I am someone who lives with chronic mental illness. Many days I am stable, clear-headed, calm, focused, content. I’m a person who gets a lot done in a day. I live a full and fulfilling life full of ministry, music, friends, family, creative pursuits. But other days, I find myself sinking, weighed down by depression. I feel it in my body, in my bones. I feel like I am at the ophthalmologist’s office and I have this lens in front of my eyes called depression. It clouds everything.
Depression mutes my vocal affect and slows my facial expressions. Depression is a lens that makes it harder to connect with the people around me and with the world itself. It mutes everything to a low volume. Some days depression makes it hard to get out of bed and do the basics of being alive. On those days I try to remember to celebrate every little victory. Get up. Celebrate. Make and eat breakfast. Celebrate. And on it goes.
I have some little signs that I’ve made that I put up in my house when I’m depressed. They say things like: “when your brain is tired, let it rest” and “Just do one thing at a time” and “You are capable, creative, worthy, and loved”. These are messages on my walls and mirrors meant to contradict the messages to the contrary that my mind produces when in the depths of depression.
Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States live with a mental illness. So many of us have experience living with mental illness. Mental illness can often be unreasonable, illogical, and it can result in people forgetting who they truly are– forgetting that they are a beloved one, made in God’s image.
Despite the prevalence of mental illness in our society, to live with mental illness is still a shame-filled experience, often full of isolation, stigma, and loneliness. One of the most powerful things we can do is to remind one another, especially in times when mental illness is in the picture, who we are: beloved ones, made in God’s image. It can be so helpful to people experiencing mental illness to receive the unconditional positive regard and affirmation of belovedness from loved ones and from a church community.
In the winter of 2016 I experienced a particularly severe episode of depression. I had just gotten married, which was fabulous. I had just moved to a new house, which was great. But, these were big changes and I had a number of other life stresses going on at that time. And, that’s the thing about depression and many other mental illnesses– they aren’t reasonable. Things can be going great and still a person can become severely depressed. That was the case for me. For weeks I was in the grips of a serious depression.
One late morning I found myself weeping on my living room couch. I had a favorite record on the record player. There were birds chirping in a tree outside. The sun was coming in through the window. My dogs were laying on the floor beside me. But I couldn’t experience any of these pieces of my surroundings.
As I sank from the couch to the floor, in the midst of a panic attack on top of my depression, my wife came up alongside me and reminded me of what was real. She reminded me that I was sitting on a solid wood floor which held all of me, safely. She reminded me that I was in my home, where I was loved. She reminded me of the various parts of who I am- competent, creative, worthy.
She reminded me who I am: beloved and made in God’s image.
When mental illness tells us that we are unworthy, having someone come up alongside us to remind us who we are (beloved and made in God’s image) and whose we are (a child of God) can make a big impact. I pray that our church communities increasingly become places in which we remind one another that at all times, including when we are experiencing mental illness, we are all beloved. We are all worthy. We are all created, known, and loved by God.
Rev. Dr. Ciarán Osborn (he/him)
Rev. Dr. Ciarán Osborn is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, currently serving as Clinical Spiritual Advisor at Recovery Centers of America in Danvers, an inpatient drug and alcohol recovery center. Prior to this position, he has served as Pastor of several UCC churches in the Boston metro area. Throughout his ministry, Rev. Ciarán has officiated weddings, baptisms, and memorial services in the wider community.
Rev. Ciarán also lives with chronic mental health conditions. He writes, teaches, and preaches regularly on the topics of mental health, mental illness, and faith. Rev. Ciarán writes for the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network. Ciarán is a board game nerd and hiking and Krav Maga enthusiast. His family lives in the Boston area and they share their life with numerous dogs and chickens.