Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Ps. 84: 5-7
I realize I didn’t continue my story from last time. But I guess I am just not quite ready to. I am trying to be okay with whatever comes out on here. Not judging what I write, how it comes off, how I organize entries, what people think, etc. Just be true to myself; if I end up encouraging someone in the process, that would be great!
So a little bit about my current state: I have low self-esteem. Big surprise. Ever since I grew out of adolescence, I was ashamed of this. I would continue to deny this fact, referring to it in my mind as “something only teens or super immature people struggle with.” Now, by the grace of God, I have accepted that, most likely through no fault of my own, I struggle with low self-image and self-esteem but that that fact does not define me.
Last week my therapist gave me this hand out on Self-Image and Self-Esteem written by Earnie Larsen. Self-image is based on the messages we received during our earliest years- whether direct or indirect-and these messages become how we see ourselves. Self-esteem is a direct reflection or your self-image, dictating 1) our expectations, 2) our options and 3) our limitations. I sincerely related to this: “If people have low self-esteem the value they have of themselves is very low. They see themselves as losers. They don’t expect to do well so what options do they have? Only negative options. The expectations are that it will never work; I’ll never be happy; no one will ever love me, and so on. ‘The limitations we place on our lives make our expectations come true.’ ”
The weird thing is, because of my identity as a “depressed” and “anxious” person for over half my life, these self-limiting thoughts have become such a deep part of myself. It’s like I am addicted to them; while in reality, I do have positive thoughts about my value, it just seems “wrong” to allow myself to think them.
My therapist’s assignment for me was to choose an area of my life in which I was very successful and answer some reflection questions about it. It was so hard to think of an area I was “very successful” in. I was bombarded by thoughts of areas I was once confident in, such as teaching, speaking Spanish, writing or my faith; and the sad reality that, in recent years, I have experienced utter failure (from my perspective) in these areas.
Fortunately I was able to dismiss these thoughts pretty easily; then I thought of my new job as a PCA (personal care attendant). While I am easily ashamed that I currently work only about 10 hours a week (I had to quit my “professional” full time job as a teacher last June), I still realized I am proud and confident in the work that I do as a caregiver. Doing the following reflection was very powerful for me and I hope it also brings you joy and comfort in whatever you are going through at the moment.
Here is my reflection:
Choose an area of your life in which you are very successful: Working as a PCA (personal care attendant) for a 10-year-old girl and her family a. Self-image: how do you define yourself in this area? Very competent. Because of my sensitive nature, I bond well with people in a one-on-one relationship and learn how they tick, what would help them and overall, I have intense love for them (usually, of course, there are always certain people we “click” better with and who are easier to love). I am also someone who is dependable. I do what needs to be done efficiently; I show up to work every day; her parents see how well I work with and care for her so they trust me. I am myself with her and I try to always put her needs before my own. I am honest and friendly. I am a down-to-earth person with her family and I seemed to have “clicked” with them. I especially feel like I have become friends with her mom who is around my age. I have been able to support and encourage her as a mom and a Christian woman (and a teacher); and I feel honored that she has trusted me by opening up and sharing with me more and more!
b. As you define yoursef-how do you behave in that area? With integrity. Honestly, I have been tempted by all the alcohol at their house. Because of who I am and the relationship of trust I have built with this family, I rarely feel tempted anymore. In fact, I am confident that I could never betray them in this way. Other times, when I have put my needs before my client’s or gotten frustrated with her, I feel badly and always try to apologize to her and/or God. I have grace for myself, and am able to move on the next time. I also behave confidently. Because of the relationship I have created these last 5 months, I now have a say in her treatment, activities, etc. I have been voicing my thoughts more often and taking risks. The more I take a risk, positive things happen, which builds my confidence even more so I continue doing hard things.c. The consequences of this behavior: How I behave at my job has given me hope and confidence in other areas of life; so ultimately it has been a healing journey. My behavior has reminded me where my true gifts lie-in influencing individuals, just being present with them, using my sensitive nature to make a difference. The more I am my “true self” in other areas, the lower my chance are of giving in to temptations or going against this true nature. Also, this job has given me a renewed vision of my purpose, whether occupationally or in general: my God-given purpose; so I have more positive thoughts about my future!
