Marriage has been hard for me.
Let's open up those flood gates. I feel like people always want to talk about how the first year of marriage is "hard," but they never explain why.
Here's why, for me: I wish I was better, mostly for my husband. And as that desire has taken its roots in my heart, I have put unneeded amounts of pressure on myself to try harder and be better all the time.
My late night cries of "God, I wish You'd make me better" have come a little more frequently now that someone who I love has to battle my illness day in and day out.
Mental illness is difficult for those who have it, of course, but it's also exhausting. I don't know that we describe it as tiring enough. When you share your life with someone, I think it's easy to throw yourself down a rabbit hole of “is this exhausting for them too? Am I exhausting?”
Recently, as I work through those feelings, I've found Christ holding me softly, in response to my accusations.
When I pray "why are You not a healer for me?" I'm reminded of how far I have come in grappling with cyclothymia—that I can even name it.
Cyclothymia is a milder version and sometimes precursor to bipolar disorder.
I think it sounds more intimidating than it is: I simply cycle. I have weeks where I'm depressive. I can't get out of bed on my off days. It takes all my energy to complete one thing on a long running to-do list. I'm irritable. I stay home. I get anxious. I have a panic attack.
And I have weeks where I'm more manic. I make plans. I get everything-and-then-some done. I pick up a hobby again. I want to spend money. I obsess over how I look. I throw a party. I talk a mile a minute. My heart races. I'm up all night.
That's a reader's digest version of my illness now, medicated.
I think the problem with thinking this way—guilting yourself for imperfections and praying to get better—lies in our definition of "healing," versus what it really looks like. I don't believe, just because you and I haven't woken up "normal" one morning, that Jesus hasn't been there with us and for us the entire time.
I find the presence of Jesus in my psychiatrist office, when she explains what I'm experiencing in terms that make sense of it. Like the steady, reliable calm of Christ on a boat in a storm, I find peace in knowing someone is not overwhelmed or surprised by what seems unsurmountable to me.
I see Jesus in my family and friends when they're understanding. Whether I can't make it to an event or I can't host because I need a different pace to my day, the people who respect my needs and forgive my inabilities show me the patience of Christ. They help me prioritize sound-mind and rest the way He does.
I've had to be vulnerable and honest when reaching out for help or sharing about ways I've struggled, but I have been equally met by helping hands, medicine that stabilizes, and "me too"s from a community that makes me feel less alone.
Better yet, I've been the recipient of occasional messages that read something along the lines of “I didn't know who to turn to, and then I remembered you.”
I think the best way to look at my life is back. I always see faithfulness there. It's why I love telling stories so much. Jesus shows up in every one.
Everything I have been through has equipped me to be a needed confidant to someone else. I'm able to connect, sometimes in ways not everyone understands, and I wouldn't trade those conversations and relationships for anything.
I'd rather be what God wants me to be, and I think that's a hard lesson to learn, for those with mental illness, but for everyone else too. So I think sometimes healing happens slower than we would wish, but we learn more from it.
My pastor taught last week that "holy" in the Bible has two meanings; "set apart for a purpose" and "not for common use.”
I hope you start seeing your pain through this lens: You are holy.
I still pray to get better, but maybe, to Jesus, softer is better. Hurting for others is better. Feeling it all makes me better. Maybe I'm getting better all the time.
Healing does not mean that I am less sensitive or that I cry less often or that I have gained control of every thought and emotion. Healing means I am honest, learning to love, and helping others. Healing means when I look at far I've come, I'm proud because I know I got myself here. It means I am growing while accepting that I have always been whole and recognizing that I am enough, as is—as made. And healing means learning that I am not hard to love.
You are not hard to love.
Laura Ulrich lives in Atlanta with her husband Scott. She likes cats and coffee, empowering women, and writing. She is learning to be a good listener.
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