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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Darkness & Light

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In an unprecedented move, I am going to take keystrokes to blogspace twice in one day. Fairly soon after completing my previous post, I had a conversation with a friend about why some of us fall into depression and despair over the fallen state of the world, even though there are many of people working to set the world to rights. During our conversation, we discussed the idea of stars in the night sky. How for many people, the light of the stars is not overcome by the darkness of the night sky and, in fact, makes the night beautiful. Yet for some, the darkness drowns out the pinpoints of light, rendering to us a world draped in ominous shadows and oppressive darkness.

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The thing is, people like me want to see positive progress in the world. But it’s easy for us to look and see the darkness like a massive swamp, sucking all of the moments of light into its murky depths. We know there’s light out there, but it seems so small and weak compared to the darkness. We long for the victory of light, but the power of darkness drives us to despair of that victory. We become discouraged. We lose hope. Some of us keep ploughing on out of a sense of duty, or because we’re afraid of the effect we’ll have on those around us if we give up on everything. And some of do give up and lose hope completely. It’s all too easy to be pushed dangerously close to that breaking point.

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Soon after the conversation with my friend, I happened across a picture online that contained a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In it, Samwise Gamgee tries to encourage Frodo Baggins thus:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

This is a quote that I keep returning to, because of how often I need it as a reminder. For me, the darkness both inside and out often threatens to extinguish the light. I often am left holding on to the weakest of sparks, trying my best not to let it go out. At times like those, it’s hard to be reassured that the dawn is coming. It’s hard to keep pushing forward in the hopes that the adventure will end in victory and not in defeat and death.

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I am more fortunate than many, though. For us, it is not enough to be told to hope. Hope is nigh impossible for those of us who doubt the strength of the light. It is not enough to be told to hang onto the light. Sometimes we’re afraid to even admit that our light is almost gone. We long for company, for support, for help in replenishing our fire, yet we cannot bear to ask for that assistance. And I think that is something that those who have not faced our doubts sometimes struggle to understand. It is not enough to answer our questions as you would want them to be answered. We often seek for a deeper assurance, a more compelling reason to have confidence, than most do. We are searching for the strength to stand in the dark, and it does not come easily.

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.

Depression and the Scariness of Suppressed Emotions

Tonight I played a new FTP (free-to-play) game that I downloaded from Steam based on a Facebook friend recommending it. It’s not a happy game, nor is it meant to be entertaining.

It’s a “game” (more properly, an “interactive fiction”) that tells the story of someone struggling with depression. According to the game, the social decisions I made that seemed most natural to me would take me through “depression,” “deep depression,” and “very deep depression.”

More importantly, though, the game (called Depression Quest) once again reminded me of some things about myself that I find it all to easy to forget: how quick I am to try to hide my own struggles from friends, how slow and reluctant I am to open up and be honest even to myself, and how much I’m pulling myself down by deliberately marginalizing those problems.

Yesterday also provided another shock for me. I finally had a much-needed conversation with a very close friend over some personal issues. What scared me was that I found myself trembling from emotions that I had repressed and kept pent up for over 4 months without completely realizing it. Not bouncing or wiggling from emotion. Full on trembling and shaking that was accompanied by a very real sense of the blood pounding in my head and unintended tears streaming down my face. I have never had my emotions manifest themselves in that way. I have cried from despair and sadness before, but the rage, bitterness, and loneliness I had been subconsciously bottling up for a long time was new. Looking back, I’m still amazed that I did not experience anything worse than some higher-than-usual blood pressure and a bit of light-headedness during that time, seeing as I was releasing some pretty powerful emotions.

The lesson I was given there was that I need to learn to be more open about my struggles. I’m sure most of you have heard me say similar things multiple times before. But I think the last couple days have really opened my eyes to the effect that such concealment has on me both physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Emotionally, I am deeply scarring myself by trying to suppress feelings that need to be let out, purged, and washed away. Spiritually, I am barring myself from the healing that God can give me through honesty and friends’ ministries to me. Socially, I am isolating myself by being hermetic and secretive, rather than straightforward and open. And physically, I am completely stressing myself out, quite probably leading to some of the health issues I’ve been dealing with lately.

Do I think I’m dealing with depression? Honestly, I don’t. A lot of the descriptions of the way that the “depressed me” in the game would think, act, and speak matched me closely, but I don’t feel it was enough to give me reason to think I am depressed. I do, however, know that I definitely need help, and that I need to start letting myself be open and vulnerable. And that’s hard for me, for a couple reasons.

First, some of the things I’ve dealt with/am dealing with are hard for me to talk to others about due to the very nature of those issues. Things that, from my point of view, could fundamentally change how my friends relate to me and interact with me, and I’ve (up till now, at least) been afraid of rocking the boat of my many tenuous connections with others. At this point, though, as my friend told me, those people in my close friends group are beginning to regroup after having been scattered to the four winds this summer, and a lot of dynamics between friends will be up for improvement–or destruction, as the case may be.

Second, I have almost a phobia towards the possibility of becoming a major burden on my friends. So many of them have been dealing with a lot themselves recently, and as a result I feel reluctant to do what essentially I see as saying, “Hey there! You’ve been carrying a lot that you won’t let me/that I can’t help you with, so here’s more to carry!” The thought of becoming a burden, an annoyance, etc. has scared me off way too often from mentioning things that really are affecting me, instead typically causing me to deflect the conversation with a simple “I’m fine” followed by a complete change of topic.

I’m sure both of these things will sound foolish to most of you (and I can probably name those of my friends who would probably be struggling to keep from laughing deprecatingly at me at this point). To be honest, it is a case of heart vs. head. I know the logic (both ethical and moral) of the situation, but I cannot help acting as my heart directs me. Just like yesterday, in my talk with my friend–I explained to him that I knew I shouldn’t be feeling those ways, but yet I did and my head had no control over my heart on that issue. Please just be patient with me and understand that I still in many ways do not truly know myself, and have struggled in the past with letting myself become open to external scrutiny. I have a lot to work through, and it’ll take a while for me to get it all out.