We’re officially in the second half of the year and I can’t even begin to explain what a journey it has been. To be honest, I don’t want to get into the details of it (I’ll spare you), but if I were to summarize it, I’d say it’s been a year of self-discovery, and I mean this with all the depth that my being can truly amass. This year has been one I have discovered things about myself AND either made peace with their existence or worked at changing them because they were ugly traits and I really don’t live life carrying all that negativity around. In the midst of all this learning and unlearning, the one thing that I had to come to terms with was letting go while giving myself the grace to evolve and forgive myself for not having become what my younger self thought was the best version of me. It sucks to admit it sometimes, but she really didn’t know better, and she certainly didn’t know everything.
You see, I figured I was carrying around all this weight. Most of my anxiety stemmed from fear of the things I wasn’t. I didn’t become a doctor. I didn’t become a lawyer. I didn’t become a model or fashion designer. I didn’t become a singer/rapper nor did I become a portrait artist. Part of my not becoming any of these things was because, at one point in my life, when I had chosen a path for myself, I decided most of the things I loved no longer had room in my future and so I let go. That might have been a mistake, but this year has taught me that I need not live in the shadow of regrets of the decisions I’d made and the woman I never allowed myself to be. I can always pick what I can up, and leave what ought to be dead, to actually rest in peace – literally. In that same light, I learnt to let go of people. You see, friendships barely come easy for me. I like to keep to myself and in moments I try to give it a shot my brain somehow decides it’s time to slow down all processing functions till I can’t come up with logical answers. I’m either absolutely shy, awkward or downright disinterested. I hold on to people I genuinely like because life has taught me that meeting people I really click with is rare; a gift to some extent. I feel deeply when a friendship frizzles out, and I’m the type to try and resuscitate even what clearly shows that it has no will to live. Inasmuch as I do not want to suppress the part of me that loves to fight for things and people, I also want to learn and accept that not every person I encounter is meant to do life with me in the way that I may envision life for us to be. I want to learn that not every relationship is meant to serve me in ways that I imagine they would, and that though letting go may hurt, I still have been served, and it is purely my choice to deem whether or not I eat from the table laid before me – be it of heartbreak, joy, bitterness, or happiness. And this year I chose happiness. I chose “I’m so glad I met you because you showed me this side of myself.” I chose “It’s been swell but please stay out from now henceforth”. I chose happiness, not because the art of letting things be and letting go gave me happy options, but because I learnt that happy was not an emotion that I could leave in the hands of life, because life can be cruel sometimes.
Life can tell you the truth about yourself, and though it may be a hard pill to swallow, it is in the swallowing that we heal and get better. The first half of this year showed me the ugly sides to myself. Horrid things, those sides *shudders*. But I decided to allow myself the gift of being better by seeing what was ugly about me and turning it into a masterpiece. I learnt to let go of words that I’d used to define myself by simply because they were things I didn’t want to be associated with anymore. I didn’t want to be wifey material. I didn’t want to be lazy. I didn’t want to be sweet. Or nice. Or accommodating. I wanted no mingling with descriptions that served as a reminder of how I had suffocated myself to accommodate another. I let go of “Gemini’s are social butterflies” because I really wasn’t one. I let go of “You’re nice” because I was anything but, and anyone who used that describe me clearly didn’t know me well. I let go of “You’re so hardcore” because I had learnt to be ‘hardcore’ to protect myself from a world that taught me it would poke at my soft, inner parts. I let go, and I am letting go. As I allow my palms the freedom from the fists I had formed in a bid to hold on to ideologies, definitions and ghosts of and about myself, I walk freely into the paths that lead me to the woman I was always meant to become. I am becoming her, slowly, loudly, unapologetically.}
2020 is here and so is my anxiety. I started the year on a high note, lighting up fireworks with my brothers before retiring to my bedroom where I stared at the plans I’d written down for the year. Their magnitude dawned on me and for the first time I felt a heaviness on my shoulders that I hadn’t before. I took deep breaths and whispered, “God I don’t know how I’m going to achieve all of this. I don’t even have the finances to do it, but I have the audacity to dream because I know You aren’t limited by my circumstances. Here’s what I want. Help me.” I took another deep breath. My inhalations felt as though they were pushing back something heavy within me. By sunrise I felt all sorts of weak and powerless. My dreams had turned into a self-mockery; a reminder of why I shouldn’t even dream of dreaming.
