The Cincinnati area witnessed an insane sunset recently. Outside of the Eucharist, sunrises and sunsets are the things that make me feel closest to God. They always make me feel like He’s doing something just for me. I know, it’s silly. Sunsets can be seen by literally anyone who can look out a window. But, for some reason, they still feel intensely personal.
This sunset in particular took place the first week of May, which is Mental Health Awareness month. I was on my way home from my weekly coronavirus grocery shopping trip. I had had a particularly bad day mentally. I only got out of bed to go to the grocery that evening. I don’t even really know where I found the strength to do that, but it was definitely a nudge from the Lord.
As I was about to get on the highway, I saw a rainbow. When I turned onto the ramp, the peach color in front of me seemed to crash into dark gray clouds that slowly rolled into a dusty blue on the other side of the four lanes. Each moment of that sunset overwhelmed me more than the last, and I could hear Jesus say, “Just wait, I’m not done yet.” Every turn was a different shade, some were bright pink and others were dark and stormy. Every now and then I’d catch that rainbow in my side mirror.
When I got home I stood in the middle of the driveway of my apartment complex, staring over the hill thanking the Lord because it was exactly what I needed that day. Of course, as soon as I said that, my typical self-talk started: about how it’s silly to think that God would do something like that for me and it’s silly that I would complain about my day.
I know, I have it so much easier than most people. There’s so many sufferings that go on in the world that I cannot fathom. We are taught to be grateful for what we have and while that’s great and admirable, I think we are also allowed to desire our silliest dreams and we have a right, even a duty, to pay attention to how we feel mentally.
As I stood there in my driveway, I realized that the personalization of this particular sunset was in the boldness of the colors. The way the peach was so abruptly halted by the dark storm clouds reminds me of my mind. The storm clouds that dissolve into a soft blue, the random rainbow and thunder that make no sense, they reflect how I feel all the time. And it was the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.
My blog posts are released on the 15th of every month, and on this month, the 15th is the feast of St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental health. The hardest part of your mental health journey can sometimes be how polarizing it feels. Chances are not everyone understands or even agrees with your decision to look deeper into the crevasses of your mind. Even people who are your cheerleaders in other parts of your life might just not grasp this part.
And that brings in another element, one that I admire St. Dymphna for: her forgiveness to those who don’t understand. “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” Often the burden you carry is placed on you from generations passed. I think there’s an overall consensus among millennials to “stop the cycle”. But it’s still taboo.
I walked into therapy last week, saw two people I knew on my way in, and immediately felt so ashamed. I’m the young adult minister, I should have it together, right? On the way out of therapy I saw someone else that knows my whole family! Surely they’ll think I’m the crazy child. Which is silly, since we were all there for the same reason! If I saw any of those people at a general practitioner’s office, would I have felt the same way? Of course not. So I try to halt that self-talk immediately.
I should feel empowered that other people are on a journey like mine. We should know that we are not alone! That the Body of Christ not only continues in the waiting room of a psychologist’s office, but it is strengthened there.
This subject is so hard for me to talk about. Like many of you, mental health was not taken seriously when I was growing up. But, if I had stumbled on an article from a girl a few years older than I writing about her journey, or if I had found a site like The Catholic Woman that shares personal stories of female Catholics from every walk of life, if I had known about St. Dymphna, then I think that would have made all the difference.
The shame I feel speaking about this is real, but I won’t let it rule my life any longer. You are not alone, you are seen, you are heard, you are loved by a Father so unconditionally. And your Father wants you to dream for a future that seems impossible. Because He will go to the ends of the earth to grant the desires of your heart. He loves your dreams, and He loves the complexity of your feelings. He desires to help guide you through them, not to be ruled by them. He gave you patrons like Dymphna to be a beacon of hope.
I pray that you would reflect on your emotions, that you would accept that ‘feelings’ is not a bad word, that you would be an advocate for those suffering in silence, and that you would dream dreams that seem impossible until they’re not.
And that you would believe that your Father makes beautiful sunsets just for you. And He’s not done with you yet.