So, I haven’t ever quite told my story, not really revealed to even myself the scope what I was going through last year. It seems to me those around me noticed, tried to tell me in different ways and words, but I didn’t realise it or didn’t want to see. I don’t really know which it was, or was it a combination of both wilful ignorance and self-denial.
Whatever kept me from facing my demons, it is not the focus any more.
What happened last year requires some background story of who I am and where I come from.
I am the first of five children of a Finnish American family. My family is Christian, my parents are both newly born Christians and me and my siblings grew up in a Christian household. The first years of my life, we went to an international church in the capital of Finland when we moved out to a small village at the eve of my first grade. There we started going to the local Lutheran church. My father stopped going, since he didn’t know the language and unlike most new churches in bigger cities, no interpretation was offered. Eventually even we stopped going as diesel prices went up.
In my early school years, I was bullied, among other things, for my faith. I am also the sibling who, to my shame, did not defend my younger siblings from being bullied when they attended the same school a couple of years later. By then, I was no longer bullied, I had friends, I fit in.
As I grew up, I never abandoned believing in Jesus or stopped thinking of myself as other than Christian, but I was lukewarm, I was silent about my faith. I fit in, I had friends. Nothing changed when my parents sent me to a Christian boarding school in eighth and ninth grade because they wanted me to have more Christian influences around me, more Christian friends. I just ended up being really bored at the mandatory services and Bible study. There was so much more I could be doing, I thought.
In high school, my friends and I never spoke about faith and religion. We were more interested in politics and history. Since I studied mostly social science and history, I followed the news daily and felt anxious about wanting to make the world better. I had grandiose plans of becoming a lawyer of international law. In the end, I lacked follow through and did not get into the programmes I had applied to after high school. I was always a conscientious student, the bookworm, but after high school ended, I was tired.
In the autumn of 2013, I moved to Sweden to work as an au pair as a leap year activity. I ended up in a wonderful family with which I am still in contact with and visit a couple of times a year. They are, as I call them, my Swedish family. After my year was drawing to a close, I realised it would be much easier to get into university in Sweden with my grades than in Finland. You see, I had high grades, but the extraneous entrance exams that Finnish universities require from their applicants tripped me up. There are no specific entrance exams in Sweden, fill the requirements and you’re in.
So I applied and got into a university in a town on the Eastern side of Sweden, an hour out from Stockholm. So I moved and attended. I had a good time. I fit in, though I became more vocal about identifying as a Christian. There was a weekly Bible study group that I began attending, but I still hadn’t found a church that I wanted to visit regularly, I also did not want to give my weekends to waking up early to go to church. This began my two year journey back to the Lord.
During my university years, I had my first ever relationship. This relationship lasted one and half years and ended soon after we had moved in together. Looking back, I should have listened to my mother and not done so. She told me that statistically, it was more likely for couples that move in together never to marry and to break up. Furthermore, this was of course against everything I knew from the Bible. But as a smart young person, I decided to go with my own interpretation and be damned.
The end of the relationship led me to move to the capital of Sweden to be closer to my job and away from the town I felt was home now. It was also away from my former significant other. I did visit my friends certain weekends and on one of these occasions in early October 2016, I attended their church.
I have no recollection on who was speaking or what the sermon was about, but during that service I heard a strong calling to move back and change my life and to come back to the Lord, I left in tears. It had a profound impact on me, whatever it was that the topic was that evening.
This led to me finding an apartment and moving back. I was baptised in February 2017, as I had decided to take Jesus into my heart truly and become newly born in his name. I loved it and it still is wonderful, but the rest of 2017 was filled with shadow and struggling.
My year started with hope and purpose. As a person, I say yes to a lot of things. I want to help and serve and do my part. This was the first time I felt the need and want to do this in a church. So immediately I was serving in three teams, I was working full time and studying part-time. My time was full, I filled my time with social engagements. Almost all my evenings and days were occupied with some event or another. And it worked, for a couple of months.
Then I crashed.
I was drained of energy, I would cry almost every day because of the exhaustion I was feeling. Yet instead of taking time, I pushed on. I convinced myself that this was ridiculous, other people have it worse. I am so blessed, I have a job and church, I live in a safe Western country. I have friend and family who love me, I am saved.
Yet I cried and felt crushed. I pushed people away, becoming hermit like. I even had a time I refused to greet my closest friends, because I knew I was on the verge of breaking down all the time. I had a picture to maintain: I am happy, there is nothing, but joy in my life. No, I’m just tired, don’t worry. I should be able to do more, I should have the energy to do more.
I should, I must, I am.
My family and friends showed concern for me, but it wasn’t until several months of crying, unhappiness, darkness, loneliness and anxiety that something broke through to me. Again, I can’t remember quite what it was, but it helped.
Slowly, I began forgiving myself for needing to rest, for taking time, for not serving as much as in the beginning of the year, for not going to each and every service. I gave myself permission to be what I perceived as wrongfully selfish, but realised was necessary for my mental health.
Then, in the beginning of this year, a new group of young adults began meeting at my church weekly. We spoke of calling, and our stories. We have food, good teaching and we meet together. Somehow, this lifted me up much more than anything before. It has given me focus and energy back that I hadn’t completely realised I had missed. I am more at peace than I have ever been before.
This is not miracle cure, meeting people of my own age in a church group, but it has helped me forward in my healing. I still struggle. There are several times a day, a week that I can feel the worry and the dissatisfaction of my own performance creeping up into my thought, but I am starting, more often than not, to be able to say no, stay back, I am loved, and I am good as I am.
There are so many ways to tell this same story about my life and my personal struggle to overcome the depression I was in last year. Much of it stems from my own difficulty to do certain things, emotionally. But that’s another essay, another story, for another time. As I finish this piece of my story, I want to leave you with the thought: