I don’t often live in quiet spaces. I love music, and so I have a constant flow of several different genre’s playing in the background. The creation of my own nonstop background score has created a lot of memories and emotions tied to music. Songs transport me to different seasons in my life and different feelings. One song can take me to a day filled with joy or a day grief clouded.
This morning, as I got ready for work, random music played in the background. The songs played with me mostly unaware to the words as I thought about the day. I honestly am not sure I could tell you what was playing, it was purely background noise as my thoughts jumped all around like they do most mornings. “I need to remember to stop and get gas. What should we have with the pork chops that are out for dinner? Does my hair look okay? Add more dry shampoo. I wonder what my coworker will think about the meeting we have scheduled for 10:00? I should talk to him before and make sure he doesn’t have any notes. Gray shoes or brown shoes? Have I started the coffee? I need to finish reviewing that document and send comments out. Mascara, my face needs more mascara. I need to remember to process those invoices. Don’t forget to talk to that coworker before his vacation.”
My thoughts came to an instant stop when the first few notes of a song by an artist named NF played. The words from the in the first verse filled my ears, and suddenly I was immediately transported to last summer….
“When did I become so numb?
When did I lose myself?
All the words that leave my tongue
Feel like they came from someone else”
The song is called “Paralyzed” and tells the story of a battle with depression. A battle I know all to well.
Where are my feelings
I no longer feel things
I know I should
Where is the real me?
I’m lost and it kills me inside
In early 2020, I had a panic attack that literally took my breath away. Shortly after one of the hardest seasons professionally and learning new information about my past that threatened to crush me, the world started shutting down due to the pandemic. It’s like I was running from one impossible situation to another filled with even more unknowns. Life wasn’t slowing down any time soon and rumors of sickness and quarantines started swirling. The grocery stores started selling out of the craziest things and it felt almost comical how crazy everyone seemed to be getting. In mid-March, Dan and I went to the grocery store to stock up on a few things “just in case” and everything hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t breathe.
“When did I become so cold?
When did I become ashamed?
Where’s the person that I know?
They must have left
They must have left
With all my faith”
I spent the next several weeks with doctors running tests trying to figure out what was causing the shortness of breath. Test after test came back perfect. “Perfect” should have been something to celebrate, but perfect meant zero answers for the symptoms I was feeling. Every clear test made me roll my eyes and I started to get really angry. I was so sure that something was wrong physically and I knew in my bones the doctors were missing something. Why couldn’t they just do their jobs and figure out what was happening in my body. At some point, a doctor asked if I had ever dealt with anxiety, and I shut that down quickly. I was a strong rooted woman of God. Strong rooted Christian women don’t struggle with anxiety. Right?
Where are my feelings?
I no longer feel things
I know I should
Where is the real me?
I’m lost and it kills me inside
In the summer of 2018, I went into an eye appointment expecting to be told that my eye glasses prescription needed to be updated, however I left with orders to get an MRI as soon as possible because there was swelling in my optic nerve that was not normal. The eye doctor literally said “I don’t think this is a brain tumor causing this, but you need to get this checked out right away”. I know this feels like it doesn’t have anything to do with the panic attacks I was feeling in the summer of 2020, but stay with me. Minutes after I left the eye doctor, I called a “friend” and shared what was happening. I looked up to this woman and felt the words she spoke were straight from the heart of God. As soon as I finished telling her the story of what I had just went through, she quickly said “We need to pray against demonic influence right now.” She then started praying, leaving no room for any other possible answers.
Those words stayed with me. Every test that came back “normal” in 2020 felt like a piece of me was slowly falling apart. The more pieces that fell off, the darker my heart got. I remember laying in bed in the middle of the night reading scripture and begging God to show me where I had missed the mark. What had I done to allow demons into my life to cause this darkness? If there was nothing physical causing this darkness, the words my “wise friend” spoke, must be the only option left. I felt so impossibly broken. I tried to play the part of what I thought a strong rooted leader looked like, however the more I played the part, the more the cracks in my heart threatened to sink me.
Finally, in June, I admitted that I needed help. I could no longer hold all the madness together. I struggled to tell Dan I was dealing with anxiety and depression. My sweet husband held me as I cried. He told me I wasn’t a failure and I wasn’t expected to be perfect. He encouraged me to reach out to our doctor for medicine to help combat the darkness that had grown impossibly large.. After reaching out to my doctor, who promptly prescribed medication, I told my two closest friends what I had been feeling. Without any judgement at all, both friend simply said “I know friend, it’s so hard.” Neither friend mentioned demons, they simply sat in the midst of the hard with me.
“I’m paralyzed, I’m scared to live, but I’m scared to die
And if life is pain, then I buried mine
A long time ago, but it’s still alive
And it’s taking over me, where am I?
