A Christian Perspective on Mental Health

True or False:

  1. A diagnosis of anxiety means that my faith in God is weak.
  2. I cannot truly be a Christian if I suffer from depression.
  3. A child with ADHD is just an undisciplined child.

If you answered true to any of these statements, then please keep reading! All of the above statements are false, but I believe that Satan has done a great job in confusing the minds of the Christian community to believe that these ideas are true. This perspective, that Christians should not suffer from mental illness, is one that saddens me the most. My heart aches for clients that I see that are truly struggling with a mental illness and doubting their faith in God. How can someone who has so much hope in God, feel so hopeless? How can someone who has such anticipation for heaven, feel so much despair? How can one pray daily but still be controlled by anxiety?

These are appropriate questions. So, can a “real” Christian have a mental illness? YES! Absolutely. It is important that we define what a mental illness is and what it isn’t. Depression is not just sadness. Anxiety is not just nervousness. ADHD is not just disobedience. It is not a decision. It is clinical. It is biological. It is chemical. There is actually something physical occurring in your brain that involves neurotransmitters, hormones, genetics, and environmental factors.

Even in the Bible there are instances of godly men who suffered from a mental illness.

  1. Saul – Saul was a powerful king and he was also a very troubled man. He sought to kill his own sons, he attempted to kill David on several occasions and he eventually committed suicide.
  2. Elijah – was a prophet and he suffered from depression. He was in so much despair that he asked God to take his life.
  3. Jeremiah – aka “the weeping prophet”. Enough said! Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you’ll see for yourself.
  4. Jonah – struggled with suicidal thoughts and wanting to die.
  5. Paul – who was probably the most zealous for God, describes a time when his struggles were so great that he “despaired even of life.”

I look at these examples and my conclusion is that yes, you can be a faithful, devoted, committed Christian AND suffer from a mental illness. They are not mutually exclusive. The Bible says that there is no temptation that you feel that Jesus hasn’t felt. So take heart, Jesus knows exactly what you’re going through. It’s easy to feel isolated and somehow different from other Christians, but remember that you’re walking with Jesus even through tough times. Don’t allow your Christian walk to be a barrier to getting the help that you need. And don’t let the fact that you need help be an obstacle in your faith.

Love Thy Neighbor Matthew 22:36-40

I feel compelled to write about the recent events in our country. With the shootings of African-American men by police officers caught on tape, the shootings of police officers in Dallas and the bitter political climate, I’m left with a plethora of emotions. I’ve gone from anger to fear; from sadness to apathy; from hopelessness to optimism. And back again to anger.

I’m not sure what you think or feel about the recent happenings, but I am certain you think and feel something. This got me thinking. I am fortunate to live in a diverse neighborhood. I love seeing the different colors of skin, the assorted culture and the intertwinement of ethnicities. My walking partner and close friend is Caucasian (I’m not!) and we can walk and discuss our lives, husbands, families, work and religion with no difficulty.

One thing I noticed however, is that with all that I have been feeling and thinking, I’ve only been able to talk about these emotions with my family or African-American friends. And the only people that have opened up to me about their feelings about racism and the current environment are people who look like me. My church and my work placed are filled with people that look like me and with people that don’t. Even in these environments I haven’t had one conversation about #blacklivesmatter, police shootings or anything pertaining to these topics with someone who is not African-American. This disturbs me. How can I feel so connected on so many levels with those around me that are different, yet on this topic, we stay clear of each other?…………….

Most Christians, if asked, would be able to answer the question, what is the greatest commandment? Well, if you’re unsure, here is the answer. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, He says this: To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Then Jesus offers up a freebie, even though He wasn’t asked. He goes on the say that the second greatest commandment is just like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

I can’t help but think that we as a people, as a nation, are not doing well in keeping these commandments. Jesus is so right (of course!) that the first and most important is to love God with all we are and all we have. And that there is nothing else we can do in obedience to God without this – including loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our relationships with those around us cannot be right if our relationship with God isn’t right. All of our efforts to be united, peaceful and unbiased towards one another will fail if our foundation isn’t the rooted in the greatest commandment.

This doesn’t mean we have to agree. It doesn’t mean we have to understand. It means that we have to be willing to hear each other. Why don’t we engage in these conversations with each other? Fear? Lack of understanding? Anxiety over saying something you might want to take back? .

