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Two Quick Verses for When You Feel Overwhelmed

I’m not sure if this post needs an introduction. Life gets overwhelming. It happens. And it happens for numerous reasons. Whatever the reason, God’s word helps because God is the God of rest. He is peace. I hope you can read these verses and rest in His love.

 

  1. “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:5-6)

 

After Moses’ death, God speaks to Joshua, who has been appointed the new leader of the Israelites. Joshua faces quite a tall task, and he knows it. It appears as though he was nervous, afraid, or that he didn’t believe he was up to the task because God tells him to be “strong and courageous” three times in a span of four verses.

This passage gives me comfort. I struggle with self-confidence, so naturally I don’t always feel confident I’ll do a good job in what God has called me to do. I can get overwhelmed quickly and give up. In this passage, God doesn’t rebuke Joshua for his lack of confidence. Instead, He repeatedly encourages Joshua. God knows that if Joshua will just trust in Him and move forward, he (Joshua) will do great things. And that’s what happened.

I think this principle applies to us as well. If we’re scared about something God’s calling us to or we feel overwhelmed, God encourages us to trust Him and take the first step forward. He really is a good Father.

 

 

  1. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

 

Worrying can certainly makes us feel overwhelmed. It’s not uncommon to worry about bills and money and food. What if this happens? What if that happens? What if we don’t have enough?

Jesus addresses this problem. I recently wrote about this verse in my new book Pursuing God’s Kingdom Day by Day:

 

He exhorts His audience not to worry about life’s necessities: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). We should remember that His audience in this passage likely consisted largely of poor people. They were dependent on the harvest for food, so we can imagine they worried about the harvest’s productivity. Jesus knows that. He grew up in Galilee—He knows the people’s mindset and how they think about food. His response to this concern is to trust that God will provide because He “knows that you need” all these things (verse 32).

God wants us to trust Him enough to pursue His kingdom. In fact, He wants us to pursue His kingdom “first,” and, He says, “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). That is, make God’s kingdom your priority and He will provide life’s necessities for you.

 

Worrying is hard because we want to have control over our lives. We want to know there’s going to be enough food or enough money tomorrow. It bothers us that we don’t always have that control. But Jesus tells us to just trust Him.

If this kind of trust is hard, I think the number one thing to do is pray. Ask God repeatedly for the faith to believe that He will provide. Our Father gives good gifts: He will give you the faith you ask for. He wants us to rest in His love, so to speak, so we will have room to enjoy Him and pursue His kingdom. That, after all, is where we find true joy.

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The Face of Bipolar and Anxiety: The Mixed Episode

I’ve seen so many times (usually on Facebook) about what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety. However, what I have yet to see is what it’s like to live with bipolar and anxiety. To truly understand what bipolar and anxiety combined look like, you’d best buckle up—this ride’s going to get a bit wild.

 

The phone rings. You’re deathly afraid of the phone because of your anxiety, and you don’t really speak to anyone on it aside from your mom and best friend. Even talking to your dad is weird and stilted. Grandparents? Nope. And, if you have a significant other, you’re only talking to them with ease if you’ve been together forever.

 

The caller left a voicemail. You knew it was another close friend, but you went from the immediate response of fear to justification of apathy. You didn’t really have to answer it. Not now.

 

You know you should listen to the voicemail; but the moment you do, that’s the moment it becomes real…and that’s the moment you feel obligated to call back.

 

So you put it off. Day after day.

 

Then you get a text. “Hey! We’re going dancing tomorrow night, just the regular group. Wanna come?”

 

You love to dance. And you know everyone in your small group quite well. You don’t want to miss out. And, besides, the last day or so, you’ve felt more upbeat. You didn’t sleep last night, but you know the anxiety won’t become a major issue for another little bit. Maybe a day or so. You can do this.

 

In fact, you’re feeling upbeat enough to pick up your cell and call the friend back. You excitedly say that you’ll go.

 

But then you don’t sleep that night either.

 

Mania has arrived…and with it? Agitation is setting in. And then the anxiety, even worse than normal.

 

It’s now the morning of the day you’re supposed to go dancing. But now, it’s not sounding like such a great idea. You’re not upbeat anymore: you’re just wide awake, though deathly tired and down, and the anxiety is worse than the day that friend called.

 

Welcome to a mixed episode. You’re not just manic anymore. Oh, yes, you’re still manic, but not the on-top-of-the-world manic you were before. Now you’re just beyond wide awake and vibrating inside, but you don’t want to go anymore. You’re too down…and did I mention anxious about how it would go? What if you get into an accident on the way? What if you have a horrible time? What if…

 

And the questions go on.

 

This is where you decide whether to back out. Sometimes you don’t go; sometimes you do.

 

This time, you ignore what you’re feeling and suck it up. You go.

 

The ride is truly ok.

 

No, better than ok. You’re with that friend that called, and you’re having a great time. You do better in person with this friend than over the phone. At least for now.

 

But then you get there.

 

This particular gathering is lesson-based, and the lessons take place before the open dance. Everyone wants to participate—even you!—but the idea of dancing with different people scares you to death. Especially since you don’t actually know any of them.

