Emotions are different for each of us. Depression hits people with different degrees of intensity. And we all have our coping mechanisms—some healthy, some not. For some of us, our scars are visible. For others, they are buried deep within. Visceral. Unseen.
We all have grief, but sadly we live in a culture that is terribly grief-avoidant. We don't talk about death until it happens, and when it does, we try to get the conversation over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. We find the lingering grief of someone who has suffered a terrible loss awkward, and instead of sitting with that person, risking the upsurge of our own pain and past, we respond out of anxiety and fear, forcing them into a painful fortress of solitude, left to face their grief alone.
In the grand scheme of things, we are all strong people, some more than others. Yet many perceive themselves as weak, needy, broken and irreparable. Maybe this is because very few of us know how to see ourselves truthfully. Maybe the mirrors into which we gaze are actually broken, or maybe we're simply looking into them wearing blindfolds, unable to see anything at all.
Loneliness for me has several sources, too many to name here, too personal to divulge at the present moment. But I've had moments—glimpses—where I've found a source of my loneliness and have been able to chip away at it, speaking truth to the power it holds over me. Everytime I go back to this source, I come away feeling a little more whole, a little more like the man God created me to be, a little more equipped to do the work and live into the vocation God has called me to do and to live into.
So apparently Monday has become my regular blogging day, probably because my blog has become a place to personally process my therapy sessions. While I'm not sure whether or not Blake would approve, being the kind of person who sees his own story best in the stories of others, I'll probably keep this habit up... at least until school resumes in September.
Needless to say, this past week has been hell. For a gay recovering-Baptist-turned-United-Methodist like me, the onslaught of the Great Poultry War (as I like to call it) mixed with some other personal happenings that I'll leave out made for an incredibly emotionally broken week. As someone caught in the tension between the Christian community and the gay community, this week ended with my feeling as if I'd been beaten to a bloody pulp.
Blake remarked that this summer has been an incredibly hard one for me. One would think that last summer would have been worse due to losing Nanny. However, last summer, rather than let myself feel the pain of my loss at its onset, I dove into outlining Wesley's sermons and consequently suppressed much of the pain that one often feels in the early stages of grieving. This year, my only weekly responsibility has been working on Tuesday and Friday mornings. With this much unstructured time (which several friends have criticized me for), it's not surprising that my emotions have been running rampant. As painful and exhausting as this has been, I've needed it.
Back to the chicken battles... my biggest challenge has not been whether or not to support my local CFA whose owner is a supporter of LGBT rights. It's not been about being angry with or hating Dan Cathy and the larger CFA company for their financial support of anti-marriage-equality groups, ex-gay organizations, reparative therapy techniques, deportation of queer people, and criminalization of homosexuality. It's not even been about the "Christians" lined up in droves to "support Chick-Fil-A's right to free speech." It's been about the underlying message that these realities represent.
People are right. Dan Cathy and those who share his beliefs have a civil right to speak their minds and use their money as they wish. People are also right in saying that those of us who disagree with him can speak our minds and refuse to give CFA and other like-minded companies/organizations our money. Again, this isn't what bothers me most.
When I see herds of people from across the country lined up to buy a chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and sweet tea, I don't visually hear the Gospel. Instead I hear this subtle voice filled with fear and anger saying, "God does not love you. God did not make you this way. You are not God's child, God's beloved. You are not loved. You are not valued. You have no worth. You, at your core, are something gone horribly and terribly wrong. You are weak. You are a stain on the surface of this world, and it would be better off if you did not exist. You call yourself a Christian... that's ridiculous. You don't know Christ. In fact, you disgust him along with the rest of us. Go. Leave. Disappear. Die."
That is what I hear, and while I'm usually able to hold my own and stand firm in my beliefs and wrestled-with conclusions about my worth, value, and orientation, the events of this past week ripped me to shreds. This is the curse of dealing with chronic depression and being an empathic gay follower of Christ. I not only felt the pain of my own past, but I felt fear and concern for all those who may have heard the same message without having the strength or awareness to recognize the lies and deception present. How many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people heard what I heard, felt what I felt, yet do not have the love and support in their lives to keep going? How many of them want to give up? How many of them truly believe that God hates them and will never accept them? It scares me to my core.
One image in particular really bothered me. I did a Google image search for Chick-Fil-A appreciation day and one of the first pictures to appear was of a school bus filled with what appeared to be middle and high school students smiling widely while holding their CFA bags and cups...
