World Mental Health Day was on October 10, and got me thinking about mental health education, awareness, and encouragement.
The main character, Mara, in my historical fiction, is traumatized by religious and parental authoritarianism and abuse, Mara's spirit and self-confidence are broken. Years of being submissive have made her afraid and unsure about everything - especially her nephew, Jesus. Mara has been hurt by religious authorities and doubts Jesus. If you are overcoming trauma or have doubts about God or the church, you will relate to Mara.
Mental health, stress, depression, and grief can form a long, dark, valley. When you're at the bottom, you may feel hopeless that you will ever heal, or even want to. You may not have the strength to rise up on your own. That is when you'll need help - advocates or friends - to throw you a ladder so you can climb up to the sunshine. Every time Mara starts to feel more positive, she is attacked again by negative thoughts. It's two steps forward and one back.
"The demons of depression returned. She was alone in the crowd." - Forgotten Followers
I relate to Mara. When I am in a crowd - maybe especially in a crowd - I can feel alone, disconnected, ignored, and depressed.
"Mara had no confidence... often compared herself to Maria, and it always made her feel worse." - Forgotten Followers
I relate to Mara. Like Mara, I compare myself to others repeatedly, seeing their strengths while ignoring her own. I compare myself to those at the top of the field - whether it's tennis, music, art, sales, or writing- and it makes me feel worse. One mistake or loss and I can forget my strengths and feel like I am useless or have no value.
"Mara brushed away the compliments... she shrugged it off knowing she was not worthy of praise." - Forgotten Followers
I relate to Mara. I ignore my progress or successes yet give attention to negative thoughts. When learning something new, I am impatient, easily frustrated with myself, and can lose hope. Focussing on your weakness is a vicious cycle. When you don't allow yourself a true and accurate self-image, your self-image can plummet. That leads to weaker self-confidence, which can bring less risk-taking and success. Maybe that's why studies show that confidence is more critical to driving success than talent.
It can be difficult to frame your experiences differently. You can learn and implement practices that strengthen your self-image. Mara learns to dispose of bitter thoughts as she disposes of olive pits. She gets exercise, feels the sunshine, and breathes slowly. She has to learn self-acceptance before she has the courage to speak, share thoughts, reach out for support, and make friends.
When you are at the bottom of a valley, be kind to yourself. It is hard to ask for help. You feel isolated and forgotten. You have to know and believe that you are worth being lifted up. That you are loved. As Mara truly believes in a more positive view of herself and her worth, she becomes less self-conscious, the walls of fear fall, and the love flows.
Unfortunately, many Christian women today are like Mara. Some have internalized a feeling that they are inferior, that they are dependent on men to take care of them, that their work is not worth as much as another's, and that they lack the capacity to make good choices. This is wrong. It can lead to women having low self-esteem and thinking they deserve to be abused.
“Human beings are made in God’s image. God is neither male nor female and we all share God’s spiritual, intellectual, compassionate, and creative nature,” said Salome. - Forgotten Followers
Mary's song of praise says that Jesus comes to lift up the lowly, and in this story we see Jesus lifting up women, foreigners, and others who are powerless. All Christians are called to encourage one another, to build one another up, and to lift up others. Once you heal, you may be to rise up. I believe the real root of the problem of equal rights for all genders is an underlying feeling that a woman is less valuable or important than a man, she is not worth listening to, and not worth remembering.
After you read my historical fiction, Forgotten Followers, I hope that you know you are worthy. You are loved. Once you accept yourself, you can be yourself, and do all that you were created, gifted, and called to do. May you be blessed with healing and hope.