"I was just following the little dog through the skinny trees. I was just collecting water glasses, carrying them to the well and taking them back one by one, trying not to drop one drop..."
My roommate said something to me one night last week about how most people on campus know who I am.
"Because of SOS?" I asked, referring to the the year I spent running the university's orientation program.
"Yeah, because of SOS," she replied as we settled into our room for the evening, crawling into bed and turning on an episode of 30 Rock.
"They either know me from that," I half joked, pulling my comforter up to my chest, "or as the girl who cries on campus all the time."
We laughed, as I recounted all of the places I had been seen in tears that semester.
"Eagles, Common Grounds, the caf, by the bell tower, in the sub, in the comm. offices, in Sutherland, the Talon, the Talbot building, the fitness center, the prayer chapel, two different offices in Metzger..."
My penchant for crying on campus property began early this semester, my final semester as an undergraduate. The second week of September found me sobbing uncontrollably in the office of a woman I barely knew in student development. Pull it together, I shouted to myself. Pull it together for just a minute, so you can leave and cry somewhere else. Come on, Schwartz!
But I couldn't. Half way through what should have been a routine meeting about an unemotional matter, I felt tears escaping from the corners of my eyes, hard as I tried to fight them. Before this poor woman knew what has happening, my chest was heaving with the kind of sobs that make it impossible to breathe, let alone explain why you are ugly crying over something that does not warrant tears.
"I'm...sorry," I eeked out, after several minutes of trying to catch enough breath to form words. "These...tears...are...about...so much...more...than...this."
She looked at me, wide eyed, grabbed a box of tissues, and moved towards me to place a comforting hand on my back.
I am an idiot, I thought to myself, trying to discern which was more embarrassing; my uncontrollable tears or the fact that I couldn't explain my outburst.
I continued to sob for the better part of a half hour. Struggling for breath, I managed to string together a few sentences to the tune of, my semester is off to a rough start, I'm dealing with a lot, I'm emotionally worn out, and shakily explained how something in our mundane meeting had broken through the dam I so carefully constructed to keep it all inside. She nodded sympathetically, and handed me another tissue.
Well, that was not at all how that meeting was supposed to go, I thought as I wiped the mascara from under my eyes and hurried towards my car.
And that is exactly how my semester has unfolded; not at all how it was supposed to.
"I was wearing the same shirt as the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that..."
I have spent the last few months shuffling to and from classes, turning in sub-standard work, avoiding the eye contact of acquaintances and friends as I travel about, so as not to have to summon the energy for small talk. Some days, I dress to the nines, with my hair curled and lipstick applied, sure that if I look good enough on the outside, I can convince the heavy feeling I am met with each morning in my chest, the one that wishes I could just dissolve into my mattress, to leave. Other days I barely try, committing the southern California sin of venturing into public in sweat pants that don't read "PINK" or "JUICY" across my butt or thigh. Sometimes I am startled by the girl looking back at me in the mirror; her eyes don't look like mine. Or they don't look like the me I'm used to. Their normal, fiery green (yes, green can be fiery) is now dull and tired.
"I was laying in the dirt and piling it on. My belly was heavy. The year that both of them left I could barely move. For months, I barely moved."
When people ask me what is wrong, I struggle to reply. It's not easy to explain; I'm not sure I fully understand it myself. There are "reasons", I suppose...several strained, changing, or broken relationships, a significant struggle with anxiety, the ramifications of a dark summer spent alone, and the weight of graduating/figuring out my life in May. None of these things, taken individually, are enough to explain the hole I am in, but the weight of them combined, seem to have pushed me into a serious episode (of what, I'm not sure) the likes of which I have not experienced in a long, long time.
In my circle of friends, I am the tried and true listening ear when it comes to issues of mental health or relational brokenness. I am famous for my speeches about the importance of community, counseling, hope, and healing. You need to let other people in, you deserve to talk to someone about this, it's ok to feel how you are feeling, I say. Let's get you into counseling, know that you can call anytime, be proactive. But here I am, doing all of the "right things", according to the Sarah Schwartz "How to Deal with Emotional Distress Checklist", (who the frick do I think I am, by the way), and nothing is helping. The semester is nearly over, and I am in the same place I was the day I ugly cried in that poor woman's office.
"I stared out the window, wrote a list of my body parts that no longer work – that list is a poem, not a list, so is this one."
I guess darkness/brokenness/depression, whatever you want to call it, (personally I prefer "The Great Sadness", or at least that is how I lovingly refer to my current season), is more complicated than a checklist sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a firm believer in the value of the items on the checklist. I guess I just forgot that the list isn't an end all. It's not magic. And it doesn't come with a timeline. I've treated brokenness like a math equation, when it's more like, well, a story. And not the kind that tidily resolves at the end. The kind that's messy and beautiful and frustrating and leaves you with all kinds of questions.
Hi, my name is Sarah, and I am quite broken. And in related news, I do not have brokenness figured out. And I have no idea when I am going to feel whole again.
But in the meantime, I'm going to keep getting out of bed. I'm going to keep starting my days with sleepy prayers of simple phrases, like, "Abba, I belong to you."
I'm going to keep being honest. I'm going to curl up in the arms of my friends when I need to, and cry when I need to, and reach out for help when I need to. I'm going to let go of needing to feel like I have it together.
I'm going to be ok with the fact that my college career is ending with a whimper rather than a bang, because crossing the finish line is still crossing the finish line, whether you run across or limp.
And when my moments are especially heavy, I'm going to keep telling myself that one day, I'm going to see and feel light again. It may not be tomorrow, or the day after that, but it's there, somewhere in my future, and eventually I will reach it.
"I’m still waiting for the sun to come up. But I am warm enough."