Hello. My name is Thoko and I suffer from high functioning anxiety. My brain and imagination are my best friends on most days and on others, this is where they lead me. On days like this where people don’t feel solaceful, I am grateful to have the Bible. I landed on Ezekiel 37 this afternoon and broke down when I read verses 1-4.
You see, sometimes we are brought to our own valleys; a place where we come face to face with all the things we were meant to do or become but never did. It’s in this valley that God asks what seems to be a rhetorical question but really is one of faith; an embellishment of what Adam and Eve got when they ate the forbidden apple and hid; a question that is meant to guide us down a path of introspection where we make the connection of where we are and where we ought to be. “Do you think these bones can live?” Our response paves way for God’s command to bring to life what ceased to be alive. What moved me the most is that it is God Himself who brings us to the valley, walks in it with us and guides us through, wording us throughout the entire experience. I cannot begin to express how unraveling and calming that is for me.
I am aware of the fact that what I have is dry bones; dreams that I deeply desire to manifest and will need several miracles to achieve, but coupled with that awareness is that God is there. He is the One who makes a way in the wilderness, rivers in the deserts and the One who, in moments of my anxiety, asks me with the most tender and soft of voices, “Can these bones live?” and I say…yes. I confess my doubt and ask that He help my disbelief; that I have hope against all hope and faith against all faith. I pray that the truth of who He is silence every voice in my head that dares to question His might and ability. I believe He will do abundantly above all I could ever ask or think, according to the power that worketh in me.
I know that this is a choice I have to make. It is a declaration I need to speak to myself when the bones in my valley look very dry and I don’t seem to have a glimpse of the great army that God sees in them. It is that painful “Your will and not mine, Father” when deep down my will seems like the easier option. I don’t always believe what I say to myself, especially when it’s from the Bible and it speaks of a hope that I cannot relate to or envision, but I do believe in the power of the yes’s that I utter in rebellion to my enemies’ voice because they give God the permission to work. They wreak of a faith I wish to have, a battle I hope to win and a God I would love to have show up for me.
Will you utter rebellious yes’s this year? Will you dare greatly with a great faith in He who is greatness made manifest? Will you let Him breathe life into your dry bones? I know I will, and it is my hope that you do too.}
“I am tired of the fear that I can’t control this. I am tired of feeling like every next step’s hopeless. I am tired of being scared that what I build might break apart. I don’t wanna know the end all I want is a place to start” – Mike Shinoda
Let us paint a picture just for a while; the year is close to the end of 2010. I have picked up a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms that have some deep rooted issues I would rather save for another date (assuming, that is, you would want to find out about that). I am a teenage boy and no, I don’t look like the stereotypical “guy with unhealthy coping mechanisms”. I am a rather happy fellow – heck I didn’t even know I had unhealthy coping mechanisms but I digress. I am walking from a basketball game and I see a beautiful girl right in front of me. In my mind she is my next victim – I say the right words, do the right things, get her to bed then dump her like the rest of them. The universe had other plans, however, and when I got to her I fell in love and fell so hard I probably lost all sense of reason and understanding and got it back at the same time. The experience was surreal, inexplicable and life changing both in the literal and figurative sense of the word. Days passed and I was still stuck to this beautiful human being. Days became weeks and weeks turned into months and I slowly started dropping all my bad habits one at a time. For the first time in my life I got to experience what it feels like to have someone be the reason you try to become a better human being. I grew with this human from a boy to a young man and the next thing I knew, a year had passed. All my “trash” was in the past. In that new year we looked forward to new horizons, new hopes, new dreams, new desires and ways to keep alive the hearth that held our fire. Nine months into our second year I receive a phone call from my girlfriend’s brother. My girlfriend is in the hospital and it is bad. I panic. I do not want to fear for the worst but my mind is already there and the fear is real. I get to the hospital and it is not as her brother said. Oh no, it is worse. The doctors insist on keeping her in the hospital for a few more days to monitor the situation. My anxiety sky rockets. I am having panic attacks at night but I do a good job hiding it. Days pass and I continue visiting her until one day she starts talking as though she is leaving. I don’t want her to go anywhere. She takes a breath in, breathes out and the machine goes flat…
That picture is where it begun. The gust of air that blew my house of cards is where my disorders showed me that they didn’t come alone; they came with a friend and tools. These tools could increase my anxiety to levels I had never experienced in the form of a friend called depression. With depression came hormonal imbalances that gave me a very good dose of acne.
