It's been a while since I've written anything.  I have recently picked up my journal and sporadically filled out some pages with answers to some journal prompts I've discovered on Pinterest, but most of my writing, blogging, and posting in general has seemed to diminish in recent months.
To be honest, my mind needed a break.  I needed time to take stock of some adjustments in my attitude towards myself, and take much better care of my mental health.  'Mental Health' has been a buzzword recently in the online forums, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does seem to make my own post about my mental health journey seem a bit bandwagon-y.  But doesn't the fact that it's such a popular topic lately also show how needed the conversation is, and how universal the struggles of anxiety disorders and depression really are?  Doesn't it also highlight how silly and ignorant the stigma still surrounding mental health really is?
Because I've been dealing with depression in the last few months, and haven't had the slightest idea of where to start asking for help.  I've prayed, asked for prayer from some friends, taken anti-anxiety medications, started eating better and exercising, cried, changed my birth control, prayed even more... while still dealing with a mental imbalance that affects my hormonal levels and steals the joy from my day to day.  And I don't say this for all you readers to feel guilty, and say "oh, Grace, we didn't know!" and wring your hands and feel awful about not spotting the signs.
Because most people are really good at hiding it, myself included.  I'm guilty of the same trap so many people seem to fall in, the trap of "not wanting to be the needy friend."  Alongside that, there's the carefully curated "living your best life" newsfeeds that gloss over the messy, boring, and mundane sides of daily life, in favor of pretty pictures and saccharine captions.  I'm at the head of the 'happy smiley' instagram secret club, by the way, with posts that look like this:

 "so glad me and my girl "Lucille" get to match in red today! #jeeplife #wingsfordayz"

Because that's the most insidious thing about unseen illnesses, they're so easy to hide.  Slap on a coat of good concealer on your undereye circles, paste a smile on your face, and then duck out of that event early so you can head home and fall asleep by 8.  Not because you're tired, mind you, but you're just done with the day and feel like sleeping is a better option than staring at the wall for hours with your mind whirling with the thoughts of the day.  That's the way that anxiety and depression have been aptly described, by the way: a fear of failure and a head full of worry coupled with the lack of energy to do anything productive to reach your goals.
In my own personal life, we've been adjusting to some changes.  We bought a home, dealt with the familial and marital stress of the move, and started the girls in a school in a new city.  Couple that with our differing work schedules (I work 8-5 weekdays, he works 12-hour shifts on the weekend), adding new tasks in our weekly routine like lawncare, and it's a recipe for some discontentment at our best, and a few emotional breakdowns at our worst. There's been other, bigger heart issues I've been wrestling with that are probably too sensitive to post here.  Also, I've been balancing the guilt factor of needing time to myself after a stressful job but still not wanting to miss out on valuable family time.  It's another seemingly universal factor of the 'work/life' balance that everyone is trying to achieve. 
Plus, having a family structure that's different from 'the usual' sometimes ends up being a little lonely.
And yet, despite that loneliness, whether self-inflicted or environmental, I know I'm surrounded by a church family that loves me.  Not just in a "oh, we're glad you showed up this Sunday, be sure to drop some money in the plate as it goes by" sort of surface-level love either.  I'm so blessed to be surrounded to people I can cry with, and share this post with, and who will probably flood me with messages after this to shower me in love and support.  I'm a part of such a 'genuine' group of Jesus followers who make me and my family feel welcomed and loved.  They're one of the inspirations behind my first (and most likely only) tattoo:
"The period is there because it's a statement.  I can be rejected or lose everyone in my life, and yet I'm still loved by God and His people. #firsttattoo"
In most conversations regarding my faith, I bring up the fact that I'm surrounded by 'genuine' people in my church.  And that seems to strike a well-worn nerve in the other conversational participant.  Our world is full of people showing their best on the internet, while leaving out the unsavory, or worse: boring, parts of their lives.  The word "frenemy" is commonly used in describing relationships, and being let down or hurt seems to be the status quo for most people's interactions with each other.  There are moments of love and levity, yes, but the public persona has overtaken transparency in so many people's perspectives on life. 
And it begs the question, am I really even as genuine as I've claimed to be?  Or do I put on my make-up for Sunday morning, post an inspirational verse every so often alongside smiling photos of my kiddos, and fall into the 'shiny happy church' persona that masks the reality of my current life?  And am I really honoring God by keeping my struggles to myself, and robbing the people around me of their opportunity to exercise their God-given gifts of love and encouragement?
I obviously am still working through all of my thoughts on this, and as much as I'd like to leave you with a main point and conclusion that wrap all this up with a quotable last line, that's not the place I'm at today.  Right now, I know I'm loved, I know I'm struggling, and I want to shed the persona I've carefully crafted online in return for something that can be infinitely better.  I'll end with a text from a new friend that I got last week, because she puts it better than I can today, "I'm praying that you hand over your grief, over and over, and that it never returns the same and that God hands it back to you restored and new and more beautiful than you could have imagined.  We are all mess and beauty, and there is no apology for that - only deepest grace and unending mercy - that is the Truth. [...] There's a lot of good things buried in the rubble."
"This is my actual reality today, sporting sweaty messy hair from the drive home, readying myself for sweatpants, and fighting the urge to go straight to bed.  But tomorrow can be better." 

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