When I had my daughter in June 2018, I fell into a deep well of postpartum depression. I did not have suicidal thoughts or a desire to hurt my baby, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. I was exhausted all the time. I felt listless. I didn’t even realize I wasn’t feeling happy; it was like looking at life through a veil.
At my daughter’s four-month appointment, after a routine postpartum-depression quiz, her pediatrician asked me to go to my doctor to discuss getting help. While I did do that, it took me more than a year to accept that I needed help. I was grumpy, irritable, and disconnected from my husband and my family. I didn’t want to have any interaction with anyone, and my work completely consumed all my energy.
Despite going to marriage counseling for months (which was the best thing we’ve ever done for our marriage), with a counselor regularly telling me I needed individual therapy, I couldn’t go. I was afraid to go. I was afraid my therapist would tell me to try new things or tell me something I already knew. I had a significant fear that I would appear weak.
The massive chip on my shoulder had me thinking, I should be able to figure this out and handle this on my own. And while I did slowly get a little better over the months, both because of marital counseling and my reading, it wasn’t enough.
Finally, in October 2019, after a challenging therapy session with my husband, I went to my doctor. I got help with medication and supplements, and it took me another month to take the plunge and call a therapist. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
My primary issue stems from a deep fear of failure. And from that fear, anxiety can overtake me. I replay scenarios in my life again and again, whether I’m preparing for an upcoming interaction or reliving a previous one.
Certain things, such as when I perceive criticism, can send me into a downward spiral of mental self-flagellation. Usually, that internal punishment is undeserved and often based on nothing more than a passing comment rather than a real need to change. My anxiety over being perfect can spiral down into depression, and so my anxiety and depression are intertwined. I’ve also realized that my anxiety is not directly tied to postpartum depression. As such, getting a handle on it is paramount to my success as a wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, and coworker.
This journey of emerging back into the sunlight opened my eyes to the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Why did I feel so strongly that I didn’t need help? Probably for myriad reasons: it wasn’t talked about often in my church or home life; the people I was exposed to were in mental health facilities or needing 24-hour care; messages of healthy living spoke negatively about the need for medications; and more.
My viewpoint has changed drastically because of my experience, and I have a burden on my heart to normalize mental health issues. I don’t want anyone else to be afraid to get help.
What Made a Difference
I’d like to share a few things that have been making a difference for me. First, I had to recognize that I am only human, and as a human, I can only do so much. I move forward in faith regularly, but I can also get stuck and feel completely ill-prepared for what is being asked of me. This is my struggle, day in, day out, regardless of whether COVID-19 is happening. It has taken me months of counseling to be OK with who I am and what I can do—and I believe I will struggle with that my entire life.
Second, struggling with mental health issues is not “failing.” While I sometimes wish I had gotten help sooner, I needed that time to accept what I perceived as a failing, and acknowledge the help of a stranger. It was hard, but I needed to accept that I needed help to get out of the maze. Sometimes we can’t make it on our own.
During my journey, my pastor shared his personal experience of struggle with mental health issues in a raw, emotional sermon. While I wasn’t willing to accept my mental health status at that point, that moment of vulnerability has stuck with me. The idea that my spiritual leader was willing to acknowledge his humanity—not just acknowledge it, but stand boldly before it and face it head on—is inspiring. That was the beginning of the end of my inaccurate views of mental health. Being scared—or feeling like a failure if you give in—is OK. It’s OK to feel that way, but don’t let that stop you. Be brave! Take the step anyway.
Third, no one can tell me what I should do or how I should feel. My counselor has challenged me to remove the word “should” from my vocabulary. “Should” can be a dangerous word. It creates expectations that, especially when we create them ourselves, are often unrealistic. I am learning to give myself space to acknowledge my self-talk. If I use the word “should,” why did I use that word? If I hear someone else use the word “should,” I ask them kindly why we should do something.
This also includes shifting my perspective. Challenges in my life are not negative. They are opportunities to learn something new or experience something different. And now, my vocabulary includes the word “opportunity” rather than “challenge.” I find myself reframing my coworkers and family members when they use negative words regarding a situation: “Hey, I know this is tough, but it’s just an opportunity to do [insert your words here].” This has been an enormous help in my life, and it’s a simple exercise in brain retraining that I can do myself—and I can also help others with.
How We [Will] Respond
As a human resources director working for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I am concerned about how we Adventists will respond as people around us struggle with those very things as a result of COVID-19.
We are seeing some beautiful answers to accomplishing ministry since the COVID-19 shutdown. In Minnesota, we have seen a considerable increase in the number of churches creating accounts for online giving. We’ve seen churches and pastors create livestream services on Saturday (Sabbath), both as a “community square” experience and a one-way broadcast. We’ve seen early-morning prayer chains and appropriately social-distanced literature provision.
But how are we providing care that targets our mental and emotional health? Working from home for a number of weeks has been a struggle for me, and I’m an introvert. Things will likely get harder as this pandemic continues.
In both the church and the world at large, mental health has historically been a taboo topic. For years, many people struggled with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and more either didn’t admit they had the problem or were considered odd or even hospitalized for years. According to an article by the Society for Human Resource Management, mental health expenses rose more than 10 percent each year over five years, compared to only a 5-percent increase in all other medical costs. Nearly one in five, or 20 percent, of adults in the United States experience some form of mental illness each year. Depression rates from 2012 to 2018 rose 18 percent overall. And because it has been a taboo topic in years past, most people feel uncomfortable talking about it.
The same article says that according to the American Psychiatric Association, 32 percent of baby boomers are comfortable talking about mental health issues, compared to 62 percent of millennials. While this is a significant shift in willingness to talk about it and get treatment, this helps us to know that millions of people are reluctant to talk about their mental health.
As a human resources director, I feel compelled to provide ideas for tools and resources. With options for telehealth, employee assistance programs, and mental health professionals offering video conferencing—especially during this time—we have an opportunity to connect with medical professionals in new and interesting ways. Help is more accessible than it has ever been. And while, for some, not going in person is difficult, it’s better than not going at all. For employees of the Adventist Church, I suggest reaching out to the local HR director for information or calling the number on your insurance card to get help with telehealth or mental health professionals.
If you are struggling with mental health issues, please consider getting help. You do not have to feel this way. You can get help and find a way forward. I want to assure you: this is going to turn out OK! It is OK to be human. It is OK to get help. You are not alone.
If you know someone who is struggling with mental health issues, consider how you can help them. Mental health issues can manifest in various ways, but generally there is a change in emotions, behavior, and communication.
It’s OK for you to ask someone if they’re feeling OK. Keep the question open-ended. Allow the person to think it through before answering. If they brush you off, it’s acceptable to share examples of how you perceive they have changed lately (concrete examples only, not vague statements). If they open up to you, let them talk. Don’t immediately try to fix it. Offer love and kindness. And eventually ask them if they’ve thought about getting help.
If the person is open to getting help, my suggestion is to offer to help them find resources to accomplish that—but don’t push. If the person is not ready, pushing may deter them from ever getting help. This will take some perception on your part. But don’t give up!
After many months, I finally realized that I needed help because of my husband’s openness. Getting that help was the best decision I’ve ever made, and thanks to my wonderful husband’s love and support, I’m where I am today: feeling like myself again for the first time in years.
Remember: you are not alone. COVID-19 is the big, bad wolf of 2020, and it’s knocking on our door. But God is stronger than any big, bad wolf, or brick house, or any struggle with eating disorders or depression or anxiety or schizophrenia or any other mental health issue. Use the resources available to you—get help!
And know that God will protect us and help us as we live our lives through COVID-19, through natural disasters, through whatever may come, until He comes to take us home.