Monday, March 20, 2017

Still Struggling (And Why I Am Gardening This Year)

Still Struggling
            I am not sure what’s going on.  But anxiety and depression are still trying to weasel their way back into my life.  I’m always ready to cry.  I can’t read the news because the terrible stories make me feel hopeless about the human race.  I can easily get worked up into a panicky mess when I think about all that is wrong with life or all that could go wrong.  I wake up many days feeling bothered by things, by life, like there is something that I should be upset about but I can’t really figure out what it is. 
            And I’m not sure what to do about it or how to fix it. 
            I pray and read my Bible and read my encouraging Christian books.  And honestly, things are going okay in life, so it’s not like I have some major tragedy breathing down my neck (Thank God!).  But it’s more like a phantom fear that hangs over me every day.  The feeling that things are not what they’re supposed to be.  And how do you fight a phantom fear? 

            I don’t know.

            I’m gonna guess that some of this has to do with not really talking about what the last year or two has done to me, how much it wrecked me and ruined my desire to enjoy life.  And I still struggle because I can’t talk about it yet.  That’s cryptic, I know, but I can’t really open up about it yet for certain reasons.  And I guess I really want to be able to talk it all out.  But since I can’t, it creates this unresolved tension.  And I feel it every day.
            Plus, I still ache from having my oldest friend (my only friend at the time) stop calling me after I stepped in to try to support her crumbling marriage.  There are no bad feelings between us, but she stopped calling because she thought she had been complaining to me too much about it all.  But I never thought that.  And I really was trying to help by saying the hard things that needed to get said.  But as a result, I lost a friendship that I desperately needed.  And I’ve never really recovered from that loss.
            I think losing that friendship caused me to reevaluate so many other relationships in the past and to see them in a new light.  These were times in the past when people just didn’t seem to get me or my way of doing things or when I seemed to be the odd person out.  But I just figured that other people didn’t understand or that I was being treated unfairly or that the problem was with other people.  And then there were times when it seemed like I fit in perfectly and like I was intelligent and helpful and that everyone appreciated it.  I was confident that I was doing okay and that I had a place in this world, with others.
            But reevaluating all these moments against the backdrop of “You’re such a loser that even your closest, oldest friend would abandon you” made me begin to see that maybe it wasn’t everyone else.  Maybe it really was me all along.  Maybe I was never more than some pathetic joke, no matter how helpful or intelligent I thought I was.
            Maybe I am always the misfit.  The screw-up.  Maybe I’m not worth sticking with, unless it’s for pity’s sake.  I have nothing to really offer a friend.  I mean, I used to think that I was good with words and that I had insight and wisdom and could encourage others.  I used to think that I was a valuable friend to have.  But when my oldest friend could walk away from me that easily and when dozens of people that I shared my blog with won’t read it then I have to conclude that I’m not who I thought I was. 

            My self-view had been shaken up terribly bad and I have been going through a huge identity crisis. 
            And it’s making me pull back even more from people.  When you feel like you have nothing to offer . . . when you begin to realize that you might not have been as wise, inspirational, insightful, or helpful as you thought you were . . . when you begin to apply “you were such a joke and you didn’t even know it, no wonder people don’t value or respect you or stick with you” to all of the moments in your past, it really does make you want to pull back from everyone now.
            I mean, what if all the things that I think sound helpful and wise really do sound like idiotic gibberish to others?  (Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy, right?  They think that what they’re saying sounds completely logical and wise.) 
            Or what if I come across as a smug “know-it-all” who always thinks that I have the answers and that everyone should listen to me?  I can’t stand those kinds of people.  But what if that’s me?  I mean, the very fact that I keep writing stuff – even though no one reads it – shows a level of self-absorption and self-glorification, as though I continue to think that the things I say are worth listening to.    
            What if - when I am talking to others and think I am being helpful or intelligent or encouraging - others are just looking at me with smiles of pity and thinking, “We’ll just wait for her to shut up . . . and then we’ll go back to talking to those who really matter”? 

