Mirror, Mirror

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For the first time in nearly five months, I am finally returning to my blog, which I had almost no time to write for throughout this whole semester. It was a long semester, full of multiple emotional blows and academic shortcomings. Pretty much the only thing that went close to well was my internship, and even that was fraught with ups and downs.

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To put it simply, this semester was the semester I lost two friends in ways that affected me deeply. One friend (I’ll call him W, for privacy’s sake) took his own life, right at the beginning of the year, and I haven’t returned to full emotional stability since then. I had very few good days this semester–most of them were either horrible or else just okay. The other friend (who I will call Q) is still alive, but in the aftermath of W’s death, while I was emotionally adrift and needed someone solid and firm to give me a sound anchor in the midst of the storm, Q became instead manipulative, demanding, and negative. Instead of finding something fixed to hang onto, I found myself being dragged deeper into the maelstrom of my emotional chaos. And in the end, the only way for me to prevent Q from dragging me under was to cut all ties with him.

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Losing W and Q in the same semester has really done a number on my emotional balance. W’s death made me realize just how deeply I feel driven to want to protect others. He wasn’t a close friend, but looking back, W should have been one of my closest friends. I still sometimes feel guilt for never having been there to protect and minister to him in his times of spiritual weakness. I still sometimes find myself almost in tears while listening to songs like See You Again and Sound of Silence. I found myself wishing he’d been there to celebrate one more Easter, to be snidely cynical on one more Singles’ (*ahem* Valentine’s) Day, to attend one more pre-finals dorm event, to watch one more graduation ceremony. Because of W, I have learned not only what it really means to be anywhere close to a grenade (in the metaphorical, John Greensian sense), but also how much we really don’t appreciate while we have it. I was well within the emotional blast radius when W exploded, and I didn’t appreciate him until after he was gone.

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Cutting ties with Q, and the leadup to the decision, made me realize just how broken I am already. A lot of people might look at what they can see of my life and tell me that I don’t have it all that bad. That I should be happy for what (and who) I’ve had in my life and for the ease with which I’ve gotten it. Yet that doesn’t cancel out the fact that I’ve been deeply hurt and rejected and looked down on by people I came to trust and to believe in. And each piece of damage, each crack in the vessel that is me, has made it harder for me to trust people and open myself up to them. I find myself isolating myself from people more and more, unwilling to be vulnerable.

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Graduation was also a strange experience. Looking back on the commencement ceremonies, it is saddening that I felt like walking across the stage was the only dream I had had left. And now even that is gone, and I am struggling to not feel like I am about to disappear any minute, vanishing into nothingness as if I were a character in Angel Beats. All I felt after graduation was a sense of relief, and a sense of having nothing more to look forward to. I haven’t found a new dream yet, and I desperately need one.

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In the soundtrack for RWBY, there is a song called Mirror, Mirror, which in Volume 3 has been given a sequel called Mirror, Mirror: Part II. These two songs have resonated with me since I heard their lyrics, and these lines especially keep playing in my head: “Mirror, Mirror, what’s behind you? // Save me from the things I see. // I can keep it from the world; // Why won’t you let me hide from me?” Yet in Part II, the singer responds to herself saying, “Some believe in fairy stories, // And the ghosts that they can’t see. // I know that I could do so much, // If I could just believe in me.” Maybe that’s where I am. Maybe I just need to stop believing in others and start believing in myself a little more often. Maybe then I can find the confidence to start dreaming again.

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Why I Will Live


Ever since I woke up this morning and remembered last night, the day has felt like a nightmare. A slowly degenerating nightmare that I expect every second to wake up from, to find that what I heard was just made up in my mind and that you are okay and alive, still out there for my second chance at being a friend.

But I don’t wake up that second time that I so deeply desire. The thoughts keep swirling around in my head. It’s my fault. I should have talked to him. Maybe I was the one who had the key. Why? Why did it have to happen? What did I miss out on? I can’t break the cycle. I can’t stop feeling the guilt.

We never talked after that year we were working together. It’s not like we even talked then. You wrote your stuff. I wrote mine. We came to the same meetings, talked to the same people who gave us tasks. And then our paths divided, but I found you on Facebook. And never said anything to you.

A year later, I heard that you weren’t doing okay anymore. That people had seen you change and become a person very different from the glimpse I’d seen of you. But I ignored what I’d heard. I didn’t care. I didn’t stop to ask you how you were doing. Out of the many friends I did stop to keep up with, you were one of the few I didn’t but that I could have.

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I forgot about you for the years after that. All that time that you were sinking and searching. The years that people tried to reach out to you, but somehow never quite got there. The years that I began to go through some of the same struggles and questions. The years that we could have talked and tried to encourage each other. The years you were alone.

Could I have said something that would have changed it all? Something that could have given you a lifeline to hang onto in the midst of the pain and the nothingness? Something to anchor you into the love of God that is still present in this world, even as the Archenemy tried to consume you and nullify you? Did I fail you?

I can’t stop asking. I can’t stop feeling like there was something I should have done. I can’t stop missing you more and more, even though I never knew you. I can’t stop wishing that you weren’t the one to head the list of “friends of mine who sleep and, perchance, who dream.” I can’t stop dreaming that maybe, just maybe, somehow I’ll find you and we’ll battle our way through our regrets and our failures in the Afterlife, just like in Angel Beats. I can’t stop mourning your passing, even though there are many who would say we weren’t close enough for me to need to grieve so much.

I always knew that going out in this way would be like releasing an explosive. What I didn’t know was that it is more like experiencing a nuclear bomb than experiencing a hand grenade. You wounded me by leaving like that. You left a hole in someone who shouldn’t have been touched, someone who shouldn’t feel your passing so deeply. But I do.

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And that’s why I have to live on. No matter how much I hate my life, no matter how much pain and unfairness and doubt and despair conspire together to torture me, I’m going to keep on going. For you. I’ll fight for you, for me, and for those like you and me who are desperately seeking the answers to questions we don’t even know fully how to ask. I’ll fight to find the answers you weren’t able to find. I’ll live the life you weren’t given, count the infinity of numbers you weren’t allotted. It’s the least I can do after failing you like that.

And it’s the least I can do to honor your memory. I’m not going to remember you as someone who simply gave up. I’m going to remember you as someone who tried to push on until there was nothing left to push on with. As someone who tried to bear more weight than he could handle, and in the end was crushed by it. I’m going to remember you as someone strong, not as someone weak.

It’s not just my life anymore. It’s your life too. And the lives of everyone else in our position. I’ll fight to try and make it so that no one around me, no one whose life I am allowed to touch and whose life touches mine, will ever have to despair again like you did. It’s why I will live. Because you didn’t.

I miss you, Ben. Goodnight, my friend.

Down the Rabbit Hole

JewelIt’s 1 AM, and I have a 9.30 AM class. By all rights, I should be asleep right now, regaining my strength for the morning. So why am I instead sitting here in front of a dimmed computer screen, quietly but desperately hammering keys on my laptop keyboard in an attempt to write something coherent?

It’s the start of a new school year. The university has filled up with students, both young, wide-eyed, enthusiastic freshmen and sophomores bustling back and forth from class to chapel to lunch to class, and older, more experienced, jaded juniors and seniors sauntering across campus from one required location to the next. I’m an extrovert by nature, which means that all of this human energy should be propelling me forward with abundant drive. So why did I collapse into my chair earlier this evening, unable to do any of the tasks that really need to get done, lacking the energy and willpower to get back up and set things to rights?

It’s not hard for me to find friends to talk to right now. Some of my oldest and most confidential of friends are only a couple clicks and keystrokes away from my fingertips. Many of my current set of on-campus friends are busy but still willing to take a few hours on short notice to talk about important, deep issues. And I’ve made a couple new friends among the new freshman class already, friends I know I can be open with. So why do I feel lonely and walled in away from everyone right now?

There are so many questions I could ask to point out the discrepancies between what should be and what is right now. My energy is gone. My drive is unreliable. My ability to sleep is wrecked. My ability to connect with others is constantly flickering between ON and OFF. I can’t sleep and I can’t stay awake. I can’t stop thinking about certain topics, even though they are the topics I hate most. I can’t stop pushing myself forward, and I can’t hold up under my own pressure. In short, right now I am even more a bundle of contradictions than usual.

I have many friends who will recognize exactly what I am talking about. Friends whom I have been given the grace to be there for in their hours of pain and uncertainty. In hours of prayer and tears and wrestling with God.

Anyone who knows me well, or who has been following this blog, knows that I have been, from the beginning, deeply averse to accepting or admitting that I am struggling with depression. There is still a part of me that rebels against the idea. But the evidence has been growing, and I cannot ignore it any longer. As my vision of the world around me becomes more and more distorted by thoughts and feelings I cannot control, I am retaining enough clarity to finally admit that the world is no longer clear to me.

So what am I going to do? Primarily, I am going to fight to give my trials into God’s care and to not give up on continuing to pursue Him. A friend recently reminded me that as long as I maintain my focus on God, and not on myself, I will be able to continue pushing through and to continue being there for the people I care most about.

