Alison Marie Smith

Life, Leadership & Spiritual Formation in Lonely Places

Two Terrible “Friends” and Being God’s Beloved

One of the lines on my about page is, “I have felt loneliness deeply, I am called to care for other lonely people. I am convinced that in the deserted places of our souls, God desires to bring us water.”

In November, loneliness paid me an unexpected and LONG visit once again. It’s more than a little ironic that I became the person I was called to care for.  My visitor was a new form of loneliness. It wasn’t because I didn’t have friends (I did and still do have amazing friends!). It wasn’t because Sean was traveling for work. It wasn’t even because I felt distant from God. On the contrary, I’ve never felt more intimately connected with God than in the last two years.

Though I’ve never shared this openly on my website, many of my loved ones know that I’ve dealt with mild anxiety for several years. Since moving to Utah, it has ebbed and flowed. What I mean by anxiety isn’t simply worrying about things.

It’s obsessively reliving moments from the day:

Did I offend them when I said that one thing and totally destroy our relationship? Did I do a crappy job when I led that Bible study? I SHOULD NOT have done xyz. I SHOULD have done xyz.

It’s constantly going over minor details and thinking in absolutes:

I need to send that email or everything will fall apart. I need to reach out to that student or they will never come to the ministry again. Everything is going to utterly fail because I am a failure.

And it’s the physical symptoms:

Tight chest, churning stomach, racing heart- constant without relief.

Normally these incidents are few and far between and are often resolved by either dealing with conflict I’ve been avoiding or finishing a stressful week. I’ve been able to manage anxiety through prayer, seeing a therapist from time to time, physical exercise, and being open about my struggles with my husband and my friends.

Well in November, Anxiety decided to invite a “friend” to our party. A friend that I really had no intention of starting a relationship with at all.

For months, I was having trouble sleeping. When I did sleep, I woke up still feeling exhausted. I was caring for my students well, leading Bible studies and leaders’ meetings successfully, but each day I would come home experiencing fatigue like I never had before. Activities that I normally loved were no longer fulfilling- I couldn’t concentrate on a good book, I dreaded going out for a run, and I felt overwhelmed at social gatherings. Trivial decisions became impossible. Feelings of hopelessness began to creep in.

I told my therapist, Darryl, about going to the grocery store and walking around aimlessly, trying to figure out what to buy for dinner. Chicken? Pizza? A block of cheese? I couldn’t decide. Everything seemed too overwhelming. After about 15 minutes, I walked out of the store having bought nothing. Tears spilling on the steering wheel of my car, I knew something was wrong.

With concern in his eyes, Darryl gently asked me several questions.

Have you been experiencing insomnia? Yep.

Have you been feeling abnormal amounts of hopelessness? For sure.

Are you having trouble enjoying activities that normally give you pleasure? Ugh. Yes.

Speaking with compassion and patience, Darryl shared that he thought I was experiencing my first depressive episode.

The next several weeks, I felt like I was half-dead- walking around like a zombie, slow and clumsy. Yet I was also agitated and constantly on the verge of tears. Leaving the house was an accomplishment for the day.

As November came to a close, I found great comfort in the season of Advent- a time filled with silent longing for God’s Kingdom to come, for hope to be restored and healing to be unleashed. Yet the celebration of Christ’s actual coming, Christmas Day, was muted. How could I inhabit a season filled with joy and celebration when I felt so awful?

I shared what was happening with several people I trusted (see Team Alison) and found incredible support and encouragement. My InterVarsity supervisors worked with me to create a manageable schedule on campus. And my therapist and I worked on filling my time with life-giving rhythms: allowing and even asking friends to cook for me, training for a half-marathon, eating a lot of chocolate. By the end of January, my health began to turn around. I began to feel more and more like myself again. The fog was lifting and joy slowly started returning.

Creative endeavors are still difficult. I thought being able to write again would return quickly but each time I sit down at my computer, an unsurmountable wall seems to erect itself. I still don’t quite have the stamina to creatively express myself. Thankfully, God urges me to be patient with myself, to not sweat it. It’s ok if your blog goes cold for several months. You are what is beloved to me! Not your words, simply you!

Anxiety and Depression form an unholy partnership: Anxiety tells you that you’re never enough but demands perfection and Depression tells you that you’re worthless but prevents you from doing anything about it. It is a depth of loneliness that roots itself in confusion and misunderstanding. Not only do others have difficulty understanding what is happening to you but you don’t even really get it yourself.

Yet in all of this, God’s constant words, spoken to me through God’s gracious gift of the Body of Christ- friends, mentors, therapists, loved ones- ring clearly through the chaos and uncertainty. 

You are so deeply loved. I’ve got you. We will get through this.

Things have been better lately. Not 100%. But better. And I will continue to trust the Lord because, like Peter, I know that there is no where else I can go. In the midst of what feels like death, Christ has the words of eternal life and I have believed and come to know that He is the Holy One of God.

As God’s beloved, I am able to press the keys once again.

4 Comments

  1. I am so encouraged. You are an incredible woman and God is and will continue to use you for incredible things! Keep sharing your stories… they are valuable. love you.

  2. Oh dear one. We SO need to talk — I went through depression when in ministry for a season. It was new to me and I will never forget it or how God responded to me through it. You are loved and I am so very proud of you!!

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