Written by Keith Blair
Earlier this year my church took the youth group on a retreat to a camp just outside Fredericton, N. B. On the retreat, we spoke about how God created us for the purpose of intimacy, and that the key to this intimacy is learning how to be vulnerable. As a youth pastor to a strong contingent of Grade 12 boys, however, I found teaching the concept of vulnerability to be onerous, to say the least.
But we were all rewarded when I challenged our youth leaders and myself to demonstrate vulnerability by sharing their own testimonies. As their youth pastor, my heart leaped for joy because I felt reassured that these bonds of fellowship would be strong enough to withstand the upcoming shift that our youth ministry will inevitably face when half… yes, half…of our students graduate high school in June.
For many youth workers like me, seeing times of transition on the horizon and the difficulty that comes with navigating them can be overwhelming to the point of frustration and despair. It can feel like blindly throwing darts at a target in the hope of hitting the bullseye. And the effort in throwing them in the first place can seem utterly exhausting.
Unfortunately, in the lives God has given us, transition and change are unavoidable, much like death and taxes, or so the saying goes. Some are more apt at enduring these times, while others…like me…struggle with them.
In 2013 I endured the most significant life adjustment I ever faced: I left Toronto, my home of 25 years, and moved to the province of Nova Scotia to begin my master’s degree at Acadia University. I went from a supportive, encouraging social network to a place where I literally knew nobody. I was at ground zero. The excitement of starting a new program at a new school in a new town carried me through the fall semester. It wasn’t until the winter that I began to feel the effects of prolonged loneliness and homesickness.
My grades suffered, the thin relationships I had established in the previous semester seemed to waver, and any passion I had towards education and ministry quickly diminished. I felt exhausted, unmotivated, and like I was continuously running on empty. The ferocious Nova Scotia winter did nothing to help; the unusual amounts of snow that winter made it easy to feel trapped with nowhere to go. It wasn’t until several of my professors at Acadia vowed to walk this journey alongside me that I began to move ahead, even if it was only slogging one step at a time.
While I have not officially been diagnosed by a mental health practitioner, many of my colleagues and caregivers have concluded that I suffer from a condition called adjustment disorder, otherwise known as situational depression. While this depression doesn’t compare to the clinical variety, many of its symptoms can manifest themselves after you undergo significant change.
The “bright” side to situational depression is that, rather than arising out of the blue as other kinds of depression and anxiety can seem to do, it is tied to an external experience such as a major life change, and it is not seen as permanent. Treatment comes in an array of forms, and I would encourage those who are struggling with adjustment disorder to speak to medical practitioners. However, if I can offer any encouragement from my own experience, it would be these suggestions:
- Find your support.
Whether it is friends or family, or the support from your school’s faculty, know that there will always be people to encourage you through your journey of change. Find those people. Keep talking to those people.
- Establish a routine.
Exercise. Eat well. Find an activity that will keep you grounded through the winds of change, even if it is as small as making your bed in the morning or doing your laundry on a certain day of the week. Change can deprive us of our sense of control, but if we can find one activity we can dedicate ourselves to, even for a short period of time, it goes a long way in establishing a desired balance.
- Be patient…and persistent.
No matter the size of them, all storms eventually blow over. Sometimes, it is just a matter of waiting them out and trusting that God has you and is holding you tight. The very nature of change is that it is not permanent, so always hold on to the hope things will get better. Take it one step at a time, and as one friend of mine puts it, “Kick at the darkness until it bleeds light.” (I think it’s from a Bruce Cockburn song.)
Putting your struggles into words can go a long way. Do not be overcome by the stigma that often accompanies mental health challenges. The truth is, resources are more available than ever before. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. Talk to others. Talk to God. Write your struggles out in a journal if it helps. Keep talking until someone will hear you out.
- Remember that we are not meant to go through life alone.
God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). In fact, we are encouraged to “bear each another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). God created us to be in community with one another, and what better time to lean on community than in the times when we need it the most?
Let me also remind you that not all change is awful. My hope for you is that you will be surrounded with both God’s people and God’s presence as you patiently await the end of your tempest. Please know that I, among many others, am praying for you.