“Hey bro! Can we study tonight for Psych class?”
That question was all it took for my friendless, confused, and scared 19-year-old self, to become friended. I had just brutally dropped out of bible college a few months earlier, and was taking an advanced “Psychology of Adjustment” class at a local community college; a class where I never should have been placed, based off my previous education. Yet there I sat, when a well-adjusted student majoring in accounting said hello and sat next to me. I don’t know what made Anton pick me to buddy-up with, but if he hadn't popped the question, I might not be writing or doing any of this at all.
For months, I had been sleeping all day so that I could stay awake all night and never see the sunlight... or my family.
I had finally reached the pit of my depression during my second semester at Valley Forge Christian College. College had been too much for me to handle after being homeschooled and raised on a rehab campus for the first eighteen years of my life. Classrooms? Classmates? Real teachers? What had I gotten myself into? I was only a portfolio expert. I didn’t know how to do anything, but sing and play the piano. These accomplishments were small in my mind compared to the loss of dignity, in realizing that I was not at all prepared for the REAL classroom or the REAL world. Some people there tried to reach out to me as I slowly dropped every class which eventually lead to me dropping my full-ride music scholarship. Someone else would have been more deserving of this scholarship. I’m sorry to say, I was not ready to receive friendship at the time. Very sorry, in fact, because there were very nice people trying very hard to reach out to me. I would not, and could not receive it. I kept drawing deeper into myself, feeding my anxieties by withdrawing from society, people and the entire school. By the end of the semester, I couldn’t leave my dorm-room for anything more than the cafeteria.
“It’s Wing Night at the 501 Grille, wanna go, bro?”
A few months after dropping out of bible college, my new friend Anton and I had just received A’s on our Psych exams. To our surprise we were the only ones in class who had received almost perfect scores. He wanted to celebrate, but I was embarrassed and had originally declined. Anton responded to my decline with,…”Why bro?! Oh wait...you don’t have any money do you.” (How did he know?) It wouldn’t have taken “Sherlock” to figure it out after getting to know me for a couple of days. I didn’t have a job or a car, but for some reason Anton didn’t care nor did he think it was uncool. He thought it was cool that somehow despite my lack of education, I was able to develop study outlines that worked for both of us. I could’ve said no, but everything inside told me “Yes...let this person be your friend.” I can’t tell you how that acceptance of friendship created a domino effect of decisions that led to more friends, and more opportunities that I otherwise never would have dared to explore. One evening I met someone who became a friend, who I can’t imagine my life without. He owns a movie theater which fascinated me, and after attending a Jazz concert that he hosted regularly, we were introduced. The irony was that I was there to hear my Jazz teacher play.
I had no idea someone was going to ask to hear me play the piano that night.
I was particularly nervous... my teacher and his band had just finished playing an incredible concert. I didn’t know what to do after being asked to play, but it had been so long since someone asked to hear me play (other than my mother asking to hear a hymn). So, I decided to play “Clair de lune”, a classic. Almost everyone finds it familiar when they hear it. Soon after finishing, I was promptly asked by the owner of the theatre if I would play another song. I thought “Are you kidding? You’re lucky I played the first time you asked.” Then I had a funny thought to play "Once in Lifetime" from Stop the World, I Wanna Get Off. I had to improvise because I didn’t know the song, but I remembered the melody line well enough to construct my own arrangement. This is something I would rarely try to do in front of an audience. When I finished playing, the owner of the theater walked over and placed two twenty dollar bills on top of the Upright Piano. “Thank you for playing with your heart,” he said.
These words meant more to me than he knew, because he didn’t tell me it was good or bad. He simply wanted me to know that my playing had moved him.
Afterwards, he must have asked someone for my contact information, because I received a phone call from him about a week later asking me to play concerts before film screenings to entertain the audiences. It was a job! And it had only been created because I had said yes before, for no reason at all. I wish I could tell you I noticed the pattern of success back then. I was still was only letting some people reach me and I wasn’t reaching out to anyone myself. In my previous post, A Coward’s Tale, that I had an argument with my dad that led to us taking a trip to Pilgrim Camp.
