Thursday, February 27, 2014

Grace for You, Perfectionism for Me

    Surprise! I'm a perfectionist. To the point that when my professor so kindly announced he typically gives one A on essays, I immediately fumed because it was too late to drop the darn class (I'm still mad now, actually. Whatever happened to getting the grades you deserved? No, that's not a thing anymore? ... Okay, time to settle down and get back on topic).
    I'm actually not that hard on other people, though. If you screw up, chances are ninety-nine times out of one hundred, I won't care very much. There's grace for you, friend. I really don't care how messed up you are, other than how it hurts you and others. I know you're wounded by life, you're made in the image of God, you're intricate and unique, and so I seek to understand you. I like you, my fellow screw-up.
    But when it comes to myself, forget it. 
    I'm so stupid. 
    F--- meeeee.
    I need to die.
    Though I'm not proud of this, that's what shoots through my mind when I screw up, or whenever that memory pops back in my mind. In the height of my depression, I actually muttered these things aloud as I walked along the streets of Boston because hearing the words somehow stopped the physical pain I felt upon failing and experiencing these memories.
    True, I apologized over and over when I failed, but no matter how the person responded, I had to beat myself up. I had to, you see, because if I didn't, I wouldn't take the mistake seriously and clearly I'd forget about it and become a callous, irresponsible narcissist.
    And hey, I mean, it partially worked. If you trust online personality quizzes, I score about 4% in narcissism when the average number is at least over 30%. Success.
    Not really. 
    If success is berating yourself until you believe in your stupidity and worthlessness, if success is shutting God out of your life because you have an eating disorder and you can't stop giving in to over-exercising and so obviously God can't handle your mess, if success is hating yourself, then I'll dance in my failures and beg you to fail with me.
    I'm not saying celebrate failures themselves. But why not celebrate each other as we struggle and soar through life, failures and all? Why try to act like we have it all together? Because we don't. Whether we have God or not, whether we are rich or poor, whether we're male or female, insert whatever other dichotomies you can thin of in here, we will never have it together in this life. Some things help and others don't, but that's besides my point at the moment.
    I have a secret dream of coming to a random stranger and saying: "Hi there, I'm broken and anxious and on medication, and I'm insecure about my weight and intelligence and hey! Let's be friends. I love you because you're a person and I'm not going to stop for anything, 'kay? Now shake on it!"
    Or something along those lines.
    Maybe I can start with you? Wanna shake on it? :-)



Monday, February 24, 2014

For My Twin

    I used to hate being a twin. I'd rage at God for making two people so similar they were destined to be compared every day of their lives. I even blamed being a twin for my eating disorder, since it was comparative comments like "your sister is thinner than you" or "you're fuller than your sister" that helped spur me onto the starvation route.
    I was so relieved when we made a pact not to attend the same college.
She's on the right and my cousin is in the center. Isn't my twin pretty?
    But then college actually came. And I started recovering from the disorder and restarting my relationship with God, and I started realizing how much I missed her. How wrong I had been to put the blame on her.
    It's funny how distance actually made us closer. How, as we grew as people and inhabited our own separate abilities, we realized how close we really were.
    See, I'm a scientist and I write fantastical, surrealist stories that inspire. She's also a writer, but she's  passionate about creating realistic stories that will wrench your heart and guts out. Actually. She's incredibly talented and I used to be jealous of the attention she got, because generally people make the assumption that scientist =/= writer, and so I told her I hated her at one point.
    Ha. Hate? Blasphemy. She's the one person I told my depression to last fall, who knew just how bad I'd fallen. She's the person whose love for teaching and helping children in India has awakened my soul to other cultures and different ways of relating to God.
    And so when I found out she was graduating early, I felt a lump in my throat because we weren't doing the same thing anymore.
    And now she's done gone and moved to India, nearly halfway around the globe, and she's designing literature for children there. Incredible. I'll be honest, I couldn't stand the heat and crowds for very long. But she can, because she's smart and compassionate and God made her very special, even if she doesn't entirely know that.
Silly is how we do.
    Her name is Kate, Kate Evelyn Danahy. She's going to write stories and probably be famous some day: another great American author, and I don't say this lightly (although I do hope to have my own writing accomplishments too, ha). She's brilliant and warm and loving and she wants to give herself to working for
    Incredible, right? Uh-huh.

    I love you, twinner.

