hi. long time no heart-to-heart.

it has taken a great deal of effort for me to actually write this, so forgive me if I struggle to get to the point.

I’ll start, I guess, by explaining the tension I’m feeling.  I feel that good stories are about redemption in some form. admittedly I’m biased, because my obsession with the arts is tied to my view that good art glorifies our Creator; I think through art we are able to relate to God, and that being creative is a way to bear his image. my main art form of choice is story-telling.

when I engage with a story – whether in reading, writing, or listening – I yearn for the redemption. for the closure, the restoration, the happy ending or sad ending or poignant ending (big fan of tragedies here). but always that resolution- why was the struggle worth it? what was the point? where was the win, or meaningful loss?

and we all tell stories with our lives, don’t we? so why shouldn’t I ask the same questions of reality?

my life includes micro-stories where redemption and closure are already visible. I see how my struggle / reluctance to learn to read was brought full circle in that I am now a published author. I see that the obstacles to my moving out when I was originally trying are the ones that put me in line for the best possible apartment, flatmates, job, etc. it can be easy to spot these micro-resolutions, and easy to assume that life is made up of them.

over the years, I’ve tried to be honest with the world about about struggling with depression, but I’m finding that it’s harder and harder to be honest with myself.

in the past few years, I’ve battled the darkness, I’ve won some battles, I’ve learned to fight more effectively. which is why, I think, defeat feels harder to admit? does everyone that takes two steps forward sometimes take one back? they must, right? I’m not some anomaly for feeling that I’m losing ground I once won?

the thing is, I’ve been actually practicing self-care. I’ve been blocking off nights to be home, to write. I’ve been really saying “no” for the first time in my life, holding to boundaries, spending time in prayer. I’ve been going to bed early (so early, guys). I’ve been doing it all right.

but this dreadfully familiar sadness prevails. that’s what I’ve been calling it when people ask- “sadness”, though if I’m honest I’ve been here before, and I know it has a name. I’ve been getting away with not naming it by telling myself it’s a fluke, but there’s no practical reason that I sometimes come home at night, crawl under my covers, stare at the ceiling, and cry until I fall asleep. some nights my thoughts go much darker than others, down a long, shadowy path that has death somewhere as the answer. sometimes I can catch them in time to fight back, pray, and go to sleep, and wake up before they do. it’s been almost a month of this, of almost every sad or happy thought finding a way to spiral downward into despair.

but still, when people ask how I am, I keep telling them I’m doing really well! like, with exclamation points!

why? why can’t I just tell them what I know is true, that my head’s still broken? that some things have gotten better, but not everything.

there’s a weird tension in Christianity called “the already and the not-yet”, and I think it applies to my story with depression, at least for now. I am redeemed. my broken, imperfect head and heart have been rescued from this decaying world for a better one- but for now I still have to live here, and feel these things, and try to get out of bed in the mornings, and try, try, to remember that God can be glorified in my pain and that that makes it all worth it.

in June of last year I wrote this note in my phone: “I think I’m supposed to write about depression & mental illness. I think broken hearts and minds are a part of my story for a reason.” that was the week I wrote my story about the siren, which I personally think might be the best thing I’ve ever written.

in the spirit of difficult honesty, I’m crying while I write this, wondering why this hasn’t been enough. I feel as though I’ve learned so much, grown so much, relinquished so much. I don’t have to still be depressed to empathize with those who are, do I? I don’t have to still be depressed to write about it, do I? couldn’t I just remember? why does it have to be a present struggle?

maybe it doesn’t. maybe tomorrow it’ll be gone. maybe this season of my life that has felt so long (a decade, I think? a decade is a long time, even if I’m still young) will come soon to its close and I’ll look back on it one day as the foundational time that I learned my own heart and God’s. I don’t curse him for the depression; I know he walks beside me in the midst of it, and I know that he is a good father. he may rid me of it, or he may not, and either way I will praise him.

I’m digressing, though.

I started writing this because for some reason I’ve been incredibly reluctant to admit to anyone that I’m depressed.

my friend Joy asked me how I was this weekend and I cheerfully said I was doing “pretty well!” and she said, “right, that’s great, but are you lying?” and I realized I was. to her and myself and apparently everyone else who’s asked recently. I told her that it felt like I was admitting defeat to say I was depressed, when I’d made such strides and had been doing well for a while, and that I didn’t want to “go back” to being depressed.

her response was so kind and truthful, and I am so grateful for it. (to paraphrase) she said, “if we feel like we’re letting ourselves down and failing, that’s saying that the victory was ours to begin with, when really it was the work of Jesus and not our own efforts. we can’t ‘go back’,” she said, “because our old self is dead, we are new in Christ, and whatever happens next, we’re moving forward- even if that new season comes with depression. it will also be a new season of knowing God in a new way.”

so to close, without any resolution save the hope of some to come, I’ll just admit to being depressed, repent for thinking that people don’t care enough to know, and ask for your prayers. I’m tired of being depressed. I’m tired of not being able to believe the voice of my own thoughts. fighting them is exhausting. even when I look at the ways God has redeemed pieces of my pain in the past, it’s still hard to feel like it will be worth it at moments.

I could write pages on the tension of being content in all things and in bearing my suffering well, while also not giving in to the darkness and accepting it without a fight. but for tonight, I’ll sign off, because this post is long enough, and I’ll ask you to pray as I do that I’d know God’s voice better than my enemy’s, so that when they’re both speaking to me, I’ll know who to listen to. right now I don’t have closure, but I have a God who will redeem every broken thing in the end.

 

soli Deo gloria

~Lydia

 

it all started six and a half years ago.  and when I say, “it all”, please know that I literally mean, “my life trajectory”.  I’m not actually exaggerating.  there are no words to describe the significance in my life of a little website called Figment.com. yikes, okay, I’m crying now and I’ve barely started.  this will be fun.

eighteen-year-old me struggled to make friends (so did seven-year-old me, and eleven-year-old me, and fourteen-year-old me, and all the other mes in between).  I was lonely and awkward and preferred reading to braving social situations where I knew I’d say dumb things that I’d have to relive for weeks in my head.  books held magic, wonder, true love, daring action…escape.  during my teens, a significant portion of what social life I had consisted of online forums about books and the nerdy worlds that surrounded them, but Figment – where you could create a profile and share stories and watch people comment and review and react to them – changed everything for me.

I don’t know how it happened.  I don’t know how I went from posting amateur scraps of fairy-tale retellings and feverishly commenting on stories I especially liked to amassing a relatively substantial following and calling so many amazing writers my friends.  the most obvious thing I can blame is the day I posted a prologue of a story about an imprisoned princess who talks to a

boy through a stone wall and then escapes and has to fight to hold her own.  ‘Esmeralda’, as many of you know, gained hundreds of followers and somehow – I don’t say this to brag, but to gush with gratitude – gained me some of my closest friends.  after that came a story about a quiet girl whose sweetheart goes to war, and you know what happens next.

in the three or four years I was really active on Figment, I went from being a shy, awkward (okay, I’m still awkward), insecure, and self-doubting writer who was sometimes brave enough to share her words with others, to an enthusiastic amateur who eagerly posted each chapter of every WIP and watched the comments come in with pride and some degree of confidence.  during those years, my work was featured on the homepage numerous times, I was interviewed, picked by site-wide readers for “best of Figment” lists, and a friend/reader, Tiffany, made me a fan club.  a fan club, guys.  what the heck.  my followers list lengthened, my skin got a bit thicker with every constructive review.  my confidence grew, and I started telling people in real life about my writing.*

but there are two things I want to dwell on for just a moment before I leave you with a few amusing screenshots so I can cry for a bit.

the first is how Figment made me the writer I am today.  so many of you have heard stories about the creative process that went into my book, Finding You, so I won’t bore you.  but to summarize, I had no idea what was going to happen to Isla, chapter by chapter.  I was only ever a few chapters ahead in my writing than I was in posting updates, and it was the encouragement and support from the hundreds of ‘Figgies’ that very literally kept me writing some days.  the same can be said for ‘Esmeralda’.

