Tag Archives: Mental Illness

Why I Am Encouraged by David to Fight My Goliath

He taunts me.

The Goliath that stands before me.

Oh he knows whose I am and the army that surrounds me. But he doesn’t care. He knows that one simple stone of fear cast my way could paralyze my senses.

His voice has threatened my security in days past.  I have responded by resisting his efforts to bring me down. But recently, remembering the source of my power and identity has been challenging. Repeatedly, he has crossed my path and I am tired of fighting him. My body holds the tension of stiff muscles and a cautious mind.

What if he appears again?

The size of my Goliath appears daunting. From an earthly perspective, I appear as a grasshopper to his massive size. With what resources could I possibly defeat him?

His appearance morphs. Sometimes, he is disguised as financial difficulties. Other moments, he pops up as expectations or disappointment. Illness, both physical and mental have resembled him. And then when he really wants to wield power, he looks like guilt.

But what all encounters have in common is the threat to hold me captive in fear. To keep my eyes focused on the problem and not my power. When that happens, I lose hope. My throat tightens. My chest feels heavy. My arms feel paralyzed.

How did David do it?

“The Israelites, to a man, fell back the moment they saw the giant—totally frightened. The talk among the troops was, “Have you ever seen anything like this, this man openly and defiantly challenging Israel?”

David names what he sees. ““Who does he think he is, anyway, this uncircumcised Philistine, taunting the armies of God-Alive?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

Reality check: Goliath is not as powerful as he appears. His strength lies in intimidation; from outside not within.

.David is reminded that God is enough.

God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:36)

God reminds me of previous encounters with him.  He is enough

David was fit with the assumed armor and weapons that others believed would help him in the battle. However, in his complete faith, refused what was offered to him, “I can’t even move with all this stuff on me. I’m not used to this.” And he took it all off.” The weapons the world offers to me look enticing but they are not what God desires for me to use.

David looked his Goliath in the face.

So must I.

“David answered, “You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel’s troops, whom you curse and mock. This very day God is handing you over to me.” (1 Samuel 17:45-46)

As I look my current form of Goliath in the face, I am choosing to recognize the armor I bear. It’s the same one that David chose: God’s word; living and active.

11-14 This commandment that I’m commanding you today isn’t too much for you, it’s not out of your reach. It’s not on a high mountain—you don’t have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it’s not across the ocean—you don’t have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now—as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it!” (Deut. 30:11-14)

We are not guaranteed a battle free life. But we are assured we are not alone as we fight. When we ask for God’s help, we, like David show others where hope is found.

“…the whole earth will know that there’s an extraordinary God in Israel.” (1Samuel 17:46)

How can Goliath win?

 

 

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Guest Post: Starting Over is Not a Sign of Failure

Today Catherine Irwin shares how her family has navigated through the experience of supporting a family member living with mental illness. Please welcome her as she shares her story.

Starting Over is Not a Sign of Failure.

Starting over is not a sign of failure, but a mark of courage – a willingness to give yourself and your life another chance. -Scott Stabile-

When this picture was taken, six months ago, our lovely firstborn, Holly Annabelle, was beginning an exciting new chapter in her life. She had been accepted into University, her future set on studying illustration and drawing. I adore this portrait, taken for her University ID card. It is one of my all time favourites. Full of fresh hope and expectant joy for the future.

Two months later, she was bedridden.

Our Holly is a passionate lover of animals (especially orphaned lambs and sassy horses!), crazy creative, tender-hearted towards those who find themselves in dark valleys and drop-dead gorgeous to boot.

In a matter of months after that photo was taken, she discovered something else – she is a bipolar sufferer. For those who don’t know what Bipolar disorder is, you may be familiar with the old-fashioned term, manic-depression.

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine had a sister who suffered from manic-depression. I remember feeling very scared to be in the same room as this young girl. I worried she would start to cry uncontrollably or be unable to speak at all. Shamefully, I thought that I might catch her depression, not unlike one catches the flu. This is how little I knew about mental illness.

Today, thankfully, more is known about our mental health but unfortunately, there is still a stigma attached to a brain disorder.

It remains an unknown quantity and understandably, those who suffer aren’t too keen on coming forward and telling the world about it.

I have often said to Holly that if she were to break a bone, the recovery and convalescing process would be so much easier to accept. She would be able to physically see her form fractured. However, when it is one’s brain, it’s so much harder to process. And of course, society’s well-meaning encouragements of “just get some fresh air” and “distract yourself with other tasks to keep your mind busy”, makes that broken mind, feel all the more fragmented.

Bipolar is indeed a brain disorder, which causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Holly has Bipolar II disorder, which is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic

episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energised behaviour (known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

We are just at the beginning of our journey together as a family and in these early stages, I would like to encourage others who are also on the same path, either individually or as a family unit. This is what we have learnt over the past few months:

1- Our girl isn’t defined by her illness. It is a companion along the journey of her life and yes, one, we didn’t expect, but like all of life’s curveballs, these trials and difficulties can be used to colour and strengthen the future. Think deeper compassion towards others, patience during suffering, trusting and believing in the comfort of the One who truly can give it.

