Light and Shadow – Mitzi Starkweather

Here’s what I wrote on Facebook last week in order to hold myself accountable: “This shoot will accompany a very personal blog post (once I finish putting all this stuff into words) and my goal is that others who struggle with anxiety and depression may find hope in it – even if for no other reason than that they can relate.”

Oops. But what if it’s too hard for me to put all this into words?

I guess I’ll do my best.

Here’s what comes to my mind when I hear the word “depression.” (And I wonder what comes to yours?) Shame. Guilt. Loneliness. Feeling like you’re on the outside and looking in on your own life–not experiencing it, but rather portraying a character who has been told how to appear to be experiencing it.

I’ve dealt with depression for years, and I’ve received both horrible and excellent advice about it. But the best insight I ever got was from a counselor I saw about 4 years ago. That advice changed my perception of depression, and it inspired the images that are accompanying this post. I share this with you because, well, it’s time.

The worst thing I ever did was antagonize depression. I thought of it like a spiky, slimy little monster that was living in my head. No matter how hard I tried to hide it, it would show itself in my actions, insecurities, listless mornings and hours spent lying on the floor. What made it worst of all was that I also wore the title “pastor’s wife.” We are not allowed to have monsters (or at least, we don’t think we are). So I hid this monster deep inside recited replies, fierce invulnerability, extra hours of sleep, and isolation.What I hated most was knowing how I was supposed to feel about certain things, but then not being able to feel them.

During the end of high school throughout college, I moved a lot. Transitions were always difficult. I can remember trying to do simple things like drive to an event on time, only to arrive 20 minutes before it was over because I had been in a daze while getting dressed and trying to drive there. What a terrifying lack of control.

Trauma happened in 2012. What happened is not relevant to this, and I’m happy to say that in 2016 the situation is much better. But it happened, and it sent me spiraling downward into a whole new, numbing darkness.

Eventually I was seeing a counselor. (This sentence is a big deal.) First, because counselors are not always helpful (and even if they are, they require so much vulnerability and openness), and second, because getting the guts to talk to a stranger about something you are more ashamed of than anything in the world is basically terrifying. *I would not have gone if my husband had not urged me to for months.* (I say this to those of you who need to say something to someone you love.)

Weeks before going to that counselor I had spent an evening talking to my husband, and finally opening up. “I heard a pastor say last year that if you’re depressed, you should focus on helping others for a while. But it’s not working,” I told him. Jordan looked horrified, “That is terrible advice, and it’s definitely not meant for someone who struggles with chronic depression.”

I can remember wringing my hands, crossing my legs, and being aware of how grossly uncomfortable my body language looked the first time (and each time) I walked into my counselor’s office and sat on the couch. I can remember not being able to make eye contact, and constantly feeling like I might scream or cry. At first, telling him about my depression felt like I was admitting to murder. But talking about it was the best thing I ever did. Nothing I said seemed to upset him. Nothing I said made him pass judgment or cower in fear. I realized that people really didn’t expect me to be as perfect as I thought I should be. It was freeing.

The second-worst thing you can do for yourself or someone you love is try to “fix it.” My counselor did not attempt to do that for me, and I am not attempting to do that now. But this is what changed everything for me: During my third or fourth session, he asked me about photography and about why I love it. Boom. There I was, animated, lively, excited, and suddenly in teacher-mode. I remember that as he listened he looked so happy for me, like I had won an award or something. Then he said it. He repeated my own words back to me, stating that a good photograph needs both light and shadow, and that the shadow is what makes it interesting. I agreed with him.

What happened next sounds almost silly to write or even to tell. But if I’ve ever had a real epiphany in my 25 years on this earth, this was it. As he told me my life is a piece of art that needs both light and shadow to be meaningful, I stopped breathing for a second, and my head flooded with questions. Could I create in the midst of darkness? Could I impact people even when I couldn’t feel? Could I appreciate beauty even when I felt so empty? And could I experience God even when I felt like I couldn’t see what was in front of me?


Apart from “love,” I believe there is no verb as synonymous with God as “create.” And when I am in the depths, when I have a “rough day” as Jordan calls them, I am no longer ashamed. I do not feel guilty or scared. I simply surround myself with beautiful things like lipstick and dresses and dancing, and I create.

There is so much beauty in shadow.










2 responses to Light and Shadow – Mitzi Starkweather

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