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Ink Slingers

I Pick Me: Responding with Love

Have you ever had a disagreement with someone that ended with you feeling like less? 

I recall a situation not too long ago between me and a colleague. This person became extremely upset, and began to speak down to me. Instead of responding by speaking up, I let him continue to berate me. I drove home that night questioning what was wrong with me, and why I felt incapable, stupid, and used.

I used to struggle with the idea that as a Christian, we must be overflowing in mercy in all interactions with others. Submission, humility, meekness – these are all words that cross my mind when I am thinking of how to love best in a conflict situation.

What Does Meekness Look Like?

Meekness attempts to leave room for others and learn from them. To be meek is to be patient with others, practicing restraint and selflessness. What meekness is not is allowing others to hurt us, or choosing to stay in a harmful situation.

And as much as others may say hurtful things to us, I’m willing to bet that we say more hurtful things to ourselves. In fact, it’s easier for us to be compassionate towards others than towards ourselves. 

We Have Dignity

We are all dignified and constituted with value by virtue of Christ’s incarnation. All of us carry the responsibility to honour human dignity – including our own. Reverend John J. Coughlin outlines this in his article “Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being”:

God’s forgiveness of humanity, which is expressed in the Son’s perfect self-sacrificial love, serves as a testament to the highest degree of human dignity both by revealing the love of God for humanity and by demonstrating the fullest possibility for the human person. (2003)

God’s sacrifice demonstrates the fullest potential for the human person, which means that the only appropriate response to one another is love. Unconditional, self-sacrificial love. Now we know that we cannot love perfectly, but we have a calling to participate in that love to the degree that is possible for us. If we don’t, we risk undermining the dignity of all human beings. 

John Paul II writes that the human person cannot live without this love. In the absence of the “revelation” of love, the human person remains “incomprehensible” to self” (Coughlin, 2003).

Understanding that preserving human dignity requires love, how do we train ourselves to respond with love?

Some important things I learned in therapy:

  1. Managing your thoughts can be a way of protecting yourself. We can begin to change the negative thoughts and emotions we have about ourselves during times of conflict and stress. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) was, and continues to be useful in mind management.
  2. Setting boundaries is a way of honouring human dignity. It is, in fact, necessary that we do so to protect and uphold our own dignity. This can look like learning to say “no”.
  3. Like most important life skills, setting boundaries must be practiced. As any healthy relationship takes time/effort, so does our relationship with ourselves. We must love our neighbours as ourselves after all.

Responding to yourself with love is not allowing others to use or demean us in any way. It means not allowing others to walk all over us, or take their anger out on us. As women on the receiving end, this behaviour may even become normalized, which tends to result in lower self-esteem and higher negative self-talk. We need to have a loving relationship with ourselves in order to extend our hearts genuinely to others. In the context of a conflict or confrontation, it is okay to pick yourself.

Picking yourself can look like: 

  • Suggesting you have the conversation at another time, when you will be in a better headspace.
  • Walking away if you don’t like the way you’re being spoken to. 
  • Telling them that you will not continue the conversation if they continue to disrespect or call you names.
  • Choosing to stay silent, and listen rather than speak.

Although this may not be new information for us, a reminder never hurts. Sometimes it takes more than once to draw your boundary. If we do not show up for ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually, we will struggle to show up for the people in our lives – this we know! Be patient with yourself, and above all remember that we love because He first loved us.

Reference

John J. Coughlin, Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being, 27 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 65 (2003-2004). Available at: https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/law_faculty_scholarship/494

Categories
Devon Wattam Ink Slingers Series The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

Striving to be the Face of Christ to Those Who Struggle

Striving-to-be-the-Face-of-Christ-to-Those-Who-Struggle

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Mt. 11:28 

“Borderline Personality Disorder. I have Borderline Personality Disorder.” When my sister shared these words with me over the phone, I expected to feel sad. Instead, I felt relief. After years of knowing that something wasn’t right, she finally had a diagnosis. A diagnosis meant treatment, a plan, hope. 

Mental health is not something that gets talked about frequently throughout Christian communities, but it should be. After all, psychiatric disorders do not discriminate against who they stick their teeth into. Holy or not, mental illness doesn’t care.

