Category Archives: Help! This was not in the book!

Soul Care-After an Unexpected Descent Into Depression

Without warning, I found my mental state rapidly shifting. For one week in late March, it seemed to spin out of my control. Increasing anxiety gripped my soul, its force building stronger each day. Suddenly, the anxiety transformed into a deep depression. Never had I felt such a heaviness pressing upon me.  After a few days, the weight lifted.

Making sense of it left me pondering: Why now? I had been treated for anxiety and depression for the last 15 years. For most of that period, my moods remained stable. Any shifts lasted only a few days. Through medication and therapy, I learned to manage my illnesses. However, this time, I felt blindsided; the symptoms appeared unexpectedly. Even though I was exhausted, the experience left me puzzled.

Read the whole post at http://mudroomblog.com/soul-care-unexpected-descent-depression/

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Regarding Mental Health: How the Church Can Be Supportive

This piece was originally posted on http://forum.covquarterly.com/ in response to an article published in The Covenant Quarterly http://covquarterly.com/index.php/CQ/article/view/2Amy Simpsons article, “Supporting Families Living With Mental Illness” resonated deeply with me. Her story speaks of a journey that many walk in silence; one with which I am all too familiar.  I am ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church but currently am not serving in a pastoral position. However, I do have a ministry. It is through my own family’s journey with our child, who is being treated for Bipolar Disorder, that my eyes were opened up to the need for educating and equipping the local congregation to care for others walking our journey.   Recently, I had the privilege to lead a workshop at the Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women whose children are affected by Mental Illness/ other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common themes expressed included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community; specifically Christian community. Simpson’s calls to action regarding support for families affected by mental  illness, matches my own experiences; both as a parent and a part of the body of Christ. What I offer here, are specific points to ponder as well as practical ways we have found for the local church to demonstrate support.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the ECC Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women with children affected by mental illness or other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common experiences shared included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community – specifically for Christian community. Simpson’s call to action to the church to support families affected by mental illness matches my own experiences as a parent and as part of the body of Christ. I offer here some practical suggestions for how the local church can support families struggling with mental illness.
Educate: Become aware of organizations that supply information about the condition. For ministry staff, the questions that arise may include: How do I care for this person and their family? How do I help educate the congregation without drawing negative attention to the individual (and family members)? Since the symptoms fall on a large spectrum, the individuals have different needs.  Some churches have a sunday school class that particularly caters to children with special concerns.  We give practical suggestions to teachers when cues such as frustration or anger are presented.
Understand the impact on the entire family:As Simpson notes, “…behind every person with mental illness is a family that has been impacted-perhaps even devastated-by that illness.” Time, energy and resources are often drastically reduced in caring for the affected individual. Siblings may feel neglected.  One idea that has been welcoming to us is the inviting of our other children to play at other families’ homes. It’s a simple act that benefits everyone and reminds the siblings that they are special too. Any gesture that can ease tension is a gift to the family.
A  note on a theology of suffering: Simpson cautions against a theology of suffering that teaches   “that life should be easy and happy.” While I agree with her, I would also admonish against a belief that  medication/treatment provides a diversion from acknowledging the reality of suffering. I know persons with mental illness who have refused medication because they believe that the illness is a “cross to bear.” People facing other illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions, etc. do not usually see their conditions from that perspective. In particular, parents of children with mental health issues may struggle with embracing the use of medication to help their child. Further complicating the decision by throwing a misguided theology of suffering on them is not helpful.  I believe that God has gifted individuals to develop medications that help restore “normal” processes of the brain and give those affected a better quality of life.The beauty of the Christian community is that we are made better by growing together.  We gain a bigger picture of God’s character through our interactions with each other.  My daughter loves and is effective in helping in certain tasks.  When she was younger, she placed the communion cups in the trays. She also helps prepare the snacks (and I might add enjoys being creative in this task) for our Café’ which follows our Sunday worship service. Children, in general crave purpose. Involvement affirms the truth that they are an important part of the community. . The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)  As Simpson states, “Helping people with mental illness is part of the church’s mission and calling. This is true not only for church leaders, but also every Christian.  We are responsible for our response to people in need.”

 

To the People Who Embrace My Daughter: Depression, Anxiety, and All

Words barely express the ways your actions have breathed life into my daughter.