Wanna know what the argument was about?
Let me clear the air quickly. There was nothing embarrassing in my collection. I loved films like “Braveheart” and “The Gladiator” (plus some others that only other movie buffs would know, so I’ll spare you). My dad and I were arguing over the R-rated films on my shelf, which confused me because he had some of his own and I wasn’t about to chuck mine. We screamed at each other for hours, him talking about my soul, me talking about common-sense, both of us saying things we regret...a silly argument, but that awful encounter happened.
It didn’t end well.
He called me a “brat”. I stood up and almost punched him, as he stormed out of the living room in fear. I’m not a very big guy (especially at a gym), but compared to my dad I look pretty scary and was struggling with bipolar tendencies. To avoid doing something I knew I would regret, I ran out the door, and rode my bicycle fifteen miles to the nearest phone booth to call a friend, who called my dad. About noon the next day, my dad was there to pick me up and took me to a diner (just like an Italian... fix the problem with food).
It was at this moment, at the diner with my estranged father that I was making the decision to meet my future wife or not.
My dad reached out to me in the only way he knew how and it was my decision to accept or decline. I cannot tell you how horrifying my life would be today if I hadn’t accepted…
I would probably NOT be married.
At this point I could have missed the conversation where my wife would say, “I want a man who knows what he wants.” “I know what I want,” I replied with a smile, this may never have happened. I suspect I would be very lonely and unhappy.
Can you imagine moments in your own life when, if you had chosen “A” instead of “B”, your entire life might be altered?
I can sum up the moments in my life with three specific decisions that led to a better, well patterned form of decision making. First, it was with saying "Yes" to a friend from Harrisburg Community College. Second, it was saying "Yes" to someone reaching out to me for service. Third, it was a father in need of reconciliation. If I had said no to any of these junctures, I would have a completely different life.
Ultimately, I believe one of God’s most generous gifts is the right to make choices. He gives us the right to think it through and determine yes or no based on the information you’ve received. Notice how many times I had to say “yes” to someone reaching out to me for a positive outcome. How do I know that my outcomes would not have been positive if I had said “no”?
I knew every time that NO was the easier answer.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you should always say yes. Believe me, I need my space from people. People need me to need to have space from them (trust me), but sometimes we need to say yes to the new friend, to a scary opportunity or to an unknown future. Sometimes we need more professional help like a doctor or a therapist. You might not say yes to professional help if you don’t try by first starting to say yes to a new friendship or being more open with a family member or a spouse.
Remember... it’s not ALL about YOU. Perhaps that person reaching out to you is for such a specific purpose. You can’t possibly comprehend the consequences if you don’t accept the invitation.
You’re never alone since God is always with you, but He designed human beings to need each other. Don’t let the fears of this world pull you away from a pivotal moment in your life, because someone on this earth needs you too.
“Happiness is only real when shared.”
I'll never forget my first conversation with this mysteriously shy boy.
He let me ask most of the questions and would give vague responses, which was frustrating but intriguing. I know we can't read minds, but that is especially true with my husband. I noticed that he would build up giant locked gates between himself and humanity, sharing the keys with a select few.
After Chris and I began dating, I must admit, I didn't notice that he was bottling mental issues of any kind. Our first Christmas together was magical. He seemed so care-free with my family, interacting with everyone. It wasn't until a couple years into our relationship that I noticed he was hiding something, because he started to slowly withdraw from all of us a little at a time. I watched as social settings began to overwhelm him more severely. Even if we made it to a social event, halfway through he would become so anxious. His entire mood would turn 180 degrees, and we would have to leave immediately.
The ups and downs became so conflicting for me, as I became very sensitive to the issues he was hiding.
I was not always comfortable with social settings myself.
