Mental Health in a Season of Extra

Aaron Austin | January 12, 2022

Early on in the pandemic, we moved our Sunday school class online.  We all piled onto our respective couches and logged in to Zoom.  Before we knew what Zoom fatigue was, when we thought of the pandemic in terms of weeks or months, we shared the ins and outs of working from home and excessive hand sanitization.  

As the months wore on, our stories shifted to masking in schools, vaccinations, and the stresses of trying to live alongside this nagging virus.  One evening, Christi Gabbard told us about a colleague who said "everything is extra now." All the little problems (and big ones) that come along are somehow compounded by this looming disease that lurks behind every sneeze and handshake.  If there is a truism regarding pandemics, I have to agree—everything is most certainly extra.

A runny nose or a sneeze can strike fear in our hearts.  Kids worry about bringing home the virus from school.  Celebrations are tempered by fear of outbreaks, and griefs are punctuated by isolation. Even tasks as simple grocery shopping have the added stress of possible exposures.

As a card carrying perfectionist, I've dealt with anxiety for much of my life, but the extra of the pandemic made it more and more difficult for me to push aside my self-critical thoughts.  The monotonous scenery of working from home made it doubly hard to change these negative narratives.  The chemicals in my brain, some formative experiences, and perhaps the fact that I was born a pisces all conspired against me at once.

My first instinct was to do more. After all, I have had it easier than most during the pandemic.  I've been privileged to work from home and have had the support of a kind and gracious church family who offer grace and encouragement all along the way. Why could I not pull myself up by my bootstraps and simply be okay?  I've taken pastoral care and counseling classes. I've read Brené Brown.  I'm married to a therapist.  While I knew plenty of facts, I needed help.  There's some work we just can't do alone.

I found a therapist and began working through my false narratives and critical self-talk.  It didn't remove the extra of the pandemic or change my circumstances.  I don't even think I'm any less anxious.  However, I'm finding ways to challenge those recurring thoughts, to rearrange those self-critical story lines, and to accept my limitations.

Therapy is just one of many things that have helped me deal with the extra.  Though the themes of self-reliance run deep in my psyche, I've discovered the freeing grace of calling a friend and saying, "I need to talk."  There's an indescribable salve in the understanding timbre of a good friend who accepts you as you are.  The lovingkindness of you, my church family, kept me afloat each week on Zoom and even in the Youtube chat.  And then, there are little things—taking breaks to jump on the trampoline with the kids or walk in the sunshine can help store up reservoirs of joy against the swells of struggle.

I have a feeling that I'm not alone in the extra.  So as we have to move into what is hopefully a short time of remote worship and more isolation, we'd like to offer some encouragement to care for our mental and emotional health.  Over the next few months, we're going to offer a few informational classes called Mental Health Matters.  Each topic will begin with a presentation from a mental health professional from our congregation.  After the presentation, participants will have a chance to ask questions.  These are not group therapy sessions, but we hope you'll find encouragement and some tools to help you along your journey.

We'll begin with a discussion of Anxiety and the Pandemic with Melissa Austin on Tuesday, February 1 at 7 p.m.  In March and April, we'll hear from Raleigh Kincaid and Logan Lloyd as we look at topics of interpersonal relationships and grief.  

There is no one size fits all solution for mental health.  We'll all have to continue adapting our practices as we move through stages of life and encounter new challenges, both personal and societal.  No matter where you find yourself, I hope you can join us for one or all of these sessions as we remember our collective need for love and belonging and discover once again that we are not alone.

3 months

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