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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

Summer Winds by Lisa LeSueur

written by Lisa LeSueur

Three weeks ago, much of the country was celebrating Labor Day, a time to rest from our toils and enjoy the company of family and friends. In Miami where I live, most of us were on edge, wondering if Hurricane Dorian would finally make the promised turn North, before hitting our shores.  It was a familiar routine for my family. As much as the experts warn to be prepared at the start of storm season, I am a procrastinator by nature. That means long lines to buy the essentials; non-perishable food, water, batteries, and gas. 

Tempers run short as stress runs high. Anyone who has lived in Miami any length of time has been through this routine before, and knows the devastation that can occur when one of these storms hit. Throughout the summer, I keep a wary eye on developments in the Tropics, and when a storm does develop, there is the seemingly endless tracking of the Cone of Concern. 

Three years ago, Hurricane Irma had much of Florida in its sites, projected to be at least a category 4 when it hit. At one point, the cone of possible sites for landfall seemed to aim right for my house. I had lived through Hurricane Andrew over 20 years earlier. The devastation was still raw in my soul.  I had ridden out several small storms since then, but things were different with Irma. I had children and pets to consider. I looked at the oaks that now towered high over my house and made the decision to evacuate. My spouse and I filled the 2 cars with as much as they could hold. I drove with my daughter, the 90-pound dog, and the guinea pig. My spouse drove with our son and the four cats. 

In retrospect, the evacuation process was almost as stressful as the storm itself. On a normal day, I can reach Atlanta from my house in about 10 hours. On this day, it took 24 hours. Driving behind my spouse, I felt helpless as I watched her drift over the lane markers, ever fearful that in her present state of exhaustion that she would run off the road. We couldn’t count on gas being readily available so we stopped frequently to top off the tanks and check on the animals. When we finally reached our destination, I remember sliding out of the car, barely able to move. 

I thought that being safe would give me a sense of peace, and yet I found my heart pounding as I lay awake watching storm coverage, worried for friends and colleagues left behind, as well as our home. Fortunately, Irma’s wrath was not as bad as initially feared and we returned home in a few days. While our lives and property were spared, I still suffer from extreme anxiety as storm season approaches, worried that once again we will have to evacuate, or worse, that I might lose all that I own.

Fortunately, for those of us in South Florida, Hurricane Dorian, the ferocious category 5 storm that decimated much of the Bahamas, turned before striking our coast. For days, I felt mesmerized by the constant coverage of the devastation. I watched as shell shocked survivors recounted their stories of survival. Some, unable to put in words all that they had seen, sat quiet, trying to process the unimaginable loss and terror. Others could do nothing but cry. 

As relief efforts pour into the Bahamas, including food, water, and medical care, I can’t help but wonder about the psychological damage created by this storms fury. It left in its wake unimaginable stress, grief, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness. With the realities of climate change becoming ever more apparent, it is time that we add the devastating impact to mental health to the conversation. 
Lisa LeSueur is the Minister of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She recently graduated with her Master’s in Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her spouse and their two children. 

What If? by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

Image by Jenny Shead from Pixabay 

written by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

Last week a friend brought us supper, and sat and ate with us while our 14 month old Leona shrieked (because she doesn’t yet have words to tell us what she wants/needs) and cried (because molars hurt).  After my husband biked off to his Buddhist sangha gathering, my friend (who does not have children) said, “I’ve been learning recently about how common postpartum depression and anxiety is.  I’m sorry I didn’t ask you about your postpartum mental health before this.  But how has that been for you?”

I almost cried with relief and gratitude for the question.  We talked about the intense hormonal swings of the postpartum days and weeks, and I told her that I feel lucky, because while I’ve had some familiar anxiety and depression, it hasn’t been anything that has felt unusual or unmanageable.  I do plenty of questioning myself and my parenting, but most days I get through that, too.  But I told her I was so glad she asked. 

I’ve written about postpartum depression here before.  And part of me worries that I shouldn’t be writing about it again.  But in the last week I’ve heard of one mom who just finished several weeks in the hospital for postpartum depression, and another one who just got diagnosed.  I’ve also talked to a mom at the Montessori school where Leona will start in a few months who is going back to work soon, as a maternal mental health therapist.  Plus, I listened to this podcast series, which is also trying to stigma-bust around maternal and postpartum mental health issues.

All of these moments help to remind me: postpartum mental health is something that warrants a lot of conversation.  There’s still immense shame around it, as there often is with mental health in general.  And as I cook a meal today to bring to new parents, I’ve been wondering about ways that church communities can do better here.  I know from my own experience that it was lovely having people from our churches in Wisconsin drop off meals in the weeks after Leona was born.  But on the hard days, it was hard to also read the accompanying notes about how wonderful and magical parenthood is. 

What if when we drop off a casserole or pasta salad we leave a note that talks about how we know that these early days can be both magical and some of the most difficult?  What if we mention that we know postpartum mental health can be challenging, and if they want to talk we’re available?  What if we make sure churches have resources on good maternal mental health therapists, and make sure that if clergy are visiting new parents they also talk about how sometimes therapists can be helpful (and necessary!)?  What if?

Hannah Campbell Gustafson and her family recently made a leap of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN from rural Wisconsin.  She is the outreach coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church.  Hannah is treasurer for the Mental Health Network, is trained as a social worker, has an MDiv, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC.  She and her partner (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) share their lives with their young child Leona and their standard poodle puppy ├ôscar.