Day 6 – Dissociation

While we conducted close readings of “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer,” a real-life storm raged its way across town outside. It seemed that night had fallen in the middle of the afternoon, and the rain ricocheted against the window panes as thunder threatened to make the ground tremble.

As the skies surrendered their burdens to the earth, I resonated with the poems despite my reluctance to talk about them, caught up in the deep vastness of winter, of pouring rain, of exile. But it was oddly comforting to know my feelings weren’t foreign. They weren’t new. The Anglo-Saxons understood the fatigued restlessness. They understood the difficulty of synthesizing experiences that don’t seem to correlate.

***

We discussed depression and dissociation over dinner.

为什么我们都死?

***

We walked four miles through too-perfect neighborhoods, awash with the rain’s baptism. There were words carved into the sidewalks, clearly an indication that we were trapped in a simulation. We laughed into the eerie silence, batting the air before our eyes in doubt that even existed. Our bodies felt heavy, our souls far away. Storybook light tumbled through the leaves and illuminated a path for our feet, stealing our breaths and our heartbeats in one grand illusion.

Perhaps we were Gnostic. Where were we? Was anything real? “Are” we?

Somehow, it didn’t matter.

***

God came over decaf coffee and homemade coffee cake. It was not enough to trust everything would be okay. We had to pray.

The record player carried its melody into our minds and purged us of our burdens. We left pieces of ourselves in the carefully arranged white bookshelves, the unlit fire place, the smiles of beloved friends and mentors, the communal prayer, the relieved tears upon returning to the apartment.

We would be okay. We would pray.

And it will be. And we did. And it is. And we will.

***

Day 5 – Simple Things

The interesting things always happen right after I post these reflections…

Last night I closed my laptop with a satisfied sigh, relieved that I’d finished writing and photo editing at a reasonable hour. Seconds later,  I realized I didn’t have the key to my apartment with me, and my roommate had gone to bed two hours before.

I ended up borrowing Kailin’s clothes and sleeping on the couch in her apartment. I think we’re going to be friends forever.

***

Summer. Warm breeze. Air conditioning. Mellow tunes. Bare feet in the grass. S’mores around a bonfire. Mosquito repellent. Children’s giggles. Watermelon. Vulnerability. Stories. Late drives with the windows rolled down. Angst-y music.

***

Today was a chill day. And that’s perfectly okay with me.

***

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Day 4 – Solitude

Izzy says this is like experiencing freshman year all over again. There are new people in a new place, and even old friends don’t seem quite the same. There’s a rush to build relationships in these two weeks that will determine the overseas experience. A lot depends on being in the right place at the right time.

For introverts, this is a problem.

***

The free day is an excuse to be a complete hermit. I walk downtown by myself (sorry, mom and dad) while listening to Of Monsters and Men’s old album, “Beneath the Skin,” and let myself splurge on Starbucks which I try not to do terribly often.

I watch a cheesy rom-com by myself on the blue couch in our apartment, sipping my drink and munching pretzels. This may not have been the best idea, as it stirs up a lot of old heartaches that leave me feeling empty and betrayed.

***

Golden hour demands a slow stroll around campus with my camera, my eyes on the ground for anything interesting. Along with the photos included below, I stumble across a family of bunnies that steal my entire heart the moment one bounds across my path. I’d watched the parents prepare their home all of last semester, and to finally see the little ones is a joyous occasion.

***

After listening to me ramble about my sadness (again), Maddie convinces me to emerge from the apartment and go join her and a few other friends next door. I do so reluctantly, taking along all pieces of technology in case I need to curl into a corner and pretend I’m not there. But they draw me in, and before I know it real laughter escapes its depressed prison in my throat and dances on my lips. It’s a beautiful sound. I’d forgotten what my real laugh sounded like, so accustomed was I to the fake one that laughed so as not to feel left out.

This laughter feels safe.

***

Silence and solitude are scary. That’s when all the difficult thoughts come. That’s when we process old hurts. Silence can be a very lonely thing.

Mattea gently reminds me that facing the pain is necessary for us to grow and move forward. Suppressing the pain will only make it harder to bear, and we must learn to sit in the limbo between chapters and just exist there.

***

As I sit here writing this, slaving over the words more than I should be, I keep thinking the light bulb reflecting off my laptop screen is a gingerbread man.

Run!

I think it’s time for me to go to sleep.

***

Day 3 – Belonging

The tree branches whipping against the windows at 7 in the morning leave me less than inclined to open my eyes. Maybe if I hold onto my dreams the monster won’t get me. I’d been having nice dreams. They’d been dreams where I’d felt loved and seen.

Splashes of ice cold water cast themselves against the walls of my skin in vain efforts to wake me up. The coffee from Dr. Kriner’s office does a better job at knocking at my heart’s door and stirring me to life. I sip it black and drink my fill of the raspy sounds of T.S. Eliot’s poetry.

Am I good enough? his poetry asks.

***

Who determines where we belong and where we do not belong? Is it the people with whom we wish to belong? Is it those with whom we wish not to belong? Is it the long line of deafening societal tradition that bellows how we must belong somewhere or else we cannot be human? Is it ourselves?