that brings me to my second and final point, and that is the friendships I made on Figment.  (crying again.  wow, okay.)

even as feedback and the pressure of posting on Figment pushed my writing ability and skill, I can say for a fact that the friendship of my readers and fellow writers did the same for my character and confidence as a human being.  what started with fangirling for some of my favorite stories on the site became follow-backs and comments returned on my own stories, and then somehow being taken under the wing of some of the most kind, brilliant, bright, magical, and incredibly talented people I have ever had the chance to meet (that’s one of the crazy parts- I’ve never actually met most of them).  they have encouraged me, critiqued me, beta-read for me, and generally bettered me over the past six and a half years and I cannot imagine having walked this journey without them.  to those of you I joke with on twitter, message on facebook, text when I’m struggling to find light in darkness- I love you.  I loved every comment begging for more chapters, I loved every angry explosion when my protagonist was wronged, I loved every thought-out review that you took such time and care to send me.

it’s incredibly difficult for me to believe, most days, that I have a real live book in stores across the country and I want you to know that I mean with total sincerity that it exists because of you.  I would have given up, if I was the only one who cared what happened to Isla.  I would have given up, if I’d listened to the voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t smart enough to write about hard topics for teens.  thanks to you all, I was not allowed to give up.  when I think that I will never be able to reconnect with most of you, it pains me.  you all laid bricks that built the person and writer that I am**.

I know that Figment is merging with Underlined, and I’m excited to look into what that will look like.  at the moment, it’s hard enough to juggle a full-time job with any writing time at all (plus a social life!!  I got one!  most days I miss my books to be honest…), so I don’t know what level of involvement I’d even be able to have.  but Figment was there when I needed it.  Figment shaped me, my writing, my characters.  I am deeply grateful for its existence in a way that may sound terribly silly to many people, but cannot be fully put into words.  it was a safe haven, a place of inspiration, and the birthplace of some of the best friendships I’ve yet to find.

so, to the page-refreshers, the long-winded reviewers, the ecstatic commenters, the fan-club-makers, the “Desla” shippers, the mis-pronouncers of all the weird names I love to use, and – maybe most importantly – the people who called Leopold, “Leo”, I love you.

to close, I’m including a few screen-shots of some favorite comments- not the super long, super lovely ones that actually contributed intellectually, but let’s be honest, we all loved getting these ones the most***:

 

 

 

 

 

farewell, my lovely Figment.

 

*if in any way this comes off as braggy, I apologize because that was not my intention.  I merely meant to point out that my writing found a home and found recognition on Figment, in ways that I never dared to wish for, and in ways that built my confidence exponentially.  I don’t believe I would have had the nerve to pursue publication for Finding You had it not been for Figment.

**if any of you find this and would like to keep in touch, please find me on twitter or instagram and message me! @lydalbano on both. 🙂

***these comments are all clearly out of context and not lined up by date, which I apologize for. I also screenshotted the home page for both Finding You and Esmeralda even though I’d already deleted all the words, so they no longer showed an accurate word count. both were well over 100k words.

 

 

 

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I hate the phrase “girly girl”- you know when someone is like “are you more of a girly girl or a tom boy?”  I hate it because it tells girls they can fit into one category or another, instead of letting them bask in the plain category “girl”, which is terribly exciting if we didn’t screw with it.

I’ve had a weird hang-up with the phrase “girly girl” for almost two decades of memory.  I love flowers; I’m freaking obsessed with how much greenery I can fit in my bedroom.  I used to memorize the Latin names of dozens of them just because.  I also love snakes and frogs and caught them as pets growing up.  and in my head, even though both of those things felt like equal parts of me, I felt that I wasn’t allowed to fit into the “tom boy” category, because even though I loved climbing trees and showing off my scars, also loving tea parties felt like a trump card that cancelled me out of that grouping.

so for all these years I’ve been thinking about what kind of girl I am, and whether I’m the right kind of girl or the wrong kind, whether I’m enough of a girl or too much of one.  whether I’m the kind that guys like or “friend zone” or straight up don’t notice, and whether I should change to be a different kind than whichever of those I feel most like at the time.

I won’t believe that I’m the only girl out there whose head is always swimming with these thoughts.

but the moments that triggered this blog post were a) my incredible friend Sam posting an instagram where she talked about insecurities and what femininity meant to her, and b) the moment when I decided to re-chop my hair a month ago.

you know when you’re a kid, you usually don’t care a ton about the way you look naturally; some girls care about hair and clothes and such from birth but I don’t think the majority learn to criticize their own features until they get into that weird tween stage at least.  I could be totally off about that.  I was a super awkward tween person who both second-guessed everything I did and somehow remained totally oblivious to how badly I dressed.  (beside the point.)

as we grow up, I think most of us will always want to be beautiful, even if we manage to believe we don’t need to be.  most of us will always compare, and always feel dissatisfied with something, and always wonder why? to something about ourselves.  sometimes I have to look in the mirror before I leave my apartment and say, “love it,” out loud in an attempt to drill new subconscious thought patterns into my own skull.

the thing is, I don’t remember a time since the blissful ignorance of childhood that I liked how I looked for longer than a good day here or there, until I chopped off my hair three years ago.  I had tried various long (or really long) hairstyles over the years but had never liked my hair itself; it fell flat on my head but was frizzy most days and always split ends.  I didn’t look good in bangs, or with my hair at my shoulders.  I was never happy.

for years I moaned, “I’d cut my hair like Carey Mulligan except I could never pull off hair that short” because of some built-in idea that somehow, despite having the face of a girl, I would suddenly look indistinguishably like a boy, and hate myself even more (other insecurities were already warring for which could rule my life so I didn’t need “looking like a man” added to the list).  I don’t know where that came from; no one told me “Lydia if you cut off your hair you will look like a man”.  people did tell me, in an off-handed, matter-of-fact way, “men don’t like girls with short hair” (obviously what I should base my own appearance on, right?  because what’s my value as a woman if not being at least generally attractive to men?  that’s a blog post of its own I think).

I eventually just worked myself up into this frenzy of “if I don’t now, I never will” after doing that thing in the mirror where you drape your pony tail over your forehead to simulate a shaggy pixie and you think, “hmm maybe?”  so finally I went and cut it off – at the start of winter, so I could cover it with a beanie if I hated it.  and thank God for that day.  it took some getting used to, for sure; I had to learn to make it look good (I’m not much of a primper ugh), and true, I honestly got a lot less attention from men (to clarify: a lot less than the already minimal amount I got).  but the second I had my pixie, I was lighter.  I was freer.  I was more me than I’d ever been.  I was relatively comfortable in my own skin (for the first time in a decade!), much more confident in my friendships, and felt like I’d found my tiny groove as an “artsy writer person”, since I finally had the cool haircut to make me feel more legit.

I vividly remember a day where I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “I don’t mind my face”, and if that sounds silly to you then let me just tell you that I cried when I thought it, because it was a new feeling.

there’s a quote I read recently that’s something about God being most glorified in the life of a person who is living fully as the person they were created to be.  I don’t remember who said it but I feel that deeply.  I felt like I was the Lydia I was meant to be.  and I’m not advocating for making shallow changes so that you’ll feel better about yourself and thereby not resent God for who he made you to be.  but I think there was an element to me throwing off the subtly ingrained insecurities that had nothing to do with what God said about me that was really healthy.

fast forward almost two years with the short hair; still loving it, still always trying new things.  I bought bolder jewelry and cuter dresses to hone “my look”.  but when I didn’t take the time to make myself look nice, I’d get so little attention from men that I started to notice.  and then sometimes girls would check me out or subtly flirt with me and it made me really uncomfortable, wondering if that was the vibe I gave off.  and then came the fateful day in the pizza parlor where the waitress asked for my number.

I stammered “sorry I like boys/don’t like girls/something awkward” and spiraled internally, doubting myself and my face and mostly my hair because that was the obvious problem.  so I started growing it.  I told myself I’d try a bob, and see if that still felt fun and edgy enough.  I impatiently let my hair grow and grow, and then, last month, just under a year and a half later, it was finally there.  brushing my shoulders, looking pretty cute some days, less so others, but always like a girl, always “feminine”.  I did it, I’d tell myself, and I’d look in the mirror and I’d daydream about swapping my face and my body out for literally anyone else’s in the world.  and as melodramatic as it sounds, I cried in bed a lot of nights because I was convinced I wasn’t pretty, and as much as I didn’t want that to be a big deal, it felt like a big deal.  a really fucking big deal, to hate how you look every day.  and I started to realize that over the last year and a half, I’d worried more about how I looked than ever.  and I’d disliked my appearance more than ever.  and most importantly, even though I started getting male attention again (and, for the record, was more awkward with it than ever), I did not feel like more of a woman for having longer hair.  not even a little.

and when I realized that, and I realized that I hadn’t felt like myself all that time, I googled “best places to get an edgy haircut Cambridge” and I made an appointment and I snipped away a year and a half’s useless patience, and I was finally myself again.

it’s made me think and think, about what being a woman even looks like.  I started running over a list of women who the scriptures commend, and what they’re remembered for, and it kind of blew my mind.  indulge me; I’m gonna pick on a few notable ones though I know there are so many more.

Leah – shortest end of the stick ever, married to a man who loved her little sister / never liked her no matter what she did, but God shows her kindness and favor, and then literally makes his people through her when she shifts her perspective and praises him in the midst of her hard life.
Tamar – despite her circumstances and family turning against her, she pursues what God’s law promised her and (by cunning and unconventional means) becomes one of the mothers of Israel.
Jochebed (Moses’ mother) – praised for her faith and for being “not afraid”, she defies the edicts of the Eqyptians out of love for her son and hides him, and it is through him that God saves his entire people.
Deborah – one of the famous judges of Israel, a poet and prophetess that people would line up to speak to, not afraid to call out men on their disobedience to God; a woman of faith, boldness, bravery; she goes into battle with the Israelites and rallies them with a battle cry/reminder that God is with them; God tells her that because the army’s commander is too afraid to go without her, the enemy king will fall into the hand of a woman.
*bonus character* Jael – fulfilling God’s words through Deborah, Jael’s epic (& gruesome) cunning in killing King Sisera wins the victory for the Israelite army.
Rehab – cunning, brave; she hides the Israelite spies in her roof and lies to the face of her evil king; her whole family literally gets saved from death because of her bravery and her belief in the God of Israel who she had heard about and chose to honor.  The book of Hebrews lists her in the “Faith Hall of Fame” for the faith that saved her.
Ruth – hard work, faithfulness, devotion to family and to God, honoring her mother(in-law), boldness that saves her family and makes her a part of the lineage of Jesus.
Hannah – her faithfulness and endurance in prayer are rewarded and she’s given a son who becomes the mouthpiece of God for generations; also a prophetess herself, a woman of faith, steadfastness, feeling, and long-suffering.
Abigail – described as “discerning and beautiful”; humble, brave, bold; she risks her life to save her household, pleading with an angry King David at risk to herself.
Esther* – beautiful, young, brave, willing to stand up to evil even though she’s terrified and it will almost certainly cost her her life, all to save her people fulfill what she believes could be her life’s purpose.
Mary – obedient to God and courageous (she literally calls herself “blessed” to bear the son of God despite the ridicule that a pre-marriage pregnancy would no doubt bring on her).
Eunice & Lois (Timothy’s mom and grandma) – commended for teaching Timothy the word of God growing up (though his father did not become a believer), and for mentoring younger women in the church.
Lydia (person I was named for!) – a business woman in her own right who opened her house to Paul and Luke and the other missionaries as a church, and preached the gospel to her family.

I’ll stop there for the sake of time.

here’s the thing: in the scriptures, there are some women who are mentioned for their beauty and outward appearance, but very few of those are cast in a positive light.  I’m not saying there’s something wrong with being beautiful (trust me, I still look at people everyday and wish dearly that I could look like “that”), but clearly, I think, the things God prizes in women are their faithfulness, courage, boldness, humility, endurance, kindness, hospitality, character, cunning, obedience to his word, etc.

my point is that no where do I see that to be feminine is to look a certain way and to make sure men are attracted to you and to fit a certain mold that society (both Christian and non-Christian) have drawn up for us.  I have come to believe that to be feminine is to be fully woman.  and that means anything from loving Disney princesses (me!) to loving to help my dad with repairs on the car (me!) to loving babies (me!) to loving shooting guns (me!) to a million things that aren’t me at all.  I am learning this: that God is glorified in me when my security is in him.  and I am so bad at this but I want it so badly.  and a part of that is realizing that he didn’t create women to all fit the same cookie cutter.  (remember that whole “what good would a body that was all eyes or hands be?” thing?  while that specific passage was addressing the church as a group, if that doesn’t apply to us as women, then the gospel doesn’t.)

I was blessed to have parents who didn’t go out of their way to tell me what I could and couldn’t do on this earth because I was a girl.  they encouraged the tea parties, and they encouraged the tree-climbing, and they encouraged my writing and my art and my horseback riding and my piano-playing and my rock-climbing and whatever else on earth I wanted to do and I assumed, all of my life, that there were no doors closed to me.  I know that there are many women who were not allowed to believe those things growing up, or who hear from peers or bosses or even husbands and boyfriends that because they are women, they are worth less.  I am so sorry, and I am so angry, when I see that.

when I read the Bible, I don’t see that.  honestly I love the way that the Bible treats women.  I love that God himself said men would be lost without us, and that our first mother’s name means “life-giver”.  I love that God frequently chose the ones that society dismissed to stand out in faithfulness, often when men around them did not.  I love that the New Testament epistles challenged every convention of the day by addressing “wives” directly, in the same breath as “husbands”.  I love that Paul and his companions would “sit down and speak to the women who had come together”, despite the taboo nature of it at the time.  I love that the first person Jesus told his true identity to was a shunned woman who then shared the gospel with her whole city.  I love that the first people who saw our resurrected Lord (and were trusted with his story) were women who the world looked down upon and often didn’t believe.  I love that when Adam and Eve broke God’s perfect world with their sin, he said that humanity’s deliverer would come from a woman.  I feel honored to be a woman.  there are so many Christians who have treated women horrifically over the years.  but the God they claim to serve never has, and for that I am grateful, and because of that, I am trying to take my cues from him and not from the flawed ideals of the broken world where I find myself.

so, to sum up: I believe that to be feminine is not to fit a man-made mold of certain hair and make-up and shoes and clothes and interests, but to be fully women, and I truly believe that that will look different for every one of us.

for me, femininity is beginning to look like this: I have really short hair and I don’t use much make-up and I wear mostly dresses because I love them and I smile at everyone on the street even though it’s Cambridge so NO ONE smiles back, and I like to climb rocks and jump off of high things into water with all the boys and I like to watch Hilary Duff movies and I especially love to tell stories, which I believe I was made to do.  and mostly I love Jesus, and I want to love the person he made (me) because when I don’t it’s unhealthy and he won’t get a lot done through me on this planet while I’m all in my head about it.

I could have a lot of this wrong.  I’m 24, for goodness’ sake.  and even if I had all the answers, I am so far from actually implementing them into my emotions and thoughts and actions that I need help.  my sincere hope is that we women can learn to build each other up, to honor each other, to love each other, to encourage the differences in each other, and to recognize the amazing potential that God has placed inside each of us.

that’s all I’ve got for now; I tried to keep this short and failed (this is the cut down version) but I crave conversation on this topic.  if you have thoughts, things you’d like to push back on, additions you’d like to make, I’d love to hear it all, as long as it’s kind.

I love you all, really.