And I’m going to trust my friends to provide a safety net for me when I inexorably stumble and fall down. I don’t have any illusions deceiving me into thinking that the road ahead will be easy. I’ve seen depression at work. I know the ugly things it does to people. And I know that there will come days when I feel like I’m at the bottom, only to have, the next day, the bottom shift and fall out from underneath me and send me downwards yet again. But I have friends who are committed to being there for me in the way that I have been able to be there for them before.

Am I ready? No. I don’t think anyone ever really is ready for depression. But at least I’m not unprepared. God has set both me and my friends up for some great things, and my journey through these next few years will be someday a story worth telling, in this short period of life perhaps and definitely in the eternity we have waiting ahead of us.

Shards

A chapter of life that has lasted for three years is about to close, and a new one is about to start. This is a poem whose last two lines crashed into my mind tonight . . . and sums up how I feel about this simultaneous end and beginning.

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My friend, we are starting the next stage of life.
Our parting is heartfelt; pain cuts like a knife.
Tears fill both our eyes as we say our goodbyes.

As we hug one last time, now look at my heart;
See, it has been broken, it is missing a part.
I know where I placed it, for that was my choice.

So as you step forward, following God’s guiding light,
I beg you, walk carefully, with your hands clasped tight,
For you carry that shard of my heart in your grasp.

My Friend

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This was a poem I wrote in summer 2013, for the friend who saved me from loneliness and isolation, and who has since saved me multiple times from self-hatred, possibly minor depression and, once, suicidal thoughts. I am forever grateful for having been given the privilege to know him.

My Friend

I still remember how we first met:
The patterns on the carpet.
I was feeling down, my life aground,
And then God put you in it.

I had no hope for close-up friends,
But I knew within a minute:
God put you there to hear my prayer
And my walls were broken down.

It’s hard to keep an open heart
When friends don’t stay within it.
Let separation strike again,
And slam! The doors pull shut.

So there I was, alone and cold,
Without someone to speak to.
But you just smiled and let me sigh
And soon my heart was living.

“Friends are forever,” so the saying goes.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel it.
But now I know we’ll always be friends−-
No matter what comes between us.

Remember

team avatarThis is a poem I wrote back in October 2013 about the nature of a well-developed friendship. Although we often speak of friendship as “having each other’s backs,” in a lot of ways a true friendship involves “having each other’s fronts”: taking and softening the blows that life deals to each of us, and sharing the pain and the joy so that no one has to bear on his or her own the weight of the darkness and the weight of the light.

Remember

Remember those days, those days of yore,
Those days of triumph and of trial?
Faced we the enemy; we fell and rose,
Conquering all with a unified mind.

Oh, those days and those years, so full of memories!
We stand upright, now, tho’ covered in scars.
Our weapons they rest in the coveted places,
Memorials grim of the darkness we’ve faced.

But, friend, where’s your shield? I see here your sword,
Your horn, and your arrows–but nowhere your armor.
Look at these scars on my hands and my heart.
It was I who then shielded you, I who protected.

Forget not those bygone days, dangers, and toils,
Lest these my love-rich wounds be all in vain.
Keep to the path, and I will yet support you.
All I ask, my dear friend, is us two together again.

Centuries

Clara As I sit alone in a motel room in front of my computer, I can’t help wondering why on earth I’m here. Why I wasn’t, an couple hours ago, at a piano at college, providing accompaniment for a worship team as a group of 20-30 fellow students sing along. Why I am in Greenville driving a U-Haul truck that I’m not hauling anything with except myself and a suitcase and a backpack.

I can’t help pondering why, in short, I am doing something crazy and ridiculous. Why, in fact, I do any of the things I do.
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To say that I love John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars is probably an understatement. It would probably be more appropriate to say that I am obsessed with TFiOS. Specifically, I am in love with the main characters, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. I love Hazel because of her cynical yet insightful view of the world. As un-Christian and Hamletic as her view of the universe and its codependent relationship with human life might be, her insights into human nature resonate deeply with me.

Gus, on the other hand, I love because deep down inside, I understand him completely. His desire to do something that in the end is “worth it;” his wish to be Hazel’s hero; and his understanding that loving someone who has the potential to hurt you deeply can be the most rewarding type of love there is out there.
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So what does TFiOS have to do with my being in Greenville? The connection is that when I ask myself why I make the life choices that I make, I often end up answering the question the way that Gus does. No matter how often I try to indoctrinate myself with Hazel’s words about oblivion and just letting life be about observing the universe, I ultimately return to the point of wanting to know that, by the time I am called to leave this earthly life, I will have done something that was really changed the world for someone. I don’t care about going out in a heroic manner . . . but I want to go out having been a hero to someone. Yes, Hazel speaks out against that view, but I have come to take the stance that the world has both its Hazels and its Guses, and both are equally right. It all depends on who you are and what God has made you to be. Some of us were born desiring to do things and being given opportunities. Some of us were born desiring to just experience the world and getting to sit back and let it wash over us, observe us, and ignore us when it wants to.