Even as mental health awareness becomes more commonplace among young people, there’s no question that speaking openly about one’s psychiatric problems carries the weight of an ugly stigma. For so many, being deemed “mentally ill” means unwanted attention, shame, and a label they can’t seem to break free from once it’s been established.

Who can blame those who suffer from hiding their pain when so few people understand them?

Sure, outsiders may claim to be compassionate to those with a mental illness, even if they have one themselves, but so often their actions fall short of their good intentions.

It’s easy to say we empathize with someone until we witness them struggle with something we find simple. It’s comforting to say their condition is heartbreaking until they do something we consider unforgivable. True empathy comes in loving the one who struggles, even in their worst moments. 

What does that mean exactly? Knowing when to hold on and when to let go. 

So many times, I’ve pounded my fist against the wall, frustrated by the lack of answers on how to properly love my sister in the midst of her illness. “I don’t understand her, Lord,” I’d pray. Her words, disposition, and choices make no sense to me, often bringing unresolved tension and heated arguments that result in hurt feelings and days of not speaking. 

In these moments I have to remind myself that I’m not the only one suffering – she is, too. 

Perhaps the worst part of having a disorder that can’t be seen, touched, or felt by anyone but the person its inflicting is that it silently and unknowingly seeps into virtually every relationship the sick person enters into. Just when life seems wonderful, the illness rears its ugly head once more and pushes both parties to their knees.

As debilitating as mental illness can be, however, a person shouldn’t be defined by the disease that they suffer from. Even in the chaos of confusion, frustration, and pain that accompany loving someone with a psychiatric disorder, we must strive to see every person through the eyes of Christ.

When a mother looks at her child, she doesn’t see a diagnosis. She sees everything that child is and has the potential to be. She can look past their tired eyes and notice the sunlight dancing on their hair once more.

It’s through this lens that we should all strive to see one another, as the mother of a child who is loved beyond measure.

Mental illness is a thief. It robs parents of their babies, spouses of their intimacy, friends of their joy, and young people of their peace. It strips families of experiences they hoped to share and everyone who’s unfortunate enough to look it square in the eye of what they thought their life would look like. 

It steals and it steals and it steals until there is nothing left to take.

But when it feels like you’ve emptied yourself completely and you’ve got nothing left to give, Christ does. After all, He is the one “who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine.” (Eph. 3:20)

If you or someone you love is silently suffering with mental illness, I see you. More importantly, Christ sees you. He longs to give you rest. Let Him.

St. Raphael, Healer from God, pray for us.


RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

A FRIEND ASKS – FREE APP (Jason Foundation) – helps provide information, tools, and resources to help a friend (or yourself) who may be in danger of committing suicide

Categories
Guest Posts Loss Parenting Respect Life Series The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health Vocations

Here I am, Lord…Broken

Here I am Lord Broken

“That next day I sat in Adoration for an hour. Instead of reading or writing, I just sat there staring at the Blessed Sacrament, fixated on it as a life source. I was all out of ideas. I wasout of energy. I was losing hope. Something far stronger than me had its grip on my son.” ~ My 13th Station, memoir

When I was young I naively believed that all I needed in preparation for the big bad world was a college degree, a solid resume, and a little luck. As a poorly catechized Catholic, I was never taught the immense richness and beauty of the faith, nor did I learn about the essential need for forming an intimate bond with Jesus. These concepts were simply foreign to me growing up. I eventually left the Church at age 18 to spend the next twenty-two years flailing about—getting that college education and building my resume while living the cycle of sin.

At age 40 I came limping back to the Church, tail between my legs. Life had humbled me. A powerful hunger for knowledge about the Church of my heritage launched a years-long process of self-teaching. I devoured books as if they might evaporate before I could finish them, such was the sense of urgency. I gobbled up books on the Saints, writings of the Church Fathers, the Doctors of the Church, Scripture, and became pretty well-versed at apologetics. I was on fire.

It was during these early years after returning to the Church, about twenty years ago, that I discovered Eucharistic Adoration. I will never forget entering that dim little chapel and immediately, instinctively, falling to my knees in front of Jesus, present there in the
Blessed Sacrament. Thus began a deep love for spending quiet, special time with Our Lord in Adoration.

