When I was a child (read: into my early 20's), I believed pastors were supposed to carry the burdens of a congregation without revealing the personal or professional burdens that wearied them. In my estimation, since the congregation was supposed to rely on the pastor, the only one a pastor should rely on was God. Of course, at that point I didn't realize how high of a pedestal I placed the pastor, simultaneously above the congregation and as the congregation's sole conduit to God. Fortunately, a strong dose of realism and not a little bit of therapy debunked that myth in my life.
That's one reason why I shared my diagnoses of depression and anxiety with my congregation during the interview process. Though I've not needed medication for about five years, mental illness still irregularly inserts itself into my life at home and at work. What's important for you to know, as a reader, is that you've got people in your life who exist with this burden. People who you love but who may not feel comfortable enough to share just yet. Maybe even yourself, if you've lived with these kind of plaguing feelings, emotionally and physically, without a precise answer.
For me, it starts with a day that just doesn't feel right. Not sleepy but not fully awake. Not mad or sad but neither feeling fully alive. Almost always, this is accompanied by a headache that radiates with full persistency from my temples. The first twenty four hours or so I imagine it's just poor sleep, but two or three days into the luminal space between life and mere existence, I realize that something more is likely going on. So I begin to ask some questions. Is the weather constantly overcast or rainy? Has my diet been too high in carbs lately? Did something throw my routine out of whack? Have new factors entered the equations of my life.
People sometimes imagine that, if there's environmental factors related to symptoms, then it's not related to mental illness. I imagine that comes from a misunderstanding of how or bodies and minds are related, but in short, we're psychosomatic creatures. What happens to our bodies affects our minds. The reverse is equally true. I've found that the best remedies to my anxiety and depression begin with a daily routine that includes lots of vegetables, an hourlong workout, some exercise, and achievable goals.
So, when Michelle went out of town for much of the week, I took the chance to eat foods she normally doesn't like (I prefer Papa John's pizza, while she prefers Pizza Hut). At the same time, I had work commitments through the weekend that took me far of my routine. It rained intermittently for five days straight, with no windows of consistent sun longer than thirty minutes. While I slept fairly well, and even worked out more, with the rest of my physical factors at play, I found myself settling into a funk. It didn't help that I knew I had to leave for a conference only twelve hours after Michelle's return home.
That's the thing with mental disorders. Not all are major incidents all the time. Rather than feeling like a car wreck all the time, my experience lately is much more like driving a car that's not handling right, but getting a standard tuneup doesn't solve the problem. It's something deeper than topping off the fluids, and much more difficulty to access, something like the timing belt on the engine. It's essential to run well, but hard to diagnose without taking apart key components.
It's been important for me to return to a daily routine that begins with meditation and includes much better diatary choices. While my schedule will remain atypical the rest of this week, the forecast of daily sun and typically Texas warmth (near one hundred degrees) in Austin also bodes well for me. Our minds are even more difficult to inspect than an engine, so there's no guarantee the fog will lift from
the forefront of my mind. But that's not the important thing today.
The key is for you to know that, if people don't seem themselves - or if you don't feel like yourself - there may be something below the surface, outside of your control, that created that change. If it's someone else, react with grace, because compassion and encouragement are essential for someone whose processing through a flareup of mental illness. If it's you, don't leave it unchecked. The best decision I made was to pursue counseling and psychiatry, because through conversations and medication I learned how to affect my conditions. Though they remain out of my control, just like the environment, I can make choices conducive to health. So can you, and a counselor, spiritual director, or psychiatrist are all healthy and helpful options.
This is true for everyone, but it's essential for pastors. Being authentic about your needs is the only way those needs can be met. It's your story to share, and who you inform is your choice, but notinforming anyone endangers your health and God's minsitry through you and the church. After all, God showed up most powerfully in shared suffering on the cross with others who suffered a similar fate, and through that, brought healing and resurrection to the world. There's no shame in living with pain. When you're ready, and when you share, you'll find that you're not alone. Jesus is there in your midst, suffering alongside you, and in all likelihood, there's another person (or a whole community of people) who now what it's like to be in a funk. We're all better off pursuing healing, chasing new life, together.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.