Worship At Home
Small Group Reflection of 10-25-20

 

In these days of social distancing we have endeavored to provide a Corpus Christi online worship experience. The Worship At Home web page has been our attempt to provide that. One of the ways our community has used this resource has been to gather virtually in real time using video conferencing software like FaceTime, Skype, Messenger, and Zoom. In an effort to hold onto our deep liturgical roots, one virtual group has gone to the point of having rotating presiders, lectors, and even homilists. The reflections provided by the members of this group have often been very inspiring. In an effort to share these reflections with the larger community several of them have been collected and published here on the CC website.

Reflection from 10-25-20, provided by Marie Valois

 


My name is Marie, and I graduated from the College of Saint Benedict back in May with a BA in Communications. I have been a member of Corpus my entire life, and have loved being a part of this community.

The readings today offered a wealth of wisdom and topics to speak on, but I wanted to share something a little different. I would like to share a testimony about myself and my relationship with God and mental health. Just reading over the first reading from Exodus a few times, the phrase “I will hear their cry” stuck out to me. God will hear our cry. Our cries of pain, anger, frustration. It may not seem like He does hear, like we are crying into the void, but He is there, and He hears all.

Just a bit of background, I have lived with Anxiety my entire life. I like to give my Anxiety a capital “A,” like it’s a sidekick or entity in my head, it plays a role in my life. Now, yes, we all have anxiety. It’s what keeps us on our toes in unsafe situations, turns on our fight or flight when needed, and communicates with our gut when things don’t feel right. But my Anxiety is a bit of an overachiever, and is triggered by the smallest of things. It tells me I am unsafe or at risk, in moments that are completely the opposite. One of my first memories of Anxiety was the day before I got my ears pierced and had my first friend sleepover. I was 11 years old. I was up all night, sick to my stomach, moaning to my parents that I didn’t want to go, what if something bad happened, what if I got sick and wanted to come home, what if I couldn’t sleep at her house, etc. Most kids would’ve been ecstatic to get their ears pierced and have their first sleepover all in one day, but it was just too much for me and my Anxiety to handle. I ended up going, having a blast and realizing there was nothing to be afraid of, but that’s what Anxiety does. It lies to you. Even if you’ve experienced something before, it will start to play the “what if” game and you’ll think you’ve never done something before. For example, I sang in choir all through college and even in my senior year of college before a concert Anxiety would start to play the “what if” game with me and I’d be convinced I’d never stepped on a stage before. I would forget all the positive outcomes and things I’d overcome in an instant. This happened all throughout my childhood – I’d get anxious over friend sleepovers, birthday parties, vacations with my family, my own birthday parties, hanging out with friends – anything that had space for a “what if” question would drive me into a spiral. I’d gotten good at hiding my Anxiety, only showing slivers of what I went through to my parents. To many, they would call my Anxiety “high-functioning,” because it allowed me to be a very high-functioning individual while still being anxious. I can think back on countless moments of my childhood and teen years where I looked and acted fine on the outside but was incredibly anxious and panicking on the inside.

My relationship with God is something I am rather new to. I attended St. Rose for elementary and middle school, and while they did in fact teach us about God, they didn’t teach us how to foster and create that relationship with Him. I learned how to do that at Corpus, through Confirmation and Youth Group. So for me, my active relationship with God is about 8 years old. Through high school I could tell He was there. I was very active in our church community, participating in Liturgical Dance, lectoring and singing at masses, volunteering at pancake breakfasts and advent brunches, setting up and serving at the Fish Frys, helping at Parent’s Night Out, being a teen mentor every year…just to name a few. I loved it. God was at the center of my life, and I was thriving. Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week because I had Wednesday Night Prayer group and Youth Group! I got to see my friends and family through church, what more could a person want?

When I graduated high school and went off to college in 2016, it was rather jarring for me. I’ve always had problems with change, it takes me a long time to adjust to something new. I had gone from a tightly-knit church community to an entirely new scene, and I was really struggling. I tried my best to stay close to God, but I realized I didn’t know how to find Him myself. I had always been active in Church, so I didn’t need to try and find God outside of it. College was the first time where I truly needed to seek God myself. I really lacked in that area, and sort of just gave up. I was resigned to the fact that when I was home on breaks or weekends I could go to Corpus, and that would be my time for God. This pattern really came back to bite me in the butt.

