“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13:2
I’ve mentioned these types of stories before. They’re the ones that people despise telling. It truly causes pain to even speak about them. So understand as you read these words that I am now in agony because I am going to tell you about a memory of mine. Two years old I’m afraid, but the suffering it caused is still new to me. Suffering is ageless it seems.
It’s time to start my freshman year of college. A bit nervous and unsure of what to do. Even if you never went to college you can relate to the awful scenario of being totally unfamiliar with a new environment in which you do not know anyone. Anyway, I won’t delve into some disgustingly cliché writing that laments the beginning of a new chapter in one’s life. That is ridiculous.
Began attending classes. Didn’t know anyone so there wasn’t anything to do after classes except be alone in my room. Kept company with my older sister and her friends. That was okay, but I was unable to rest. Oh, this hurts to say to you. My spirit is rolling over inside of my body. The recall of this memory…like bile coming up…do not resurrect that which is dead. Let the dead be dead, but you must know.
Low hum of anxiety. Perceptible, but not intolerable. Like a low hum of tranquilized bees crawling in my flesh. Anxiety. My eyes were wide open, muscles straining for some reason, unable to be physically comfortable. Talking seemed pointless so I avoided it. It’s a very clear moment for me: sitting on the couch in my sister’s friends’ apartment. I remember feeling so very foreign to myself. I didn’t recognize the flesh that I was in nor did I understand the purpose of anything going on around me. It likened that of being an unnamed omniscient presence.
As if my life was being told to me in third person.
The physical weight of depression came soon enough. That’s an interesting level of sadness as it moves beyond emotional strain and mental agitation to a physical object residing in one’s body. A malignant tumor that, despite popular belief, cannot be removed by the use of anti-depressants. Those pills are a joke. They are advertised and prescribed with the fantastical expectation that they will cure all ill thoughts and feelings. No such pill exists that can rid a human of depression.
So right away I understood this. My Clonazepam would be a futile attempt at alleviating this heaviness in my body. The pills remained in my book bag unused and treated with contempt, but all the same I kept them with me.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:11
The depression was easy enough to ignore with just the right amount of distraction from my class work. I went about my business, but the lion had been watching me for some time (1 Peter 5:8).
At night I had no sleep. My eyes were wide open again and strained in the darkness. My roommate’s breath was audible from the other side of the room. Deep, even, rhythmic. She was falling down into the realms of dreams and limbo while I remained awake. It was a staticky kind of alertness as if my brain was fried and the inner mechanics had become faulty.
When I would finally manage to slip into sleep I was still denied rest. Twisted beings occupied my dreams. They were never visible. I never knew what they looked like, but I ALWAYS FELT THEIR PRESENCE. Sometimes they would pound and scratch at my dorm door trying to get inside. Sometimes they drug away my roommate or someone else and I worried for them, but was powerless to retrieve them. Sometimes they moved around the inside of my dorm room. Other times they attacked me and I shot upright in bed fully awake.
Many times I woke up feeling like a hole was in my chest. The demons all wanted their pound of flesh and they really did take flesh from me. I often times woke in a state of inconsolable, indiscernible fear. My rabbit-heart raced and my breath was in short gasps. My hands pinched my stomach and sides to verify that I was conscious. My legs swished under the covers as if my only impulse was to run away, but I remained in the same place.
The nightmares were constant. Each night was a gamble and even though I was so tired I did not want my head to touch the pillow. I knew what was waiting for me on the other side.
This is the tricky part to explain so I’ll try my best by offering a comparative example. People, strangely, are very good at realizing when someone else is staring at them. Studies have been done to verify how humans can be so in tune with each other.
Keep this odd situation in mind because I’m about to stretch it a bit.
I regret saying this experience is a familiar one, but it is. During my first several weeks as a freshman I began to take notice of a non-physical presence. It followed me around and caused a lot of discomfort and fear. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had a spiritual burrow stuck on me.
Panic attacks came easily to me. They bit me every day for a good long time. During class I felt the tiny teeth sink in. Whether it was in the middle of the night or during the early hours of the morning, whether I was alone or with company, whether I was busy or free the seizing hold of panic attacks strangled me. My spine must have snapped because I began to drag my feet on the earth like life was more of a burden than a blessing. Not worth the trouble it seemed.