Movement into unknown territory involves risks. Your willingness to do that does not go unnoticed. As you know, she’s not one of those outgoing social butterfly types. She’s an observer. In addition, her mental illness makes identifying and controlling emotions challenging. She realizes the impact of her actions and words, yet, managing the whirlwind within becomes difficult at times.

By inviting her into your space, you moved beyond the walls of fear that easily keep us from engaging with those who seem different from ourselves. Sometimes the fears are rooted in real experiences, yet, each of us has our own narrative. You have demonstrated to others that learning how to give and receive support is a significant life skill. There is no “us” and “them.” Everyone faces their own struggles.  Read more at:

https://themighty.com/2017/05/a-letter-of-gratitude-for-loving-my-child/

What Comes After the Storm of Mental Illness Calms

Now, what?”

I asked myself this a few months ago. After years, consisting of very long days, of family struggles with mental and medical conditions, the season began to change. At first, I dared not believe it. So many times, there had been brief glimpses of light as we forged through the darkness. But those moments seemed to fade quickly. Once again, we would be left trying to find our footing and walk forward together: my daughter, my two sons, my husband and myself. To say the relationships between us were strained would be an understatement. When one person in a family struggles, everyone is affected.

The dynamics between us does not resemble the picture I had in my mind before my husband and I started a family. My daughter began treatment for bipolar disorder at 9 years old (she is now age 15). My older son (age 18) has battled anxiety and depressionalong with a host of unexpected health concerns along the way. The youngest son (age 13), whom I call the “comic relief,” manages mild anxiety. None of their conditions define them, but they do affect the climate of our home. It hasn’t always felt like the refuge I hoped my husband and I would create. We have tried to initiate traditions, affirm each other’s strengths and attempt to carve moments of time together. We have sought out therapy, utilized resources and developed a support system. Humor has even found its way in. Yet, we couldn’t always keep the storms at bay.

Truthfully, the winds, at times, seemed so forceful I wasn’t sure I had the strength to resist them. My husband and I could be a strong force together; yet each of us developed our own methods of survival. We also felt as if the storm was invisible to everyone else. Mental illness carries a stigma. There are plenty of opinions regarding how to “fix” your child. “If we would just . . .” Meanwhile, the unpredictable nature of episodes and triggers as well as the financial stress and school concerns mount. And in the midst of it all, you are trying to sustain your marriage, pay bills and pray for endurance, provision and healing.

It occurred to me one day that this long season of storms may have finally transitioned into a season of calm. When you are so used to living in survival mode, you don’t always realize the storm has weakened. Weeks no longer seemed packed with doctors’ appointments, evaluating medications, financial distress, school battles, emotional burnout. It may be the beginning of a season of restoration. On the surface, a calm after the storm sounds welcoming. But, truthfully, the implications are daunting.

How do you begin cleaning up the mess?

Branch by branch, piece by piece. I remember a horrific storm that erupted suddenly about 10 years ago. When it was safe, we made our way outside to access the damage. Thankfully, our belongings remained intact. However, our street and our yard were filled with tree limbs and branches scattered everywhere. In order to move toward restoration, you must begin cleaning up the mess one branch at a time. It may take a while. And I’ve learned (reluctantly) that’s OK

Restoring our relationships with each other will take time. One branch at a time. I often wonder how my kids would relate to one another had our situation been different. I will never know the answer. It would be tempting to dwell on the “what ifs,” but that would require looking back. We are heading forward. The medical concerns have not resolved. The winds may indeed return. We have found space to breathe and rest. We have found our footing once again and set our eyes on God; who is in the business of making things new. I find inspiration in the promise given to the Israelites:

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Originally published at http://mudroomblog.com/cleaning-up-mess/, this post also appeared at https://themighty.com/2016/10/when-things-calm-down-parenting-children-with-mental-illness/

 

How I Found Peace Living in the “Not Yet.”

Sometimes, life leaves your brain full and your mouth empty.

A season of life two years ago encompassed one of those times for me. The thing is-these seasons don’t just end with a nice and tidy resolution. They don’t leave us with an instant epiphany of profound theological insight. Rather, we are left with a reminder-:spiritual, physical, emotional- that we are humans wrestling with the realities of living in a place of in-between.

It is not yet Heaven.

The days of December 2013 quickly filled up with preparations for Christmas as well as doctor’s appointments. My eldest son became increasingly ill. A periodic problem with an upset stomach evolved into a daily issue. Watching your child feeling sick packs a punch to the stomach and the heart. The immediate desire is to fix it. Yet, beginning in October, we sought an answer from many physicians and no one could fix it. How can that happen? We live near Chicago; a mecca of renowned and state-of-the art medical centers. A gold mine of wisdom on the complexities of the human body. Yet, each visit to a different specialist yielded more questions. We just wanted answers.

