Blog For Mental Health Project

Reversing the polarity: The blessing of burden

I read a HuffPost Good News article this morning, written by Scott Dannemiller, who is a writer, blogger, worship leader and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church, according to his byline. I love the title: The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.

It’s a topic I’ve wrestled with for a long time; Blessing vs Burden

What do those of us who identify ourselves as Christ followers consider blessing and what do we see as burden? In the world and society I live in, material abundance, prosperity, and self-satisfaction are promoted as “blessing.” When the situations and circumstances of life consist of smooth sailing, happy relationships, financial security, satisfying vocation, and material wealth, even the non-religious may refer to themselves as “blessed.” Conversely, poverty, loss, and lack of upward mobility are stigmatized and judged negatively. Those who experience the painful, disappointing, unjust experiences of generational or situational poverty, addiction, loss of loved ones, homelessness, illness, broken relationships, and the like are considered to be burdened. The “chronically burdened” are frequently written off as “burdens on society.” Do those of us who call ourselves Christians think, act, and live with this understanding of blessing and burden?

I think, in many cases, the answer is a resounding, “YES!” As a matter of fact, if it hadn’t already been obvious from many of my posts in the past, it is pretty evident that this is how I have viewed and reacted to many of the things I’ve experienced in my life.

God’s economy reverses those two things: what we often think of as blessing bears a burden of stewardship and “charity,” while the things we’ve been taught to consider “why me, woe is me” events and circumstances as burdens, are actually things which CAN open us up to truly be blessed.

I especially related to the following:

“Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day. You read that right. Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day.

During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor.”

I grew up, and continue to live, in the American brand of poverty. I experience Bipolar II Disorder and PTSD, which went unidentified and misdiagnosed for over two decades. These things led to actions and choices that were destructive to self and others. Broken relationships, chaos, and instability have been the consistent things in my life.

I was “saved” when I was eight years old. I have had an on again, off again relationship with God, through many different congregations and denominations over the past 37 years. Countless times I’ve gotten the message that my pain, my depression, my toxic relationships, my physical health, and my poverty were the result of my lack of faith in and relationship with God. I was repeatedly told to study and memorize scripture more, pray more, serve more, trust God more, etc. This was an oversimplification based on skewed understanding and beliefs.

I would cycle into unrecognized hypomanic highs and “catch on fire.” God’s was with me and in me in nearly tangible ways. I was “on track” and “in tune” with Him. Then the bipolar pendulum would swing me into depression. Emotional, intellectual, and spiritual static, interference, and disconnection ensued. The panic and anxiety from the PTSD I was unaware of was continually broadcasting a background signal. It would be low and subliminal, then something would happen and, before I knew it, my own personal Emergency Broadcast Alert was in full effect. My roller coaster brain took me on a wild and scary ride, sweeping innocent and not so innocent bystanders along.

Over and over again, the people of faith who were in ministry and had chosen a life of “service” and who I looked to for leadership, mentorship, guidance, and nurture talked about vacations, promotions, personal and professional rewards, recognition for achievements, new cars, new houses, savings, weddings, happily bonded familial relationships, and so on,as blessings, or manifestations of God’s favor.Conversely, their times of difficulty, pain, and loss were hidden, downplayed, and sometimes treated as if they were a consequence of losing faith and walking away from God.

When your life is overflowing with the latter and the former has a negligible presence, the message received and internalized is often, “I’m not blessed, I’m cursed, and it’s because of my lack of effort, lack of faith, and just, plain lack as a person/” This perception and viewpoint pulls the blinds, shuts the curtains, and locks the door against seeing, being open to, and receiving the blessings which can be experienced. This sounds a lot like I’m still putting the onus of being blessed on the receiver. I’m not, really. Those metaphors only go so far before they break down. What I am really trying to say is this: anything can be a blessing or burden, depending on how it is perceived and understood.