There are many problems in this country, including racism, classism, ignorance, abuse of power, hatred and the list goes on and on. And there are so many proposals as to how to go about changing this. I believe that if we truly lived according to these commandments, we could erase all these prejudice. And it would start with us being comfortable enough, loving each other enough, to engage in conversation with one another about sensitive matters.

I welcome any and everyone who would like to discuss anything with me. I promise to listen with the intent to hear and not with the intent to reply, criticize or force my views. Can you do the same?

Happy Birthday To Me!!!

It’s my birthday!!! That’s right. Today is my birthday and I’m going to treat myself, like I always do on my birthday. I loooove celebrating my birthday.  I throw my own birthday parties, take the entire week off of work and splurge on myself. I treat myself to things I usually don’t do…… ultimately I truly enjoy my birthday.

In looking back to how I’ve celebrated in the past, I now see that I’ve celebrated so much on my birthday because I celebrate myself so little the other 364 days of the year. A one-time quick celebration doesn’t actually help the 70 hour work weeks and constant stress.

But this year, I don’t feel the need to take a full week off of work or disengage from the norm in order to relax or celebrate. I’ve been thinking about it and I believe it’s not because I don’t want to enjoy my birthday. Believe me, I love me some me and I love celebrating me! But I think the reason I don’t feel the need to retreat is because I’m actually taking pretty good care of myself.

So what is good self-care? Most people can’t answer that because we are too busy living our lives to take proper care of ourselves. The best way to implement good self-care is with consistent daily habits. Here is a list of some good ideas for self-care. These ideas seem very simple and you may be tempted to roll your eyes or move on to the next blog because you don’t need to read this. But there’s a reason I’m writing about this. Because as simple as it may seem, we just don’t do it. So here goes……….

1) Eat food that is good for you. Most of us cringe at good food because we automatically assume that we won’t enjoy it. Eating is one of my favorite hobbies but I have slowly made changes that have been extremely beneficial. A small change like juicing in the morning for breakfast or snacking on almonds instead of candy can make long-lasting differences.

2) Work-out. Exercise is one of the most underrated types of self-care. Just a quick walk in the morning or at lunchtime can help clear your mind and help with chronic medical problems. We all know that exercise releases endorphins but research also shows that exercise increases production of serotonin and norepinephrine which reduces depression and stress.

3) Go to bed. Getting good sleep is an important goal. If you’re consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep then you are sleep deprived. Make it a point to stop whatever you’re doing and go to bed early. Or close your office door for about 15 minutes and take a power nap.

4) See a doctor. We make sure that we take our kids and our pets to the doctor but we don’t see the importance of it for ourselves. It is important to set aside time to get the medical attention you need. Prevention is much easier than treatment.

5) Unplug. Some people have a weekend away with no electronics which is amazing! You may not be able to do that but simple strategies like screening your calls, turning off your computer and phone for an evening will help you to unplug and unwind.

6) Compliment yourself. Take time out of your day to really appreciate your physical beauty, accomplishments, values and talents.

7) Do something fun. That might be reading a book, going to a museum or splurging a little on yourself. Life is too short not to have a little fun!

8) Take time off of work! ** this is my favorite one** Statistics show that Americans use only 50% of their vacation time. I hate to burst your bubble, but you are not that important! If you skip a day at work, the sky isn’t going to fall. And you’ll probably be more productive in the long run if you take time off occasionally.

If you’re doing all of these, you are taking very good care of yourself. If you’re not, then pick just one to start with and go from there. Remember, how you treat yourself sets the standard for how others will treat you.

Heroes Reborn

If anyone out there loved the television series Heroes… it’s back! Now called ‘Heroes Reborn,’ it’s a show about ordinary people discovering their special abilities and learning to maneuver the world with those abilities.

One of my favorite ‘heroes’ from the original series is Hayden Panettiere, who had the power to spontaneously regenerate. She could fall off a building, get hit by a car, jump in a fire but wouldn’t get hurt. Other characters had some very cool abilities as well – the ability to fly, to read people’s minds, or travel through time.

But Hayden Panettiere is a real life hero (of mine anyway) because she has demonstrated the special ability of vulnerability, transparency, and truth telling as she recently disclosed that she is dealing with post-partum depression.

It absolutely takes a special ability to tell millions of people (in a world where perfection is not optional), that you are not only not perfect but struggling and battling with a mental health issue. Other heroes? – Catherine Zeta-Jones (Bipolar Depression), Brooke Shields (Post-Partum Depression), and Halle Berry (Depression and suicide attempt).