 

Your mania-induced anxiety is rising.

 

Your friends convince you that you can do it, though, so you do. You’re sweaty from the anxiety before you even start, hoping that your partner pays attention to the instructors, rather than trying to talk to you. Why? Because your mania-induced anxiety is even worse than your normal anxiety; and your everyday, normal anxiety makes you lock up when talking to strangers. Small talk? Not your thing. And you don’t have a friend to talk to or a phone with which to look busy to save you.

 

In the hour lesson, you have to talk to only a few people for a few minutes before you get to move on to your next partner.

 

Then, the open dance starts.

 

But you’re starting to crash. It’s eight o’clock, which is still early; except, you haven’t slept in two nights. You only have two guys in your group that you can dance with. Unfortunately, in your group, the ratio is 2:4. You don’t really mind, though. You don’t have to dance the whole time.

 

But then, those other three female friends convince you that you need to stand on the edge of the wooden dance floor to be able to get a partner. After all, one of the two in your group is preoccupied with someone specifically: that leaves one. One partner to four. Your best odds are that you’ll dance one in every four songs.

 

But even that’s ok: you’re starting to get tired. You’re crashing, remember?

 

What happens, though, you weren’t prepared for, though you should be. It happens every time. One of your friends is taken by the available partner in your group. That leaves you and two friends standing on the sidelines. You can’t hear them above the music because they talk too quietly, so conversation is impossible. You’re just standing there, feeling like you look dumb. Needy.

 

And then a stranger comes by, and takes off to the floor with one of your friends.

 

Now there are two of you.

 

Your anxiety is rising again. You’re edgy, still manic enough to want to snap, but you’re getting tired of standing there. It’s been two songs. Your friends aren’t back.

 

Then, the one friend you’re left standing with is whisked away. Now? It’s just you.

 

You stand there another minute with no one, acutely aware that you’re one of the taller friends, while most of the available partners are shorter, which makes them feel weird. Unfortunately, you’re not the thin taller friend.

 

You start to back up toward the table away from the edge of the floor. No one’s there: just everyone’s stuff. You stand next to it, wondering if maybe that’s still good enough to get a partner.

 

But no one comes over. You see the one partner in your group making his way through your friends, and even some strangers. You haven’t danced in the open dance yet…and you’ve been there a half hour.

 

So you sit down.

 

The number of thoughts running through your head is insane: I’m not good enough. I don’t dance well. I lumber. I’m fat. I’m too tall, I’m ugly. I wouldn’t know what to say, anyway.

 

Finally, the one partner available in your group comes up.

 

You get to dance now.

 

You try to dance without thinking too much about form, but while still thinking about it enough that you maintain it properly. This partner is a talker. Amazingly, he is one of the few you can talk to.

 

But that doesn’t make it any easier. You have anxiety, remember? Every time you say something, you internally question it. Was it stupid? Should I have said it?

 

Yeah, that was stupid.

 

So you laugh at the end of your sentence, but your laugh comes out weird. More of a grunt, because you know it wasn’t truly funny. You just didn’t get the reaction you thought you would from the person you’re dancing with.

 

After miraculously managing to get in a dance or two, you start lobbying to go home. You’re tired, not on top of the world anymore like you were when you first went manic this time, and your anxiety has such a strong grip that you’re still playing through your conversations from hours earlier.

 

Eventually, everyone agrees to leave. You’re in the car, about to cry because you feel like you’ve made a fool of yourself all evening. Those conversations you’re still playing through in your head don’t stop. In fact, they’re going to continue. For how long, you ask? A day. A week. A month. You may recall the conversation years later and still wonder, was what I said stupid? Did it sound stupid?

 

Your friend drops you off, and you make it into the house. You’re so tired that you don’t bother with a nightly routine. Your nightly routine is hit and miss anyway. You just put on some pajamas and climb into bed.

 

Welcome to the crash: depression has hit. You may be in bed for a day…or a week. I can’t tell you. No one can.

 

But this? This is the face of bipolar and anxiety.

 

This is me.

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High School and College Are Breeding Grounds for Mental Health Issues

I could see him in the corner of my eye, and I could tell he was looking in my direction. I kept my eyes on my work. Most people if they have a question ask the front desk attendant, not the trainers. But he came up behind me.

“Look at how much I did on the overhead press,” he said, holding his phone in front of me.

“Wow,” I said, “That’s impressive!”

“Yeah, it’s good to do heavy weight in here after a stressful day,” he said.

“Oh, absolutely. This is the best place to be when you’re stressed,” I replied.

“Yeah, today was horrible. I teach in a high school, and one of the senior girls committed suicide last night,” he said.

My heart sank. “Aw, jeez. That’s terrible.”

He shook his head. “Today was bad. I had to get in here and get the stress out. I’ll be back tomorrow too.”

“Absolutely, man.”

He looked toward the door and started walking. “All right. See you tomorrow,” he said.

“Yes sir.”

I glanced back at my work, heart still heavy. I couldn’t tell if he was mad, stressed, confused, or distraught. Maybe it was all the above. I said a quick prayer for the girl’s family.

