets us the most.
To flourish, I look for Eden, proof that all things are being reconciled, but I often fail to see Gethsemane, to see Jesus, entering the dark and cold with me. -@aliajoyh: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
My heart appreciates your writing from a point of raw honesty. Even in your deepest, darkest pain you still raise your hallelujah and God is blessed by that. I don’t know that anything is harder than being a warrior in the battle with evil known as depression, anxiety, mental illness. I know that for me, it has been a sharp thorn in my side. Like you, I look forward to the days I can walk in Eden restored with no thorns in my side. Oh what a blessed day that will be. Jesus drank from a bitter cup and as His followers, we are called to participate in His suffering. You have done that and then some. Suffering with Christ births gifts like compassion, empathy, sensitivity, lack of judgment against others. Suffering brings forth humility and God loves a humble and contrite heart. It’s not a fun way to get there, but the Bible lets us know the fate of the proud. I am praying for you through these vicious cycles, that God would give you more days to see His beauty and not have the dark glasses taint your vision. God bless you strong warrior…
….. no one I read is as honest, transparent, and gifted as you are.. writing about your journey with mental illness. I wish I would have had your insights during the years I worked as chaplain in a state mental health hospital. Deep prayers for you as you navigate your challenging disability while in the arms of Jesus… your words help me.
Denise Pass says
Thank you for your transparent telling of your battle. “I wrangle beauty from my moments and collect them like altars along the way to remind me of God’s goodness, His presence and glory.” This is the secret. Worshiping God and knowing that He is still good in the midst of it all. *Breakthrough.* When we are courageous enough to admit our battle, we are beginning to overcome. Worshiping God in the midst and seeing His goodness when the enemy of our souls wants us to accuse Him because of our pain, we taste of sweet victory right in the middle of our respective battles. We all have our own battles to fight, but the battle belongs to the LORD!
Pamela Herman says
Oh how beautiful these carved words of truth. Take care, dear heart, I hear. Thankful for those who walk with all who struggle with illness. Beacons of hope while the warriors fight. Recently, another article took me to the vision of the Suffering Servant. Here you take me to Gethsemane. To walk with Jesus, we must walk the full journey. He will provide.
Alia, your honesty is so appreciated. I also struggle with anxiety and bouts of depression. Thank you for the reminder that God is there in the good times and bad and he knows what we struggle with. I cannot imagine how Jesus felt in the garden and on the cross but he has felt what we feel and that gives me hope.
I have fought with depression and anxiety for years and the panic attacks would make me feel like I was having a heart attack or maybe I had just wished I was. I know what it feels like to be too raw on the outside and inside for the cruelty this world sometimes has. I will pray for you sister and thank you so much for writing about mental illness so openly. It’s a very real disease and too many brush it off as though we can just “feel better”. My prayers are with you ❤
Alia, praying every day for your healing. Praying that your good days will string together like brightly colored lights and that the dark days in between will be less and less. Love to you and your family. God is good. He will make a way for you.
Thank you, Alia. God is trying to do a work in me through your story and others who have reached out to me. I have lost my husband and father recently and have only one child who lives in another country and has no time for me. I too struggle with anxiety, stress and depression and a deep fatigue that I pray to God to help me through this. I am tired of feeling this way. Thank you dear lady for your courage to face the struggle, knowing that Jesus too faced this struggle and His Father was with Him through it all. We have eternal joy to look forward to in our home in heaven. I am praying for you sister in Christ!
The honesty in your writing is so courageous! I can only comprehend a tiny fraction of what you must be going through. I truly believe that God is allowing you to help others through your times of pain and distress.
Praying for you to have more bright days and nights.
Alia, Thank you for so courageously sharing these hard places in life. As someone else who struggles with the unpredictability of mental (as well as physical) illness, I so value your writing. God uses your willingness and your words to bring encouragement and hope to others, including me. Thank you! And bless you. And hang in there, dear friend. God often brings you to my mind to pray for. Know that you are not alone in this journey. You make a difference. And God’s life in you is beautiful!
Alia, I’m just so sorry. Thank you for sharing your perspective. My son struggles with depression as well. I learn from you. I pray God will take away the darkness, I do. In the meantime, I am grateful for your writing. May He restore your joy and do it soon!
Reaching out with Christ’s love…
Thank you so much for sharing. Even when you don’t feel the truth of it, YOU are an inspiration.
Patricia Baummer says
Oh my! Your words paint a picture of what depression and anxiety really look like – the struggle – daily – moment by moment at times. I feel your pain. I share your pain. I’m learning to offer up my broken mind as a sacrifice to my Heavenly Father. Just to take each day as it comes. If it’s good, enjoy it – if it’s a bad day – persevere. Life isn’t easy this side of Heaven, is it? Thank you so much for sharing your story – it helps so many of us!