My sophomore year of college took a very negative turn in the second half. Something had happened to me that left me with a bitter taste for God in my mouth. I had gotten to a point, Anxiety-wise, where I couldn’t leave my dorm room. I couldn’t be in public places. I couldn’t walk across campus. I couldn’t stand and sing in choir. I couldn’t hang out with my friends. Anxiety was 100% ruling my every move and every thought, and it was crushing me; everyday was a battle to get out of bed. One of the things I had written in my journal was “I feel like I’m on a stranded island of suffering.” I was angry. Furious. I thought, “how could God let this happen to me?? Is he punishing me for something?? What did I do to deserve this?!” I didn’t talk to God for months. I looked at my life and then looked at the lives of those around me who were faithful to God and thought “well they must’ve not had anything bad happen to them, they are so perfect in their relationship with God. God just loves them more and has rewarded them for never failing to seek Him.” I knew I wanted to get back to God eventually, but I was so full of shame that I even looked at the prodigal son reading and thought “well I am just too far gone, even the prodigal son is better than I am!” My Anxiety was feeding me lies constantly, and I didn’t know who to turn to or what to do. It wasn’t until I saw how my friend Reagan lived her life through God, that I felt there was any hope for my relationship with God. I didn’t know her very well at the time, but I remember going over to her dorm room one night, quite randomly, and everything just started spilling out. I cried about how I felt God had abandoned me, how my life and experience was unfair, how I felt like an imposter Catholic, how I felt like it was too late to turn to God even if I wanted to. She looked at me with the most compassion and care I had ever seen in someone my age. She told me that I am never “too far gone,” God had not abandoned me, I was not an imposter, and that no one’s relationship with God is perfect! It’s entirely normal to go through phases of anger, doubt, and fear. God still heard my cry. He always hears our cries. Looking back, I know that God had sent me to Reagan’s room that night, and spoke through her. I thank God for her daily.

During Junior and Senior year of college I was able to find both myself, and my relationship with God and the Church. I had grown through that dark season of my life, and was far less anxious during the day. I was able to go through the day and do everything I had planned, even things that sprung up unexpectedly. I started going to therapy more regularly, and it was something I truly looked forward to. Being able to spend time to work on myself and learn about who I am and what makes me tick is something so valuable, I wish everyone could experience therapy. I also had been on and off different anxiety medications, ultimately landing on one that worked best for me and my lifestyle. When I was first introduced to therapy and medication, I thought to myself “I’m not crazy, I don’t need those things,” which is extremely ableist and elitist. But that is what society teaches – “you’re crazy if you need help or further interventions.” My relationship with God flourished as well, as I began to piece my way back to Him and back to the loving God that I once knew, not the vengeful and spiteful one I had convinced myself of. I knew my relationship with Him would never be like it was in high school, but that’s okay because I was not my high school self anymore. I had grown, changed, and learned new things. My relationship with Him now is very different from high school, sophomore year of college, and even different from 8 months ago! It’s a relationship that changes and flows with what we are going through, no matter what we are going through.

Anxiety is a part of who I am. It’s something I’m not ashamed of, or embarrassed of, and it’s something I advocate for quite regularly. My Anxiety is much more manageable now, and I have continued to learn how to manage it. It’s important to note, however, that while I’ve learned how to manage my Anxiety, it’s still there. It will always be there, it’s a part of my DNA. Mental struggles aren’t just instantly healed with therapy, meds, or time. They are often a life-long struggle. We, as a society, need to stop the dialogue of shame and failure surrounding mental health, and begin a dialogue of support, love, and transparency. Mental health issues can make you feel incredibly isolated and like you’re the only one who experiences them, but I can guarantee there are several of you on this call who have experienced one mental health struggle or more during your life. Why don’t we talk about it more openly? Why don’t we bring it into the conversation and celebrate those who have made it this far, instead of shushing them and calling them crazy? Just as in the second reading today, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are called, as followers of Jesus, to see God in one another, and treat everyone around us with the same respect we treat ourselves. People with mental health struggles are more than their struggles, and it is our duty both, as humans and as children of God, to see God in them. To treat them with respect and dignity.

If you are struggling, know that you are never alone. Know that there are people out there who love you, people on this call, even, and know that I think you are so brave for stepping into your life everyday. People with mental health issues are some of the strongest people I know, fighting every day for themselves while still supporting others through their journeys.

I want to recognize that I am coming from a place of great privilege. I have a family that loves me, a roof over my head and food on the table, and I have the resources to put me back in therapy (to name a few). Not everyone has that, and I recognize that. I am grateful for the life I live and the people around me, don’t get me wrong. But that doesn’t negate or invalidate the struggles I have. I am still struggling. I realize my mental health struggles have been rather kind to me, compared to the struggles others have been through. My mental health struggles may seem like child’s play to others, but they are my struggles and are things that affect my day to day function. We need to give each other, and ourselves, grace during this time.

God hears our cries. Even when we may not feel Him, even when we are angry with Him, even when we don’t believe in Him. He hears our cries. He feels our cries. He will never abandon us, and even when you feel at your darkest, He is there. Please take some time to care for yourself today, and every day.