Emergency room doctors ruled out some things But nothing made him better. Daily, he made the trek to school with virtually nothing in his stomach except a bit of protein shake. Sometimes, he couldn’t gather the stamina to make it to school. My husband and I worried. The school pressured. The bills mounted.

We prayed. Friends prayed. Strangers prayed. But there were no answers.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6 (NIV).

Embracing the peace of Christ in the midst of uncertainty challenged me.

Finally, after many tests and procedures, a diagnosis was reached. Whew!  Finally a name and a course of treatment. Finally, an answer! Medicine would bring healing and resolve the problem.

I grabbed hold of the answer and felt a sense of relief; control; no uncertainty.

How easy is it to acknowledge the “peace that passes all understanding” when circumstances line up according to our expectations?

But would that peace permeate if the circumstances change? The events of the next day confronted me with that question.

Following dinner, upon preparing to study for finals, he fell to the couch and began to seize. Never having witnessed a seizure, it was the most terrifying moment of my life. The limp look of his body; the lifeless look in his eyes, will remain etched in my mind for a long time. Those five minutes led me to a profound realization as my mind grasped to acknowledge the surreal reality spinning around me: there are many things I can control-but death may not be one of them.

Fortunately, he came out of the seizure, was quickly rushed to the hospital, and the scans came out clear. But, more questions arose...and yet no answers. In my frustration, I hesitated to let go of what I thought to be a resolution. I didn’t want to believe that our lives were once more catapulted into the abyss. “How do you embrace the peace that transcends all understanding when God’s movement does not align with Earthly expectation?

As we dealt with the uncertainty in his health, we attempted to proceed with the rhythms of life. That wrenching moment rewound in my mind in the midst of my days. Ambulance sounds caused shivers down my back. Yet, I attempted to let Jesus, not me, guard my heart.

The dark, frigid winter painted an appropriate backdrop to the events and feelings over those next several months. While we continued to hold on to the glimmer of light held out for us through scriptural promises, the realities of living in the “not yet” continued to speak into our lives.

How does one live in the truth of new life in the resurrection, yet, face the reality of destruction and death of the things of this world?

My heart and my mind bear the scars of living in a kingdom that is both now and not yet. But I am keenly aware that I am not the only one. In one way or another, all of us feel that paradox. Circumstances may differ. Our expectations and God’s answers may or may not merge. Yet, the testimony and scars of others bear witness to the peace that Christ offers, while living in a kingdom that unfolds toward completion.

It’s the peace that Jesus promised to his disciples, who had given up everything for him. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NLV).

Eventually, the winter season yielded to the brighter, warmer days of spring; not just meteorologically, but symbolically as well. My son’s health improved. I am aware that I am bound to encounter those seasons of restlessness again. They too are promises of Jesus. But He also imparts a peace that “transcends all understanding” as we navigate through them. 

When were you in a place that challenged you to embrace this peace?

Why “Back to School” May Not Be Exciting For Some Of Us

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It happens every year around July 5th…..As we walk into a store, the former 4th of July/Seasonal section transforms in the blink of an eye to shelves filled with notebooks, markers, crayons. Fall beckons even though the temperature bathes us in swelting heat. And the dread begins. School will begin soon.

For some parents, the reminder of the school season brings relief. Structure helps us all. For kids, boredom has set in and the opportunity for new friendships, learning environments and knowledge provides comfort. The issues of safety, school provided meals and childcare make the school year welcoming.

Furthermore, I think we can all attest that, by August 1, the sibling fighting season is coming to a “point of no return.”  The lure of soon-to-be peaceful hours on the homefront presents itself.

I laughed when I saw that Trader Joes hosted a “back to school” tasting party for the parents on the first day of school. I’d love to say that I felt such a sense of exhilaration but I didn’t.

For me, the sight of school supplies on July 5th, brought very mixed emotions.  My daughter struggled in school.  While kids excitedly found out the names of their teachers  we felt a lump in our throats. Would he/she the beauty in my child that I see?  While other kids frantically called up their friends to see who else shared their teacher assignment,  the school suggested placing a familiar student in her class so that she would perhaps engage socially.

