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