In planning this blog for The Harvard Ichthus’ series on Mental Health and Christianity, I knew that I wanted to reflect on my own experiences with depression and anxiety at Harvard last semester. Specifically, I wanted to recount some of the actions taken to help me fight my depression and anxiety:
- I exercised more intensely and with greater frequency.
- I tried to get more sleep each night.
- I did deep breathing and mindfulness meditations.
- I danced wildly around my dorm to Rachel Platten’s album Wildfire.
- The staff at Harvard’s Mental Health Services treated me at several sessions during the second half of the semester.
- My boss understood when I had to take some time off to devote to my mental health.
- A coworker assured me that it was “okay to not feel okay.”
- A resident tutor listened and offered advice over dinner one evening.
- When we should have been studying, an organic chemistry study buddy instead chatted with me one Saturday as I was feeling depressed.
- Friends from church came to my dorm and talked with me when I was feeling lonely and depressed on Good Friday. We went to Felipe’s at midnight to break our fast.
- Friends on the staff of the Ichthus prayed and talked with me.
- My roommate bought me flowers and wrote me a card with inspirational quotations and Bible verses.
- A former teaching fellow that I kept in touch with comforted me as I sobbed for half an hour and listened to me though I was barely able to speak. She told me that everything would be okay, and she continued to check in on my well-being throughout the rest of the semester.
- My aunt sent me a text message first thing every single morning. She texted that she loved me, and she always included pictures of inspirational quotations and Bible verses.
- My parents answered my many phone calls, and they always attempted to calm me when I felt anxious and cheer me up when I felt depressed.
- My sister, though she was sick at the time, came to stay with me in my dorm so that I would not be alone on Easter weekend.
- Members of St. Paul Parish and of the Harvard Catholic Center came to rejoice at the Easter Vigil Mass. Despite feeling highly anxious, I was there alongside them.
- The priest absolved me of my sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation.
- God comforted me through prayer.
In reviewing these actions, it seems obvious to me that there is a spectrum with extremes from the secular to the religious. Yet, there is another contrast that can be drawn: what I did for myself versus what others—whether other people or God Himself—did for me. I’m not sure that I can pinpoint the cause of my eventual feeling better; likely, it was some combination of what I did for myself and what others did for me. However, the actions of others seem more significant to me, because for many of the people who helped me, doing so required some amount of sacrifice. These people seemed to resemble Christ in that they were selflessly helping me in my time of need. Thinking more deeply on this resemblance, my faith tells me that Christ was acting through them, through these people, these “christs” in my life.
A brief discussion of the etymology of Jesus’ different titles clarifies what I mean when I refer to these people as “christs” in my life. The Old English “crist,” the Latin “christus,” and the Greek “khristos” mean “the anointed one.” To “anoint” someone means to rub or sprinkle on some form of oily liquid, or in a broader sense, to dedicate someone to the service of God. I feel that the people in my life are “anointed,” are the “christs” in my life, in that their actions to help me reflect a small part of their service of God through the service of their fellow human creation.
Another Old English word, “Hæland,” meaning “healer, savior,” is another title for Jesus. It is as “healers,” even more so than as “anointed ones,” that I view the people in my life as “christs.” These people, through their actions, played a hugely significant role in the process through which I was healed of my depression and anxiety. If “anointed” means to be dedicated to the service of God, then the particular way in which these people served God, by serving their fellow human creation, was by “healing.” Thus, when I refer to these people as the “christs” in my life, I first and foremost mean that they are the “healers” in my life.
You do not have to be a Christian to have a “christ” in your life. In fact, neither is it required that the “christ” in your life be a Christian. There are always people ready and willing to help you in your time of need, even if helping you requires a sacrifice on their part. These people, whoever they may be, are the “christs,” the healers, in your life. Whether or not you believe that Christ can act through another person, whether or not you believe that another person’s selfless act is the act of Christ, I advise that you talk with someone, another person, a “christ,” a healer, in your life, if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorder. While I hope that my experiences illustrate that the healing of mental health conditions can be promoted in large part by the individuals already in your life, I have included below a list of official mental health resources here at Harvard. These official resources, too, have played a role in my healing, and I have faith that they would in yours.
With the belief, the faith, that Christ works through the people in your life, you can never lose sight or trust of the reality that Christ is always with you, even through the depth of depression and the chaos of anxiety. Thank you to the many healers, the “christs,” in my life and to the one true Christ; united together and through Him, everything—depression and anxiety included—can be overcome.
Here are some of the official mental health resources available to us here at Harvard:
Student Mental Health Liaisons – www.harvardsmiles.org
Room 13 – 617-495-4969
HUHS Counseling and Mental Health Services – 617-495-2042
Marina Spinelli ’18 is a Junior in Eliot House studying Human Evolutionary Biology.