Monthly Archives: October 2014

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A while ago, I was in the car listening to the radio and the Yolanda Adams song “Through the Storm” came on. The song starts out with these words:

The storms of life will blow
They’re sure to come and go
They meet us all at a time
When I’m calm and doing fine

But the Captain of my soul
He’s always on board
He rocks me in His arms
While riding through the storm

A few days later, my pastor preached a sermon about the importance of praising God in the valley. He said that sometimes the valley is a training ground, and sometimes our valley places are where we will stay. Sometimes the valley is to humble us because we have lost sight of God’s presence and power in our lives. My favorite point was that even though the valley can be dark and lonely, you can still grow! We need to have the wisdom and relationship with God to understand which of these situations best fits us. For those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety from time to time, it’s hard to believe the valley has a purpose other than to bring us suffering and make us feel separate from God. I want to suggest that during the valley times, we should seek after God even more fervently – even (especially!) when we don’t feel like it. For a long time, one of my favorite scriptures has been Psalm 42:1.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for you, O God! – Psalm 42:1

It wasn’t until recently that I did some more research and realized that the rest of the Psalm is David crying out to God in a moment of depression. What I thought was an exclamation of joyful praise is actually a desperate cry for God in a dark moment. Imagine how our lives would change if in the moments when we feel most frustrated with God, we cry out to the one that we need just like we need water to survive! For some of us, that may be a hard  thing to imagine, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t be rewarding.

Here’s what I know: where ever you are, God is there too. My dad used to tell me God has three possible answers to our prayers: yes, no, and wait. Sometimes when we don’t get the answer that we want, we get mad and want to jump ship. We want to “lean to our own understanding” and do things in the way that makes sense to us. The truth is that God doesn’t promise us that there will be no storms, but there are promises all over the Bible that we will never be abandoned. This really hit home for me as I was preparing for a workshop on the spiritual components of depression. You can’t turn too many pages without finding a scripture that reiterates God’s commitment to be with us every step of the way. For every doubt and question we have while we struggle, God has an answer! Here are just a few:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down (Psalm 145: 14)

Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55: 22)

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

These are just the beginning. Even when it doesn’t look right or feel right you are not alone. My challenge to you is to keep trusting through the storm! You might be in the middle of it right now, but it gets better. Trust that even in the valley, even in the dark times, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Keep trusting. Keep going. God is with you every step  of the way.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Mental Health, It’s Everyone’s Issue

It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, so the past 7 days have been filled with conversation about mental health concerns. Based on the statistics, it’s pretty safe to say that all of us, if not affected personally by mental illness, have a friend or family member who has struggled at some point in their lives. Take a look at these statistics US Surgeon General:

This is a public health crisis! We are finishing up Mental Illness Awareness Week, and as we know from all of the health campaigns we have, one of the most important prevention strategies is knowledge and building awareness. So, consider yourself educated. It’s time for us to talk about this like the health crisis it is- not just during special weeks, or for the two weeks after a famous person experiences a mental health crisis. This is an everyday issue that requires everyday conversation. The truth of the matter is that as many people as we know suffer from mental illness, there are far fewer of these folks that actually get the treatment they need. In most cases, people can fully recover and live happy lives after experiencing mental illness. But their suffering is prolonged because many folks either 1) Don’t know what they have or  2) Don’t know how to get help. Stigma is still very real. People worry that if they admit something is wrong they will get ridiculed, shamed, or get a bunch of unhelpful advice. Some people worry that they can’t afford help, and decide to go it alone. Some people actually do reach out to family and friends, and are told that they basically need to suck it up. So, they suffer in silence. For some people, they suffer so long and so terribly that suicide becomes a viable option. There will be another blog post on this issue later.