 

this is me in Central Park the other day, really happy, really myself:

I want to stay this way.

*on the note of Esther’s story- can we talk about how God literally saves his people through a petrified teenage girl who never would have been queen except that the first queen refused to give a strip tease to her husband’s party guests, and then all of his advisors freaked out, literally because they said “all the women in the kingdom will think it’s okay to deny their husbands sex now if we don’t put them in their place”?  and then God uses a woman to defy the rules and break every cultural standard for a woman and through her boldness, yeah, he saves his people and blesses them.  what.

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oftentimes I hurry into bed so I can fall asleep before my thoughts catch up to me, clutching at me with their ugly, heavy claws. before the voice that sounds like me reminds me of certainties that aren’t even true: that my friends tolerate me but do not love me, that my words will fail me when I need them on the page, that the pain of caring deeply is not worth the joy of it, that I will always be better off alone, that I should flee far from love before I spend too much of myself on it.

these have been my nightly thoughts for the last month. considering the moments of joy, the care shown me by those I work with, the sheer number of birthday celebrations I’ve joined in on in the past month, you’d think things would at least even out.

but somehow it’s still there, the depression seeping in about the corners of my thoughts, and somehow I still find myself plastering on brave faces a lot of the time, and somehow when I crawl into bed at night I’m still hit with all of these certainties about myself.

I feel tired.

I’m tired of fighting it, but also tired of being broken and weak and staying that way.

I’m tired from over committing myself socially and from over committing myself to serve others.

I’m tired of giving in to the emotions that lie to me, and tired of crying in bed almost every night as I fall asleep, and tired of that damned voice assuring me that this will always be the case.

there are facts that contribute, certainly, to these feelings – I have a very fast approaching deadline on a draft of my sequel that’s keeping me from sleeping many nights.  I work full time now and have commitments half the nights of the week that sometimes stress me out.  historically I don’t manage my time and energy well, and I haven’t had much introvert-down-time lately.  but I can’t help but feel that none of that should be enough for the suicidal thoughts to come back the way they have been recently.

I know that I will be okay.  but right now I’m not.  and I’m tired of believing the voice that tells me not to say anything.

I ran this by my extraordinary sister before posting, and she challenged me to think about why I’m sharing it- if it doesn’t end with help or hope, is there value to sharing it with a world that might feel the same, but need some light?  and she’s not wrong, that it’s important to share things that bring hope.  so this is why I decided to still share (with amendments):

right now, when I think that I should just kill myself and have done with it, I’m usually only stuck in those thoughts for a few moments before I shake myself free.  but it used to be that I only thought about ending my life when I was – as Anne Shirley would say – in the “depths of despair”, and it was all very dramatic and non-logical.  and before that, I didn’t think these thoughts at all.  so it seems to me that the longer I’ve been fighting this, the harder it’s fighting me back, and the longer the shadow seems to grow.  and that’s not to say I haven’t had victories; honestly, in so many ways I’ve grown a lot, and have shaken off a lot of the darkness.  but it’s not all better.

it’s hard not to feel entirely and fundamentally broken, that despite every victory and every step forward in this struggle with depression, there’s always a step back, because that’s just how things are going to be.  I looked up that word – fundamentally –  because it was stuck in my head.  and it boils down to what something is at its core.  I want to hold onto the words of King David, that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  but I struggle with “knowing full well” that God’s works are wonderful; other people, certainly.  but I have not learned to own this for myself.  “fundamentally broken” feels truer.

I have found that the busier I get, the more social I am, and the harder I work, the more difficult it becomes for me to tell people what’s going on inside my head.  I don’t want to look weak, I don’t want to look as if the workload is too much, I don’t want to look as if I’m fundamentally broken when I’ve spent my entire life trying to take care of other people and hold it together for their sakes.

so for me, even though writing about my struggles has always been a deeply helpful thing, it’s actually getting harder to do.  and I know that’s my enemy at work.  sharing my heartache has impacted others than just myself, and I’m sure he’d like to shut me up.

I wrote on the chalkboard by my bedroom door, “this, too, shall pass”, and I believe that.  what’s hard is feeling certain that it will also come back, as it always has.  not always this badly, of course.  but in some form.  sometimes much worse.  thoughts that tell me I am worthless.  thoughts that tell me everyone will see that I’ve failed if I ever break down.  thoughts that warn me not to tell anyone what’s going on if I want them to ever speak to me again.  thoughts that do not reflect what my creator thinks of me, but feel overwhelmingly true all the same.

I was singing the song “I Surrender” this morning and thinking about the line, “Lord, have your way in me”.  I know that he will.  I know his plan is vast and wonderful.  I know he has used my pain and will continue to do so, and I know that he is good and I can trust that.  I don’t resent the heavy feelings the way I used to.  but I’m wearing thin, and I don’t feel strong right now.

most nights it’s all I can do to hurry to sleep, to flee from the voices.

and most mornings I hurry about my day and keep busy enough that I barely hear them, and everything feels fine on the surface.

and by most evenings the voices have started again and I am so, so tired from the hurrying, and from fighting them.

I wasn’t going to share this with anyone.  it was cathartic for me to write it, and I was going to keep it like that.  I don’t want to be dramatic.  I promise, promise, that’s not why I share these things.  I am passionate about hearing and sharing stories, yes, but not about clickbait.  (unless it’s a facebook status.  sometimes I think I’m funny.)  but I don’t share my feelings – which are sometimes very painful to write down, and sometimes very soothing to write down, but always leave me very vulnerable when shared with other people – to get attention.

I share them because I have learned by doing so that I am not alone.

because for some reason, to help me cope, or to help others cope, my creator allows me to word things in a way that have made other hurting people say, “I feel the same, but I didn’t know how to say it.”
I share my feelings because people have said to me, “I didn’t think I could talk about it, but now I will.”
because people have said, “I had no idea you felt those things.  I thought I was the only one.”
because people have said, “I don’t struggle with depression, and I didn’t know how to relate to loved-ones who did. your writing has helped me understand.”
because people have said, “I tried to kill myself, and I don’t know how to tell anyone, and I need to talk.”

and I promise I don’t mean this to puff myself up in any conceivable way.  I am deeply grateful for the chance to open a crack of light into someone’s darkness, someone who maybe doesn’t realize the scores of people who love them and want to be there for them but don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.  I am deeply grateful for the chance to process through words what often feels like unbearable weight; without that outlet, I think I might have broken by now.  I am deeply grateful to the people who surround me and ask me how I’m doing, and remind me that I am loved when they see me, and have never, ever, made me feel disgusting or annoying or too broken when I share what’s crowding my head.  I know there are so many people who don’t have that, or who are so much more severely depressed than I am.  I could have it so much worse.  so I am grateful.  I hope that when I tell you that most people are willing to love, you will be encouraged to talk about the hard things.

so.  suicide.

we can skip the backstory on my decade or so of struggling with depression, and the years where I felt guilty even calling it that because I wasn’t cutting or trying to kill myself.  by God’s grace I’ve never gotten that far, thought I’ve thought about it a lot.  I’ve decided, and then undecided.  I actually just typed out the story of the first time I planned to take my life and then erased it.  I don’t think you need to know that.  I don’t think I need to talk about the details of the moment or the ways I decided to “do the deed” over the course of those hardest years.  what matters, I think, is that I’m still here.  and that you are, and you’re reading this, if suicide as ever appealed to you.

about a month ago was the first time I thought about ending my life in years.  thoughts of, “I don’t want to be alive” and “this is all just too much” have come and gone, sure, but I’ve been in deep enough pits that I can see mere potholes for what they are, at least.

this last time it was a different approach, one that seemed logical and causal.  I think it was the worst, because it was the hardest to talk myself out of, and the hardest to pinpoint where to lay the blame.  I’m not going to tell the story of how my brain reached the conclusion of, “it would probably be best and simplest just to end things.”  instead I’m just going to share what I wrote afterward, angry and exhausted.

 

dear Suicide:

you’re beautiful in theory.  you sound like the clear air after I’ve been under the covers for too long, or the quiet darkness when I close my eyes after a long, weary day.

you sound like the easy way out, and the hardest decision.  a little selfish, because you leave so many in pain in your wake.  but right, because some things feel too heavy to keep on bearing.

you sound like rest.  to be done with the pain and the heaviness.  an end of the weariness and the sharp aches and the tears and fissures in my heart.  what a thought.  full to brimming over with sweet possibilities.  and my savior at the end, of course.  a shortcut to that joy.

these are the sweet things you tell me.  these are your calls, your promises, your guarantees.

but Suicide, I need to stop listening to you, always beckoning me closer.

all the crowding thoughts, that tell me things won’t change, or need to change, I need to shut them out.  they all lead to you.  you don’t tell me how to fix things, only how to escape them.  I don’t think Jesus wants me to escape the hard things.

I think he wants to redeem them.

maybe with my help.

maybe that’s why I can’t quit.

that’s why I have to stay, even though you’re pulling.

I’ve said no once, twice, half a dozen times.  why do you insist?  why do you try to change my mind?

what if this is all so much bigger than I am?  what if I need to stay to do something, to bring God glory, to tell stories, and hear stories, and bless people and be blessed by people?  what if I’m a thread Jesus wants to weave through this city and the lives of the people around me and the literary arts?  what if, what if, what if?  why would you want to take me away from that, pulling at me with your sweet whisperings, or your alternating emotions and logic?

one day it’s, “but it makes sense.  you can’t fix this, you can’t be better; just cut it off now before you waste breath and time and effort.  you know you should quit while you can.  just make the rational decision.”  and another day it’s, “you know this is too heavy to bear up under.  you know you’ll break.  it hurts too much, it always will.  it will only get worse.  end it.  save yourself the heartache.”

but I won’t listen.  I won’t obey.

you’re a pretty door I won’t walk through.

you’re not worth it.

it’s really hard to say what is worth it, on the hard days.  so I’m making a list, of just a few things:

-little faces, splitting with love, and the cries of, “MISS LYDIA!” as they run on pitter-pattering feet toward me across a room.
-heads dropped on shoulders, looking at the stars, losing trails of thought and laughing about feelings.
-dancing in my room when I’m the only one home, pretending I’m Liza Minnelli in a cabaret club.
-knowing I’m the only one in the world who was trusted with someone’s secret.
-curling up in bed with pillows all around and a good book and a sense of total calm and real sabbath.
-crowds of strangers on a city street with stories etched on their brows and unknown eternities riding on their shoulders, full of endless possibility.
-the moment when the airline company sends you a confirmation on tickets you’ve just purchased, and you know you’re going to go somewhere.
-coming into a room and having someone grin and wave when they spot you.
-perfect, smooth pebbles worn down by salt water, and bright green leaves against dark wood after a spring rain.
-finding dried, pressed flowers in a book you forgot about.
-waiting for a polaroid picture to develop.
-the moment when the lights go dim in a theater and the orchestra quiets before the overture starts.

so goodbye, Suicide the Promising.  what you have going for you is an end.

I’m going to choose beginnings.

you lose.  you’ll always lose.

 

it’s World Suicide Prevention Day, the culmination of World Suicide Prevention Week.

two days ago I was at work and I got lost down a trail of ugly thoughts that ended with me saying to myself, “you are just weak and afraid, Lydia.”  I think the worst things I’ve ever been told are the things I say to myself.  I am so unkind.  maybe we need to stop listening to ourselves.

you, reading this: you are beautiful.  and valuable.  and the God of the universe stamped you with his image because he loves you, and he died to save you because he thinks you’re worth it, and he calls you his beloved.  he has made us his sons and daughters by giving up his own life for us.

and maybe you don’t believe that.  or you know it’s true but it doesn’t seem like enough- like living isn’t worth the pain of the day-to-day, when everything is going wrong, or nothing is but you are the world’s biggest mess on the inside.  I know those days.  today I’m writing from a good place; life is crazy and I’m in the middle of my own heartbreaks and frustrations, but I know I’m okay.  maybe you don’t know you’re okay.  but today, I want to stand in the gap for you.  today I know you’re brilliant and you have purpose, and you are a gorgeous, unique, funny, strange, worthwhile human being.  there are people who love you, or who will love you, people who will hurt with you and hold your hand if you let them.  and there is a world around you that is in need of you.  a neighbor who will need help up the stairs, or starving children who need your rescue plan.  there is a place that you are meant to fill on planet earth.  don’t quit on humanity yet.

don’t quit on me.

I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

~Lydia

 

p.s. I wrote something, this summer, when I was in a dark place.  it’s short, some weird fiction that deals with depression.  maybe it’ll speak to you.  maybe not.  you can find it here.

I wrote this the other day and it’s been milling around in my head since.

“how are you doing?” people keep asking me.  the flippant way (“what’s up?” “how’s it going?”) or the sweet way (“how are you?”) or the real-friend way (“how’s your heart lately?” “tell me how you’re doing.”).  it’s normal; people ask these questions, sometimes wanting to sit and hear the answer, sometimes hoping for a “good thanks, you?” in response.  and I just moved, and started a new job, and I have lots of really wonderful friends, so I get to answer this question a lot.

but I’m here on this blank “sheet of paper” because I don’t actually have that answer.  I don’t know what to say.  sometimes the “good thanks, you?” answer is all I’ve got, because people generally don’t have an hour to sit and listen to me try to unravel and understand my own feelings.  or lack of feelings.  my apathy and lukewarm or my kilimanjaros and mariana trenches.

I don’t even understand these places myself.  I wonder if even-keeled means boring, but I also don’t love the drama when I’m in the middle of it.  I’m my most creative when I’m at my darkest: the deepest ruts of despair and depression have historically brought about my most poignant creations.  and when I create – especially out of hardship – I feel like I’m doing what I was made to, down to the core of my being.  it’s like the natural outpouring of my soul.  Eric Liddell, the famous athlete, said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”  and that’s how I feel about pouring out creatively.

but I don’t want to be sad, do I?  I just typed out three different versions of a sentence along the lines of “I love being happy but…” and the more I think about it, the less I think I do…?  I don’t know.  I think when I’m happy – placidly so, not because something amazing is happening – I feel shallow.  (I’m well aware how self-centered this may come across as.  I’m trying to figure it out myself, and that usually comes by writing about it.  this is weirdly personal.)

I’ve been in the throws of despair and hated it but still found a way to be deeply grateful for the feelings, thoughts, and experiences I’ve been given.  but maybe when things are good I don’t know how to be satisfied.

maybe this comes back to the thoughts I’ve been having recently about struggle.

I don’t want to live ‘struggle-free’.  what I want a is life that’s pulled along by the right struggle.  when I picture an existence that fuels and fulfills me and glorifies God with my particular gifts, I don’t picture white fences and easy-going conversation with the neighbors.  I just don’t.  something about that actually kind of makes me anxious.  this isn’t to say I want struggle for its own sake.  I certainly don’t want to toil on and on for the wrong thing, something pointless, or outside of God’s will for my life in the grand scheme, just so I don’t get too comfortable.

I’d just rather work hard with push-back for the noble thing God has set out for me than to either have it easy on the wrong path or struggle and tire but toward the wrong goal. I want the dignity and purpose that come from the right struggle.  I can’t imagine I’m meant for a ride without bumps.

and when things are too easy, or just feel like…nothing…I worry that I’m wasting beautiful time with stupid flat-lining.  I don’t know how to be grateful for “down time” when it’s a whole week or a month or six months.

maybe it’s a gift, this quiet in my spirit.  but it doesn’t feel like Holy-Spirit-stillness, it feels like I’m missing something, like I’m not pressing toward God or he’s not pressing toward me.  it feels like I’m doing something wrong because I’m not “sucking the marrow out of life”, as Thoreau would encourage me.  it feels like I’m just dog-paddling around in the kiddie pool.