I attended public school until 8th grade, then I was homeschooled through high school. During high school, I was very self-conscious and shy, even though I was involved in various groups like choirs and traveling drama groups. People interpreted my shyness and self-consciousness as being rude and snobbish. One of my closest friends even told me that was their first impression of me (which confused me, obviously).
By the time I graduated and went off to college, the confidence in me grew. I had a lot of friends from high school, had my first job at 16 lifeguarding at the local YMCA – I was just enjoying life with people! This was when the love of people and socializing started in me. Therefore, the conflict of having a boyfriend (whom I loved) who couldn't bear to be in social settings broke my heart.
This was not at its worst until we got married though. As I mentioned in our previous post, Chris started to hide from our friends, family and the outside world in general. There were very few people that he was comfortable being around.
This started to make me feel like I was suffocating. He did not want to be around other people (which became my outlet since I work from home), and I felt the need to spend time with him and make sure he was comfortable. This started to take away my time with people. It became more and more devastating as I did not know how to handle it – there is no real compromising when someone has social/manic-depressive anxiety. (This is not a good thing in a marriage… you need to compromise!) But that seemed impossible in this case!
An argument we would often have was,
“well they’re not my friends, they’re yours!” or “No one wants me there anyway”.
The issue here is that people viewed Chris the same way my friends saw me in high school. A snob who just wanted to be left alone… in all actuality he needed someone to reach out to him (which we know was not easy to read under the circumstances, and we are thankful for our friends who have stuck by our side through our journey!)
One night I came home to find that Chris had cut one of his wrists. I honestly didn't know how to react. Cry, to show how his actions were affecting me? Call a crisis center? I was horrified! My thoughts spun like a tornado of fearful chaotic questions, but I saw him notice how his actions created a reaction in me that scared him too. Believe me we took serious action, seeking professional help to ensure this behavior would not be repeated!! I remember so many conversations with my mom asking for advice, and she always said,
“Kim, the best thing you can do for your husband is to pray for him.”
I realized I had been doing a lot of complaining, not much praying. Prayer may turn off some of you, but I saw the change in my husband when I surrendered my fears for him to God, begging for Him to have mercy. Instead of trying to change Chris, I let God have an opportunity to change him. I saw Chris stop complaining about his issues and begin to pray about them. He started to read inspirational devotionals, as he began to read the Bible in ways I hadn't seen before. I noticed his whole perception of life change as he included astronger, daily relationship with Jesus. His mental conditions didn’t disappear, but his attitude towards them completely changed. He began to fight like a man! And it made our love for each other grow stronger and stronger as I’ve watched his stamina with battling his issues grow, to relying on God’s strength instead of his own.
We made a challenging decision to move from Pennsylvania, where Chris had lived his entire life. We both felt God was leading us to make a change in environment and live closer to friends and family (also to be closer to our church). I saw a major change in Chris as people began to reach out to him (not through his wife). He started bowling on Thursday nights with a friend from our church. It shocked me when Chris agreed to go with him, but I was more shocked when he actually WENT (Chris would often agree to things and then cancel at the last second!). He came home and was HAPPY! Not because he was impressing anyone at the bowling alley, but I could tell he had noticed his friend (who is pretty much a pro-bowler by comparison) didn't judge him. He enjoyed just spending time with a friend who was teaching him how to become skilled with a hobby that Chris had always enjoyed, but he was also learning how to not fear a social environment.
I saw the change in Chris as he started to accept more invitations from friends and followed through with their plans. Chris has slowly stopped fearing what he assumed people thought of him, and started to live a life chasing after God. His anxiety and depression may never completely disappear, but we will always FIGHT together, and continue to pray for God's courage. Change begins with the realization that sitting at home by yourself obsessing over these thoughts and fears only make them grow too big, and strong, to fight. God has so much more for you, than to just let you sit at home by yourself, immobilized!
We are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of Nature has placed in our power… The battle, sir, is not to be strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.