I know I have spent a significant part of my life, including 2014, viewing the challenges, difficulties, and hardships in my life as burdens. I’ve had a strong tendency to devolve into “victimized” thinking and reacting. I absolutely need to practice reframing my thinking and reversing the polarity of my perceptions.

Thoughts? What are things you have thought of as burdens which may have turned out to be “blessings in disguise?” Are there any “blessings” you received which created “burdens” for you or others?

28 Days of Writing

I’ve missed blogging this year. For those who have been on this healing and recovery journey with me, my absence may have been worrisome. For my absence and silence, I apologize. There are many of you who have been interactive, sharing your encouragement, support, and concern. Hopefully, you know who you are.

One day, hopefully in the not too distant future, I’ll have the time and wherewithal to catch you up on the comings, goings, and transitions I’ve been experiencing over the course of the last five months. For now, a brief synopsis:

December 2013: My youngest daughter turned five. There was a major conflict between her father, my (then pregnant) oldest daughter, and her boyfriend. This conflict precipitated and triggered a near nervous breakdown for me. I took our daughter and left for several days. During that period I decided on a separation of indeterminate duration in order to get focused on my well-being.

January 2014: I finally got government sponsored health insurance due to the ACA. A complete medical physical revealed that I had a variety of health issues, related to lifestyle and stress which combine to create Metabolic Syndrome: Type II Diabetes, Thyroid Imbalance, Cholesterol Imbalance, and Morbid Obesity. In conjunction with those things is Fibromyalgia. During January I got connected with mental health services as well as support services for domestic violence and trauma survivors. Please note that “domestic violence” identified in my case was not physical, sexual, or even overtly verbal. It was the conflux of two imbalanced, toxically codependent people in a closed system, in an almost 20 year pattern of mutual destruction of autonomy.

February 2014: Through the mental health provider I received confirmation that I do indeed experience a bipolar disorder, as well as PTSD – both of which were present, unrecognized, and untreated prior to the beginning of my relationship with the father if my youngest child. My youngest got very ill with the flu and pneumonia.

March 2014: My son and his wife experience a miscarriage the week before my daughter went into labor, birthing my first grandchild six weeks early. Then my daughter’s family lost their housing during the three weeks they were living in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. This precipitated the final breakdown in the relationship between my daughter’s father and myself. During this time I also received the final evaluation report from the Early Childhood Services team at the local school district that my youngest experiences Autism Spectrum Disorder on the higher, functioning end of the spectrum, indicating Aspergers. By the end of March, there were five of us living full-time in my tiny two-bedroom apartment, with the father if my youngest staying on the weekends. My adult daughter returned to work at three weeks postpartum.

April was spent adjusting and transitioning with all of these changes. My eldest daughter’s boyfriend was given a part-time job under my son’s management and her work hours have increased. Last weekend three major items moved out of my apartment so that my youngest and her father are now able to spend their weekends together elsewhere. He still has a lot of things here, which REALY need to go ASAP, but with the bed, the extra large flat screen, and sofa gone, the weekend tensions have been reduced.

There continues to be many things needing attention and resolution. There are many meetings, appointments, and classes requiring my time, energy, and attention. Putting as much focus and energy into parenting, grand-parenting, and self-care as possible in the midst of it all is my focus. Thus, the lack of writing.

I need to get back into the writing. This month the 28 Days to a New Me personal transformation group has a writing focus. I have committed to writing out an inspirational thought or poem and creating a shareable graphic wit it for the first 28 days in May.

I started on April 30th with this one:

I choose to be entertained rather than offended. It disarms the ignorant and idiotic while empowering me to have a better day. ~ Lillian E. Moffitt

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Here is my official Day 1 of 28 entry:

Present in the now
Experiencing the warmth
Acceptance is Peace

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So, each day for the next 27 days, I will share what I put together for this month’s challenge.

The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church

You are invited to The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, a one-day event designed to encourage individuals living with mental illness, educate family members, and equip church leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to any faced with the challenges of mental illness.

