Reflections of a 21 year old

I am a sentimental person, I love looking at old photos, old memories, thinking about the things I thought I knew back then, the things I was sure of, the things that I found I had a warped understanding of. And it makes me do two things. 

First, I think about what she didn’t know, what the 15 year old me in so much pain with no understanding of why, what did she not know. What did she do in order to protect herself but ended up damaging her even more. I have always been fairly transparent. People can often easily tell when I am not doing well, but this doesn’t mean I  am an open book. Actually far from it. It takes a lot for me to actually say what I am thinking. I have friends now that ask me what I am thinking, and I still find it terrifying. They are out right asking me, and I still have the voice in my head telling me to lie. To not be completely honest, that they want 75% but not a 100%. 

But back then, we were kids. We didn’t know when to push things, we didn’t know the deep questions to ask or what things cause a person’s heart to beat a certain way. Even now I don’t always know these things. But as a kid, I didn’t know who I could trust, even though they wanted to know, I didn’t know what to tell them.  I didn’t truly know what was going on my self, never mind articulating it to someone else. 

So naturally I pushed people away, I made it seem like it wasn’t that bad, I lied to everyone, apart from a few very close people (who even them I only gave 75% of me). I often wonder how my life would change if I let them in, if I actually was honest for the first time in my life. 

But as a 15 year old I couldn’t do it, so I pushed it down, and waited. I pushed down every bad emotion, every bad feeling, every hard situation, every reminder that this life isn’t what it should be. I suffered silently, never being honest, never being truly me, or truly human. If you looked at me throughout my childhood, you wouldn’t think that is true. I am very confrontational, I am just aggressive (no passive aggression for me), my childhood was far from peaceful or calm for anyone involved. On the outside it looked like I was causing the fallout, but inside the was a turmoil that I couldn’t express. 

My only outlet was music, so I learned how to play the guitar, and I wrote like crazy. And even though this helped to an extent the turmoil was building, and when it exploded I would take down everyone around me. I went to uni like everyone else, but I was like a boiling pot of water bubbling over until the water spills out the pan faster than my world was falling apart. I had no idea what God had planned when my mum and one of my best friends dropped me off in Manchester. If he told me then what would happen in the next 3 years I would have got a plane to Bolivia and become a llama farmer (yes I did research where llamas live in the writing of this post), just to avoid my life. 

Uni came and all the pressure became too much and everything exploded, I stopped eating, just tried to get through anxiety attack after anxiety attack until God swooped in just before he was too late. I know God’s timing is perfect, but I often wonder why he waited that long. Why did he wait until I was so anxious and depressed that my personal safety was becoming an issue. But in his infinite wisdom he chose then, he saved me. And I would love to tell you after that everything fell into place. But I would be lying. Because It was hard, I knew my saviour, but now I had the added pressure of trying to do what God wants. And in my own strength I tried to do what he wanted, but I couldn’t, and I didn’t have too. Living in his strength didn’t make my anxiety and depression go away, but it did give me the strength to try and be honest. But this is still hard, and I think it will be one struggle I will always have.  

 

I am still living in the shrapnel of that explosion, trying to pick off the pieces of my life and trying to make sure no one else was serious damaged in the process. 

But secondly, I think about all the things I don’t know, all the things I think I have figured out. I want to have compassion for my past self, but I also want to work on there not being another explosion. Not letting things build up that much. And God is faithful, but it doesn’t always feel like it. It often feels like he doesn’t care, that he hates me or worse is apathetic to me. He isn’t. It feels like he isn’t here. He is, it’s impossible for him to not be here. It’s impossible for him to not love, to not love me. He can’t do it. He has no limits, but I do. I am sinful, I forget, I hate, I am selfish. I try to put on others what only belongs to God. I try to rely on them and not him. But it doesn’t work, it just makes me hurt so much and makes them feel the pressure to be what they were not created to be. 

What will 50 year old Abbie tell me. How will she find her past, that is my present, my future. What does she know that I don’t. What will God show me throughout the rest of my life. There is only one way to find out, and that is to live it.  

Living a double life

Do you ever feel like you live two lives? Like you have the image you portray to the outside world, and actual truth and state of your heart. To be completely honest, I do this all the time. I portray this image that I am open and honest about my life, that I openly talk about my struggles and battles. That I am seemingly sometimes too open, but it’s not true. 

