It used to be easier

When I was a kid I had this fantasy that my life was secretly a great book or a movie everyone loves. I had this idea that I was really a fictional character living out what I thought was my own life but was really the plot of a world-renowned story. It was kind of like Stranger Than Fiction or The Truman Show except the day I learned the truth or met my creator, I would feel affirmed that all the random things in my life, all the choices I ever made, every moment of despair and joy was all part of something greater.

Part of me still holds on to this idea, that my narrative is far more complex than I can grasp and no matter what happens, it’s all for the good of the story which, I assume, has a happy ending. Or at least a satisfying one.

I’m a Christian and I have been one from childhood, so I know that every person is not only God’s creation but part of a greater story, the greatest story, with Jesus, rather than myself of anyone else, at the centre. I believe this with my whole heart and I want it to guide my actions and thoughts so I can live for someone greater than myself.

See the thing is, this was easier when I was younger. In my teens, my faith was like super-strong. I had my failings and temptations, but I knew that God loved me not because I was perfect but because I was His. I not only believed this, but I felt it. I can’t quite describe it, but there were times of real affirmation, where I felt the love of God over me. When I prayed, I really felt like He was there with me.

But I haven’t really felt that way in years. I don’t mean that I don’t believe anymore, and although I’ve had my ups and downs with my faith, I still want and try to follow Jesus. What I mean is I got to a point in my life where I couldn’t trust my own feelings anymore.

When I was a kid, I always felt really sad when the summer came. I had no idea why, but I just felt wistful, like there was something I had lost or forgotten. Like the rest of the world had something during that time that I didn’t. Eventually I had my first episode of depression and sought medical and counselling help. I’ve had a few episodes since, usually triggered by struggles and stress, like losing my grandfather, feeling overwhelmed at school, having my engagement fall apart, and that sort of thing. It’s taken a few years of trying various medications and cognitive therapy, but I’m much better than I was.

But one thing that I still haven’t recovered—or maybe I should say one thing that changed—is that I no longer feel God’s presence. Or at least, I no longer feel affirmed like I was.

One of the things I learned to accept and work against was that I couldn’t trust my own head anymore. Even on medication and regular routine, I still have to fight to avoid the voice in my head that tells me I’m worthless. It tells me I’m being too lazy, I’m terrible at what I do, that no one really likes me, that I need be better but that I also never will be. This is a pretty common symptom of depression and anxiety, but I found even in good moments—ones where I felt accomplished or satisfied with myself—those thoughts would return. And if I was able to reason against myself and convince myself I was doing a good job or that people really do like me, my mind would move on to the next thing. No matter how trivial (not vacuuming enough, not paying my bills right away, not finishing that blog post I started) this voice would turn into a guilt that would turn into a fear that would turn into an inability to complete everyday tasks.

Like I said, this is pretty common stuff for anyone dealing with mental health issues. And many people have these sorts of struggles on and off throughout their lives. I also know people and know of people who have these sorts of thoughts but to a much stronger degree. These are the sorts of thoughts that can lead to much more dangerous behaviour.

You can get attached to your own conception of how things should be; how you ought to be. You either convince yourself you’re worthless or you hold yourself to such a high standard you’ll never overcome it. I’ve been fortunate enough to have people around me who recognized this sort of behaviour and recommended I seek help for it right away. But I spent so much time consumed in these thoughts they became the background noise to my life. I just always thought I was somehow lesser than everyone, that I was somehow missing something everyone else had.

Even at times of great happiness in my life, those thoughts were there, usually settling in next to the good stuff to make sure I never felt too excited or too happy about any good day or joyful occasion. The rest of the time, I took every criticism, ever failure, every bad thing that happened to me as confirmation that this was true, blotting out anyone and anything that would contradict this.

I think that’s why the idea of my life being a story appealed so much to me. The fact that I was so bad at things, or that no one liked me, just showed me I was on a journey of personal growth. I was Charlie Brown or Harriet the Spy, just waiting for the right events to come together one day so that my story would be complete. This idea appealed to me better than that of the Gospel since it affirmed I was the centre, rather than just a miserable failure off to the side in God’s much greater story.

And I have to admit, I still get caught in this kind of thinking. I mean, both kinds.

I’m working on finding the right combination of medication and cognitive therapy that will help me operate in a healthy way, but I still get caught in these downward cycles of self-loathing and melancholy. And when that happens, it can be a sort of comfort to think that there’s someone out there who is directing all these actions for a much greater purpose.

Of course, this is where the problem lies. Like I said, you can so easily get caught inside your own head and convince yourself of anything. And then you look for a solution to that problem inside yourself, continuing a cycle that can lead to misery, fear, and worse.

The thing it took me so long to realize—and I still have trouble accepting it sometimes—is that being part of God’s narrative doesn’t put you on the sidelines. Jesus, as the King of creation who sacrificed himself for every person, is the centre. But he did for us. And I don’t mean for “everybody.” I mean for every individual person. The part that I have such a hard time understanding and accepting is that God didn’t just “save the world.” He knows every single person so wholly and completely it’s frankly a little unsettling. But He sees all of us and doesn’t hate any of it. No matter how much I convince myself of my worthlessness, He sees it another way. He says I’m worthy enough to die for. And for someone caught in a cycle of despair, that’s both incredibly comforting and wholly unbelievable.

So I’m still at a place where when I pray, or worship, or just talk about God like I’m doing now, I don’t feel that same affirmation that I did when I was younger. I’ve been working hard to learn to identify my own self-worth, spiritually and mentally, but for whatever reason connecting this identity with my feelings of faith hasn’t worked yet.

Maybe I was just in a phase as a teen and felt affirmed because of all the crazy hormones or whatever. Maybe I convinced myself I was feeling God’s presence when there was nothing there to begin with. I don’t have that feeling anymore and I may never have it again in my life. But every time I remind myself of who Jesus is supposed to be, of what he is supposed to have done, I know that’s the sort of person I want to follow.

I’m still not at a point where I can fully trust my own mind all the time. I still have episodes of depression and anxiety that impair my thinking and convince me that I’m worthless and incapable. But I’m sticking with God, I’m keeping my faith. I believe in something outside of my own mind that my thoughts, no matter how deluded they can get, don’t change. He affirms me, even when I don’t feel it, even when I don’t believe it, and even when I don’t act it. To Him, I’m someone worth writing about. And you are too.

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