Ebb and Flow: On Mental Health and Coping With Ambiguity
I’ll begin by spilling my heart. I have the deepest respect for you all who are OCF students and I would do all I could for you.
So, what is mental health and what is ambiguity? Basically, mental health is an ability to cope with stress, connect with others, and have a positive outlook on life. As Orthodox Christians we would say “having peace and joy in Christ.”
Mental health is, of course, variable and it ebbs & flows with different circumstances.
Ambiguity is simply an awareness of “I know that I don’t know.” For college students, ambiguity can be a regular state of mind. For instance, “I don’t know where I will be in five years,” or “I don’t know how many of my friends will remain friends once we graduate,” or “What does life (Christ) want me to do as my vocation.”
Mmmmm. With each class and each relationship our mind can take on new colors, not unlike the veritable kaleidoscope. For lack of better language, I’ll call that “normal” for a college student. The question is, “So what,” or “What can I do about it.”
I would say that, fundamentally, we try to absorb and accept an attitude of surrender to Jesus Christ. Doesn’t that sound impossible? Not really. An attitude of surrender is a gift from Christ that grows slowly, up and down as we age. The strategy is this:
- A. I don’t know.
- B. Christ knows.
- C. I try to trust Him.
We certainly don’t know the future. We never say to someone, “Things will get better.” The person we are talking with might die later that day. We are not God. We can’t predict the future and we don’t have access to the details of exactly what is coming. That is a great gift from God, to help us cope in the present moment with less concern.
But, there is a ‘control freak’ in each of us. We are tempted to over-control our circumstances and the circumstances of others. Our control-freak tendencies can lessen as we learn to trust in the guidance of Christ. I would add that control-freak tendencies come from fear and our fears can lessen as we learn to live more with Christ. It is much easier to detect control-freak tendencies in others than in ourselves. Lord, have mercy. And, He does.
Truthfully, we don’t even have full access to the details of the present moment. We are limited in our ability to be aware of our pre-conscious and surely, our unconscious. That’s what human existence is like for all of us. All humans are children of Eve and Adam. And, we don’t have much knowledge of the motivations and deliberations of others, even those close to us. I know an old couple, married happily for 65 years, who walk hand in hand. The wife said, “I know my husband like the back of my hand but I will never fully understand him.” That is real life with mega ambiguity. We don’t know much about the full back-story of anyone so we try to cut them slack in our minds. My own personal attitude is to try to say, “Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have… even Biden and Trump.” Of course, I have no idea if they are for not, but I am more stabilized and joy-filled if I can maintain such an outlook.
I’ll conclude by saying that I have much ambiguity in my life and so do you. We walk together and we do the best we can with what we have. Father Hopko often said, “Stay close to Jesus.” Together, let’s try to do just that.
Dr. Albert Rossi
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Dr. Albert Rossi is a licensed clinical psychologist and Christian educator who has written numerous articles on psychology and religion. He has published two books through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence and All is Well. Dr. Rossi was a member of the SCOBA Commission on Contemporary Social and Moral Issues for six years. He hosts the podcast Becoming a Healing Presence on Ancient Faith Radio.