I found out about this event a couple of days ago and the thought of it both excites and scares me. It scares me because I have had very counterproductive conversations with people of faith over the years regarding the depression I have experienced throughout my life. Even people who have been healed of depression through their faith, perhaps even especialy them, have spoken to me in ways which were more hurtful than helpful, at least to the way my brain and perceptions were at the time. It excites me because it gives me hope that mental illnesses and disorders are being lifted up and examined within the context of faith and this is a huge opportunity for people of faith, professionals and laity alike, to educate themselves, examine how the way things have been done do more harm than good, and begin exploring new ways of relating and reaching out to people experiencing mental health issues.

This is a very important conversation. If you live in the Orange County, California area and can take Friday, March 28th off to spend the day attending this, low-cost event, please consider doing so. If you don’t have the $20, the website states scholarships are available. If you cannot physically attend, they will be live streaming the event. Even if you can only attend or view part of the event, I have a feeling it will be worth your time.

Find out more information at http://mentalhealthandthechurch.com/

Blog For Mental Health 2014

What I didn’t know I’d learned from childhood sexual abuse

*Warning: this post discusses my early experience of childhood sexual abuse by a step-parent. I do not go into graphic detail, however, the subject itself is disturbing and the detail I do go into may be triggering or traumatic for readers. Please practice self-care and self-love and do not read past this point if you feel you may risk your mental, emotional, or spiritual health in continuing to read.

Blog For Mental Health 2014

I had a grand plan to face and confront my past and achieve “true” healing and recovery from the codependency and self-harm of compulsive eating behaviors. I created a schedule of groups, therapy appointments, and processing work with spiritual and secular programs which serve people who have experienced abuse and neglect including domestic violence and sexual abuse and who experience PTSD and/or substance abuse issues. Six and a half weeks into 2014 and I’ve wound up cancelling more often than I have attended, for a variety of reasons (multiple episodes of upper respitory viral infections for Luna) and excuses (fear-based activation of physical symptoms associated with the fibromyalgia, depression, and codependency).

That being said, I have been in daily attendance at online meetings of Overeater’s Anonymous and have kept two therapy appointments, attended five group meetings, and followed through with two sessions with Davonna Livingston of Changing Perceptions to work on writing through my story of childhood abuse and neglect. The latter things have brought up some incredibly disturbing and intense realizations for me. Realizations I have been in denial about for at least 32 years.

My codependency is rooted in my experience of being sexually molested by my mother’s second husband.

My experience was not overtly violent or obviously traumatic – at least not to my understanding and recognition. It was indidious, emotionally and psychologically seductive and manipulative. The manner in which I was groomed and inculturated into sexual relationships between myself and men by my stepfather was foundational to my first domestic violence relationship with the sexual and social predator who became my first husband and father of my my first child at 17 years old.

My mother met and married her third husband by the time I was six years old. I don’t really remember what he was like or my interactions with him. I do remember pictures of me, dressed in pink, smiling and happy at their wedding and reception held at his parents’ home in what must have been late Spring or early Summer during my sisth year. If memory serves, I was happy and excited to have a daddy and grandparents. It looked like we might get to have a home and stay in one place for a while. “John” was going to be our hero and stabilizing force.

He moved into our apartment. He bought me a puppy that Christmas. He was an adorable little dog that looked like a miniature Lassie with a curlycue tail. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have my own bedroom and that I slept on the sofa in the living room. I had a puppy and life was good.

We were living in Houston at the time and there were reports of “streakers” in the news. Men going around town wearing trenchcoats and exposing themselves to people, especially kids. It was the era of latchkey kids and kids being free to play, explore, and congregate wherever they could to play and have fun. We didn’t have child care providers, we had babysitters who would sometimes not be home right on time to let us in when we arrived after school, but that was okay and we knew she’d be right back.

It was during this time period my initial grooming began. At six years old I was educated about sex, good touches, bad touches, and that even family members weren’t supposed to touch me in ways that were uncomfortable or in my private areas. All in the interest of teaching me how to stay safe and take care of myself.

