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When you can't pick up the pencil

As I sit here, re-starting this sentence for the seventh time, my heart is starting to pound in a particularly uncomfortable manner. My stomach feels like it contains some portion of the Pacific Ocean, full of churning and thrashing waters. I know our stomachs are filled with acid, but you get the vision I'm forcibly casting: my body is uncomfortable.

I am uncomfortable. My face seems to be in a perpetual furrowed state. Maybe it's the wrong prescription contacts, I tell myself, or, maybe it's the Botox finally wearing off, who could know? A very polished and ever-conscious part of me looks for every excuse to not label and pinpoint what has been my reality for the last few months despite a second part having the simple, straightforward answer.

This is not the first time I've had two different actors within myself, each one the main antagonist of the other. My therapist has had me try to roleplay the conversation between each of these parts before, resulting in wild success, but also in tears, stress sweat, and ultimately no compromise being reached—the unhealthier side must lose, regardless of whichever is the weaker combatant.

Even now, I'm avoiding talking about The Thing I wanted to discuss in this post. After weeks of back and forth with myself, I still can't even really attack the direct goal I sat down and told myself I would accomplish.

After a long year of denial and a grueling eight months of sorting through some of the hardest therapy in my life, I can come here and say that I've been in a depressive season for a long time. At the very least, the last eight months or so. At the most, possibly 2 whole years. My mental health has never been spectacular. My mother has told me that it became apparent sometime in third grade. I wish I knew why. Regardless, as I hit the fifth week of using some new psychiatric pharmaceutical aid, I do feel like I can come up for air a bit.

If depression is being caught helpless, in an undertow, then this med has dragged me to shore for a moment. I don't feel as wonderfully as I'd feel walking along a soft, sunny, and sandy beach, but I've gotten reprieve from the waves breaking on my chest. I still don't want to paint or draw or photograph. I don't want to cook. I don't want to read. I struggle to write. I don't want to pray. Prayer is hard.

Prayer is really, really hard. And I know full-well that praying is not to be done so I feel more connected, or only something to be done with I feel particularly pious. The Lord works on the heart regardless of human emotion. Still, so much of the Western Christian understanding of depression, mental health, and more is so uninformed. Depression is seen as a failure of the faith. Anxiety is seen as a lack of reliance upon the Lord. Suicidal thoughts and ideation a grave sinful slap in the face of God. And suicidal attempts? A grave sin that could cost your salvation, according to some.

Of course, these things are not always true. Clinical anxiety and depression are real health problems - they just don't metastasize in visible lumps or require appearance-altering radiation treatment. Suicidal thoughts are absolutely a sign of poor mental health—the brain literally doesn't have enough synapses firing to produce alternative solutions for the problem(s) at hand.

Inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and Galatians 6:2, we know that as Christians we are called to have a community of fellowship with whom we can discuss our trials and battles. Mental health is no exception, albeit to exercise extra discernment. How are we to respond when a brother or sister in Christ responds to vulnerability with spiritual misleading, medically untrue statements that dig at the state of our mental health? How are we to continue to make ourselves vulnerable to the guidance and encouragement of others when we fear a lecture about a failure of our faith? About how, with Christ in our hearts and the Gospel on our side, it shouldn't be possible to have the joy of the Lord AND be depressed?

In the moment, I had neither ability nor desire to educate my sisters in Christ about proper mental health or how they bungled their responses. I should not have needed to qualify that my counselor got her license from a seminary, or that my psychiatrist is a Christian and works at an explicitly Christian practice. I should not have to qualify any method of coping or remedy—especially to someone when I am just letting them in for the first time to this battle I feel I've been walking alone.

It does feel as though I am alone. I would not say I feel as though I am walking through the valley alone, but certainly alone in the valley. Depression makes time and places pass by you. Depressions forces you to sit out from your own life. Depression sucks the life and soul out of the blessings we are gifted from God: the joy of bonding with friends, the comfort of trusting family, the peace I find in painting, or the beauty I see in sunsets. Life feels like it is built from an 8-bit game developed for a black and white console. It lacks so much of everything.

And so, I sit in front of my easel, paints all prepared, unable to pick up the brush. I stare at my fridge, full of delectable ingredients, unable to grab and prep any. I move my face wash from the vanity counter to the shower, only to peel back the cover from my freshly made bed and skip a shower. I pull out the vacuum and leave it in the corner, unable to muster the strength to walk through my apartment and enter into the dance of the chore of cleaning the floor. I tap the "X" on the notification that I have a new text, telling myself I'll read and respond later (I won't). I lay in bed, head on my pillow, unable to sleep. I hit "refresh" on the dryer, again, hoping that this seventh time will be the time I actually return to it to unload it and fold the towels that have been spinning on and off for two days.

Every day that passes, I tell myself "you should post something," and yet, I am unable. I have been unable to write anything. I have been unable to photograph anything to share. I have been unmotivated and uninterested in cooking and eating. The fact I've written this much is astounding to me at this point.

So, I guess that is where I am at for the moment. I have little to share in the way of creation and learning. For now, I feel barely suspended in animation. I am grateful for a dog which gets me out of the house every few hours. I am grateful for family that is learning how to support and help. I am grateful for modern medicine that is trying to take care of me. I am tired of being sad and tired. Thankfully, the days of emotion deserts are shortening and the days with tears and growing, so there is hope to hop back on the spectrum of feeling anything in the future.

When you can't pick up the pencil, it is ok to just leave it there. It is ok to leave the pencil behind, to curl up with your copy of Darkness is My Only Companion, and to go to bed after eating some food. The pencil will still be there tomorrow. And, maybe even next week. Or next month.

You might be in the valley, but it is not an empty valley. Christ will meet you there if He hasn't already. He will meet you in the valley. He will meet you as you wash up on the shore. He will meet you at the desk, where you wait to pick up the pencil. He will just be with you. He will not leave you behind. He is there, and always has been. He loves you, even if you don't know where or who you are right now. He knows, and He is there.

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