Tag Archives: community

Mental Illness is NOT scary

TheGatheringonMentalhealth

Houston, we have a problem. There’s a social epidemic wreaking havoc on our nation’s people. Unfortunately it’s an issue that remains hidden behind walls of stigma and mask’s of false reality.

Mental illness (don’t click away! Hang with me for a few, pretty please?)

I recently attended The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church at Saddleback in California; (This is bestselling author Rick Warren’s church, in case that rings a bell for you.) I’ve been an advocate for mental health since going through my own recovery for anorexia and anxiety. As a co-leader for my church’s brand new Shattering Stigma mental health ministry, attending this conference was a special opportunity. Continue reading

Goodbye, Martha

Spokane at night: courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Spokane at night: courtesy Wikimedia Commons

My dietitian is moving back home to Spokane, WA. This is a very big deal. I didn’t think it was at first. I was happy to hear that God was speaking into Martha’s life, as to what the next steps in the Plan were for her and that she was listening. She never wanted to move back to her hometown.

Here’s the first lesson: never say “never” with God because he’s likely to stick you smack in the middle of where you declare you’ll never go.

I once told God I would never ask for healing for my anorexia because the disease kept me close to Him. (Conveniently it also kept me skinny.) Nine months later I found myself in anorexia rehab, specifically sitting in Martha’s office.

You guys, I am not being dramatic when I say Martha is half the team that saved my life. When I sat in Martha’s office on November 3, 2014, I was dying. I had no idea how close to death I was, of course, but Martha did. She was so tender and understanding with me, simply listening to my story. Despite all the tragic details in my thoughts, behaviors and attitudes about food and my body, I didn’t want to be there in that office with Martha. I didn’t trust her. I believed she was there to make me fat.

Martha wasn’t offended. She didn’t turn her back on me or chastise me. Instead, she listened and asked me sensitive questions and offered grace. Never once did she judge me, tell me that my thoughts and behaviors were wrong or “bad,” or warn me that I was dying. Instead she developed a meal plan for me. Because I was starving and her first priority was to feed me.

The re-feeding process was arduous and painful, not because of Martha, but because my body didn’t know what to do with the food I was feeding it. My metabolism was severely damaged. It would take almost eight more weeks of eating on my plan before my metabolism even “turned on” again, and several more months before it was healed and working properly. The whole time, Martha was by my side listening to my laments, my confusion, and my bewailing in response to the physical side effects and emotional turmoil that came with eating again. She answered my questions, explained what my body was doing, and helped me understand that even though I had completely disconnected from my body and tried to kill it (my words, not hers), my body was trying to protect me to keep me alive. My body was working really hard to get better.

It's not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

In the midst of this process, Martha introduced me to the idea of intuitive eating. I’ll never forget the day she told me I could “trust my body.” I had bought in so deeply, even went into debt, on the notion that my body was bad and all the food I had been eating or wanted to eat was bad. Our culture teaches that food can’t be trusted and our bodies are not okay unless we strictly control them. We’re taught that we have to restrict what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, how we eat, and how often we eat. This is why we have 14,000 different diets to choose from. On top of that, culture says we should concentrate on exercise to burn the calories and the fat and the carbs. Not only do we need to burn off the food, but we should also be sculpting and toning and chiseling our bodies into “that” perfect shape.

So when Martha said, “Your body knows what it’s doing. It knows what you need and what to do with. But it requires that you first listen to what your body is telling you and then to trust your body to do what it does once you give it what it needs and wants,”– this was revolutionary thinking for me. And refreshing. And terrifying. (Read more about intuitive eating here) Oh and exercise? Yes, of course. But do so for the joy of the movement, not for the burn.

In March of this year I had fully transitioned out of my re-feeding meal plan and into intuitive Healthyandwelleating. It’s a long process learning how to trust my body, but my body and mind have never been healthier than it is today. Is my brain completely healed yet? No. It’s getting there. Is my body healed and healthy? Yes! (It isn’t fat either. And I eat carbs… and sugar. And fat. So there.)

I have Martha to thank and a good God who deserves the glory!

Martha was a God-send for me. Literally. I was dying; God sent Martha to bring me back to life. So it is a big deal that she is leaving now. I am sad she that she has to go; I am scared to not have her by my side as I continue navigating my recovery. But Martha has set me up for continued and life-long health (not mention advocacy for intuitive eating). There are people in Spokane who need her now; I respectfully and prayerfully say goodbye knowing she’s in the hands of  mighty God who has special plans for her life and the lives of the people she’ll encounter.  I trust God to stay by my side through the rest of my recovery (I still have my therapist, Tamara, who is the other half of the team that saved my life!).

Martha and I and my children did a radio interview with Rose City Forum about intuitive eating.

Martha and I and my children did a radio interview with Rose City Forum about intuitive eating.

Listen to the interview here: http://recordings.talkshoe.com/rss134258.xml

Exposing the heart of all that matters

IMG_20150420_085125

In my last post, I lamented about how God is asking me to surrender my perfectionism. It turns out that I am not really a perfectionist, rather perfectionism is a shield I built to ward off feelings of shame when I’m just being me.

