Category Archives: General Mental Health

Naming our Pain

In my clinical practice, I often see a lot of black adult women. I think a part of what draws them to me is that they can look me up and see that we have at least two things in common- I am black, and I am a woman, just like them. Black womanhood is a peculiar place of residence. Black women have a unique experience that bonds us together, but also makes us different from many of the other people we interact with. An academic term for this identity is “intersectionality.” This term, coined by scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, describes the reality of black women’s double minority status in the sociocultural world. Black women deal with the racism that all black folks deal with, AND they deal with the painful demeaning realities of the power of patriarchy. This distinguishes us from the journey that we work to support black men in, and it also separates us from the reality of prejudice and misogyny experienced by white women. Because our experience is unique, we have developed some unique strategies for surviving as black women. Many of us are familiar with the term “strong black woman.” I believe that this identity is our way of coping with the singular experience of black womanhood. Here are some characteristics I often see as components of this way of being for black women:

1. Taking care of EVERYBODY. In my conversations with my clients, friends, and colleagues, I notice a pattern of black women feeling responsible for so many people in their lives- parents, partners, kids, friends, etc. Some of these people, they really are responsible for. However, there might be times when they take on things that those people can do for themselves, perhaps to the detriment of their own needs and wants. We do it because we saw our mothers and grandmothers do it. Sometimes, the people in our lives are telling us to step back and do less, but we can’t hear it. Sometimes, the people in our lives love all the work we do, because it makes their lives easier. Either way, it seems that the implicit message for black women has been, put yourself last- make sure everyone else is OK first. While this is a noble way of being and taking responsibility for our community, it’s not sustainable when we don’t take any time for ourselves.

2. Pretending we are fine. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked a black woman how she is, she replied “fine” and I didn’t believe her. A part of this “strong black woman” syndrome has been a tendency to deny or ignore when we are struggling, even with people with whom we have very close relationships. I will never forget a session I had with a client who was visibly in pain, had been feeling the effects in her daily life, but simply could not find the words to explain to me what she was going through. It occurred to me how many of us have become so good at putting on a show that we don’t even have experience describing ourselves in authentic ways. We don’t even have language to name our pain because we have never taken the opportunity to do so. We can’t keep this up. Part of being of psychologically healthy is being able to acknowledge when you are well and when your are not well, being able to share your experiences with others, and being able to get what you need.

3. Not asking for help. I was having a conversation with a good friend and was stopped in my tracks with four simple words. “You are not superwoman.” We were talking about all the things I have going on, and the friend asked if I had people around me who would be willing to help me. My response was “Yes, but….” and then I named all the reasons I “needed” to do these things myself. I was so convinced about this, but it’s just wrong. It’s no good having people around you who offer to help you if you don’t take them up on it. In supportive relationships, you should not have to feel like superwoman. The reality is, you cannot do it all. When you admit that you cannot save the whole world, you make space for people to be in authentic relationship with you and offer you help and support. Be brave- ask for help!

If you are a black woman, I imagine that at least some of this feels familiar to you. If you love a black woman, you can probably help her by offering support and reminding her she doesn’t have to do it all. Think about ways that you can pay attention to your self in addition to all the people you love and care about. This is not about being selfish or choosing yourself OVER them (though some might decide to do that). It’s simply about putting yourself on your list. Just because we have been conditioned to do these things doesn’t mean we have to continue. Make a choice to live a happier, healthier life! Be honest about your experience, relinquish some of your responsibility in the lives of others, and use that energy to care for yourself! You can do it, sis. You deserve it.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

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When the Path Isn’t Straight

I hear a common sentiment in my clinical and vocational work that goes something like:

I didn’t do things the “right” way so I was delayed getting to the point I’m at now.

