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Coronavirus & Mental Illness

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Coronavirus is a scary illness. It can cause significant respiratory problems that targets those who are already vulnerable. While the measures in place in the U.S. and abroad might seem extreme, they are mirroring a strong biblical precedent: protecting the most vulnerable among us. Slowing the spread of coronavirus keeps healthcare providers from being overwhelmed by severe and critical cases and allows them to care for the elderly and compromised as effectively as possible.

But there’s another aspect in play here that is receiving significantly less attention in the news: mental illness. The “social distancing” measures that protect our bodies are waging a war on our hearts and our minds. Many of you with depression are finding this isolation paralyzing. Those of you with addictions are finding the call of that substance extremely loud in the absence of the usual distractions. Those of you with suicidal thoughts are wanting more than ever to simply not exist and disappear. Those of you with anxiety, panic attacks, and racing, invasive thoughts are finding these moments flaring up like never before.

You’re not crazy, and God is near to you

First, I just want to tell you this very firmly: You’re not crazy! This is a really, really difficult time, the likes of which we haven’t seen in this generation. Most of all, though, I want to tell you this: God is very near to you, He loves you without fail, He invites you into His presence no matter what, and He foresaw this time before the world existed. He’s not caught off guard, He’s not surprised, He’s not reeling, and He’s not abandoning you because you drank too much alcohol last night or spent hours watching TV wanting nothing more than to die.

There are two main things I want to get across here: (1) Nothing can separate you from God’s love, so please keep approaching Him and repenting no matter what; and (2) your mental illness is not all spiritual, but it is physical as well. During this time, you need to constantly strive to change the direction of your heart in small moments of obedience, and you need to constantly change the direction of your body in small moments of obedience. You can’t really separate the body and the heart. You are a complex, cohesive being that inseparably combines both.

Obedience with your body

Let’s start with the easier aspect: obeying with your body. Life’s biggest changes never happen in large, dramatic moments. They happen in small, mundane times that happen literally hundreds of times a day. Focus on the small moments. Focus on the small wins. Keep your eyes on the ground in front of your feet, not 10 miles down the road. Find a way to obey in a small way right this moment, and five minutes from now as well. If you sinned five minutes ago, you can repent fully and make a small, obedient choice right now. That’s how the Christian life works.

  • If you’re on medication, make sure you keep up with it. Those on anti-depressants may find the need to increase the dosage during this time. Communicate often and clearly with your doctor or their nurse about what you feel you need.
  • Find something to do with your hands (especially if you’re furloughed). Do a spring cleaning, find a project, and find a way to serve others.
  • Keep active by going outdoors since the gyms are closed. Even a short walk on a greenway will do absolute wonders for your mental state. Just stay 6 ft away from anyone you don’t live with, and you’re free to explore the outdoors all you want. http://www.outdoorknoxville.com/
  • Keeping up with your personal hygiene has a tangible effect on your mind. You feel more together, more confident, and more in control when your body reflects this. So shave your face or your legs, put on “work clothes,” brush your teeth and floss, and put product in your hair.
  • You’re isolated in the physical world, but not in the virtual world. Video chat with someone. Don’t just call, but video chat. Look at someone else’s face. See their shared humanity. Enjoy the companionship.
  • If you have increasing suicidal thoughts, tell a friend about it. Exposing it explicitly often disarms the shame of having those thoughts and reduces their power over your heart. This is true for many other invasive thoughts as well.
  • Don’t keep substances in your house if you find yourself easily attracted to them. This clearly mostly applies to alcohol, but it’s true for any substance you go to instead of coming into God’s presence.
  • Be careful with entertainment! It might seem like TV is placating your issues, but cheap entertainment is sneaky. In the moment, it makes things better, but it also lulls you into inactivity, which always ultimately inflames your underlying condition. Go for a walk, start a project, and do something with your hands. Please, please, please, be careful with TV. It feels like an escape, but it very quickly becomes a snare that makes all of your issues worse.
  • Be kind to your spouse if you’re married. Give them time out of the house to go for walks or drives without the kids so they can decompress. Being cooped up at home with kids who are going stir crazy is difficult, and it wears on us.

Obedience with your heart

Again, life’s biggest changes happen in small, mundane times literally hundreds of times a day. Focus on the small moments.

  • When your mind is fixated on something trapping (invasive thoughts, suicidal thoughts, anger at losing your job, feeling hopeless), you need something emotionally engaging and simple to fix your mind on. Repeat it verbally, say it out loud, write it, imagine it, over and over until your heart starts to believe it again. Do not let go until your heart begins to rest again. This is your battle. Once you fight this battle, the trust rising up in your heart will fight all of the other battles for you.
    • “God, You are near to me” (Psalm 46)
    • “God, You forgive me freely” (Ephesians 2:8)
    • “God, You invite me even when I’m screwed up” (Hebrews 10:19-22, The Prodigal Son parable)
    • “God, You never give up on me” (Romans 8:35-39)
    • “God, You are my Dad” (1 John 3:1)
    • “God, You already forgave me when I was the most screwed up” (Romans 5:8)
  • Put times down on your calendar when you will stop everything and take time to proactively meditate on something beautiful about God. You need these times to keep your heart and your mind oriented toward God and away from depressive and anxious thoughts.
  • Video chat with a Christian brother or sister. Have you noticed how much closer God’s presence seems when you’re with another believer? That’s not an accident. It’s by design. We function better together, and this can help spur you when you’re by yourself to continue to seek God’s presence.
  • Find a way to serve. We were created for good works, and when we aren’t doing good works, it’s fair to say that something in the complex workings of our hearts is out of whack. Now, we don’t serve in order to feel better. But often when we serve, it kickstarts the beautiful cogs and wheels of our rescued hearts that were meant for that. We serve out of faith alone, not to gain favor from God, but often times, our hearts lag behind our actions somewhat.
  • Speak your prayers out loud, or even better, write them down. Nothing slows down your chaotic, racing thoughts, like writing them down. It slows them down and anchors them, making them more concrete and real. It doesn’t matter if you look at them later, but do write them down in the moment.
  • Be careful with the “stories” you repeat to yourself, especially if you’re laid off. They often sound like, “Every time I get a little ahead, the ground falls out from beneath me” or “I’ll always be alone. I’m not worth anyone’s time. I’m just in the way”. When you find yourself repeating something like this, hit the pause button, and find something simple about the gospel to repeat until it displaces the sinful story you were telling yourself before. Don’t let go of that simple gospel truth until it does its job.
  • If you’ve been furloughed from your job, please let your COM and Legacy’s pastors know when you’re in need. But the real damage this will do to your heart is to tempt you to believe God doesn’t see you and He’s not going to provide for you. Discuss this with your brothers and sister, and fix your mind on the reality of God’s incredible love for you (Matthew 6:26-34)

Posted by Matt Norman with