It has been two years since I've posted anything of substance on the blog. As you can tell, I gave The Evangelista a bit of a makeover (special thanks to my friend Jenny for her help), deleted a bunch of old posts, and added some new categories. I'm excited about getting back into blogging after my hiatus, but before I dive in, I thought I'd share a bit of the journey I've been on for these past two years.
Into the Desert
In July of 2014, I moved from Washington, DC, where I'd lived and taught for three years, to Phoenix, Arizona. Why in the world, you may be wondering, would you move to Phoenix?! Great question. The short answer is: Providence. The long answer is a bit more complicated, but it boils down to this: I was in a bad place emotionally and psychologically and needed to get out of DC for many reasons. My best friend Simone moved to Phoenix to work at an amazing Catholic school in 2013, and she prompted me to consider applying for a job at one of the other schools in the diocese. At that point, I was at such a loss at to what the Lord wanted me to do (the only thing I knew for sure is that it wasn't yet time to move back to Texas), that I was willing to try anything. I ended up accepting a position as a theology teacher at a Catholic high school in the Phoenix area, packed all of my stuff into my Corolla, and took a solo road trip from DC to Phoenix, stopping along the way to stay with dear friends.
If you're a long time reader of The Evangelista, you may remember that I've had bouts of depression and anxiety throughout my life. For awhile in my late twenties, I thought I was "managing" these issues just fine, and in some ways I was. I was a high-functioning anxious person. I ate healthfully, exercised regularly, had a fairly consistent prayer life, took all of the right supplements, and even called my therapist in Austin when I was feeling in particular need of counsel. To the outside world, I appeared to have it all together. My students thought so. Some of my friends thought so. The only people who knew that not all was right in Whoville were my family members, close friends, and the guys I dated during that time.
The reality was that, as well as I maintained my professional and social life, I was in emotional survival mode most of the time. I had regular panic attacks. I rarely slept through the night, and even when I did I slept poorly. I would become so overwhelmed by anxiety that I wouldn't be able to go to school; I used every one of my sick days each year while I lived in DC. I cancelled on friends. I blew up at my siblings and parents. And all the while, I kept thinking, "It's only because it's my first year of teaching at a new school that I'm feeling like this" or "It's only because I haven't dated in a long time that I'm so freaked out" or "It's only because I'm about to turn 30 and I'm not married yet that I can't go to Mass without crying." Once I got past the first year at the new school, or had been dating for a few months, or got married, then everything would be fine.
The problem was, it wasn't specific circumstances in my life that were making me anxious. Life itself was making me anxious. I had no idea what I was anxious about, because I was just anxious all the time. I would wake up in the morning feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I had to remind myself to breathe, and even when I did, I could only manage short, shallow breaths.
This is not to say that I was miserable all the time. I would feel good after an intense workout, but that would only last for twenty minutes before the endorphins wore off and the anxiety set in once again. I had moments of joy, moments of peace, moments of freedom, but they were few and far between. I enjoyed my friends, traveled, loved my students and had a blast teaching them; I kept praying and reading and learning and trying to live as fully as possible. But try as I might, I could never shake the anxiety. Even in moments of peace, it was lurking in the background, like a storm cloud ready to burst at any moment.
So I tried not to let my guard down. I distracted myself with social activity, with TV, with work. I told myself over and over again that I didn't need to go back to therapy--that I was fine. I didn't need to get on medication--that was too extreme. I was fine. I was fine. I was fine.
But I was not fine. And it wasn't until December 2014 that I was finally able to admit it to myself. After moving across the country, enduring the most difficult semester of my professional life (I was forced to give the same tests on the same day as the other teachers in my department--AND to assign the same projects and grade with the same rubrics. And the students had iPads. It was basically teacher Hell.), and ending yet another unhealthy relationship, I finally took my own advice. I made an appointment with my doctor, described my symptoms, and got on Zoloft.
The effect of the medication felt nothing short of miraculous. I went from crying at the drop of a hat, feeling like I was emotionally drowning, having difficultly breathing, hiding in my apartment after school just to recuperate some of the precious emotional energy I expended during the school day, to slowly but surely coming back to life. I noticed a difference almost immediately; my mind felt quieter. I could think more clearly. My body felt more relaxed. I didn't have chest pains anymore. I only cried when tears were warranted. I was able to deal with the frustrations of my job without wanting to quit every day. I was able to pray and go to Mass without having panic attacks.
My friends and family noticed and celebrated these changes with me. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, and I was finally able to see clearly. My only regret was that i hadn't gotten on medication years ago.
After being on meds for a few months, I knew it was time to get back into therapy. I contacted a therapist in the Phoenix area that I knew of already, and started to meet with her once every couple of weeks. She was okay, and I'm sure talking things out with her helped me, but in the end I stopped seeing her because she saw my love for Christ and the Church as a quirk that I had and not an essential element of my being. I didn't feel comfortable being totally myself with her, and that defeats the point of having a therapist, so I resolved to find someone else...eventually.
