Day 2- Thoughts on Community
My name is Brian Collins. I am a freshman at New River Community College, and I am active in the Wesley community. I should warn you this is not going to be a completely happy or joyous read. My story is filled with a lot of good times, but it has also been shaded by times of pain. I think we grow the most in those times of pain. Unlike most people I’ve met I feel more comfortable in the “darkness”. I think it’s more of a learned process than an instinctual one.
Before I tell you my paraphrased story, I’d like to tell you a little bit about who I am, but much more importantly, where I came from. I grew up separated from my peers, due to physical health problems. I suffer from immune deficiency, essentially I get sick easier, longer, and harder. I would get a flu and be sick for a month and have to go to the ER at least twice with a fever or vomiting. On top of that, I had multiple surgeries when I was younger. I had more surgeries in my first five years of life than most people have in their entire life. Some of those saved my life, others were kind of minor. Because of my health I spent much of my grade school year’s homebound, think homeschooled with a teacher from the school. This created a physical barrier between me and my peer group. I saw my first grade class a grand total of two times. I don’t really know how to describe how much that hurt when I was younger. Nobody should feel like an outsider, especially not a little kid.
Growing up I spent a lot of time with family and adults. I was extremely blessed with a family that was always there, though there was still something missing. Growing up with adults and almost dying several times when I was younger definitely affected my maturity level, I had to grow up extremely fast. I had to be an adult and missed out on the chance to be a kid. This difference in maturity created an even larger gap between me and my age group. By the time I made it to middle school I was so far out of my peer group I honestly had no clue how to fit in anymore. It didn’t help that throughout middle school there was a group of kids that picked on and made fun of me all the time; everyone had this really great game at lunch, they called me the brick wall and pretended that I didn’t exist. Mental illness was kind of there but not really, I just felt a little lost.
Then high school came. My mom told me that if I could make it through high school that I could make it through life. I don’t know how completely accurate that is. However, high school was awful for me. The first two years I spent all of my time inside, alone. My sophomore year was the first year I went to the hospital for actively planning suicide. I had planned it before, but had never gone to the hospital for it. Everything changed at that point. I pretty much blew it off the first time I was there; I told them everything that they wanted to hear so that I could get out as fast as possible. I got out and pretty much immediately fell into the same old routine and patterns. The year continued and I still felt isolated. I moved to Pulaski in the fall, which was nice but put me 45 minutes away from the small support system I had developed. The following winter, I was hospitalized again. This time I went into it with the mindset that I was going to try and get as much out of it as I possibly could. It seemed to work pretty well-- I actually recovered for quite a bit afterwards.
After being released from the hospital the second time, I started to volunteer at a horse farm right behind my house. It was great! I loved the animals and it seemed to give me a community! Plus, the work kept my mind off of everything else that was stressing me out. I thought this was it. I thought this is what it means to have a group to belong in. They checked on me, they cared, they needed me. Life was good for a while. My meds were stabilized, the work made me sleep and the best part is I was in shape.
I worked at the barn for two years. I was putting in 40+ hours a week. I was in great shape. I made it over a year without going to the hospital. It was rough, but it felt good to not need that extra crutch to lean on.
The second summer I was at the barn, I went to California to spend time with family that I had last seen when I was 3 or 4. I was pumped for the trip but also very nervous. I was going to take a greyhound bus across the country by myself. Then I was going to spend two weeks with people that I didn’t really know, which was the longest time that I had ever been away from home. Let me just say, when I got there it was SO much more than I ever dreamed!! I was in love instantly with my family there and the gorgeous landscape! I think one of my favorite things about the trip though was getting to meet my big cousin, Emily! She related to me on a level that I had never felt before, she also was the first person I’d ever met that actually made me believe that I was a good person who was worth something. That was rare and powerful.
While I was in California, though the trip was great, I ran into some major conflicts with people back home. Within a couple weeks of getting back, I lost that sense of community that I had before. I felt attacked and very alienated at the one place I had felt safe. I lost the barn. It’s not really my fault or theirs, I think it was really just a lot of miscommunication and underlying conflicts.
