On May 13th, I graduated high school. If I had to sum up that day in just one word, I think that I’d have to go with “surreal”. Back in August, the school administrator had both my mother and I in tears (side note: I think that she was legitimately concerned for our sanity) when she shocked us with that news that I would be graduating in May, a semester earlier than what I’d been planning and a full year ahead of a normal schedule. And then one Wednesday morning in February, I was getting ready for Spanish class as per usual when that same administrator called. All four of us crowded around the phone as she told us that I had been selected to be the valedictorian of my class.
“Surreal”. Yeah, that’s a good description.
But the reason why May 13th meant so much to me is because of what it took me to get there. Truth be told, there were times when I never thought I could actually make it to graduation day. Last night, I was trying to sleep when I felt God prompt me to write this post. I’ve known for some time that I needed to share my testimony, but something has always been holding me back. Excuse after excuse exempted me (in my own mind, at least) from doing it. But summer’s here now, and I can’t rely on my “too much schoolwork” excuse anymore. So here goes nothing. Hope you have your seatbelts on, ladies and gentlemen, because the last four or five years of my life have been a long and bumpy trip, and now you’re along for the ride.
It all started this one day in eighth grade. My friend and I were rushing from history class to grammar class when I suddenly stopped in the stairwell. I was having chest pain again, and I couldn’t breathe without feeling sharp pain. This “chest pain” was something that I was no stranger to. Nearly impossible to adequately describe, it came and went randomly. I could never predict when it was going to happen, and it’d been happening to me as early as the age of six. In seventh grade, I had gone to the doctor about it. They ran tests on my heart, and, seeing that everything was perfectly normal, told me that the pain was probably just the result of stress. Up until this one day in eighth grade, I had always been able to just take an Advil, lie down, and get back to business. But that day…that day was different.
Standing in the stairwell, I started freaking out. The pain was more than I could bear, and it felt like the walls were closing in on me. My friend helped me up the stairs, determined to get me to her mother, the school nurse. Once upstairs, she set our bags down in the class we were already late for, told our teacher that we were going to the nurse, and then took me to her mom. Upon seeing me, the nurse immediately assessed my situation: “Sweetheart, you’re having a panic attack.”
Everything started to change after that day. I hated everything, and everything stressed me out. I remember becoming increasingly more and more unhappy. I remember feeling the embarrassment of having to leave class (on multiple occasions) due to panic attacks that I both couldn’t explain and didn’t care to talk about. I remember sitting on the floor of my parent’s room at 12 in the morning, sobbing to my mom that I couldn’t stand the thought of living another year like that. I remember feeling hopeless, because I was broken and I couldn’t fix myself. I remember feeling worthless, because no one wanted to be around someone who only saw the negatives and refused to acknowledge the positives.
A month or so later, I began going to counseling and learned that I had clinical depression and anxiety. And while counseling was a huge blessing, it wasn’t an instant cure. That May was one of the darkest times in my life. Too depressed to do anything, I sometimes just laid on the floor and stared at the ceiling, wondering if this was what the rest of my life was going to look like. And if so, I didn’t want any part in it.
The next month, I attended a youth conference. And on the last night of the conference, the speaker talked about being set free from depression and suicidal thoughts. I felt God’s presence in that moment like I had never felt it before. I felt like I had suddenly been set free. I was so over-the-moon about it that I jumped at the opportunity to share my testimony at the “8th Grade Takeover” middle school service in July.
Fast-forward to the end of July. It’s just three nights away from the big night, where I’m supposed to be sharing about how God completely fixed me. So why am I sitting on the floor of my room at 1 in the morning, completely consumed by my fear of the future, taking a metal nail file to my wrist for the first time?
I could hardly look my counselor in the eyes the next day. She explained to me that I was feeling so much pain on the inside that I was trying to feel it on the outside, but what I felt more than anything else was an overwhelming sense of failure. Wasn’t I “healed”? Wasn’t I supposed to be a shining example of what it looks like when God rescues you from dire straits? I detested myself. I felt like a fraud.
Ninth grade was really, really, rough. In the transition from middle school to high school, old school to new school, I lost all of my friends. Never in my life had I felt more alone, and it scared me. I often had to leave the room in the middle of worship at the high school service because I had fallen victim to yet another panic attack. I wanted to just give up.
Despite how crappy everything else was in my life that year, God gifted me with the most incredible small group leader I’ve ever had. She understood me like no else did, and was always there to give me a hug, or pray over me, or hand me a tissue when I was crying and blubbering like a baby beluga whale. Mrs. Eve was the one who showed me that God really did have a purpose for my life. And she never let me give up on myself. With the support of her, my family, and my amazing little group of friends, I slowly started to recover. God taught me that sometimes, He’s not going to just eliminate your problems. That’s what I thought he was going to do at that conference. But in reality, God was wanting to show me how to use my problems to become stronger and grow closer to Him.
I have depression. I have anxiety. But I also have God guiding and directing my every step. Just because it’s really hard to get out of bed most days doesn’t mean I should just never get out of bed. Just because my everyday reality isn’t picture-perfect doesn’t mean that God didn’t create me perfectly in His image. And just because I don’t always feel His presence doesn’t mean that He isn’t there. Because God loves me with a love that never fails and never will.
It’s those truths that have carried me through the past couple years of my life. Last year was one of the hardest years, if I’m being honest. Graduating early meant taking double math and double science. And if you know me, you know that math is my kryptonite. (Not saying that I’m Superman or anything. I like Batman better anyways.) I nearly failed algebra in eighth grade, so taking two math classes at the same time and physics on top of that was nothing short of terrifying. Plus, I was working full-time hours at the time, so I really didn’t see how I was going to get through the year. It was grueling, and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really know what you’re in store for. (Or if you really love math).
But I did it. May 13th closed a chapter in my life that was full of ups and downs. And now I’m looking ahead to a new chapter, filled with blank pages and anticipation and expectations and unknowns. As I go from high school to college, I’m thinking about the girl who transitioned none-too-smoothly from middle school to high school four years ago. That girl was full of fear. She hated everything about herself. And worst of all, she didn’t really understand how much God loved her, or why He even created her in the first place.
I’m glad I’m not that girl anymore.
I’m glad that God placed people in my life that showed me what I had to live for.
I’m glad that I am the person that I am today.
I’m glad that I wake up every morning knowing that the creator of the entire universe has a plan for me.
And I’m glad that I get to live out that plan every single moment of every single day that He chooses to gift me with here on earth.
This probably wasn’t my most eloquently worded post. And I certainly didn’t make all the sarcastic comments that tend to make Emma posts, well… Emma posts. But that’s alright. Because perhaps this is the most “Emma” post of all. It’s my story. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s a mess of a story.
But it’s a beautiful mess, and I’m glad that it’s mine to tell for as long as God continues to add pages to my story.