I have only ever had one broken heart.
I was eighteen. The age where adolescents everywhere are straddling the line between the hormonal teenage years and the equally hormonal young adult years. I had made it through my teen years relatively unscathed. I’d had a handful of crushes—all of which didn’t even know I existed—and gathered a handful of friends around me.
I don’t have those crushes anymore. I have very few of those friends.
He was one of my best friends.
Even now, as I go through old memos, texts, and notes that we would pass, I still feel a familiar ache as I remember how everything was right the moment before it went wrong. Sometimes I’ll walk past a store or play a game and a stray joke will pass through my mind that we made together. When that happens, I’ll turn it over and over in my head, wondering what to do now that the only people that used to understand have probably forgotten.
But that was six years ago. Yes, I’ve spent six successful years heartbreak free. Pathetic or prudent, you be the judge. It took me so long to nurse the open wound on my heart that I used to wonder if I would ever be free of it. Every time I stitched it shut, some memory would stir inside and those seams would bust open. I’d bleed all over myself again, and be reminded of how I screwed everything up.
It doesn’t matter now if I wasn’t completely to blame. It doesn’t matter where the guilt lies at all, really. We both did and said things that we can’t take back. They may have not even been horrible and awful—as I reflect on it, I wonder why we weren’t able to work through our issues instead of fighting constantly.
Maybe it was our hormones.
Maybe it was God.
Whichever it was, I never expected a broken heart would start off my nervous breakdown.
I thought I was stronger. But it turns out, that broken heart was only the first snowball in an avalanche of the worst period of my life. Even now, I can’t smell Winter Candy Apple from Bath & Body Works without being triggered. I hate the smell in the air during the month of May as well, because that was when my tailspin started.
To put it in a metaphor, it was like, right before it all fell apart with him, I was standing on the peak of a mountain. Invincible. Untouchable.
And then a flock of birds flew right at me and pecked at me until I tumbled down the mountain, broke every bone in my body, and then that avalanche buried me.
My great-grandmother died. I lost my first and, so far, only love. With him, I lost my other best friend, his sister. The three of us had horrible fights and then a long period of silence—which never really went back to normal. I doubted my faith. I was severely depressed and anxious. I couldn’t sleep, and what I did manage to nab was fitful. I cried. All the time. I just wanted to lay down—no, I wanted to sleep—scratch that. I wanted to die.
Even when I tried to do one of my hobbies: when I tried to read, or write, or sing, I had panic attacks. I paced the floor. I was eighteen and suddenly bawled like a baby whenever I was apart from my mother. I would call her at work, I would text her—it wasn’t that I feared being apart from her.
I feared being alone with myself.
Crowds were the worst. I’ve always been an introvert, but whenever I was in a throng of people, like at a mall, it was like I could feel them all around me. Like they were crowding me even when they weren’t, like I could feel their souls inside my body and it was all too much. Just the thought of so many lives being around me sent me spiraling into fits of panic. Libraries, too. Just like I could feel the real lives closing in on me in malls, so I could feel literary ones closing in on me in libraries. The endless possibilities of things I could never possibly do in my lifetime, the places I would never go, the people I would never meet, the books I could never read, the shows I could never watch, the things that I would inevitably forget…
And then I was at the bottom, buried under thousands of feet of snow and feeling so cold inside. Dead inside.
At the center of this meltdown was the fracture I felt in my faith. I felt disconnected from it. I thought I’d made it my own, but in college, I began questioning everything. I think everyone does this at some point in their life. Maybe not everyone has a nervous breakdown when they do, but, hey. “I want to be great or nothing,” as Amy March declares in Little Women. I’ve always done things, even mental breakdowns, with as much passion as I can muster.
And then one night, I’d had enough. So as I lay in bed, I prayed the dumbest and wisest prayer I’ve ever prayed. (And please, don’t repeat my mistakes.)
“God, I’ve always believed in you. I’ve never known what it’s like to not know you. So…show me what it’s like if You’re not real.”
I woke up the next morning in blind terror.
I can’t explain it very well. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian like me or not—there is no way to explain the gaping absence I felt in my soul. It was like someone had carved out a huge chunk of me and thrown it away.
And I was terrified.
I didn’t want to live like this.
God was real.
And I was missing Him now.
What if He never came back?
What if my dumb prayer had ended everything?
“God—God, no. I know what it’s like now without You. I can’t do this. I can’t live like this. I can’t.”
I’m not sure how long that prayer lasted, how long it took until the panic subsided. All I know is that, from that day on, I’ve been on a mission to grow stronger in my faith. I’m on a mission to only feel worship where I felt worthless, to only feel strength where I felt solitude.
You may think that, on that day, I’m going to conclude with: “And I prayed and my nervous breakdown ended!”
Sometimes I still feel like I’m living in the repercussions of that time of my life. Sometimes it feels like I’m one trigger away from reentering it. But you know what? I’m not. Because I clawed my way up out of the snow and ice until I could finally feel the sun on my face. Until I could finally feel its pale light bathing me, warming me, melting the thaw away from my soul. And whenever I feel another snowstorm coming, I fight back. I fight back hard. Because I’m no longer at the top of the mountain, but I’m where I need to be, and my head’s above the snow. I refuse to be buried any longer.
And with every day, I try and let the Son warm me even more than He did the last.
I never expected my broken heart to lead me to the deepest faith I’ve ever had.
There’s one last thing I’d like to add.
I may have lost my only love that day. But in retrospect, I can see the tapestry a lot more clearly instead of just the solitary threads. I can see how emotionally manipulated I was in certain situations that would have only been amplified if I’d ever married him. I can see how jealousy and competition would have ruined our lives. And, as much as the younger me might balk, I can honestly say…my life is better now. For every friend I lost, it seems like I gained an even better one, along with a couple life lessons to go with it. And if my restored friendships are any sign of what God can do, then I can’t wait for Him to restore my love and give me something even better than any man I could dream up. Even if I lost my “one chance” at love—oh, please, whatever—I’ve learned something about me.
That I am more content with being single, with being myself by myself, than to ever settle for a love that would keep me half-alive.
How odd it is when you think about it:
All it took was a broken heart, a nervous breakdown, and years of crawling in the snow to lead me to find who I truly am and what I stand for.