I wanna feel something, I’m numb inside
But I don’t feel nothing, I wonder why
I’m in the race of life and time passes by
Look, I sit back and I watch it
Hands in my pockets
Waves come crashing over me but I just watch ’em
I just watch ’em
I’m underwater but I feel like I’m on top of it
I’m at the bottom and I don’t know what the problem is
I’m in a box
But I’m the one who locked me in
Suffocating and I’m running out of oxygen”
Days after starting the new medication, I heard this song for the first time. NF’s song does not end in joy. It doesn’t end with any magical answers or solutions to the pain. It is simply the admission of brokenness. I remember hearing those words and feeling so seen. The lyrics were everything I was feeling. I was paralyzed, completely numb, but somehow broken to the core. No matter how much truth Dan and my friends spoke into my life, I didn’t believe them. I wasn’t the strong “Christian woman” everyone believed me to be. I was a complete fraud. The words of my “wise friend” and the “Christian community” I had surrounded myself with echoed in my head. Somehow this was my fault. I had allowed something demonic into my life. Not only had I let them in, I had willingly allowed them to lock me in box and now I was suffocating.
“I’m paralyzed (Yeah, I’m just so paralyzed)
Where are my feelings? (Yeah, I’m just so paralyzed)
I no longer feel things (I have no feelings)
I know I should (Oh, how come I’m not moving)
(Why are you not moving?)
Where is the real me? (Where is the real me? Where is the real me?)
I’m lost and it kills me, inside (I’m paralyzed, I’m paralyzed)
I’m paralyzed (I’m paralyzed)”
This morning, as I heard the lyrics that I hadn’t heard in months. I realized how far I have come from those first few days on medication. Those days were some of the darkest I have experienced, darkness I hope to never walk in again. Today the days are no longer dark. In fact, I walk in more light and peace than I have in years. However, it still blows my mind how quietly I suffered. Outside of Dan and my two closest friends… no one knew.
As I listened to the lyrics and thought about the two friends who held me together, my mind immediately thought of Mark 2:1-5. The ESV translation says this:
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I have read this story a million times, and I have always thought it was such a sweet story. How special to have friends that literally carried their paralytic friend to Jesus to be healed. The faith of those friends. I have always wanted to be that kind of friend, and have encouraged many to surround themselves with that type of friend. However, the verses hit a new way when I realize that I would never have survived the last year without my two best friends. They didn’t just carry me to Jesus. No, there was a lot of work to do before they could carry me. They busted in my dark house, threw open the curtains and pulled me out of bed, even when I told them I was fine. They strapped my heavy paralyzed heart on a stretcher and then they started carrying me to Jesus. As they carried me, they helped me pull out the twisted theology I had been believing. They reminded me who I was. They reminded me that I had not opened the doors to “demonic influences” and that depression and anxiety can be causes by so much more then demons.
My friends didn’t let any obstacle stop them. They carried me when I told them I wasn’t worth it. They carried me when I cried shame filled tears because I hated to admit how dark the world I was living in truly had gotten. They reminded me that taking medication was not a sign of weakness, it was a sign of strength. They assured me that not every hurdle in our lives are demonic influences that prayer and communion can conquer. Doctors and medicine is a tool God has given us for a reason.
The words of this song no longer resonate like they used to. I no longer feel numb. My heart is beating and running… no longer paralyzed. Yet, somehow I still feel like I have to keep this story quiet. I fear that people will hear my story and think that something was wrong with me. Here’s the thing, I have nothing to feel shame over. Something was wrong with me, and through the help of medical intervention I have found healing. I had a chemical imbalance in my brain that required medication. I think so many “Christian organizations” look at mental illness as a spiritual weakness, but the reality is that mental illness is really no different then physical illness. Just because you couldn’t see me limping, didn’t mean I wasn’t struggling to walk.
So, first and foremost, if you are reading my words and these lyrics are resonating and hitting all the places of your heart… please tell someone. Call your doctor. Talk to your spouse or your best friend. Find a safe place and land there. Vulnerability is scary. It can feel nearly impossible to speak up for yourself. However, saying “I think I need help” isn’t a sign of weakness. Your strength shines the most when you invite others to sit in the dark with you.
Second, if you find yourself close to someone who says “I think I need help”, please watch your words. Your words carry the power of life and death in them. If you cannot think of anything to say, just say “I’m sorry.” You don’t have to provide all the answers to fix every situation, you simply need to sit in the dark for a bit. Hold your friends hand and listen as they tell you about the heaviness they are feeling. Don’t try to fix it, just listen. Listen to your friend and listen to the Holy Spirit. I am not suggesting that you should be fearful of speaking, I am suggesting that the words you say will mark your friend. Choose to take a breath and think about your words before you speak them.
Third, if you are reading this feeling shame because you didn’t see the darkness I was walking through, I want to encourage you to drop that shame. My words aren’t meant to make you feel like bad person. However, I also want to encourage you examine your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes for the unseen. Ask Him to show you the hurting around you, and then slow down and listen. He will answer your prayer, but you have to be ready.
Finally, I do think the Bible is a source of truth. The words found in that book tell us that we can take our thoughts captive. It also tells us that we don’t have to walk in fear, but can live in peace. I think so much of life is living in the “both/ands”. You can both take your thoughts captive, while also scheduling an appointment with a counselor to talk through the thoughts that seem to control you. You can choose to both walk in peace, while also taking mediation to balance your depression and anxiety. It’s in the “both/ands” that I think our faith really grows. Somewhere in the middle is where God meets us.