Friday, June 5, 2015

a journey to joy

“My frustrations have turned to anger, which has turned to despair. 
I’ve never been depressed, but I think this is what it probably feels like.”
-Journal entry, March 25th, 2014

Those words were written with shaky hands and a torn down spirit. To put things plainly, 2014 was an incredibly hard year for me. And after much prayer and reflection, I believe it’s time to share this journey. We often view others lives’ through a false pretext, looking on through rose tinted glasses. Everything appears better than it is. Fake Instagram filters and 140 character tweets depicting happy snippets often build up this false ideal. I worry for our cultures’ sense of reality, honesty and authenticity. If I can do my part to pull back the curtain to reveal my struggles, maybe others could do the same.

It wasn’t one big thing that made last year so difficult. Not one giant catastrophe that left me disoriented and broken. Just lots and lots of little things. Little things that chipped away, and morphed me into someone almost unrecognizable. I felt like I had lost myself. Someone viewing my life from a distance would have never known what I was dealing with. Social media accounts showed our new life in an exotic location, beautiful sunsets, and fun nights exploring our city. Those things were real, but only showed the surface of my life. To see the whole picture, you must always dig deeper.

Under the surface I was fighting many battles. I struggled with being in a new place, and trying to figure out where I fit. Meeting new people and making fast friends does not come easily to me, and I often felt alone and misunderstood. There was culture shock, and homesickness, and just feeling like a clueless outsider. And these things were just the beginning. 

While settling into our new home and environment, I suddenly had several health issues spring up out of nowhere. And again, I didn’t have some severe illness; it was just a lot of little things going on with my body that I didn’t understand. I began to have issues with my hair, skin, hormone levels, menstrual  cycle, and so on, not to mention mood swings and severe fatigue. It seemed like my body had pitted itself against me for no apparent reason. I felt vain for being so upset about seemingly 'small' physical changes. However, if your hair falling out in clumps it usually points to a bigger problem.

These physical issues had a direct effect on my emotions, and left me seeking solitude 99% of the time. I remember being so glad most days that the only people I had to interact were my husband and the two young boys I nanny. I thought of any excuse to get out of social situations. And when I was forced to go out, every new person immediately intimidated me. They all seemed to have their lives together. With a career, or a family, or at least a plan. I had no plan. I still talk about becoming an adult one day, maybe 10 years from now. I felt like the kid showing up to the school science fair having never finished my project. Everyone's like, “Where's your poster? Where are your graphs?!” And I’m like, “What is science?” A balding, pimply, grumpy kid with no photosynthesis poster. That was me.

Poor Lindsey. Poor, poor Lindsey. What a sad, pathetic, downright awful situation I was in. I threw myself a pity party everyday for the better part of 4 months. I was the only person invited, and the party usually took place when I refused to get out of bed until I had to go to work every weekday at 2 in the afternoon. That’s a long ass party for one miserable person.

It wasn’t pretty; but this was my reality.  I began to shut down emotionally. I had gone through a difficult season of losing close friends when we moved so far away. It’s hard to invest in relationships when you have 10,000 miles and an ocean in-between you. I get that. But it still stung. More bits of me chipped away. I didn’t feel worthy of people’s time or attention. And because of that, I didn’t want to open myself up to the possibility of friendships where we were. I was in an incredibly vulnerable place, where it was easier to hide in my shell and tell everyone I was fine.

I counted down the days until we would return home for the summer of 2014. Everything would be better when we got back to America. I could sort all of this out, get healthy, spend time with my sisters and my friends. Life would be good again. But my wounds were deep, and a simple fix of girl time and taking my vitamins was not the answer.

Coming home last summer was almost more difficult than being away. I half expected everyone to drop everything the minute I stepped off the plane. This shows how delusional and selfish I had become. I did spend time with friends, but some relationships had become too distant, and being close geographically was not enough to repair the strain. I made the mistake of not working a steady job during the summer, rather taking small jobs here and there and enrolling in a summer class. This gave me a lot of flexibility with my schedule, but with Kevin travelling it also left me with a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts.

Some people reading this may be confused. You may have spent time with me last year and thought I seemed fine. And in reality, I had some really good days. We did fun things with friends, travelled to new places, and made great memories. But as a whole, something was amiss. I was not happy deep in my spirit. There was a dark cloud looming, and just as one storm would pass another would appear on the horizon.

But this is a story of redemption, and the clouds seemed to break for good last September just as we were getting ready to head back to New Zealand. I was turning 24, and birthdays are always a good time to reevaluate your life. Kevin threw me an awesome party with my closest friends. We ate and talked and danced late into the night. I made a decision that my 24th year of life would be better. I chose to live with happiness in my heart. I closed the book on the past year or so, and turned my attention to the future.

My 24th birthday party
The friendships that were beyond repair were left in the past. I visited doctors and started taking better care of myself. I let go of trying to control the situations I found myself in. It felt like I had been holding my breath for the past year and finally let it all out in one giant exhale.  I cried for what I felt was lost time. All those days spent in bed, wallowing over things I couldn’t change. But God’s grace washed over those days and weeks and months. He redeemed even the darkest hours.He gave me a new sense of purpose. He revealed goals to work toward, and new dreams to dream. Instead of just making laps in a pool, He took me to the ocean and let me to swim. 

I'd like to emphasize the fact that this was a conscious decision I made; the decision to live in joy and not sorrow. We as humans cannot control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react. For 9 months it felt like I was in a boxing ring, and life was slamming me with blow after blow. My reaction was to lie in fetal position on the corner of the mat, just waiting for it to be over. It wasn't until I made the decision to stand up and do something that I became a participant in my own life again.

Near the end of September 2014, I was afraid to go back to New Zealand. I was afraid it would be too hard. Afraid that the monsters would come back to haunt me, rob me of this peace. But it worked out that my younger sister, Erica Joy, flew back with us to stay for a while. She was my Joy during that 4-week transitional phase from old home to new home. She helped usher my newfound happiness back into the environment that had been so harsh to my soul the previous year. She got me reacquainted and readjusted sooner than I thought possible. Then, I was afraid for her to leave! But when I put her on the plane back to America the only thing I felt was thankfulness. I had been given just what I needed.

Joy is a daily decision. Of course there have been hard days since last September. Some days where it would have been easier to throw myself another pity party. But I’ve found that it takes an enormous amount of energy to be sad and angry, and far less to be content. Carrying around disappointments is a full time job, and leaves little room for the joy and happiness that we need to thrive.

These first 5 months of 2015 have been so drastically different from last year. Our time in New Zealand was so good that I ended up staying longer, not feeling the need to rush home to America. How strange to feel at home half a world away. But I can tell you with great satisfaction that it is not where you are that matters, but rather how you choose to respond to whatever situation you find yourself in.  I have chosen to work, to write, to travel, and to enjoy this time spent at home with those closest to me. Some situations I cannot change; Kevin still travels, some friends are still not around, and some days I wake up in a panic because my science fair project isn’t ready! But GUESS WHAT? Life isn’t a science fair project, it is a journey. And the sun is shinning on my road.

  You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
Psalm 30:11-12

1 comment:

  1. Lindsey, thanks for sharing. God has blessed you with such an amazing writing talent. I am in awe of your writing ability! Me and my kids are lucky to have you in our lives!