After my mom died in south Florida 6 years ago, I came home anxious to jump into my regularly-scheduled life. I was no stranger to loss and trauma. I thought I was prepared by those experiences as well as the excellent care I received from the hospice team during the final weeks of my mom’s life to walk through the proverbial valley of the shadow as I grieved her passing.
I thought wrong.
By December, I felt as though I was crawling through a room packed with heavy insulation every single day. I’d had blue days before. Blue weeks, even. But this was far more serious than a bad mood. Every day I woke up exhausted. I wished I could die. I cried all the time. I was drained by every social interaction – unusual for an extrovert. I tried to read my Bible and pray, but the words faded into my darkness.
I was clinically depressed. I’d never been especially close with my mom, so that room full of insulation waiting for me in the wake of her passing really surprised me. After weeks and weeks of downward spiral, I picked up the phone, which surely must have weighed a thousand pounds that day, and made an appointment to see a counselor.
Making that first call is so difficult. Will this person be able to help me? Do I really need to do this? Can I afford it? Will the counselor try to change me? What if I’m more messed up than I already know I am? I looked for a Christian counselor, but still wondered if he or she would respect my faith.
God used the counseling process to show me that I was grieving so much more than my mom’s death. I underestimated the cumulative, fragmenting effect of the losses I’d racked up in my life. Like many women, I focused on caring for the needs of others around me, but had little idea how to care for myself. In fact, when the counselor asked me in what ways I care for myself, I pointed at my eyelashes and said, “I put on mascara today.”
Yes, I really did say that.
Most of the time, the care, empathy and prayers of good friends can carry us through loss and trauma. But there are other times when professional help is the tool God chooses to use to reconnect the pieces of a person’s fractured soul. Counseling has been used by God in this way for me.
This is Mental Illness Awareness Week. The National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) offers resources and local connections if you or someone you love is dealing with the effects of mental illness, whether it is depression or any other form of mental illness. In addition, NAMI’s FaithNet initiative works with congregations and denominations. If you’re a church leader who is looking to find resources for your hurting members who present themselves to you with problems outside the scope of your pastoral counseling skills or peer support in your church, you may find their offerings of help to you.
And if you’re waking up each day in a room packed with insulation, please…reach out to someone. Make the phone call. Tell someone you need help.
Praying for you.