Kelley (or Kelleth, since that's what you call me).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Anger is a Weird, Weird Thing

    So I've kinda been in a towering rage this past week. Yes, I, professed lover of humanity, have been ranting at online commentators and yelling at egregious Olympic judges on my roommate's TV and cursing my reaction that gave new peaks in the NMR, but only turned out to have replaced my iodine with a hydroxyl group (if you don't speak organic chemistry, translation: a chemical reaction gave me reason to hope it worked, but actually failed. Cool beans).
     I'm still at that point where it's nice not to feel depressive apathy, but overall, there's a boulder in my belly that comes with this rage and I don't like it.
    "I'm losing hope in humanityyyyyy," I complained to my roommate. (An exaggeration, to say the least, but at the time I was basically seeing red. Crimson, to be exact. And I could almost taste pomegranates).
    She promptly reminded me that, apparently, I have one of the most optimistic views on humanity she's seen. 
This also captures how I felt. And, people, it's a CAT!
    Suffice to say, my insides felt like the weather Friday evening. If you weren't in Boston, there was a thunderstorm, complete with lightning, torrential rain, wind, whilst piles of snow still coated the ground. Messy, wild, a little crazy. That's how I felt.
   (And then Saturday there was nary a cloud to be seen: brilliant sunshine, and that damp, thick smell of spring's approach. The ground was wet with sinking snow piles and warm air embraced me as I walked back and forth from lab. I felt ecstatic, if just from the weather and the rush I get every time I set up a new reaction in label. That's how I want to feel. All the time).
   I don't like anger.
   Except, I don't think fighting for what's right and arguing (respectfully) with differing opinions is wrong. I applaud it, actually. Anger can be a good thing, I've heard, and I agree. I just - I don't know what righteous anger feels or looks like.
    I've always experienced anger as dangerous, even disastrous. It leads to explosions and lashings, exaggerations and cruelty and hatred and fear. In me. In others. I fear it. Oh God, I want it away from me!!!
How I feel now, after the rage.
    But without anger, what would be done about justice? What would happen to people in slavery or discriminated groups? Even God gets angry, right? So I know, somehow, there has to be a way for anger and love to intertwine.
    There is a way - look at blogs like Samantha Fields' or Libby Anne's that take on harmful theologies (like patriarchy and fundamentalism), yet their tones aren't destructive or cruel or fear-inducing.
    Anger is good. I know this. It's just what's done with anger that can be detrimental.
    I know, but do I believe?
    Probably not. Yet. But maybe, through practice and holding my temper and focusing more on love, I can learn. Learning, yes, that's a good thing. Even when it comes to anger.
    Does anyone else have issues figuring out this tricky thing called anger?


Thursday, February 20, 2014

I Still Can't Wear Tight Pants

    It's true. I can't.
    Besides public speaking and spiders (shivers!), tight pants send me into panic attacks like nothing else. Tights, leggings, stiff jeans; I can't deal with them. I ball my fists and tremble and want to scream and run and cry every time I pull them up.
     Sometimes, I succeed and make it through the day. Most times, I rip the leggings off and change back into loose yoga pants before a minute has passed. One time I made it through half the day and wound up having a panic attack in my Calculus II class.
     This isn't some weird, lingering modesty attempt, oh no, with my small shape I barely had to worry about that nonsense. Nor is this some silly first world problem. No, this is the remnant of my eating disorder.
     This is the deep parasite within that wants to be too thin, that rejoiced when my antidepressants curbed my appetite for a week. This is the fiery demon that screams 'look how everyone will make fun of you' when I feel bloated, the freakish clown that mocks me with reminders of unpleasant, needless gossip I've overheard on other people's weight.
    I hate it. The process of recovery has been long and arduous, but it's been years since I restricted my food and exercised myself to the point of nothing left. Yet this - this stupid, stupid! panic - lingers.
    I thought I was making progress. At the beginning of the semester, I wore leggings twice in one week. Seriously! Then the hesitation came. Then the I-feel-fat days came and went, and so I stayed away from the leggings on precaution. Saturday I tried again, and I knew what would happen even as I pull them on.
    It sounds so foolish, to say I can't wear tight pants without panicking, but, hey, this is what's happening in my life.
    Yet at the same time, my therapist has told me to look in the mirror each day and say, with conviction, "God did good when He made me." At first I was just doing it because I didn't think much of my looks in general, but you know what I found? I've started to appreciate this indefinable hair color I've always loathed, and I'm starting to pick out features of my face I actually like. Fancy that, I'm actually daring to like the way I was created. So maybe I should apply this saying to my body, too.
    I usually practice keeping my head up when I walk by picking out a beautiful or special characteristic to everyone who passes me by. Maybe - I so fear being selfish - but maybe I can do this to myself, too, every day, at least until I'm comfortable enough in my own skin to don those black leggings and wear the cute skirt I bought over winter break.
    Now, it's your turn. Because you're awesome. What's something special and/or beautiful about you today? (It can be looks, personality, a thought that comes to mind, etc. But compliment yourself today, okay, friend?).


