I went camping last week- a nice, relaxing getaway with family. But the first night, I lost my lid over a missing FedEx receipt for Nick’s business. Lost…it. Tears, anxiety, some yelling. I realized what I have been trying to ignore for months- I am not fine. And throughout recent weeks, as I’ve talked to friends and family, I have realized, they are not fine either.
We are all doing our best wading through things we never thought we would face. What to do about our kids’ education? What to do about our jobs? Who to trust? How to protect our children? How to school our children? The questions go on and on.
There’s so little familiar to grasp. I believed in March when schools shut down that by this time, there would be some normalcy. Now there is less that feels known than in those first days. We have all been through some stuff- work concerns, financial concerns, health concerns, family concerns- that has exacerbated problems that were already simmering- marital unrest, mental fatigue, job unhappiness.
And now I vacillate between the polarizing political fights on social media and the news, and pictures of kittens and kids at half-empty beaches. You feel it too, I’m sure. There are so many times you want to say something, but it feels like just one more opinion lost in the chaos. I personally have never felt so lost as a parent and as a teacher. I am weighing options, worrying about outcomes, and I am so tired.
That lost receipt feels like a clear metaphor for the breaking point my brain is in right now. I have tried taking my own advice: walking away from social media, finding ways to decompress, focusing on the controllables. And even still, I find myself quickly swallowed back up by it all. This is not my cry for help, or my asking for more techniques to manage stress. It is my realization that if this is me, dear goodness, I’d better check on my friends.
The truth is, many of us are teetering right now. It comes out in explosive arguments over education or masks (seriously- we are fighting over fabric smaller than my underwear?), it comes out in withdrawal and silence, it comes out in overcompensation- pictures and reminders that life is perfect, or almost so. It reveals itself in agonizing focus over future maybes.
We need to check on our people.
First, we need to get better at listening, even to what is unsaid. Call that friend with the Facebook rants and just say, “How are you feeling?” then listen. Chances are, they are less angry and more terrified. Avoid offering myriad solutions. We already have so many decisions to make, maybe we don’t need MORE options, but MORE understanding of the options we are choosing. Stop fighting over uncontrollables. I will tell you this, in the toughest parts of my life, I have had to give up controlling certain things. It is the hardest work I’ve done as an adult. But it is so important to our mental stability. Now I see people I care about fighting over things we have literally no control over. Just stop. That is not to say you must stop engaging in meaningful political, religious, and social discussions or activism. Some of my closest friends have taught me much in all those areas because they are so devoted to them. But, know when and how to stop and who to avoid fighting with. Not every argument is worth the cost, to you or your opponent. Offer concrete help; if someone in your life seems to be slipping under, platitudes are not going to cut it. Do something, even if it seems trite. A month or so ago, a friend showed up on my porch with chocolate, a meaningful note in a card, and a cold drink. We sat on my porch and watched the sun set, and I felt in that moment that things were going to be OK. She didn’t ask, she just showed up. Show up for someone. Sometimes it is all a person needs to stay on the cliff, not go over it. And as long as I’m going there, if you are worried about someone’s mental health beyond what your friendship can offer, tell them. Tell their spouse. We are great liars to ourselves and those closest to us. Saying, “I’m worried about you. Have you talked to a professional? Are you considering self-harm?” is scary to voice out loud, but it can be a life line to someone who hasn’t been able to say it to themselves or those they love.
And this is a special note to my fellow believers- some of you have taken a lockjaw hold on issues that you can not control. You post angry, sometimes violent, vitriol against seen and unseen opponents. I have been shocked by the violence and vehemence with which you speak behind the security of your screen. I have two reminders for you: 1. God is in control. If you are missing out on the peace of knowing that God is in the midst of this, please stop and do some reading and praying. He is still there. Throughout the Old Testament, His people suffered, often unimaginably, but He was there. His timing was perfect, His protection was clear. Yet we want answers, now. We want political power to support our ideals. We want our voices to be heard above others. I think often behind anger is fear- and “perfect love drives out fear”. Stop obsessing over the uncontrollables. God is in control. 2. God is peace. Whatever this storm is for you now, there is a way to feel peace and calm. There is a way to BE peace and calm to those around you. “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). Is your mind stayed on God? If so, that anger, fear, restlessness will dissipate like a morning fog. You will become the peace in the storm around you, and people will wonder where your power comes from. Isn’t that a larger witness to your friends who are struggling than a fight over a political view?
If you find yourself in a puddle over a missing receipt like I did (by the way- did you know your FedEx confirmation number shows up on your bank transaction? I wish I’d known that before my meltdown), know that you are not alone, know that it is OK to ask for help, know that while we cannot control this crazy world, we can manage our reactions with the proper help and focus. It is OK to not be OK. It is OK to break up with social media for a while. It is OK to call a friend and just ask them to sit with you in whatever you are struggling with. It is OK to check on those you love and ask the hard questions. I’ve decided as the days pass by that life will likely never be what it was before, but God will always be who He has always been. And I will be fine again.