A note on this work: I have always secretly wanted the experience of sitting in a coffee shop writing a blog post. At the age of 25, I am proud to have achieved that life goal.
“Time, as it grows old, teaches all things.” – Aeschylus
Stuck in time. Those are the words that intuitively describe what it’s like. Over the last nine years, professionals and self-assessment resources have used words like anxiety, bipolar-spectrum depression, PTSD, anorexia, and compulsive behavior to help me understand my reality. But none of these labels matter to me anymore because they all amount to different versions of the same thing. It’s all the same force, always by my side, looking for a chance to pull me so deep into my own head that time stops and I sink into the grey deadness in grey matter.
The deeper the pain, the more difficult it is to talk about. It’s hard enough to be in the present moment and be aware of your own existence, let alone the existence of those who want to help. The summer following my sophomore year as an undergraduate college student, I could do barely more than lie in my room, hour after hour, my mind and body out of alignment with the passage of time.
“Why don’t you exercise?”
“Why don’t you read a book?”
“Why don’t you get a job for the summer?”
Occasionally I would drink enough espresso to find the motivation for running, showering, and looking for one productive thing to do with my day. Unfortunately, there are human needs that go beyond the needs of the body, and needs of the mind and soul that go beyond pastimes and diversions.
Becoming healthy and whole has been a long journey and it is not over. There’s not one clear answer to the mental health puzzle. Medication, talk therapy, books on mental health, diets, yoga, support systems — all these conditions are necessary, but not sufficient. Sometimes the only, and often the most overlooked, healer is time. For a long time, yoga did not mean more than stretching, and medication did not mean more than something that caused me to fall asleep. Time the healer had to do its work.
Time is still doing its work, and I often wonder what the end of the journey will look like. While I can fantasize about the life I want as easily as anyone, there are some conditions I cannot yet imagine living without. It is difficult to imagine a life where new thoughts and habits replace the ones that for years took up too much space in my life. Although I haven’t had a full-blown eating disorder since the age of 18, there remains a phantom limb where the old habit was. I sometimes wonder if there will be more phantom limbs to take the place of each inner demon.
When Jesus cast out demons, did the people who had been healed find it difficult to fill in the space left by the void? Was it difficult to go on because the life of healing was too painfully beautiful to bear?
The stoppage of time and the grey place are not possible to understand exhaustively for those who haven’t been there. There will always be friends and family who can’t be in our head and probably won’t know exactly what it’s like. But maybe when they know people who are stopped in time and stuck in the grey place, it will be easier for them to understand why those people are late to work and no longer able to see in colors. Maybe conversations on mental health can help all of us understand that healing can come gradually, while simultaneously understanding that not everyone’s story has a happy ending.
We’re taught to think of mental health in terms of solutions to problems. But when all the books, research, therapy, and treatments have run themselves ragged, the only thing left to be done is to show love to those who suffer in their minds. The sacredness of time and love redeems all things.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience, either by writing a guest post, or doing an interview with me. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.