The next day I opened up my school email and saw a message from the head of school. It was a school-wide email clarifying what had happened with a certain student, whose name I didn’t recognize. I opened the message, and my heart sank. Two nights before, a male student took his own life.

 

The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in High School and College

 

Unfortunately, this isn’t all that uncommon. In America at least, most people have experienced hearing the news of a classmate’s suicide (or news of their child’s classmate’s suicide). It happened the one year I taught middle school. All staff got an email about an hour before school’s end informing us of an emergency meeting. The moment students left, we all huddled into the 7th grade language arts room, where our principal told us in tears that one of the high school students committed suicide a few hours ago. Several teachers gasped.

“Who was it?” one of the teachers asked, her voice shaking. At that moment I realized she likely knew the student. She had been the 6th grade math teacher for a long time. It was a small community—only one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school. The middle school teachers knew every high schooler except transfers.

Our principal said his name.

“Oh no,” the 6th grade math teacher said, immediately stepping back and burying her face in our social studies teacher’s shirt.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition, and “suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in youth ages 10 – 24.” For those adolescents who develop mental illness, it takes, on average, eight to ten years before they get help[i].

Regarding college students,

 

Researchers from the World Health Organization, led by Columbia University Psychology Professor Randy P. Auerbach, surveyed nearly 14,000 first-year college students from eight countries (Australia, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Spain and the U.S.) and found that 35 percent struggled with a mental illness. Auerbach says this finding “represents a key global mental health issue.”[ii]

 

Furthermore, according to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, “Anxiety continues to be the most predominant presenting concern among college students (41.6%), followed by depression (36.4%), and relationship problems (35.8%). Other common concerns are suicidal ideation (16.1%), alcohol abuse (9.9%), sexual assault (9.2), ADHD (8.9%), and self-injury (8.7%)”[iii].

 

What’s the Problem?

 

Adolescence is a turbulent time. Indeed, “50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24”[iv]. High school and college years are the time when most mental illness begins.

The brain undergoes significant change during this time of life, and it follows that the brain is more susceptible to maladaptation. According to research on psychiatric disorders and adolescence:

 

The relationship between typical changes in the adolescent brain and the onset of psychopathology is not a unitary phenomenon, but an underlying theme may be conceptualized as “moving parts get broken”. Adolescence is characterized by major changes in the neural systems that subserve higher cognitive functions, reasoning and interpersonal interactions, cognitive control of emotions, risk-vs-reward appraisal and motivation. Not surprisingly, when not adequately surmounted, it is precisely these challenges that increase the risk of cognitive, affective and addictive disorders…Adolescence is a time of substantial neurobiological and behavioral change. These changes are usually beneficial and optimize the brain for the challenges ahead, but may also confer a vulnerability to certain types of psychopathology.[v]

 

It makes sense that mental illness develops during adolescence. The brain is changing and this is when many individuals experience true hardship for the first time. The amount of social, mental, academic, and athletic pressure placed on students doesn’t help.

 

  • Pressures and Stress

 

Research suggests that the expectations placed on the children of parents with higher social status increases suicide risk and self-harm risk: “Children from privileged backgrounds – social class I (doctors, lawyers, academics, etc.) appear to be at increased risk. While traditionally a low-risk group, children of high social class parents, especially females, may feel additional academic pressure during adolescence because of higher parental- and self-expectations”[vi].

This makes sense. In America, we tell high school students (especially middle-class, upper-middle class, and upper-class) that if they want to be successful, they need to go to a prestigious university. To do this, students must earn good grades, complete many hours of volunteer service, play a sport, play an instrument, be involved in student council, be involved in other school organizations, and have other hobbies they can tell colleges about in their applications. This is busyness that rivals the busyness of an adult working full-time, or even over 40 hours a week. Some kids thrive under this pressure, some don’t.

For those who don’t—well, too bad. You want to be successful, right? You don’t want to work in a gas station for the rest of your life, right?

I was one of these kids. I developed depression at 15. Within a year I started feeling the pressure to polish my resume for college. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t have the energy. But I had to.

Much of the same pressure applies in college. To graduate in four years, you must take between 12 and 18 hours of classes per week every semester. This can be a heavy load. For students with existing mental health conditions, this is probably hard enough. But to properly take care of yourself so you can take that many classes, you need to eat well (which takes time), sleep enough (which, for most people, is 7-9 hours per night), exercise regularly (which takes time), have rest time (which is longer for those with mental illness), and have social time. And that’s not mentioning work, which many students need to do to pay rent or help pay for college (crippling debt after college is another topic in itself).

I’ve never met a college student who isn’t swamped with work. They’re constantly stressed. These conditions are just asking for mental health problems.

