Social distancing. Shelter in place. Furlough. All too familiar terms during this pandemic. Fear. Frustration. Helplessness. Loneliness. Feelings challenging our realities. Our sense of community and belonging are threatened. Our sense of self is upended. When will it end? It is the great unknown.
Ego is often connected to what we do or the role we play. When we lose those, our self-worth can really take a hit. What am I? I am . . . a hospitality worker without a resort. A manufacturer without an assembly line. A coach without a team. A leader with no one left to follow me. I am . . . a daughter who cannot visit her parent in the nursing home. A mother separated from her children because she is a health care worker. A parent or guardian feeling impotent against an unseen enemy that threatens his/her family.
If this crisis becomes prolonged with an indefinite ending, many of us may begin to feel worthless. Guilt ridden. Humbled. Shamed.
The sixth symptom of depression is “feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.”
Several months ago, I slipped into the office of the mental health director of the clinic where I go. He and I have developed a professional friendship over the years. He asked me how I was doing. “I feel like my life has been worthless and that I haven’t helped anyone.” He quickly said, “Well, you’ve helped me a lot.”
I was grateful for his comment, but it did little to allay the heavy burden I bore. Intellectually, I knew what I was saying wasn’t true. I’ve had a rewarding and mostly successful career. But mood is a different animal than brains. Feelings can often overwhelm and hide reality. Logical reasoning has its place; however, the siren call of unhealthy emotions can drown out all other sounds.
More than 20 years ago when my full-time pastoral ministry was ripped from my hands because of depression, I had a crisis of identity. Who was I apart from being a pastor? It wasn’t until I disconnected my “being” from my “doing” that I began to recover from the grief associated with the loss of that career.
Value and worth are above and beyond the jobs we do or the roles we play. We are someone because of who we are and not because of how we can perform. The fact that God made us in His own image and likeness gives us intrinsic importance. That “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” died on our behalf, rose so that we may have victory, and ascended to be our Advocate is more than enough to show how truly significant you and I are.
Still, guilt for real or imagined wrongs of the past and shame that attacks the very core of our essence, threatens to obliterate the light of revelation. As this pandemic takes away more and more of our freedoms and impedes our ability to fulfill the function for which we feel we were born, “feelings of worthlessness” can haunt our days and nights.
There is a plethora of advice columns available on how to cope with this pandemic. Let me highlight three.
- Take care of yourself. Eat healthy. Bathe. Dress in street clothes. Exercise. Keep a reasonable schedule. Take breaks from the news. Work on a hobby. Carve out some alone time.
- Stay connected. Phone. Skype. Social media.
- Help others. Take what you need at the store and leave the rest for others. Donate to front-line organizations. Show your appreciation for first responders and medical personnel. Say “thank you” to the store clerk and other essential workers.
If your feelings of worthlessness become overwhelming, contact your local mental health agency immediately. There is no shame in asking for help.
The LORD be with you. Stay safe.