‘But,’ you may ask, ‘I see the posts, I see your honesty’, but you see I carefully allow people to see what I want them to see, I allow them to see some of my struggles but quite often not the heart of it. I will tell you I’m struggling with depression stuff, anxiety stuff, and while that is true, I don’t say anything that I wouldn’t mind the world knowing, I don’t say anything that would mean I actually have to trust you. And I also wrap my posts up nicely with a bow, but the truth is messier than that. The truth is that I still struggle with what I post about. The closest people I allow to get near to my actually struggles is my church family (some not in my local church but in the big church), there I will breakdown, there you will see me in distress, but even then I only outwardly show 20% of what is actually going on. 

My close friends know this, and this mask, this need to hide from everyone, is exhausting. And this is why I haven’t posted, because the things I’m struggling with I would rather no one know. I’d rather stay behind the mask of a broken open person who can still function like a human. Compared to a broken person, who is struggling massively, who struggles to function like a human. Who doesn’t want to talk, eat, do anything. 

Why? Because I am still riddled with shame, riddled with guilt, riddled with embarrassment. Because who wants to show the world, this things? I have no issues with people knowing I’m broken, I have many issues with people knowing my specific thought patterns, specific troubles. 

I would like to tell you the solution to this, I would like to tell you how much I’ve grown, but to be honest, I don’t feel like I’ve grown in this at all. Because I still try and guard my own heart, I still get scared of people knowing the true me. The me, that I don’t want people to see. 

But regardless of whether I want them to see it or not, someone does. Someone sees my fake facade, sees my mask, sees the double life I live and loves me anyway. Loves every part of me regardless of my sin and shame. And he doesn’t just love me, he died for me. He died for my broken, sinful mess of human life, and gave me a purpose. 

My purpose is to share the good news of Jesus, but it is also to show the world that Christians don’t have everything sorted, we all still struggle, we still struggle with sin. I love Jesus more than anything, but I still struggle with depression, and although some Christians stopped struggling with it when they got saved (and that is amazing and we should celebrate it), while we still live in a broken world, we will still struggle. I do. If you do, know it’s okay. No christian, (or non-christian) has their life sorted. If we did, we wouldn’t need Jesus. If we did, we wouldn’t need to be saved from not only ourselves but our world too. That doesn’t mean we retreat, it means we endure, continue trusting in Jesus, but knowing that still battling with mental health is okay, and it doesn’t mean God hates you, it means the opposite. Because through the continued trial, we are reminded our desperate continued need for him just to get through the day. 

The world of autism

In this world that we live in, everything is confusing. I walk into a room, and feel anxious because trying to understand what is socially ‘acceptable, is hard, especially because it always changing, always moving. The world is full of grey areas, large parts of life that aren’t black and white. 

But it is black and white isn’t? You’re either right or wrong; understood or misunderstood; it’s left or right. You can’t be in the middle. And when it is grey, it’s confusing. I get scared because I just don’t understand what is going on. It’s like everyone around me got a manual when they were born, of how to act, react, when it’s appropriate to tell someone what you think, when you need to move on from your topic of conversation, when you can be angry and when you can’t, what you can say in one context but not another. 

As you can imagine, it causes me so much anxiety, because I have to work all this out when I walk into a room. Which means sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I will say something deep and meaningful when everyone is having a joke. Sometimes I will not understand what you are saying if you are talking too abstract, but I won’t let you move on until I understand. It means that people can highly misunderstand me. If I overreact to a seemingly minor situation, it is usually because I panic, because it what I prepped in my head to expect all of a sudden it isn’t happening.

I will randomly walk off in the middle of a conversation because I have nothing more to say. I will sometimes act standoffish because I simply am too anxious to speak. I am incredibly direct because I can’t understand why you would want to be indirect and confusing. If I don’t like something, I’ll tell you. 

When people tell me one thing and then do another, I  freeze because I don’t understand what is going on. I have to work out from scratch what the new rules are. Because it doesn’t come naturally to me. 

Change from routine is incredibly hard. It’s hard to make friends (I mean I have some incredible friends now, but that is by God’s grace, and it took a long time for me to get here) because I get angry easily. Anger is the way I express my anxiety and confusion. 

Autism affects me more than I would ever like to admit. When I was diagnosed (I was 17, which is super late), I had already learned how to mask it. Hide it. To try and make my life easier. But really I was ashamed of my diagnosis. I didn’t want to be different (but one thing I have learned is that being different is a bad thing). I was scared that people would leave. I thought that my friends wouldn’t want to be friends with me anymore and while I know that that is some peoples story, it wasn’t mine. Because the behaviour that comes along with it was already there, when I got the diagnosis it was an explanation, but I didn’t overnight become autistic. I always was. 

I came to uni and started to tell people, but only started really talking about how much it impacts me in the past few months. There will be good friends of mine who may read this and didn’t know until now. That is because although it is part of me, I didn’t come to terms with it for a long time, and it doesn’t make up my whole identity. 