Because of all the work and other demands placed on high school and college students, they don’t sleep enough. A National Sleep Foundation poll from 2006 concluded that “more than 87 percent of high school students in the United States get far less than the recommended eight to 10 hours, and the amount of time they sleep is decreasing”[vii]. Students have way too much going on, but they know the only way to “succeed” in school is to complete all their work and fulfill all their obligations. Even if they manage time well and use healthy coping mechanisms for stress, they’ll still lose sleep simply because the amount of work they have. In high school and college, lack of sleep becomes a badge of honor, a way of showing how dedicated you are to success. But it’s nothing anyone (including these students’ teachers) should be proud of. The consequences of sleep deprivation are far-reaching: “Sleep deprivation increases the likelihood teens will suffer myriad negative consequences, including an inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts. It’s a problem that knows no economic boundaries.”

Research is starting to show that suicide rates increase during the school year[viii]. This doesn’t surprise me. I went through teacher training to become an English teacher, and I taught and tutored for a total of two years. For high school and college, I think teachers assign too much work. Some assign work like their class is the only class students take. Teachers and professors need to be aware of how much work they assign, and they need to do a better job of considering students’ health. Many teachers and professors tell their students to take care of themselves and then render it impossible with how much work they give. Let kids be kids. Let them have lives. Peter Gray sums up the negative effect of scholastic pressure well in the previously-mentioned article,

 

School is clearly bad for children’s mental health.  The tragedy is that we continue to make school ever more stressful, even though research shows that none of this is necessary.  Young people learn far more, far better, with much less stress (and at less public expense) when they are allowed to learn in their own natural ways, as I have pointed out in many of my previous posts and in my book, Free to Learn.

 

 

  • College culture

 

College culture is a problem in America. Many students go to college for the “experience”—which usually means drinking, partying, sex, and going to football games. Some of these students still excel academically, some of them don’t. This culture and the social pressure to conform that goes with it is a breeding ground for addictive behaviors (alcohol, drugs, and sex addiction). And addictive behaviors are detrimental to mental health, even if that manifests itself further down the road.

 

  • Big classes, big schools

 

This is an issue in high school and college. For high school students, having big classes means less interaction with the teacher. It’s easier to get lost in large classes, especially for quiet students who are hurting. The teacher may think there’s nothing wrong with the student. However, if the teacher had a smaller class and more opportunity to work one-on-one with all students, he or she would be more likely to spot concerning behaviors. Research suggests that feeling involved in school (perhaps more likely for students in smaller schools) decreases suicide and self-harm risk: “pupils with low levels of school engagement and involvement are more likely to attempt or seriously think about taking their own life or deliberately harm themselves”[ix].

That’s not to say that mental illness and suicide don’t happen in small schools. I’ve witnessed student suicide in a small community.

At the end of the day, how close-knit a community is likely determines the suicide risk of its school(s) (see the research study above). In big cities and big school districts, it’s harder to have a close-knit community (although not impossible).

This is one of the cons of large universities, in my opinion. My freshman year I attended a small school in northeast Texas. I’m introverted and I had zero problem feeling socially connected during my time there. However, after I transferred to one of the largest universities in the country, it took me almost two years to feel remotely connected. Shocker: my mental health suffered drastically during that time.

 

  • Hopeless ideologies

 

This isn’t discussed enough in regards to mental health. In my opinion, this is a big problem facing our country for numerous reasons.

The anti-religious, often atheistic ideologies pushed by college professors affects almost everyone, whether we realize it or not. Influencers (i.e. politicians, teachers, writers, speakers, researchers, business owners and entrepreneurs, etc.) usually go through college. Some may come to college already holding anti-religious or amoral beliefs, but all are exposed to them in college, whether prior beliefs are reinforced or new beliefs emerge. These people—again, I’m speaking generally—then go into the world and advocate for inherently atheistic beliefs and policies (whether they realize it or not). Ideas are contagious, and college is a place for ideas.

If professors are increasingly atheistic, the general population will likely follow. As Christians, we know that beliefs grounded in atheism produce only death and decay. Universities are implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) encouraging harmful mindsets, which only results in people doing more to harm themselves.

If life has no meaning, then life is inherently hopeless. This mindset is a catalyst for the destruction of mental health. If all truth is relative and there is no right and wrong, what’s stopping someone from sleeping around or using drugs? Universities are encouraging self-destructive behavior. We need to call it for what it is and start the conversation about alternatives or how we can address the issue.

 

Are We Willing to Change Our Systems?

 

I understand that adolescents need to develop coping skills. I understand they need to learn how to push through challenges. I’m not saying we need to ensure our kids experience no hardship whatsoever. Healthy coping skills, time management, and perseverance should all be taught to high school and college students. But we also need to examine our systems and be willing to change ineffective and unhealthy traditions. Research studies increasingly confirm school’s negative effect on mental health, yet few people listen and fewer still do anything about it. If this continues, we will only perpetuate high school and college students’ mental health struggle.