You may disagree with me, but I do consider them heroes in this aspect. Our culture and our pride forces us to hide, feel guilt or shame, believe that we are alone in our struggles, and keep our mouths shut.

We may not be able to fly or travel through time, but we are able to tell the truth. So I encourage you to use that special ability. Be different. Be vulnerable. Be open. Be a hero and tell the truth about what is really going on in your life. You may be surprised to find out how desperately the world is in need of a hero.

Know The Lyrics

I was listening to the radio when the song ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police came on.  Of course I sang along with the radio because it’s such a catchy song.  As I was singing, I actually began to pay attention to the words and freaked out a little. Just in case you don’t remember, here are the words:

“Every breath you take; every move you make; every bond you break, every step you take I’ll be watching you.”

A little stalker-ish right? So I researched the lyrics to check my hypothesis and I indeed was right. Sting did not mean for this song to be a love song frequently played at weddings. He actually wrote this song after separating from his wife and it is about a possessive lover! Yikes!

Of course it is meant to be sinister. Who would perceive it otherwise? Well I did, along with many others judging from how many times this is played on love song stations and in weddings. Just goes to show how we sometimes fail to distinguish healthy from unhealthy. The words are the same, the tune in the same, but our perception is based on observation, awareness and insight.

If it’s hard for us to recognize healthy versus unhealthy song lyrics, then it’s probably extremely difficult to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships, especially when those relationships are family relationships or friendships.

So what makes a healthy relationship? Lots of things including good communication, mutual respect, trust, and honesty.  You are in a healthy relationship if that relationship brings about more joy and happiness than tension and sadness.  If that statement doesn’t ring true in one of your relationships then it is unhealthy.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • You often put yourself on the back burner for someone else.  You neglect your dreams, passions or even just basic self-care for the sake of another.
  • You feel forced to be or act differently.
  • Your relationship causes you to have low self-esteem.
  • You are not free to express your true thoughts and feelings without fear of repercussions; you find yourself walking on eggshells.
  • You build walls of defensiveness to protect yourself.
  • You are discouraged from growing other relationships with friends or family.
  • You do not trust the person you are in relationship with.
  • You experience abuse – verbal, physical, mental or emotional abuse.

Seek help for your relationship when:

  • You know you need help but you are embarrassed or fearful to ask for help.
  • You are unhappy in the relationship and you are having difficulty getting out.
  • You realize you are staying in the relationship because of fear of being alone or because of guilt.
  • You consistently find yourself in unhealthy relationships.

The key to a healthy relationship is to stop singing along with the music just because you are familiar with the words. Pay close attention to the words; assess your relationships often. Stop and listen, listen to your gut. Are you happy? Are you safe? Are you free? If the answer is no, then seek help and change your tune.

You’re Not Stuck!

As I was flipping through channels on a lazy afternoon, I happened across one of the movies that I can watch over and over and over again: The Devil Wears Prada. I’m not sure what it is about this movie that sucks me into watching it but I couldn’t help but watch it again.

Ok, so spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen this movie, you weren’t going to anyway so I’m going to spoil it for you. The movie is about a girl who lands a job that she hates. That’s basically the plot, but in between the storyline are a lot of great clothes, shoes and purses. Of course, some of my favorite scenes are the ones that showcase the high fashion clothes. Hey, I’m a girl, I can’t help it.

This time watching it, there was one scene that I’ve never really noticed that stuck out to me. The scene where Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, confides in her co-worker that her private life was suffering. The coworker said “Let me know when your life is going up in smoke. That means it’s time for a promotion.” Depressing to think about, but a reality for many. That balance between work and life can seem impossible.

Work-life balance. Ugh. It sounds like one of those aspirations that we all hope for yet in the back of our minds, we don’t believe that we can actually achieve it. How can I be a great dad but still put in the 80hrs/week? How can I climb up the corporate ladder and still maintain my marriage? How can I have a social life and continue to be an excellent employee?

Easy, do what Andy did. After realizing that her job was infiltrating every aspect in her life in a negative way, she decided to quit. It’s just that easy. Actually, it wasn’t easy for her to walk away; it took the whole movie before she decided to! And it won’t be that easy for you to walk away, or do something different than what you’re doing now. But if something needs to change then it has to start with you.

