It started last week with one email where a presbytery leader acknowledged, “Things have just gotten HARD,” emphasizing the word hard with capital letters.
The email came the same morning I woke from a strange dream. Some of you may remember that my car was stolen from the presbytery parking lot last October. Last week I had a dream that another car, similar to the one from before, had gotten stolen, again from the presbytery parking lot. What was interesting about the dream was not the shocking violation, but how I responded to it. In the dream, as I told the staff about the event, I shared it as if it was just another routine matter to attend to. It was “another day at the office” kind of response. What was troubling about the dream was not the loss of the car, but my emotional detachment from the loss.
Dreams can be telling and this one had a message for me. I was showing signs of emotionally shutting down as way to cope with the onslaught of crisis and change. Apparently, attachment to our reality was too painful and the dream told me that I was starting to detach.
I would have just shared this with my therapist except for the fact that ever since then I keep seeing signs that what I am experiencing is more universal. It’s not just me.
The day after the “HARD” email and the dream of detachment staff forwarded me an email that the Rev. Morgan Schmidt at Bend, First wrote on their Pandemic Partners Facebook page. In her post, she cited that her community had clearly reached the stage of disillusionment that is normal when facing crises. She named what everyone was feeling, writing:
We are tired.
We were ready for this to be over months ago, but our numbers are just getting worse, and we are frustrated that our leaders aren’t responding in cohesive, thoughtful, common-sense ways.
We are lonely. And even when we have social interactions, we find ourselves more awkward than ever.
We are angry. Just all-the-time-low-grade-simmering-angry. Heaven help the next person who looks at us the wrong way.
We are at a loss – about finances. About school this fall. About the deep ruptures and polarizations that are fracturing our society.
HARD, detachment, and disillusionment.
But it didn’t end there.
The very next day I opened a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that reported that 11% of Americans had serious thoughts of suicide in June. That is double what it was last year at this time. Even more troubling was the fact that symptoms of depression had quadrupled and anxiety symptoms had tripled in that same period.
Clearly a pattern was developing. The original “HARD” email was showing its face in a dozen little ways.
But it didn’t stop there.
The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber shared her most recent prayer with us in her blog where she confessed to God, “It’s my turn to be depressed-as-hell, my turn to be afraid…my turn to be angry.” Then she prayed that God would give her the gift of being a non-anxious presence.
HARD, detachment, disillusionment, suicidal ideation, and depressed-as-hell.
These were the words that kept showing up in my dreams and in my email this past week.
I thought, “It’s time to be honest with ourselves.” Almost on cue, I received two more messages that confirmed what I was feeling. I opened an email from a colleague that included a link to a TED talk about the mental health benefits of telling our stories and being vulnerable to each other. The presenter, writer Laurel Braitman, was making the case for the healing power of sharing our stories.
If that wasn’t enough to convince me that the way through this time was to become more honest, more vulnerable and more open to the HARDness, detachment, disillusionment and depressed-as-hell mood of this time a Presbyterian News Service article closed the deal. The article highlighted the story of the Rev. Ryan Althaus, the founder and director of Sweaty Sheep, a ministry built around recreation in Santa Cruz, CA. Ryan shared his own struggles with mental illness, his admission to a psychiatric hospital and his reminder that surviving HARD stuff is not best done by detaching or erecting psychological fortresses, but by being honest and vulnerable about how friggin’ hard it can be sometimes.
If the 11% suicide statistic is true that means about 1,475 of our members in Cascades Presbytery are having a really hard time and may be suffering in silence. That means that for every nine people you know at least one of them is struggling mightily and has thought about suicide in recent weeks. And if 11% of us have thought about suicide then most of the rest of us are having a really HARD time, starting to detach, feeling disillusioned, and may be depressed-as-hell.
Today is just a reminder…that we aren’t going to get through this time by saying, “I’m fine,” when actually we are dying inside and crying out for divine relief.
Today is just a reminder…that there is a lot of silent suffering around us and it is important to be sensitive to and aware of the pain that is there, but unspoken.
Today is just a reminder…that if you are feeling hopeless, there’s a good chance your friends and your neighbors are also feeling hopeless. Take the risk to share how friggin’ hard it is and give your friend a chance to lean on you just as you lean on her.
Today is just reminder…that the more we hide behind protective facades the more unbearable the pain is and the more we feel alone in the world.
Today is just a reminder…that Jesus didn’t hide from pain, but carried his cross all the way to resurrection and new life.
It’s a tough way to get there. In fact, it might even be HARD at times.
You are not alone.
We will do this together.
Don’t suffer in silence.
Let us help you. Let us help each other.
We need each other. We can’t do this alone.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades