The depression held strong ground through November and December and into January. I kept going between Atlanta and Connecticut like someone looking for sanctuary.
In Connecticut, women from the church I’d gone to before moving away assembled forces. They came up with a plan to keep me surrounded and to help me recover. They said if I came back, they would help me fight this. It would be much easier to fight the battles standing in one place.
I remember getting on Skype one evening while in Atlanta with one of the women. Her husband joined her on the call. They said very honestly to me that they thought I needed to stop going back and forth and just come back to Connecticut to get stronger. There was a snowstorm coming. I wasn’t well. I needed to be surrounded and not isolated. My roots weren’t deep enough in Atlanta for me to do this on my own.
Over Skype, I booked a plane ticket for the next day. I slept at my friend’s house that night. I lay in bed until I heard her footsteps outside the door the next morning, getting ready to take me to the airport. I pulled a sweater over my head and rolled my suitcase into the hallway. We stopped to eat biscuits that morning. Even though I wasn’t walking into anything beautiful when I stepped off the plane, I love how special she made the morning for me. We stopped at the tattoo parlor on the way to the airport because when you’re young and in your twenties, you think every step toward bravery should be permanently marked on your body with a needle.
She held my head in her lap and squeezed my hand tight as the tattoo artist inked the letters into the skin of my ribs. First the S, then the T. Next the A and then the Y. The word stay danced along my rib cage in small, capital letters.
It’s ironic to get the word stay permanently put on your body right before you board a plane to leave again. While I wasn’t exactly embracing a geographic location at the time, I needed a bigger reminder when I chose that word stay: stay in the fight. I needed to stay in the struggle. Stay in the wrestling and tumbling with God.
I want to be really careful with this one. For years, my anthem has been “stay.” Stay where you are. Stay rooted. Be right where your feet are. That’s all well and beautiful, but I don’t want to put the message out there that we should stay in toxic situations where our health, faith, and well-being are being compromised. I like to imagine this message of “staying” is synced with the idea that we don’t just walk away and call it quits when stuff gets hard. Life is hard. Life will deal us some tough blows. The hard stuff produces character, and I know I could always stand to have more character. So I stay. I want to believe we are capable of staying when the world would otherwise be tempted to pack a suitcase and leave.
* * *
That first night back in Connecticut, I meet up with a woman named Nancy, who has the plan for me. She has made it so I will always be occupied and never alone. I think this is incredibly crucial for people who are struggling with depression or other kinds of mental illnesses. The illness wants to isolate you. It wants you to stay in bed. It wants you to spend days on end by yourself so it can whisper to you an identity that isn’t yours. The only way to combat that voice? Reach out for help. It’s okay to say, “I’m not okay.”
We talked out the plan over pizza. I could barely eat anything.
“You know, I would have never guessed anything was wrong,” she said to me at one point. “From the looks of social media, it seemed like you were doing just fine.”
I thought back over the last few months and how much I’d used social media as a highlight reel for the good things happening to me in a new city. There were a lot of them. Maybe I wasn’t doing any heavy-duty work to plant roots, but I’d still met a lot of beautiful people and still had moments that felt worth highlighting. I realize now the dangers of social media in that respect. It’s incredibly easy to fool the world into thinking you are happy, surrounded, and doing okay. It’s no surprise that the real story isn’t usually on social media. We claim to want it, but we also know we don’t show up to social media for people’s messes. We come for the curation. We come for the eloquent copy and the cute pictures. We come to be amused and receive what is the equivalent of a side hug on the internet.
When you start reaching out, you learn the real story. You see how awful someone’s day has been or you get to join them in celebrating something new. You no longer participate in their story through a bird’s-eye view. You are in the story. You are real to the story. All the things we build, all the things we think are important about a platform, just don’t matter. Followers don’t matter. Influence doesn’t matter. When the darkness hits, you realize there’s a small pocket of people who will meet you at a pizza parlor and help you plot your survival strategy through the storm.
“You know you’re going to have to pick at some point,” she said to me when we were finishing up the meal. “You’ll have to pick a place to make your home. If you never build a home, you’ll always be a visitor.”
Taken from Come Matter Here by Hannah Brencher.
Copyright © 2018 by Hannah Brencher.
Used by permission of Zondervan.
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