d. What is the result? The results define and deepen your self-image. The result is that there is no denying that I have made a difference and that my presence in others’ lives does not go unnoticed. While I haven’t affected large amounts of people, the people I have influenced are very dear to me and when I think about hurting or betraying them, it is devastating; similar to when I think of if one of them gets hurt or ill or worse. This kind of love is undeniable, and is the reason I am alive today. Thanks be to God, this love is my main purpose for living, something I could barely acknowledge when I was so ill last year. The reason I do what I do and why I am dependable and act out of integrity is because of the love I have received from Christ and the dear ones he has graced me with in this life.
The messages of self-worth are:
*I am full of love and have a lot of love to give.
*I am worthy of love.
*I am loyal, trustworthy and a person of integrity.
*I can reach people on an intimate level, because of my deep sensitivity.
*I have a deep awareness of self, I am honest and vulnerable and am more capable than many of helping others develop these traits.
*This family has been graced and blessed with my presence as their PCA. (As I have been graced and blessed by them.) I can see myself being committed to them for many years to come.
*Through my relationship with this precious child, I have also had a glimpse of what I can and will offer as a mother one day; I am reminded of the deep calling and privilege I feel of adopting this title in the near future!
I know it has been a while since Nathan and I have shared what is going on with us. In lieu of a Christmas letter, I usually like to do a little blog update. While 2017 was definitely a very trying year for us, it was undoubtedly one of growth and blessings too! I hope you enjoy seeing what we have been up to and how God has continued to shape us along this journey called life. (While I tried to include activities that the two of us did together, this past year was definitely a very personal year for us and I can only attest to my side of the story.)
January-We had career day at Oltman Middle School (where I taught) and I talked Nathan into coming in and talking a little bit about what he does. Students signed up for the careers they would like to hear about and then rotated in in three different groups. N. was a bit nervous but did a good job. It was a freeing time for me to just observe the students and my husband. I was proud of him and it was fun to hear the questions the kids asked.
February- Nathan and I toured the Basilica of Saint Mary in St. Paul with some of our church friends. It was really a neat beautiful building and fun to learn about its history. It was a unique and memorable date!
This was also the month that I put in my notice that I would be resigning from my middle school teaching position in June. After over a year of prayer and talking to many friends and professionals, this felt like the best step for me in the interest of my mental health. It was a such a relief to turn in that notice.
March– There were quite a few highlights of this month. I picked up my nieces, Corryn and Verity and nephew Callum and brought them to see my students perform in the musical, The Lion King. My friend Jesica also joined us. It is always great to see my students outside of the classroom too. We loved it and it was a great bonding experience with my nieces and nephew! They also got a kick out of seeing my classroom where I taught.
This month I received a nice note from a student that got me through the rest of the school year. Nathan and I celebrated his 31st birthday at an Asian restaurant we enjoy. Our friend Travis came and celebrated with us.
Nathan also enjoyed a trip to see his friend Jake in Wausau, Wisconsin for March Madness.
April– After doing a lot of research, I found and began working with a new therapist who specialized in depression, anxiety and disordered eating at a clinic closer to home. This ended up being a good switch for me; I could later tell how God had brought this clinic into my life at just the right moment.
I had Spring Break this month. I stayed around home and enjoyed some much needed R and R, just reading, seeing friends and writing. The highlight for me came at the end of the month. As anticipated, I drove down to Richland Center, WI (Southwestern WI) for my first ever getaway yoga retreat led by my sister-in-law Kat. It was definitely a unique, healing and peaceful experience.
Looking down from the loft of the beautiful cabin I stayed in
My room was the loft that included a nice tub
Our yoga space. It was a life-giving experience.
May– I enjoyed attending a cultural event, the Festival of Nations, in St. Paul. Although it was a field trip I was chaperoning, the kids were highly independent and responsible so the teachers didn’t have much to do. I really enjoyed sampling different cultural foods, watching live music and dance and looking at different artifacts from all over the globe.