Who knew that these weekly visits would become my number one most important survival tool? It was as if Jesus timed my discovery of Adoration just in time for the exceedingly difficult years that would follow, unknown to me of course. I looked forward to my Wednesday evening “dates” with Jesus with such devotion and love in my heart. I began journaling while I sat there immersed in the warmth of His graces. Over the years I filled multiple journals with the details of my faith journey. I jotted down gushing passages about my children, as well as sorrowful entries about my crumbling marriage, while in His loving embrace.

For a few years there I gave up my weekly commitment and just popped in to the chapel at will. Funny, because looking back it is clear that those were the years that I should have committed to several hours per week. The wheels had come off. Spiritual warfare raged in my home, my marriage ended, and my dear son was overcome suddenly with depression at age 19.

Throughout the six years that my boy battled depression and, subsequently, alcoholism, I relied on just about every tool the Church provided. I found sources of strength in a daily rosary, Adoration, intercessory prayers, novenas. Still, my son’s illness worsened and his life began to unravel. I would go to that little Adoration chapel seeking solace from the Source of all graces, relishing those times when I was alone in the room with him so I would just wail and cry with abandon. Jesus was there for me.

Tragically, my beloved son didn’t make it. He lost all hope and took his own life at age 25 on October 23, 2013. I can say with all sincerity that without my deep faith and ironclad bond with Christ and His Mother I would not have survived the grief. Over these last six years since losing my son I have leaned on Jesus even more for the strength to go on. Now each week in Adoration I plead for His Loving Mercy on my son’s soul, to eventually allow him into Heaven.

I am a different person now when I visit Him. I still write in my journal and pray my rosary in the little Adoration chapel, but I am a depleted version of my former self. Even so, I know on some level that getting that dose of time each week with Jesus is helping to sustain me, even propel me. He still has plans for my life, and this time I realize how much I will need Him.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theresa Anthony is a freelance writer who specializes in writing within the addiction and mental health space. Her recently published memoir, My 13th Station, offers a transparent journey into her son’s battle with alcoholism and depression, culminating in his suicide, as well as intense spiritual warfare. My 13th Station is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in both ebook and print formats.


RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

Categories
Ink Slingers Lynette Offering your suffering Prayer Real And Raw Series Spiritual Growth

Hello Depression, My Old Friend…

 

Real and Raw

Welcome to this installment in the series REAL AND RAW – SOUL-STIRRING STORIES, a series focused on taking a candid look at the Faith and life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


 

Hello depression, my old friend,
You’ve come to talk with me again…

It was a lazy Sunday morning. A perfect opportunity to indulge in scrolling through social media while lounging in bed. Nothing earth-shattering appeared. I continued past the silly friend posts, the recipes, the political satires…the day beckoned, but I lingered. Just a few minutes more.

“High-functioning depression is a slow-burn, invisible but powerful.” I stared at the words, almost unable to breathe. Led almost by something outside of myself, I clicked on the link. They were her words, but they were my thoughts. Tears began making their way down my cheeks. Not now, I thought. I’m not ready. But some things in life don’t wait. Reality roughly shoved the imposter aside. Denial’s reign was over.

The death of my mother five years ago. My oldest daughter moving several states away. A change in my husband’s employment. Reduced finances. Downsizing to a new home. Juggling homeschooling and going back to work after many years. Health issues. Marriage issues. Precancer. A challenging surgery with a difficult recovery. Each considered a major life event in the mental health field. I know because I lead a mental health support group once a week.  

I struggled to regain my composure, but the more I read, the more I felt myself slipping. I made some lame excuse for not going to Mass (totally not my usual m.o.), and my family left without me. The silence was deafening. I crawled back under the sheets and it all came back to me as if it were yesterday. The darkness, the fear, the numbness… desperately wanting to end the pain, the three days in the hospital, adjusting to medication, counseling. The temptation to lie there and let it all cover me again was too tempting. No, I fought. Not again. Anything but there.

Like a victim being held at gunpoint, self-preservation kicked in. My mind raced, despite feeling defenseless, for any and all escapes from this intrusive, unwanted companion. The recent words of a dear friend telling me I was strong rang in my ears as I shoved the intruder aside and mustered the courage to get up to face the day. The hours passed slowly but somehow, despite by my own feelings of internal paralysis, plans for my defense took shape. I decided to face it head-on. I made a date with Depression.

