Here’s a confession: quarantine is not driving me crazy.
Certainly, it has made the craziness worse at times, but I was struggling long before the iron hammer of ECQ fell. I’ve alluded to this enough times in the past few blogs that I don’t think it’ll feel like it’s come out of nowhere when I admit that 2019 was hard.
In many ways, 2020 just feels like an extension of, well, things being hard. It’s not that I was prepared for the coronavirus crisis so much as it just felt like adding injury to injury. Like a “joke” I cracked after reading an article in The Economist. The article said, and I quote:
The longer a quarantine goes on, the greater the effect on people’s mental health. Another study, which also looked at the impact of sars, found that those who were quarantined for more than ten days were significantly more likely to display symptoms of PTSD than those confined for fewer than ten days.– “Only Connect,” The Economist
To this, I replied: I already have PTSD, and, at this point, I don’t think I can notice if it’s getting worse.
(Brief explanation of something I may get into at a later date: Currently, my therapist–who is near the top of my very short list of favorite people–has diagnosed me with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Another therapist–referred to me because I wanted more talk therapy and less meds–thinks that diagnosis is bollocks and I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder…but before I could see that guy, quarantine happened.
Maybe that’s for the best.)
In short, I’ve been struggling to keep my head above water long before the events of Day 29 of Quarantine. To the point that struggling almost felt like second nature.
Around September of 2019, struggling was easy, almost noble. I was very into journaling then, privately mapping my emotions and thoughts in frantic fountain pen scribble in order to publicly appear like I was calm and wise and wisely put-together. I remember dressing up a lot, and looking back–not even very far back, just at my recent quarantine costumes–I’m beginning to see a correlation between how elaborate my outfits get and how stable I think I have to appear versus how stable I actually am.
I think I managed to keep up that illusion of stability until around November. The meds helped, but in the end my regular end-of-year seasonal depression won out.
Because I can’t trust myself to keep it together long enough to be earnest…I’ll keep it short instead: I lost a lot of close relationships in one fell swoop around August of 2019. Chief among them was the “break up” with a close friend and creative partner who, to me, was something like family.
Some days, I can find it in myself to be angry at him, at them. But most days, I’m sane enough to admit the part I played, admit my toxicity.
Most days, though, I’m still crazy enough to blame myself for most of it, even though my remaining friends (and my therapist, and the office life coach) tell me not to. Something will trigger it–a song, a word, a name on my Facebook news feed–and I’ll crumble, remembering what I lost and what I did to deserve being lost and Just. How. Lost. I feel without…everything.
Hillsong has this song called “As You Find Me,” and its debut performance was led by this guy called Tulele Faletolu. He was the lead singer on Hillsong’s smash hit (one of many smash hits), Still: “I will be still and know you are God.”
Except that Tulele hadn’t been still and known that God was God. In the time between Still and As You Find Me, he’d backslid after his brother had passed away. He became an alcoholic, chasing shadows and drowning answers elsewhere until, inevitably–because God is inevitable like that; He has dragged me back to Him kicking and screaming and swearing at Him to Let me go!–God brought him back.
So he came back.
And he was content, just to be back. No longer a worship leader, but home, in the way the Prodigal Son told his Father he’d be happy to be a servant in the house he was once upon a time supposed to own half of.
One year (or so?) later, Joel Houston writes a song for a Hillsong Conference. He pulls Tulele Faletolu, former worship leader, aside…and asks him to lead the debut performance of that song, live on a conference stage.
Tulele reads the lyrics and asks Joel, “Did you write this for me?”
If you listen to that first live recording, you can hear just how personal this song is for Tulele Faletolu. How earnest he sounds. You can hear it in the way he sings that first chorus, the slight wobble in his voice when he sings:
“I know I don’t deserve this kind of love.
But somehow this kind of love is who You are.”
You can hear it when, in the second chorus, he literally ad libs a long and mournful “I know!” and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking and no one but Tulele could have lead that song the way he did.
Sometimes we have to walk through the valleys of shadow, is all I’m saying.
When I lost…what I thought was everything, last year…that song kept me afloat. It spoke to me when I felt the most unlovable, like I could never get better, like I was doomed to destroy everything I touched.
Disgraced, asked to step away, without my beloved Ahia who had talked me off so many ledges in the years we’d known each other–corresponding to the peak of my years-long quarter-life crisis–the only thing I could repeat, for months and months and months as I got better then worse then better then worse again, were the words that Tulele Faletolu sang:
I was found before I was lost.
I was Yours before I was not.
Grace to spare for all my mistakes,
And that part just wrecks me.
And that part just wrecks me.
“Grace to spare for all my mistakes.” The thing about God, I’ve learned, is that when you think the world won’t, can’t forgive you, God will forgive you SO MUCH and SO HARD…that the world slowly ceases to matter.
I have no doubt the people I’ve had to leave behind think badly of me, have decided I was worth letting go of because, truth be told, the person I was then…she really was worth letting go of. She was toxic.
And I am still that girl, many, many times. There are days, when I look in the mirror, that I can see her. Days when I am constantly teetering on the verge of collapse. Days when I hiss and snarl and snap at the people I love most, pushing them away. Days when I fail to be a good human, much less a good Christian. Days that it’s hard to crawl back from, though I must, I must, because I said I would be better.
Each time, then, I repeat: “Grace to spare for all my mistakes.”
I do not excuse myself, but I give myself the permission to keep moving forward.
God has grace to spare for all my mistakes and so, as hard as it is, I decide to continue living with myself, believing that same Grace will make me worth that choice to continue.
Contrary to what seems like popular belief, it isn’t unholy to be happy. The verse in John (I smirk at the irony) reads, “For I have come to give you life, and life to the full.”
In Christian circles, there’s this thing called pruning: God taking you on a journey and taking away the things that weigh your steps down as you go. As the word suggests, it isn’t pleasant, which is maybe where the whole “Christianity is misery-inducing” shtick comes from.
I mean, it’s not wrong. Heck, I’ve written a lot of stuff in that vein. But. There’s a but.
Christianity, or maybe you want to think of it as growing up/maturing/finding yourself, is painful. You lose things you wish you didn’t. You lose yourself, for crying out loud. But after everything, Christianity (or growing up or maturing or finding yourself or however you want to refer to it) asks that you don’t be afraid to ask for joy.
My boss, Guita, once told me (in the throes of my nth mental breakdown that week), “You have to believe you can be happy too.“
There’s this weird thing I’ve noticed, after playing Christian music on loop for the past few weeks in order to stay sane. It’s that, whether its hymns or contemporary Christian music, in general the saddest-sounding songs are the happiest ones lyrically. These songs start on a minor key, dark and slow and sad, and build to a painful, unresolved, but ultimately hopeful chorus. One that has no answers, but somehow doesn’t need them.
I circle back to the song I sang on Day 29 of quarantine, as I was falling apart for the more-than-29th time. There are no answers to singing, “You are good, good, always.” There are no answers…but there is a beautiful defiance.
When you feel like the world is a dumpster fire and you are burning along with it, declaring “You’re never going to let me down.” is just plain stubborn, rebellious hope. I am worn and broken and sad as all get out, but I am not beaten. The world cannot defeat this hope, because God has overcome the world.
I am sad, but to (literal?) hell with sad. “He is good, good, always.” He was good before I was lost. He is good even while I am lost. He will be good after I am done with this “lost” business, whenever that will be.
Grace to spare for all my mistakes.
I’ll probably make a lot more mistakes this quarantine season. And after quarantine season. I’m going to need a lot of grace.
Thank God He has enough–more than enough–to spare.