 

 

References

[i] “Mental Health Facts: Children and Teens.” National Alliance on Mental Illness. 3 June 2014, https://www.nami.org/getattachment/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers/childrenmhfacts.pdf

[ii] Hess, Abigail. “Massive survey finds 1 in 3 college freshmen struggle with mental health—here are 4 things you can do.” 4 Oct. 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/04/4-ways-to-be-proactive-about-your-mental-health-in-college.html

[iii] Mistler, Brian et al. “The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey.” 2012, http://files.cmcglobal.com/Monograph_2012_AUCCCD_Public.pdf

[iv] “Mental Health Facts: Children and Teens.” National Alliance on Mental Illness. 21 Sept. 2016, https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/Children-MH-Facts-NAMI.pdf

[v] Paus, Tomás et al. “Why do many psychiatric disorders emerge during adolescence?.” Nature reviews. Neuroscience vol. 9,12 (2008): 947-57. doi:10.1038/nrn2513

[vi] Young, Robert et al. “Do schools differ in suicide risk? The influence of school and neighbourhood on attempted suicide, suicidal ideation and self-harm among secondary school pupils.” BMC public health vol. 11 874. 17 Nov. 2011, doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-874

[vii] Richter, Ruthann. “Among Teens, Sleep Deprivation an Epidemic.” Stanford Medicine News Center. 8 Oct. 2015, https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2015/10/among-teens-sleep-deprivation-an-epidemic.html

[viii] Gray, Peter. “Children’s and Teens’ Suicides Related to the School Calendar.” Psychology Today. 31 May 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201805/children-s-teens-suicides-related-the-school-calendar

[ix] Young, Robert et al.

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“Just Come to Him” May Be a Better Prayer Approach than “Get in the Right Mindset”…Especially for Hurting People

There’s a notion that you must speak properly to God in prayer. It says you must be on your best behavior, that you must be in the right mindset.

I’ve heard several references to Christian writers who advocate this. They say to sit in silence, meditate on God’s word and His holiness, or something of the like. This practice can be encapsulated by a quote from Kenneth Bailey in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: “Twice in the recent past it was my extraordinary privilege to personally greet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II…How much more should we sense the awesome nature of our approach to ‘Our Father who is in the heavens’ and be appropriately prepared to address him.”

I think there’s a place for this kind of practice in the Christian life. It’s not bad to meditate on God’s word or holiness or how grateful you are to Him. However, I think any attempt to claim this should be our routine every time we pray is mistaken.

As expressed in the earlier quote, many people view God as king and therefore think He should always be addressed as such. God is the King, but I think this earthly analogy breaks down when considering prayer. You’d never address a king with anything less than the best decorum. However, God seems to encourage spontaneous and even frustrated prayer. In a sense, God doesn’t demand that we always address Him with the utmost respect. He’s a king who’s more interested in a genuine, deep relationship. He wants you to express yourself to Him, all the way down from the depths of your soul.

Let’s look at some examples from David and Jesus:

 

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).

“But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.

You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.

You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.

You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.

You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.

You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.

I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.

Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.

But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.

If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,

would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?

Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:9-24).

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

 

This is the kind of communication He wants. He’s not interested in a “respectful” façade (Jesus says in Matthew 6:7 to refrain from empty words in prayer). He knows you at your best and your worst anyway. Why would He care about a proper appearance when you approach Him? He wants you, more than anything, to draw closer to Him. Spewing all your “junk” at Him, so to speak, does that better than approaching him with “proper etiquette.”

I’ve heard so many people say they feel they can’t pray. How can I with all I’ve done? How do I talk to Him? I feel too much shame, guilt, fear, hurt, anger (and yes, this could be anger at God), apathy, distrust, confusion, distance. I can’t bring myself to pray. To these people, it wouldn’t be helpful to say, “You need to get in the right mindset before praying.” No, to these people I say this: Just come to Him. Just start speaking, even if it’s frustration.

I once heard a therapist say, “If you don’t think you can pray, just go home, open up a window, and scream (a certain curse word I won’t repeat here). That can be considered praying.” While I don’t necessarily endorse the expletive, I agree with his point: Let everything out, don’t hold back. Start spewing. If you spew consistently, you may be surprised how deep your prayer life is a year from now.

Again, meditation and quoting God’s word before praying isn’t bad. But for those of us who are addicted, feel numb to God, feel hurt by God, feel mad at God, feel they can’t see Him, are scared to approach Him, or fill in the blank, just coming to Him may be the best way to pray.

 

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

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

“whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).

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Think on These Things

When depression’s ice

Freezes my life

And stops me in my tracks,

 

Or when feelings of inadequacy

Hit me like the felling of a tree

And I want to turn back,

 

I think of…

 

An expanse of sea—

His creative majesty—

Sprawling before me.

 

Something Lovely.

 

A child of innocence,

Meaning no impertinence,

Simply telling the truths of his experience.

 

Something Honest.

 

A gavel downward crashing,

As a judge, through mental thrashing,

Gives the sentence he can’t escape passing.

 

Something Just.

 

A bride deserving of her white,

Ready to make a life

In a new chapter as her husband’s wife.

 

Something Pure.

 

The Hand of the Lord,

Ready with His Word,

For my use—a Sword.

 

Something True.

 

 

“Think on these things,”

Paul exhorts:

 

It may not STOP the

Depression,

Anxiety,

Inadequacy—

 

But a Biblical attitude

Of Godly gratitude

Makes it harder

To fill our earthly larder

With feelings that God did not intend:

Ones that only came about with a Serpent’s end

In mind, in heart—

Of which I want no part.