The next morning found me driving east in the dark. The first rays of light began to show as I headed to where I knew I could ground myself enough to face whatever lay ahead. I pulled into the almost vacant parking lot and walked out onto the cool sand just minutes before the first hint of sunlight began to show itself over the horizon. I took it all in – the crashing waves, the early morning cries of the seagulls, the colors emerging in vibrant patterns against the darkness of the night clouds. It was time. I turned to walk along the shoreline, ankle deep in the receding tide and reached out to grasp Depression’s hand. It was eerily familiar, yet different. A flood of thoughts, feelings, and emotions hit me. In the past, I would have screamed back through tears at this supposed “friend”. But this time, I felt I was to listen. Ok, I thought, then just what is it you have to say?

The “voice” was repulsive, yet equally alluring. As I listened, I felt as if I were touching the darkness of the depths of the ocean despite wading in ankle-deep water. Contradictions and “truths” revealed themselves one after another:

There are days I will make you feel nothing.  There are days I will make you feel everything.

There are days I will make you examine every minute detail of your life.  There are days I won’t let you care about even one detail of your life.

I will make you think someone else is responsible for your mental health and then rob you of the ability to take control of your life.

I will make you doubt everything about your faith, your family, your friends, and mostly yourself, until I am your only companion.

I will make you blind to the good in your life so that all you see is what you deem bad or wrong in your life.

The “voice” went silent, as if it was holding its breath, waiting for my usual response- panic, despair, tears. I sat down, buried my toes in the sand, and took out my phone to journal my thoughts. As I looked out over the waves, I knew I had a decision to make. Listen to this persistent “friend” or reach for the tools I had gained over the years in counseling and cognitive behavioral training? With a deep breath, I opened the notes section and addressed my “friend”.

You are a liar. I will acknowledge whatever you make me feel, but I will let the feelings rise and fall. And most importantly, I will learn from them.

You are a tempter and a thief. I will not obsess over or be apathetic about the details of my life, but seek peace in the events of each day knowing “it could always be worse” and that the details are worth seeing.

You are a blamer. I refuse to make someone else responsible for my mental health, as that is too big to ask of anyone. I have the ability take full responsibility for my mental wellbeing and happiness, no matter what I am feeling.  

You are possessive and a doubter. I acknowledge your presence in my life, but I will not be yours. I will not doubt my faith, my family, my friends, or myself; I will learn what it means to trust.

You are all smoke and mirrors. I will see past the “blindness” to embrace both the good as well as the crosses in my life and see them for what they are- all opportunities to encounter the divine in my life.

Today, I choose life. I promise to work on what I do not like in myself and to be merciful to what I find displeasing in others. I will take time to do one thing each day for myself and to show up where I am called to be. I will “Stay and find out what I was made for.” Because God is bigger than you will ever be.

The late morning sun’s warmth fell over me as I stood up and tucked my phone into my back pocket. I held out my hand and grasped the timid hand slowly held out by my old friend. Walk with me, I whispered. I may not visit you as often anymore, even though you will want my friendship. I am learning to live without you…

I turned toward where I had parked in the early morning light. Depression’s hand slipped out of mine without a word. “Goodbye, Depression, my old friend…”


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before the experience of depression?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

A FRIEND ASKS – FREE APP (Jason Foundation) – helps provide information, tools, and resources to help a friend (or yourself) who may be in danger of committing suicide.

Hello, Depression, My Old Friend

Categories
Ink Slingers Lynette Series The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

May Is Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental illness has no boundaries, no preferences, and no qualifications.  You can be a person of strong belief or no belief, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, male or female, young or old, ______ or ______, and the list goes on.  However, what mental illness does have is a story – a story unique to every individual who experiences mental illness. I, too, have my own story to tell. Every year as Mental Health Month approaches, I feel an urgency in my heart, an urgency not without its own pain, which moves me to step beyond my own memories and fear of stigma.  In a world where so many suffer from mental illness in silence, I hope to be voice that can offer hope and healing.