I thought I was alright though. Yes, the split hurt a lot, but I had something else coming. I had college starting right around the corner, but more importantly I was looking forward to joining Wesley! It was going to be great, I was going to be surrounded by a large group of my peers and for the first time I knew there were things we had in common. I was ready for another chapter in my life— one of faith and friends and hope.
The first couple months at Wesley were more than great, they were life giving! It was interesting to me to hear talks about how people felt out of place their first year at Wesley, because I had never felt more in touch. This changed though. I started to feel like more and more of an outsider. I started to feel like I was losing touch with them. There were all of these little cliques in Wesley and then there was me. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t tell anyone how I was really feeling, especially since I was there all the time. This became a very real problem. For several months I struggled feeling more and more out of the group. I watched people hanging out and felt like I was never there for anything even though I was at Wesley 24/7. As someone who suffers with mental illness, I must tell you that I knew this couldn’t be completely true. I knew that my mind was warping my view. But that didn’t make it seem any less real. No matter how much I tried to tell myself that I was a part of this community I just couldn’t make myself believe it. I was an outsider in my mind because that was more comfortable to me than accepting the fact that I could be loved and cherished by others.
Shortly into spring semester I started to close myself off emotionally. I put on a mask and showed up to everything I could. I kept smiling even though my hate for all that I was, was quickly growing inside of me. Then youth retreat season began. I was excited for the Roanoke District Youth Retreat because that’s how I learned about Wesley. It was going to be great and I was going to help lead it. I have to say it was one of the hardest weekends I’ve ever had. Everyone was stressed and I tried so hard to tell everyone how great they were and how much I appreciated all that they were doing. It seemed no matter how much I tried though people remained stressed and tired. It was like I wasn’t good enough to make people smile. I wasn’t being strong enough to help others. It seemed everything I did just messed something up or made someone more stressed out. I don’t know that I had ever felt quite as worthless as I did that weekend. Over the next two weeks I struggled to recover and prepare for the next youth retreat. In those two weeks there were two different days where I was planning suicide. I only told a handful of people and they were very concerned. Several people stayed up and talked to me late at night so that I wouldn’t be alone. It amazed me that people cared about my well-being. The retreat at Eagle Eyrie was much better and I had a great time, though I was still struggling with my place in the community.
Last Wednesday, I yet again was at suicide’s door. I went further than ever before. I scratched my arms to the point of leaving marks. It wasn’t until I had a knife to my wrist that I realized I was in serious need of help. After lots of tears and a couple calls I got in touch with someone to take me to the hospital. I was scared and more vulnerable than I had been in a long time. I knew I was going to miss Spring Break and that was super rough, but I knew I wasn’t going to be safe to go. I went to the ER to be screened to go to an inpatient facility-- the same routine I had been through before.
About 30 minutes after getting to the ER, Bret showed up to sit with and be with me in this time of distress. Soon after he arrived, more people from Wesley showed up. I hadn’t asked anyone to show up, they came because they wanted to. They showed up because their friend was in need and they were going to be there. Throughout the half a day I was at the ER about fifteen people came and visited me and brought me candy! We shared laughs and stories, we shared in community. But community didn’t stop there. My phone actually died from all of the messages and calls I got while I was there. I never had felt so loved. That was different, let’s take a moment to say that for the first time community showed up around me and I wasn’t even looking. The next day, when I was at the hospital I had yet another group of friends show up to visit me. The following day, 19 people came out to visit me, all of them from Wesley. The amount of community was overwhelming. The amount of love that I found in that group was incredible. I was at a loss for words.
I am proud to say that for the first time in my life, I know without a doubt what community feels like. I know without a doubt that Wesley is where I belong. You see, the cool thing about community is that even when we don’t think we’re worthy, it’s there for us. Even at our weakest, community loves us for all that we are. Seeing Wesley come together to be there for me showed me that they cared. I knew that even though I had felt out of place all those months, they never forgot about me. Community isn’t always perfect, it doesn’t mean always being together. It means support. It means friendship. Even at your worst you deserve to be surrounded by those that love you. Community is beautiful. It means sitting on the ground in an ER room with a friend in need. It means keeping people in our thoughts and prayers when we can’t be there in person. Community means loving out loud!
Wesley is my community.
Wesley is my family.
Wesley is home.