Category Archives: Self Care/Health

Suicide, Church Folk and Spiritual Leaders

DepressionAfter hearing the news of a pastor, Teddy Parker, whom I do not know, it was clear to me that I should wait to post anything about it in this forum – first, out of respect for his family and those who knew and loved him; second, because of what it triggered for me on a personal level, I needed a minute.

Hearing stories such as this one, hits way too close to home. I not only ache internally, but it hurts so deeply that the pain becomes physical. As I sat weeping and sorrowful a few thoughts came to mind as I thought about not only this tragedy, but many more people who struggle to keep living – people for whom deciding to live or die is a daily decision; hell, never mind “daily,” but a moment by moment, hour by hour decision.

Relating to Parker, I did not want to assume mental illness played a role, yet I am not surprised as it is now being reported that he perhaps endured years of struggle with mental illness.

As an African American with a historical association and rearing in predominantly African American communities of faith, I was disappointed (not surprised) by a few of the reactions I read.

Most of the responses/reactions I read said things like:

Pray for pastors, they have a hard job

The devil is busy

Congregations/church folks need to take it easy on pastors

Pastors are human just like everybody else.

The above statements are not only lacking, they are also a bit. Let me explain.

“Pray for pastors.” It is easier to say “pastors have a hard job,” and we need to support them, not be a burden them than it is to address issues of mental health care. It is easier to spiritualize issues than to address practical needs. But easier doesn’t equal helpful. As a fellow struggler, many faith filled people sincerely believe that the way healing and wholeness happens is for me to go to church, pray, call on Jesus and trust God to make a way – period! I am not opposed to praying and such, but when that’s where it stops, first it make me want to cuss, then it moves me to educate and enlighten in hopes of dispelling ignorance.

Should we pray for pastors? YES! Should we pray for those who battle, and I do mean battle mental health challenges? Also yes! Is that all we need to do? NO. Will prayer alone keep pastors or anyone else from ending their lives? Not at all!

“The devil is busy.” OK, and the point is what? That’s my first reaction. But beyond that, I am not convinced that the devil had anything to do with this suicide. I believe we need to take a deeper look at reasons why people end their lives. As one who has walked through depressive episodes, I find that there are a host of “spiritual” people who take the easy way out by being hyper spiritual and glossing over real issues – somehow unable to open their minds to the realness of mental illness and mood disorders – medical conditions that need treatment, not statements like “the devil being busy.” Once it is discovered that such phraseologies are impotent, some walk away, abandon the struggler and just stand aloof.

“People need to take it easy on their pastors.” What the hell?! The first problem is that this statement is an indictment on congregations and to say such things in the context of this young pastor’s death is to accuse and make assumptions regarding how his congregation treated him. Second, though I have been in church all my life and have awareness that church folks are a bit trifling and downright cruel and unreasonable at times, there are some things that we as spiritual leaders have to take ownership of – our self care, utilization of the word “no,” refusal to play into being put on pedestals and the like. Perhaps ego won’t let us destroy that beast? Perhaps our passion and drive for ministry and serving God won’t let us quit or take regular breaks? Who really knows?

Pastors are human just like everyone else. This is true – very true, but the fact that there is such a big deal being made over the fact that a “pastor” completed suicide suggests we don’t really believe that. Perhaps a shift in thinking is necessary – the position does not make one less human nor super human.

So in thinking not only about Parker, but about how we relate to each other, more specifically those who endure mental illness, I offer these alternative responses:

1Give people permission and space to say “I’m not ok.”

2. Be a “safe person.” Meaning, when someone musters up courage to bare their souls and expose their hearts, be trustworthy, be loving and nonjudgmental and if you can, resourceful.

3. See pastors as “people who pastor” rather than “pastors who are people.” There is a difference. If pastor was no longer the profession, she/he would still be a person. Experientially I have been a staff minister (paid & volunteer) and in a few instances what I did/my work was important but my person/who I am did not. That’s enough to send anyone over the edge. Value people not simply positions.

4. Don’t assume the worst about people who end their lives. Ending their lives does not make them bad people. They are not selfish people. They are not weak people. They are not crazy people, they are not demon possessed. They are not Hell bound. They are people whose hope ran out, people who tried until they could try no longer. They are people who live with an illness, yes it is an illness, some illness is physical & some illness is mental.  They are people who would have continued to live if they could. And most likely, it hurt them deeply to have to leave those they love.

5. Check in on people. It’s not enough to be aware of a person’s struggle and distance yourself from them, waiting for the next time they reach out to you or if it’s a leader just wait for their faith to kick in. Check in from time to time, ask how they are doing, be a friend.

6. Remember that it is not necessary nor appropriate for you to fill every space or moment with your words. Presence is a priceless gift to offer, just be there.

7. Some situations don’t need a bible verse. Nuff said.

8. The absence of a smile does not equate to the absence of faith, but often an indicator of pain.

9. The presence of a smile does not equate joy and the absence of depressive conditions. Some of us are skilled at putting our smile on like we put on clothing. Not every smiling face is content and at peace, sometimes if appropriate it is good to gently go a little deeper [with a person’s permission of course].

10. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Some will appreciate that because it opens the door for them to share their story, open their hearts and help you with “knowing” more deeply.

11. Never ever never, under any circumstances be trite or offer empty platitudes or clichés. Mental illness for some people, at given points in the struggle, is a matter of life and death.

Well, that’s a long list but not at all extensive, so if you have other things you would add please do so in the comments section. Gone are the days when we can just keep the stigma going regarding mental illness and think it’s ok. Lives are lost because of our silence and refusal to engage the topic. People give up because they feel the need to suffer in silence and hide their truth rather than let people in. We can do better.

Here are just a few resources that might help:

Talking Mental Health in the Black Community (Huff Post Live recording)

Wrestling with God and Depression

Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression – Monica A. Coleman

Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting – Terrie Williams

Hyperbole blog post – Part 1 & Part 2

Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression and Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes – Therese Borchard

Beyond Blue (the blog)

Say Yes to Grace: How to Burn Bright without Burning Out – Kirk Byron Jones

Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers – Kirk Byron Jones

Advertisements

Mental Illness, Miriam Carey and Meager Healthcare

I might as well start off with an admission that I am not aware of solid details regarding the mental state of Miriam Carey, the young mom whose life ended tragically this week as she was gunned down after a complex situation in our nations capitol. However, because mental illness has been offered as a possible contributing factor in her actions in Washington, DC, it once again causes me to reflect on the issue of Mental Illness/Health in a general sense – even apart from Miss Carey.

It cannot be denied that the system of care when it comes to mental illness, is woefully inadequate and underfunded. Not to mention, the accessibility of professional mental healthcare for the financially challenged are limited.

Certainly, I believe that professional psychologists and psychiatrists are worthy of due salary, my issue is not with them. However, I do take issue with a system that is not set up to offer assistance to those who are uninsured, unemployed or employed but barely getting by. The average cost for a 45-50 minute therapy session is between $150 – $185. When you add the cost of multiple sessions together, for impoverished individuals, the care is just not feasible.

Contact many professional counseling centers and you will be turned away. Even centers with sliding scale fees only slide but so far, most, not less than $45. And even then, you are not always offered the care of a licensed, credentialed professional, but someone with only an MA, if that. The message the ill person hears in that is that they are worthy of lesser or lower level care.

So, does an under resourced person actually receive the treatment they need and get their issues addressed in a manner that puts them on a path to wellness? Maybe, maybe not.

The truth is that if you don’t advocate for yourself, and aggressively pursue and seek out help you can afford, you will likely not get the help you need to resolve your mental health issues. AND, the truth is that most individuals who suffer with mental illness or mood disorders rarely have the strength of mind, and energy to do that – especially when they have no idea where to look and when they think they may have found a place that can help them, they get rejected and referred to someplace else; and then that “someplace else” rejects them and refers them to someplace else. And this happens over and over again, which causes people to give up and lose hope of wellness. And the end results are not usually good, lives end badly and tragically.

In all of this, there are things that I long to see:

1. The normalization of Mental Illness where it reaches a level of being treated as well as any physical illness

2.The erasing of the stigma and imposed isolation experienced by those who suffer with mental illness and mood disorders.

3. For churches and other faith based institutions offer support for the mentally ill within and without their congregations. And that can take on many shapes and approaches

4. For churches to let go of hyper spirituality and accept that people need more than encouragements to “pray more” and “trust God.” And for others, to cease considering mental illness demonic.

5. Mental Healthcare Funding stops experiencing budget cuts

6. Increased education regarding care for those who battle mental illness and humanization; there is too much stereotyping, broad brushing and assumption

Statistically speaking one in every four adults experience mental illness; one in seventeen experience major mental illness. Consult NAMI for more detailed stats. But it is worth mentioning in that it highlights the seriousness of the issue. We can do better and we should. Bemoaning the tragedies that stem from mental health issues is not nearly enough.