I couldn't help but fear that one or more of them was like I was when I was that age: scared, hurt, filled with self-loathing, unable to be true to themselves. I imagined one of them getting on that bus with their friends from their church youth group, having never told a soul their secret, but instead partaking in an event that devalued and diminished their self-worth like nothing before.
As much as I want to proclaim the mantra of "It gets better," it's times like these where I barely have the energy to hold onto the message for myself, much less put it out there for others. In the midst of all my struggles, revisited shame and guilt, seeing people I know reaffirm their disapproval not just of who I love but of who I am, I've also felt an outpouring of love from my partner, several of my friends, classmates, church members, and family. They've offered encouragement, affirmation, strength, and most important, their very presence. I am oh so tired right now, but despite the voices in my head telling me otherwise, I know, I know that I am loved for the fullness of who I am. I am doing everything I can to hold onto this truth.
Blake said once again this morning something that he's said on several occasions when I've been a place like I am right now; he reminded me that I've made it this far and that I have within me more love, strength, courage, and faith than he's ever seen before—enough to keep me going today, tomorrow, and the day after that... one day at a time. I'm glad I have him and others in my life who allow me to see myself through their eyes. I'm glad I have my memory of Nanny and her love for me. Mostly, I'm glad for the other voice in my head telling me, "You are my child, my beloved. I love you more than you could ever imagine, and you will be okay. Just hold on a little while longer. I'm not letting go... ever."
It's no secret that I see a therapist on a regular basis. At the urging of a friend back in 2007, I started working with Blake. As one would expect, after seeing a shrink for that long, we've gone progressively deeper into some of my underlying issues. For a long time, I've been resistant to one topic in particular: my physical health. Now that my wedding, honeymoon, and first year of grieving over Nanny have passed, Blake has started pushing me on this important part of my overall well-being. Today was our first day, and it wasn't pretty. First, some back-story... Towards the end of high school and the beginning of college, because of depression and issues with my body image, I started struggling with bulimia. Although my practice of the eating disorder was short-lived, it had lasting effects on me ranging from dental issues to hair loss. Even to this day, in those moments where I detest what I see in the mirror, I'm tempted to act out. These days, at 40 pounds over what culture, websites, and doctors say would be an ideal weight for someone my height, people tend to not believe me when I share my past. Truth is, I don't look like someone who's ever dealt with an eating disorder... appearances can be deceiving.
After a former relationship ended back in 2008, I became obsessed. Having never been a fan of strength training, I got a gym membership for the sole sake of killing myself on the elliptical. Three to four days a week, an hour a day, wearing sweats, a hoody, and a winter cap on my head. I made it down to my "ideal weight," and then suddenly, I stopped. I don't really know what happened, but the desire to continue my routine had dissipated.
A few days before my trip to NY with Frankie ended, we were in Times Square making a Starbucks run. Sitting outside the door on the concrete was a woman whom I will not soon forget. Her face gaunt, her frame emaciated, her skin hanging from her bones, she was the public service announcement epitome of someone who deals with anorexia. Truth is I don't know her story, much less her name. I don't know if her struggle is with an eating disorder or some other illness. What I do know is that I felt a connection to her, albeit brief and superficial. In seeing her, I felt a level of fear rise within me. Cue my session with Blake.
So, why am I so resistant to being proactive about my physical health and quitting smoking? I think I'm scared of going too far again. I'm worried about disappointing people. I'm hostile to the idea of having something as simple as a vice taken away from me. I'm concerned that in the end, I'll still feel like I'm not enough. I'm horrified that I'll become something else that I might hate. I'm angry that I always seem to have one battle after another that needs fought.
I'm not making any decisions today. I'm not jumping to any rash conclusions. And while I'm sure that this might be an excessively vulnerable topic for some people, I still believe that there is power in voicing our fears, in opening up to others in the face of personal struggles, especially those struggles that would otherwise force us into seclusion or isolation. There's something that happens when we start believing that we're not alone.