Your post brought me to tears. I appreciate your honesty because it gives me a glimpse of what my husband battles too. On those days when he can’t move, work or function I cry out to God for him. He too is weary from this battle. I try to be there for him as best I can. God is with us walking right by our sides as we walk through this valley and holding us both up. God is near and I know he feels his pain. One day we will all be in the presence of our Father and Savior with no more pain. I thank Him for His Spirtit to comfort us on this earth.
karyn j. says
i admire and respect your honesty and openness. your truth is just what someone else needs to hear to know that they aren’t the only one. thank you!
Alia, God bless you for being transparent, raw, vulnerable, honest and sharing your life journey. Anxiety, hyperventilation, depression… I too have walked this journey- on and off – over the last 60 years. At 6 years old I woke from sleep, while being ill with a flu, having a severe panic attack. I hyperventilated to the point my hands were paralyzed fists. Not knowing, especially back then, what was going on the ER staff was at a loss. My life became a revolving door of counseling, hypnosis, along with all types of doctors poking and prodding me. I pretty much grew up as a science project until finally, in my 30’s, the medical community realized some of us are born with excess cortisol. It was liberating to finally know I wasn’t a ‘freak’, which I’d felt like for almost 30 years. It allowed me to have clarity, along with the medical community. All this shared as pray deeply you etch upon your heart not only were you created in God’s image, He knows your ‘thorns’, He cares, He adores you. I pray you know your suffering allows you to be a priceless gift, a witness to others and an immense blessing. The struggles you, and so many of us endure, ultimately has great value and worth in God’s economy. We do have victory against this heinous and debilitating journey within Christ Jesus. For God’s love for us and Jesus’ sacrifice make us more than conquerors. When I’m hit hard with anxiety, stress, hyperventilation, depression I try to fully free fall into The Lord. To let go and let God have His way. I’ve learned to start focusing on calming breaths before I’m overrun. To pray, cry out to Jesus, listen to praise and worship music, take care of my sweet fur babies or even my plants. It helps my focus to shift, from what my body’s doing, which often helps much. I imagine you too do all these things, and more. Often the attack’s seem to just take over our rational thoughts. I fully share immense compassion and empathy with you, with all who live this unwanted journey. I believe it’s radically important you, all of us, keep speaking truth into the darkness of this tough life journey. That we tell the evil one, NO… not today! Sending extra hugs and forever love your way Alia. I pray you always remember how deeply, dearly loved you are, lovely beloved of our Lord and Savior 2 Timothy 1:7
Kimberly Coney says
Sister Alia: you are not alone. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder, PTSD, Depression and Anxiety in 2012. I am currently on 6 medications. Although the medications help, I see a counselor 1 day a week. I know that God is my ultimate counselor, but I also know that He has brought me though the last 7 years to meet her. I have finally connected with someone who lets me be me and cry out. I know its hard to be us when we are “not us”. It is scary. There are so many things in this world that I have a hard time dealing with. I cannot function in the workplace due to my anger. Sometimes I wonder, where are my “normal” brain cells. I am 49 and in a new phase with my husband. I hope I can be “better” for him than I was from 2001 til now. Thanks for letting me share. God be with you always. Kimberly
Kimberly Houston says
Alia, you never ever cease to write what I feel. Tonight I am struggling. Another failed treatment option. I have none left that is viable due in part to liver failure and to incompatibility or allergic reactions. Tonight I sit and dare not cry. Tonight I sit and try to soothe my soul with the knowledge that THIS life is not all there is and that one day, I will be made well, and whole, and thrive in the presence of my Saviour.
Please continue to share your journey. Your writing has brought me through so much difficulty this year. Your pointing to the Light in the midst of my deepest darkness has always been a blessing, the Spirit is using you to touch the lives of so many. Thank you for your continued efforts to point to God in the midst of such a life we lead.
You once said that sometimes all we need is to be seen. I want you to know that I see you. I do not know you, but I love you. And I am in the trenches with you, pulling for you.
May God’s rich blessing be upon you.
~Peace in Christ
Beth Williams says
Thank you for being so personal & honest here. Mental illness is something that the church doesn’t talk about much, if at all. Some see it as a sign of weakness. Not so. It could simply be a chemical imbalance in your body. We need to hear more & get conversations going. It is so important to get the word out about these diseases. So many people suffer from varying degrees of mental illness. People need to know that it is alright to seek counseling & take meds. No shame in any of this. God walks with us through our lowest valleys. You paint a vivid picture of what it’s like having an episode. You also point people to Eden & Gethsemane. When an attack happens it can be hard to focus on those or even God. It is so important to look to God. He will help you through those times. Praying for the many people who suffer in silence with these illnesses. Thank you for keeping the conversations going. Praying for all who have mental illness.
Jenn Zatopek says
Dear Alia—you are a rockstar. You take the compost of your life and give it to God and write love letters to yourself and the world. I’m glad to infinity that you write about the raw, unflinching pain of mental illness and your refusal to give up, stay silent, and only share the good stuff, which is not even human. Solidarity, sister. Keep writing.
I’m praying for you right now….Jesus…please