One Saturday, I attended a writer’s workshop at Banfill Locke (an arts center where I used to be a part of a writing club). It was fun to see some of my old writer friends, but even better, to be inspired and have a beautiful place to get some writing in. At the end, I even did a read-aloud of one of my writing pieces; it was scary but good practice for me.
I also tried to make the most out of the last few weeks with my students. The kids really enjoyed the Cinco de Mayo celebration I set up for them.
June-The long awaited last day of school arrived. I worked for several weeks to pack up my classroom, and it went smoothly. It was a bittersweet last few days, but as I said goodbye to the district I’d taught in for seven years, I knew it was the right choice.
The huge event of 2017 was our two-week long vacation beginning the last week of June. We drove South and stopped for a few days in Pella, Iowa where we enjoyed a few days with my Uncle Ken and Aunt Pam. We enjoyed a visit to the dam, the Des Moines farmer’s market, and mostly just having good conversations.
Next stop was St. Louis, Missouri. On the way to our first Air B & B, we stopped at the Butterfly House outside of St. Louis. We really enjoyed seeing all the unique butterflies! While our B & B was quite plain, we did enjoy our time seeing the Arch, (Nathan faced his fear of heights), the City Museum, the St. Louis Zoo and an outdoor musical at the Muny.
The Butterfly House
St. Louis Arch
The City Museum
Next we drove to Glasgow, Kentucky for our Mammoth Cave tour. We liked our B & B and our hostess, Suzanne. The tour wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for but it was still an exciting experience, especially when the cave went totally black after about two hours in; we had to backtrack to get lanterns in order to finish the tour safely! Our favorite part was the stalactites and stalagmites at the end of the tour.
Our fourth stop was Chattanooga, Tennessee to meet my cousin Whitney for dinner. We were hoping to have more time to explore Chatt but sadly we ended up with less than an hour since we had to be to our next B & B two hours away by that evening. It was awesome to see Whit, though, and catch up!
Probably one of our favorite experiences was our three-night stay in Dandridge, Tennessee. This B & B was by far the best. We had a picturesque view of Douglas Lake, a cozy apartment, a Swedish pancake breakfast and sweet visits from Bean, our host Billy’s inquisitive cat. Our many adventures in Dandridge included a helicopter ride, a Whitewater rafting trip, zorbing (a splish-splashy ride down a hill in an extremely large sphere), a short hike in the Smokies, and a spectacular thunderstorm. Quite a memorable couple days!
A delicious Cuban meal!
Next we drove toward home, stopping outside of Cincinnati for the Noah’s Ark and Creation Museum experience (kind of the main thing we planned our trip around). This was a growing experience for me faith-wise. I can’t really put it all into words here but the Ark definitely answered a lot of questions I had about this Genesis account and created new ones. Overall, it was a very impressive and hugely captivating experience for both of us! (I mean it was a museum inside of a real, life-sized ark! Crazy stuff!)
We were getting pooped and anxious to get home. Our last day of travel was the Fourth of July. On the way home, we stopped in Rockford, Illinois to visit with my extended family. We enjoyed just hanging out with aunts, uncles, cousins and my grandparents. My grandma surprised me with a beautiful quilt she made for us, “just because.” What a caring and meaningful present! It has definitely kept me warm this cold winter!
July-This was a month of lots of growth for me. Once we got home from vacation, I began attending an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) for depression/anxiety at the same clinic where I was going for individual therapy. Although it was hard to see at the time, I learned and benefitted from the other clients and all the amazing professionals I worked with, including many therapists, a dietician and a chaplain.
I worked on my healing through journaling and birdwatching on our deck, while Nathan got serious about working on the garden and planning to paint the outside of our house. We decided on a color together (a very exquisite, dark royal blue with white trim) but, other than that, he did the whole thing by himself. It was a long extensive project that took several months. I am so proud of all his hard work!