I don’t want the kiddie pool.

maybe I don’t know what I’m asking for – I dealt with a lot of emotional shit last year (external and internal), and I’m not saying that was fun – but I don’t think I want to stay here.

I don’t want to look for God in the whirlwind and the fire but miss him in the still, small voice.  I want to learn patience, and quiet.  I want to learn to rely on his timing.  I want to learn what this “season” of life can teach me.

but this placidness kind of sucks when I don’t even know if God wants me to sit in faith or move in faith.  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.

so my update, when people ask:

I don’t know.  where I’m at, what I should be doing, what I shouldn’t be doing.  I don’t know if I should be grateful because I’m okay, or if it’s a warning sign that all I am is “okay”.  I don’t know if the quiet is convenient, aiding and abetting sinful distance from God, or if it’s a gift, after all the craziness.  and if it is a gift, is it supposed to stir up a restlessness in me that will push me toward God’s plan for me, or is it supposed to quiet my spirit and draw my closer to God in a time of rest?  I don’t know if pulling out my own hair because of boredom and confusion and apathy is better than suffocating myself with busyness and too many “yesses”.

what I do know is that right now I can’t create.  I can’t draw or play music.  I sure as hell can’t write.  not a scrap.  my fingers have only cliches and pedantic adjectives to offer.

I don’t want to demonize this period in my life, any more than I tried to demonize the hard times last year, or idolize the times that Jesus redeemed in their aftermath.

but it’s hard.  because it’s not hard.

as stupid as that sounds.

like Diana Goodman, I miss the mountains.

 

 

sometimes the hardest part about getting depressed is that it isn’t so much, “everything is going badly today, so now I’m feeling down”.  it’s more like, “for some reason, I can’t process any of what’s happening in a positive light, no matter if it’s good or bad.”  I’ve had some of the best weeks of my life interrupted by onslaughts of just crippling self-loathing, doubt, and depression, and the notion that there’s nothing I can do to combat any of it.  typically I just form myself into something that vaguely resembles a ball and cry for a while in a really pitiful, crumpled sort of way in the darkest corner I can find.

I think it’s important to talk about our struggles.  this generation is more encouraged to open up than any before it, as far as I can tell, and I’m glad for it.  (I do think it’s important to check ourselves for motivation, so that we’re not bearing our souls just for attention; unfortunately, social media can be an easy platform for self-pity-parties.  to my chagrin, I’ve hosted a handful of my own.  that’s not what this is.)  I’m glad that I live in a time where people are talking about hard things.

in that vein, I’ve shared a lot with y’all over this blog, facebook, and twitter.  writing helps me to process.  when I try to talk about my feelings, they come out in a jumbled, ugly mess with tears and fumbling words.  when I write them down, they make a little more sense.  in past posts, I’ve talked a lot about not having an answer to the things with which I’m dealing.  and that I think that’s okay.  I need to talk about them with or without a solution.

but to close out 2015, I want to share with you a story that falls into the hope-filled category.

I don’t have the answer to depression.  I don’t have the quick fix for self-loathing or the moments of hatred I have for this person God made.  but I do have a victory story.  a single, high-flying, epic victory that reminded me there *is* hope.

back in May (as I drew close to the end of those horrendous first six months of the year), I attended the 2015 TeenPact Massachusetts State Class as the State Coordinator.  it was my first year in the position, and after a really emotionally damaging week at staff training prior to the event, I went into the week feeling stressed, small, and inadequate in every possible way.  what I got for all of my anxiety was what was arguably one of the best weeks of my life.  the staff team made me feel reassured, encouraged, and valuable, and I was shown a lot of grace by a lot of people while I did a job that I’m still not good at, six months later.

half way into this amazing week, as we were driving from the capitol to our host home, something hit me.  the biggest freaking wall I can remember being hit with since maybe 2012, or 2013.  I wanted to hide from everyone I knew, cry myself to sleep and not wake up, crumple up and die.  I hated myself, my personality, my looks.  and the voice in my head, the voice that sounds exactly like my own, that pretends to be me, told me that everything I was feeling was logical and spot on.

I managed to make it inside the house (after an hour’s drive) without crying (something I’m proud of) and upstairs to “use the bathroom”.  I stayed away long enough that I knew the others would start dinner without me, and then I slipped into my assigned bedroom and shut the door.

what followed wasn’t pretty.  I quite literally crumpled to the ground, sobbed my heard out, and lay in a trembling ball for the next several minutes, wishing I could disappear.

it’s hard to realize you’re being attacked when the beating is coming from a voice that sounds like you.

when it’s your own voice telling you you’re worthless, it’s easy to think it’s a kind of humility to put yourself down.

when it’s your own voice telling you that everyone is just pretending to like you, how can you help but doubt every relationship?

when it’s your own voice, why wouldn’t you listen?

but then.  then.

“I know that my redeemer lives.”

a voice that wasn’t my own.  a voice in my head from no where (by which I mean, from Jesus), a piece of a verse from the book of Job, words I couldn’t shake.

“I know that my redeemer lives.”

again and again, I kept thinking it, seeing it, hearing it.

moment of bluntness.  I’ve had some really well-meaning friends send me scriptures when they know I’m depressed, without context, without saying, “I’ve been praying this for you”, or “this applies because…” and it feels like the cheap band-aid fix that Christians are allowed to get away with.  the word of God is mind-blowingly awesome, and has application for every situation.  but you can’t just slap it onto a friend’s hurt and smile and think you’ve done your duty.  (pro tip to my Jesus-following friends: relationships are important.  don’t just cite chapter and verse with a pat on the back.  it usually feels insincere.)

this wasn’t just a random scripture thrown at me.  this was the grace of God showing up to remind me that my. redeemer. lives.  redeemer.  saver of my soul.  lives.  present tense.

suddenly I felt like the Holy Spirit was there with me.  I didn’t feel all right, but I felt hopeful.

I got up, to my knees.

there’s a song you may or may not know called “break every chain”.  the verse states very simply, “there is power in the name of Jesus/there is power in the name of Jesus/there is power in the name of Jesus/to break every chain/break every chain/break every chain”.  it’s repetitive, which isn’t usually my thing, but it’s an incredible song, and you should look it up if you don’t know it.

I started saying it to myself, in my head, then in a whisper, then a little louder.  “there is power in the name of Jesus,” over and over.  and then I got this image of one of my old favorite Bible stories, from the book of 2 Kings, in chapter 6, where the prophet Elisha and his servant have been surrounded by an army of their enemies with orders to seize Elisha and bring him to their king.  verses 15-17 say, “15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

can you imagine that?  a heavenly host, surrounding the army that’s surrounding you?

I sat there on my knees with that image in my head, crying and calling on the name of Jesus out loud (side note: speaking the name of Jesus out loud makes all the difference, at least for me.  so does being on my knees), and my friends: it worked.

it was as if I could feel the devil being repelled.  as if reminding Satan that he’s already been beaten, that my soul belongs to one stronger than he, was a battle.  it was like a fight for my life, where the name of Jesus and the reassurance of his word were my weapons.  and I was winning.

real talk: I didn’t leave that room (when I’d fixed my mascara and came down to dinner pretending nothing was wrong) with any certainty that I’d never get depressed again.  I was shaky and may or may not have covered up a good many more tears that evening.  I felt pretty battered.

but I had – and still have – this hope that no one can take away from me.

for me, that hope only came from experiencing the tangible power of God.  from getting to actually see that he is stronger than the enemy of my soul.  it only came when he opened my eyes to the heavenly host encamped on the mountains around me, ready to fight.  for me.

I know that my REDEEMER lives.