            This whole “self-reevaluation” thing has led me to not want to talk to people anymore.  It’s hard to talk to people now.  When I talk too long or share things about myself or talk too confidently, all I can think is, Shut up.  Shut up now.  They don’t care.  You’re making a fool of yourself! 
            And yet, not talking is pathetic, too.  So what do I do?
            I don’t know how to fix this kind of broken self-view.  (Or maybe it’s that I don’t know how to adjust to this accurate self-view.)  I don’t know how to enjoy people or friendships anymore.  I try to make sure to keep the focus on others, to meet their needs, to let them talk about themselves because . . . who really wants to hear what I have to say anyway!?!  It’s hard to feel like you deserve to be listened to or cared about when you feel this way inside. 

            I was brought to tears the other day reading a line in The Dusty Ones by A.J. Swoboda.  He said something about how everyone has a deep need to be touched.  It made me almost begin crying because I thought “That’s what it is!”  That’s what’s been so off in my life lately.  I have been aching to be touched.  Not physically, but relationally.  I have been aching to have people really see me, to reach out and touch my heart, to let me reach out and touch them.  To really connect with others.  To be seen and known, even with all the messes in my heart and life.  And to be loved and valued anyway.  To know that I matter, that I am not some off-the-wall loony who should be living all alone in a cabin in the woods on some mountain, carrying around a shotgun and yelling at others to get off my property. 
            [When your own father never really cared to know you or knew you enough to care about you, it’s hard to feel like others should have to.  And incidentally, he lived all alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere.  (But he wasn’t a loony.  He was a nice, quiet, gentle man.)  And other than his neighbor and his other daughter who had flown in to be with him just before he died a couple years ago, there was no one else there with him when he died and was buried in a handmade coffin on his own property.  No goodbyes, no funeral, no nothing.  And sadly enough, I never cried.  Because we never really knew each other.]

            Anyway, I am not sure where to go with all this or what to do about it.  I just know that all I can do is wake up every day and say “I need You, Lord.  Please, help me.”  In all of this, the thing I have learned the most is that I am broken.  And that it’s okay to be broken.  And that I am in desperate need of God’s presence and care and grace.  And I guess that’s a pretty good lesson to learn! 

            I’m gonna be okay.  I know it.

Why I Am Gardening This Year!
            I included the above post (which I wrote for my other blog) because it gives a backdrop for how I am feeling as I go into this gardening year.  I used to love gardening, although I didn’t get much time to enjoy it before the forces joined together to try to destroy my joy in it. 
            After we went from renting to owning (we rented for 11 years before buying our first house), I only had a couple years of joy-filled gardening before things started to get really bad in life, as seen in the above post.  There were family problems, financial problems, house problems, friend problems, etc.  And I guess I made the garden my fortress of solitude, my cozy place.  If I couldn’t find delight in anything else, I knew I could find it in the garden.  Being among the plants, in the fresh air, always refreshed my soul.  For me, it was the best place to worship God, to feel His presence and peace and joy.
            But within a few years of moving into this place – within just a few years of starting my garden and being able to utilize 11-years of gardening research (I couldn’t garden while we rented, so I read) - the moldy smell coming from the neighbor’s garage began making it harder and harder to be out there. 
            For a couple years, I pleaded with God to make them do something about that garage because it was destroying my ability to enjoy the garden.  I contacted the owners and the city, several times.  We had just come from a moldy place that was making us sick.  And now, I had to deal with someone else’s mold, on top of all the other problems in my life.   
            But for a couple years in a row, no one would do anything about it.  And the smell got worse and worse.  And so I worked in the garden with tears in my eyes, feeling my joy and my “cozy place” slipping away.  It felt to me like God Himself was turning His back on me, letting my “safe place” be destroyed, like He was refusing to meet me there anymore.
            And then - during a storm in 2015, when I had already been struggling deeply with depression and hopelessness and with my closest friend not calling anymore and with a crumbling self-view and with feelings of not even wanting to have a garden anymore - a giant dead tree from the neighbor’s yard (the one with the moldy garage) fell on my garden.  During the height of summer.  It ruined everything but the tomatoes. 

            And it destroyed my heart. 
            It was “the nail in the coffin,” so to speak. 

            Why did I even bother trying to enjoy life anymore, trying to have something to delight in, like a garden?  Why did I feel like I deserved to have something that made me happy?  Why does it seem like everything I enjoy gets destroyed?  And I ask for so little. 
            And then this last summer, things got worse.  It has been the hardest year so far.  There were more family problems (serious ones!), more depression, more loneliness, more mold smell (and no efforts to clean up the place), more house problems, and . . . something new . . . excessive anxiety and a panic attack.
            Yeah!  Great fun!

