It’s mid-November. We have been living in a pandemic period for nine months now. People are anxious. About catching the COVID virus. About paying their bills. Many are lonely, lacking the physical connections we need for positive affection and support. Others are angry, convinced all of this scare is overblown, even a political tactic to usher in an autocracy. Things seem so bad and it sounds like they will only get worse before they get better. And it may be a long time before they get better.
No one is immune from the challenges bearing down on us personally and socially. Those of us living with mental illness can be particularly vulnerable to the extra stress the pandemic has created. To cope with the imbalance within me, I rely on a measure of balance in the world around me. Of course, it’s not possible to live in a stress-free environment. The world isn’t built that way. Part of the human condition is to struggle, to face challenges, to battle with forces to sometimes seem too much for us.
This month the weight of COVID weariness has really been getting to me down. I had been doing so well. From March – June I finished my book. In July, I celebrated my Dad’s 80th year then shared with him spiritual hope as he entered the arms of Jesus. August – September, I published my book and have been receiving testimonies from folks inspired by it. In October, I devoted attention on such things as prayer, eating healthy, and spiritual reading. While not balanced emotionally (I never am), my fluctuations were manageable such that I was moving toward a greater degree of well-being.
Then November rolled around and something happened. What was it? The winter weather? No, we were enjoying Indian summer with plenty of sunshine. Was there some external stressor? Maybe. But nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that couldn’t be managed and moved beyond. Was it the natural progression of my mood disorder? Likely. My wife Susan had commented that the eight months of March – October had been the most peaceful in our marriage thanks in large part to the peace I was experiencing and sharing.
Whatever the cause, the first half of November has been difficult for me. So how do I respond to this? Do I get angry at my circumstances and blame my illness? I could, but this would do no good. Do I get angry at myself and blame the decisions I’ve made to get in the condition I’ve been in? I could, but this would do no good. Do I abandon my faith and do what Job’s wife told him, “Curse God and die.” I could, but this would certainly do no good.
No, looking back with an eye toward faults is not the way to reclaim hope. Instead, I will focus on things I can do, big and small, to make a difference in my life and the lives of others. Watch a child play. Do dishes. Pray for others. Read an uplifting story. Reach out to someone.
Sometimes when I feel very bad, I don’t answer my phone. This week it was so bad I didn’t even ignore my messages. Today I listened to them and heard the voice of a friend who has a mental illness like mine. His name is Bart. He lives alone and has many health factors that put him at risk of catching COVID. His doctors have strongly advised him to stay home and not receive any visitors. Anyway, Bart was calling to check on me. Check on me! He had noticed I had canceled our support group two weeks in a row and he was concerned I was going through depression. He said he was calling to see if he could help in any way, even if I just needed someone to listen.
Bart’s call made my day. It has encouraged me to hold onto hope, not to give in to the weight of weariness within or around me. As soon as we got off the phone, I ran outside with my dog Briley then loaded her in the car for a drive through the park and a walk through the woods. The wind was brisk, but the sun was shining. I felt like a new day was dawning and God was breathing a new Spirit into my life.