I’ve Long Since Put the Halo Away

haloSociologist Robert Ezra Park said, “It is probably no mere historical accident that the word person, in its first meaning, is a mask. It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role.”

In my life, the mask that was my biggest temptation was spiritual superhero. My writing instructor Judy Hougen described it this way in her book Transformed into Fire:

“We’re all haunted by some image of the perfect Christian – the person who is rarely ruffled, full of right answers, and tirelessly ‘there’ for everyone.  Such people glide through life with a two-inch gap between their feet and the ground.  They pray for ten hours a day and can recite the New Testament over coffee.  And, most important, they seem to have no needs, no obvious wounds or weakness.  They’re always cheerful, never touched by depression, loneliness, or other heavy emotions.”

Nope. No way. Not anymore.

It has been in sharing my wounds and revealing my weaknesses that I have been the truest version of me— and in doing so, I welcome others exactly as they are. And even scripture says that it’s in our weaknesses that God’s power is made perfect. So, like the Apostle Paul, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.

Someone made a joke a couple weeks ago about my halo. I was quick to correct him.

I have set down the halo (which was itself a mask) so that I could take up freedom.

Have More Discussions.

I’m participating in an HR initiative at Northwestern in which I’ve been paired up with a mentor, and together we’re going through the book True North by Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic.  It’s all about “discovering your authentic leadership,” and in addition to reading the book, I’m doing all the exercises found in the accompanying workbook.  The workbook exercises are deep and thought-provoking and quite fascinating.

I had to draw a timeline of my life up till this point, including the ups and downs, and then I had to split it up into five chapters and give each a name.  Here are mine:

1. “She Thinks Too Much”: early childhood

2. “She Smiles on the Outside”: my school years, in which I was well-liked, very smart, and excelling at most things, except that my spiritual life and mental health were in shambles, though most people weren’t aware (hence, the chapter title)

3. “She REALLY Thinks Too Much”: the tumultuous college years and the year afterward, leading up to my OCD diagnosis

4. “Stumbling Toward Freedom”: the 5+ year search for the right medication and therapy … and for peace

5. “Redefining My Goals and Passions”: life right now

So, here’s the interesting part (I think).

I had to fill out this ginormous chart that asked the same four questions about each different chapter.  One of the questions was, “What should I have done more or less of during this chapter?”

"Tate Couple" by Matthew Dartford

“Tate Couple” by Matthew Dartford

The answer to the first chapter was easy.  I knew I needed to have more discussions and less secrecy.  My childhood was full of so much fear, and I wish that I’d been willing to just sit with my parents and discuss those fears.  Who knows– maybe it would have incited our family to help me seek the counseling I needed, even at that early age.

The answer to the second chapter was the same.  More discussions, I wrote.  I remember crying every single night for at least three years in a row, and I warned my sister (who shared a room with me) not to tell our parents.  Now I look back and think, Why not?  Why not tell?  It would have been the first step toward healing.

Chapter three.  I started to discover a theme as I wrote, MORE DISCUSSIONS!!!  At this age, I was frozen in fear of the answers, so I wouldn’t even ask the questions.  (If that makes sense.)  The very thing that had made me cry for three years straight was “solved” in one conversation in one night with my mother.  At this time of my life, around 10th grade, I started to try to share things more, since the secrets I’d kept from 5th to 8th grade had made me so sick.

In chapter four, I had to draw a smiley face next to my answer of More discussions.  And it’s true– the awkward bungling that I survived jumping around from therapist to therapist and from medication to medication was its own kind of discussion, one I very nearly wanted to give up on (after a really bad reaction to Paxil, I almost threw in the towel and just accepted that this is how life is going to be).  Yet, eventually those discussions lead me to cognitive-behavioral therapy, to freedom.

And so it was easy as I thought about chapter five, life as I know it right now, to think about what best suggestions to give myself for current and future success.  Have more discussions, I wrote, because this openness, this sharing, this ability to lay one’s cards on the table is what rescues people.

It’s hard, people.  I know that.  But we need to talk about our issues.  That’s the path toward freedom.

dare to take off your mask

Here is an article I recently wrote for the student newspaper at the university where I work …

I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It is my distinct pleasure to share this with others because I have learned how much freedom there is to gain by sharing my real self.

Years ago, I harbored my secret, held it tight in my fists, knowing that if I released it to the world, I could never go back to “the way things were.”  It would create an unalterable “before” and “after,” and I wasn’t sure I was ready for people’s avoidance (at best) or condescension (at worst).

Instead, what happened was that a long-time friend told me that he too struggled with OCD.  He was so ashamed of it that he hadn’t even told his own family.  Then someone else told me about her struggles with an eating disorder.  Left and right, people started removing their masks.  The more vulnerable I made myself, the more vulnerable others were willing to be with me, and this honesty worked as a glue between our hearts.

Honest sharing from one person draws out honest sharing from others.  In other words, freedom begets freedom.

Frederick Buechner has this amazing quote, which reads, I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell.  They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition—that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.”

For years, I thought I was some kind of anomaly.  I’m not.  I’m just a girl living in a fallen world, and I stand alongside a world of brothers and sisters in Christ who share my same hunger to be fully known and fully loved.

Community matters.  Northwestern, open up your hearts and lives to one another this year.  These early weeks of the semester are exciting ones; I am thrilled when I think of all the possibilities and opportunities stretching out before the student body this year.  Be the kind of grace-filled community that welcomes vulnerability with open arms.  Love each other with the wild love of Jesus Christ, a love that encourages freedom, a self-sacrificing love.

OCD.  These days, I drop those three little letters into conversation pretty much any chance I get.  I am not ashamed of it or nervous to tell people I am an obsessive-compulsive.  I am only hoping that my newfound freedom will beget freedom.