The bottom line is that Miriam Carey was a person, her family and friends need support and a whole lot of love as they search for answers and grieve the loss of their daughter, mother, sister and friend.

10 Things I Know About Depression

Today was one of “those days.” Because it was one of those days, I found myself thinking about Major Clinical Depression and what I have learned and still continue to learn about the disease. This post, though random and unedited is the product of what’s on my mind today.

Here are some of the things I have discovered about “The Big D”

1. It respects no one – you can be young, middle age, older, intelligent, naive, religious, atheist, or whatever and struggle with this illness.

2. Just when you think you have it beat, sometimes it strikes again from somewhere out of no where and the battle continues

3. There is hope and those who live in depressive prone bodies can get through it and overcome

4. Some folks need medication and others do not, but all who face major clinical depression need some form of help/support

5. Cloudy, rain filled days are just plain HARD! [Hot Chocolate is necessary for me on those days]

6. Sometimes people won’t know something is wrong unless you tell them

7. Many Church communities are the worst places for those battling depression & still other Church communities are the BEST places to walk through this difficult struggle.

8. Major Clinical Depression is complex and multidimensional. Everyone will have a different experience and a different path toward wholeness

9. Prayer, great Christian psychotherapy, self care strategies, supportive/listening/patient friends (and if needed, medication), are a powerful combination on the journey through depression.

10. Silence and isolation can be deadly, courage to speak up and reach out for help is life giving.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional, clinically trained counselor. If you are in need of help, please contact your physician immediately.

The Sound of Silence

Does silence have a “sound?”

Silence is the sound of peace that has replaced tumultuous storms.

Silence is the sound of televisions turned down, cell phones muted, and inboxes closed

Silence is the sound of a mind at rest

Silence is the sound that makes space for other sounds to enter that we are normally unable to hear.

Silence is the sound of tranquility and inner strength and peace

Silence is the sound of birds tweeting, wind blowing through trees, and water glistening with the rays of the sun

The sound of silence enables me to pay attention well enough to get a glimpse of a rainbow that appeared for a brief moment of time and then disappeared after having the chance to capture camera shots

Silence is the sound of a God who is present though seemingly absent

The sound of silence is being captivated by the beauty of the sun rising and setting

Silence is experienced as I pause to glance at sun kissed trees swaying gently in the wind.

Silence is the ability to hear God’s voice above the noise of the world and the chaos of our own souls

Silence is the sound that my soul experiences now….

Stigma

I have to admit that I do not grasp why stigmas exist. Why are some things permissible to discuss and other things off limits. I wonder about this as I consider topics such as Mental Illness. Discussing physical illness with friends, co-workers, and colleagues doesn’t raise too many eyebrows, however battles with depression (of all kinds whether Major Depression, Bipolar Depression or Seasonal Effective Disorder, etc), and other mental challenges is somehow off limits for public discussion – at least when it comes to acknowledging one’s own unique story.

As I read an article from the Huffington Post regarding Changing the Way We Look at Mental Illness my entire being was moved. I reflected upon those that I know who struggle and also took a moment to remember a period in my life when I was not as well as I desperately desired to be. Though my smile is authentic now and I love to get out of bed in the morning in anticipation of another day, it has not always been this way.

I can remember days of eating badly, using food as a means of self medicating, wearing a plastic smile in order to present the illusion that I was somehow content though I was dying inside. I recalled days when I sat in a quiet dark room and simply starred at the walls, and even during moments when the lights in the house were on physically, on the inside of my soul it was as if I was walking around in a dark room looking for the light, but there were no light switches.  My utter despair, and emotional inability to hold on to a desire to continue with life was compounded by an awareness that to honestly discuss what was happening within me was somehow inappropriate amongst many whom I associated. This was no one day feeling down/I have the blues experience – this was a daily, weekly, month after month, unable to pull myself up experience.

I am better now, in fact, I am GREAT now, but the journey to this place has not been easy. In fact the relief that I was seeking was not experienced until I stepped beyond the stigma of being honest regarding issues of Depression such as mine. And in my freedom, I wonder how much better can we do for those around us. Maybe neither snickering at the person on the bus who talks out loud to themselves, or becoming frustrated with the person who behaves in a manner that is not as “normal” as most of our friends is the proper response.

What if instead, we decided to be safe people that individuals can come to?

What if churches were places where freedom to discuss and get proper assistance was normalized?

What if we created environments where it were as permissible to mention mental/emotion battles as it were to mention physical ailments?

What if leaders didn’t just lead organizations, but lead the way in transparency?

