It will be nearly a year now of living in times of a pandemic, living in times of unimaginable grief and stress on families, couples, and individuals. While we celebrate the rollout of vaccines, we know our lives will not be going back to the way things were. We find ourselves now figuring out how to sustain relationships during this ongoing time of crisis, beyond the first wave of panic and beyond the first few months of hunkering down. It’s our relationships that are saving us and it’s our relationships that are most strained during this time of both hyper-isolation and hyper-togetherness.
One in four marriages were impacted by mental illness before the pandemic (most common forms being depression and anxiety), and now the trauma, isolation, loss of community, illness, and stress of holding all of it together in the midst of such uncertainty has only raised those numbers with half of the population reporting increased challenges to their mental health. Loving in a time of pandemic is challenging and exhausting, yet vital to our mental well-being. So how do we cultivate and sustain love when everything around us is falling apart?
In my experience as a pastor and mental health advocate, I’ve learned that love begins with love of self. Our sacred teachings instruct us to follow the most important commandment, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). For the sake of our overall wellbeing and health (body, mind, and spirit), as the world around us continues to fall apart, we can find resiliency by following the spiritual law of love. The good news about God’s love is that it is unconditional, endless, and abundant. There is no scarcity of sacred love and we need this liberating love now more than ever.
Here are five do’s and don’ts for cultivating and sustaining love and mental health in your life.
1. Don’t listen to the voice inside your head telling you that you are unlovable.
Sure, there are things about ourselves we don’t like and wish were different, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve and aren’t worthy of unconditional love. Sometimes mental health conditions make us feel like we are unlovable. Do amplify the voices that tell you that you are loved, no matter what. And if this positive voice is not loud enough, make it loud. Maybe right now there is no one else in your life telling you this, well, I’m the person now who is telling you: YOU ARE LOVED. As a reminder, write the words, “I am LOVED” on your bathroom mirror, tape a sticky note to your computer screen, and repeat them as often as you need to. Discover the love deep within and affirm that you are worthy of being loved.
2. Don’t let stigma keep you from experiencing love.
Stigma is what makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us, that we are somehow not good enough to be accepted and loved. Stigma creates an experience of discrimination. For a long time, living with a mental health condition carried with it a stigma and it still does sometimes. Stigma is a lie that wants us to feel separated, alone, and unloved. Do help to dismantle stigma by sharing about your experiences and celebrating the things you love about yourself. The best way to combat stigma is with love. We can show love by accepting all of who we are and affirming that we are more than our diagnoses, we are more than the meds we take, we are more than the pain we feel.
3. Don’t let shame get in the way of connecting with others and feeling loved.
Shame is the feeling of humiliation or distress when we feel judged by others and can lead to self-hatred. We sometimes feel too ashamed to let others know about how we are really doing emotionally because too often shame makes us wear a “happy” mask as we seek to “fake it till you make it,” and pretend like everything is okay. Do be real with yourself and others in your life about how you are really doing. In order to be loved for who we really are, we’ve got to be real about what’s really going on. We can feel loved when we let other people show us love in the ways and places we need it most. Sometimes we need to tell others how to love us and show them the best ways to love us. There are multiple languages for love and it helps to speak out loud to someone you trust and ask for the kind of love you desire.
4. Don’t think that you are the only one struggling to find love.
The truth is, lots of us struggle with self-love and in expressing and experiencing love with another person. The stigma and shame, and the overwhelming nature of what we are going through with the pandemic, makes us all feel isolated emotionally from one another. Stigma and shame make emotional struggles appear invisible. Yet, so many are longing to find love. You are not alone. Do know that as you work on self-love, more love will come your way. Love is dynamic and fluid. Love is healing. As we work on healing ourselves through self-love, we will be better able to share our love and experience love with others.
5. Don’t give up on love.
Trauma from the past, broken relationships, broken hearts, emotional abuse, and betrayal all impact us and our capacity for experiencing love. Self-love can bring healing to our wounded selves. This type of self-love is compassionate, forgiving, and wise about all that has happened in our lives. Do believe that love will come into your life again. This is what I call the Big Blessed Love: a universal, divine, and sacred source of healing love that is deep within all of us. What does Big Blessed Love look like, feel like, sound like, to you? If you need help feeling loved, let someone you trust know that you are ready for love and invite them to pray for you as a form of support. Imagine your mind, body, and spirit-filled with the kind of love that will never let you go, never let you down, never abandon you. Savor the sweet, Big Blessed Love inside of you.
When everything is falling apart, remember this: You are loved. You are not alone. You are worthy. You are enough. You are part of something BIG. Love is on its way. Love is already here.