Just like we get regular screenings for health conditions, there are screenings available for mental health concerns. Sometimes we just don’t know what’s wrong, but things can get better when we find out that our problems are a treatable condition and not a lifetime shackle. Have you been wondering if something may be wrong? You don’t have to wonder any more: There are a couple of websites you can go to for a screening. This is not a Facebook personality test that tells you which character from Lord of the Rings best exemplifies you. This is a reputable instrument that can give you an idea if there is a name to what you are experiencing. It’s just a screening, so it shouldn’t be substituted for the diagnostic exam of a licensed mental health provider. It can, however, give you an idea of whether a visit to a therapist is an appropriate next step. These screenings are anonymous, so your information is totally private. I went and did a screening (yes, a therapist did a mental health screening!), and you should too. It’s better to know! Click on either of the pictures to take a brief screening.

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So, you take the screening. Now what? There are resources available. It’s time. If you’re not the one who needs help, then I’m sure this could benefit someone you love. Mental illness does not have to be a death sentence! If you need resources, they are available. Check out my Find A Therapist and Resources pages. Help is available, and you don’t have to go it alone!

If you want to learn about how to advocate for people with mental illnesses in your community, check out WWW.NAMI.ORG, a national mental health advocacy group with local chapters all over the country.

Thank you for reading, and make well choices!

Black Women’s Fight for their Lives

I came across a HuffPost article that described the discrepancy between rates of depression in black women and their access of mental health treatment. A CDC study quoted in the article leads to the conclusion that while black women are more likely than both their male and white counterparts to suffer from depression, they are less likely to see mental health services and remain in treatment. The article notes several factors that might contribute to this phenomenon: lack of or not enough insurance, shame, lack of knowledge about what depression is, stigma, and the idealized “strong black woman.

The article includes this poignant quote from Melissa Harris- Perry:

Through the ideal of the strong black woman, African-American women are subject not only to historically rooted racist and sexist characterizations of black women as a group but also a matrix of unrealistic interracial expectations that construct black women as unshakeable, unassailable and naturally strong.

I have to tell you, those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I have spent my whole adult life thinking and learning about mental health, this sounded like me. I have struggled with what it would mean to seek help for myself, even as I spent my days providing that help to others. How many of us have felt the pressure to be “unshakeable, unassailable, and naturally strong”? How many of us have been screaming on the inside and smiling on the outside? We pride ourselves on being superwomen, and get pats on the back when we never have to ask anyone for help. I know it isn’t all of us, but I also know it’s far too many. It might not be you, but it might be that girlfriend that you see every once in a while, and you keep thinking, something just isn’t right. It might be your sister, who always looks run down and tired, but always says she’s “ok.”  This post isn’t just about mental health. This is about us taking care of ourselves, and each other. If you know something isn’t right, ask about it. If you see that a friend looks down, don’t look the other way. You might be the help she needs. Maybe it is depression and maybe she needs a therapist. Maybe she needs a sista-friend that she can’t be honest with when everything isn’t peachy. Maybe she needs a sounding board where she can say “This is hard sometimes!”

What I know, is that as long as we try to be 24/7 superwomen, we are in the fight of our lives. Despite our greatest efforts, we are human beings. Human beings get worn out when they don’t care for themselves. Human beings get depressed when they spend all their energy caring for others ,and have none left to care for themselves. A while ago I taught a class on self-care for ministers, and I used these two images to show the difference between pouring out endlessly into others (left), and the health of caring for yourself while you care for others (right). In the left picture, you can see that eventually, the pitcher will be empty. In the right picture, you can see that because they flow into each other, none of the vessels will run dry. Which one of these is you?

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This issue is not just for black women, it’s for all of us! For me, this is a daily battle. I feel the pressure of needing to be a professional woman, take care of my household, be active in my church, and all the other things that I do. I love to do these things, and if I do those things that I love without caring for myself, eventually I will end up empty and do nothing well. So for me, this means I owe it to myself and the people I care about to take intentional time to look inward and take care of me. It makes me a better wife, daughter, therapist, friend, teacher, and community member. What I do for me depends on what I need- sometimes it’s just a girls’ night, or making myself go to the gym because I know afterward I’ll feel like I new woman. Sometimes it’s letting myself be cared for without guilt, and sometimes it’s going to see a therapist.  Let’s stop wearing fatigue like a medal of honor. Let’s stop cursing our humanness as weakness. Let’s strive for wholeness, wellness, and peace!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.