Disclaimer: I am not advising that you quit your job! However, I am aspiring to help you see that you don’t have to be stuck in a situation or environment that is bad for you. Maybe you can’t quit your job, and that’s your reality. In that case, a life change may require a bit of creative brainstorming. Maybe you can quit your job but you don’t believe you can. Maybe you have no clue how to change your current situation.

The first step toward change is believing that you can do something different, then being intentional about doing something different. Also, seek out help. This is actually a common reason to seek out counseling. Whether it’s getting help with achieving your goals, or help with figuring out what your goals are and how your goals match up with your value set, a counselor can be a great resource for you in this area.

In doing so, you could end up like Andy: relationship with boyfriend restored and getting a great job doing exactly what she wants to do. If Andy can do it, why not you?

Sometimes we need a good cry

So I recently went to see the movie Selma. I was warned ahead of time that it was emotional and I thought I was prepared to experience some sadness. But I wasn’t. It was an unbelievably moving movie and I don’t remember crying that much for any movie. Ever. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie, but I cried during and well after the movie was over! As I usually do when I see a good movie, I shared with my friends that it was a ‘must see’. But I also warned them to be ready to cry. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response of my friends of: “I don’t want to cry, I’m not going to see it”, or “I hate crying, I’ll pass.”

I don’t consider myself a crier, however, I do appreciate a good cry every now and then and usually feel better afterwards. So why do we hate crying so much? And where did the saying “have a good cry” come from? I dug a little deeper and here is what I found.

One of the most important functions of crying is protecting our eyes from irritants like dust. It also helps lubricate our eyeballs. However, crying can have healthy psychological benefits. Crying is a natural emotional response to feelings such as hurt, sadness or happiness. Crying is also thought to give us a psychological boost by reducing stress and giving us a sense of relief because it is a physical response to an emotional situation. Studies have found that tears (specifically tears linked to emotions) have a higher level of ACTH which is a precursor to the “stress hormone” cortisol. Cortisol is increased during emotional stress and we can literally cry out the stress. Crying also helps lift our moods and deal with painful experiences.

Crying can help express deep emotions that may be inexpressible in any other way. You may even feel cleansed or lighter afterward. In fact, 89% of people in a survey feel better after crying. Crying can also lead to some sort of physical contact when shared with someone. We tend to hug or hold someone we see crying, and physical touch has also been linked to helping stress reduction.

Researchers have also found that those who view crying as a resolution to a distressing event are most likely to find relief, so it helps to find peace in the situation. And if you don’t feel better after crying, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes crying helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. However, frequent or prolonged crying may be a sign of more serious condition, such as depression. If you feel like you can’t control your crying, see your doctor or counselor.

The poet Ovid wrote “It is a relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears.” So go ahead and have a good cry.

Grieving during the holiday season

It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times. That’s how I feel about the holiday season this year. It’s the best of times because I love the holiday season, who doesn’t? I eat so much I can’t move, I see family members that I seldom see and I get time off of work. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

But this year is very different because my mom isn’t here. She passed away suddenly a few months ago. So this year, I’m truly dreading celebrating the holidays because it will be a constant reminder that my mom isn’t here to celebrate with me. Rather than being a time of thanksgiving, laughter and cheer, this holiday may bring feelings of sadness, emptiness and loss.

Grieving a loss during the holidays is incredibly difficult. Your loss may look different than mine. You may be grieving a loss of a relationship/divorce, a job, a pet, a home, a friendship, a miscarriage, a financial loss…..the list goes on. So how are we going to get through this holiday season with all this grief?

My plan this year is to just get through it. The first holiday season is usually the most challenging. If your loss is fairly recent, just focus on getting through the next few weeks.

If you are able to do more than just bear through the holidays, here are some suggestions for dealing with grief this holiday season:

  • Allow yourself to enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself laughing, having a good time or even forgetting your grief for a moment. You are entitled to experience some joy. Surround yourself with supportive and comforting people who will encourage you to be yourself and will accept your sadness and your joy.
  • Accept the sadness. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be happy all the time. Allow yourself times of solitude but do not isolate yourself. Letting yourself feel sad or cry is actually good for the grief process.
  • Talk about it. Permitting yourself to feel grief and openly talking about it will actually help you feel better. Talk to people you trust and be honest about how you are really coping. Sharing memories can also be a source of comfort. Ignoring the grief and pain will only lengthen the grief process.
  • Modify old traditions. New traditions don’t have to be established right away but finding a way to make new traditions to fit your new situation will help with grief. Some may find comfort in the old traditions while others find them terribly painful. Be open with your family and friends about how changing or keeping old traditions affects you.
  • Say no. Feelings of loss can leave you physically fatigued. You may not be able to do as much as you have in the past. Listen to your body, do what you can and only what feels right. Don’t feel obligated to participate in anything that you don’t feel up to.
  • Honor your loved one. It’s important to find a way to honor your loved one. You can make their favorite dish to honor them or spend some time reflecting on their life and how they impacted you. You can even incorporate them into your celebration of the holidays.