***

Smoke in the walls and coffee stains. Lo-fi electronic beats and storytelling. Shots of water and lines of poetry we don’t understand.

River City is eclectic. It’s hipster. But dare we put it in a box? Slap a label on the front door and listen to the bell cease to jingle.

***

There’s a baseball covered in mud and sweat and exhaust fumes lying by the curb in the middle of a deserted neighborhood. Somehow the day doesn’t demand any more photos than that one, taken between the silence after rain and the energy after too much coffee.

***

“Jesus Christ alighted in a Jew’s daughter,” William Langland writes in his epic poem and allegory, “Piers Plowman.”

The women see Jesus. Nobody listens to them.

***

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Day 2 – Space

What does it mean to occupy space in literature?

You change and are changed by that space. It’s fluid. You can enter, you can leave, you can bring people along. You discover something new. You retell a story. The moment you set your eyes on the page, you embody the writer’s words. They become a part of you.

Literature itself becomes a vehicle for us to enter unoccupied space.

***

Virginia Woolf says, “Let us dally a little longer, be content with surfaces only.”

Through pilgrimage we learn to pay attention to things just the way they are, without forcing meaning upon them. They are meaningful in themselves, and we ought to discover them for that inherent beauty.

Dr. Kriner tells us to “pay attention for other people,” and it reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s theology of art and faith. Art is the act of discovery and sharing that discovery with the people around us. Art is sacrament, a way of communing with and encountering the living God. We long for others to experience the same, so we share our art. We share our words, our images, our thoughts, our quickened breaths.

***

Taking photos in public spaces forces me to pay attention to things I otherwise would have overlooked. The crumpled pages in the parking lot. The carved out stump behind the church. The rusty faucet in the side of the apartment complex. The discarded plastic shower caddie at the bottom of the concrete steps. Each of these things occupy unique space. Forgotten though they may be, they invite us into their story.

Inanimate objects are just as interesting as animate ones.

I’ve challenged myself to take photos of my surroundings every day for the next two months. I want to encounter more of God through art, both photography and writing. He is present even in the mundane. He is always here, waiting and calling for us to discover where he’s been all along. In many ways, we don’t have to go anywhere special to find him. We don’t need to have a dramatic experience for him to reveal himself. He’s in everything he has created, the same way an author or poet leaves a part of himself in his every work. So we find God in his created order.

***

The empty spaces are never truly empty.

***

Day 1 – Light

The idea of waking up unnerved me. Doing so meant leaving behind the blissful oblivion found in sleep and the warmth found beneath familiar blankets. But I turned on some soft music, took out my journal, and managed to spend some time in solitude with God. I realized I was afraid for the day to start. I didn’t know what to expect.

Not always faring well in new social situations, I found myself completely drained halfway through lunch and on the verge of tears in the middle of our group devotion time. We sang a hymn together, read scripture, and prayed, and I found myself hesitant to come before God. I felt ashamed. Here I was, finally in the place I’d longed to be since last fall, and I wasn’t enjoying it.

I had a little over an hour before class began so I walked fifteen minutes back to the apartment and tried to decide how to take care of myself. I waffled between having a good cry and turning the angst into something creative, finally opting for the latter. My camera found its way into my hands, and I wandered around searching for meaning and life in the rooms, bare except for our few belongings stowed away in drawers and on shelves. Slowly, I felt calm return to my heart, if not peace.

***

For the past few days I have felt wave after wave of nostalgia, longing for the way things used to be and grieving the fact that they had to change. Perhaps the spaces I inhabit have changed so much over the past couple of weeks that I’m desperate for some sort of consistency. So, I miss the familiarity and certainty I used to have, and it hurts to think about how that was broken.

After I unwisely went down a rabbit trail of disappointing memories, Maddie sat next to me and just listened to me rant. She has exhibited such patience in the midst of my unsettled thoughts, even just over these two days, being faithful to share wisdom, understanding, and encouragement. It’s making me tear up a little just to think about how she continues to show me God’s love. Last night I was feeling a considerable amount of despair about my mental health, and after listening to my semi-cohesive rambles she said, “I keep hearing you say the word ‘less,’ and I want you to know that the Eliana you are now is not less than the Eliana from before.”

***

Light pierces through darkness, and God has shown me that in small ways throughout the day. I may still feel heavy, weak, and unable, but I know God is faithful to provide and he will carry me through. He walks with the sojourner, the one who feels that they don’t belong, and he reminds us we’re never truly alone.

I’m learning how to find the beauty in a falsely desolate situation.

***

finals week

Saturday

I wake up with only six hours of sleep under my belt. My entire body aches and I assume it’s from the past several weeks of constant anxiety.

I get nothing done.

I eat a plateful of food at dinner and it’s the most I’ve eaten in one sitting since a time I can’t remember.

The sun is shining, it’s warm, and everyone around me is happy. By my body is cold and the only emotion I feel is sadness.

I sit on my bench and try to read, but the key word is “try.” I stumble after the safe haven of my dorm and the tears can fall freely now. Nobody has to know.

