The frustration with pain is that it demands to be felt.
There is no easy way out.
And pain is a certainty in this world of ours.
“I’ll lead with the bad news: it’s going to get worse. I’ve even begun collecting raindrops to prove it isn’t sunny all the time. I’ve spent entire days in bed and I’ve lost entire hours to lukewarm baths. It’s OK. Some days are bad. I have to get up even when I don’t want to. It happens. It is still a beautiful life.” -unknown
After a successful first solo outing and some pretty special encounters with the stranger, I was feeling on top of the world. God is in control! God is looking after me! I can do this! God is amazing! It’s easy to sing God’s praises when life is peachy. Or when things are going according to our plan.
But calm seas never made a skilled sailor!
And on that rollercoaster of emotions, there are inevitable – what I like to call – ‘downers’.
Downers. Darkness. Sadness. Pain. Dare-I-say depression.
It’s like a tunnel. An unavoidable tunnel. The only way to proceed on your path is to go through the tunnel. And you have to go all the way through. No short cuts and no emergency exits. The good news is that you will eventually come out the other end. And you will emerge stronger, more beautiful, than you ever were before. But the bad news is that going through the tunnel is never easy.
And there can be many tunnels along our path. Some are longer tunnels and some are shorter. Some are scarier. Some will freak the living daylights out of us. And some will even leave us with bruises and scars. And heck, I’m still encountering tunnels today.
But there is so much truth to the old adage that, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!’
I am drowning. I have no air. But everyone else around me is breathing just fine.
Other people so easily engage in cheery conversations, but I don’t have the energy or the ability to engage right now.
I can’t do this. This sadness is unbearable.
I’m drained. I’m depleted.
I’m standing on the sidelines. Lonely in a crowd.
I wish I could integrate into that conversation. I wish I could go out today.
But I can’t because I’m useless. No one will want to talk to me. Mr Ex knew me better than probably any other person in this world and he has decided that I’m not loveable. I’m not worthwhile. He doesn’t want me. He wants someone else. So, clearly I’m just not good enough. And so why the hell would anyone else want to love me? Or even want to talk to me for that matter?!
“Oh, I’m just tired,” I’d tell people.
But a wise person once noted what ‘tired’ can sometimes really mean.
T is for torn apart,
I is for insecure,
R is for really faking my smile,
E is for extremely sad, and
D is for drowning in my tears.
But I became better at recognising and acknowledging when I was feeling sad. I became better at telling the people around me [and friends like Sana became experts at reading] when I was on a downer.
It might just sound like self-pity. Even reflecting after emerging from a tunnel, I wonder why on earth I couldn’t just ‘snap out of it’. But pain demands to be felt.
And I have to go all the way through my tunnel. No one can walk it for me. Others may walk it with me. But no one can walk it for me.
Valentine’s Day 2013.
Bree came to visit. She gave me a teddy bear holding a homemade love-heart with a bible verse on it. I’d never actually encountered the bible verse before, or if I had, it just hadn’t registered with me. But this time, it did.
“’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’” –Jeremiah 29:11.
I named the bear ‘Jeremiah’ and that little bear is one of the most precious presents that I’ve ever been given.
But Jeremiah isn’t telling me that my pain and sadness will magically dissipate into a poof of smoke.
Dark days keep coming.
Moments of grief still plague me.
Tunnels lie ahead.
Does that mean God has left me?
This is not a god who is holding a banner and shouting encouraging quotes from off the court. Not at all. This is a god who enters into our suffering. He is right there in the middle of the court with us. This is a god who became human like us. He wasn’t watching Jesus on the cross. He was Jesus on the cross.
I am sad today.
And at the risk of sounding very Dr Phil-like…
Essie Bell’s Steps for Overcoming Downers:
Step one is always to recognise the emotion. Note its presence.
Step two, experience the emotion fully. A wave, coming and going. Try not to block the emotion and try not to push it away. But be careful – don’t feed it! Don’t try to keep the emotion around or increase it. Just experience it.
Step three is to remember that YOU ARE NOT YOUR EMOTION. Remember when you have felt differently. Remind yourself that you will feel differently again. Don’t act on the sense of urgency that the emotion brings. Describe your emotion saying, “I have the feeling of _____”, rather than “I am _____”.
Step four, practice respecting, even loving, your emotion. Tell yourself that it is OK to have downers. It is OK to feel like this. It is OK to cry a sea of tears, it is OK to say “WHY ME?!” and it is OK to get angry at God. Don’t believe me? Read the Psalms. And it’s not only OK, it’s actually just a normal part of being human. It is one of the many things that makes us endearingly human. So don’t judge your emotion. Radically accept your emotion.
And lastly, step five, which is the most important of all. Say out loud, “No matter what I am feeling, God is working. God has a plan.”
“When I am overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” -Psalm 61:2.
Crank some tunes too. Some possibilities; My go-to girl Katy Perry’s By the Grace of God or Roar, The Best is Yet to Come by Sheppard, Blessed Be Your Name by Matt Redman, Oceans [Where Feet May Fail] by Hillsong, In Christ Alone by Owl City, or Whom Shall I Fear? by Chris Tomlin.
If I could go back and talk to myself inside one of those tunnels, I’d say, “Essie, I’m not going to say there are plenty of fish in the sea or that it will all get better quickly. Instead, I will say that God has a plan. It’s OK to be down. It’s normal to feel alone. But say with me now, ‘No matter what I am feeling, God is working.’”
Today, I have the feeling of sadness.
But I will be OK. Just not today. And that’s OK.
Because no matter what I am feeling, God is working. God has a plan.