            But still, I gardened.  But I gardened with no sense of hope, no joy (other than enjoying the fact that I was letting my neighbor use some space in our garden for her to grow things), no energy, and no desire to want things to be better or to be enjoyable.  I just wanted to be left alone with my pain.  I wanted to check-out emotionally and retreat from life and to never enjoy anything ever again. 
            I had to force myself to even go out to the garden.  And every time I did, I had tears in my eyes and my earbuds on, always listening to my favorite band, The City Harmonic.  I needed them.  I needed their hope-filled words to be my prayers because I couldn’t pray anymore.  I needed their songs to be my songs, because I couldn’t sing anymore.   
            I’m just so tired of trying and wanting and hoping.  And I just want to be left alone.  And I want to be okay with a broken heart and broken dreams.  It hurts to want more than that.  To have daydreams and to try to enjoy things.  Things that will inevitable get ruined. 

            Don’t get me wrong . . . I have a wonderful husband and children.  And we are healthy and we have a roof over our heads and food on our plates.  Those are incredible blessings.  And I never take them for granted.
            It’s just that sometimes I ache for those other things: the deep friendships I used to have, family gatherings with those I grew up with, a father to care about me (my biological father basically had nothing to do with me, and then there was step-dad #1, #2, and now #3), a mother who didn't almost die from sepsis last summer (she's okay now, but it was rough for awhile), the feeling like life is full of delight and joy and goodness and possibilities, feeling like I have something to offer people and like I am not just a joke, feeling that “soul-filling, heart-warming” joy that I used to feel when I gardened (instead of feeling like I don’t deserve to enjoy things and that I shouldn’t enjoy things because the things I enjoy will always go bad, just because they made me happy). 
            There have just been too many heart-breaks at once.  Even my own brain has turned on me, with the panic attack and all.

            That’s what I am struggling with right now, as I look at the upcoming gardening season and realize that I don’t enjoy it like I used to.       
            But I really want to enjoy it.  I want to meet God in the garden again, to worship Him and to feel His peace and presence there.  I want to enjoy life again.  I just don’t know how to anymore. 
            But I’m going to try.  My resolution for this year is nothing more than this:  Start to want to live again.  And I know that means living with some major disappointments, from family problems to loneliness to disappointment to a moldy garage.   
            This past winter, thankfully, has been better than the couple of years before it.  And I have been able to find my voice again, to sing along with my favorite songs, to even want to sing along instead of just shutting the world out and curling up into a joyless, lifeless, withering ball of human flesh.  And I am hoping that feeling like singing again is a sign that I’ll feel like gardening again, and maybe that will be a sign that I feel like trying to enjoy life again.

            And I guess that’s why I am going to garden this year.  Not because I want to, but because I need to.  Not because I think it will be enjoyable, but because I need to show Life that it hasn’t beaten me down all the way.  This year, gardening will be my way of raising my defiant fist up in the air, showing Life and myself that I haven’t completely given up yet.  That there’s still a little fight left in me, even in the midst of discouragement.
            I need to plant things for the sake of planting them, even if I knew that a storm would destroy them the next day.  I need to be here-and-now, in the present, dedicated to the moment, tending to the task – to the plant, the child, the chore, or whatever – that is right in front of me, without any concern for what may come tomorrow.  Because this moment is all we really have. 
            I need to learn to dance in the rain, instead of waiting for the storm to pass.  (This comes from a saying I have hanging on my wall.  I love it!) 
            I’m not going to garden this year for the harvest or for success or even for my own delight.  I’m going to garden this year because I have to.  I have to show myself that I am still alive and kicking, that there is still life to be lived and that I can choose to engage in it, regardless of yesterday’s trials and tomorrow’s fears.  I am going to garden out of thankfulness that I have one more day to be alive and to do something creative. 

            There will always be new problems and new heartaches.  And we usually can’t decide which trials and heartaches we encounter in life.  But we can decide whether we will give up and curl into a ball in the corner . . . or if we will keep trying, even when things go wrong and the obstacles are many. 
            Life might be able to take away the things that bring you joy, but it can’t take away your decision to keep singing anyway. 

            This year, gardening is going to be my song. 
            And I am going to sing simply for the sake of singing. 

            If you can keep singing, regardless of what life hands you, then you know you’re going to be okay.  

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