2-Mental illness is not the end, it is just the beginning.

For us, Holly’s diagnosis was a relief, after nearly 18 months of doctor’s visits, counselling, using the wrong medication, yet knowing something was still amiss. Now we are armed with all of the power tools, the rocket fuel medication, the wisdom in learning about Bipolar and understanding how her brain works. It is freeing and empowering. We know our girl is on the right road to recovery.

3-It has made our family take self-care to another level.

We were already on the road of slowing down intentionally in order to appreciate being in the moment and stop striving for the next best thing. When Holly became unwell, we took it down another notch. Realising that less is more in our everyday and finding joy in the most simple of things. A trip to our local florist to hand pick a pretty bunch of flowers became a self-care ritual, an investment in the heart. The smile that lingered on my girl’s face was a double portion of goodness. Lighting scented candles and diffusing essential oils whilst listening to audio books, drawing comfort when the weather outside is gloomy and one’s heart is sad.

4-It has revealed true friendships.

This has been a difficult one to observe. We have all heard it quoted – hard times will always reveal true friends. This has been the case for Holly, which in part I understand, given the misunderstanding about mental health. A text, a card and just checking in regularly without expecting much in return, speaks volumes to someone who is unwell. Your friendship may not be the same for a time, but it will grow in different, beautiful directions, if you invest the time and love in that person. Many have been lost but a few precious ones have been found, and these have been a rich and perfect gift for our girl.

5-It has shown me that our girl is made of steel.

In her lowest of moments, she is still there. Her smile and quirky humour remain. Yes, the tears flow but her tinkly laugh can still be heard all through our home. Even a few seconds of chuckling, is music to my soul. We are so grateful, every day, for the true grit and determination that is Holly. Bi-polar is a part of her life, but her life isn’t all about Bi-polar. She is still Holly and we are seeing more and more of her every day.

We start over, again and again. We give our girl’s tender brain another chance, another hundred chances. To slowly mend and become whole again.

If you have a dear loved one who struggles with mental illness, a friend, or colleague, ask them how they are travelling. Then stop for a while and listen, really listen for the answers. You will be surprised by what you learn from these gutsy survivors.

About Catherine:

I am an Australian mother of six, who home-schools four of her children in country England.
We live the slow life, whilst focusing on the simple things, and keeping family at the heart of home.
Our aim is to navigate, the inherent good that is life, the sadness that it also can bring, and the joy in looking beyond what can’t be seen with the naked eye.

How You Can Help a Family With a Child Who is Affected by Mental Illness

Families with a child affected by a mental/neurological disorder often live a chaotic and stress filled existence. Often, the struggle is invisible to the public. Unknown to even neighbors, a series of chronic storms erupt inside the home. Furthermore, stigmas make seeking support challenging. Parents struggle to give time to all of their children as well as their marriage Siblings may resent the extra attention to the affected child. It is all too easy for fracture to take place and the results to each member can have short and long term consequences.

You want to help but how do you do it? Here is a list of suggestions that can get you started.

Food: It connects us. But good news-you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to share it. How about ordering a pizza? One of the best dinners shared with us was ham and cheese sliders that we could warm up and grab quickly on our way to the hospital. Truthfully, anything that offers a quick bit of nutrition and satisfies, feeds the stomach and the soul. Always make sure you are aware of any food restrictions (especially true if the child has a sensory issue.)

Gift cards. Medical bills quickly consume a budget. Sure, there are payment plans but when you have at least a few going, there is not much left for any extras. In addition, schedules can become packed with doctors appointments and unexpected health related crises. Furthermore, siblings often feel left behind as time and money are consumed quickly. Special family outings often disappear. Gift cards for a movie theater, McDonalds, and other “extras” are an appreciated treat. Gas cards are also beneficial.

Offer to take siblings for a few hours. Respite is necessary for all family members. Routines often become interrupted, noise levels escalate, conflict can be frequent. These factors contribute to a stressful environments. Can you offer your home as a quiet place of refuge? Renting a movie, supplying snacks, sharing skills, or even letting kids play on their electronic devices or read in a peaceful place is a gift. If you are more adventurous, try a park, ice skating or the beach.

Care for the affected child: This suggestion requires a familiarity with the child and their needs. Sometimes a new environment can be helpful. Other times, it may create further anxiety. If you can provide this option, it sends an affirming message to the child that they are capable of being loved on by those outside their family. To the parents, it sends an empathetic message.

Put together a gift basket: Parents naturally tend to invest their time, energy, and resources toward the health of their child. As a result, they are left “empty.” This affects their own emotional and physical well-being. It also leads to strained marriages. How about a gift basket filled with bubble bath, hand lotion, special treats, rental movie gift card, coffee shop gift card, teas, bottle of wine? Put on your creative hat and see what happens!