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What if Law =/= Morality?

    So this post is partially inspired by an essay I just turned in on Shakespeare's Richard III. (Sidenote: while I'm aware of the play's historical inaccuracies and I'm actually inclined to take a sympathetic view of the historical Richard III, I'm dealing completely within the realm of Shakespeare's world here).
     Technically, towards the end of the play, Henry Tudor commits treason by revolting against King Richard. At the same time, Richard has unrepentantly murdered children and his friends and brother, and so Henry's revolt is seen in a redeeming light, and rightfully so. Yes, he broke the law. But there was something more important at stake, was there not? People were at stake.
    In Nazi Germany, people broke the law and lied to hide their Jewish friends. And we cheer them as heroes, again, rightfully so. Time and time again, throughout history, many of our heroes went against the because there were people at stake under the law.
    Even in the Bible, Rahab lies to hide the Israelite spies, who probably would have been executed if caught. I remember being taken aback the first time I heard a pastor say that she was wrong to lie, but that it was understandable since she barely knew God then. I'd always figured that, given the circumstances, she'd been right to lie because she was saving the lives of two people who happened to serve God (another sidenote: the Israelite's massacre of the people of Jericho is a matter I'm not addressing here, because I have no idea what to make of that).
    But, anyways, he was a pastor, so I figured he was right: Rahab just should have trusted God, told the truth, and it all would have worked out. And, I mean, I've heard stories in which people did exactly that, and God apparently did protect them. For instance, a woman in Nazi Germany tells the Nazis' she's hiding Jews under her table, and in fact there was a trapdoor there, but the officer just thought she was insane. Or a man told a patrol he was carrying Bibles, and the officer simply laughed at him.
    Still, I'm not sure I believe this is the best way anymore. It seems akin to handling snakes in your worship service - and I'm sure most of us heard about that tragedy last week.
    After all, didn't Jesus himself say the first commandment was to love God with all we have, and the next was to love people as ourselves? And, in a way, Rahab imitated Jesus then, by taking a sin on herself to keep others from death. Granted, Jesus didn't actually commit a sin, however.
    Yes, lies are false. But in these case, a lie was said to preserve the lives of people. Is the value of people, beloved and made in the image of God, not a truth in itself? Perhaps a truth more important than knowing where people are?
    I have no answers here. All I'm saying is, maybe strict adherence to the laws, so valued in many faith communities, isn't exactly how it's supposed to go.
    If you have thoughts or questions, please let me know. I'd really value other perspectives on this.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Trying Trust

    While I like being quiet, I don't like being shy.
    Although, to call me shy is a bit of an understatement. I've been known to freeze up in front of my parents. Yeah. That's happened. Uh-huh.
    Thus, I freely admit I was terrified to post my last update. Mostly because I didn't want people to know how much I hid. I didn't want them to know I was (am) scared and that I haven't trusted them, even though I love them.
    And yet ... they - you  - are my friends (Even if I don't know you, I still consider you a friend because why not? Hi!). I love you all, I really do. Last Thursday and Friday I got to experience anew how beautiful and trustworthy and kind and good you all are. And I regret not trusting, which I think is the root of my shyness: I don't trust love to override judgement and I don't trust forgiveness to cleanse. And so I barricade myself in my pride because pride is my last defense when my trust falls.
    There are reasons trust is a struggle for me, which partially stems from a bunch of unfortunate, complicated events that happened while I was growing up, including misunderstandings that left me either betrayed or devastated, and always crying. So because trusting others didn't work out, I learned to protect myself from snap judgements by either shutting up or acting stoic. Do that for a long time and you lose the ability to be who you are, who you were made to be. You're frustrated because deep inside you know who you've hidden, but you don't have the ability to unlock her (or him).
    But somehow, simultaneously, relationships have begun to grow and unfold, like a blossom in the muddy, tangled spring (that feels so far away here in Boston). And in these relationships I see trust begin to glimmer. Like my first semester of college, when I confessed my eating disorder for the first time and assumed people would judge, but instead there was only love and prayer and care. Like my sophomore year when I nervously apologized to my friends for virtually nothing, and the two of them told me flat out I didn't have to be scared in front of them, and no one had ever said that to me before. Like when I pissed off a friend junior year by bowing down to fear and she challenged me, and in the wake of our argument was only love and  forgiveness, real forgiveness, and I began to see that forgiveness can be true. When last week, I say I've been struggling in depression and you say I'm beautiful and loved and I can talk to you.
   You know, when we get close, you see more of me and much of it is messy and then you could judge and hurt me, and I could do the same to you. Opening myself up to you requires a lot of trust I'd honestly like to hoard to myself. But if friendships are good, and I firmly believe they are, then they're reflections of a Judge Who, despite my fears, is neither me nor you, but - but maybe, maybe, I'm tentatively starting to believe, I want to believe - Love.
    And so maybe now is time for the trial of trust, when I free my trust and treat you as the friends you have (or will, should I not yet know you) been/be to me. When I allow my trust to diffuse into the openness between people, because people are inspiring and intricate and wonderful and heartbreaking and deep and oh-my-gosh I could go on but I'll just leave it with a quote from J. M. Coetzee "We are miracles of creation."
    But, anyways, back to trust. Maybe now is the time when I reach out to you and you grab my hand, or maybe you just smile at me because, after all, smiles form emotional bonds as strong as grabbing hands forms physical bonds. And then maybe someday,  through practice and tears and probably throwing my hands up and declaring I give up, okay - thanks - bye! before arising and trying right again the next morning, I'll no longer grope around under the shyness.
    Until that day, which may never arrive but I hope for sure it does, my trust is meager and fragile, a wisp of what I'd like it to be, but it's all I have to give and I'd like you to have it, if you want.
     I will trust you, because you're people and you're worth trust.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

