[Trigger warning: suicidal ideation]
What do you know about yourself?
I'll bet most of you can tell me a few positive things that you are, things that you like about yourself. You're a hard worker, you're pretty, you're loyal or passionate or funny or you can really cut a rug. When you're having a rough day, or starting to lose sight of some of the nuances of who you are, you can count on these details to be true and good.
This is the one good thing I've known about myself since I was very young. Even when I also believed I was bad, lazy, messy, ugly, boring, nerdy, overly-emotional, not worth being friends with or dating... I knew I was smart. It was a good quality of mine I could cling to, and I built the bulk of my identity around that.
But what do you do when that identity is called into question?
I was 20 years old, a junior in college, taking a class I loved called “Sociology of Families.” The professor was young and fun, with a wry sense of humor and a penchant for actually writing class notes off the cuff on the chalkboard.
Sociology was my major, and I was drawn to it because I enjoyed the lively yet respectful and open discussion it encouraged. I loved that I could float ideas that I was still developing and have them explored and expounded upon by my peers and profs. I loved that my major was based on critical thinking and questioning everything we were told. I loved that if I could at least begin to support my thoughts with sociological theory or ideas, I was welcome and urged to do so.
One day in class, we were talking about religion and its impact on the family, and our professor stated definitively that Christianity was an institutional support for domestic violence. Simply-put (and without getting into a sociology primer, haha), this means that Christianity – by its very nature – needs and feeds domestic violence. I took issue with this and raised my hand to argue that the more likely causal relationships were with traditional gender ideologies, etc, which were features of the radical branches of any number of religions, rather than with with one whole, specific religion.
My professor flew off the handle and told me that he had more experience and knowledge than I did, and he shamed me for questioning him. He told me that he didn't know how I had made it to a 300-level class without learning the importance of generalization, and he said that I didn't belong in his class. I kept my eyes down for his tirade... it was the first time a professor had ever spoken to me that way and I didn't know how to process it other than to take it in silence.
I had to turn in a brief paragraph proposing the topic for my final paper at the end of class, so at the bottom, I jotted a note. I apologized for disrupting class and upsetting him, and I told him that the point I was trying to make was that Christians generally abhor domestic violence. He had pointed out the "wives submit to your husbands" verse in Ephesians during his attack on me, so in my note I pointed out that that verse is sandwiched between verses admonishing husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the Church, and to love her as he loves himself.
The professor came to our next class session with at least a ream's worth of printed articles, slammed them down on his desk, and said, "This is all research that backs ME up." He dared anyone else to challenge him, and then lit into me for another ten minutes before moving on with his lecture. As we were leaving, he pulled me aside and told me how inappropriate my note was and how he just couldn't believe that I could be so dense. He again told me that I didn't have the critical thinking or generalization tools necessary to succeed in the upper level courses at a rigorous university.
It was terrible. But the worst part of it was...
I believed him.
Suddenly, I believed him deep in my soul. This was a person who had earned his doctorate in knowing and understanding people, who had shown nothing but respect and patience for my classmates and me up to that point. He said I was no good. I wasn't smart. I wasn't worthy. And I believed him.
I believed him so deeply and intensely that I suddenly didn't know who or what I was. I hadn't developed my personal identity much beyond "smart," so when that was stripped away, I lost everything I knew and valued about myself. And I gave up.
I had a nervous breakdown that weekend, and ended up unresponsive in ICU because of the way diabetes reacts to stress. And this stress was enough to very nearly kill me.
I began to make the bare minimum of effort in my classes... even if I would never be a successful sociologist, I should at least get the degree if possible, so my parents' tuition money wasn't a total waste. I mean, sending an idiot like me to college was probably fairly wasteful, since I'd never amount to much anyway, but I may as well at least get the diploma. I stopped paying attention to my blood sugars. I wasn't on a pump, so I didn't have a regular basal rate to keep me going, and I skipped doses of long-acting insulin or forgot to take insulin to cover the food I was stress-eating. I ended up deathly ill and in the hospital again. And again. And again. And again. For the next year or so, I was in and out of the hospital at least a dozen times.
I was passively suicidal. I had a plan, and if I'd had the energy or motivation, I probably would have carried it out. But it didn't matter. My apathy would probably end up killing me, and that would be okay. Because whatever. I was nothing, nobody, and I just didn't care. Friends walked away, because they didn't understand. I remember one telling me that I was being lazy, not taking care of myself, and she just didn't want to be friends with someone who couldn't be bothered to take care of herself.
If all of that in the last couple of paragraphs sounds like hyperbole, I get it. Reading it with my editor eyes, it does to me, too. But it was real. Those are the thoughts and actions (and inactions) of a girl who was committing slow, passive suicide.
I began to come out of it a little bit, the further distanced from that professor I was, and after finding a family-away-from-home at the police department in my college town while I was interning there. I began to understand that that professor was wrong. I know, so obvious, but it WASN'T obvious to my fragile little heart back then. Regaining what little I knew about myself, I was able to start piecing my life back together.
I was fortunate that I met Ethan around that time. You can read more of our story under the tab at the top of my page, but long story shorter, he kept encouraging me with Biblical truth about my identity in Christ, and my worth as a person, and he helped me learn other things about myself, too. Like that I'm goofy and spontaneous when I'm comfortable, that I have a passion and skill for listening to people, and that "stubborn" isn't always a bad thing to be :-) He helped me to see that I'm tough, and that I'm a survivor.
Honestly, he still has to remind me of all of the above sometimes. I'm in a much better place right now (MUCH MUCH), but sometimes old feelings pop up out of nowhere, especially with the lingering PTSD and depression, and the newer postpartum depression/anxiety. I am thankful now that my identity no longer revolves around one small detail. My identity is, at the core, a daughter of God, His image-bearer, His beloved.
If any of my other identities change, this one will remain.
Thank you, Lord, for saving my life and teaching me who I am. Thank you, Professor, for being a huge jerk and creating the disaster in me that the Lord turned around for good. Thank you, hubsband, for letting Him use you and for loving me so well. I love you!