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Fighting Stigma

As someone who has been fighting mental illness, I could give many examples of the stigma we face. Sadly, people aren’t often willing to try to understand how their behavior is wrong and try to change.  I want you to know that you are not alone if you are dealing with stigma or discrimination.  Here are some things that have been said to me:

  1. “You can’t recover from depression.” Some so-called “friends” in college were militantly insistent that recovery from depression is impossible, to the point of cornering both me and another dear friend (who was recovered from depression!) to argue it further. I find few things more disgusting than people who try to extinguish the hope of others, especially with such blatant lies. Even more, this assertion on their part demonstrated their belief that depression was something inherently wrong with who I was as a person, rather than a diagnose-able and treatable medical condition.  Please know, dear one, that recovery is very real.  Sometimes it takes time to find the right combinations of treatments, and sometimes the journey is long and hard.  But recovery, and hope, are real.
  2. “If you’re on medication, you aren’t recovered.” Umm, no? I am recovered BECAUSE I am on medication. I have a chemical imbalance. It’s like a vitamin deficiency (which I also have). When I take my vitamins, I no longer have the deficiency.  Medication can be a very valuable tool in the fight against depression.  You are not weak if you need it.
  3. Similarly, “If you are seeing a counselor, there is something wrong with you.” The college I was at had free counseling services. Literally anyone could go to them to talk about anything. So even given their other deeply held stigma, this one lacks rationale. Not to mention how terrible it is to perpetuate the belief that an ILLNESS is a personal flaw.  Counseling is a positive and helpful thing!  It is should not be wrong to get help!
  4. “How come you listen to your counselor more than to us? We’re your FRIENDS.” Yeah… this one made it pretty clear that no, they weren’t really friends. Scarily enough, they wanted me to value their opinions (which were completely detached from the scientific facts of my diagnosis and treatment) over the guidance and advice of trained professionals.  Those who have your best interests at heart will value your recovery and the support of medical professionals even if they don’t understand it.
  5. “See? You’re still depressed.” This one came after long, drawn-out lectures about how one can’t recover from depression. My friend who was recovered at the time, finally cracked under the barrage that she couldn’t get away from and cried in frustration, which the assailants then twisted as evidence that she couldn’t get better. This, folks, is EMOTIONAL ABUSE, and it is very, very WRONG. You do not deserve to be treated like that, and if there are people in your life who treat you that way, they don’t deserve to be a part of your life.

I’ll add a list of stigma I have personally experienced and witnessed as a person with mental illness. Please, please, know that these are wrong when someone does them to you, and examine yourself to make sure you never inflict them on others!

  • You should be able to “snap out of it” or “pull yourself together” and if you can’t, there’s something wrong with you. Depression is very real and is not something anyone can just snap out of.
  • Being diagnosed with depression should make you an instant expert on the illness so that you will never inconvenience anyone else, and if you aren’t an instant expert or happen to accidentally inconvenience someone by trusting them, you are a bad person. This is ridiculous. If you are a healthy person who says you care about a person with depression, but the inconveniences of that person trying to understand and heal from an illness are too much for you, you’re a jerk.
  • Conversely, if you have depression your opinion on anything is no longer taken into consideration. Your emotions aren’t valid because of depression, and your feelings are never real and thus don’t matter. Again, this is ridiculous. Even if your feelings are not always what they would normally be, they are always real to you. You deserve to be respected as a person. Your opinions still matter.
  • It’s okay to treat someone with depression as “less than.” NO. You are just as valuable and deserving of love as anyone else.
  • Depression is a topic that is up for debate and personally decided, not a scientific or medical issue. Do I even have to contradict this one? It’s an illness. There is scientific research. People need to stop being bigoted and ignorant.
  • People with depression are not worthy of the same respect and communication as people without depression. A person’s a person, no matter what illness(es) they may or may not have!
  • It’s okay to talk behind someone’s back, lie to them, and treat them as inferior if they have depression. No. Why would anyone of those things ever be okay for anyone???
  • People with depression just want attention. In my experience, the last thing most people with depression want is attention drawn to them by their illness. If I ask you for help because of my depression, I must be pretty freaking desperate.
  • Seeking help for depression is a sign of weakness. A huge NO to this! Seeking help is one of the bravest and strongest decisions I (and many others I know with similar diagnoses) have ever made.

To sum up: It is terrible to treat someone badly because of an illness of any kind, including mental illnesses, but it happens ALL THE TIME. Please be part of the solution, not part of the problem! And if you are fighting a mental illness, please know that you do not deserve to be mistreated, and the stigma is not your fault.

Love and prayers!