Fast forward, it’s now it’s 2013. I am dealing with unresolved grief, my acne is working overtime and I am in the most stressful place known to a young adult – university. For the most part my years at university were chalk full of turning my frown upside down, getting drunk to forget the pain and waking up on the right side of the wrong bed in different rooms at least three times a day and then doing it all over again and NEVER EVER CRYING, because that is what weak people do. In between all of that, I wanted the noise in my heart and my mind to just end. Life became a chore and that brought me to my “adventures” in suicide. You see, I attempted suicide three times. I only remember one attempt because it is the only time drugs weren’t involved but what I know is that, in all three attempts, it was always by some inexplicably bizarre series of events that I was saved/ survived. To recount the first time, I went up hiking alone with a rope in hand and hung myself. By some sense of fortune, an old man found me before my breath left me. I got an earful and he called me a lot of things. I am pretty sure if he had taken some time to find out the reasons behind my actions and let me open up emotionally, I wouldn’t have gotten to attempt number two or three. I found my defenses raised by his tone and I kept thinking “HE RUINED MY DEATH!!! He ruined my one chance to let it all end!”
In time, I found God and people who helped me through the path of processing my grief and emotions. I found out that emotional pain and grief are cruel mistresses that require you to feel them and since I was running away from them, I got tackled by them when I least expected it. Yep, it hurt…But you see, I have learnt that the pain doesn’t stop. It, instead, is like navigating the ocean. The storms never stop on those waters; we just get better at handling them and sailing through them. I found out that though grief is a lifelong companion and there are always better ways to handle it. I learnt that we can never truly tell whether or not someone is depressed and/or suicidal. I am pretty sure if I had ended my life on either of those occasions many of the people who knew me would say “But, he was a happy human.” What I have found out is it doesn’t hurt to seek help – to say I am a mess right now, help me. None of us is as strong as we appear. Our true strength is with and for each other. Life doesn’t get easier, it only gets better. You start seeing hope and beauty in things and you get a reason to wake up every day. The first and hardest step is OPENING UP. You have to be willing to take a knee and give someone you trust the sword that can kill you. That person can be your best friend, your parent, your “wise” companion, that guy that is always reaching out to you – allow yourself the peace that comes with trusting them with your emotional turmoil.
Writing this, I am grieving a friend who committed suicide just a few weeks ago and wishing I had gotten out of my head to sit down with him, watch the sunset with him and ask him if he was okay, if his life was going on alright and be vulnerable with him. I am wondering what it would be like if crying was not seen as a weak man’s thing.
You might not have had the same narrative as mine but I know that when you sit down sometimes, you are just tired of the fear, tired of feeling like the next step is hopeless or tired of being scared that what you build might break apart. I know that sometimes you want it to end or you don’t want to know the end. I know that sometimes all you want is just a place to start. Start with this. Get up and open your heart. Forget yourself for just a while and have that heart to heart…}
The word of God is seed. The first time these words landed in my ears I was very excited because I knew I had gotten my biggest revelation yet. However, as time went by and I had a couple of my plans delayed, this very quote that had me excited at first turned into a torture – a thorn in my flesh if you may.
You see, I was and still am very well aware of God’s word being made manifest the moment He speaks it. That is the first revelation we receive of Him in the Bible. However, I am also aware of God giving us hints into what the future holds for us. He plants tiny little seeds into us, and we hold on to that word for dear life because what could be more exciting than this thing that God promised to me, right? That was not the case for me. Actually, it isn’t the case for me as I type this. I do not want to pretend that I am in a great place now, though I know I will be by the time you get to read this post.