My story is not unlike that of many who have suffered with mental illness.  It was the fall of 1998. I was happily married, had 3 daughters aged 8, 5, and 2, and was part of a loving extended family.  I was very active in a choir and a local homeschooling group. I frequently enjoyed the activities of a mothers’ group. I helped my husband with the office responsibilities of his business.  From the outside looking in, it appeared I was living an enviable life; that I had it all together. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
On the inside, I was a mess of mixed thoughts and emotions — endless worry and confusion — mixed with a constant wired-but-tired fatigue I couldn’t shake.  As is often the case in mental illness, symptoms, which can manifest themselves in a myriad of medical conditions, tend to be brushed aside until they become a glaring reality.  What I had considered for months to be just normal motherhood exhaustion and worry, was really the beginning of a slow, downward spiral, increasingly feeling I was boxed into a life of repetitive inner turmoil, negative self-talk, and emotional numbness.  I began to feel there was no way out of the vicious cycle I found myself in. My story could have ended there.

Tragically, for many, it does.  Thankfully, I had a cardiologist who saw beyond my heart related symptoms and initiated the right steps to make sure I received the help I needed.  I voluntarily checked into the local hospital’s Behavioral Health Center. Even though I was admitted to the “medical” side of the Center, it was still a locked ward with patients suffering numerous mental illnesses, mostly brought on by unintended medication interactions or old age.  The few days I was there brought on more fear and anxiety as I dealt with my surroundings and new medication. However, I was very relieved to have a diagnosis and a name to what I had been experiencing for the last year (clinical depression, which likely began with postpartum depression, along with anxiety/panic disorder) and a doctor who would help me with a recovery plan.  What I was not prepared for was seeing firsthand the extent of the suffering of the other patients. Many of the people I encountered had much more difficult hurdles to face. I began to see mental illness in a completely different light and to realized my perceptions of mental illness were in many ways misconstrued and prejudicial.

Mental illness statistics are alarming.

Mental illness affects 1 in 5 adults and approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18.  Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–24, and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.  Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.   70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness. An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.  See more at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers
With statistics such as these, it is highly probable that mental illness will touch each of our lives in some fashion – personally or in the lives of those we know and love – and I encourage you to take action to learn the warning signs of mental illness.  You can find a comprehensive list on the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) website. Although medication and counseling was of benefit to me, what really allowed me to learn how to manage my illness was a self-help program called Recovery.

The mission of Recovery International is to “use the cognitive-behavioral, peer-to-peer, self-help training system developed in 1937 by Abraham Low, MD, to help individuals gain skills to lead more peaceful and productive lives.”  Recovery gave me the concrete tools I needed that allowed me to have control over my illness, rather than allowing it to control me. After attending the meetings for several years, I volunteered as a co-leader and am now the leader of a local group.  My years in Recovery, both as a participant and a leader, have given me an empathy and an understanding into mental illness that I would never have had if I had not experienced it myself. What I received through the program, I now hope to give back to others who are struggling with their own mental health battles.

The tools below are quoted or adapted from the self-help books Mental Health Through Will Training, Manage Your Fears Manage Your Anger, and Selections From Dr. Low’s Works.  They are just a few of the many tools available:

  • Treat mental health as a business and not as a game.
  • Humor is our best friend, temper is our worst enemy.
  • If you can’t change a situation, you can change your attitude towards it.
  • Be self-led, not symptom-led.
  • Nervous symptoms and sensations are distressing but not dangerous.
  • Temper is, among other things, blindness to the other side of the story.
  • Comfort is a want, not a need.
  • There is no right or wrong in the trivialities of everyday life.
  • Calm begets calm, temper begets temper.
  • Don’t take our own dear selves too seriously.
  • Feelings should be expressed and temper suppressed.
  • Feelings are not facts, they lie and tell us of danger where there is no danger.
  • Helplessness is not hopelessness.
  • Some people have a passion for self-distrust.
  • Temper maintains and intensifies symptoms.
  • Do things in part acts.
  • Have the courage to make a mistake.
  • Feelings are not facts.
  • Do the things you fear and hate to do.
  • Fear is a belief—beliefs can be changed.
  • Every act of self-control brings a sense of self-respect.
  • Excuse, don’t accuse.
  • Endorse yourself for the effort, not only for the performance.
  • A self-endorsing person feels secure.
    See http://www.selfhelptools.org/endorsement-is-the-essence-of-recovery/ for a discussion on endorsing and its value in the mental health recovery process.

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

A FRIEND ASKS – FREE APP (Jason Foundation) – helps provide information, tools, and resources to help a friend (or yourself) who may be in danger of committing suicide