Disorder, Disease & Discovery: A Glimpse Into My Story

02 July 2014

Good evening everyone! I told you that today (or tonight...) I would share my story or my testimony with all of you. As I go into this I just want to put out the warning that there will be some touchy subjects, some heavy subjects throughout and I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable or to stir up anything negative in anyone else because of that. I want to be open with you all and to share with you, but I don't want to cause anyone to stumble. Also, I don't know how long this will be but I will try to keep it somewhat short because I know that long posts can get tiring to read. This is the first time I have posted my story or anything quite this similar, so give me some grace as it will not be anywhere near a perfect draft or where I would like it to be. Here goes...

I was born in upstate New York, specifically Johnson City. I was basically born in church. My mom took me there all the time, same with my sisters when they were born. My grandpa was our pastor pretty much my whole life. My grandma was involved in various ministries, which is expected when one is the spouse of a pastor. We moved out to south central Nebraska when I was five years old. Just a couple years prior my grandparents had moved out there as well. My mom was a Children's Ministry Leader when I was a kid. 

I grew up doing everything in the church. I did Bible Quizzing, went through the whole Caravans program, went to Church Camp every summer, did all of the lock-ins and special events. I was at church whenever the doors were open. I took part in every musical I could. I was in Sunday School every Sunday morning. I was what many called the perfect church kid. I knew all the answers and according to most everyone I didn't do anything wrong, or at least I shouldn't because I was the granddaughter of the pastor and daughter of a children's ministry leader. I didn't think anything of this when I was young. I went along with it.

I accepted Christ when I was 8 years old at Church Camp. I thought God was the greatest and I was on fire for Him. Nothing swayed me and I thought I was set. Once I got to about 5th grade I started to really see another side of the church. I started seeing and experiencing the 'church politics'. I didn't entirely understand it then but I knew it wasn't good. I started becoming disillusioned with the church and I questioned things much more. In 6th grade I started joining the youth group for as many things as I could because I couldn't stand the children's program and the politics that were involved with it. At this point I started doing Teen Bible Quizzing, which is ten times better than Children's Quizzing!

NE Teen Bible Quizzing. Look at how tiny I was!! (I'm way over on the left)
Things at home had never been the greatest, although they weren't terrible. I was used to yelling and fighting about money and other things at night after my sisters went to bed. I thought it was normal and didn't think much of it. We had always had financial issues. Sometimes the issues were small and I didn't notice too much, while other times it was tough enough that we may be without our car for a few weeks or struggling to pull together money to get the basic groceries. Life wasn't easy but I knew people who had it worse. Things started to get worse between my parents in 6th grade. I saw and felt the change. Arguments grew more frequent and often times louder. My fathers anger issues started showing more. He no longer went to church with us, not even for holidays or special occasions. 

The end of 6th grade is when things really started getting hard. At this point my mom was now the Youth Pastor, which put more pressure on me to act and talk a certain way. I had lost my best friend from grade school when I went from the public school to homeschooling after 5th grade, but didn't think much of it as I ended up making a new best friend. This best friend was a year older than me, but our families were pretty close. One Wednesday right after school got out my mom and the other youth pastor got a call and had to leave during our free hour before youth group. I didn't think anything of it and the other teens didn't either. An adult was put in charge and we went on with what we were doing. Later that night I found out what that call was about. My best friend's mom had walked in on him molesting his two younger brothers. I remember that I didn't entirely understand, but I do remember crying as I was told that he would be going to juvy.  This was my first real experience with things really taking a downward turn. 

Abby, Me, My Mom, Amber, Katie and Jamie. We were all good friends at the time!
Middle school proceeded to throw its challenges at me. I had to close friends and that was it. The pressure to be the perfect church kid continued to grow. The people at the church who were the ones who should have been encouraging me, praying for me and helping me through everything were the ones who really tore me down more than anyone else. I remember hearing multiple times from multiple people that no one wanted to hear anything about my thoughts, opinions or feelings. Especially if any of them happened to contradict what and who they thought I should be as the church kid and youth pastor's daughter. I started to dislike coming to church. At the same time things at home got worse. My fathers anger started to come out in more physical ways. Outside of yelling on a regular basis over little things, he started to throw things when he was mad. It started out with small things like remotes and plastic dishes/silverware and grew to pieces of furniture such as chairs. This left holes in walls and sometimes other furniture. He even kicked in a few cabinet doors in the kitchen. I started to be afraid of him. I was afraid to be anywhere by myself with him. I was afraid to be out and about on the first floor of the house when he got home from work or when he was awake and about. I learned to retreat to my room or make plans to be gone. Babysitting become not only a job and something to enjoy, but also a refuge. 

