The first time I saw snowflakes fall from the sky, I was 10. Momma had asked me to go purchase groceries as she rested from her long late night shift. It had been a somewhat nice day, nothing a light jacket couldn’t fix, and the sun was high in the sky. After shopping, I carried the bags and began my trek back home. It was colder. Then I saw it, fluffy white pieces falling from the sky. I remember looking up in awe at such beauty. I remember trying to catch a snowflake on my tongue. I remember getting frost bite in my hands and feet because I stayed in the cold for too long. I remember crying as momma defrosted me, but not regretting a moment of it. I spent every waking moment that I could in the snow. Winter seemed magical, serene, ethereal; something out of this world. Everything covered in what seemed like descended clouds. I was curious, I was excited, it was awesome. That winter passed, and I anticipated the next one. I had plans in place to explore its magic. As the next winter drew nearer, I felt it.
The heaviness that settled in the center of my chest, a pressure that sometimes made it hard to breathe. The feeling of winter was similar to the heaviness I carried with me all year, but somehow it was deeper, darker, scarier. I wasn’t sure what was happening, and for many years I would not be able to put a name to it. One thing I did know for sure was that the magic of winter had been stolen from me, and I did not know how to find it again. I thought that I was abnormal. I thought I wasn’t wired right. Teenage days were looming, surely my screws were loose. I thought that I was just missing the year-round warmth of my home country and therefore exaggerating my feelings. I figured that the second winter would be a season that I would just have to endure, and the heaviness that stayed year round, well, It would get easier as I got older.
Getting older didn’t make anything easier. In fact, it made life more complicated as the demands got more overwhelming. Networks grew larger, therefore expectations became greater. Apparently, the older one gets the more responsibilities they must carry. Carrying the responsibilities were no problem, but how does one sustain a sound structure on a faulty foundation? I was broken and I didn’t even know it. At the age of 6, I wished to die. I thought nothing of it, just having a ‘bad day’ I guess. Then I was sexually assaulted, I did not realize the impact it had on me. I just thought I could brush the occurrences off. Almost like a sports injury; band-aid, ice, medication, sleep; you’ll be alright. I was wrong. I was assaulted a few more times in the span of my life, but these are hard truths for another day. These created chasms out of the cracks. Simply, I was broken, and it was a soul deep damage. I coasted for years carrying the heaviness with me, dreading winter, trying to be distant from people. Each hurt, betrayal, pain, adding to the pressure until it became my new normal. Until one day, the goal was no longer to stop feeling, but instead to remember what feeling felt like. Spring and summer helped, for they made me feel renewed and reborn, the heaviness just a bit lighter to bear. The sunshine and the longer days seemed to whisper hope, but I knew they wouldn’t last for there was always winter.
How was I going to navigate winter without feeling dead inside? I thought that this was a curse I would have to learn to live with for the rest of my life. I learned how to live life with the emptiness, the brokenness, the pain. I learned how to smile even when everything inside of me was weeping. I learned how to show the emotions that people wanted to see, needed to see, in order for them to be okay. I learned how to put on a show so that I would fit into what the world told me was acceptable. I learned how to say okay, show okay, live okay, when everything inside me was bleeding out. Inside were fragments of self that I did not know how to put together. Inside were broken shards of a whole that were begging for restoration. Inside was a sad little girl who could not find her way home, and even if she could find her way, didn’t know what home was anymore. Inside was hell, and all that I thought would save me, only pushed me down deeper into hell, until certain things jolted me awake.
A journey I didn’t know I was on began, a tug of war of sorts. I tried to ignore it but I was wrong. I could not pretend everything was okay anymore. I could not pretend that I was okay. 21 was jarring, for that was when things took an even more drastic turn. Everything seemed to be happening all at once. I have buried more people than I am willing to count, starting at 21. Here one day, gone the next. Simultaneously, I felt love, which confused me. My very shattered heart still had functioning pieces, and as much as I fought against it, it managed not only to love, but to choose love. My mind could not process any of it. My mind felt like it was splitting in two. In many ways, I tried to shut down completely, truthfully, I thought about ending my life so that it could all stop.