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Trying to Function with a Mental Illness–Even During the Good Times

I’ve struggled with significant OCD and depression for a little over 10 years. When it first started, I could barely function at all. I managed to, but it took everything I had, and my athletic as well as my academic performance still suffered (I was in high school).

Since then, I’ve completed counseling and got on medication. I’ve also learned through the years what makes me feel better and what makes me feel worse. I’ve learned to manage myself. As a result, my mental health has improved considerably.

Things aren’t perfect, but I’m pretty happy with my situation in life. And yet, my mental illnesses still make it hard to function. For instance, as I write this my mind constantly wants to look at the coffee table to make sure my phone isn’t frozen on the home screen. In two years of having an iPhone that has never happened. But that’s the irrationality of it—I still feel the need to check, even though I know it’s a silly thought. As a writer, it doesn’t help that I’m always wanting to check something. It makes concentration very difficult. I just make myself push through.

Two of the worst parts of my day are leaving for work and going to bed. It’s hard for me to leave my house, and I dread it. My OCD kicks in, and I feel the need to check every door, light switch, electrical outlet, candle, and faucet, as well as the oven and stove. I often check multiple times, though the feeling remains—even when I leave—that I forgot something and need to go check again. I force myself to keep walking to my car, and the first few minutes of my drive are spent fighting off the feeling that something bad will happen in my house while I’m gone.

Here’s something that people with depression will relate to. Due to the nature of my job, I work in the mornings and in the evenings—I have the middle of the day off. Every day between 11am and 2:30pm I feel drained, although some days are better than others. I force myself to get up and go back to work. And this is coming from someone who sleeps around eight hours every night, eats well, maintains healthy relationships, isn’t particularly stressed, does outdoor activities, is married, doesn’t feel lonely, is involved in church, reads a lot, lifts weights regularly, and does cardio exercise regularly. I check off all the “healthy” boxes, and I still feel tired.

For me, this is the reality of living with mental health disorders. I’ve accepted it, but sometimes I still feel like I can’t win. I mean, isn’t exercise supposed to give you energy? But I played basketball last Thursday and Saturday, and I felt ridiculously sluggish on Sunday. This morning (Monday), I woke up and realized I slept an hour past my alarm. It definitely went off, but I don’t recall hearing it at all. What the heck? Would it be better for me not to exercise? I even read somewhere that team sports (like basketball) are supposed to be the best exercise for depressed people. It makes me happy when I play, but then I’m exhausted the next day—like, I’m in good shape and I can still barely move exhausted. I guess you can’t get a pure, through-and-through “win,” so to speak. With mental illness, even when you follow the rules there’s still something not working right. That’s the way it feels, at least.

If you looked at me at my job or at church, you probably wouldn’t think I struggle with any of this. I function pretty well…it just takes all my energy and focus, and I make myself do it. But there’s pretty much no part of normal functioning that I take for granted anymore.

We often assume that if people look like they’re functioning okay then they are. But we need to be aware that it takes some people everything they have to reach that point. We need to look deeper than the surface level and be understanding.

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They Tie Up Heavy Burdens

Rather than sit

In a pew, week after week,

I sit at home on a seat—

Far more comfortable, yes,

But with the same Book in my hands

That tells me His commands—

Not man-made, not man-upheld

Like a whited sepulcher,

Like untruths from a Hell

They’ve created.

 

I can sit in a pew

And listen to a man spew

Forth these lies

That in Your eyes

I’m less than,

Not Christian,

Because I suffer from depression.

 

“Oh wait, that’s not all?

“Anxiety, too?

“God doesn’t want anything to do with you.

“Or, if He does,

“First you must be clean—

“Repent of your ways, you sinner.”

 

But don’t you see?

It’s an illness of the brain—

A refrain

I dance to week after week,

Day after day.

 

I can sit in a pew—

Would that make me friends with you?

I can listen to the clatter

Of the offertory platter

As it goes by

And its din gets louder and louder

In my head with each passing moment.

 

 

Yes, I can do those things, too,

Just like you—

But then, because of this struggle,

The words start to tumble

From your mouth to my ears:

 

Unclean

Unrighteous

Unrepentant

Unsaved

Sinner

 

But who’s to say

That you have the right way

Of judgment,

Of unacceptance,

Of unwillingness to understand.

 

If that’s your God,

You can keep Him—

For to my God,

I am His beloved child.

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We’re All Hurting. So Why Don’t We Talk About It?

Let’s be real: we’re all hurting. If not, then I maintain you’re in the minority.

 

After starting the recovery process years ago, I noticed how many people around me were hurting. I saw the benefits of recovery for myself and realized most people would also benefit from recovery and/or therapy.

So why aren’t we more open about our problems? Why aren’t more people in therapy or recovery groups?

For one, there’s still a stigma around therapy and recovery. For many people, if you tell them you’re in recovery or therapy, they immediately wonder what’s wrong with you and if they should even be around you. Your reputation is instantly tarnished. This is despite the fact that those same people are hurting inside because of a break up or the death of a loved one.