Home was a place I didn't want to be. By the end of middle school things at home were getting pretty bad and I was starting to lean towards a slight hatred of youth group. Mind you I never said anything about church to anyone except the other youth pastor after she left the beginning of my 8th grade year. When your family are the leaders in ministry at the church you keep a lot of things to yourself. By the end of 8th grade I had a mask that I wore day in and day out. I was always smiling and things were always great. I learned to shut my emotions off and not let them dictate anything. No one saw behind the mask. Summer of 2007 was the last somewhat normal summer of my life, at least for a while, but it was also the beginning of a climax in my life. The picture above with my mom in it is one of the last ones I have on my Facebook of her walking.

In August 2007 my mom had an accident of sorts at work. She worked at an assisted living facility overnight and they had cats for the residents. She stepped on one by accident and it bit her. This caused a disorder that was diagnosed a few weeks later. She ended up being diagnosed with RSD/CRPS or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy/Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. She ended up in a wheelchair and there is no chance that she will walk again. This diagnosis threw a wrench in an already bad situation. What little bit of involvement my father had in our lives was now gone. He went to work and then came home to sit in his room. My mom was laying in bed in pain without the ability to help take care of anyone or anything, not even herself. At 14 years old I was suddenly in charge of taking care of my mom and my sisters. I cooked, cleaned, ran errands, planned out rides when need be, helped my sisters with their school, did my own school, worked basically full time, and many other things. I was stressed but it kept me busy so my mind wasn't thinking about things. It eventually hit too hard and I started to think that people would be better off without me. I didn't think anyone cared nor would they miss me. I was ready to end it all. I had it planned out twice, but thanks to my best friend at the time I couldn't bring myself to do it. It was a struggle to accept the fact that if I was gone that people would be affected. I had a hard time believing that throughout freshman year. 

Volleyball during my Sophmore Year of high school

I met my current bestfriend, Mike, the summer before my sophmore year. Little did I know, but he would become my rock and my one constant (besides God) in the coming years. Sophmore year started out like all of freshman year had gone. My mom's doctors and lawyers appointments and life being dictated by judges. It was only the beginning. Home life was really bad at this point. Bad to the point that I was rarely home and when I was I hid out in my room with my nose in a book in an attempt to block everything out. The end of my sophmore year my father filed for divorce. A four and a half year fight would begin that April. Custody battles started within a couple weeks and a temporary custody schedule was made. We all lived in the same house through that summer which made things hard. When fall came my mom, my sisters and I moved across town to our own place in less than eight hours. We were thrust back into the public school system. I got sick with Swine Flu and came close to hospitalization by the third time I caught it. My immune system was shot and I was still struggling with some of the depression issues that started freshman year. Throw in being forced by a judge to go to my father's place every other weekend and one night a week... I was a mess. I was so afraid to go over there. I subconsciously worked myself up to the point of physical sickness every weekend I was supposed to go. 

Church musical my sophmore year of high school

This was pushed aside until one weekend when it all came crashing down and my mom realized something was wrong. Often times things got so bad when we were leaving to go to his place that my mom, my sisters and I were all in tears and yelling at each other because we were frustrated and hated the situation. One Friday it fell apart for me. I suddenly had an anxiety attack while in the shower after school, although I didn't know that's what it was at the time. I barely finished it before falling to the floor in my bathroom with my towel over me. I was shaking and shivering, my body hurt everywhere, I was sobbing so hard I couldn't breathe well, I was physically making myself sick, and I felt like I was watching everything happen from outside my own body. My mom came down to get me and found me barely coherent on the bathroom floor. I remember her ending up in tears right there telling me how she wished that she didn't have to make me go. I also remember the doctors appointment the next week that ended with me being put on anxiety medication. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I was on meds, still struggling with depression, hated going to church, had all of four close friends, and my family was a hot mess. Not to mention we got evicted at the end of my freshman year as well. 

