By Christine Elizabeth
Often as a child I would fall down and scrape a knee or an elbow or just have a really bad bruise. I was incredibly playful and sometimes too aggressive for my own good. I still remember the day I was going so fast on my bike that I couldn’t stop in time before running into a tree. I still have the scar and remember going to a neighbor to call my mom to say I got hurt. I went home and she cleaned me up.
I fell down and immediately asked for help. This is what we are supposed to do, but somewhere along the way of growing up, I suddenly stopped asking for help when I got hurt. All it took was one time of asking for help when I broke my finger and feeling ignored. My finger healed and I kept playing basketball. This experience led me to believe that I wasn’t allowed to ask for help anymore. I learned that if I felt pain I had to keep it to myself.
I played softball and was a cheerleader in addition to playing basketball. In someways not asking for help when I was in physical pain helped me become a better athlete, but I ended up ignoring any kind of emotional pain and obsessed over sports. I was never the best, but I do believe I was committed more than most teenagers to whatever sport season I was in.
It was my way of dealing with hard things. My mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was 14 and the only way I knew how to deal with the pain was to play sports. I wasn’t allowed to acknowledge my pain physically so it made sense to me that I wasn’t allowed to feel the pain of watching my mother die a slow death to cancer.
When she died I was 18. I was devastated. The pain was beyond anything I could ignore and it was as if someone stabbed me in my heart over and over and over again with no sign of stopping. Because I had not been allowing any kind of feelings to come to the surface, this grief upon my body was something beyond fighting. I was severely depressed, suicidal, and self-harming. I literally couldn’t put into words what I was feeling and if I did I always made light of it. I broke down and asked for help even though I didn’t say it with my words.
I needed to break to see that everything negative I was pushing away from my life was only building up to create an explosion. I couldn’t even get myself to say I was depressed, but was yearning to figure out what was wrong with me. I knew that having a label meant I could finally get better from the wounds buried in the pit of my soul, but I was so scared.
I went back and forth with therapy and often was trying to navigate my mental health alone. This wasn’t the greatest idea, because I couldn’t see clearly and often we need others to help us see clearly. I was very blessed with supportive friends from college that not only encouraged me to get professional treatment for my depression, but they also showed me that God could love me in all of my mess.
I think we like to believe our brokenness means we can’t be loved, or we can’t have good relationships. Sure, relationships can be difficult when one person is struggling with mental health, but I think we are all called in some way to be there for our friends when they are in need. This could mean tough love and calling your friend out when she refuses proper mental health treatment. This has happened to me more than once. At first I was always so angry, but in the end I was so thankful that they cared enough about me to know that they weren’t able to help in that capacity.
When it comes to God’s love, we don’t have to do anything to earn it. Just by our very existence, we are loved. This love has to be received though. I have struggled to accept real love most of my life and often didn’t even realize that I was being loved. Through spiritual directors, therapy, prayer, the Sacraments, and not giving up on my faith even when I wanted to, I have learned my worth.
It’s not easy to accept love even when our mental health seems fine, so when we do struggle it’s even harder. Something that helps me regularly is living for the present moment and focusing on that. We can’t get to tomorrow, if we are too focused on the past, or on something that isn’t even happening yet. Sometimes when my brain runs wild with thoughts, I take a deep breath and tell myself what needs to be done now. I prioritize and it helps me see there is time for everything and that I won’t be any less worthy of love if I “fail” to do what I think I need to do.
I also try to notice when my thoughts become negative and combat them with a truth statement. My therapist had me make a whole list and honestly, it was so difficult to make because I don’t always see the good in myself. It helps me even today when I hear a lie about myself. We can’t just wish the lies of being unlovable away, we need to counteract them with truth. I also find having favorite Bible passages hung up, written in a note on my phone, or just marked readily in my Bible ready to fill me with truth helps too.
Accepting love isn’t easy even today, but I try to remember when I have felt loved before even in the smallest of moments and hold onto that. You are never unlovable and your worthiness of love will never be diminished by any sin, disease, or self-hatred. It’s always there.
P.S. You are enough.