Might we see a change? Would shame be a thing of the past? Would people reach out rather than suffer in silence?

I must admit, sharing my story has not come without price. I realize this as I interact with individuals who know my story. It’s admittedly frustrating when they foolishly think that because I shed a tear, have a bad day or have a moment of being angry that somehow they should say “oh-oh, is she going back into a stage of depression?” Being honest means that I have to contend with ignorance from those who mean well, but are nevertheless ignorant. So my expression of emotions are viewed through the lens of “a depressed person.” This is not what I am. I am a person loved by God unconditionally who happens to be winning the battle against depression.

Just thinking…

Perfectionism

As a recovering perfectionist, trust me, one of the things that I know is that perfectionist tendencies don’t die easily. As a leader I have definitely had my share of unnecessary delays, refusing to delegate to others because I wanted it done “right,” and missing opportunities because of fear of not being good enough or able enough. Are you a person who always or at least 99% of the time have to get things right? Do you work longer hours and put in more energy than necessary to make sure things are done in a way that proves to others that you really aren’t a slacker?

Here are some quick tips on recovering from perfectionism:

1. Accept yourself and remember that you are accepted and acceptable whether you get it right or make a mess of things. See yourself as good enough, worthy enough.

2. Set Expectations, but not unrealistically high (can’t believe I just typed those words – told you, I’m still in “recovery”). Aim to do your very best and rest in the reality that you have done so. Refuse to be dominated by unrealistic expectations.

3. Keep in mind that failing doesn’t make you a failure. Failing can actually be used to launch you forward. Perfect is not possible and it’s ok.

4. Celebrate every accomplishment – both small and great

5. Give yourself a break and be as kind to you as you are to others (sometimes we perfectionists are hard on ourselves and show exceptional grace to others, not realizing that we deserve grace too).

6. Refuse to succumb to the pressure and unrealistic expectations that others place on you.

7. Remember that you are neither always right or always wrong and it’s ok.

These are a few suggestions, did I miss any? What one thing from the list above can you do to continue on the journey of recovering from perfectionism?

Revealing the Real You

Many of us, leaders especially, are prone to habits of projecting a public image self and a private image self. I grew up in a church culture where I was left with the impression that appearing to be near perfect in public was the celebrated norm. Never weak, just trusting God, never worried, just “blessed and highly favored of the Lord,” too blessed to be depressed, put on your happy church face and keep it moving. On some level I believe it is good to project the positive, however when it crosses the line and becomes hypocrisy or when it moves us to a place where we are too proud to admit that we are human, thus becoming individuals who are placed on a high and lofty pedestal of perfection, I believe it crosses the line.

I listened to a sermon recently that addressed the topic of “influence,” and the speaker talked in depth regarding how easily people are influenced – whether for good or for evil, positive or negative. She eventually ended at a place of addressing areas of personal identity and asked – “how much of who you are is the real you, and how much of who you are is due to who and what you allow to influence you?”

The question is worth pondering. Additional questions worth pondering are: How much of who you allow others to see is the real you and how much of it is a facade? Who are you really? What are your goals, dreams, aspirations, plans, desires, unique personality traits and thoughts? Any self other than our true selves falls short of our ultimate best. So be bold enough to take off the mask and bless the world with the real you!

Hurry Up!

While going for a leisurely walk, halfway through it I noticed the pace at which my feet were moving. I know that’s a little weird, but I am learning to pay more attention not only to my surroundings, but also to my self. Self awareness is a good thing. I observed several things

  • There was nothing pressing to get to on my schedule
  • Beauty was all around me – flowers, rabbits, sunshine, greenery, butterflies, and even those crazy squirrels (squirrels are a clear indicator that God has jokes)
  • My feet were moving at what I refer to as an “East Coast Pace” (Midwest folks move a bit slower than that)

I was hurrying even though I had no legitimate reason to hurry. Kirk Byron Jones in his book “Addicted to Hurry” says:

Hurry is not an innocent and inevitable consequence of modern life. Chronic hurry is a serious malady of mind, heart, and soul putting at risk our relationship with God, each other, and ourselves.

I’ll be the first to admit, that slow messes with me. I prefer fast technology, drivers who drive at a pace that tells me they see the speed limit and don’t drive under it, and fast beats and tempo helps me clean the house more thoroughly.

In my opinion, it’s ok if you take your time, just as long as you hurry up. In other words, keep it moving. (That’s my East Coast mentality).

