Benavides in his garage workshop. Photo by Kody Stoebig.
Benavides in his garage workshop. Photo by Kody Stoebig.

I can’t put a date on when I realized something was wrong.

I was raised middle class, with loving parents, and two older siblings. I attended a Christian homeschool group, and was well versed in scripture. But by the time I reached my teenage years I started to have questions about my faith.

The questions bombarded my mind with wild thoughts and ideas. I’d toss and turn, try to sleep any way that I could, but nothing worked. I began to fear nights and mornings, and lose focus during the day.

The burning question in my mind was this: If God was all-powerful and all-knowing and still created humans knowing that most of us would go to hell, then isn’t God evil? I asked my parents, looked it up on the Internet and even asked my pastor. I never got a satisfactory answer and so concluded God was evil.

It was terrifying. I became emotionally volatile, fearful and depressed.

To cope with the turmoil I began to make things, and in that act of creation I found solace even as my own faith began to crumble.

Photo by Kody Stoebig.
Photo by Kody Stoebig.

I have always created. I remember playing at a park when I was 11, using a small pocketknife to cut down a branch that I crafted into a bow using my shoestring. I also wrote stories. In one I created an alien world with a family called the Oridans. I was in the depths of my own depression then and so I poured much of my grief into these characters.

I went to these imaginary characters for guidance, and protection. At some point I convinced myself that I was an Oridan, sent to this world without magic, or recognition. I became simultaneously prideful and self-loathing. I was angry with myself and with the world around me.

As my depression deepened, I became more and more dysfunctional. I couldn’t do anything during the day. I was awake all night, barely sleeping for weeks at a time. I wanted to call out to my friends, but I couldn’t, at least not in any healthy way. There were many times that behaved irrationally. I couldn’t think.

Eventually, I sought help. I told my parents that I wanted to speak to a therapist — prepared to force it, since they were biblical counselors, and didn’t believe in secular psychology. Surprisingly, they allowed it, and I soon attended my first session. Together with my therapist I learned to explore my own psyche and to examine some of the causes of my mental angst. We spoke about my fear of the Christian God, about the Oridans, and more.

But a few therapy sessions and a prescription drug did not mean the problems disappeared. I still struggled with questions of faith and god. I felt hollow. Slowly, I was regaining sanity — but what was the point? If god was going to make the world how he wanted it, and knew everything that would ever happen, then how could anything I do matter?

Now, there are many answers to that age-old question, primarily explained via different religious structures, but these purposes didn’t work for me. I knew them and had tried them. Then, during a sleepless night on YouTube I came across a website, The Thinking Atheist.

Seth Andrews, the site’s founder, is a former Christian radio broadcaster who discusses and explains religion and culture in America through podcasts and postings. For the first time I realized that being an atheist, or, at least, an agnostic, was completely okay. I was able to look ahead, instead of dwelling on a paralyzing fear of god. I was able to find my own purpose, instead of having someone else’s purpose shoved onto me.

Still, despite the relief of having been freed from existential anxieties, I couldn’t sleep and it was still insanely difficult to get through a day without relapsing into depression.

My psychiatrist prescribed a nighttime medication that, he said, would lower my brain activity and bring on sleep. It did. And it was wonderful. I no longer tossed and turned at night, torturing myself. I woke up rested, and ready to face the day.

Photo by Kody Stoebig.
Photo by Kody Stoebig.

I revisited my desire to create anew. I have taken control of the Oridans. They are now just parts of my stories and not influencing my behavior. I also started a bow-making business, Praeclarus Workshop. I design and sell bows for archery out of PVC pipe.

I wasn’t cured. Mental illness cannot be cured. Rather, I was equipped with an array of tools at my disposal that I could use to keep the creeping, inky darkness that is depression at bay. It’s a constant fight, and it’s difficult, but I’m winning. And I feel alive. I feel awake, and aware. So much more than ever before.

Photo by Kody Stoebig.
Photo by Kody Stoebig.
Ezekiel Benavides

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