The nightmares, the presence, the panic attacks and the depression all ripped at my being and chewed on the scraps. I could turn to no one for help. There is no therapist or pill on this planet that could rid me of that sorrow. “God has made my heart faint, the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.” Job 23:16-17
Where was God? Where was he in the midst of my unbearable suffering? When my days drug on like a scalpel into a decrepit corpse, where was God? When I stayed awake shaking violently in bed, heart thumping in my chest, brain secreting all kinds of nonsense and irrationality, where was the Lord Almighty? When I sat in class, sanity abandoned and my breath so shallow I drew near to fainting, where was God?
Oh you don’t grasp this torture! When a panic attack came during class I used to count backwards from one hundred in my head. Sometimes I would write the numbers in my notes. I can still flip through my notebooks from freshman year and find wretched scrawlings of numbers descending from one hundred. Sometimes the text becomes visibly ugly as my fingers tightened around the pen. The sloppier the numbers got the worst my anxiety was.
The pressure of the pen is another key sign. Those numbers went from normal dark shades to the blood of the deep sea: pitch black. I stabbed that pen into the paper and caused a permanent, extremely noticeable indent on the back of the page. The ink is severely dark in these places.
Oh, there is no rest for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22). We are always turning in our sleep because we know our days are numbered.
“All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 2:23
“My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.” Job 17:7
“Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.” Psalm 31:9
My pain was so great to me, but listen and learn from those who are gone! They are dead, but they still speak. Listen, listen! How pronounced their discomfort was that they bemoaned their very existence. How much catastrophic aching does one have to undergo before she decides she’d rather be dead?
“Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.” Psalm 144:3-4
“For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside. My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” Psalm 102: 9-11
What kind of mockery is this? Humans are created by some uncaring Being in the sky? When I was brought low, where was God?
Be still. My story isn’t finished yet and when I am done you will know where God has been.
Strange things happen when God draws near. It’s the same as when the air becomes so charged from a looming storm that your hair sticks up. You know He is close. The waves crash and the wind howls inside of your soul because the Almighty is approaching.
One night I had another bad dream. This I do not consider a nightmare, but it was all the same troubling to forebear. In this dream I saw two ex-friends of mine. I do not particularly like the notion of ex-friends so I will call them strangers now, but this is so you understand what I mean. The one girl seemed to be having trouble with her heart. She had a hand over her chest. The other girl seemed to be present and also distant as her voice carried over a telephone line yet her presence was felt.
At one point my inactive body floated outside of the house and I could see where we were. It was one of the friend’s houses, but it wouldn’t be for long. A demon appeared in front of us. It looked like a Chinese lion. It was the size of an adult grizzly bear and was covered in dark brown fur. It shook its head from side to side and its eyes rolled around in its head. In a moment, the house burst into flames.
I ran about commanding the demon to leave the house. I said God would protect us and the demon left. I drew a cross in the porch overhang that was now covered in soot. I woke up the next day in a fit. Several days past and all I could think of was this friend of mine. She was a ghost that haunted me all day long day in and day out. I eventually caved and asked God what He wanted. Finding no answer, I sent a message to my friend apologizing for our falling out and telling her to seek God because, and I’m not kidding, He was looking at her. Her reply message disturbed me as she readily, shakily, confirmed how her life had fallen apart. She was moved by my message and said she wanted God’s help in her life.
I read the entire New Testament in about a month. I could find no other shelter from the sickness in my life. There was no one to turn to. Don’t you know that God does this on purpose? He routinely cuts people off from their disillusioned lives of routine and false comfort. When we carry on in our sin God starts to rip up the earth so it is hard to walk on. If that is not enough to get our attention then he will pour out an ocean and cover all the paths around us. We can no longer walk. We are isolated on an island.
I prayed and read the Bible and so forth. Don’t think for a second that I immediately received warm, fuzzy feelings and everything was suddenly better. No no. Half the time I cried alone in my room begging God to help me, but I received no answer from Him. Not one that I could hear anyway.
“For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” Lamentations 3:31-33
“Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” Lamentations 3:37-39
“But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” Job 36:15
“For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Psalm 56:13
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—from violent people you save me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.” 2 Samuel 22:3, 7
“You have delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.” Psalm 54:7
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” 2 Corinthians 1:8-10
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:4-10
You see, when you draw near to the Lord he draws near to you (James 4:8). He never abandons you (Deuteronomy 31:8) and though He seems to be missing from the picture He is ever-present and ready to help us in our trouble (Psalm 46:1). I was delivered from my distress and found rest. No more nightmares. No more panic attacks. No more crushing depression. No more presence. Only Jesus. It has only been him. If my story is uneventful to you, then I beseech you: listen to the dead!
They are still talking. They are still talking about God and how He delivered them too.