I was a hot mess the following Sunday when our worship set at church opened with “break every chain” and I happened to be sitting in the front row, so everyone could watch me crying.  I also cried my way through Pastor Donny’s perfectly-timed sermon on the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the bit when he casually mentioned the fact that God looks at us and sees his son’s righteousness, and not our brokenness.

over the rest of this past year, I learned a lot about my feelings.  for years, holed up in my bed or hiding in a closet, I’ve begged God to let me feel less.  less pain, less anxiety, less panic, less defeat.  it seemed like too much to bear up under.  it’s only been over the course of this fall that I’ve realized what a blessing my feelings are.  I don’t want to feel less love- I love strangers and friends fiercely and I wouldn’t want that to stop.  I don’t want to feel less of the empathy that brings me to tears when I read about terrorist attacks across the ocean or one-human-to-another brutality here on my own shores.  I don’t want to give up the excitement that I’m so quick to grab a hold of, about a piece of art or a snatch of music, or a book I can’t put down.  I don’t want to give up compassion for a broken world, which pulls at my heart with an often painful thrum, keeping me up some nights in tearful prayer.

I’m thankful, finally, for the feelings.  even when I think they’ll crush me.

the truth is, 2015 carried more darkness with it than any year I’ve known.  in sharp contrast, it brought more light than ever as well.  more people I love, more gratitude, more prayer.  more news and celebration, more frustration with the place I find myself.  I don’t know where I’m going or what I’ll be doing a year from now, but I’m learning who I was made to be.  I’m also learning that I’ve missed out on a lot of blessings by insisting that my own low view of myself was more accurate than what God thought of me, and I’ve missed so many chances to bless others and be used by God because I was stuck in my own rut of insecurity.  I’m tempted to be haunted by all the “what would have beens”, but I’m also learning valuable, difficult, huge lessons about the magnitude of God’s free grace.  free things are oh-so-hard for me.  accepting the unmerited gift that his mercy is has yet to become easy, but I’m learning.  learning to shut up and stop trying to pay God back for things.  learning that the obedience that comes from gratitude is the sweetest and most rewarding obedience.

this has been my year.  learning, learning, learning.  victories and humiliations, all for the glory of God.

so to close it, I wanted to share this victory of mine with you.  not because I’ve found the cure, or because I’ve gotten over self-loathing and depression.  I share it because it’s important to talk about the bad things, and it’s important to talk about the good things.  that’s where redemption comes into play.  by sharing with friends the things I struggle with, I’ve gotten to a place of knowing I’m not the only one, knowing I’m not unlovable, knowing I’ll survive this.  by calling on God’s name I realized I’ll beat this, because he already has.

please don’t despair if you’ve tried this whole God thing and you’re still depressed.  depression is complex, but it’s not hopeless.  I’ve called on God in darkness before, and occasionally it’s “worked”, but more often the crushing alone-ness didn’t let up.  you may not be at a place where you can even think about fighting.  maybe your first step is some help from science, and recognizing that you need outside help may be what you need; I don’t believe depression is a purely emotional condition.  for me, the necessary shift was calling up the already-not-yet of God’s victory over darkness.  I needed to say it out loud and I needed to know I had hope, for the next time.  because there were next times since then.  and there will be more.  all I want to convey is that there can be victories.  that this fight isn’t a futile one, just because it feels that way.  that the story doesn’t have to end badly.

so here’s the deal: if you want to talk, message me*, call me, text me, email me.  I may know what you’re going through, I may not.  let’s be vulnerable and live real life together and not pretend to be okay.  but let’s talk about the days when we are, as well.  that hope might be what someone needs.

thanks, 2015.  I liked you a lot.

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~Lydia

 

*(I’m notoriously bad a facebook messages (okay, all communication really) but I’ll do my best.)

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I’m a huge fan of strong language.  especially in my own writing.

I may be biased as a writer, because I’m absolutely in love with words, but I think we can all agree that they’re powerful.  harsh words can wound, kind words can heal.  they mean something.  they’re important.

no doubt this is at least part of the reason that the Bible is pretty clear about the types of words we should be using.  google supplied me with plenty of opinion on Christians and profanity, mostly in the form of blog posts.  I read a ton of them before I wrote this post.  the majority expressed entirely negative responses to swearing, even going so far as to say that “swear words” themselves are sinful.  the few that disagreed, however, almost championed the use of strong language by Christians for its edginess, if nothing else.

I take issue with either of these opinions.

(I hate to break up the conversation, but I want to get one thing out of the way: I don’t swear using the Lord’s name.  ten commandments, duh.  I don’t even say “jeez” or “oh my god”.  I don’t want my words to ever bring dishonor to God, so I’m extra careful about that.  but I actually don’t think that what we call strong language automatically does so.)

okay! “what-does-the-Bible-say-about-swearing” speed round (paraphrasing):

– Ephesians 5:4 – “no filthiness/foolish talk/crude joking.”

– James 3:9-12 – “we bless God with our mouth and then turn around and curse people who are made in his likeness.  blessing and cursing shouldn’t come out of the same place.

– Ephesians 4:29 – “no corrupting talk should come out of your mouths, only what’s good for building up, that it may give grace to those who hear.

(similar mandates can be found in 1 Peter 3:10, Colossians 3:8, and Luke 6:45, among others.)

a post I read on ChristianityToday . com called “The Trouble with Cussing Christians” said this, which I really liked: “our words should participate in hallowing, rather than profaning, the world.”

but I’d like to suggest that “strong language” can play a part in beauty.

I believe that art points to the creator and glorifies him.  the best stories are his, after all.  the most beautiful sunsets.  music, color, taste.  the sweet, broken people we meet and have the privilege of knowing and loving throughout our lives.  art is beauty, and good art glorifies God.

it’s easy to rag on low-budget, poorly scripted Christian films or obnoxious contemporary Christian music- I do it myself often enough.  I don’t want to go there too much now because I really do admire the men and women behind those mediums for their hearts, their intentions, and their boldness.

but art should be excellent, and sometimes I think that as Christians we shy away from hard topics and strong words in favor of niceness and “propriety”, and I don’t think that’s always a good idea.  if anyone should be telling the hard stories, it should be the same people who know what redemption looks like– the recipients of God’s great grace.

I believe words are as much instruments of art as paints and pencils and cameras and musical notes.  they’re meaningful.  they express things, feelings, thoughts.  and that’s what stories are for.  that’s why I write, to pull words that everyone knows into strings of sentences that didn’t exist before.  is there anything closer to magic out there?

words are things of beauty.  I was talking with a friend recently at lunch who said that her favorite word was “epiphany”- that she’d even written a college paper on it.  and it’s beautiful, right?  the way it looks and sounds, what it means.  I have lists and lists of words I love, almost as much as names- estuary, plunder, incandescent, cunning, pique.  (I actually really love to say the word bastard, but…yeah, that’s one I usually keep to myself.)

sometimes the only thing separating one word from another is the depth of what they’re expressing.  sometimes when you’re hurting, your usual verbal repertoire is not enough.  sometimes your pain just can’t be expressed in simple, G-rated words.

so.  fiction.  why should characters in a story be any different than you or I, in our moments of pain and trial?  to use my own writing as an example, why would a teenage girl who’s just been kidnapped, branded, bought, imprisoned, and raped call the man responsible a “jerk”?  would you buy her pain if she did?  would you feel what she’s feeling?

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(okay, but this was hilarious. best scene.)

the main point that people often bring up in this discussion is making the characters realistic.  many writers (myself included) agree that when they’re writing, the characters often speak for themselves.  I don’t plan a lot of what I write.  (I never planned for Isla to get kidnapped and then all of a sudden it was happening and then I had a book about human trafficking and bravery and loving yourself that was initially going to be little more than a piece of romantic fluff.)  when they get going, characters do and say things on their own.

if you don’t believe the people that I’m writing, if you don’t buy the characters, how is the story going to affect you?  how will it move you, or mean something to you?  stories need to mean something.  they need to touch you, show you darkness and light and humanity and good and evil.  and stories are made of words.  how can we tell a powerful story without the jarring contrast of strong words?

