I am a planner; I like order and to-do lists and thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong so I can stop them from going wrong. I take pride (too much pride, I’ll admit) in being the level-headed girl who can look past emotions and dramatics and see solutions. Solutions equaled control.
As a new teacher, I dreaded the day when I would walk into my classroom and feel completely at ease — when I would be confident that the day would be a good one.
I believed if that day came, it would be the last moments I’d remember before everything shattered. Before I lost control.
Bracing for Destruction
I convinced myself that every smile, every breakthrough, every “good day” would be followed by something equally awful. They were the calm before the storm in a time when I felt trapped by suffocating winds and gut-punching blows. I was blinded by fear, and no matter where I looked, I couldn’t seem to see past this single school day. I felt sick every day and every night, I curled up like a child in my bed with terror and anxiety for company.
There’s a line from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” that has stuck with me since I read it over ten years ago: “The mind is its own place, and in itself it can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” My own mind had become so filled with lies about how I wasn’t good enough to be serving my students that I’d created my own personal hell.
It took me a while, but eventually I realized I’d lost the things that made me ME. My friends and family walked on eggshells around me, because they didn’t know what to say. If they asked me how I was doing, my answer was never given with a smile.
They could see the light leaving my eyes while I had forgotten there had been light there at all. I’d lost my hope that things would get better. I surrendered to fear, and it wasted no time taking what it came for:
My joy. My passion. Myself.
I was a shell of the person I’d grown into by the grace of God and every human being who’d taught me what it meant to be kind and good, and...
I. WAS. MAD....
At myself, at the world, and at the horrible feeling that had been buried in my stomach for months.
I was mad at the way I couldn’t worship the God I’d trusted so long ago because each Sunday that came reminded me of the Monday that would follow. I was mad at the way I hid myself from friends despite the loneliness I felt.
So, I made a choice: However, much it scared me, I would fight back. I would abandon the chains that bound me — the anxiety, the guilt, and the fear commanding my life.
I was done walking on eggshells waiting for the heart-stopping booms of thunder that shook me to my core.
I was done letting my own anxious heart rob me of the fruit I saw born from my efforts.
I was done letting fear win.
Peace wasn’t going to come on its own. I had to embrace the storm I feared and SEEK the calm I desired.
Every day, I woke up, and I chose to seek something good. Because there was good. There is always good.
Some days, it was easy, and I’d find myself smiling like a crazy person staring up at the stars. I’d think about all the stories humans have talked about the figures dancing across the sky, and I’d thank God for granting us with the gift of imagination and storytelling.
Other days, seeking good felt bad. I’d feel defeated when I walked into school with confidence and left with the sound of bitter words ringing in my ears like clashing symbols.
And yet, life was still better than it had been, and God was still with me.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.
great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22–3 ESV
Despite the storm that engulfed my life, there was still morning, and there was still evening, and each day was still good. Just as He had when I was in college, God had kept His promise to guide me and to care for me according to His will. He would not leave me. With each new morning came new mercies, whether saw them or not.
Weeks passed, then months, and eventually, I found myself at the end of a season. The storm had passed, and I was okay. It felt . . anticlimactic. One day, I was there. The next, I wasn’t. I could breathe again. I could dream again.
I hadn’t realized what a living death I’d condemned myself to in the midst of my trial. God hadn’t taken away my joy. He hadn’t taken the things that used to make me feel like I was creating something wonderful. My hands could still draw, my fingers could still type, and my lips could still sing His praise. I lived for months believing that all of the good in my life had been stolen from me when in reality, I’d fallen for one of Satan’s cruelest tricks: I’d taken my own joy, and I’d let him have my hope.
I won’t pretend I’m immune to the darkness I knew last year, and I certainly won’t pretend to know what you’re going through. What I will say is this: Storms will come. It’s guaranteed.
There is so little we can control, and choosing to see good is one of those things. It’s hard and it can be painful, but ultimately? It’s the best chance we’ve got at making it through the seasons we wish hadn’t come at all.
We seek the calm within the storm, and we trust that God knows what He’s doing, because He does.
Do you feel like depression and anxiety are ruining your life? Read, Depression is a Bully, for a personal experience of how depression feels and how to overcome it.
Originally published at Wildflower Press - hannahoxley.com
Hannah Oxley is a teacher, a blogger, and an avid reader. When she’s not working on her first middle-grade novel, she can be found sipping coffee at her favorite independent bookstore or roaming the aisles of Trader Joe's.