I am not in opposition to speed and don’t think I ever will be – it has it’s place and it’s necessary. But some times I find myself hurrying up even when I don’t have to. I’m learning that slowing down regularly can do some good – it helps us see things we might have missed, enables us to actually notice the people around us, bask in the beauty that surrounds us, and even see the pain and situations around us that God may want us to respond to.

What are some things you can do today to slow down? Do you really have to hurry up all the time or can some things simply wait?


Life Giving Words

Listened to an online message by Craig Groeschel regarding “Toxic Words.” In his message he referenced an old phrase that many parents, mine included,  teach their children – “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The reality is that words are powerful and can be used for good or for evil, for good or for bad – they have power to build us up or tear us down.

  • We can decide to use words to build up or to tear down in our relationships with others
  • We are not in control of what others say to us, but we can choose whether or not to internalize the words others speak.

If I were to be honest I would have to admit that in the course of my thirty plus years of living I have internalized many negative words spoken to me – it’s hard not to. But I have also crossed over to a place where I am more embracing of the words God says about me. I started a practice not long ago of affirming myself each day and have found self affirmation to be helpful in combating the negativity that I encounter at times. As a leader this is important (every leader has her/his critiques). The following are a list of affirmations that I speak over myself on a regular basis. Perhaps they will help you too! Here they are:

I am a woman/man of God clothed with strength and dignity

I have God – given strength

I will stand up and speak up until God says shut up.

I am equipped for good works and responsible for developing others rather than be the celebrity that does it all.

I am God’s daughter/son – deeply loved, eternally forgiven, and this is the greatest aspect of my identity. I belong to God!

I move forward in His name, not with arrogance, yet with confidence [in whom He’s called me to be]

I will experience fear, doubt, confusion, discouragement and depression, yet not be controlled by these experiences

I will speak the truth in love rather than lie because of fear

I choose to believe God in the face of uncertainty

I am just as qualified as anyone else to be a servant of God – faults, failures, and all

I am beautiful inside and out, uniquely created, and becoming better

I will remember my past, and not be controlled by it as I move into the future

I reject rejection and embrace the acceptance of God.

I will remember that God places value on me not because of what I do but because of who I am

I will be boldly vocal when it’s time to be vocal and verbalize thoughts, opinions, facts and ideas, and silent when it’s time to be silent

I will listen for God’s voice, watch for His direction, and follow His instructions in and through the help and power of Holy Spirit

Because of Christ and the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit, I am neither inadequate or incompetent

I will at times need to tackle tough issues, take some hits for doing so, yet I will trust the One who sends me and calls me and the One on whose behalf I speak

I am lovely! I am beautiful!!! Because I am a place where God dwells!! (Psalm 84:1; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)!!!

God has not called and commissioned me to impress people, so I’ll stop trying.

Life can sometimes cause all of us, leaders included to dump all over ourselves and feel less than capable or simple focus on the negative rather than the positive. The above affirmations were developed to help us keep our identity in God at the forefront when life gets crazy. What life giving words do others in your life need to hear in order to be built up? What affirmations would you add to this list?

Surgery: What I Learned

Never watch a video of the procedure you are having done prior to your surgery date – NEVER!

Having the right people with you on the day of surgery matters (preferably people who will pray for you and also put up with the crazy things you say due to your anxiety and fear). Two of my favorite pastors and friends went with me – Zina and Judy are the best – a little crazy, but the best!

When you go to the hospital they will provide you with cute shoes, socks, bracelets, a dress and a fancy hat – better known as hospital gowns, patient ID/Allergy tags, and surgical attire, etc.

Having a spouse or roommate are beneficial for when you come home from surgery, but I still have no desire for either. I am a happy single and I’m not ashamed!!

People who care, find ways to express it and demonstrate it by doing stuff I never would have imagined they would do – this still baffles and blesses me when I think about it!

I have at least two types of people in my life – those who are selfless and also have those who are selfish and self absorbed – I have learned from both types of people

I learned what it’s like to be “high.” I have never been high on anything before, but I am convinced that that little button I pressed to dispense medicine (Morphine) the day after surgery gave me a slight hangover or something

Rest when my body says rest – my body says this a lot post surgery

Not all who profess to be friends and care actually do….

Phone calls, emails, cards, prayers, and tangible expressions of kindness go a long way and contribute to healing!

When you get a good doctor who is also a surgeon – keep them!!! My doctor was and is the best and does her job well.

Most important, I learned that God’s presence makes a difference and the His peace can be experienced even through painful and perplexing times…. His love for me continues and my love for Him continues to increase!