This year, my birthday fell on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, and it's hard not to feel like it's some kind of cosmic wink. The past few years, I've felt like I've been living right in between death and new life — teased in both directions with the promise of finality, but never given the full comforts of either. On the one hand, I've been terribly sick and unable to do many of the things I thought I'd be doing at age 26. I've almost died and felt like dying. While I do still want God to heal my body, the level of dependence in Him I've experienced in my illness has opened the door for a healing I didn't know I needed: healing for my heart.
In February/March of last year, I was the sickest I've ever been. I lost 10, then 20, then 35 pounds within three weeks, running 104 degree fevers and was quite literally dying. Finally, my mom called me and told me she was coming to pick me up, and she was taking me to the hospital. PERIOD. After weeks of trying every holistic remedy known to man, I went into the hospital pumped to get on IV steroids and steady doses of morphine.
For months after my release, all of my thoughts revolved around dying, how I wished I was dead and how I felt dead already anyway. I'd resigned myself to the notion that my life would be filled with a lot of pain and little joy. It seemed to me like every moment of beauty came at some great cost, and they weren't in equal measure. It didn't seem like a life worth living. I wanted to take it to the store and exchange it for something more fun, or demand a refund and an apology for a defective product, but the defective product was me.
During my time pre-hospital and a couple months into my recovery, my mental state was so bad that when I could sleep, I had trouble deciphering dreams from reality. I'd wake up in my room or on the couch, but my mind was still stuck in my dreams. I had dreams of the desert and of children coming up to me and grabbing my hand to pull me away or giving me presents. Where were they trying to pull me? What were they giving me? All I remember was waking up crying because I couldn't go with them, but I didn't know why not.
I read and re-read the story of the Woman with the Issue of Blood over and over during these months, thinking if I could just touch his robe. And I blamed myself for my disease, and I blamed myself for not healing. I hated my body for it, and I hated my mind for being trapped in my defective body.
Healing really began for me when I admitted through fear and tears that I was suicidal and had been for about a year. I've struggled with depression my whole life, but this was a whole other monster. I was scared of myself and what I would do if I didn't get help, so I turned to people I trusted and asked through tears if they could please help me. I truly believe that confession changed the trajectory of my life. I had no idea how deep and binding the chains of my depression were. And while there was immediate relief in that confession alone, there was also the realization that I had a lot of work to do.
I've been in therapy for about 4 months now, which really isn't that much time, but it is without a doubt the best thing I've ever done. Along with the support and input of trusted friends and family, as well as other tools for self-awareness and personal growth like the Enneagram, and forming healthy habits like daily prayer and meditation, I've experienced more growth in the past year than I ever have in my life. And while I can't (and will never) say that I'm grateful for my disease, I can find the good in the bad: I'm much more compassionate than I was before, I'm softer than I was before, more concerned with other people, and I see the world in a more nuanced way than people who haven't had to take on something like this. It's been more painful, sure, but I can be grateful for those gifts.
So approaching year 26 was quite different than how I felt approaching 25. My sense of dread is replaced with a peace that I can't explain other than telling you, I worry about this day and maybe as far as next week, which is a big improvement from the Caley who constantly worried about this day, the next day, as well as the next 20 years — to the extent of having regular panic attacks (don't get me wrong, those still happen, but less frequently). My disdain for living has been replaced with a longing to do the best that I can with what I have. And my faith that turned and blamed me for not being healed is so much more inclusive and expansive than it was before and not about me at all when it comes down to it. It allows for more pain, and therefore more joy and beauty.
At least on my best days. Because with mental health, there are good days and bad days (or maybe INCREDIBLE, A+ days and EXTREMELY HORRIBLE, NO GOOD days if you're swinging in the high-lows). And the depression and anxiety never fully go away, but I'm more aware of them now so I can at least try to slow things down before they get worse, and that makes a huge difference.
My 26th birthday was filled with laughter — I laughed harder than I remember laughing since college. I made a ridiculous dance up with my sister and bruised my knee trying to do the worm. I scream-sang the wrong song lyrics with one of my closest friends driving around aimlessly, and we laughed about how wrong they were. I felt grateful for the things I have and didn't really think about the bad stuff for awhile. I have a beautiful nephew who is constantly reminding me of the small joys of the world with his "Oooo!"s and laughter at the tiniest things. I have an older sister (a 1 on the Enneagram) who shows me what it's like to let go of perfection and enjoy the present moments with us and especially with her son. A brother-in-law who is hilarious and hard-working and loves his wife and son so well. A little sister who is so chill you would never know how strong and courageous she is from the outside. A mom who has sacrificed more for me than I knew possible and probably more than I will ever know. A dad who's love is quiet, but fierce. He signs his emails "yours to count on," not even realizing how true that is — of him more than anyone I know.
So here's to 26! I feel about 85, but that's alright.
This year, I hope.
And just being able to say that is the greatest gift.