My First Winter

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? The truth is, I was broken and I didn’t know it. At a young age, 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 sexually assaulted a few more times in the span of my life, but these are hard truths for another day. Simply, I was broken, and it was a soul deep damage. I coasted for years carrying the heaviness with me, dreading winter. Each hurt, betrayal, pain, adding to the pressure until it became my new normal. Spring and summer helped, for they made me feel renewed and reborn, the heaviness just a bit lighter to bear. But 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. So, I began to deal. 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 facade so that I would fit in to what the world told me was acceptable. I learned how to say okay, show okay, live okay, when everything inside me was bleeding out. Oh the insides. 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 girl who could not find her way home, and even if she could, didn’t know what home was anymore. Inside was hell, and all that I thought would save me, only pushed me down deeper. I was numb from the inside out, and I did not even know it; until certain things jolted me awake.

Different things led to that point,  many things that took many years for me to begin to understand. A journey I didn’t know I was on, a tug of war of sorts. For years, I tried to ignore it. I figured that if I could fill my time with things; work, goals, travels, people, parties, as I awaited each dreaded winter, everything would be okay. I had survived winters past, I had been doing it for the better part of a decade, so I definitely could handle them again. I was wrong. I could not pretend everything was okay anymore. I could not pretend that I was okay anymore, but where could I turn? 21 was jarring, for that was when winter took an even more drastic turn. Everything seemed to be happening at once. Friends and family of mine died unexpectedly, I actually buried more people than I am willing to count, starting at 21. Here one day, gone the next. Simultaneously, I had fallen in love. 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. In many ways, I tried to shut down completely.

My friends’ death, the subsequent deaths of loved ones, and knowing him, being with him, for what seemed like the first time since meeting him, were parts of the catalyst that fueled my search for home. 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, the sum total of a joke? Who would show up for my funeral? Why should anyone show up for someone like me? I asked myself these questions over and over again, every waking moment. The more I asked, the less answers I had. One thing I was taught to do is trust. There is always a bigger picture, no matter how painful, no matter how long the journey. There are times that I still stop in my day and ask God these questions. There are other questions I ask as well. Why did my loved ones die and I got to live? Why did I have to let go of my loved one? I am reminded to trust.

A preacher’s daughter, a young woman, a hard worker. I was still able to work, play, and live life. There was no way that it reflected my issues right? I knew that such a thing existed, but I thought that it was for extreme cases. It definitely was not for someone like me. It is called depression, it was my hell. A facet of this depression 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. How was I to know? 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. 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. It is exhausting. 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. At 21, I reached a breaking point. I hit rock bottom, and there, the story began.

The process was slow. Excruciatingly slow, but necessary. It began as a quiet whisper; my face turned against a wall on the night of the day of my birth, entering into the new year. I had actually forgotten I had done this until things began to happen in my life and He reminded me of it. To a wall on my 21st birthday, 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 cried 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. Then things began to happen. Stuff I held on to for my self worth, people I had hinged my hope on to fix me, plans I had charted for myself, began to disappear or fall apart. Nothing seemed to be going right at an even more alarming pace, but I hung on, for I had become good at that. My third hour of the new year (3am) began with receiving news of the first homicide of the year, it was like an unreal dream. “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. What I did know was that I became terrified of life. Each death after that, spaced out just enough to rip my heart to shreds just when I thought it could beat again, never left me the same. A year after J was buried, and every year after that, like clockwork, the wail of his mother crying out while his 20 year old body was being lowered into the ground haunted me. I began to dread New Year’s eve (my birthday), and the New Year. They reminded me of all those I had lost, all those who would never get to see another New Year, especially him. 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. The biggest test came when I woke up to a knowing that I had to walk away from him, the one person that truly made me happy. The only future I ever saw. My personal silver lining in the depths of darkness. It was December. I was sure that the knowing was wrong, just me being scared. It was winter after all, and those only bring awful thoughts and awful days, so I dragged my feet. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. 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 did it the first time – “Hey, I think we should go on a break”. I held my breath. He argued. I tried not to waver. He reasoned. I couldn’t do it – for he had become like breathing to me, my very heartbeat. I gave in. It was January. We talked, well I talked, he listened. I resolved that I could not walk away from him. We agreed to work together, what on, I couldn’t tell him. The darkness was too deep. He promised to be there anyway. I thought we would be fine, he believed that we were better together than apart, I truly believe so as well. I held on. But, this was a path I had to take alone, for concentration is needed when walking through darkness, particularly so that one can hear their Guide clearly. To let go, to let him go would be to rip our hearts out, but being together became harder, it became contentious, the peace of being, harder to find. 3 months later, “Hey, we need to go on a break”. I held my breath. He didn’t argue. I tried not to waver. He didn’t reason. In fact, he didn’t say anything. I begged him to say something. His response, “what do you want me to say?” I was at a loss for words though I said a lot, for a long time. The deed was done. 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.

“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”
(Cynthia Occelli).

Complete destruction. I had no one to run to, I had nowhere to look. This was a journey like no other.

He started with my heart, God that is. I would have settled for a fixed heart, but He gave me a new one. Brand spanking new. No leaks, no cracks. Whole. His. Love. Can you imagine stopping in your tracks one day because you realize that your heart is working as it should? That the weight that used to hold it down is no longer there? That you are not only living, but for the first time in a long time, you are alive? I remember the moment it happened. I took a deep breath, and 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. 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, and not myself, my emotions, nor my scars.

Ever since I can remember, winter was always very difficult for me. Ever since I can remember, I struggled with depression. This past winter was my first winter experienced with joy. My first winter where I was able to live without a single depressive episode. My first winter 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 winter 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 winter that did not feel like winter at all. January no longer holds dread for me. The voice no longer haunts me. 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. 

Now, God and I are on a journey of will; to the place called ‘Absolute Surrender’. A place whereby “Father, not my will but Yours be done” is the lifeblood of to all its inhabitants. A place where the password is brokenness; something I used to be terrified of. 9 years later, and the journey still continues. 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)
:
https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

Depression:
https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/depression
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007

Broken Heart Syndrome:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/takotsubo-cardiomyopathy-broken-heart-syndrome
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-heart-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20354617

References:
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 thoughts on “My First Winter

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  1. 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

    Liked by 1 person

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