I certainly haven’t gotten it down.  in many ways my writing is still terribly immature.  and I’m not lobbying for gratuitous, unnecessary language in fiction.  but I do believe in feeling things.  and I think the fact that we even have the label “strong language” means something.  in my own novels, it sometimes means that Blue Reavely’s (my heroine’s) father calls her a little shit when he’s drunk.  and sometimes it means he tells her she’s worthless and a mistake.

strong words are the ones that pack a punch, not just the ones we call “swears”.  the ones that hit you hard, or stir your soul.

I think compassion is a strong word.  it happens to be my favorite.  it still means really means something, and makes you think, because people don’t throw it around.  this can’t be said for many other words that are losing their impact because of our readiness to speak them: “literally”, “amazing”, “tragedy”, “love” (to name a few).

words are important.  I’m trying to use mine wisely, and sometimes that means using the ones that hit people hard.

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so!  tell me what you think about “language” in fiction!  do you think it’s avoidable?  do you think it’s necessary all the time?  are there ways to abstain from it and still emerge your reader into a gritty world?  and do you think writing language down is different than using it in your own conversation?  talk to me!  I don’t by any means think I’m an authority.  this is just my opinion, and I’d love to hear yours!

 

p. s.  remember to be intentional with your words though.  to go back to the idea of taking the Lord’s name in vain, I have one thing to say: if God’s name were itself a curse, we wouldn’t be warned against using it wrongly.  instead, his name is a thing of power, impact, and importance.  when we use it as a curse, we’re taking it out of its intended context and doing him dishonor, because he (and his name, therefore) represents the pinnacle/measuring stick of goodness, beauty, and holiness.  I have a hard time believing that words are in and of themselves evil.  (crass, yes.  don’t get me started on crude and crass words/talk.  I hate hate hate all that.)

p. p. s. “you can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.” ~Truman Capote (because…Capote.  duh.)

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because it signifies their last night of freedom for an entire month.  for the 30 days following Halloween, we’re all doomed.

our fate can be summed up in one set-of-abbreviations-that-pretends-to-be-a-word: NaNoWriMo.  sound it out.  it works.

NaNoWriMo, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is short for National Novel Writing Month.  it’s a thing where writers all across the world (amateur, professional, delusional) band together and commit to writing for the month of November with a goal of 50,000 words by the end.  that’s a small novel (for most people- I’m cursed with a “knack” for writing 120,000 word novels.  I do not say that to brag, as I have much smaller chances of getting published with such a word count).  that’s an average of 1667 words per day, I think.

last year I participated (you, too, can make an account on the website here!) and used my 50K to finish out my first draft of Finding You and, when that was finished, work on Across the Lake.  I was up until about 11:30pm the last night.  it was awesome.treachery cover

but this year I think signing up might have been really stupid; 2014 has been the craziest year of my life, as many of you know because I’ve waited weeks to return your text messages.  I have my first grown-up job of my life, volunteer and church commitments, and – wait for it – a social life!  (disclaimer: what I call a crazy social life is seeing friends maybe two or three times in a week and it’s EXHAUSTING.  is this normal?  I just want to curl up in my bunk bed with my glow-in-the-dark stars above me and watch musicals and eat fruit gummies and avoid all human contact.)

I’ve decided to work on my complete rewrite of the first novel I ever finished, previously called Betrayal.  this time it’s Treachery (that just blew your mind, admit it), and you can read a bit of it on Figment, here.  my description “blurb”, if you’re interested, is as follows:

” a young woman is caught up in the dangerous world of espionage when she joins the plot to reinstate her exiled queen, all the while struggling with love and trust in the face of deception and betrayal. ”  (<– I’m terrible at blurbs.)

anyways, wish me luck.  I’ve set a calendar for myself, and I’m going to try and stay ahead of schedule.  we’ll see how that goes.

if you want to follow along, there’s a chance I’ll be adding some as I go.

thanks, lovelies!  comment and let me know if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, and if so, what your project is!  also, feel free to add me as a buddy on the site!  happy writing!  don’t die!!  (I already bought chocolate supplies…muahaha.)

(p.s. I actually never did celebrate Halloween as a kid; my parents were super careful about dark stuff and magic and ghosts and all that. then we moved to the boonies and nobody came anyway.  as a grown-up,

moral stuff aside, I totally see the need for a holiday where I get to watch Tim Burton movies (today was Beetlejuice – w00t w00t! totally dressing as Lydia Deetz next year) and eat pumpkin desserts and talk about fall leaves and paint my nails epically.  so yay!)

p.s.s. I totally did my nails.  I wasn’t joking.  10748609_10205056274468732_684370979_n

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the exquisite William Butler Yeats penned one of my favorite poems into existence somewhere around a hundred years ago:

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.

cover that I made because that's my favorite

I am – and have for a long time been – so in love with this tiny poem as to consider tattooing a line from it on my body.  I have since narrowed down my tattoo plans, but that was just so you know how much I adore it.  it’s sad and beautiful, which all of my favorite poems are (don’t get me started on Annabel Lee – I melt every time).

all that to say, like many girls I have an interest in and love for the idea of mermaids, for whatever reason.  unlike many, however, I like the bleak, tragic side of those tales- the deaths, the retribution, the eeriness.  I love the siren myths, the old Norse legends of Rán- stories with hideous creatures singing themselves into the favor of unsuspecting sailors before drowning them.  while I enjoyed my fair share of Emily Windsnap books as a tween, the darker stories have always been that toward which I gravitate.  (we shouldn’t really get into what I think of the modern treatment of “vampirism” in recent “literature”.  I get a bit heated.)

I’ve had this story about a human-turned-siren in my head for a while, and in my secret boards on

pinterest for a while.  I tried writing it once or twice, and it fizzled out each time.  I think I want to turn every idea I have into a full-length novel and am only just now (um…maybe last week? yeah, it might be that recent) discovered that I can write short stories and novellas as well.

so yesterday I jotted down a few notes, and today I sat down at my laptop and recorded my first efforts.  it’s not that exciting, I’ll warn you up front.  it’s really just me typing and back-spacing strings of words and occasionally clicking over to pinterest for a refresher on something I’d wanted to include, or a dash of inspiration.  (I didn’t even spice things up with a trip to dictionary.com.)  so this is quite nerve-wracking, in a way, because you get to see that my writing process is really not that magical.  just in case you had been thinking that before.  which I’m sure you were.  so sure that I’m going to stop talking about it.

siren song pinterest screenshot

 

this post is also an opportunity to couple my new project with something that my lovely, amazingly-talented writer friends have been urging me to join in on: the newly invented “#WatchMeWrite” tag.  it took me a while to produce a sample because a) I don’t have a mac and needed my tech-savvy brother to help me find an alternate program and b) everything I tried to write “on camera” was coming out boring, awkward, boring, and did I mention boring?  hopefully this satisfies!

so here it is, my new project, temporarily titled “Siren Song”- because that was what I called the pinterest board, okay?  (p.s. bear with me on the tense in this piece – I cannot in words express my love for second-person-tense in fiction, when it’s done well, and preferably with longing and dismay.  however, this story is proving difficult in terms of remembering the perspective I’m supposed to be in.  I’ll work on consistency.)

thanks Sam Chaffin and E. R. Warren for making me do this!!  go check out their blogs/vimeos and watch their videos of the tag!  and to those of you who were tagged and haven’t participated, or haven’t been tagged but would love to make a video, get right on it!  it’s so much fun/pressure and I loved it.  make sure to tag it #WatchMeWrite and tweet about it, and feel free to share a link to it in the comments below!

(song: If I Had A Heart by Fever Ray (my love for this song is unparalleled.  that may be extreme.  but I love it lots, thanks to the epic show Vikings on the History Channel).)

(video assistance credits: introduction to and help with the program ChronoLapse from my big brother, video game developer extraordinaire, Jake Albano, and video/audio/slide work/help from my stellar film-editing-genius little brother Ben Albano.  they’re the best.)

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