We want to display a good image of ourselves. We want people to think we’re smart, we’re beautiful, we’re upstanding, we’re successful, we’re godly. In short, we don’t want others to think we have problems.

But that’s the thing: we all have problems. We’re all trying to look perfect for each other, yet none of us are. It’s a big masquerade.

Many of our problems simply come from hiding behind these masks. We’re lonely, depressed, anxious, grieving, hurting. If we’d just open up and receive support, we’d feel better. Many of our wounds would be healed. We’d be happier.

Instead, we feel crushed by the pressure to appear perfect—like we have it all together. We feel trapped because we’re terrified of others knowing the truth. And it eats at us. Because of this, some feel they can’t go on another day, which is one reason why seemingly perfect people fall from grace overnight or take their own life.

I pray that our society—including churches—would be more transparent about personal problems. I pray it would become more “mainstream” for people to discuss their issues. I pray we would throw away the masks and be real with each other. I pray hurting people would feel less terrified of coming out into the open. I pray the stigma around therapy and recovery would end. I pray we would truly connect with one another.

 

There’s freedom in honesty. There’s freedom in true connection.

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4 Reasons Christian Men Don’t Discuss Their Depression

According to information from the National Health Interview Survey, about 9% of American men have “daily feelings of depression or anxiety” (American Psychological Association, “By the Numbers: Men and Depression”, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers.aspx). It stands to reason that that number is probably the same for American Christian men.

For the last ten years, I’ve talked openly about my struggles with depression. Every now and then a Christian guy would admit to me that he too struggled with depression. And just since starting Persevering Hope three months ago, I’ve had several Christian guys tell me online or in person that they struggle with depression.

But with all that said, I’ve only had one other guy express interest in writing for Persevering Hope (as opposed to 12 women). Some of the guys who admitted battling depression to me never mentioned it until I said something about my battle, whereas almost all the women I’ve known who battle it discuss it freely.

From my understanding, more women have depression than men. But let’s face it: there are men—Christian men—who fight this battle but struggle to openly express it. In America, women talk about it more easily than men. That needs to change. We need to find a way to make our culture more conducive to men discussing their mental health problems.

Here are four reasons why Christian men don’t discuss their depression.

  • They feel most other Christian guys don’t struggle with depression, so they feel isolated.

I remember feeling this way. I had great Christian communities at both the colleges I attended and in the churches I attended during those times. In my small groups, I was the only one who battled depression—at least the only one who said anything about it. The other guys didn’t really know what to say to me when I’d discuss it. In a way, I can’t blame them. How do you know what to say unless you’ve been through it yourself? But the lack of understanding discouraged me from bringing it up. As you can probably guess, that only made things worse.

  • It’s not particularly socially acceptable.

In my experience, church people don’t really know what to do with a man who says he has depression. Again, let’s be real: it’s not as socially acceptable as it is for women. These men are anomalies—purple cows or unicorns or strange-colored something. They can feel as though they stick out like a sore thumb. That’s not easy to do. So why mention it at all? Which brings us to the next reason…

  • They want to be seen as godly men, so they sweep depression under the rug.

This is especially true if men are in leadership positions. Sometimes men feel as though everyone looks up to them when taking care of their families or organizations or churches. I don’t think men should feel this much pressure when leading people. I think it’s a result of complementarian theology, but that’s a discussion for another day. But if they don’t feel particularly accepted when they admit depression and they want people to view them as godly men, why would they bring it up?

  • Some Christian communities still believe depression is always a sin.

This drives me nuts. I’ve talked to a few women the past month who said their church told them they don’t know Jesus because they struggle with anxiety and depression. If you’re a guy in one of those churches, you’re never going to let anyone find out about your depression. You are going to suffer in silence and put on a happy face around everyone, not to mention the voice in your head constantly asking why you don’t have any faith in God. That is a recipe for disaster.

If you’re a guy suffering from depression, I hope you’ll discuss it unapologetically. Don’t let anyone shake your confidence. You are a man of God—you keep loving and serving those people who look at you funny or don’t get it.

We need to change our church culture. Christian men—godly, godly men—have depression. They are as much of saints as anyone else. Get over the social awkwardness and love them. Make it socially acceptable for them to talk openly. Even if you don’t understand, ask them how they’re doing when they mention it in small group, ask them how you can pray for them or help them, tell them you admire them for speaking up, spend time with them and try to understand, and be there for them. The absolute worst thing you can do is say nothing and hope it never comes up again. That’s what church people have been doing and it has devastated suffering men.

Let’s get the conversation going about depressed Christian men.

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Recovering from Depression

(Excerpt from full article entitled, “Be Sure of Your Healing”, as seen in the September issue of Faith Filled Family Magazine, page 10, https://indd.adobe.com/view/e1112bc6-09e6-4f19-abb7-46fc27b3db84)

As a mental health nurse, I see the devastating effects that depression has on the person and their family. For those who haven’t experienced it themselves nor known anyone diagnosed, it is often misunderstood, sometimes even ridiculed and written off as ‘all in the mind’. Sadly, this misunderstanding can even come from those closest to the person, with hurtful and unhelpful comments along the way. 