Then, John got transferred to help open a new Picadilly Cafeteria in the rural town of Longview, TX. For some reason, we moved out in the middle of the night, leaving behind a filthy, disgusting mess of dirtied newspapers from my puppy, and discarded items we either didn’t have room for in the moving truck or didn’t have time to finish loading. I’m not really sure which. I just suddenly remembered this detail and recall feeling icky about the mess we were leaving behind.

When we got to Longview, we lived in a motel for a little while until John and my mom found us a place to live – a two-bedroom, single-wide mobile home in a mobile home park. That Summer, mom found a church and she and I started attending. She joined the choir and helped teach Sunday School. I attended my first ever Vacation Bible School, learned that Jesus loved me, and got saved. Mom got a job as a part-time school janitor/part-time school bus driver while John worked on hiring kitchen staff and organizing the kitchen he was the head cook/chef in.

I wound up spending more time with John than I had with my mom because of her work schedule and my school schedule. He helped me with homework and tried to show me how to cook. One day, he brought out the porn comics to share with me. I was excited to be treated like such a grown up and have a grown up secret to be trusted with.

One Sunday night, George C. Scott was on the television portraying Patton. Mom was in the kitchen while John and I were on the sofa in the living room. I don’t remember what John said to me, but I wound up agreeing to go to a slightly hidden corner of the living room, the entry alcove, and try oral sex on him. The sense of danger and excitement of possibly having my mom come out and catch us loomed large. It wasn’t forced and I wasn’t upset about it, that I can remember. I don’t actually remember any of this, I just know these are the facts of what happened.

For the next year and a half or two, John continued to invite and persuade me to become physically intimate with him. Each time there was a sensation of pain, he would stop and go no further. Nothing was ever fully consumated because my body wouldn’t receive it. I was left feeling inferior and inadequate. I know there were times when I chased after him pleading to be allowed to try again because I somehow felt like I was causing him disappointment and not loving him the way I was supposed to.

Then, he transferred jobs again and I had turned ten years old. We moved back to Houston and the attention stopped. I was feeling abandonded and desperate for the affection and love which had inexplicably stopped happening. My best little Lolita efforts didn’t have any effect except to be pushed away and ignored in disinterest.

I have recently realized that the way I can’t handle Keith’s silences when he’s angry or upset, or really being shut out by anyone I love when they are unable to share their thoughts and feelings with me, is reawakening that lost, desperate, lonely, and unloved little girl who has been inside of me all along.

At this point, I can recognize a response and reaction for what it is and where it comes from, knowing what it means to the me I used to be who still wants to drive the me I am now. But each and every time I’m triggered in this way, it’s like I’ve never been anyone other than that emotionally bereft and abandoned little girl with a completely distorted sense of self-worth and value tied up in my sexual performance or lack thereof. I can choose to act as if that is not who I am or how I feel, but who I am and how I feel on the inside still is what it always has been.

Maybe, one day, that won’t be the case. I can hope.

Related Article:

What does Healing from Abuse look like? Is it all about talking about memories of abuse? ~ Trauma and Dissociation, http://traumaanddissociation.wordpress.com/

The Magnificence of Lifting Our Voices Together

I’m not into sports. I have cheered my kids along in the sports they’ve participated in and I can be interested in the games which are of interest to my friends, family, and associates, but I will probably never be a fan or truly “get” what it means to be passionate about and have allegiance to a specific sports team, say, like the Seattle Seahawks, the new NFC champions who are heading to the Super Bowl on February 2, 2014 for only the second time in their franchise history.

Why do I know this collection of sports trivia? Because of all the voices around me, figuratively speaking, who are speaking up in passionate support and pride of this team. As a matter of fact, the “12th (wo)man” fans of the Seattle Seahawks have raised their voices and joined their enthusiasm together twice since 2011 to cause seismic events to register on the Richter scale.