But I want to share this for the person who has just a got a diagnosis, and looks at all the statistics of employment, or someone tells you that everything now will change. I want to tell you that it is ok. That you will be okay. There is nothing wrong with you.

You are beautiful, your mind is incredible. You aren’t a case study, you are a human being made in the image of God, and your unique mind is amazing. Not everyone will understand you, but that’s okay. I know the world is confusing and loud, I know you’re scared, I am too. But I promise you, you’ll be okay. You’ll make it. Take the support if you need it, but know that the world will continue to turn. 

The value we work for

Everything is worth something, you go into a shop and quite often the price tags are visible, (well that is apart from expensive shops where the price tags aren’t visible). When looking at the coat it isn’t first clear why it costs so much, but when you add the quality of material, cotton, the way it was made and the worker who made it, it soon becomes evident. Although I’m sure we’ve all looked at a piece of clothing and although we added all these variables in, we couldn’t figure out how something costs so much. 

We can approach people this way, we add the type of person they are (personality, acts of good, the profession, because if you are a criminal you won’t get as much value as if you are a doctor), with the friends they keep, how they treat their family, how tolerant they are and whether they have enemies, we add this altogether and then we see what value they have. Culture has us believing that we work to get the value we have. And if you can’t work for your value, then that’s bad for you. 

However this kind of logic doesn’t hold up, what about the people who can’t add to their own value like a small baby, or those with severe depression, because they can’t get out of bed or do anything that would increase this value, do we ultimately put them as less valuable than another who can? 

Well, the answer to this question would be yes, a small baby will be able to earn their value when they grow up and severely depressed people just need to get a grip right? 

But what if I told you it wasn’t that easy, because trust me that I know. Well that still doesn’t matter right, because regardless to what my opinion, it doesn’t stop this from being true does it?

What if I told you value is something we don’t have to work for. What if I told you before the creation of the world we all were given value, just because we are humans. Just because you are made in the image of God, before we did anything good or bad. 

Well this either seems like a fairy story to help me sleep at night or it seems very unfair. Because if I’m saying we have value before we did anything good or bad, that means a murder has value. It means people who have done horrible things still holds value just because they are human. 

Don’t misunderstand me here, God is a just God and his judgement will fall on all of us and although we do receive freedom if we trust in Christ, we still need to repent and move away from sin. 

But although this is bad news for the righteous among us, the ones who have never lied, hated another in our hearts, gossiped, been prideful, hurtful to others, been jealous or turned away from God, I haven’t met anyone (including myself) who hasn’t done at least one of these things, apart from Jesus who died for all sin we commit, . 

It’s great news for the rest of us. Because if our value comes in whose we are not what we do, we can finally rest in him knowing that our worth can’t be earned and we don’t have to strive anymore. 

Again this doesn’t mean we don’t do anything with our lives, it means we live our lives for the one who gives us our value and worth, because even if we lose our value in the worlds eyes for doing this, we will never lose our value in the eyes of the one to whom everything heavenly and earthly will one day bow down. 

Who am I

‘Hi what is your story?’, is something that I’ve been asked on more than a few occasions. What was my answer?

“Hi, I’m Abbie, and I have suffered with depression for around 9 years, I have an anxiety disorder and I am autistic (I’ll get on to that in another blog post).” 

Who I am was directly linked to what I dealt with. But the problem is, is that I am not my depression. I am not my anxiety. I am a daughter of the most high king, the ruler of the universe. That is my identity. 

This is because it doesn’t ever go away. My identity in Christ will never be shaken. Because he is everlasting (Isaiah 40:28), he never changes (James 1: 17), he is completely perfect in every way (Mathew 5:48). His love is unconditional (Romans 8: 35-39), and he is completely holy (1 Samuel 2:2). 

My depression and anxiety while they may never leave, I have the hope that they will. If I put my identity in something that I don’t actually want to be part of me, my whole identity is shaken. My whole being is shaken.

Once I remembering feeling genuinely happy and instead of being a normal person and enjoy it, I panicked. I didn’t know what to do and I completely freaked out. Why did I panic? Because I didn’t know who I was without the depression, but here’s the thing:

Even though anxiety and depression is part of my story, it’s part of what I’ve been through, but it isn’t my whole story. It doesn’t explain my love for Jesus, my love for my family and my friends. It doesn’t explain when I get excited at my course, or when I cry with a friend. It doesn’t explain my love for sweet potatoes (shout out to my housemates who can vouch for this). It doesn’t explain why I love music and my guitar. 