I really struggle with this sentiment for a number of reasons. First, I have heard SO MANY people say this! Almost every single person I know has at some point felt this way about our journey. If all of us feel this way, is there a possibility that there simply isn’t a right way?? I think a big pice of this is the issue we have with social comparison. We often compare ourselves to others in ways that aren’t helpful. A wise person once said “comparison is the thief of joy.” For me, that sentiment reveals a truth about the way we make evaluations about our own lives. We often compare what is happening in our lives to what we see of the lives of others. The difference is, we know our WHOLE lives- all of our shortcomings, mistakes, etc. However, when we look at the lives of others, all we see is the curated version of them they want us to see. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of blaming social media, but social media. Most folks don’t share about their bad moments to the extent they share about good ones. It’s human nature to actively present ourselves in positive ways. The danger of using only what people tell us as a method of comparison is that we inevitably end up viewing ourselves as less than, based on what is at best a half-truth! Someone posts about a new job they’ve received, and we don’t hear about the 15 or 20 rejection letters they got before that one yes. A friend shares wedding photos, but not mugshots of the breakups that came before. A new mother shares pictures of her maternity photo shoot, but may not have shared about a miscarriage that came a year before. Let me be clear; this is NOT a criticism of a positive-only social media presence. That is each person’s prerogative and right. However, I am suggesting that we should keep this reality in mind and work against not comparing ourselves to another’s social media avatar. Perception is not real life!

Second, who decides what is the “right” way? Are you actually talking about the expectations of the people around you? Is someone telling you that you “should” have done it one way or another? Psychologist Albert Ellis was famous for telling his clients that they were “should-ing all over” themselves (pun intended). If we were to critically evaluate the “shoulds” in our lives, many of us would find that they are really implicit and explicit messages we’ve received from others about how they believe we should do life. And, just because someone else told us to do something, doesn’t mean we have to! One of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood is that we have the opportunity to make our own decisions. We get to decide how much influence other people we have in our lives. Sometimes, that we means we block out the opinions of people we love and care about when those opinions are not in our best interest. They cannot walk in your shoes. They do not live your experience. They do not live with the consequences of your choices- you do! You deserve to create a life for yourself that matches YOUR wants and desires, not those of another person, regardless of how much you might love and admire that person. Does that mean you might make some mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But does that mean that, if you pay attention to yourself, you might stumble upon something that only you could have discovered about yourself and for yourself? Absolutely. Run your own life. Don’t give away your power to anyone else!

Lastly, consider that the “straight” path might not be the most fulfilling path. Sometimes, there simply isn’t one right answer. Most of us, without much work, can think of a time when we experienced an unexpected surprise; something we didn’t know was coming, maybe didn’t even want, but it ended up being exactly what we needed. I am a firm believe that even those things that seem like detours can have a powerful purpose in our lives. This is not the cookie cutter “everything has a reason” response. Sometimes, we have to work to find the purpose in detours and distractions. Every time you hit a wall, make a mistake, or feel frustrated, stop and ask yourself a simple question:

What is there for me to learn in this situation?

You might find that what best positions you for your end goal is the lessons you gleaned from the experiences you thought you weren’t supposed to have. You have an opportunity to make the most of the long road, and even celebrate it, rather than viewing it as a failure. A familiar scripture is a clear reminder remember that something can be gained form any situation:

“ And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28

So, when you are tempted to think less of yourself because you didn’t have a direct route, consider what you learned along the way. Consider that most of us are figuring out this windy path together. Consider that no matter what you have experienced, you still have the opportunity to live the life God crafted just for you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

An Educated “Yes”

Lots of us in the world have a problem with the word “yes.” We say it too much! Most of us like being helpful, but sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we have offered more than we are reasonably able to give. Often, it comes from a good, but sometimes dysfunctional place. First, I want to explore some of the reasons we might have a “yes” problem, and then I’ll offer some simple strategies for pulling back.

Many of us say yes because we are afraid of what would happen if we said no. Maybe we would disappoint the person who asked, or they would be mad at us, or worse, they would end the relationship. Whether we are talking about friends, romantic relationships, family relationships, or even work colleagues, a lot of us have a hard time tolerating when people are unahppy with us. So, we try to avoid those moments where we might upset the people we care about. The desire to avoid rejection is a powerful motivator!

We also get “rewards” for saying yes. People pat us on the back and say we did a good job. They use nice words to describe us such as “dependable, hard worker” They might even tell us how much they appreciate all we do. The tricky part, however, is that people are creatures of habit. So the more you say yes, the more prone you are to say yes before thinking, and the more people assume that you will say yes. If this pattern continues, a dynamic can develop where they are always asking and you are always saying yes. When a relationship is one-sided, or you say yes in times when it costs you more than you are really willing to give, it becomes a problem.  When saying yes causes you to over-extend yourself or deny your own needs, it is probably coming from an unhealthy place. Over time, you might start to focus less on your own needs to begin with, and develop a self-sacrificing or “savior” complex in your relationships. You have the right to protect your time, your space, and your spirit. In healthy relationships, you don’t have to let those things go completely.

