I went to counseling...
I guess in some ways it sneaks up on you and in other ways it's been nagging you for God knows how long. My soul talks to me every day and most of the time I talk back. But my soul never yells or screams at me, so sometimes I don't pay attention to it since the other voices are so much louder and seem so much more urgent.
But a couple Saturday Nights ago after I spoke in church, I cracked. It was honestly the most scaring moment I've had speaking in front of people because I felt so far away from myself and every one else in the room. So far from God and the words he wanted me to share. So distant and detached. It was torture to plow through the message while feeling so bereft of life myself. I didn't try to fake it, I actually told the people that I wasn't in a good place and that I felt the words I would be sharing were far from what and where I was living, but that I would, like them, have to set myself aside and just let His Word speak it's peace. So I let my mouth be the conduit. But it was weird. Really, really not good.
I came home and Heidi could tell I was imploding. She was talking but I couldn't even form words to express what was happening inside me. All I knew to say was that I was cracking, that life had finally gotten to me and I couldn't overcome and bounce back. I tried to conquer the thoughts and feelings days prior in hopes of climbing out of it by the time the weekend rolled around, but it actually was getting worse by the hour. This isn't normal. I was truly unable to pull myself out of it and yet the prospect of speaking 4 times that weekend in this feeble state was staring my right in the face and I couldn't escape the responsibility I had to preach even though I was totally obliterated within. I guess this is bound to happen over the course of a pastor's ministry, but in my 20 years of ministry, it's the first time it happened with this torrential force.
The only way to describe the feeling is that I was far, far away inside from the goings on of my surroundings. My words felt like someone else was saying them and my presence felt like a ghost I was watching from across the room. I was emotionally and spiritually fractured, and I couldn't hide it, nor was I trying to at this point.
As Heidi probed into my heart that Saturday Night, she could tell this was different than being down or having a rough night, this was altogether different. She called our counselor that we hadn't seen for a few years and left a message on his voice mail: "Hey, this is long overdue probably, but we really need to get into see you as soon as we can. Jason is not in a good place and we'd really love to get in to see you if you could make some time." As I listened to her do what I feel on the other side of most of the time with people, I felt even more naked and ashamed. Not only was I cracking inside, but we were those desperate people needing help in the late hours of the night. I didn't want to burden anyone with my life. I wanted to be alone and stay out of the limelight in hopes of finding my way back to the path. But I knew this time was different. It wasn't a matter of getting off track, I had lost my sense of orientation. Meaning, I didn't know where the track was to even begin walking toward it. Life had so gutted me and the weight of the world so crippled me that I was unable to imagine a way out, a way forward.
My will power was depleted. My desires deadened. My own soul's voice muted. I was terrified and trapped. My mind was being assaulted with thoughts of doom and dread at every turn. I couldn't stop myself from seeing every aspect of my life through the lens of inevitable destruction. When I say the phrase - "a mind of it's own" - I actually felt like apart from me, my mind was taking on a life all it's own and I was being drug through ditches of despair mentally which were torturing me so violently that my energy was being extracted from my body/being faster than I could replenish. For every positive thought I forced myself to consider, 100's of paralyzing thoughts rushed in like bandits and swallowed up the good thought and ate it for dinner. I felt my body go limp and my mind check out in surrender to the swarming killer bees that kept stinging me over and over and over again. The only thing I could say to Heidi was, "I can't do this." I wasn't talking about marriage, family, ministry, or anything specific really..."this" was a generic term for the way life was ravaging me from within.
I'll spare you the details for now, but after a few days we finally got into the counselor's office and began to walk through the quagmire of my inner world. The counselor cried before I did. I wondered if he had seen my face before plastered on some else's body, but he took a good look at me and his eyes filled with tears as he tried to begin to put into words what he was sensing was tormenting me. Most of what he said was spot on. It felt so good to see him justify my feelings by saying with his tears, "You live in a war zone in your job. It's bound to eat you alive at some point. This makes sense. You're not alone." At one point he mentioned the term PTSD and his description of it felt on point even though I've always associated that with wounded warriors or vets who come home from distant places having seen and experienced such inhumane things that their souls are torn asunder and fragmented into so many pieces that they just can't put themselves back together after what they have been through. I would never put myself in that league of PTSD, but I do know that I experience things that do something violent to my mind...I try to fight off the memories that now serve to constantly remind me of imminent death and disaster, even though the war is over and I'm far from the battlefield...my mind is still there with adrenaline coursing through my veins like I'm on the precipice of life and death.
The last few months I've felt as if I'm being chased by an ax murderer almost all day long. But on the outside, I'm not...things are relatively peaceful. I imagine it's like a soldier who returns from war and hears a sound while he's getting cereal in aisle 6 and instinctively and instantly is transported back to a moment of sheer terror. Aisle 6 is what everyone else is in as they grab their oatmeal and grits, but this guy is fighting unspeakable, untold wars in his head as people are moving about him checking things off their grocery list. He is hyperventilating, heart racing with fight or flight emotions, mind constructing every possible worst-case scenario and trying to construct an escape plan...a survival plan. This is just me trying to explain what seems ineffable. It's so stupid, I know. But I have to fight for what I know to be my experience though I lack an explanation still for this madness within.
The counselor seemed to have been battle tested himself. He wasn't giving me answers, but he was giving me words to explain my plight. He wasn't unlocking secrets to help me escape, but he was decoding some of the hieroglyphics that were covering the walls of my heart. I felt heard...and that helped. We will meet again and keep trying to unpack this overwhelming stuff that suffocates me on a good many days.
I look forward to a more long term approach to being counseled. I'm not just going to rush recovery this go around. As a pastor, I feel as though I've lifted myself out of these deep places too many times before stopping short of discovering the deep sources of my turmoil. I know God wants to meet me in the mess and speak softly to my soul about what's really going on and where it comes from and what He feels about me. I don't need self-help books or easy answers...I need to stay in this long enough to give God a chance to speak and my soul a chance to speak. I don't want to talk over them this time because I have too much to do/be to be "down". I don't know how long this will go on, but I'm ok with staying in it for as long as it takes to finding deep and true healing. So I will wait on the Lord...