It’s a label that can be useful in treatment but it isn’t me. My life is built on the foundation of my love for Jesus and his incredible all-consuming love for me. It is built on the fact that he has me secure in his arms, and will never let me go. 

It doesn’t mean that I don’t still have anxiety attacks at church or spend the service crying (which has literally happened, the whole service, again my church family can vouch for this). It doesn’t mean I still don’t sometimes struggle with church. It doesn’t mean I still don’t suffer with these things. But I can see it’s for a season. 

I don’t know how long the season will last for, if it will last for 6 weeks or 10 or 20 more years. Or even my lifetime. But the things about seasons, is they change eventually. No matter how long it is I know it’s going to change, and when that happens, I will still be secure in my identity as a child of the risen king. 

When depression doesn’t take a holiday

Christmas is a time of family, celebration, love. It’s a time where we come together. Where we share about our lives. But what about when you wake up on Christmas morning feeling like you don’t want to face the world, when you end up crying in a room by yourself, or when life still feels hard, overwhelming. When the anxiety that comes along with depression doesn’t let up and all you want to do is curl up in bed but you can’t. 

I don’t know how your Christmas was (mine was pretty good), maybe you pretended the whole day and now you have to deal with the fall out, maybe you cried the whole day. 

I want to tell you it’s okay. Because on any other day of the year you’d be struggling, why would Christmastime be any different. Even though we are supposed to be happy in the cultures eyes it just is not realistic. I struggle most days, and keeping up the pretence that I am okay, and pushing how I feel down and suppressing it, never works. Because at some point, it has to come out. At some point how you feel will bubble over. This may be when you snapped at a family member when it was uncalled for, or when you cried because someone didn’t react to the gift you got them in an enthusiastic way. It can be more serious too, the suicidal thoughts may get too much, or you feel desperately alone in a crowed room. 

No matter what your families culture is around feelings and emotions (mine is pretty private, which is hilarious considering I’m writing a blog my experiences), you need to look after yourself. Now more than ever, if you need a break from them see about staying with friends or Church family (I have previously done both). See friends and speak to people if you need to, have some alone time if you need too. 

Know that how you feel will pass (I am still trusting that mine will pass at some point), that although now feels like forever it isn’t. Don’t shut Jesus out, and don’t shut out your people (I say this after last semester where I shut a lot of people out, but even though it’s hard to be honest, it’s so worth it).

No matter what people’s reactions are to you looking after yourself, it’s worth it. We are called to serve God, and to glory him. This means being in a mental space so you can look after others, and seek to glorify him in everything you do. 

You glorifying him right now, may simply be perserving. I know from personal experience that, this can be one of the hardest things to do. Simply keeping going when everything in you screams to stop is really hard, but I promise you with God’s help you can do it. 

I wish I could wrap my arms around you and tell you it will be okay, that God will keep you safe until it’s time to come home. That I love you, God loves you so much more than I (or anyone else ever could). If you tell me, I defo will but if not, reach out to someone I promise you, it’s completely worth it. 

Our true home

I think most of us have or will experience the feeling of being homesick. The yearning and longing to be around your people, in a place your comfortable with, where you don’t have to explain anything because people have spent that much time around you they just get you. Where you sit down in a place you have spent so much time in, there are no growing pains, there is no wondering what it will be like to fit in because you just do.

When Iwas in Uganda I felt this. There I was in another country, experiencing incredible things, meeting incredible people, doing fulfilling work, yet I was longing, wondering, hoping for home (shout out to the people who stopped me from trying to literally walk home nearly every night).

But the place I get the most home sick for I’ve never been. I don’t know what the rooms look like, I can’t picture it in my head. I don’t even know the face of the person who owns the house, I have never experienced what I will when I’m there. But yet I’m longing for it, I think we all are. Because in this place everything is perfect, our relationship with the owner is perfect, but we arent just letting the place, we don’t have a mortage, the owner is not just our landlord, he is our father. This is place is were our family live. We’re we live. The room is being set up as we speak. Our longing will end finally. But this is about way more than a place to lay our heads.

My pastor did a sermon recently on a home being a person not a place and he’s so right. It is about a person. Although we will have a place, we will finally be with him,  this relationship with Jesus, with God will be perfect.

I think christmastime extenuates these feelings. As some travel home but feel out of place, others are far from the place they call home and others don’t have a home. Not in this world. But what if I said there is a place for you. A place where you feel wanted, loved, secure in your identity. Where you never long because everything you need is right in front of you. But one day we will have a place, one day we will have that place for eternity. Those who trust in Jesus can rest, knowing the best is yet to come and one day we will truly be home.