And, to finish the comparison of myself with Gus, I don’t want to have a simple “love story” if I ever meet another person God intends me to join my life with “till death do us part.” I want to have a relationship that is marked by growing together through struggle and growth and tragedy and celebration. Honestly, I would be more than willing to embark on a story that is the story of Hazel and Gus in The Fault in Our Stars, of Sheldon and Davy in A Severe Mercy, or of the Doctor and River Song in Doctor Who. Yes, these are relationships that end extremely painfully and sadly. But they are also ones from which those involved learn greatly, and that is the kind of relationship I want to have.

So what is the point I am trying to make? It is this: I don’t care about making a name for myself that will go down in history. I don’t care about having people remember me for centuries, to quote the song Centuries by the band Fall Out Boy. I don’t care about having an easy time of it gaining the love of someone I love. Rather, what I desire is to live a complete life that, when I look back on it afterwards, I can be sure that I filled with choices that truly were worth it and people who changed my life, and whose lives I changed, for the better.

Pulling the Pin

I’m like. Like. I’m like a grenade, Mom. I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?

I’m a grenade. I just want to stay away from people and read books and think and be with you guys because there’s nothing I can do about hurting you; you’re too invested, so just please let me do that, okay?

— Hazel Grace Lancaster, in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

In TFIOS, Hazel Grace often refers to how Peter van Houten’s book An Imperial Affliction seems to speak directly to her, putting into words things she has thought and struggled with before. In a way, John Green’s book is to me what AIA is to Hazel Grace. Not that I am having to deal with cancer–at least, not in the physical sense. What I am beginning to deal with, though, (unless I have struggled with it for many years without realizing it) is depression.

Depression to me is very much like a cancer of the soul. It often strikes people without partiality toward age, gender, race, or lifestyle. It begins in different ways, brought about sometimes by traceable causes, sometimes by apparent random chance. It can easily become a defining characteristic that clearly sets someone off from others. A lot of the things that John Green says about cancer through TFIOS resoundingly echo things I have heard and have thought about depression in my own social circles.

Why do I bring this up? Why do I choose a quote about grenades? Because it fits me perfectly. I do not like to talk about my own struggles for a few reasons. Here they are (in no particular order of importance):

1) I don’t want to pull down others by making them worry about me. Like Hazel Grace, I’m reluctant to truly open myself up because I want to reduce the baggage that will be caused if those friendships break for any reason, whether it be that something I am dealing with becoming too much for me or my friend, that distance and time come in between us, or that I burn bridges or create walls that push friends away.

I don’t want others to be wounded in my battles. The images of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors when we see how many lives have been lost in their cause have always stuck with me. In the one scene from Journey’s End, Davros’ taunt of the Doctor resonates:

The Doctor, the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself.

So many have given themselves to keep the Doctor alive and moving that the Doctor cannot bear to think back on them. I never want to be in such a place. I never want to know that I pulled others into the way of my own troubles and dangers to their detriment. That is one of my greatest fears.

2) I rarely see my own troubles as being worth complaining about before others. So many times in the last couple of years it seems like I will come to the point of wanting to speak up about something that’s getting me down…only for God to make me aware of something in someone else’s life much worse than whatever I’m dealing with. I don’t have a job lined up, or I don’t like the one I’m in now? Well, I know people who either can’t get jobs or are struggling to get a good permanent job. I’m lonely because I don’t feel at home anymore in the dorm I’m in? At least I have a family back home that I can return to during break without interpersonal conflicts flaring up. I’m struggling with motivation and joy on some days? Ha–I have at least two other friends who deal with depression on a much more regular basis than I do. I’m not even all that badly off despite having 17 credits, 2 part-time jobs, and several other side responsibilities to keep up with. I don’t technically have to be working–I’m still in one of those jobs only because I can’t pull out at the moment without dumping a project into likely oblivion for the next several months. But I know people who have to work in order to even come here to my college. Put into perspective, my own issues don’t really seem big at all. Why should I take the time to “get help” when there are others I know who I feel could use it much more than I could right now?

