I can always tell when it’s time to retreat and rest. The signs are all too obvious: Impatience. Irritation. Easy offense and tears. I am not my best self when this happens. My emotional health is compromised, and I know it. Not to mention most everyone else knows it, too.
It all started in 2016. It was one year after my third round of cancer. And although I’d come a long way in my recovery, my mind and body felt fragile, sluggish, battered. I dove back into work and life quickly after cancer, anxious to move past the nightmare and get back some semblance of ordinary life. But by the following summer, I felt myself bumping up against my limits. I knew something needed to change.
Thus began my practice of an annual summer sabbatical. For one to two months I shut down my blog and social media accounts, set up an email out-of-office reply, and leave my computer turned off more than on.
Some warned it would be professional suicide. They were wrong. It’s been a lifeline.
So, starting next Monday, I will be offline until August. Not because I don’t care about you and the conversations we share here. But because I do. Before I go, however, I want you to consider something.
A couple weeks ago, I posted these words on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook:
I make no secret of my ongoing commitment to counseling and therapy. In fact, I’ve had the same therapist for more than a decade. Some seasons we’ve met weekly. Others, once or twice a year. ?
But, without apology, I tell you our time together has been a life-saver for me.
In response, I received hundreds of comments, texts, voicemails, and private messages. I heard from counselors and clients, neuropsychologists and patients, doctors and nurses and everyday individuals who have discovered the value of a counselor’s guidance.
But I also heard from men and women who have been hurt by those who don’t share our therapy-loving enthusiasm:
- “Thank GOD a Christian woman sees the value in this! I have been shamed so much for seeing a counselor.”
- Recently, a woman in Christian leadership told me a speaker/teacher should not be taken seriously is she is still in counseling and “not healed yet.”
Seriously, I wanted to reach through my computer screen and shake a few people by the shoulders. But then, at the end of the day, one courageous woman wrote and told me her story:
I wanted to thank you for your post today and affirm that you are so right to speak to the community of Christian[s] about mental and emotional health. Were it not for a great counselor and a dedicated doctor who got me on the right medication when I needed it, I truly believe I might not be here today. The counselor, trained to recognize when therapy alone isn’t working, nudged me to see my doctor again.
I didn’t want to die—I just didn’t want to live, and those are two very different things. The challenge of facing another day riddled with anxiety was crushing. Then I was depressed because I couldn’t pray the anxiety away and tormented that my faith was not enough.
Counseling let my family be my family again too—no husband, mother, sister or child can bear the burden of what a patient needs from a counselor. I felt someone understood and there was no condemnation or well-meaning-but-loaded comments from those trying to help. I found that sessions with an experienced Christian counselor strengthened my faith and I wish I had sought that type of help sooner. Thank you again for your unapologetic truthfulness. It may literally save someone’s life.
Friends, this is why I’m committed to emotional health. And this is why I’m urging you to do the same. Mental health is not optional for any of us. We have a communal responsibility to not only educate ourselves on the subject of mental health, but also to be committed to and invested in our own emotional health journey. And emotional health isn’t accidental; it must be intentional.
So do yourself and the rest of us a favor: commit to your own rest and emotional health. You don’t need a full-on sabbatical, necessarily. But allow space to breathe and think, retreat and recover. And come up with a solid plan that puts your emotional wellbeing on the calendar. No career or success is worth the compromise.
Don’t know how to get started? Here are a few ideas:
- Journal. Even a few sentences helps you unpack what’s happening in your head.
- Limit your devices. Or get rid of them altogether for a day or two.
- Take a nap.
- Engage in an extended, meaningful conversation with a friend or partner.
- See a counselor.
- Watch the sunrise or sunset without taking a picture of it.
- Take a walk without music or podcasts.
- Pray and meditate.
- Set aside 15 minutes of quiet time every day where you don’t fill it with noise or activity. Just be.
- Go to bed early.