The Great Breakdown: My Journey to Imperfection
I did everything right in life.
I know, its a bit presumptuous.
But here are the facts:
First off, being born. I did that really right. My parents are middle class, white, Christians who went to church each week, believed in Biblical principles and lived them out. They love each other and their kids a ridiculous amount. They taught us how to be responsible, honest, generous, intelligent, and kind. For eighteen years, they provided me with the secure bubble of church and homeschool communities that were sure to steer me in the right direction in life.
My upbringing gave me the tools and the rules to have a great life. And I followed the manual to the letter:
- As a student, I studied hard and got near perfect grades in high school and college.
- After graduating from college, I steadily worked my way into an advancing and well-paying career.
- Financially, I was responsible and put plenty of money in saving with no debt.
- Spiritually, my theology and relationship with God were solid and secure. I was in church two to three times a week, a leader in ministry, with strong relationships in my community.
- Relationship-wise, I didn’t date until my mid-twenties. My husband was the first man I ever seriously dated, and we shared our first kiss the day we got engaged.
- I never touched drugs and didn’t drink beyond that first glass of wine on special occasions.
- I was careful to only listen to Christian music that presented the correct theology, to watch movies that were deemed appropriate, and to avoid books with questionable content.
- As to wisdom, I had solid answers to life’s major questions and thought I knew where my future was headed.
So as I said, I did everything right. At least as far as the script I had been given was concerned. And from the outside, it worked. From the outside, you would never know that I was clinging desperately to these signs of success like a lifeline. But inside…. Inside, I was plagued by a constant sense of failure. I had low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and felt majorly overwhelmed and terrified by life. In essence, I was that whitewashed tomb Jesus talked about.
If that doesn’t make sense, imagine if you never seriously failed at anything in life (and I mean anything). Failure becomes terrifying. But it wasn’t just that. For me, doing everything right so I could have a healthy, happy life had slowly morphed into doing everything right so I had value. I could no longer fail because my worth and ability to be loved were now tied to it. And it was never enough. There was always that next goal to achieve, that next milestone that if I could just reach it, I would finally be good enough. But enough just never seemed to arrive.
I knew this was not the life of peace and joy that a Christian who pursued the right things was supposed to have. But rather than questioning my beliefs about myself or God, I assumed the fault was mine. I tried harder. Tried to pursue God more, tried to push harder in my career, tried to serve in greater capacities. I tried desperately to fix whatever seemed to be so wrong with me. And my anxiety and depression steadily grew.
The Gift of Falling Apart
Finally, my body gave me the greatest gift it has ever given me. It gave out on me. I stopped being able to work. Literally, my mind stopped being able to compose emails or work on projects. Sometimes I couldn’t move for an hour at a time. Panic attacks racked my body daily, and I felt like I was one step away from going completely crazy. Then I stopped being able to go to church. Again, the panic attacks, the frozen states of terror came any time I tried to sit in a church pew.
In a few months time, I found my career, my faith, and most every other area of my life shattered. I failed big time and I could no longer hide behind all the success. But this, as it turns out, was life’s biggest gift to me. Falling apart let me experience this beautiful amazing thing. I found that I was still loved by God, my family, and my true friends even under the shadow of massive failure. It was incredibly freeing, painful, and life-changing.
I also realized that the life I had been running so hard toward, was not the life I wanted at all. I had spent my life wearing masks. The mask of perfection. The mask of success. The mask of being liked. The mask of the good Christian girl. They stripped me of my identity and left me an empty shell imprisoned by fear. I was a husk, presenting to the world a thing of beauty, but inside dust collapsing in on itself. But my true self was still imprisoned inside and she had just made her move to get out.
In the end, I discovered what I really wanted was to be enough. I wanted to be seen, really seen by people, by God, and by myself and still be enough. I wanted the freedom to try and fail, the freedom to question and explore. I wanted to be messy, imperfect, sometimes selfish and dramatic, introverted, sometimes overwhelmed, emotional, all over the place because that was the real me. And I desperately wanted, needed it to be enough. And I now believe there is something deeply holy, subversive, and good about that desire.
A New Journey
I’ve since started a new journey away from striving for perfection and toward accepting the person I am in this moment, in all its holy imperfection. I didn’t exactly choose this path, rather it was thrust upon me by necessity. I’ve had to unpack what brought me to my infamous breakdown and how to learn to live a new way. The process is not one I would wish on anyone. It feels a lot like slowly dying and being reborn all at once. It’s deeply personal, raw, and vulnerable.
So why write about something so vulnerable in a blog? One reason is personal. I need a space to assert my own voice. There are still voices that scream at me that I am not enough, that constantly question who am I to think I have anything of value to bring to the world. So this blog is an act of sacred defiance against the voices of not enough.
My second reason is less selfish. The biggest thing that is getting me through this slow death and rebirth is people walking alongside me. There have been family and friends who sat with me to listen and offer encouragement. But there were also people from far away who took the time to write and create podcasts about their similar experiences. They gave me a community of people to walk with, so I wouldn’t have to go it alone. My hope is that I can add one more story that will help others to make the journey into their own imperfect now.