Not sure if you say yes too much? Ask yourself some questions:

Are there times when you want to say no, but anxiety and fear cause you to go back on that first hunch?

Are you concerned that if you stop meeting a person’s requests, they will reject you or spend less time with you?

Do you have relationships where people feel comfortable asking your for things, but when you ask for something people often say no?

Would you describe yourself as a “caretaker” who prides themselves on making the lives of others easier?

Do you put your own concerns or desires on the back burner to make sure you can follow through with requests made of you by others?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider working to make an “educated yes” rather than an “automatic yes.” Notice, that I’m not suggesting that you say “no”. There are times when that might be the best choice, but this isn’t just about saying no, because there are times when a “yes” is just right. However, this is about making active decisions rather than doing things out of habit. I am encouraging you to think carefully about when, how, and to whom you say yes. When someone makes a request of you, there are some things to consider:

  • do I want to do this/am I willing to do this?
  • how much time or energy will this cost me?
  • am I willing to expend the time and energy it will take?
  • can I do it in a time frame the works for me and the requestor?

If your answers to these questions lead you to “no,” Don’t be afraid to say it! It might feel weird. That’s OK. The requestor might be unhappy. That’s ok too! Just because someone is unhappy with a choice that you’ve made, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice! And if you have made a choice that is supportive of your own sanity, you will thank yourself later. If no feels like a little to much, try a delay tactic: “Let me check my schedule and I’ll get back to you.” This gives you time to really think about your answer before jumping in.

Hopefully, this helps you to give an educated yes, rather than one motivated by fear or habit. Healthy relationships allow people to set their own boundares without worry about the consequences.  Next time someone makes a request of you, think before you answer!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

One Step at A Time

Recently I was meeting with mentor of mine, and I was telling her about the mayhem that has been the last few months of my life. As we talked, she shared that her strategy for managing when she feels overwhelmed is this: “One Step at a Time.” It doesn’t really seem like a ground breaking revelation, and I’m sure I’ve heard the phrase before. But for some reason, at that time, it really resonated with me. Think about all the times you are simultaneously trying to manage many things all at once. How often are you successful at managing all those things the way you want to? I’ll answer for myself: very infrequently.

So, I had been thinking about this simple suggestion: One Step at a Time… and then, I heard a podcast, that solidified the concept for me.  The episode is title “Deep Work” and a researcher/computer scientist named Cal Newport explores the detriments of multitasking and the benefits of engaging in “Deep Work” where we focus our attention completely on one thing. Check it out here: Deep Work.

Anyway, so the combination of these two ideas really got me thinking about how we can work smarter, not harder, when it comes to managing the daily tasks of our lives. What if, instead of tackling everything all the time, we tackle one thing for a period of time, do well, and then move onto the next thing? When I think about the times I have felt most stressed and overwhelmed, they typically revolve around me having “too many things to do” and not enough time to do them in. Typically, to get myself out of that place, I have to make some radical decisions about priorities, even if that decision is only temporary. We can find ourselves in this situation for a number of different reasons. Sometimes, we have a YES problem:

“Can you help with this event?”   Yes.

“Can you run this errand for me?”  Yes.

“Can you sacrifice your own happiness to make my life easier?” Yes.

Don’t get me wrong; sometimes,  it’s great to say yes. Many of us want to be helpful and we all like to feel like we are giving something to others in our community. However, when we say yes without thinking, we can end up in situations that leave us taking on more than we can reasonably handle. So, before you say yes, ask yourself: “Given all my responsibilities right now, can I commit to this the way I would like to?” If the answer is no, govern yourself accordingly. A bigger issue (for another post coming soon!) is the internal explanations we give for saying yes all the time, often because we are afraid of what would happen if we said no.

Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed because we don’t manage our time well.  How often do you sit down and plan out your day before you start it? How often do you find yourself flipping through social media and before you know it, an hour has gone by? How often do you give yourself an estimate of how long a task will take before you start it? If these questions have you stumped, do a little experiment. Write down your schedule for the WHOLE WEEK- all 7 days.  What do you notice you’re spending your time on? Are you ok with your answer?

Other times, we are overwhelmed because emotionally, spiritually, or mentally, we are just not equipped to manage all the tasks in front of us. Here’s where the “One Step At a Time” piece comes in. It’s ok to prioritize. Don’t try to take on the world if you don’t have to. Write a list of all the things on your plate right now, and categorize each of them in two ways: important/not important and urgent/not urgent. This system will help your prioritize. Once the tasks are categorized, you can prioritize them in this order:

  1. Important AND Urgent
  2. Urgent and Not Important – Do you need to do this at all?
  3. Important and Not Urgent
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important- Do you need to do this a all?

So, when you settle down to tackle the first thing that is both urgent and important, mentally commit yourself to that thing. If it’s a project at work (and it’s feasible for you), take a break from checking email, looking at your phone, or chatting with coworkers for a set period of time.  If it’s a life project, (weight loss, managing your finances, etc), tackle that thing, and get to a benchmark point before you take on anthing else. In other words, it may not the best idea to start your plans to lose 50 pounds, raise your credit score 200 points, and double your devotional time ALL at once. Focused attention helps us to commit more fully, be more successful, and feel happier overall. When we try to do too much at one time, it’s easy to feel swept away by the winds of life, holding onto anything you can. This isn’t sustainable for a fulfilling life in the long term. Try deep work to build some deep roots!

So, let’s start simple.  What is the most important goal you have for yourself right now? Think about the things you are doing to currently work on it– are they working? Consider a shift in strategy- focus your attention and energy on this goal, and give yourseelf a specific target to reach. Think about ways you can commit yourself more fully to this goal. When you’ve reached that target, you can move on to the next thing!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Stop, Drop, and Roll

Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days? When it seems like before you can even get yourself together for the day, everything is crumbling around you? I have too. They are a part of life, but that doesn’t make them enjoyable, and often, they don’t feel manageable when we are right in the thick of it. Not too long ago, I had one of those days. By 9am, I was ready to crawl back into bed, and wait for the day to be over. But, that wasn’t an option- I had things to do that day, so I had to get myself together. In the midst of my almost melt-down, three words came to me- Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Does that phrase sound familiar? When I was in elementary school, that was the fire safety motto- Stop Drop, and Roll. The idea was if you were to ever catch fire, these three actions were the quickest and safest way to minimize damage to yourself, and protect the safety of others. So, let’s see if we can make this work for a day that feels like it’s about to explode:

First, Stop and Center. Most of us have emotional, cognitive, and physical signs that we are feeling overwhelmed, but we often ignore those signs and try to press through. Instead, when you start to notice those signs ramping up, stop and center yourself. “Centering” can look different for all of us. Sometimes it’s a quiet prayer, a few deep breaths, a phone call to a friend, or maybe taking a walk to get a quick break. Whatever will help you to stop and calm down, do that.

Second, Drop What is Unnecessary.  When you are feeling on edge, you simply are not capable of doing everything. Often, if you try, you find that you make mistakes, don’t fully complete tasks, or aren’t invested the way you would want to. So, rather than try to do more than you are able, go into problem solving mode. What can wait until tomorrow, or maybe even next week? Rate the tasks you need to complete in terms of urgency and importance. Those things which are both urgent and important probably need to be done today. In most cases, everything else can wait until another day and you are in a better space.

Third, Roll with the punches. There is a term in psychotherapy training called “rolling with resistance.” It basically means that as clinicians, we don’t try to force people to do or talk about things when they aren’t ready to. This has become a strategy that I try to hold on to in my “real life” too. Sometimes, you can’t fix everything and you just have to roll with it. Sometimes, the project you’re working on won’t be perfect. Sometimes, you can’t make that friend not be upset at you. Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge that you are not at your best, but you will do what you can. Develop an idea of what “good enough” is, and let that be ok every once in a while. Allow yourself to have an off day. Remember that this day is only one day in the grand scheme of things. Even when things go wrong, you still have something to be thankful for!

