Once upon a time there was a young girl with long, flowing blonde hair and blue green eyes. She was her daddy’s pride and the oldest of six siblings. She spend much of her life leading, doing, setting the example, being the strong one – so much of her life creating and accomplishing, stuffing and ignoring her own pain in the midst of trying so hard to make her world beautiful and perfect, that she forgot one important thing.
She forgot how to feel – to acknowledge pain, to let herself be human.
So here I am 30 something years later and if the truth be known, despite the tough exterior facade people know of me, I’ve been crumbling for while. Perhaps for longer than even I am aware…until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
I have been ashamed to confess all this out loud because I had convinced myself that it would go away, that it would burden those around me, and that there are others who are in far worst kinds of suffering than this. But I am coming to realize that regardless, there is freedom in honest confession, even in letting the world in our pain. Not to pity or fix it, but to be freed by the undeniable threads of beauty in the midst of our story, even the not so happy, painful parts.
Where do I even begin? I’m going to skip right past the details of the various traumas and stressors in my life for this time only to say that I am being forced to realize that the human soul was only meant to carry so much on our own; and I haven’t done the best job at admitting to myself that I am not as strong as I had believed I was.
All this to say that almost a year ago I ended up in the ER with severe stomach issues so severe that I literally couldn’t eat any foods at all. Following several years with several traumatic and stressful events, along with a few major life changes, it was as if I just woke up one day and my entire digestive system just said, “Nope. We’re done.” It just seemed to stop working and literally would not digest food at all, so I was left with intense pain and nausea that went on for long enough to begin to create other issues as a result. When I thought back on it, I had been ignoring the physical warning signs for years but had chalked it up to that’s just how my system was.
I had believed as with most medical issues that this would eventually go away, but here I am almost a year later and though the intensity of that particular physical comes and go, I recently began to struggle intensely with severe anxiety along with lots of other physical symptoms that I have come to realize means my body is waving it’s “Hey! Pay attention! I’m not good!” flag.
Little did I know then that this would be the first big flashing sign that my stone-wall image, was crumbling under the weight of life.
I lie awake at night for hours not because I’m not exhausted, but because my body literally refuses to let me fall sleep. Like a record on repeat, it happens over and over that my body goes to drift off to sleep and just as it does my body jolts itself awake in a panic, as if someone is after me and everything in me is fight or flight mode. I feel a hit adrenaline flood my body. My body becomes sweaty, my heart starts to race so fast that my chest feels just like a balloon that might burst, and I literally feel my blood pressure shoot up. I feel dizzy and nauseous and my stomach feels like it’s quivering inside of me.
This began on and off about four years ago and I ignored it. It has come back, only this time with new, more serious physical and emotional symptoms that will not just be ignored this time.
It never crossed my mind. “Anxiety is for weak people who can’t handle life. So they got hurt, they went through that, it’s time to suck it up and move on past it. Everybody deals with stress and trauma at times, why can’t they handle theirs?” That was the actual internal dialog I used to believe about those who struggled with anxiety and depression.
I believed that so much that even when the darkness was creeping in on me, still, I ignored it. Chalking it up to everything but a issue that I had perceived to be the poster word for weakness. Of which of course, I was not. Remember? I am the strong one! The fixer. Invincible. Stuffing my pain away for another day for years on end.
Where did I believe it would go. What would happen to all that pain I had shoved down into the crevices of my heart so that I didn’t have to acknowledge or deal with it?
Anger. Irritation. Frustration. Insensitivity. Sickness. Anxiety.
“I just feel SO angry!”, was the phrase I uttered with clenched jaw as I slid down my bedroom wall in tears…again.
[Anxiety and anger are symptoms of suppressed pain.]
Maybe for the second time in my life I am coming face to face with the fact that I in fact, am not bullet-proof…it’s just coming out in a different way this time. Last time it was a random affair, this time it is completely physical and emotional.
A dark cloud out of seemingly nowhere comes over me and no matter how much truth I know I can’t lift it and I begin to know what it is to live through days in which the tears flow like a river without end and my whole body screams for relief from a strange suffering that I can’t even put into words. I know what it is to feel so hungry for food but your body will not allow you to eat – a special form of torture in itself. It even feels odd to admit that there have been days that I haven’t wanted to live anymore if this is what living was going to be for me from now on. This particular thought pattern scared me so badly that I finally had to tell someone I was feeling this way.
I have prayed for healing, begged for healing and for relief for months on end that wouldn’t come and I have questioned the goodness of a God who would watch and allow the suffering of the people He is supposed to love. I know what it is to look up into the sky and feel anger at a God I struggle to understand. If I am honest, there was one day in particular I told both God and my husband that I was DONE with this whole God thing.
As if God is just a genie in a bottle that should operate at our bidding.
But for the first time in my life I am not writing out of a place of neatly packaged answers and victory, I am writing smack dab in the midst of the battle. I am writing to be honest about that fact that I am in the midst of a valley I don’t understand. Right here, right now.
Oh I know that the days and nights of endless tears and doubt and fear may creep back in again, but I am choosing to turn my pain around on itself, even while it is still here. Right now. IN the rain. I can’t wait for the storm to pass to find the rainbow, I’ve got to find it now. There must be purpose in pain. I don’t know much, but I know that if I am going to make it through this better than I went in, then this is going to have to matter for something greater than pointless suffering.
And maybe for the first time in my life even the hard stuff and the suffering is filling up the very depths of my heart with a deep, rich, understanding and compassion for the pain of others as a couple of years ago I distinctly remember asking God to give me His heart for people and maybe, just maybe, there was no other way for me to have His heart than to experience a different depth of human emotion, pain, and suffering…just as my Father did.
I do not know how this chapter of my story is going to end. I’m like everyone else and I want answers now! I want to be back to normal now! We humans run from pain and avoid it all costs. For me, some days it feels like it’s going to last forever and I have a Drs. appt. at the end of the month but I am only mildly hopeful that it will reveal all the reasons or give all the answers.But maybe the point of all this isn’t for me to “just get back to normal”. But for now, I am only sure of this one thing – in the hands of our Redeemer, nothing is ever wasted.