 

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Prayer, Perseverance, and Pit Stops

Spending time in a psychiatric ward was never part of my plan for my college years or my life as a whole; and for a long time I didn’t understand how it could be part of God’s plan for me either.  I had prayed so much for the strength to push through the constant exhaustion, the intensifying intrusive thoughts, the hours of seeming hopelessness, and the mental pain whose source I could not find.  I felt so incredibly weak, and that’s when God’s strength should have kicked in and started showing through me, right?  In the midst of my pain and prayers, I felt like God wasn’t listening or responding.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming God isn’t listening when the answer isn’t what we want to hear.

But God did hear my cries. He knew what I was going through and knew what I needed, even though it was not what I wanted.  Rather than giving me the strength to keep trudging through suffering, he brought me to a place of healing and renewal.  Despite my fear, shame, and lack of trust, God worked through my hospital stay to give me strength to go on in a better way than I had asked for.

Oftentimes in the Christian life we put pressure on ourselves to be strong in all circumstances, focusing on the concept “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” from Philippians 4:13 without a clear understanding of the ways in which that strength can be manifested or what it really looks like.  It’s true that sometimes strength means being able to keep going through a challenge, but that’s only one piece of the picture.  Sometimes God is saying to stop.  Sometimes the strength God gives is the strength to ask for help, and the strength to step back from fighting in our own power and instead be renewed in His.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is at a tough point in his life.  After many victories for God, he receives death threats from Jezebel, and feels alone.  1 Kings says,

“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.”

Up to this point, I didn’t find anything particularly interesting about this story.  He’s scared, he wants to die, and he’s all alone.  Same bro.  I’ve been there.  Next should be the part where God wakes him up and tells him to get back to work because he’s being ridiculous, right?  But that is not the case.  Instead of being angry with Elijah, punishing him, or scolding him for his weakness, God has compassion on him and tends to his needs.  The account continues,

“All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.”

At Mount Horeb the next morning, God tells Elijah to stand on the mountain before the Lord, and after an earthquake, a fire, and a mighty wind, He reveals Himself to Elijah not in any of those overwhelmingly powerful things, but in a still, small voice.

God knows what we need.  Sometimes He tells to stop running in our strength and start running in His; but other times He tells us to stopping running in our strength and start resting in His instead.  In the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

A race car driver isn’t going to finish a race by letting their tank run empty and ignoring flat tires.  Neither can we expect to finish the race if we burn ourselves out and don’t listen when God is saying “The journey is too much for you right now.  Come rest and be renewed.”  In the letter to the Hebrews, we are exhorted, “let us run with endurance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”  A key part of that endurance is taking God’s pit stops.

What are some ways to take a spiritual pit stop?  I have four that God has been putting on my heart recently.  To help with remembering them, the first letter of each spells out PITS.

P—Pray, and actually listen to God’s answers, even when they aren’t what we want to hear.  Jesus modeled this one for us during His time among us, often finding a place to be alone and talk with God throughout His ministry.

I—Invest time in God’s Word to get to know Him better as a God who is not only found as the intensity of an earthquake or a fire, but in the peace of a still, small voice.  The psalmists often demonstrate this one in their celebration of God’s Word.

T—Take the rest and renewal God offers to us for our physical, mental, and spiritual needs alike.  If we look back at the context surrounding Philippians 4:13, we see that Paul is speaking of the peace God has given him no matter his circumstances.

S—Seek the support of fellow believers (and medical professionals when you need them!)  God has given us these people in our lives for a reason.

Like Elijah’s, my need for a pit stop had a happy ending.  I am here to talk to you right now because God had and still has a plan for my life, a plan that involved taking a pit stop in the hospital to give me the resources and rest I needed to continue my race.  And that’s okay.  Because of that experience I grew closer to a God who is not only powerful, but also compassionate, a God who knows what we need even when we can’t see it ourselves, and who wants to give us rest and healing as well as strength.  God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His plan is best.  2 Corinthians 4:7 says “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be from God and not from ourselves.”  It has been amazing to see how God has worked through my life since my hospitalization.

Psalm 116

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;

    he heard my cry for mercy.

Because he turned his ear to me,

    I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,

    the anguish of the grave came over me;

    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.

Then I called on the name of the Lord:

    “Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;

    our God is full of compassion.

The Lord protects the unwary;

    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,

    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,

    my eyes from tears,

    my feet from stumbling,

that I may walk before the Lord

    in the land of the living.

Why Ashes Dancing?

“…we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be from God and not from ourselves…”

2 Corinthians 4:7

In only a few short months, my life has turned completely upside down and back up again.  I’ve experienced severe depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and hospitalization.  But I’ve also experienced the amazing, redemptive power of God in a myriad of ways throughout.

Along the way, reading mental health articles and blogs was a much-needed encouragement.  Now in recovery, I want to give similar encouragement, celebrating what God has done in my life through telling my story.