It was a hot afternoon in what I presume was the year 2018. I was cleaning around the house while talking to myself when God dropped this revelation from the famous Parable of the Sower. God’s word is a seed. Supposing that all factors are right – you have your Godly circle in place, your relationship with God is amazing, you’re able to hear from Him and you have all those other goodies that we know we should have if we are to claim to be living our best lives in Christ – you have what is called the fertile ground; the heart that is ready to receive what God has to say. Coupled with what God says is our ability to take care of what He says; to take care of His seed. This is where the nasty work begins. Most times, when God gives us seed, He gives us a word that cannot be made manifest by the kind of person we currently are. And so He gives us this word/seed, and we now have to do some digging. We need to find out what we have in our hearts or our ground that would make it hard or impossible for the word of God to grow, or in this case, be made manifest. After we do the digging with the help of our Helper of course, we now have to plant this seed. After planting it, we bury it – this time not with the dirt we just removed, but with the correction that we got from God. Bury it in a heart that wants to forgive as opposed to one that holds grudges, or one that is willing to share and not hoard anything. After that process, we now get to watering. We water the seed/ the word of God by spending time between Bible pages, listening to sermons, spending time with friends who edify us and most importantly, His presence. The aim of watering His word is to ensure that we are feeding it the right nutrients for it to grow, and not making room for any wilting to happen. After a while, the seed grows. At first it’s a tiny plant, then next thing we know, it’s a whole tree. In between this growth process is pruning: What or who do I have that is stunting the word that God gave me? What’s getting in the way of me becoming an evangelist like God said I would? What habits do I need to let go of to become more like the person that God described to me? When the tree grows to a certain extent, it now starts producing fruits and these fruits, other seeds.
It was such a profound message to me to learn that manifesting the word of God was a lot like the tree-planting process. It made understanding it very easy for me, and I felt like “at least I’m not all the way bad at gardening!”
Wrong. Very wrong. It took me two good years to realize the painful process that this tree planting or seed growing was. How, when the seed is growing, you’re less excited about the fact that it’s growing and are more excruciated at the pain that it causes when it’s breaking the walls of your heart and your comfort zone, and testing the legitimacy of your faith while it’s at it. I especially hated that it felt like every time my faith faltered, that it looked as though I had stopped watering this seed and so its growth had consequently stopped. I hated that it was a lot of dirty work. I hated that I didn’t ask God for this word or this gardening experience.
I am in a season of my life where I am constantly fighting my mind’s need to regress into depression or a self-loathing party and hold on to God’s promises which, for the most part, look like lies. Yes, I know what the word of God says. Yes, I know who God is. And yes, I know I should hold on to the hem of His garment more than I look at the people who are appalled by my actions. But you know what else I hear and know and constantly see? My reality. I feel like I am failing God and Christianity and myself by the way I am moved and crushed by how things look like they aren’t working for me. I am in the watering stage of growing my seed and I can’t see the growth. Sometimes I question if the pain is the ‘growth’ or if it is just life being life and throwing lemons at a woman who doesn’t have the skill of squeezing juice out the fruit with dignity. I relate so much to the Psalms of David. I find myself praising God one minute, asking Him to kill my enemies (of which I think I am the biggest) and asking Him to save me – all in one prayer! I am walking this thin line of faith and questioning if my faith is really faith or just lunacy at this point. In fact, I ask God if my faith is mustard sized. If it is big enough to get Him moving. As I write this, I am currently at this place where I say “God, if me penning this article proves that I have faith that my website and ministry will happen, then receive my tattered and quivering hallelujah. It’s not pretty and I am well aware of how a majority of it is laced with fear and doubt, but it is all I have left in me. It is the little glimmer of hope that I see when I close my eyes and there is a darkness that I feel is descriptive of my life right now. I hope it’s enough Lord. And I hope You won’t resent me for it.”
I am not praying as often as I need to. I get on my knees and fall into a ball of tears until I fall asleep. Other times I sit in what I presume is the presence of God but somehow can’t see or feel Him. I am numb most times – too numb to mouth any word to God. When my mouth feels too heavy to open, I speak in my heart or mind or wherever my words get processed and imagine God can hear me. I desperately hope He can. I desperately hope He is moved by everything that is moving me. On most days, I read my Bible and imagine this elevated version of myself sprinkling water on the seed God gave me. Is it enough? I hope so. I hope that God sees my half-hearted efforts and is pleased by my waking up to water His seed than He is repulsed by my lack of faith in having that seed grow.
This is my faith declaration. It is my belief in what God says is my promise to me. It is my way of saying “Maybe my situation is looking like You have taken me for eediat, but then again, me not preparing the way for Your promises looks a lot like me not believing enough.” This is my way of saying I believe. I believe in You, I believe in Your word, and I believe You’re working. Thank You for not stopping when I do.}
I just watched Breaking Point by Sarah Jakes Roberts and I have literally come apart. I cried the kind of tears that have you shaking and burning up on the inside as your throat struggles to make way for any air to go in or out. I told God about my anger and bitterness and frustration. How I want to believe in Him but I can’t bring myself to. How I am failing to have hope in Him because hope has become a trigger for pain for me; it is a reminder of all the things He said He would do and hasn’t done. I told Him I hated how He was handling me and my life. I got everything off of my chest.