There is power in lifting our voices together, especially when those voices are in agreement. Have you ever attended a concert, conference, or some other stadium event where the people in the audience were invited to sing the words to a song or anthem they had in common together?

When voices are raised in unison and harmony, it doesn’t matter if each individual voice is pitch perfect. The combined power of shared emotion, meaning, and experience unifies and transforms the disparate, individual voices into a singular, powerful, and magnificent voice that lifts and carries the hearts, minds, and imaginations of all who are participating.

The combination of unified action merged with unified voices can tear walls down according to the Old Testament tale of the Conquest of Jericho found in Joshua 6:1-5 – Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

An army marches around the fortified walls, steps falling in unison, sending powerful vibrations from their steps into the ground, day after day for seven days. On the seventh day, that same army marches seven times around while the sound vibrations from seven ram’s horns are continuously being played. Then, a prolonged blast of the horns and the combined voices of every member of the nomadic nation of Israel in a mighty shout causes the walls to crumble and fall.

So often that story is relegated to myth. However, after seeing how rowdy football fans can cause a minor earthquake, it seems less mythological and more plausible to me.

Today, in the USA, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. A flawed and human man who had a dream to end the prejudice and stigma separating and oppressing people because of the differences in the color of their skin and their genetic origins. There is still a very long way to go in achieving that dream. Fifty-one years ago, he raised his voice to share his dream for us to not walk alone but to march ahead in unity to overcome oppression, prejudice, and injustice.

His speech was specific to the experiences of “The Negro.” However, I have little doubt that if he were alive today, he would be fighting against the stigma and prejudice that oppresses and marginalizes those who are neurodiverse and experience a spectrum of “disorders and illnesses” of the brain, as well. Especially, considering the increasing numbers of mentally ill overrepresented in the prisons, jails, and caseloads of probation officers. The National Institute for Corrections reports:

In a 2006 Special Report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimated that 705,600 mentally ill adults were incarcerated in State prisons, 78,800 in Federal prisons and 479,900 in local jails. In addition, research suggests that “people with mental illnesses are overrepresented in probation and parole populations at estimated rates ranging from two to four time the general population” (Prins and Draper, 2009). Growing numbers of mentally ill offenders have strained correctional systems.

An NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet identifies Racial Disparities in Incarceration:

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population

A report on Gender, Race, and Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System by Melissa Thompson, published through the National Institute of Corrections in the Corrections & Mental Health indicates that there is an inequality and disparity in psychiatric evaluations and mental health services received by African-American men who are incarcerated or supervised in the criminal justice system.

Using federal and local statistics on the hospitalization and/ or incarceration of mentally ill persons, this article finds that psychiatric need is not the only factor criminal justice decision-makers take into account when seeking psychiatric explanations for criminal behavior. Instead, demographic, family, economic, and criminal factors are all important in predicting which defendants will be the recipients of psychiatric evaluations in the justice system. In this context, gender and race are important considerations. Violent women, for example, are more likely to be evaluated for psychiatric conditions, while African-American men are less likely to receive psychiatric evaluation.

I can’t stress the importance of using our voices to share our experiences enough. I don’t know what the true statistics are, but for generations people have been taught to suppress the “crazy,” ignore the “down,” to hide the “different,” and to be ashamed of being weak and wounded. We are increasingly criminalizing and marginalizing those who are experiencing cognitive, developmental, and psychological impairments and damage, criticizing them for not being able to pick up and put together their broken pieces. For every individual who speaks up and shares his or her story, hope, strength, courage, and truth is shared with others who do not yet have a voice. If we raise our voices of experience together, we can drown out the voices of stigma, ignorance, and hate.

Please visit The Official Blog For Mental Health Project

Blog For Mental Health 2014

For more stories of Magnificence, join the Creative Buzz Hop #34, hosted by Michelle Liew from Muses from the Deep and Tamara Wood from PenPaperPad.

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