For us, it meant hoping that her teacher(s) would cooperate with the IEP easily so that I didn’t have to spend time at night emailing them about assignments. My other kids tired of being pushed aside in order to help my daughter complete her homework.  We’re talking long tension filled hours which resulted in exhaustion for my daughter as well as my husband and me.  Those days seemed to resemble a scene from the movie, “Groundhog Day.” I actually loathed going to sleep as I knew that the events of the day would all play out again the next day.

Getting my daughter to school proved to have its own challenges.

How do you manage to get a child to school on time when the clutches of anxiety/depression attempt to pull your child away from your hands ?

How do you move on with your day after dropping your child off at school after an hour long battle? Her eyes, swollen and puffy, her demeanor signifying defeat?

Don’t get me wrong.  Summer is not always a picnic either when you have a child with behavioral/mood disorders.  The lack of structure, the full on presence of everyone at home, everyday, and the lack  of respite for the parents (and siblings) from the unpredictable outbursts make Summer days tedious at times.

Yet, the beauty is that the child is in a familiar environment, and we can shape the schedule and activities around her needs.

These last few years, the approach of “back to school” season  has not brought on the dread as much as in the past. A few years ago, we made the decision to home school our daughter.  It was the best decision for our family.  This choice presents its own set of challenges but we have developed a routine that works for us.

I realize that homeschooling may not be the best solution for everyone. So for those of you who are familiar with the dread of which I speak, keep on keeping on.  God knows how much you love your child and that you want the best for them.  What can you do?

Ask for help.  You are not a bad parent because you cannot manage this school thing alone. Utilize your school village: social workers, resource teachers, aids to help your child navigate the learning environment. Furthermore, know your child’s legal rights for education. If necessary, seek advocacy outside of the district.  There are some lawyers who offer services pro bono (search for local resources).

Let your vulnerability speak of your journey. I remember one phone call with my daughter’s resource teacher in which the tears came so quickly and so fiercely, that I could barely speak.  Sometimes, others really do not understand the depth of the frustration and pain you feel for your child.

Most of all, know that God has created your child for a purpose. A sacred purpose. No one can take that away.

What can you do If you are reading this post and do not face the dread posed by “Back to School” season?  Consider the little things that can make an impact on our families in a big way.  Providing meals (even a gift card), extra affirmation to the siblings and generally listening without judgement speaks love into their souls. Pray for them.

These days can be hard.  Sometimes, the words to form our prayers are just not there. But remember this:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. “(Romans 8:26, Msg.)

I would love to pray for you! Just leave your name (or be anonymous) in the comments.

 

 

 

 

a sovereign creation

7816330042_e3fd4937e0_zLately I have been reflecting on what it means that God “knits us together in our mother’s womb.” as is written in Psalm 139. When reading these words previously, I thought about the sanctity of life. That we are all created by the hand of God and reflect His image. That even in the midst of unexpected pregnancy, God’s sovereign and redemptive hand is at work.

While that understanding arises out of this verse, I’ve found another question to ponder. How does Psalm 139 speak to the features of human creation that we on earth view as flawed? My daughter is incredibly creative, sees the potential in the mundane, and has a witty sense of humor. She also struggles with manic modes, feeling “outside of the box”, and struggles with cognitive and emotional processing. Everyday moments become exhausting struggles.

What if she did not fight this disorder? What if it had never been in her DNA? What would she look like? How would she view life?

I am challenged by her “quirks.” As much as it can bother me at times, her distractibility teaches me to “stop and smell the roses.” I’m usually so focused on my agenda, that I miss the small things that enhance our lives: flowers, nature, sunshine. Maybe because she often feels out of control, she notices things that bring simple enjoyment.

She also can become very focused to the point of obsession in finishing a project. These are her most creative moments. Research shows that many people with Bipolar are incredibly creative and accomplished.

We joke about the many items that I have thrown out but are rescued by her and put to use: a gift bag; sprayed gold, stamped and ribbon attached is made from a bandaid box, a yogurt container becomes a planter, a sock becomes a cell phone holder.

While I do not believe that in God’s goodness, her life would be willed to struggle, could the affected parts of her brain actually enhance her being? Do these areas actually work to achieve God’s purposes for her and her ability draw people to her Creator?

What are the implications of accepting God knitting us together;quirks and all?
Doesn’t a knit item have a unique characteristic even if there’s a bum stitch or hole?

And doesn’t the fact that the item is still valued tell us something?

 

 

Photo taken from Flickr: Lisa Risager