Earlier this January, I was meant to go on a service trip to Nicaragua. I flew to Boston a few days early to get settled, rest a little, and pack.
The day before departure, I learned that my flight was cancelled.
Bummer, but no big deal. I knew about the blizzard that was about to hit the east coast. I called up the flight agency and got myself moved to a flight that would leave the next day. I would miss one day of the brigade, but I would still make it.
Well, it snowed, and that flight got cancelled too.
The soonest flight out after that was full. By the time I could catch the next available flight, the brigade would be halfway over.
I took this surprisingly well. I decided to register for a Wintersession course at Wellesley College to keep myself occupied for the upcoming weeks, since I wasn’t about to fly back to China.
Enter the kicker. About an hour into my first German class, I got hit by a panic attack.
One minute, I was struggling to make sense of a set of instructions. The next, I was in the hallway, hyperventilating, with tears clouding my vision.
I really do hate how panic disorders continue to disrupt my life. I am still surprised by full-blown panic attacks when they come. Despite the frequency I seem to write about them, I actually haven’t had that many.
In that moment, I was disgusted, frustrated, and furious at myself for not being okay.
I remember staring at a painting and trying to focus on its details, my professor coming out to check on me for a little bit, and burning my tongue while drinking tea from the German department lounge.
It took me forty-five minutes to put myself back together again, but I did it, and I returned to the classroom. I sat down, participated, did the work, and continued for another week.
For the next five days straight, our class lived and breathed Deutsche. We talked about the classroom, about ourselves, our families, where we were from, what we had in our rooms, and what we liked to do, among other things. We learned hundreds of vocabulary words, conjugations, and a bit of the German case system. I ran out of flash cards within the first two days, and I completely emptied a pen of its ink within three (it was gel). I listened to all the German Pop, Rock, and Punk I could find. I even changed my phone so the systems were all in the German language.
Although I could do it, I felt myself slowly burn out. I no longer came to class early. I put less effort into memorizing vocabulary, and I began my assignments later and later in the day. When I wasn’t at class or doing some necessary thing, I preferred to lay in bed.
With this depressive episode unfolding before me, I was using up my spoons, and fast.
When I woke up every morning, I could only think about how much I would like to drop the class. Often I would find myself on the borderline of hyperventilation. Eventually I had to acknowledge the gut instinct that something was wrong.
That is why, one week from completing German 101, I ended up leaving it behind.
It was a hard move to stomach, but it was a lesson I needed to internalize too.
I know this result was not because I lacked ability. If anything, it highlights one – my ability to acknowledge my limits.
My reality is that I live with mental illness. There are days when I barely know how to function, yet I continue to set my goals as if I am ignorant of my limitation. That is disrespectful to my well-being and emotional health.
I once wrongfully imagined that people who struggle with depression would have received some profound understanding or enlightenment regarding suffering and life’s meaning. That they would be more perceptive, compassionate, and self-aware.
I once wrongfully imagined that those who struggle with anxiety would be intelligent, considerate, and thoughtful about their impact in the world.
What I didn’t fully realize is that an illness is not a set of character traits.
I’ve come to understand this untruth. These illnesses are things that hold me back. Obsession is not passion, and sadness alone is not the same as feeling deeply. If emotion is a rainbow, then I am familiar with merely one of its colors. There’s more to experience out there.
Don’t worry even if things end up a bit
Too heavy we’ll all float on alright
Although I’ve been struggling lately to feel and understand God’s presence, I acknowledge his hand at work in all of my latest experiences. Through it all, He has never given me more than I could handle. I’ve always been able to make it far enough to find a harbor on which to restore my strength. I’ve been provided for, and I believe that He will continue to provide.
I know that healing isn’t linear. It seems when I have made some progress in one area, two more heads spring up for me to fight. My therapist assures me that the mind knows what to do to mend itself, just like the body does. So for now, I will keep my faith in the process.
Side note: Over that weekend, I went to the shelter and met a multitude of cats. There was one that made me feel so comfortable, I began talking to him in different languages. Yes, this is the one, I thought, as I realized I was singing to him too. I told him I would be back. Prayer for the adoption process is welcomed!