In the meantime, I got back together with an ex-boyfriend whom I had broken up with at the end of 2013, in the throes of my anxiety and depression. I moved to the Midwest for the summer of 2015 to be nearer to him so that we could give the relationship a real shot. Unfortunately, we ended up breaking up in July 2015, ultimately for the same reasons we broke up the first time. The emotional fallout of the breakup got me to take stock of my dating experiences for the past decade. I resolved to get back into therapy ASAP.
Obviously, something was wrong. I had never experienced a truly healthy relationship with a man before. And it wasn't any of my ex-boyfriends who were to blame. The one common denominator in all of my past relationships was ME. I was the one picking these guys who weren't right for me. I was the one staying in relationships way past their expiration date, desperately trying to fix what was ultimately unfixable. It was me. I was the problem. It was one of those moments when the Lord grants you the grace of authentic self-knowledge. And it stung.
After I swallowed that huge piece of humble pie, I called my therapist from Austin. She suggested that read Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do and find a therapist in Phoenix who could help me untangle my attachment and codependency issues. Thanks be to God, the first therapist who came up in my google search happened to be a therapist who specialized in those issues who was also a faithful Christian. And thanks to my parents who helped me pay for the sessions, I was able to see her once a week for almost nine months--my last session was in May, right before I moved back to Texas (more on that later).
It's difficult to express just how life-changing this round of therapy was. It was emotionally exhausting, to be sure, but I felt like for the first time I was really able to get to the root causes of my anxiety and depression. I was able to face the emotional trauma of my childhood without minimizing it or denying it. I was able to let go of painful memories and stop perpetuating some of the bad relationship habits I'd developed over the years. Unlike the talk/clinical therapy I'd done in the past, my therapist in Phoenix was trained in EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Basically, EMDR helps your brain reprocess traumatic memories so that when something triggers those memories your body no longer reacts to them as if they are happening in the present. I highly recommend looking into EMDR--lots of therapists, Christian therapists included, are trained to do it these days--if you have trauma or abuse in your past, especially if you still feel burdened by those memories.
The other essential element to my healing in 2015 was a monthly trip to the Our Lady of Solitude monastery in Tonopah, AZ. Prompted by spiritual director, the first time I went out to the desert to be with the Lord, I didn't bring any books. Not even the Bible. Father knew that I wouldn't really get real with the Lord if I could distract myself with intellection. I'm not going to lie: that first half-day of silence and solitude was tough. I was afraid of facing all of the thoughts and fears and doubts about God's love for me that I had been avoiding for the past few years. But in the silence, I had no choice. I had to face my fear of death. My fear of being single for the rest of my life. My fear of my own imperfection. And slowly, but surely, those fears began to fade as the Lord spoke to my heart in the desert. I can't pinpoint a particular moment when it happened, but for the first time in my life, I was consistently excited about praying--I wanted to be with the Lord. I couldn't wait to tell him about my day or to seek solace in front of the tabernacle. It was a truly graced time in my spiritual life and I'm still experiencing the fruits today.
Honorable mention goes to the school at which I worked last year: St. Mary's in downtown Phoenix. After my puragatorial year at the previous school, I was in desperate need of some teacher TLC, and St. Mary's provided it in spades. I'll devote several posts to SM in the future, as it manages to be both authentically Catholic and provide a real education to its students.
Nothing is Impossible for God
By December of 2015, I noticed a marked difference in the way I related to others, myself, and the Lord. I felt more self-possessed, less anxious, and less codependent than ever before. My friends and family universally commented on the fact that they'd never seen me so happy. I couldn't help but agree with them. I was getting consistent sleep for the first time in years, and that I didn't have to tell myself to breathe multiple times a day. I started hosting parties again. I had new bursts of emotional energy with which to love my friends, family, and students. It was glorious.
And then, I met someone. At the end of this past January, my mom introduced me to my now boyfriend, Kristian. We did the long distance thing for a few months but it didn't take us long to decide that long distance is for the birds, so I moved back to Austin in May to be closer to him. Our relationship is not only the healthiest I've ever experienced, it has also been the greatest gift the Lord has given me (outside of the Sacraments) thus far. You'll hear more about Kristian in the future and all of the how-we-met stuff (it's a really good story), but for now I will simply say this: there is NO way I would have been ready to meet him or be in a relationship in which we are actively discerning marriage if it were not for the therapy I did this past year. No. Way. I'm deeply grateful to the Lord that he orchestrated the timing so perfectly, and that he protected me from marrying my previous boyfriends, all of whom I dated before I had the capacity to give fully of myself in a healthy way.
So, there you have it. I'm excited to be back and to share more of what the Lord has done and is doing in my life. Nothing is impossible for Him.