Getting through this holiday season while grieving will be extremely difficult. Believe me, I know as I am experiencing it myself. The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season while you are grieving a loss. However, if you are experiencing hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, change in appetite, loss of enjoyment or thoughts of hurting yourself, make an appointment to see a therapist as these are signs of depression. Love yourself enough this holiday season to get the help that you need.

“Doctor Speak”: How to understand what your doctor is saying

“Mrs. Jones, your CBC, BMP and TSH are all negative. Your BMI and LFTs are elevated and I’m worried about NAFLD so you need to diet and exercise more. You’ll need to stop taking the statins and I’ll order a RUQ US.”

Say What?!?!?!

Do you ever feel like your doctor is speaking in some secret code that you don’t understand? You’re not alone. About 90% of American adults have problems in health literacy. Health literacy is the ability to understanding information about your health but it has nothing to do with your intelligence.

Medical terminology is essential in the healthcare world, but it is often heard as gibberish by patients. This may be because often doctors speak to their patients as if they are speaking to another physician. I have to admit, I pride myself in being a good communicator to my patients but there have been plenty of times when I’ve said something and the look on my patient’s face clearly shows that I just rambled out a bunch of acronyms and abbreviations and I need to start over.

Health literacy is actually a bigger problem than most realize. Studies show that patients with low health literacy are more likely to be hospitalized, use medication inappropriately and receive fewer recommended preventative measures. So, before you go to another doctor’s appointment, here are 5 tips to increasing your health literacy.

  1. Ask questions. In fact, write down questions before your appointment. Most people have a lot they want to ask their doctors but by the time you wait an hour in the waiting room and the doctor starts with her own agenda, the questions usually are forgotten. If you write them down, you are more apt to remember and have your questions answered.
  2. Bring a list of all medications. This includes supplements, vitamins and all over the counter meds. It’s important for you and your doctor to know who is prescribing what meds and to watch for any potential interactions.
  3. Don’t pretend. If you don’t understand what your doctor is saying, stop immediately and ask her to use simpler language. Often patients are afraid to admit that they don’t understand medical terminology. It is absolutely ok to ask for clarification.
  4. Use reflective listening. This means restating what the doctor is saying. This will ensure that instructions are clear. Simply say, “Let me see if I understand. You are saying……”
  5. Take another adult with you. This should be a trusted relative or friend in order to have an extra set of ears and maybe to take notes.

The doctor’s office can tend to be an intimidating place. But it’s important to know that YOU are in control of YOUR health and your doctor is there to provide a service for YOU. Do not leave your appointment feeling unsatisfied. It truly could be a matter of life and death.

The Beauty of Vulnerability

“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” – Brené Brown

There is one thing that I am definitely not good at — being vulnerable. I’ve always been taught that vulnerability was a sign of weakness; that people will take advantage of you if you show weakness. The fear is that if I reveal my true self that I may be misunderstood or rejected.

What I have learned is, being vulnerable isn’t just about being okay with showing parts of yourself to others, it’s more about being okay with all of yourself. When you love all of yourself, it matters little what others think.

What I am also learning is that vulnerability is a choice. It doesn’t always come easy and I haven’t mastered it yet. There are still many moments when I remain guarded and less willing to be truly open. It takes a conscious effort to look for the opportunities in which to be vulnerable. However, the rewards are much greater than the risks. There is a level of connection that cannot be met if you tend to hold part of yourself back.

Here are a few practicals on being vulnerable:

  1. Be honest. If you are going through a difficult time, tell someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at the response.
  2. Ask for help. Contrary to popular belief, this is also a sign of strength. You don’t need to struggle in silence, there are people willing to help.
  3. Learn to say no. Sometimes being vulnerable is letting others know that you are not a superhero. By saying yes to everyone, you are saying no to yourself. Let people know when you have too much on your plate.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others. In actuality, their lives aren’t better than yours. You really have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.
  5. Be wise. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean telling everyone everything about you. Be wise in whom you choose to be open with.