My semester finished almost two weeks ago. Since then, I've started working on campus for housing & hospitality manning the front desk and helping with other random events. It's been a good chance to get out and interact with new people as well as prevent myself from developing cabin fever. Anything to keep myself from hitting down-cycles more frequently. I feel as if I've been running into a wall repeatedly lately, as if there is some part of my subconscious that is guarded from my interacting with it. There's a certain restlessness that ebbs and flows on a regular basis, keeping me in a state of anxiousness. I feel jittery. Sitting still is difficult, and I am mostly unable to just be content with silence or rest. Part of it is a certain angst about continuing to pursue ordination in the UMC. With where the church stands right now, I have to maintain a certainly level of closetedness which can be tiresome and draining. Also, I'm nervous about actually serving a church, albeit in a student capacity. I feel a certain remorse knowing that my family is still not fully supportive of the route I'm taking. Even more so, I'm left wondering what my grandfather would say, how he would feel about my pursuing ministry.
Some days I just want to find a way to go back in time and change everything. Find a way for my mom to have stayed with my biological father, grown up in a different area, been more athletic, gone to a different college for a different major, seen how things could have been different. Maybe it's just because I am still having difficulty accepting what's in store for my life. It may be fulfilling, but it will not be easy, I don't think.
I just want rest, a chance to sleep with no dreams, to listen to no sounds, to breathe in no pain, to love without abandon, to be vulnerable with no chance of damage... alas, this would all amount to not being human, and if I am not that, then I am nothing...
Sitting here listening to some music from Hillsong and numerous other artists, I realize I'm just under two weeks from finishing my first year of seminary. Although the normal run is three years, I am currently planning on taking four, mostly for sanity sake, as well as to give myself more time for discernment. This morning, instead of going to my home church, I visited the church at which I will be interning year as a student pastor. It's a much more traditional congregation in comparison to what I'm used to, which I must admit, scares me. I'm scared to be authentic, to be real about my faults and my flaws. I'm nervous about preaching, even though I've been told I have a preacher's heart. I'm anxious about all of the little details to which I must pay close attention. Most of all, while hopeful, I'm worried that the church will not change in the area in which I need it to change the most - its stance on inclusivity.
More and more, almost as a fallback, I just want to go into chaplaincy. I can deal with the hard questions posed by those in dire circumstances. I can handle death and disease, quite well actually. I'm not sure I can handle the demands placed on me by the same group of people for the time span of several years. In that respect, I feel week, inadequate. I can take care of one, two, five people. But 60+ unnerves me... a lot.
I realize that next year will help me grow accustomed to serving a church on my own, or even in the context of being an associate pastor. I'm excited to see what I'm made of. All fears, anxieties, concerns, and worries aside, I am sure I will do fine. If I can handle serving a church while being in seminary, then I can handle it outside those cold stone walls and wooden rafters. I know at the end of it all, I'll be just fine... at least, I hope so...
I've always had a hard time with change, or more so, with the fantasies running around inside my head about them. All of the changes in my life lately have been, or are going to be, positive changes. Leaving my job. Starting school. Thinking about my eating habits. Moving in with F. All of these things are moves in a forward direction. All that aside, I'm scared. Scared that I could crack under pressure. That I will not be as good in school as I used to be. That what has been a blissfully happy relationship thus far will be irrevocably changed by sharing a full-time living space. That I will go back to smoking full time (the stress lately has led me to smoke maybe 1 or 2 a day, no more thankfully). That I will be so unwise with my finances that I dig myself into a grave so deep that escaping is not an option.
I can't cry right now. I don't know why, but so much of it seems blocked up inside of me. I just want enough of a catharsis to be able to make the transition smoothly. I want to be able to have my faith, in word, thought, and deed, feel whole again. I want to know that, even in my own head, I'm being successful, and that has always been a hard truth to accept.
I want to know that people see Christ in me, in my life. That somehow, I help them feel loved, even if only for the brief moments they cross my path. I want to be a good husband, a good partner. F. and I both share fears of fighting, of conflict. We're scared of how we may (will) hurt each other. Of sharing finances. Of being more emotionally vulnerable. Or seeing more scars or baggage than we already have of each other.
All of this is illogical, irrational. I want to be able to hold on to the concrete facts: that my faith is strongly developing, that I will be good in school, that I can not have to rely on cigarettes to ease my stress, that I am a good representation of Jesus, that I am a good man who loves his partner and tries to put him first.
So for any who read this, just offer up a prayer (or in Peter Pan language, a happy thought). For myself and my schooling and my career and my finances. For my witness. For my relationship. For those with whom I interact. For my heart.
In His Arms, M.