French class trip to Paris, France

Senior year came along and I thought I was doing better. It was a lie. I had started to believe in the me that everyone else saw. The me that was always smiling and always saying things were great. I wanted to believe in it because I didn't want to focus on the disorderly life I was living. I had my first taste of alcohol the beginning of my senior year. Not enough to get drunk but just enough to help numb things a bit. I also started self harming during senior year as well. Not with anything that would be noticeable. I wasn't that stupid. I took erasers to my wrist, basically using friction to burn through my skin. The marks looked more like a burn from my straightner, thus they were easy to brush off. By this point I had the mask on so much and my emotions turned off so often that I was just wanting to feel something. I wanted to be reminded that I was alive, that I was still able to feel something because I felt so numb. I usually only harmed when I hit low nights where the depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and all the other issues hit all at one time and I was so numb and felt so lifeless that I needed the pain. 

Hanging at a graduation party with my mom and great grandad

I had rededicated my life to Christ the summer before Senior year but wasn't doing a great job at following. I was a mess. I was watching my father pull all kinds of nonsense in front of lawyers and judges. I listened to him threaten to have me sent to juvy amongst other things. I watched as the people at church didn't really pay any attention. I watched as I let different guys come extremely close to crossing lines they shouldn't have. I was craving attention and these guys gave it. I never let the guys I knew get far enough, but if I didn't know them and wouldn't see them I let them say whatever they wanted. The things that were said and talked about shouldn't have even been though of let alone discussed. I was a mess but I was crying out to God in the midst of it all. I was asking to be renewed but I didn't feel like anything was happening.

I went off to college at Olivet Nazarene University in August 2011. I was still struggling with depression, anxiety and self harm. I didn't deal with it as frequently but it was still an issue. After almost failing out at the end of my first semester I finally kicked my butt into gear. That seemed to be the wake up call I needed. I started to see things turn around and I found myself reaching out to God more than ever before. I was praying and seeking Him. I was trusting Him. I knew that in the midst of it all God had been there and He was still there. I don't remember the exact moment it happened, but it was about the time that I got word that I was going to have to petition to stay at ONU that I recommitted to Christ. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I knew it would be worth it. Through out the last two and a half years I have watched God change my life in incredible ways. It has been a year and a half since I have self harmed in any way. I rarely have anxiety attacks or any terrible moments of depression. I have seen God do some wonderful things in regards to family structure and just my relationships in general. I have watched Him reshape my idea of what a healthy relationship looks like.

Some of the amazing roommates and friends that have helped me so much these last three years at Olivet

After years of struggling through one big downward spiral I came out of it on top. Nothing is perfect nor will it ever be, but looking back I can see how God worked even in the darkness. I see Him in the people that came into my life. I can see His hand in the different circumstances. I can see His presence in so many little things throughout those years. I have no doubt that even when my eyes weren't focused on Him that He was guiding my path. He was protecting me in the midst of my lowest, most dangerous moments. He used it all to bring my eyes back to Him and I am so grateful that He did. His grace and mercy are so overwhelming and I don't deserve them in the least. He has blessed me so much over the last several years and I cannot even begin to express my thankfulness that He never gave up even when He had every right.

I haven't had contact with my father in three years and I still have my moments, but I lean on God in those moments in ways that I didn't before. I am still working on accepting God as my Father due to the negative view I have of fatherly figures due to my earthly father, but i'm getting there. God has blessed me with an amazing church family that has helped me to grow more in my faith, as well as other areas. I have been blessed with the opportunity to be at a great school with amazing roommates and friends. I have been blessed to gain another wonderful district church family that is incredibly supportive and so encouraging. I am reminded daily that even though I didn't lean on God and trust Him the way I should have throughout high school, He is still there and He still loves me regardless of what my past looks like. He is the ultimate Saviour and Healer! I am daily learning how to serve Him better and how to live more and more like Him.

What is your story? How has God worked in your life?

(P.S. The pictures don't particularly have anything to do with the story but they kind of fit the timeline. They also show that even though someone is dealing with depression, anxiety and/or self harm they can and do still live normal lives. You often can't tell that something is wrong, so don't write someone off as not being affected by these things because they very well could be.)

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