We took some individual trips this month. Nathan went to his annual pig-wrestling event with his brothers in small-town eastern Wisconsin. I visited my parents, brother and sister-in-law (Nate and Kat) and my nephews in Eau Claire. Toward the end of the month, my small group girlfriends and I enjoyed a weekend trip at Angell’s Hideaway Resort in Emily, MN. We had fun boating on Lake Emily, sitting by the bonfire, sharing back rubs, eating and just praying and talking together. So blessed by friendships!
August-Unfortunately my mental health declined, and I was hospitalized for the first half of the month. This was a very trying time for us, but I am so grateful for my husband’s strength, resiliency and commitment to me and for the many loved ones who called, brought gifts and visited me. Even though it was challenging, I learned how to accept this love from others as tangible demonstrations of the Savior’s love for me.
We prayerfully decided to heed the doctor’s advice and, while in the hospital, I underwent a series of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) treatments. The treatments were hard on me physically and, as expected, affected my short term memory. But, after only a few treatments, we noticed a dramatic in my mood (for the good)!
Nathan was SUPER excited about seeing the solar eclipse so at 6 am that Monday morning, we drove 8 or 9 hours down to Nebraska. Not only did we see the eclipse, but also witnessed an incredible double rainbow on the way home. I don’t remember much, but I do remember being relaxed, happy and laughing a lot despite being stuck in traffic and having to drive ten hours home that same day. What an experience!
A double rainbow somewhere near Des Moines
South of Lincoln, NE
Right after my last ECT treatment, we visited Nate, Kat, Brendan and Owen at their cabin in Merrill, Wisconsin. We enjoyed bonfires, fishing, swimming and just being together.
It was hard to get adjusted to living at home again, but I enjoyed a lot of quality time with loved ones. I spent extensive amounts of time journaling each day and felt closer to God and a new purpose in life that I had not experienced for a long time.
September– My old insurance (from my teaching job) ended, so I had the challenging task of saying goodbye to all of the professionals who I’d really begun to like and depend on (since they weren’t covered under the new insurance). Graciously, I found a new psychiatrist that I liked. Finding a new therapist that was a good fit was a little more challenging.
For Nathan, September was consumed with painting the house. He made a lot of progress and worked many LONG days. I helped a little bit by holding the ladder (super nerve-wracking) and painting the garage.
My husband and I spent a lot of time talking and reflecting together. Nathan kept remarking on how different I was. One thing we really enjoyed was laughing. It seems the ECT really reset something in my brain. I was able to experience joy in a new way; I finally found a lot of things funny, including his jokes. We experienced a connection through laughter that we’d never had before. What an answer to prayer!
September was also a month of relationship for me. I enjoyed TONS of one-on-one time with family members and friends. I continued to experience joy and love in new ways! Nathan and I also had a couple fun dates: Labor Day at Minnehaha Falls (where we also go downpoured upon); the Como Zoo with Theresa and Joel; and our fancy anniversary dinner at Downtowner Grill.
Sexy 2-year Anniversary night at Downtowner Wood Fire Grill
Double Date to Como Zoo with Joel and Theresa
Labor Day Date to Minnehaha Falls
October-Nathan finished painting the house and it is definitely a head-turner in our neighborhood! We love it!
Around this time, my hubby also experienced a change of direction at work when he was put in charge of a new, extensive project. According to N, he likes the challenge of the project and it has given him a lot more him motivation and vigor at work. I am so proud of how hard he works to support us!
An answer to prayer came when I found a new therapist I really connected with at a different nearby clinic. One of the things I like about Susan is how lighthearted and funny she is. She also brings her personal experiences into our talks, unlike most other people I’ve seen. With her encouragement, I joined a DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) group on Monday nights. DBT is a skill based and mindfulness-centered therapy program that I am very familiar with, having gone through it ten years ago. I am excited to see where God will take me through this group.
I experienced more time with friends enjoying the beautiful fall.
Me and Grace at the Arboretum
At Maria State Park in Monticello, MN
Vanessa, Olivia and me at the Arboretum
Me and Olivia at the Arboretum
Me and Dallas in Stillwater, MN
I also began working very part time as a Personal Care Attendant for a young girl with developmental disabilities. I have loved getting to know and work with her and her family.
