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The Day My World Changed

SEPTEMBER 11, 2018 | There are few moments in my life when I can definitively pinpoint the moment I shifted as a person. The moment I changed. The very moment I became someone else. I am aware of many changes in my life over time of course, but nothing like one moment that you can’t turn back from. One moment that you walk forward from knowing you will never be the person you were the day before. Like a closed door without even a window to the past.

17 years ago I went to bed as an innocent 7th grader who had just started school. So excited. Because I love school. (See my previous post for just HOW much I love school.) The morning of September 11, 2001 changed everything. I can’t believe it’s been 17 years. I can’t believe I’m old enough to have lived 17 years past this tragedy. Something that to me changed my entire world that is now taught as a history lesson. Even as I sat in a classroom in Southern California, as far from the actual attack as possible. Even as I didn’t know anyone in New York or Pennsylvania, especially not in any of those planes or buildings. And yet it changed my world.

Those who struggle with depression typically understand their depression with triggers, episodes, long standing conflicts, issues unresolved. And then there are those who simply don’t understand their depression at all. I was that way for a while and honestly it was what had made me suicidal. I couldn’t understand the pain and the darkness that was inside of me. I couldn’t understand why my heart felt so broken. My body so fatigued. My mind so overwhelmed with emotion. My soul gasping for truth.

A few years ago, I went through a class at my church called The Journey with some amazing people. One of the pieces of this class was to write out your testimony. Pray through the moments in which God worked and revealed himself to you. I spent a decent amount of time praying through this. I love to write, but I struggled to put my story on paper. At the same time I was meeting with some ladies and had jokingly been challenged to write a book. I challenged myself further to write a book that could be read both forwards and backwards as everyone always laughs at me for reading the endings of books first. I just feel the need to know what I’m getting myself into before I start this emotional journey with characters. Anyway, I had begun to write a book called Forgiveness Is (a book I am still working on finishing). It was a way of writing out about my struggle with depression and anxiety as a Christian. Many believe that depression isn’t something Christians should struggle with or that it is a sin, but I would like to almost argue an opposite point to that.

As I began to pray through and write my story through depression, God began to reveal to me just where that depression started. When the darkness first hit me. If you look at my poetry, as I did, from before that day, it was silly, happy, ridiculous, about boys and crushes and friends and flowers and homework. But after that day it became about anguish and hurt and pain and darkness and everything away from the light. I wanted to die and I wrote it a lot. I wanted to die because I didn’t understand it.  While writing my story I simply began to type and the words that followed gave such insight to myself about where I was emotionally, how I was feeling and how I got there in the first place.

“It has been a long time coming, but I finally have to admit aloud, or at least in writing. I am depressed. Not as in, I feel awful about life and have no desire to live it, but rather I struggle with this feeling of hollowness, and in spite of it, desire to live life. This is certainly taking a lot to say as I’ve never officially admitted it to anyone. I have said, that I was depressed. That I used to live a life where I believed I was depressed but have since risen from the ashes of such depression. That is not the case. I still struggle with it daily. And although I live a happy and beautiful and blessed life, I still struggle with the hollowness that can reside inside of me.

This depression animates itself in the form of emotional outbursts, fits of rage, inability to get out of bed for feeling of being laden with weight and emptiness, paranoia and panic attacks resulting from irrational fears. This journey of depression has taken me through some interesting points in life, from seventh grade, at 12 years old when I first admitted to myself that something was wrong. When that admission came only through a friend who noticed something was wrong. Who told a parent, who told another parent, who told the principal, who told me. And I berated that friend for thinking such horrible things about me. I, Shannon, could not be suicidal. But exactly one year later, I found it to be a good option. Many say I chose it because I wanted attention. No one believed me to be actually depressed, just seeking attention. Just wanting the world to notice me.

In a way, they were right. But it was more than that. It was finding that I didn’t care about life at all. I wish I could say I had some dramatic story about a troubled childhood that found a way to confuse my psyche into thinking death was better than life, but it simply isn’t true. I had a blissful childhood. What remains is that as I grew up, I began to see sin in the world. Something I had denied my eyes of seeing in my innocence. I saw the hollowness I felt inside of me, eating away at the world. And I couldn’t find a way to reconcile the hollowness of the world with the hollowness inside of me. I felt, more vividly than I could ever describe, the hole that sin had created in my life, but I had no way of knowing that was what I felt. I had no way of knowing how to fix it.

The hollowness ate away at my life, at my soul, as I buried myself in my room. Writing poetry. Writing stories. Making up a better life. A life that didn’t include this hollowness. But somehow this hollowness crept into every story or poem I wrote. So I again tried to hide, in the depths of music, every genre, every kind, and yet it was just the same. The human condition seemed to find that hollowness at every turn. So there I sat, watching the rain from my window, wondering what it would be like to die. If I killed myself, I could also kill the hollowness inside, and the world would have that much less hollowness to deal with.”

As I wrote this, I realized that the moment I first saw this hollowness, this darkness, in the world was that September morning. I remember staring at the TV which we never had on in the morning, breathless. I don’t remember crying. I was simply in shock. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what had just happened. Even as we watched the towers fall. Even as we heard the screams. Watched people jump. Saw the clouds of ash and smoke. People running down the streets covered from head to toe. Firefighters, police, and other heroes running into the chaos. Hearing nothing above us as all air traffic ceased. I couldn’t understand the why. And there was no one to explain the why. Stories were shared of people they knew. Of watching the towers being built and now watching them fall. Of phone calls. Of friends that didn’t come to school. Of the panic that ensued. The security that now became commonplace in airports and train stations and all transportation hubs. No one could tell me why. Other than evil exists. That broke me.

The world changed that September morning as terrorism was now a household word. No longer was the phrase “the bomb” used for fear of being heard above a whisper in a crowded place and creating panic. Shoes were now removed along with everything on your person in transportation hubs. No longer could you go straight up to the gate to greet your loved ones at the airport. No one felt safe and yet life went on. But the world would never be the same.

My world changed too that September morning. I live each day in fear and anxiety. I wondered what would happen if I became trapped in a tall building I couldn’t get out of. Even now I look for every possible exit and won’t ride in elevators in case of the power going out and me being stuck. I have to pysch myself up to ride rollercoasters, or know where the restraint release button is, in order to enjoy something so simple. Because what if. I repeat in my head every night Psalm 4:8 so that I can breathe deeply and fall asleep. “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone oh Lord make me dwell in safety.” I have never moved past this.

Understanding where my depression and anxiety came from, I have learned to deal with the daily manifestations. I am no longer suicidal and I have every desire to make this world a better place. But the fears are still there. The darkness is still there. That day changed everything for me. And I can’t believe that it has been 17 years. How have I lived like this for 17 years? And yet God reminds me daily that to combat evil, we must love. And that has always been my mission. To love others. And as I strive to love, the darkness wanes. As I remember I am loved, the hollowness fills.

And I’m ok.

*Side note: I know that this is simply how my depression works and is. Others have it in different ways. Be kind to others. It may be cliche to say, but everyone is fighting a battle you may know nothing about. Be kind. Choose love.

If you are fighting this battle, know that I am here. Always. Most nights I’m probably up later than you think and if you need someone, I will be there for you. And if you can’t get through to me right away, know that it isn’t because I don’t care. Know that I love you. Know that I will be there for you. And hold on until the morning light if you can. Because I want you to be alive.