On March 10th, it feels like everything changed for so many of us.  I’m not sure how you felt about COVID-19 before that moment, but once that day hit, our world changed.  We immediately entered a state of urgency. Emails needed to go out, communication needed to be sudden, we made plans, and then within a few hours more information came out and we had to change those plans.  Go, go, go. Always another thing to do, always another Zoom call to jump on, an inability to separate work from home. And that’s if you haven’t been deemed an “essential” worker. Some of you are still having to figure out how to get to work, you’re facing the front line of the Coronavirus everyday, you come home, exhausted and anxious, and while I cannot say enough how grateful I am for all that you are doing, and can also say I have no idea how emotionally, mentally, and physically draining that must be.  And all of that doesn’t even begin to touch on those in our community who are losing jobs, losing hours, or being placed on furlough. There is fear and anxiety everywhere.

But we’re entering a season where this reality is settling into a new normal.  A new normal of being stuck in our house. A new normal of being social distanced, and for some of us, isolated.  A new normal of being alone with our thoughts. And a new normal that has no (real) known end in sight.

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to share my story with Reunion.  I’ve had many personal experiences with anxiety and depression. And as I sat in my apartment, and I reflected on this new normal, I realized, these feelings are going to arise in me again, and I would guess, I’m not alone in that reality.

The season of COVID-19 will probably bring a lot of our emotional health and mental health issues to surface.  So if you’re like me, and you’re anticipating this reality, I’m hoping these next few thoughts encourage all of us, and give us some small practical steps in this season.

Know That You are Not Alone.

I know many of us who have been open about our depression before have heard that God is close to us.  We know that it is true, maybe on a subconscious level, but our depression and anxiety tell us it cannot be true.  That God cannot be close. That we are alone. This is a season where we need to speak truth to our mental health when it screams lies at us.  We need to invite friends to do that as well, and we need to be friends who are speaking truth into our friends lives as well.

Psalm 34 tells us that God is close to the brokenhearted, and I completely understand that we can hear that, but not feel it.  In this season, we might have to remind ourselves that what is true is not always what our feelings believe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Be Honest with the Feelings You’re Experiencing.

Some of us are feeling afraid.  We’re feeling anxious. We’re feeling alone, sad, depressed… on and on the list could go, but for whatever reason, we don’t want to be honest about that.  Maybe you’re afraid of having these feelings. Maybe you think experiencing these emotions will be perceived as how you view God.

In a season when more and more emotions are going to rise to the surface, be honest about them.  We’re experiencing a global pandemic. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to be nervous. Many of us miss authentic human contact.  It’s okay to be depressed. Be honest with these emotions.

If you haven’t practiced consolations and desolations with our community before, I think this is a great practice for us to be honest in these spaces.  Consolations are things that help us feel close to God. They’re the spaces in our life that are ruled by joy, peace, and wisdom. Things that we can live into that are helping our lives flourish.

Desolations are the opposite.  They are the spaces in our lives where we feel far from God.  Places in our lives that are ruled by fear, depression, anxiety, and brokenness.

Calling these things out allows us to be honest with ourselves.  Where are we experiencing this depression and anxiety. And then we can begin to get to the root of it.

And this is going to be a new experience for many of us, because we haven’t wrestled or been honest with ourselves about these emotions before.  We’ve coped, but that’s not possible anymore. So as we seek mental and emotional health, we should also call out what we’ve done to avoid it.

Be Honest About How You’ve Coped Before.

For some of us, when we’re sad… we shop.  What do you do when all the stores are closed?  

Some of us eat out.  What do we do when restaurants are closed?

We go to the bar, but now the bars are closed.

We zone out with Netflix, but we’re going to run out of things to watch.

You name it.  Whatever we’ve used to cope before, for most of us, is being stripped away.  As we have emotions flow to the surface, we can also call out the ways we’ve masked them in the past.  We can work on our emotional health now, but we can also see things that are going to keep us from emotional health in the future, and begin to think through those aspects now.

Don’t Let Social Distance Become Relational Distance.

Please, please stay 6 feet away from people.  I’m baffled by how many people want to walk down the center of the sidewalk when I try to go for runs.  Social distance is incredibly important to stop the curve of this virus.

And I get that many of us have had multiple zoom calls everyday since all of this began.  We finish the day, and the last thing we want to do is one more zoom call or one more phone call, or one more email.  But when we can’t be with people, and we get exhausted with the tools that connect us to people, social distance quickly becomes relational distance, and relational distance quickly becomes isolation, and depression and anxiety speak loudest in isolation.

Don’t check out.  Continue to make the effort of inviting people into your life.  Continue to grow friendships and relationships. Continue to seek out community.  Community is worth the effort, no matter what our mental health tells us.

Reach Out to A Counselor

I’m firmly in the camp that everyone could benefit from seeing a counselor and therapist.  There’s immense benefit in inviting someone into our lives that is trained to walk with us through difficult realities and emotions we’re facing.

In fact, many counselors are moving their sessions online and are taking new references.  If you’ve been considering a counselor, and don’t know where to start, go check out THIS LINK for information on counselors that might have availability, and other resources when it comes to counselors and mental health.  You can also check out betterhelp.com, a completely online resource that might be a useful option if you are unable to find a local counselor.

It’s really hard to reach out for help!  We’re really proud of you taking this step.

We don’t know what this next season might look like, and we don’t know how long it will last, what I do know, is that we as a church care for you.  If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety, many of us are right there with you. Although those are very rational emotions in this season, we can always be reminded that those emotions don’t get the final say in our lives.  They don’t get to define us. They don’t get to be lord of our lives.

The God of the cosmos has already taken that role.  He entered into our brokenness through his son Jesus.  He died on a cross to redeem that brokenness, even when it’s a long-term reality in our lives.  The God of the Bible sat with people who were depressed and anxious, Jesus ate meals with them, and that same God walks with us in our moments of depression and anxiety.

Nathan Caddell
Somerville Location Pastor