Novemberand December– We noticed my depression starting to rear its ugly head again. The current plan is to try another ECT series (after a long battle with the new insurance), since this has been the most successful for me (more than medication).
This fall, I had a period of renewed inspiration for writing about what I have been through. I worked on this blog quite a bit (which I dream of turning into a memoir one day). Check it out.
We enjoyed the holidays with our families. We had Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with both of our families. Nathan had a two-week vacation at the end of the year, so we had a lot more time together. This year I enjoyed hosting two of our couple friends for a New Year’s Eve party. I forgot how much I enjoy having people over so I hope to do that more in 2018!
We have been blessed and challenged by another year of life. We are humbled by God’s faithfulness and the way He has so artfully recycled every painful and joyous experience of 2017 to mold us into who we are meant to be, His precious children. We are both excited for a new year of learning how to become more like Christ!
It is definitely awe-inspiring to reflect on one’s life and remember. Remember what you went through and Who got you through it. Being a Christian my whole life, I have heard too many stories to count of people being “delivered” from their sin or mental illness. One day they were in the darkness; the next day they were in the glorious light. Some people call it a “conversion” or “the day Jesus saved me.” I was always envious of these testimonies.
After a while I realized that my story is no less significant. Instead of having a mental illness one day and being a Christian “freed from darkness and despair” the next, I was a committed Christ-follower with unrelenting depression and anxiety. I was never “delivered” from my illness, yet I was dependent on the Lord through all the hills and valleys. As cliche as it might sound, I began to see the hills as little paths of light given by God to get me through the darker valleys.
Two thousand eight was the start of one such “hill” along my journey. I remember this year with such fondness and gratitude it is hard to even type this sentence. One day, in April 2008, I was sitting alone in my St. Paul apartment, totally incapacitated by grief and sorrow. As was the norm for me, the last few months had been a roller coaster ride. I had been hospitalized in December; got a new psychologist who I really liked in January; began DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy) which was proved to be highly effective for me; broke up with my boyfriend of one year just a few days earlier; and was finishing up my first highly stressful year of teaching (inner city Kindergarteners).
The main struggle was I was completely alone. I had been close with my brothers, but all three of them had moved out of the state or country in previous months or years. I was living alone and was out of touch with all my friends from college. I hadn’t really made any new friends because I had basically spent the last year with just my boyfriend. So that day, my parents called me up and realized I wasn’t doing well. “We’re coming,” they said. So they drove over and spent the weekend with me. They talked me into going with them to a church nearby, Woodland Hills, in Maplewood.
While I wasn’t too sure about the pastor and the worship, I really wanted to make friends. So after that day, I decided I would try and get involved with the Young Adults group at Woodland Hills. It was called “Immerse.” I will never forget the day in early May 2008 that I got up the nerve to attend on a Saturday evening. I now see this as a life-changing moment in my life, a gracious gift from God. He must have given this extremely self-conscious, introverted girl and extra dose of confidence that night. As I stood timidly near the entrance of the gathering, a young man approached me. He had a comforting smile on his face. I’ll never forget his kind words, “Hi! Are you new here?” After a couple minutes, Josh had introduced me to a bunch of his friends and I immediately felt calm and secure. I don’t remember the worship or speaking that night. I only remember the wonderful people I met who today, nine years later, are still some of my best friends.
I soon joined Josh’s small group at his house and made even more friends. I was utterly astounded at how God had so quickly answered my prayer for a “community.” Josh and his roommates soon kind of took the place my brothers had had in my life. Despite my insanely stressful couple years of teaching and continuous struggle with depression and anxiety, my small group (and later, the church-Woodland Hills-which I grew to love) kept me literally sane.
