I read John Green’s latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, in the passenger seat of my mom’s car. Tree branches, road signs, and massive semi-trucks sped past my window as I wove in and out of Aza Holmes’ obsessive thought spirals. I ached for her, rooted for her, and hoped for her in the passenger seat of that car. I went on a journey with her, feeling her intense worry as she battled her own mind.
And while I’ve been on a journey with every book I’ve read, something about Aza’s rattled every inch of my soul.
I don’t have obsessive compulsive disorder. Aza does. But somewhere in that stark contrast between our lives, I saw myself in her. And I think we all can. There are days I feel like the heaviest burden to the people I love. There are days that I battle my own mind, the anxious thoughts that like to kick and scream to the surface of everything I do. There are days I feel overwhelmed to the point that I have to force myself to section my time into minutes, so I can make it to the next without too heavy a task.
There were points in Turtles that Aza’s obsessive thoughts seemed to mirror those days that are particularly dark in my mind.
John Green has discussed his battle with mental illness in earnest, and the most prominent argument he makes is that the people with these struggles can still live a full life. They can fight this battle in their mind while raising a family, working their dream job, and chasing their goals. They can live, truly live, despite their hurt that so many don’t understand.
I’ve known so many people who struggle with mental illness, depression and anxiety especially. And I’ve experienced bouts of anxiety that have left me critical of every little thing I do.
They’re not a burden. I’m not a burden. We still have dreams, we still have goals, we still love people. We are capable. And God, we are not a burden.
Aza tells her story from hindsight, and the ending left me with this quote,
“I know a shrink would say, Write it down, how you got here. So you would, and in writing it down you realize, love is not a tragedy or a failure, but a gift.”
My eyes scanned that page again and again.
In the most trying times I’ve experienced in my life, love arose faster and stronger than anything else. Love from my family, love from my friends, love from strangers.
And love from Jesus.
I owe every ounce of love to Jesus. Because it has been in the darkest corners of my mind that he joins me and reminds me that he loves me. That he died for me because he loves me so much. That feeling sorrow, and anguish, and anxiety is part of being human, but that with him I’m never truly alone, and I always have his love to lead me toward the light.
I hope that somewhere down the line, Aza found Jesus. I hope Aza remembers that she is only human, and she is going to hurt, struggle, and anger.
But she is also going to love, and while the demons in her mind might be a tragedy or a failure, love will always be a gift.