With depression, the person may feel hopeless and helpless, fearing they may never escape the darkness; they may feel like a burden to their family and friends; they feel out of control and overwhelmed with life; the energy is drained from their bodies; quality sleep eludes them; their body may be racked with pain; eating becomes either a mood-enhancer causing over-indulgence, or a chore; the thoughts run wild, like a recording playing over and over and over in their mind; negative self-evaluations pervade their mindset leading to thoughts of being unworthy of love, of being pathetic and unable to cope with life.

Most people believe that medications are the main form of treatment. Research tells us, though, that a combination of treatments has been found to be the quickest and most effective for sustaining remission from depression.(1) Of course, medications play an important role, but most don’t find them exclusively effective. (2)

In order to work out a combination of treatments, it is worth a closer look at the ‘biopsychosocial’ model.  This model can be understood easily when broken down into three easier parts: biological, psychological and social. Current mental health science says that a majority of emotional problems stem from these three interrelated areas, and are therefore effective to use as a basis for combination treatment.(3)

BIOLOGICAL

Your physical body is a precious gift and looking after it physically is a way to honor God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

When we consider biological treatments, we need to include medications, exercise, nutrition and sleep, as well as treating other medical conditions that are contributing to depression, for example, pain management.

We all know that these things help us to feel better. These improvements don’t just occur for vague, unidentifiable reasons. They happen due to biochemical changes that take place and tangibly improve your mood.(4)

Medications help change your biochemistry and play a role in recovery. While they aren’t the sole answer, they can help lift your symptoms enough that you are able to work on the other things that are required for recovery and maintenance.  They can lift you out of that dark pit, so that you can at least start moving forward. 

In recent years, there has been much research and information shared in regard to nutrition and mental health. You may have noticed more news reports, documentaries and articles on the topic. Even on Facebook you may have seen this topic pop up in your newsfeed.

It has been said for many years that ‘You are what you eat’. More than ever this is being proven, with the research pointing to your gut health as a key factor.

Simply put, research has found that there is a link between our brains (mental processes and emotions) and our gut (intestinal functions).(5) In other words, they ‘talk’ to each other.  Think about a time when you were feeling excited.  Did you get butterflies in your stomach? Or when you were anxious, did you feel nauseas or experience diarrhea or reflux? The emotion is happening in the emotional centre of your brain (amygdala), yet those responses are in your gut.

It stands to reason then, that if your gut is healthy, it contributes to better mental health.(6) But how do you improve your gut health?

Research tells us that improving gut health is two-fold – increasing gut friendly (anti-inflammatory) foods in your diet and limiting or removing foods that aren’t gut friendly (inflammatory).(7)

PSYCHOLOGICAL

There is a well-known verse from Philippians 4:8 that gives a great pattern for us to follow with our thoughts, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (NLT). Of course, this is much easier said than done, especially when depression overwhelms.

However, there are things that you can do to help lift your mood and therefore help you model this kind of thinking.

Psychological treatments include formal therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), gratitude journals, music, building self-esteem, kindness, prayer, meditation, controlled breathing, and relaxation (to name a few).

One of the key things as Christians is our connection with God through prayer. There have been studies done on how prayer affects our wellbeing, both physically and mentally.  One study found that practices such as prayer actually thickens the brain cortex which is thought to be a protective factor for depression.(8)

SOCIAL

The Bible has many verses that talk about our relationships with others.  It speaks of who to connect with and how we should manage those relationships. All areas of our life are covered, from marriage and families, to friendships and business partners, to enemies and strangers. Obviously, we are designed for connection!

When someone suffers from depression though, connections can fall by the wayside.  The person may not have the energy to connect; they may not feel worthy to connect; they lack the motivation to connect. Sometimes bridges have been burnt, so to speak, and some connections have been irreparably severed. But this social isolation from family, friends and support networks only compounds the problems with depression.

In the biopsychosocial model, the ‘social’ not only relates to relationships but also to environmental circumstances.(3) Avenues for treatment of both of these include social connections/supports (eg family, friends, clubs, church, professionals-doctors etc) and working on issues such as unemployment, housing, transport – many things contribute to one’s social situation and need to be considered to assist recovery.

A key factor to consider for recovering from depression is social supports. There are many ways this can be done, but as Christians, we have a great support network provided to us through the church. In Hebrews 10:25 it says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” While we have viewed these three areas individually, it is important to keep in mind that there is a lot of overlap. When you work on one area, the other areas tend to improve also. Just like medications alter your biochemistry, so too do these other treatments. By using a combination of treatments, you can improve your mental health quicker and with longer lasting effect.

You can check out Shauna’s website and book at https://www.shaunagallagherauthor.com/

References:

  1. Medscape: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/286759-treatment
  2. PubMed Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0087089/
  3. Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/think-well/201605/why-the-best-therapy-is-biopsychosocial-process
  4. Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise#1
  5. Psych Scene: https://psychscenehub.com/psychinsights/the-simplified-guide-to-the-gut-brain-axis/
  6. Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
  7. Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
  8. Mental Health Social Support: http://www.mhss.net.au/research-and-statistics