So, next time you’re having one of those days, remember these three simple steps. Stop, Drop, and Roll! Trouble and frustration may knock you down, but they don’t have to take you out. Thanks for reading, and make well choices!

 

Do You!

Last month, I wrote about maintaining your focus as we approach a new year, and one of the points in the post was that you really need to understand your purpose. To a certain extent, this is a quest that many of us are constantly on. Some people seem to know immediately what they are “supposed” to do, while others seem to search and search and have a hard time nailing down what it is they want to do. Why is this so important to us? Part of this desire is that we as humans have been oriented for centuries to have a “place” in our world. Think about it- one of the first things people ask when they meet someone for the first time is “what do you do”? People’s jobs (at least in our minds) help us to categorize them, understand their interests and skills, and potentially relate to them.

However, I have a news flash. Your job and your purpose may not be the same thing! For some of us, we have found our purpose in our job. For some of us, a job is just a paycheck, and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a purpose. There is something in this world, for you do to, that you are especially equipped to do, that can make a positive impact on others, on your community, and maybe even the world. In fact, you are THE BEST person for whatever that job is, because you are you! If you don’t believe me, listen to our childhood friend, Dr. Seuss:

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

You buying into this idea requires that you believe that you have gifts to offer the world. This is crucial. So, take a minute, and jot down three gifts you have. You might find yourself venturing into some self-criticism about the things you *don’t* have. But, try to stay on track. What are you good at?  Now, ask yourself- how can I use my gifts for good in the world?

If you are a Christian, this question takes on an even deeper, more powerful meaning. It becomes “How can I use my gifts for good in the Body of Christ?” If you think you don’t have a gift, you’re simply wrong! Here’s how I know. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about us all being members of one body. It then goes on to say:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them.  There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served.  There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service.  The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.

1 Corinthian 12: 4-7

I won’t copy the whole chapter here, but you really should go read it! It is a reminder that because of your connection with Christ, you are AUTOMATICALLY GIFTED! That gift, is to be used for the good of the church and the world. We don’t all have the same gift, so there’s no use comparing gifts. Hands are only good at being hands, if they tried to be eyes, they would to a terrible job. How many of us think we are people who lack passion, direction, or giftedness, when really, we are just trying to do the wrong job? You don’t always have control over what you do for a living, but you DO have control over what you do for the kingdom. If you’re not sure what your gift is, don’t worry. This is a question that has an answer. Here are some tips:

-Take a spiritual gifts inventory. Here’s a great free one to check out

– Try some things out. See what feels right.

-Seek wise counsel.

-Pray about it.

The bottom line, is that there is something wonderful for you to do in this world, and we need you do it. We need you to DO YOU so that the world is a better place, and God is glorified. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can stop the constant frustration of comparing ourselves to others, and just be happy in our own skin. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

FOCUS

A couple of weeks ago my pastor preached a sermon entitled “Focus”. By now, the specific points he made are fuzzy for me. But I have not been able to let go of the idea that our ability to focus is crucially important to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. So much of what i see in my clinical work comes back to this idea. Difficulty managing priorities, not being able to distinguish irrational thoughts and feelings, becoming clouded by the dangers of social comparison, and the list goes on. So, FOCUS is going to be my word for 2017. I have some continuations of goals I’ve been working on, and some new things I hope to accomplish. I really don’t want to be distracted from these goals, because they’re important to me, and I feel God is calling me to them! Here are some tips for maintaining your FOCUS as we enter a new year.

Filter out the opinions of others. Many of us are completely and utterly consumed with the opinions of others. Are we meeting the approval of our parents? Are our friends/significant others pleased with us? Does my boss like me? Social media doesn’t help, because we often end up comparing the totality of our lives (good and bad) with the best moments of those we follow. While family and friends certainly matter, at the end of the day you are accountable to you and God for the life you live. Even the best intentioned friend or family member can lead you astray because they always come from a biased point of view. Push yourself to make your own decisions and stand by them. Only you are responsible for you.

Open yourself to new ways of doing and being. I had a supervisor say once that rigidity is the definition of mental illness. Another way to say this is the the key to mental and emotional wellness is flexibility. As humans, its easy for us to get into a monotonous routine and become so invested in it that we can’t see when its not working anymore. Sometimes, we need to change things up and try something new so that we can achieve a different outcome. Don’t be afraid to try!