3) I don’t want to be defined by my struggles. As I read TFIOS, I can’t help noticing the sly jabs that Hazel Grace makes at the ideas of “Cancer Perks” (people doing nice things just for someone who has cancer) and of being a “professionally sick person.” I don’t want my friendships to become defined by “Depression Perks,” with my friends making special efforts to help me “get back up on my feet.” I don’t want to be a “professionally busy person,” with my lifestyle and relationships being reducible to a routine defined by constant activity. I am supremely reluctant to talk about my struggles because I don’t want them to be what are constantly and primarily associated with me.

These are just three of my reasons for not sharing about myself very much. They are the primary ones, and there are many others. I hope they makes things clearer in this area of why I am so reticent about my own struggles. I know I have plenty of friends who will tell me that helping me is something they would love to do, and I know that I can depend on them to help me without it needing to be a source of fear or shame for me, but there is often a disconnect (in all of us) between head and heart. I am a long ways from being comfortable with sharing my own issues with most of my friends, but hopefully God will someday make it easier for me to just pull the pin out and be open to letting myself fall apart and blow up in the presence of my friends.

It’s easy for some people to talk about what they are afraid of, what they need help with. Those are people I respect very much. But for people like me, living with this fear of being the grenade, leaving shrapnel embedded in my friends, it is hard to become comfortable with doing so. And that’s something I need to learn is OK–sometimes God puts us through pain and destruction to make something new and beautiful in our lives.

1 Corinthians 13

burning roseEveryone has a deep, indwelling need for something. For some, it might be finding companionship. For some, it might be seeking purpose. For some, it might be desiring calling. For some, it might be wanting healing. Whatever it is, each and every person on this earth has a need that they may or may not know about.

Sometimes we feel like we can easily help fulfill that need, by simply being a friend who helps out and checks on someone every now and then. But sometimes it’s harder–sometimes seemingly impossible–to do anything that seems to come anywhere close to helping.

In those times, it’s often easy to simply say, “God is all you need.” “Let go and let God.” “Just make God your everything.” “God will take care of it.” Words that, while ultimately the true solutions to every problem we might face, are sometimes little more than a quick cop-out way to avoid having to join in the crusade to fight the exhausting fight. I’ve had those words said to me at times when what I really needed at that moment was someone to come alongside me and be there to constantly push me forward and strengthen me. God has worked all of those situations out according to His will, of course, but I can’t help thinking that those words, however well meant they may have been, were not the best solution to my problems. To be honest, I never want to hear someone say those words to me again, though I’m sure they will be spoken to me many a time in the future.

If those statements about God being all we need are ultimately true, why do I complain? I complain because I believe God calls us to be a body for a reason. If God were truly everything we needed, and if it were that easy to depend on Him for everything, then there would be no reason for God to require corporate worship and fellowship from us. If God were the only thing we ever needed, then John Donne’s quote of “No man is an island” would be utterly false. For me, the reason God placed us together and calls us to cooperate and act together is that He made us so we need each other as well as Him. Genesis 2, I think, points towards this, for if God was all Adam needed, then there was no reason for Eve to have been created. As humans, we are supposed to interact with each other and be there for each other, however little we may feel like it at the time. Because God made us that way.

The obvious counter to this claim of mine is that God did all of this because it’s “for His glory.” Yes, that’s partly true. But I think it’s only a small part of the truth–an infinite truth definitely, but proportionately a small part of that infinity. Telling those who are struggling “God is all you need” doesn’t help if they desperately need someone to be there physically for them. It is easy enough to cry out to God, but it is sometimes hard to hear His response, and sometimes He chooses not to respond directly at all, instead leaving it up to time or to people to give us His answer. God didn’t have to make mankind into two (Adam and Eve) to multiply and occupy the whole earth. He didn’t have to let us choose the Fall and start a process of redemption that would lead to the death (and resurrection) of God Himself. God never has to do any of the complex guiding and interventions that He does in our lives. He would be infinitely glorified just from the creation of perfect Adam into perfect Earth unbared to evil and destruction. Saying that “God’s doing it for His glory” when people are undergoing trials isn’t glorifying God if we don’t follow the example He set and step in to aid each other.

So next time you feel like saying, “Just let go and let God,” or “God is all you need,” to someone who is struggling inside, stop and think. Is it really what he or she needs to hear right now? Or is what needs to be said the words “Let me fight this alongside you–let me help you deal with this”? Don’t just offer a Christian-flavored platitude and walk away. Be willing to offer yourself wholly for the crusade that God is calling each and every one of us to fight in–and be ready to leap into someone’s struggles and to get your spiritual hands bloodied fighting Satan in the name of Almighty God.