You probably didn’t know it, but I had a panic attack in worship a few weeks ago.
I knew it was happening, and we were right in the middle of worship. It was a small comment that set it off, and there was no way to stop it from happening.
I could feel it as I was leading the church in worship. My breathing was rushed. My heart rate was getting higher and higher. And, I wanted to be anywhere else but on the chancel getting ready to lead the community in a time of prayer. I wanted to hide, and I could not.
That probably seems like the last place one might have a panic attack. Worship is to be a welcoming and loving place where our focus is directed towards God and sharing our adoration of the Lord. Worship, and even the church, is a place of unreasonable expectations and harsh criticisms that I feel deep within my soul.
You see, my name is Rev. Shannon Blosser. I’m a pastor. I love what I do. Yet, I suffer from depression.
To even admit that might cause some to go immediately into the tried and worn out phrases that often get tossed around.
You worry too much.
You need to just smile more.
You need to take more time for yourself.
You’re too sensitive.
I’ve heard it all, and yes, even in the churches I’ve served.
There is also a hesitancy to even admit that I am struggling with depression, because of the fear that no one will understand or will want a new pastor that “isn’t so sad.”
We expect our pastors to be superheroes much like we expect athletes, celebrities, and politicians to be just that. We look to clergy, athletes, celebrities, and politicians with admiration not just for the work that they do, but because we’re hopeful that if their life is seemingly blessed that it will help us to get out of our ruts.
The problem with that is it dismisses the very person who also just happens to be a pastor or whatever role they may have that puts them in the public eye.
In the past year, I have struggled with the weight of life and the challenges of leading during this time. I’ve often struggled in isolation with no one to turn to or few voices that I have felt safe sharing with. So, my struggles of almost losing my wife to a devastating illness and the challenges of raising an autistic child with severe needs that are not met are done often in isolation. Until recently, my own family did not really know how much I was struggling in silence.
So, too, have the challenges of leading a church during these times. While I have expressed my exhaustion and fatigue at times and how hard this has been to constantly adapt, few know how deeply this season has affected me. How I have struggled with walking into a new appointment and having to guide a church into an ever-evolving world. How alone I have felt leading when few people have felt comfortable getting to know me. How I have gone home feeling like I’m not making a difference. How hard I take each criticism that has come my way through e-mails, Facebook posts, or anonymous letters.
All of this has weighed on my soul to where I wear a mask. I try to laugh more to hide my pain. I tell more jokes, so no one can see how much I feel alone and how hurt I am by this season. I work longer and harder, so I can hide the feeling of sadness that grips me the second I go home and inhibits me from being fully present.
But, when I’m home and away from having to be the pastor I express the depression in quietness, fatigue, a short fuse, and a lack of joy with things that once made me happy like grilling, golfing, or yelling at the TV during a game.
That is what is like, for me, to live with depression.
I’m struggling, and that is not easy for me to admit as someone who likes to make it seem like I have it all together and can do it all.
I’ll get better.
And I hope hearing the story of depression from someone that is a “trusted leader in the community” will help us all to take seriously the pain people are carrying and to no longer be dismissive of those who are open with their mental health struggles.
Because I, too, am one of them.