Count your blessings. It’s really easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong in your life. They often take the forefront in our mental and emotional space. Challenge yourself to shift your perspective and focus on what’s going right. This change doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it helps us to have a more level headed and even keeled response. Attending to the good things can help balance out the pain associated to the bad ones.

Understand your purpose. You always have lots of choices in life. Big choices and little choices. Just like on a multiple choice test, some of these options are “distractors”. They’re not really good for you, but you can only figure out that out if you have studied and prepared yourself. Study and explore your purpose, so that when the time comes to make choices, you won’t be strayed by distractors. Everyone has something they are especially equipped to do, that they can give to the world! When you know what you’re called to do, it’s easier to identify and follow the path that will lead you to it. (More in this next month).

Simplify your life. While we are on the topic of distractors, how about getting rid of some! Is your house/office so cluttered that you can never find what you’re looking for? Are you involved in so many activities that you can’t tell whether you’re coming or going? Do you have some “friends” that annoy you so much you are constantly screening their calls? Perhaps it’s time to clean house. Why waste your time, energy, or resources on things that don’t fit with the life you’re trying to live? It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to let things go. It’s ok to move on.

While these may sound like quick tips, they are really big habits that if you aren’t doing already, will take time and commitment to accomplish. Try to pick one that feels most compelling to you, and focus your energy on making a decision every day to work toward that goal. Whether it’s January 1 or any other day of the year, you CAN reach your goals! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Hope in a Horrible World

The past few weeks I have felt really overwhelmed and frustrated by the horrible things happening in our world. It seems like every couple of days, there is a great tragedy that leaves is reeling, and utterly helpless. It’s not too difficult to find yourself spiraling into despair after watching the news. And, if you’re someone who has a predisposition toward anxiety and/or depression, times like these can be even more trying. Life events might seem to confirm your suspicions that the world is a terrible place, bad things happen all the time, or that things will never be ok. I understand, and I’ve been there too. But I also think it’s important for us to find ways to hold on to our hope in this scary world. So, here are some suggestions:

  1. Manage how much time you spend devouring bad news. One of our natural tendencies when bad things happen is to read/watch everything we can about it. We live in a culture where the mainstream media will remind us of a tragedy constantly for the several days after it happens, and our 24-hour way of being in the world makes it so we have access to horror at all times. Here’s a tip- just because you have access to it, doesn’t mean you should take it in. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break! Maybe that means skipping the news one day, or giving yourself a two hour break from Facebook; you are the best judge. I’ll add to this that we live in a world where are online conversations can become inhumane and demoralizing very quickly- some of us would do better to not try to have conversations about controversial topics through a faceless medium. The detachment of having an actual person there can lead people to be insensitive and downright cruel in their commentary. You can make a choice about whether conversations like these will be helpful or harmful to you.
  2. Hold on to things you know to be true. A helpful reminder during times like these is that while some things may be going poorly, all things aren’t. Spend some time reflecting on the good in your life- friends, family, job, whatever those things are for you. Remind yourself of things that are going well- for you and in the world. All is not lost. Remembering things that are good can help balance our sadness about the bad.
  3. Do something! Often, tragedies leave us feeling helpless and if there is nothing we can do. In many cases, this isn’t actually true. For instance, after a hate crime, you might engage in activities that help educate people about discrimination or racism. After a natural disaster, you might volunteer your time to help those who have been gravely affected by it. Maybe your action is simply to try to engage in meaningful conversation about what happened. Maybe you will seek to advocate about a related issue to your elected representative. Again, the choices is yours, but actions can help us to feel as though we are doing more than simply letting the world act on us and whip up around.
  4. Remember God’s Promises. This is not the obligatory <insert churchy phrase here.> In fact, I think some of those things can be more harmful than helpful. For more on this, check out this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/june/5-dumb-things-christians-must-stop-saying-when-evil-strikes.html. When I say remember God’s promises, what I mean is that it can be helpful to focus on God’s ability to move in the midst of and in spite of tragedy. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that awful events aren’t necessarily God reigning down wrath and fury. Sometimes, bad things are simply a bad person electing to do a bad thing. What I remind myself is, “I don’t know why this happened, but I trust that God is bigger than this mess”. Sometimes, I simply have to stop trying to understand, and focus on what is right in front of me. Sometimes, I have to acknowledge that what happened was a senseless act, and I may not ever understand WHY it happened, but trust God to help me grow through it. Even when I feel confused and frustrated, my ultimate goal is peace that will allow me to keep going. Remember these words:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