In fall of 2009, after I lost my job in St. Paul Public Schools, I moved out of my single apartment into a house with a girl from the small group who I’d become really close with. She had just bought the house in Vadnais Heights and had asked me to live with her several months earlier. I was also dating a godly man from the church. Even though the dating relationship didn’t work out, my relationship with my new roommate Theresa got stronger and stronger. She taught me so much, especially about unconditional love. Because with all my continuous mood changes, I was not an easy person to live with. She was not perfect either and we complimented each other well. Soon she became the best friend I ever had.
Thanks be to God, my depression seemed to stabilize over the course of a few years. By fall of 2010, I had a new teaching job that I liked; I was still committed to my church family and was growing in my faith exponentially; and, for the first time in my adult life, I had a stable living situation (still living with Theresa). The previous year I had also graduated from my DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) program and felt this program was another incredible answer to prayer! I learned A LOT of skills for how to take better care of myself. In addition, with the help of a psychiatrist I liked, I had also gradually cut back on medication and was currently on the lowest prescribable dose of my antidepressant.
I had so much to praise God for! I felt He had really done some true miracles in my life. While I was extremely grateful, I wasn’t satisfied. I began really getting interested in health and taking care of the body God had given me better…
“I am not worth anything until I am dating or, by a certain age, married.”
I was always told I was “pretty” and “cute.” My mom was good at doing that. She would make me cute sweaters, bows and even clothing that matched with my dolls’. As a child I always felt so happy wearing all those beautiful things.
My mom would also do my hair very “pretty.”As I got older, she taught me how to “do” my hair (and later makeup) correctly. I later realized being able to do one’s hair without help was a sort of a coming-of-age event for the girls in my family.
Most things I learned about girls and women I learned from my family. My mom, her sisters and my grandma, always presented themselves well. Always beautiful, hair styled, makeup on, impeccable outfits and matching accessories. The message I received from the women in my life is that a woman was expected to do everything possible to make herself beautiful (externally) to the world.
I began comparing myself to my family members especially as a teen. I wanted to be dating but we were not allowed to date until age sixteen. I knew most women in my family married very young (by age 20) so I had to make sure I got a “good start.”
Puberty struck me late in life; as a perfectionist, I constantly felt less than. I was obsessed with being on the “in crowd.” While my girlfriends talked about boys and periods at the junior high lunch table, I sat there pretending like I could relate. I had a lot of contempt for my slow-developing body; I longed to be taller and less flat-chested. I was also self conscious of wearing glasses. One of my brothers and I would often talk about our relationship woes. We both probably struggled with self-esteem and the need to look perfect for the opposite sex. One day, my brother made a matter-of-fact comment, that once I got contacts, the guys would “be all over me.” Through comments like these and the influence of my friends, I began lying to myself about the way I needed to look and the experiences with guys I needed to have.
Finally, everything started falling into place by my tenth grade year when I reached full puberty. At 16, I was finally “of eligible age” to date. I finally got a little bit more self-esteem; some days I even felt as “cute” and “beautiful” as when I was a child. Soon, I did receive attention from guys, but they were not “quality” guys; my term for the guys that typically liked me was “messed up.” I would go back and forth between feeling flattered by their comments and disgusted. Then I would always question, what is wrong with me that no decent or popular guy would like me. I would find myself in a war when it came to relationships with guys. If a guy liked me I would initially act interested to comfort my wounded inner self, but later I would come to my senses and realize I didn’t want to spend time with these particular guys. I ended up having quite a bit of guilt for “crushing” guys, though my family and friends told me to forget about it.
During the later part of my junior year, I fell in love hard. I was head over heals for a guy in my youth group at church. I initially had no interest in him until he began giving me quite a bit of flirtatious attention. During a period of about six months, his actions toward me fueled my passion for and fascination with him. It’s so interesting because my feelings of that time come back so quickly. They were so intense yet I now realize they were all about me. I really had no love and care for the guy. I only cared about how I was perceived. My self-esteem finally sky-rocketed because I felt I was finally “worth something.” Any day now, this guy would ask me out and everything in my little life would be perfect. The world would finally love me. This never happened. The guy barely even talked to me much less asked me out and later denied even liking me. Even though my interest in him had died down, I was still crushed and found myself believing I was not good enough for good, popular guys.
