During one of my Public Speaking classes recently, a student spoke about words that have influenced how he sees life. He was once told to look at life as if it is a picture; each day being one pixel. These pixels eventually contribute to one image as a whole, and he challenged us to make each day colourful in order to create a beautiful picture.
I liked this analogy. But at the same time, this advice seemed to me to be too unrealistic.
I have experienced days where I can’t shake the negativity. Last semester, I struggled to find motivation, and more often than usual, I fought gloominess and fear about the future.
In my Italian studies class, we just finished looking at the Baroque artistic period (beginning in the 1600s). One of the innovative styles of painting during the time was called Tenebrism.
This style was also called dramatic illumination, because of the way darkness and light were violently contrasted. There was a specific focus on darkness which dominated the concept of the image, creating a dramatic effect.
When I consider this, I find myself asking: Why would a darkly lit painting be the center of attraction? What is so great about shadows?
Struggle so often seems to be a negative thing. And it is. During a “valley” in our lives, life can seem impossible; hardships can completely overwhelm us.
During these times, people would tell me that God uses our struggles and that I need to trust in God, especially in hard times.
This frustrated me. I didn’t feel like searching for God, and I wasn’t trusting in him either.
It was like I knew I should be seeking him out, but that was too difficult and I didn’t really want to. I wanted to rest assured that God was still with me.
Yet even though I had knowledge of this, it didn’t bring me as much comfort as I wanted it to.
Now I look back on my experience and struggles, coming from a place of better stability. I’ve heard that people look back on their tough life experiences and see that God was there through it all. This hope was something I halfheartedly looked forward to, with confused feelings about how that could possibly play out.
So where am I now?
Positively moving forward into the future, but still a bit uncertain about a lot of things. I feel as though I’ve been prescribed to reflect on my hard times as something that has made me stronger.
People always say that you come out of struggle as a stronger person, but I don’t really know.
All I felt during the worst of my depression was weak and lazy. I felt like going straight to medication was just a problem solver, and that it did the work for me.
I remember the day I went home for a break vividly.
I was raking leaves on a bright fall day. I felt pathetic. I could not see or feel any hope for the future. It was such a horrible, ugly feeling. I sobbed, by myself, feeling worthless. I can’t even describe the despair that sunk deep into my whole being. It sat there, heavy.
As I worked, a former teacher of mine passed by. He asked me how it was going, and I just couldn’t answer him.
Tears formed in my eyes, and I was embarrassed. Then he comforted me, and told me that we all have ups and downs, and that it would be okay. Despite hating to have a former teacher find me weak and helpless on my own driveway, his words comforted me, and I felt thankful for the power of community.
That day stands out to me. Maybe part of it is that my true despair that day was linked to the threat of knowing that depression can come back.
Maybe I’ll experience it again soon. Maybe I’ll deal with postpartum depression, and not be able to drive out the sadness enough to enjoy my beautiful new child.
This seems pretty scary even now. Sometimes I find it easy to look back and forget what it felt like last semester. I’m doing pretty great right now, so maybe it wasn’t even as bad as I thought it had been. Yet I remember enough. I remember that I loved my bed, and I loved the darkness.
Now I understand what depression means, and I feel for everyone who faces it daily and feels stuck in its harshness.
n a way, I feel bad that I am doing so well on my current medication. Why is it me, who had an easy time feeling better as time went on, when others have a long battle to find solutions that work?
At the same time, of course I am extremely grateful. Let us not take good health for granted.
Now, you may be wondering why I mentioned Tenebrism.
What I want to conclude with is that if life is a picture, there’s no way it’s going to be all things dapper, fun, and colourful. If we’re being realistic, it’s going to have those pixels that are dark. These are going to be the shadows, fulfilling their purpose of dramatically illuminating.
Illuminating the contrasting good memories, and helping us take true pleasure in moments of joy.
Illuminating the times that (may not strengthen us; but) give us character.
Illuminating our support system, drawing us closer as a result of true vulnerability.
And illuminating the fact that while darkness seems to sit on a throne of negativity, there is one royalty higher still; our King of hope.
Part of me doesn’t want to end this with God. If I truly think that God is higher than my struggles, I need to be living it out, not just using it to cleverly end my writing for today.
However, I have believed that my hope is in God, and that we have no hope without God. I have believed that He is the hope for humanity. In my times of questioning, I did think “well it’s obvious that there is no other hope besides God”. What else can I fully rely on? The answer of family and friends, while important, was still not good enough. There had to be more.
And maybe this realization was just another thing illuminated by the contrasting darkness.
*This was originally written in January 2016 and posted on Amelia’s blog in January 2017.
Amelia is a student at the University of Waterloo in Peace and Conflict Studies. She enjoys casual bike rides, meaningful conversations, eating chocolate chips by the handful, and hearing people’s stories. She also loves feedback- let her know if you have any questions, comments, or insight by giving her a shout at email@example.com.