“And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

It’s not easy. But we can get through it. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

10 Things Your Church Member with Mental Illness Wants You to Know

I’m a church girl- always have been, probably always will be. I love church, I love the people in church, and I love all the possibilities of what the church can be. What I don’t love, is the way the church can tend to brush difficult conversations under the rug or make people to feel as though the problems in their life are the simple result of not enough faith. It’s just not that simple. Bad things happen to people who deserve it, and bad things happen to those who don’t. One of the areas where we seem to throw the most blame is those suffering with mental illness. They somehow become the “black sheep” of our communities, those who suffer silently, who pretend everything is OK because they are worried they will be chastised if they admit they are drowning. I think that most of us have good intentions. Because we believe in God’s omnipotence, we offer faith as the cure-all for every ailment. While that’s helpful, it’s not good enough to stop there. We don’t tell people with heart disease to just pray. We tell them to pray, and then go to the doctor. Mental illness is no different. In fact, we NEED to talk about it because 1 in 5 Americans is living with a  mental illness, including the folks you go to church with every Sunday! If you took the time to talk to one of these folks, here are some things they might say

  1. I have already prayed about it, and I will continue to pray about it. But sometimes I pray and nothing has changed yet. I need something else in addition to prayer.
  2. I can’t just turn it off, or “think positively,” I struggle every day to do all the things I’m supposed to do, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by my negative thoughts and emotions.
  3. I don’t always need advice. Sometimes, I just need you to listen and to know that you are there and you support me.
  4. I’m scared to tell people about what I deal with on a daily basis because I’m afraid they will judge me or think I’m “crazy.” I’m not crazy, I just struggle.
  5. What I face is not just mental- it’s emotional and even physical at times.
  6. I have thought about suicide. I don’t want to die, but sometimes it seems like the only way out.
  7. There are times I feel like no one understands what I’m going through, so I keep things to myself. It helps when other people share that they have struggles too.
  8. I put on a brave face so people won’t think I’m weak or faithless. I worry that if they know how much I hurt, they would think I’m not capable of anything.
  9. I am not my mental illness. I’m a person who lives with mental illness.
  10. I can get better if I have the right resources and support.

 

One of the best ways we can end stigma is by breaking the silence about mental health issues. You or someone you know has been affected by mental illness, I guarantee it. Your talking about it could be the thing that gives someone else permission to speak up and get the help they need. So don’t remain silent, let’s talk about it!

If you want to learn more about mental illness and what you can do to help, check out http://www.Nami.org for more information.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

 

Savoring the Sweetness in Suffering

Suffering sucks. It just does. There’s no way around it. Sometimes our natural inclination is just to put our heads down and wait for the hard times to be over. The idea is that if we bury our heads, we can get through it. It’s true that we can get through it that way, but it may not be the best way. What if, instead of just waiting for the bad times to be over, you lifted your head and tried to figure out what you can learn during the hard times?

This would be a different stance for many of us, and it would have to be a conscious choice on a daily basis. It would mean taking a moment to dig in to the suffering, to explore it and see what else can be gleaned. But just imagine what you could get out of it!

You might learn some things about life. You might learn that life keeps going, even if it seems that you will be perpetually stuck in the frustrating place you’re in. You might learn, if you look closely, that it’s never all good or bad. Even in the darkest and most frustrating days, there are rays of hope and light. You might learn that those little things are things to be cherished, and that they can make the suffering more manageable.

You might also learns some things about yourself. You might learn how strong you are. You might learn how resourceful you are. You might even learn about some of your relationships (good things and not so good things). You could learn that you have some virtues you didn’t know you possessed.

The bottom line is that suffering presents us with a unique opportunity: groan or grow. Which do you choose? We’ve already been promised that God will never put more on us than we can bear- that means, we will survive whatever the obstacle is right now. Just keep going! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!