These thoughts continued throughout high school and hit their peak my freshman year at Bethel University (formerly Bethel College), a Christian liberal arts school where the common ditty was “ring by spring.” The theory is that, since most Christians are virgins, they just have to get married young; a marriage proposal would come by the spring of the girl’s senior year of college. There was a lot of pressure to find “the One,” that perfect Bethel boy, especially for someone like me whose only dream in life since the age of eight was to be married. Not only married, but preferably by age 21 and to have all my children before age 30 like my mom. (I used to pretend to pop babies out of my stomach with my dolls growing up! I just couldn’t wait for the real thing!)
I continued to believe the lie I believed my whole life: “If I only work hard enough to look beautiful, people—especially guys—will notice me. If can just be perfect, I will be worthy of love.” I would often daydream about certain guys I met who I considered perfect. Sometimes I had proof that they found me attractive but wondered why they never asked me out. The conclusion I came to was always the same: “I am not good enough.”
I continued to swing from feeling like the most sexy thing ever to feeling like the scum of the earth, not even worthy to be an ant under a guy’s shoe. The summer after my freshman year, I was working full time and living with my parents at my Wisconsin home. One day, I had to bring my younger brother Tim his lunch at his work—a car dealership. I knew that Tim worked with all men and, for that reason (though I didn’t admit it to myself), I made sure I looked extra attractive. Sure enough, when I pulled around to the back of the dealership where Tim worked I noticed his co-workers staring at me. My desires to be noticed were met and I felt really good about myself. A few weeks later my brother revealed to me the conversation that came about after I left that day. His coworkers told him I was hot and asked him if I had a boyfriend. Tim said no and they responded: “Why not?! Is she gay?” Tim, of course, was disgusted with them and stood up for me, but I couldn’t help feeling overwhelming grief and self-pity at that moment. There is something wrong with me, I continued to lie to myself.
My dating experiences in college and afterward became predictable. My obsessions with perfection clouded my judgement and my own sense of identity. The judgments I put on myself were extended to the guys I dated. I was often petrified that we weren’t “good enough” together. I was terrified of how others would perceive us as a couple. I often made decisions based on what everyone else thought. I never really figured out my own identity or, if I thought I knew what I wanted, I would constantly doubt myself. If my family and friends liked a guy, I would feel pressure to like him too. I would constantly berate myself for not feeling love for the guy I was dating, when in everyone else’s mind, he was “perfect.” This came with the territory of people-pleasing and performance addiction.
I had such a profound hatred for myself during those times. I intellectually understood I was beautiful “inside and out” as everyone always told me and that I was dating material. I believed I was worthless, like I, the “bad” girl, was hurting and scarring this “good” guy for life. I was a failure in my mind. I couldn’t live up to all those women in my family who had great men and had married young. I would scream and cry out to God, “Please help me like him the way he likes me, Lord!” My low self-esteem spurred on my depression which in turn negatively affected every relationship I had.
One minute, I would come to the conclusion that he was the wrong guy for me and I had nothing to do with it. The next minute I would think, it’s all me. I am too unlovable and I’m ruining his life. Either way, I would break up with him and look for the next “perfect” guy, a dream relationship that existed in my mind. I was searching for love and truly believed I couldn’t be happy until I found it.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized that it was probably best to heal before I dated, that I was able to separate my worth from my dating status. That I discovered this truth: I didn’t need to search for love because I no doubt already had it. Instead, I was searching for the ability in myself to accept this love. My profound inability to accept love from myself, others and God is what kept propelling my depression onward.
The bliss I anticipated my freshmen year at Bethel University (formerly Bethel College) was even more intense than I had imagined. After my first campus visit in eleventh grade, I knew Bethel was the school for me. Maybe a lot of it had to do with being near my beloved older brother Nate, a senior at Bethel.
My brother was someone I greatly admired because of his fun-loving personality, go-with-the-flow attitude and loving acceptance of everyone, including his sister. Through phone calls and letters, he and I had gotten closer since he left for college three years earlier and his happiness was contagious. He would tell me about his crazy roommates, the “suite” where he lived, the classes he was taking and how he was growing in his relationship with God.