That Which a Title Cannot Contain

    I had half a dozen better titles zipping through my brain, but I didn't wind up using them because, frankly, there's no describing depression in one title. Or even one blog post, though I'll do my best.
    I grew up hearing that depression and most mental illnesses were a result of guilt or emotional pain, and knowing Jesus would make all the difference. To this day I'm grateful that my dad used his background in pharmaceuticals to challenge this viewpoint, because even when I wasn't sure I believed my dad, at least he showed me another perspective.
    Suffice to say, although I wasn't one-hundred-percent sold on the "Jesus will fix everything" view of mental health, I did view depression with suspicion and I mocked the ever-growing list of diagnoses shrinks seemed to come up with. I even feared other mental illnesses - schizophrenia, for example - were demonic.
    Then, when I was in high school, my mom participated in a research study in which antidepressants were used to treat a clearly physical disease that the scientists suspected originated from the same chemical imbalance as depression. And guess what? She got better, as did most of the people in the study. So for those who claimed depression didn't have a physical basis, well, science indicated otherwise. Still, I remained wary of mental illness well into college.
    I've never been a super-cheerful person, and I've definitely had a lot of down periods, especially in college. In fact, in a Bible study on the fruits of the Spirit sophomore year, I was struck by how impossible the word "joy" seemed for me.
    I felt guilty about that, of course. I mean, clearly my priorities were not right, clearly I just needed to trust God more and give Him my anxieties on schoolwork and talking to people. And I tried. I really tried. And then I prayed for God to help me. I believed that all I needed to do was yield my life completely to God, and I'd overcome my fears and find joy.
    Then, last summer my anxieties seemed to build and build. In between preparing grad school applications, long workweeks in the lab of my dreams (seriously, organic synthesis is AWESOME!), and guilt over my relatively rushed time with God, coupled with increasing doubts about my faith, I couldn't seem to calm down. I wasn't able to talk to the neat people I met in lab. I wasn't able to face the issues of the moment, and so I ignored problems until they collapsed over my head. I was a coward, I thought, and I could always find something to be anxious about. 
    Needless to say, when this sort of unhealthy thinking carried over into the school year, the results weren't pretty.
    Is there any title that can contain what it feels like when darkness crashes in on you? When all you can do is either cry or feel numb? When you pray for a train to hit you, when you plan out your death, over and over, only to back out by what has to have been a combination of the grace of God and the desire not to disturb other people? Because you don't want to live, not like this. If life improved, you'd take it and live, but months pass and it doesn't improve, and all you can think is that it's hopeless and you are hopeless. You take your finals and your cousins get engaged and your friends have kids and you know you're happy, intellectually, but you can't feel it and you want so freaking badly to feel it.
    You can't even hear God anymore. It's your fault, you're too busy and anxious and you can't seem to stop worrying, and don't you know worrying is a sin anyway? And underneath it all grows the secret: you've lost most of your desire for God, too. You're angry at the people who seem to have it under control, who can trust Jesus and love Him, and you even wonder if it's all a sham.
    You know you need counseling and you want it, but you don't have time and those counselors you did contact don't respond. So you keep it in, except to a select few - and thank God for them - because you're scared of judgement and you have too much pride to admit something is very, very wrong.
    And then the semester is over and you hope this thing fades, but it doesn't. The depression, malicious, masochistic beast that it is, lingers over you and by lingering, crushes the last crumbs of hope you had. You question all your passions and plans and want to run away and be free, but would that bring freedom? Christmas is stale, seeing old friends and family you dearly love is stale, and you panic after socializing too long.You're collapsing all around and crying yourself to sleep, all while screaming silently at the sky, HELP ME, GOD!
    But your family cares, though you fear them knowing just how far gone your mind really is. "It's a chemical imbalance," insists your dad after he finds you crying and you admit there's no one event, there's no one reason, that you feel this misery.
    And so you finally go to a counselor, who says the words you needed to ear: "I won't judge you." And then she tells you that you've "lost your voice" and she will work with you to gain it back, and there it is: a wisp of hope.
    She refers you to a psychiatrist who tells you that after so many months, you have no choice but to take antidepressants. And after such a long period of hopelessness, you're desperate enough to know that no, you can't help yourself, and trusting Jesus more isn't the cure. And so you have one more mite of hope, in the form of a little blue and white capsule.
    So began my resurrection. My passions, my desire to live, even my willingness to climb of of bed and face the morning, began to re-emerge after about a week and a half on the medication. And somehow I became able to hope that maybe hope itself was not in vain.
    In fact, I'm able to choose not to be anxious for the first time in months, maybe years. I'm able to choose to be vulnerable and smile with more than just intellectual knowledge of my feelings. I'm even able to communicate with God and I'm slowly regaining faith, tentatively believing He loves me and I'm capable of loving Him. Being able to make these choices and to feel again is awesome, but it's also a rough process and it's scary - yet there's a deep relief that runs through my veins and a hope that's starting to shine.
    I've been told I'm brave for opening up about my depression. Since I'm terrified of judgement, maybe this is so. But why is confessing brave? We're all human, we all struggle with something, and I'm not less because of a mental illness and you're not less because you're addicted or cynical or ignorant or judgmental or sickly.
     It's harder to admit I was, so wrong, about mental illness, than to admit that I was diagnosed with depression. It's scarier, for me, to ask that if you believe mental illness is caused by sin or demons or weak-minded people, please re-consider your perspective. Meet and get to know the mentally ill without judging first. Embrace us. Listen to us and hug us and believe in better times for us when we're not able to believe ourselves.
     The weak are as valuable as as the strong, and maybe weakness is a means to empathize and help and act. And so maybe St. Paul was right when he claimed to boast in his weaknesses, for in his weaknesses the glory of God, which I think can be reflected in the goodness of humanity, shines through.
    I want to end with this: if you're inundated by a stigma or a problem commonly misunderstood, hang on. You can recover and if you want to share or talk to a person, I'm available at and I already love you.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Let's Be Honest. Starkly Honest.