More than anything I realized that it is easy to become depressed as a Christian. I’m not sure that’s what I am. All I know is I’m at that point where every time I open my eyes in the morning I let out a huge sigh of “here we go again”. And it’s funny to me how I can’t seem to escape myself in real life or my dreams. The voices and sounds of defeat follow me everywhere; it is almost as though they have been etched into my mind. But I digress. It is easy to become depressed as a Christian because we mask pain and anger and everything else along those lines in faith or hope in God. Actually, we bury them in faith. We feel angry about certain situations and we say “God I am angry but I trust You.” That has been me perhaps this whole year. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to say things like this, but what if I am still angry, I don’t trust and I want nothing to do with God because I feel He gave permission for something that hurt me to happen? What happens then? I trust You still God? I don’t. Label me a heretic, but it’s true.
Like I said, I came apart tonight. It has been about an hour since I prayed and cried and I want to say I feel better and lighter and God and I don’t have beef anymore but that would be a lie – one that, if I am to go to hell, I definitely do not want to burn for. And to be frank, I want more than anything, to sit in these feelings. They’re mine and this is where I am at. I do not want to feign faith and pretend that, just because I confessed everything, I don’t feel anything, because I do. I’m still hurt. I am still having a hard time trusting. I know this is what relationships are like in real life and I don’t want to expect my relationship with God to be any different.
Sometimes I make stories up in my head to help me deal with painful situations, and the story that I am telling myself now is that Hannah must have felt lighter after pouring her heart out to God, but I am willing to bet everything I have that that didn’t mean she didn’t walk away with a headache, sore eyes and hurt from even having to talk to God about what should have been a non-starter for her as a woman. I want to believe that she went to her room that night and pondered her words and listened in the dead of the night waiting to hear from God while simultaneously crushing the idea of Him ever speaking to her. I want to believe the ride home was as hellish; that it was a “wow God after that session with You I’m still going home with a closed womb.” I want to believe that she got home and away from her trigger and everything about being in the temple that provoked her need for a functioning womb and went back to default settings: numb, passive-aggressive and a ball of happiness and ‘okay’ for everyone at home. I want to believe that that was Hannah because that is me. I have moved away from the altar of God and have come back to life. I feel lighter at having removed the baggage within, but I still feel the ache in my back and shoulders for having carried it that long. I don’t want to ask myself if that is okay or acceptable as a Christian, or question what size my faith is or if I understand faith or even have it. And maybe that’s what healing looks like, even in Christianity. Maybe it is less “I trust You God” and more of “I am still hurting and trying to believe but failing miserably.” Maybe it is making peace with the dark cloud that is hovering over my head and allowing myself to trust that God is adding little blue dots to it to have it match the sky on the good days, and on the bad days to stare at it and wonder if it will ever go away.
Maybe Hannah’s bitterness didn’t leave after she left the temple, or even when Eli told her that her prayers had been answered. If those days were anything like ours, Hannah had probably heard different variations of “It will all be well” from priests, friends and maybe even her own family. And I know now more than ever that those words have a tendency of brewing a certain resentment toward God within me as they hit the rock that is my heart as opposed to pointing me toward the light at end of the tunnel as they are meant to. Maybe Hannah’s gloom hovered around as her imagination played around with thoughts of “What if?” Maybe, just maybe, Hannah only got to smile and trust God wholeheartedly when her appetite changed, her breasts grew a bit more tender and when her menses didn’t pay her a visit. Maybe even then she was still doubtful. Maybe she waited the second, third and fourth month to believe that God had actually heard her, and that one man’s “It will all be well” had been a prophecy after all.
I don’t know what my journey will be like. I don’t want to think of it actually. Maybe I will wake up tomorrow with messages that will change the entire trajectory of my story. Maybe I will wake up and find out that my seed has blossomed into a tree, that my baby is born, that worry is no longer my best friend. Maybe I will wake up tomorrow and take a deep sigh and think “You actually care for me.” I hope I do. I desperately hope I do.}