Important Pieces by Shannon Foster

Important pieces of me have been hidden or even extinguished by my own mind. Having severe depression for most of my life has left many paths untrodden, many opportunities untaken. I did not have the chance to develop some of the gifts I have been given, or test the waters of untapped potential to find out if they would spill forth something beautiful and unknown. Survival Mode is just what it sounds like, and for decades, that is all I could do. I was fighting an invisible enemy, one that concealed itself within my mind and spewed lies until I believed them. I have a gene mutation that has most likely been the cause of my depression and experienced religious trauma that became the catalyst for its emergence. The board was set before I was born, the pieces moved without my control, and I was caught between the Queen and the King. Simply a pawn, I was tossed back and forth amidst the endless waves of tension and deception in my upbringing and my mind. 

I experienced a great loss over three years ago, and I find it odd that I can count more times I have been happy to be alive since then than I ever could before. I feel cheated because I could not be fully myself when my younger brother was with me. Now that he is gone, I am coming into my own and creating the life I have always wanted. I have been subconsciously following in his footsteps: finishing my degree, traveling across the globe, learning to play an instrument, and beginning to live without fear. I wish he were here to experience it all alongside me. But I hope he’s somewhere happy, looking down from above and loving me from a distance. We did not understand one another well enough to communicate effectively, so our language became movie and TV show quotes. I can count on one hand the number of times we had honest, vulnerable conversations. After he was gone, everyone told me how sorry they were for my loss, and that they knew how close we were. But I did not recognize this in my mind because it felt like much of our relationship had been on the surface, as though we had both been afraid to dive beneath, lest we find out that we could not come back up. The last 6 months of his life there was rift between us. I was planning to reconcile that rift the weekend he left us. Now I will never be able to. And this makes me sad, but more than this, it makes me want to be honest with other people while I have the chance. Our last words to one another were “I miss you.” I’m grateful that we ended on a good note, but I did not realize that when I sent those words, they would become what I would feel for him for the rest of my life. 

I will not allow fear to control me the way Depression did for two decades, hiding behind my mind in the dark enclosures of the lies it weaved to control my life. I am finally developing the gifts and interests I was unable to before, and it is breathtaking to live within. I have a hope I did not possess before, and a drive I never knew existed within me. I am moving forward with the Purpose I had not felt connected to since childhood. She has always been there, waiting with bated breath for me to come back to her and embrace her once again, to nurture the dreams she holds and lift up the gifts yet unwrapped towards the sun above. 

A song I love called “Kill Your Heroes” by AWOLNATION includes the line “never let your fear decide your fate.” I want this tattooed on my right arm one day as a reminder to live each day on its own, to allow myself to be in the moment and never let the fear of the future control my present. The Depression has been lifted enough so that I can see the sunlight once again, and though he attempts to come back, I pray he will never again overtake me the way he did in previous decades. Because now I know what happiness feels like, I have tasted the flavor of freedom on my tongue, and it is far too sweet to let the bitterness of Depression back in my mind to stay. Now I know that hope and peace exist beyond childhood. I am honing in on the gifts and interests that have been sitting in a corner gathering dust for decades, untouched and untapped. I am writing more than I have in years, and I am going to learn to play the piano and turn my words into songs. Music inspires me more than anything else, and I cannot wait to witness what my words will become when they are set to the notes that have been floating around in my heart and mind my entire life, waiting to be released into the air to be heard for the first time. I have always been a writer, but I was too exhausted simply surviving  to learn other forms of art. I believe we each have a Purpose set before us, and with each new day, we get to read a little more of the book our lives are written in. Without the great loss I have experienced, I would not know how important this great Purpose is. Words are my weapon against the darkness and my shield against the lies it tells. And they will continue to guide me as they have my entire life. 

I often look back and wonder what my life would be like if my brother were still with me. I desperately wish that he could be, but I have learned lessons I never would have if I hadn’t lost him. I never knew who he truly was until he was gone. I didn’t know how his great faith in Jesus impacted those around him, or how his fearlessness in sharing it showed others how real his faith was. I wrote a poem called “He Carried Peace” and read it at his service. Immediately after I found out he had died, I felt a wave of peace wash over me. I cannot explain it, except in reference to Phillipians 4:7: “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus”. 

I have struggled with my faith for decades and identified as agnostic for several years. Even now, I don’t know exactly what I believe from day to day. But I believe that this life cannot be all there is. I have never been able to wrap my mind around a God who would send people to an eternal hell. So I have been deconstructing my faith, and attempting to put it back together. I have realized that this is a lifelong process for those brave enough to question their convictions. I have come to admire those who admit their misgivings and ask questions about God more than those who claim to know for certain what no one can ever know for certain. I’ve learned that it’s ok to wonder, to struggle and doubt. This world is a terrifying place to exist in, and God knows this. Despite all of my fears and unanswered questions, I truly believe that I will see my brother again one day. And I will finally find each and every one of the important pieces I have been missing, including him.


Biography: I have been attending Aims since 2011 after I graduated from high school. Depression and other struggles with mental health held me back from finishing at Aims, but this semester I will finally be graduating! It has been a long, harrowing journey to get to this point. I wrote about my struggles with my learning disability and being neurodivergent because it is something I have struggled with my whole life. I wasn’t diagnosed with Dyscalculia, the math version of Dyslexia until last spring at 31 years old. I was not able to pass math and science in order to graduate until I was diagnosed and given accommodations by my professors and DAS at Aims. I am so thankful to finally know why I am the way I am and I don’t want other people to suffer the way I have. Most people have never heard of Dyscalculia but it is as common as Dyslexia. I want to pave the way for other neurodivergent people by making accommodations more accessible. I have always known that my calling is to be a writer and I am so excited to graduate from Aims and transfer to UNC this fall to major in Writing, Editing and Publishing. My favorite author is Jenny Lawson, she has inspired me by being a neurodivergent writer who is relatable, talented and hilarious. As a writer, I also love inspiring others while weaving honesty, vulnerability, sarcasm and humor into my craft.