    Why hello there, blogging world friends!
    (Yeah, I generally consider people friends even if I don't know them. Ironic, since I'm pretty much an introvert of introverts, but, hey, why not see friends in people? Nice to meet you, I like you already!).
    Ahem. I can be a bit zany, at least inside my head. On the outside, I'm kind of a cross between an awkward turtle and a statue, depending on the situation.
    As for why I started blogging, there are two reasons.
    1). What do you do when there's statistical mechanics homework to be done, but you're too muddy-headed from a lingering flu to do it? Clearly, you start a blog, whilst smoke from your roommates' dinners fills your apartment. But, of course, because no smoke alarm goes off, you ignore it in favor of valiantly battling your internet connection to get every last template detail right. (As an aside, their dinners turned out good anyways. I think something was wrong with the stove).
    2). The second reason is more serious, I suppose. I'm using this blog as a therapeutic, open journal of sorts, a place to bare my soul, and by baring my soul find my voice. I'd originally planned to be anonymous, because I'm, well, insecure and so scared of people. However, partially because I can't figure out how to manipulate my blog settings to anonymity, and partially because I know openness needs to happen in my life, I'm leaving my name up and I'll face what happens. Ideally, this practice of openness and voicing my thoughts will transfer into my life outside the Internet, too.
    I'm scared, people. I love people, but I'm scared of you. In fact, my fear of people, of judgement, contributed to a bout of anxiety and severe depression that nearly killed me last semester. And right now I'm like: why am I admitting this, it's obvious I'm so terribly weak, craving your approval - because I do - and oh-my-gosh what would my family and friends think if (when?) they see this, my confessions, my wounds and my weapons.
    But you know what? Maybe openness about my weaknesses is what I need. Because a weak person is no less a person than a strong person, so what's the point in a masquerade?
    So here I am, antidepressants on my countertop and weekly therapist meetings on my calendar, humbled, learning, growing, stretching out and up. Like a flower, free from classification: an adelaster.