Share resources.  Let’s face it, receiving money from others can be awkward. Yet, it may be the very thing that would help alleviate stress. Could you ask to pay a bill? Could you pay for a sitter? There are creative ways to share financially while not taking away dignity or creating an uncomfortable situation.

When a child fights a physical illness, it often leads to a rally of support. The visible symptoms communicate the urgency of support to others. Unfortunately, mental illness, addiction, neurological disorders do not always present in a way that draws attention. The family struggles silently. When we are aware of others’ needs, we become better advocates and neighbors. And we are transformed in the process.

Thursday Thoughts: Why We Can Let Go of Fear in the Unpredictable Moments

Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever go. Joshua 1:9

How do you feel when you are driving along certain of your location and suddenly, without warning, you find yourself forced to take a detour? Many times the detour takes you to your destination through a series of streets with which you are unfamiliar. The confidence you felt in pursuing your destination has changed to anxiety. “I don’t know where I’m going!” is the thought that takes over your mind.

The daily life for a family facing the realities of a mental illness illness or other chronic medical condition can; at times, be filled with moments of unpredictability-a loved one makes and impulsive decision with life altering consequences, a sick child takes a sudden turn for the worse, a new medication is introduced. Any pursuit of stability in your life seems to be thrown off with a detour into the unknown. Our human desire for control seems to have slipped out of our hands. Traveling into the unknown brings a sense of fear.

The Israelites were no strangers to traveling into unknown territory. The physical terrain was not always familiar. Sure, they knew they were headed to the Promised Land but how exactly do you get there? Along the journey, they made poor decisions and struggled with trusting in the promises God made to them in the beginning.

Here, the Israelites are to go forth into unfamiliar territory. The fears are real-life and death is at stake. Yet Joshua proclaims to his brood this promise.

How does this promise encourage you as you face the unknown?

Sovereign God, you have shown us through your actions in your people before us that we have nothing to fear. You are greater than any challenges we face here on earth. Please fill us with your peace as we claim your words through Joshua as our own. Amen

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/

You are Not Alone: Hope for Parenting in Those Unexpected Moments

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Upon giving birth to my first child, I was determined to be “that mom”-the one whose children would never fall prey to the sneaky dangers surrounding them. The phrase “My kids would never do THAT” found a place in my mind.

What is “THAT” exactly?

Electrical outlets? Covered (nevermind the fact that I once found a way to stick my finger in one as a toddler). Cords to the blinds? Well, we don’t have any. Toxic substances? Locked away in the childproof cabinets that I can’t even open sometimes.  As a new parent, I scoured the lists for precautions to make sure my child would be safe.  Of course there were some things that I didn’t worry about because in my mind, “What kid would really do that?”

Like plastic grocery bags?  The ones that my child would never put over his head? Yet, in his state of natural human curiosity did it anyway?

Like toilet screw covers? Those small white caps that just happen to fit the size of a toddler’s mouth perfectly? In fact my daughter managed to fit one in her mouth (don’t go there) while I was in the bathroom getting ready to preach at church. As she looked up at me gagging, my instincts sprang into action. Fortunately, I noticed and quickly resolved the situation. And then it was on to leading worship an hour later.

Ahhh, the naivety of parenting. Actually, there is good reason for that.

We’ve never done it before.

A toaster comes with a manual. In fact, even a Happy Meal toy comes with one.  But parenting? Nope.

Sure there are books out there to help.  Social Media groups beckoning you to join their posse. Conversations with people who have “been there.”  But, ultimately, there is nothing to prepare you for the moment by moment process for raising a human-one whose DNA is unique from any other. Add in family history, genetics, personality traits, lifestyle….and it is a learning experiment.  We hope and pray for the best.

In a sense we all become “That Mom.”  Most of us truly want what’s best for our kids. We become schooled in how to keep them safe; trying to keep a balance between not being concerned enough and being accused of being a helicopter parent (I’m afraid of heights so that probably wouldn’t describe me).

And just when you think you have prevented catastrophes, some other strange quirk pops up and catches you off guard.

Prolapsed rectum? Yep. Experienced that.

Body suddenly covered in hives? That too.

How about Teen onset Epilepsy? Mental illness? Cholesteatomas (I had to look that up too) in the ears leading to chronic ear infections and destroyed ear bones? Triple yes.

What we learn as we parent is that we can set our eyes on being the most competent parents ever, yet we are not in total control. That demands perfect people or robots.

The beauty is that God has trusted us with a most humbling responsibility. We get to participate in it while resting in the assurance that no matter what happens these are God’s children (Psalm 139:13-14, Jeremiah 1:5).

Upon leaving the hospital with my firstborn, I remember thinking, “I really get to take him home?”

There is nothing that can fully prepare you for this journey.  And that’s O.K. Because this parenting thing isn’t all about us.  We are partners with their Creator; the One who also created us and knows us intimately.

We will make mistakes. Unexpected circumstances are a given. You are not alone.  In the words of a once popular song from a teen Disney Musical, “We’re all in this together.”