“Can I call home tonight, please?” I never say please when I ask if I can call home.

I have a fever.

Sunday

The fever is worse. I skip church, skip brunch, and don’t eat until 5:30pm.

Monday

My professor tells me I can have one extra day to write my research paper. I don’t tell him that I haven’t written a single word.

Tuesday

The final exam takes me almost the entire two hours to complete. By the end of the essay portion my writing is so melodramatic a middle-schooler could have written it.

I write eight pages in three hours. I cry when I write my conclusion.

The printer runs out of paper, so I refill it and someone else’s essay rolls out of the machine. I take one look at the name on the header and consider throwing it in the trash.

My friend gets into a car accident that was not her fault. She’s okay.

I feel well enough to take a shower. Then the fever comes back and I lie awake until three thirty in the morning thinking about all the packing I have not done and all the words I have not written.

Wednesday

The fire alarm pierces my nightmare at seven sharp.

I’m supposed to have an exam at 10:30am. When I show up to the classroom, I don’t know anyone there.

The exam is actually at 1:30pm.

I feel sick to my stomach and dizzy and anxious to boot. My fever rages but I plan to go to the doctor so I refrain from taking any medicine.

I call my mom and cry.

I don’t take the final exam.

I don’t shower because I’m too tired to do anything except lie in bed and feign sleep.

My roommate comes home at five in the morning.

Thursday

I skip the oral exam for my Chinese language final.

I do three loads of laundry and wash my sheets for the first time all semester. I don’t want to tell people about it because I know they’ll think I’m disgusting when really I’ve just been inordinately depressed.

I write two more final essays, one in English and one in Chinese.

My things are packed between four boxes, two suitcases, and one backpack.

Friday

At the airport I’m overwhelmed by the realization that I’m finally done. I’m alive. I’m going home.

And God? Wow.

just a glimpse

I have to remind myself that little Eliana would be so proud of me.

Little Eliana had big dreams. She had no doubt she could achieve those dreams. She thought college students were the coolest people on the planet.

***

I remember what it was like to be happy. Which stinks, because there’s a great divide between the innocence and the darkness that runs through every day of my life now. Little me and the me now don’t feel like the same person. When I look at pictures of myself from anytime before senior year of high school it feels like I’m looking at a stranger. Rationally I know it’s me, but she seems so far away.

She was insecure, but her smile was bigger than it is now. Her laugh was loud because she wasn’t afraid.

***

I call home in the middle of a mental break down.

My dad tries to remind me that brokenness is the natural state of the world. To receive joy is to receive a glimpse into what’s to come. To receive a blessing is to receive a sneak peek of what God’s preparing for us even now. This is not our permanent home. We’re pilgrims here. I don’t want to believe him.

“Doesn’t that make you pessimistic?” I ask.

“There’s a difference between pessimistic and realistic,” he says.

Realistically, we ought not to be surprised when we suffer. Suffering is what this world has fallen into. What we ought to be surprised by, then, is when God graciously opens up a tiny window for us to glimpse his glory. It’s like Moses. God hid him in the cleft of a rock and passed by for a moment. Moses could not behold the whole glory of God, but he got a glimpse.

Our relationships are a glimpse into the ultimate relationship between us and God. The broken ones and imperfections are a difficult reminder that none of these things can ultimately satisfy us the way He can.

***

Charlotte encourages me to understand joy as God’s grace providing me with just a little relief to get through. She uses the same vocabulary as my dad. My resting state might be anxious and depressed, but God blesses us with small glimpses into the way the world should be, and that’s meant to give us hope. It won’t always be like this.

***

My dad reminds me that while my suffering is valid and he believes me, I do have it better than a lot of people. I have family. I have friends.

“Another [who doesn’t have those things] may have more rewards in heaven than we do,” my dad says. “But we will all be in the presence of God and we will rejoice that they are receiving those gifts.”

***

It scares me to think about going through any of this without God, so I don’t think about it very often.

***

My mom says, “Hold it loosely in your hands so God can hold it tightly in his.”

“Did you get that from somewhere or did you just make it up?”

“It just came to me. That was definitely God.”

“That’s what I was thinking, too.”

***

I finished reading a commentary on Dante’s Divina Commedia for a class, and one line struck me right in the face. The commentator talks about the moment Jesus calls Peter out onto the water.

“A key thing about this reference is that Peter did not want to walk on water. It is a moment of a crisis of faith. He was teetering on the brink of the abyss, struggling, but he does finally manage to go on. This is a poignant moment, and Dante is clearly stressing that there are degrees of faith, and that a crisis of faith must not be seen as a denial of faith.” (“Reading Dante” by Giuseppe Mazzotta)

I read it to my mom after venting about how I feel like I can’t find God. She falls silent.

“Nothing can keep you from the love of God,” she says. “Not anxiety. Not depression.”

***

Little Eliana is still there, somewhere. I know she is. In a weird way, she’s cheering for me. She’s hoping I take care of myself. She’s hoping I know she thinks I’m cool. She’s hoping I realize all the ways God has provided in the midst of the darkness.

She’s hoping I know she’s proud of me.

Someday, someday, I will be proud of me, too.