The death of my loved ones challenged me to look at the life I was living. The life of my loved one challenged me to look inside for the first time in a very long time. The truth is, I could not recognize me; for everything that should have been me was broken. It seemed as though everything I put my hands to do failed. My mind felt like it was splitting apart. I began to see death everywhere I went. Much more than that, I began to fear life and living itself. What was a future? Why would anyone want it if all it had was pain? What if I got a chance to live and my life amounted to nothing? Who would remember me when I am gone? Why should anyone show up for someone like me? These were some of the questions I asked myself over and over again, every waking moment. The more I asked, the less answers I had. There are times that I still stop in my day and ask God these questions. I am reminded to trust.
A preacher’s daughter, a young woman, a hard worker. Those were labels used to describe me. I worked, played, I existed. There was no way that you would know what was going on within. I knew that such a thing existed, but I thought that it was for extreme cases. It definitely was not for someone like me. Depression, my own personal hell on earth. A facet of the depression I suffered being Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. A heavy depressive state caused by seasonal change and hormonal imbalances, especially during the fall/winter season. There are many symptoms to this disorder, with its biggest effects setting in between October and April. I was not born in a climate, culture, or tradition that was accustomed to winter. I was not raised with an understanding or belief that acknowledged depression. Trust God enough and everything works out right, so I thought I was doing the God life wrong if depression knocked me out each time. I did not have systems in place that taught me what to do. I was battling depression and I did not know where to turn. The thing about depression is that you are mostly fighting against yourself. You are exhausted but cannot see a way out. You know that you need help, you may know how and where to get help, but your thoughts tell you that you are unworthy. Your mind tells you that you’ll always be broken. Your heart longs for healing, but no matter what anybody says, you believe that it will not get better, it cannot get better, for the broken pieces are the sum total of you.
You are defeated from the inside out, no matter the resources you may want to use in battle. There is a saying that states, ‘when you hit rock bottom, you have nowhere else to look but up’. I had looked everywhere else, friends, philosophy, religions, alcohol, drugs… I’ll spare you the rest of list. None of it fixed me. None of it healed me. They just numbed me until I became a ghost of myself. I reached a breaking point. I hit rock bottom, and there, understanding began. The process was slow. Excruciatingly slow, but necessary. It began as a quiet whisper; my face turned against a wall, entering into the new year. I had actually forgotten I had done this until things began to happen in my life and God reminded me of it. To a wall I had whispered one prayer; “God, if you are real, here is your chance to show it, because I cannot do this anymore. I cannot live like this anymore”. That night, I wept bitterly because I believed that nothing could fix me, and my last hail Mary was wishful thinking at best. I resolved to just wait out the inevitable, death. Then things began to happen.
The things I held on to for preservation, people I had hinged my hope on to fix me, plans I had charted for myself to stay afloat, began to disappear and fall apart. Nothing seemed to be going right at an even more alarming pace, but I hung on because as terrible as this way, it seemed different. There was a still fall voice, a knowing, that all of these were meant to be falling apart, even when I got a devastating blow. “Hey T, J is dead”. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. The world stood still. I don’t know if it was because I had seen him merely five days before he was killed. I don’t know if it was because he and I had made plans for the new year, only for me to start the year off with news of his death. I don’t know if it was because I would never again feel his all consuming hug. I don’t know if it was because we had only recently reconnected after a couple of years of being apart. I don’t know if it was because he died on the sidewalk, at the beginning of a new day, a new year, all alone, through no fault of his own. What I did know was that his death ate away at my heart. His death, tore apart what was left of me. I became terrified of life, and each death after that just seemed to fuel my hysteria. The heaviness of my heart amplified. A heaviness I carried around silently, for how could I put into words grief, emptiness, pain, that tore at my very soul. I had thought about taking my life, but there was him.
He had become an integral part of my life, the very part that gave me a reason to hope, to love, to be. Unbeknownst to him, he challenged me to look for life itself. Unbeknownst to him, I only saw the future in him. Unbeknownst to him, he was the reason that I continued to try, no matter how painful it was. There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel, but at least there was him; my personal rainbow in the midst of my storm. I had to make a choice, face my demons head on or stay the same? Choose life or choose the same. I couldn’t do it, choose. Choice required change. Change meant to give him up. To give him up would be to die. I was reminded to trust.