Most of all, he loved talking about the dining center where he worked. I imagined him chatting with his friends that walked through the food line, or playfully spraying his coworkers in the dish room. I felt like I knew some of the mentally handicapped men he worked with because Nate was so great at impersonating them. Soon, Nate began telling me how great it would be if I attended Bethel too. I felt so flattered that my big brother wanted me to go to school with him. His excitement was so intoxicating and his love for Bethel became my love. I started to dream about the day I would be free of the bondage of high school and could experience the kind of bliss my brother was experiencing.
Coming out of a severe depression, spurred on by a devastating social anxiety disorder, I began my first year away from my parents’ home at age eighteen.
My freshmen year of college was one of the happiest I can ever remember. There were probably many reasons for this, one being I finally felt “free.” Attending a conservative Christian liberal arts school like Bethel, that is really saying something. I could finally eat what I wanted, stay up as late as I wanted, and do what I considered “crazy” things with my friends, such as videotaping ourselves parading down the “runway” (one of the hallways on campus that had floor-to-ceiling windows on either side) with foil in our hair or dressing up in 50s clothing and playing croquet in the arena across the street from Nate’s “red house.” I didn’t have to worry as much about my parents and their judgments of me (whether real or perceived). I was simply having fun.
Relationships really soothed and straightened out the chemicals in my brain. I felt super connected the girls on my dorm floor, my RA and my RIOT leaders (sophomore girls who came and led a Bible study on our floor each week). For once I was surrounded by amazing Christian women and I craved their love and attention. I also had my brother. True to his word, Nate made Bethel an exquisite place for me. He and I hung out constantly; I craved his love and acceptance too. He introduced me to his friends/housemates and soon they were my friends too. Together with our friends, we’d go to the jazz club in downtown St. Paul, have a movie night on Sem Hill, or a dance party at the “Red House.” We would also hang out just the two of us: walks around Lake Valentine, trips to the Tea Source and most often, study sessions at Caribou Coffee. My brother Greg also attended college at the University of Minnesota, so he and I would get together and have spiritual talks. Greg was always an encouragement to me; I always left our talks feeling strengthened and empowered in my faith. I finally felt I had a place to belong; a place to rest my head.
The spiritual aspect of Bethel really helped ease my depression too. I felt like a fish coming back to the water. I couldn’t believe how good it felt to have professors pray at the beginning of each class and for us before we took a test. I loved the care and concern my professors had for each of us. I attended almost every Chapel, began attending a local church (with Nate of course), met weekly with my dorm Bible study and went to Vespers every Sunday night; that year, I grew deeply in my faith. I even fell into a regular Bible-reading routine, reflecting in my journal constantly; all the while taking eighteen credits as a freshman!
Depression still lingered under the surface fueled by perfectionism. I was still addicted to performing well and went out of my way to get good grades. Unfortunately, I had an intense realization that college was not at all like high school. The classes were really hard. While I could always manipulate my way into getting an A in high school, it sometimes was simply not possible in college. I slowly started to accept that grades did not determine my worth.
I also lived by the demands in my head to perform well morally. I began to be known as “virgin eyes” and “virgin ears” by my floormates because I had been quite sheltered growing up compared to most of them. Not only this, but I felt it was my moral duty to share when I thought what they were doing was wrong, such as watching a certain show or swearing. I really felt like I couldn’t not say anything. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that I discovered more “sins” that had taken place right under my nose that year.
Despite feeling close with a few girls on my floor, I soon began to feel alienated and began to believe the lies that I was a “goody two shoes” and too sheltered, too much of a freak to be anyone’s friend. Luckily, my roommate at the time, still liked me and we decided to live together the following year.
Despite being one of the most joyful years of my life, my freshman year of college was when I solidly began to believe another lie. A lie that had slipped into my mind around the time of puberty. A lie that would again spur me into another slippery, dark and deep rut of depression.