For months I have despaired. Years, maybe. My heart and my mind have almost ceased to work, absolutely pummeled by depression and suffering. I've struggled to to escape fear's grip on me, but to no avail. The depression spawned fear, and fear spawned hopelessness, which in turn spawned a sort of paralysis. The physical illnesses and financial struggles have not helped.
For quite a while now, scary thoughts have taken hold of me. When I drive, I pass telephone poles and trees and I think to myself, "I could do it. I've just got to take my seat belt off and I can do it, and then things wouldn't be so hard." Fortunately, I recognize these thoughts for what they are: twisted, sick, effects of depression and anxiety. And luckily, after talking with my doctor, we agreed that these thoughts don't make me suicidal. It's not "I want to kill myself," it's "I wish I wanted to kill myself." It's wanting an end of suffering, but not in that way. This is all hard to admit, especially because I grew up in a really bad situation, and I feel like I've become weak; back then I was able to tell myself things would get better, but now I feel like "things will get better" is just wishful thinking. But maybe I haven't gotten weaker - maybe the reason 15 year old Charlotte could feel hopeful was the fact that there was an endpoint: graduating and leaving for college. But me, now.. I have no such comfort.
But what I actually want to focus on is the possibility of change.
A couple of days ago I read Rome Sweet Home, a story of conversion to the Catholic Church by Scott and Kimberly Hahn. As I was reading, I was struck by how earnestly they both prayed - for guidance, for help, to give thanks. Now obviously I've prayed before. But, if I'm being honest with myself, I have never quite poured my heart out to our Lord. I've said plenty of Our Fathers, but I've never been very personal in prayer... and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I never gave God my full trust. I think this lack of trust likely stems from two decades of being let down (to put it very, very nicely) by parents, parent figures, and most adults I tried to trust as a child and again as a teen. Mind you, while this makes my lack of faith in God understandable, it doesn't make it justifiable. Going forward, this is going to be one of the three main tasks I've set for myself to get better. The other two: becoming physically healthy and in shape and; becoming mentally healthy and seeking more help. These three tasks were decided two days ago... after I prayed - really prayed - for guidance.
I had finished reading the Hahn's conversion story, and I wondered why I had never prayed like them.. and I knew I wanted to. Both Dr. and Mrs. Hahn had described moments of "sensing" God's responses to their prayers. I know this isn't the proper or good way to react, but I was downright jealous.
Several hours later (or maybe the next day), I found myself sitting on my bedroom floor, balling my eyes out. I was in the middle of sorting every single item I own and attempting to organize them in the little amount of available storage space. I was doing this because the clutter was overwhelming me, so much so that I couldn't write, couldn't read, couldn't paint. And I desperately needed to do those things; I've started a small (very small) business just so I can earn ten bucks here, ten bucks there. And I know creating things to sell would alleviate some of my depression symptoms.
So there I was, unable to make anything to sell. All I could think was, "I could be making money. Not a lot, but when there's no food, $20 is a big deal." I felt pathetic. I was so angry at myself for letting a messy room stop me from doing something that could really help me.
And if you've ever been depressed, you know that one bad thought leads to another, and soon you're unable to move, unable to do anything.
I just started crying. Crying and crying... and thinking about Rome Sweet Home, and feeling as though now was the moment, now I needed to trust (or tell myself I trust - fake it til you make it) and I needed to humble myself and earnestly pray. I said a lot of things in those moments, one of them along the lines of, "When the Hahns prayed for guidance, they sensed your response. Please, please let me sense your answer to just this one prayer. Just this one - I'm at my breaking point and don't know what to do."
And at first I felt nothing. My sobs had subsided, but that was it. I started wondering if I had done something wrong. Maybe I put too much emphasis on the Hahns? Maybe pleading for an outright answer was akin to trying to command God, which no man can do. And then I felt an all too familiar stabbing pain from my liver and lamented: I can't keep doing this. Hunched over and reaching for my bottle of ibuprofen, I had to pause and gather myself, because as suddenly as I felt that stab, I felt the word "march." Whoa.
"Wait! ...was that actually you?"
It wasn't as though I heard another voice other than my own. Morgan Freeman didn't narrate. Angels didn't appear, the heavens did not open, the earth did not shake. Really, I didn't hear the word "march" but I felt it. I felt it everywhere and I knew (and know) that it did not come from me.
Needless to say, I felt like a kid at Christmas. I was elated. I was giddy, overcome with joy. God had, however vaguely, answered.
For the last two days I have pondered this. I have spent nearly every waking moment wondering what was meant by this command to march. Part of me wished for more specific instructions. At the end of the day, though, I think he meant to say that I am not weak (how can I be, when I am baptized and he dwells in me and I in him?), and that I need to push forward. March into war, do battle with depression. March, continue to march, even when everything around me is broken, even when I am broken, like soldiers must do even when things seem bleak. March with my head held high, don't cower out of fear that others will think me fat, sickly, unattractive. March like Joan of Arc. March like the archangel Michael. March like Dorothy Day.
I believe I was told to march in faith. Set goals, have dreams, and lean into Jesus to achieve them. Most importantly, continue marching forward, even when cloaked in misery. In the end, maybe the suffering will stop, maybe it won't. Maybe I'm living out my time in Purgatory while still here. Perhaps I'll reach old age and still be battling these demons. But if that's the case, I will remember the oft-evoked truth: joy cometh in the morning. So if I don't escape suffering in this life, I will find joy the moment I arrive in the next, as long as I'm steadfast in my convictions, marching toward the ultimate goal of joy: everlasting life with Jesus.
Or maybe God meant something important will happen next March. Who knows?