See, the Holy Spirit doesn’t yell or demand, He prompts and gently guides. His way doesn’t always make sense, actually it rarely ever does. However, He waits till you decide to move, then He helps you to navigate the path. I finally yielded to the knowing and chose to walk away. My heart, my soul, crumbled. I couldn’t breathe. I had broken his heart, and I felt what was left of me shatter completely. A literal breaking of my heart that sent shooting pains through my physical body, everywhere. For weeks, I wept bitterly because truly this could lead nowhere else but death. I was alone, utterly alone.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out, and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction”
Complete destruction. I had no one to run to, I had nowhere to look. Little did I know that God was there all the while. God started with my heart. I would have settled for a fixed heart, but He gave me a new one. No leaks, no cracks. Whole. His. Love. It didn’t come easy, it came in a place called surrender. A mirror turned on myself to show me all the parts not so pretty. A mirror that reflected God’s view of me with all of my flaws. His view of me said I was worthy. I am worth it. I remember the moment it happened. I took a deep breath, it was like breathing for the first time. It was breathing for the first time. Beyond my lungs, beyond my diaphragm, as though air had never been a part of me until that moment, as the heaviness lifted off my chest. I didn’t know how to act. I didn’t even know how to feel. Feeling had become a stranger to me Truthfully, I tried to hide from the healing because I thought surely, it wouldn’t last, it could not be real. As time went by, I found that a whole heart, a light heart, became my new normal. Even I could not hide it from myself or those around me. I thought nothing could top that, then He led me to a new mind.
That was a very difficult journey. That journey required a lot of help in many different areas. People, therapists, prayers, books, disappointments, road blocks. I’ll share more about those later. It was a journey that required me to battle demons I had always run away from, and face my greatest opponent – me. The journey to a new mind etched Psalm 23:1&4 (NLT) onto my heart; “The Lord is my Shepherd. I have all that I need. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me”. The journey to a new mind brought me back to the Heart of Worship. The very center where being, not doing, is foundational; for anywhere but His presence is a danger zone. The journey to a new mind was excruciatingly painful, yet abundantly sweet. The journey to a new mind brought me to my first winter since my first winter. This place, this space. October to now, where my greatest battle has been how to serve Him better, authentically.
Ever since I can remember, winter was always very difficult for me. Ever since I can remember, I struggled with depression. This year, and winter was my first since I can remember experienced with joy. My first winter where I was able to live without a single depressive episode. My first year where I was able to share love authentically, not just with myself, but with others around me. A winter where even the saddest of news only bolstered my faith and did not tear me down. A year wherein for the first time, I lived in peace, not because of the absence of chaos, but in spite of it. A winter that was magical, serene, ethereal; something out of this world. My first year that did not feel dreadful at all. My heart still hurts and memories come in waves, but the darkness, the heaviness, is nowhere to be found; for He overshadows me with the radiance of His glory, and I choose each day to stay there. I thought I’d live in depression all of my life, but here I stand, vulnerable, open, peace. I always thought that I had to beat depression, I have come to understand that I simply needed to learn how to not let depression beat me. That understanding only comes in and through Him.
The journey still continues, it is a daily battle. I do not know what the future holds for me, nor do I know where any of this leads. The path is stretched out far into the unknown, only clear where I am being guided to step. One thing that I do know is that even through the winter, He is always faithful. Even at rock bottom, I will always find Him there.
"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly... Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace... The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them... And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light... For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a Future and a Hope." (Psalm 84:11, Luke 1:78-79, Isaiah 9:2, Revelation 21:23, Jeremiah 29:11).
For more Information:
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
Broken Heart Syndrome:
Bible Hub. Online Bible Study Suite, 2004-2016, biblehub.com.
Occelli, C. (2012). Resurrecting Venus: Embrace Your Feminine Power. Agape Media International, Culver City, California, USA.
YouVersion. Holy Bible. New Living Translation. 2015. Tyndale House Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.bible.com/
2 responses to “My First Winter”
This was a heavy read. But these words ‘… for He overshadowed me with the radiance of His glory, and I choose each day to stay in that radiance…’ – Iyanuoluwa
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That is the secret to it all, for outside of that is chaos. Thank you very much for reading.