I’ll be honest: I don’t even know how to write this post.
I’ve put a lot of thought into it, so much so that I haven’t been able to find an approach that will begin to say what I want it to say.
Do I write this creatively, from the perspective of a poet? Do I write this verbatim like a report? Do I dramatize and theatricize what to me has been the closest thing to hell I’ve ever lived and yet too simple for other people to understand fully?
The conclusion to all of my questioning is that I simply have to write and see where it takes me. Write about the truth, how it was and how it is. And keep writing until this mental block I’ve built goes away.
You see, when I was away from home last month, everything fell apart and few people knew about it.
I’d been working in Salt Lake City for about two and a half weeks when something in me broke apart. It started with uncertainty about the future and discomfort with such a new environment and spiraled into the most paralyzing, frightening pit I’ve ever gotten myself into. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t move without my body shaking and my mind ripping me apart. When I would get on the train every morning, I would curl up against the window and beg for the train to keep moving past my stop so I’d have an excuse to not be there. Work days came and went where I would lie in bed, clutching my sheets and shaking, feeling nauseous and stumbling to my feet just to collapse into a chair, wrap myself in blankets, and try to mentally shut myself down so I could sleep. It never worked. I was trapped in a body that had no defenses whatsoever.
Afraid of what ifs, afraid of making the wrong decisions, feeling what I can now call this subtle nudge away from the internship I had been so excited about two months ago, I locked myself in my aunt’s house, in my room, and inside myself. It was the closest thing to hell I’ve ever experienced, and even writing about it now, I find myself shaking because what to any reasonable person would have been a bump in the road became a massive, dark paralysis in my life. The only thing comparable in my mind would be the darkness Joseph Smith felt as he knelt down to pray about which church to join. I’m reluctant to say that it was the same kind of experience, but I’ve never felt so much oppressive darkness in my entire life.
The only things I had to hang onto down there were what I like to call flickers of hope. When I would pray about certain things, I would feel small moments of peace and then latch onto them. They would come immediately to my aid before the loud, clamoring fears inside me snatched them away, but they were there. I guess you could say I was tracing constellations, fighting hard to see the next star in a massive ocean of darkness.
When I came home, I knew it was right. I didn’t come home to spare myself the fear and anxiety that had pretty much crippled me in Salt Lake City. I came home because one of those little flickers of hope grew into a massive flame when I pursued it. Coming home was right.
I guess what I never realized was that my worries, unrealistic as they were, didn’t go away when I came home. They remained dormant, waiting for the perfect opportunity to overwhelm me again. That occurred about two weeks ago when, in spite of all of my peace and confidence in the future, I was suddenly hit with a massive, unfamiliar and uncomfortable what now?
It put me right back to where I had been in Salt Lake City.
I would go running and running and running to smother what I thought was reality just to come home bursting into tears and shaking again. I would try to watch a movie only to dissolve into an anxiety-ridden mess. Everything in me would scream, “Be productive!” and “Just don’t worry about things!” but I was vulnerable and afraid and hit so hard a second time that I just about gave up on everything. I built a cage around myself that I couldn’t get out of on my own. I’d tell people I was okay when I was not okay. At all.
Just like in Salt Lake City, all I had was flickers of hope in overwhelming confusion. Little clusters of stars to jump to and from which, when put together, formed a destination and a safety net. That’s what truth is. Safety. I had to hang onto those with everything I had.
Once I had some grasp of what was wrong with me, what I had been so afraid of, there was an immediate sense of relief and release and almost just as instantly extreme shame. Shame that I had been so blinded by things that didn’t matter and had no business being in my head.
I thought I knew what was going on. Even now that things are mostly back to normal, I can say that I thought I had everything pegged. But fear has this way of bleeding into everything. The reality is that fear is an implosion. It takes rationality and reality and warps them into things that we think are beyond our control. It makes all of those times when we are hanging onto something, some small thread, even, look useless and pitiful. It makes giving up look like the only valid option.
The worst thing about fear is that too many of us think that it is divine guidance, when it is not.
I have been dead wrong about that.
I always used to think that the way God talked to me was by giving me anxiety, putting me in the deepest depths of misery and abandoning me there so that I had some clue that I was doing something wrong. That’s how it felt going to BYU, that’s how it felt in Salt Lake City. The reality is that God works like the stars in the night sky. I had small flickers of light and direction in each stage of my life but instead of choosing to hang onto them, I chose to be overwhelmed by the massive, dark backdrop behind them that screamed at me:
You don’t know what you’re doing.
That would be a big mistake.
Don’t pursue the light. It’s too little to pin your hopes on.
If you leave BYU, what do you have left?
If you quit this job, you’re abandoning everything you’ve ever wanted.
Now that I’m back home, I’m realizing that the still, small voice is exactly what our Heavenly Father says it is. Still and small. And sometimes the things it tells us to fix or change or improve upon are just that: still and small. Why don’t we trust that? I guess because we’re too used to looking up and seeing the sky–what’s obvious–instead of the millions of little fragments of light that assure us that someone is there helping us along. We build cities around ourselves and cry out in desperation when our need for true, genuine light doesn’t seem to be met. We light up florescent lights, incandescent lights, billboards, close/open signs, windows, streets, and lifestyles and pretend like we know exactly what true light is when above all that smog and pollution we’ve created around ourselves is the sun and the moon and the stars. Things that we can drown out but never truly replicate.
Fear, I’ve discovered, is the ultimate masking fluid that drowns those things out. Fear is a clamoring, glittering amusement park with loud and obnoxious attractions that steal away our attention. Faith (or a reason to hope), on the other hand, is the North Star, showing us things as they really are. It never packs up and leaves town when it’s sucked all it wants from us, but constantly stays where it is, waiting for us to recognize it.
One of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson talks about hope (I’ll also add faith) being the thing with feathers. What I never realized until today is that in this poem, it doesn’t matter what hope is. What’s more important is what hope has the capacity to do: elevate.
So today, I’m grateful for those horrible moments when I feel like crap. I’m grateful for those days where I am shaking and confused and hurting. I’m grateful for my “but a small moment” when everything seems wrong. Because without that, the gentle light of hope and peace wouldn’t seem so vibrant. I wouldn’t be elevated in my pursuit of them, but instead, stuck in the valleys of my own fears and insecurities.
My darkest hours make hope more obvious. And for that, I have to say thank you.