Using my experience at the Shattering Stigma conference, I told you that I wasn’t prepared. I gave my presentation without notes–without organizing my “stuff” into a presentable and tidy speech with bullet points.

I lied (without realizing it).

I was prepared. I was prepared because I had prayed, sought words and ideas through Scripture, and heard the voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart. God had prepared my heart for the day. I gave a presentation from my heart but my trust was fully immersed in notes that didn’t exist. If God lives in my heart, then I can trust God will shine through me–not my notes. Or PowerPoint. Or anything else I squeeze nice and neat into a box.

This is what I was trying to say but failed to make clear that point. I apologize.

But guess what? While this is a very valuable lesson in spiritual growth for me and an incredible step in my relationship with Christ, none of this is about me.

Did you catch the platform upon which God was teaching me? Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church. He placed me with a group of other people at an event where the whole point is to be 100% vulnerable, raw, and transparent about how not perfect life is.

This conference was not about me and losing my shield of perfectionism. This conference was about shattering the stigma that shields the community from connecting with those living with mental illness. 

  • This day was about the Allen family bravely sharing their story about Andrew, a son, grandson, brother, and brother-in-law who has been battling bipolar disorder since he was in the eighth grade.Allen Family
  • This day was about a highly educated professional, Dr. Rand Michael, revealing that no amount of education or skill will ever prepare us for the beauty, challenges, and lessons we’ll experience with mental illness. Dr. Michael
  • This day was about a wife, Kelcey, living with both bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, describing how her husband has loved her “in sickness” through psychosis, mania, and suicide attempts (not because she wanted to die but because voices instructed her to).IMG_20150530_134724867_HDR (1)
  • This day was about an aunt, Tara, with nieces who suffer severe mental illnesses and how loving them fiercely wasn’t enough to make them all better.
  • This day was about moms, Tess and Casey, who battle depression and anxiety while learning how to best love their kids and navigate the journey of raising families.

Every single story was raw in honesty and emotion about why mental illness is hard and how we’ve experienced the stigma from our communities. Every single story showed what healing looks like. Every single story showed how God has made himself known in the battle despite the lack of confidence we and/or our families have felt in our journeys.

Loving God is hard when you live with the challenges of mental illness because it’s hard to know if He’s really there. Yet every story showed that it’s through love of people that God makes himself most obviously present. 

Stigmas and stereotypes act as protective barriers against understanding people who are difficult to love. For God, no one is too hard to love. We have to break down the barriers to love like God. In doing so, we show the love of God to people who believe they don’t matter. Love is the heart of all that matters.

In the name of Jesus and for the sake of shattering stigma, I proudly present to you my imperfect, note-free shattering stigma story:

*Conference photos courtesy of Sovann Pen; special thanks to my sister-friend Kelcey Rockhold for recording my talk.

Punching my gremlins in the face

WritingThere’s something I haven’t told you because I’ve been fearful. I thought I was being humble. But this past weekend I attended the 2015 Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference, which turned into two-day therapy-retreat where I cried a lot and got really depressed before I became inspired. I was hindered to inspiration because I was blocked by truth.

I sat in a guided writing experience with Micah J. Murray,  where we called out our snippy inner-gremlins and fought against them by writing a fan letter to ourselves. I wasn’t going to read mine out loud because my gremlins told me that everyone else’s letter was way better, that I would be self-centered if I volunteered, and that everyone would think mine was stupid. I punched my gremlins in the face by volunteering to read mine.

I read my letter and I was okay; people liked it.  Micah asked me to read it again. The second time I read it, I wasn’t okay. I began to cry and could barely get through the dang thing without snotting all over it. I got mad(ish) at Micah, “Why did you make me read this again? Look at what you made me do!”  He had called me to a place of public vulnerability–then asked if the group could pray for me. He asked the sweet girl next to me, Michelle, to lay a hand on me and pray. And pray she did, so beautifully and tearfully. This was a powerful moment that I didn’t understand in the moment.

In this same class, a gentleman, Sovann Penn (@SovannPenn), read his letter. He said to himself, “You have been mistaking fear for humility far too long… you have friends who are awesome and believe in you.” This stuck with me the rest of the day the same way a rock gets stuck inside your shoe.

That night in the main session, author Emily Freeman said: “I want to write like a hostess. A hostess doesn’t leave her guests to go call all the people who RSVP’ed “no” to find out why the didn’t come and why they don’t like her. That’s crazy. I want to write like a hostess, not a crazy person.” This put another rock in my shoe, and I went home feeling depressed, annoyed, and uncertain if I would be back the next day. I snuggled up to my husband and blubbered all over him with no words to express what was wrong with me.

I woke up the next morning with the very clear voice of the Holy Spirit:

“You’ve been mistaking fear for humility; you’re missing out on the full experience of the gift you’ve been given and the ministry in which you have been invited to participate. You are scared of people rejecting you, mocking you, and being angry with you, yet in all the things I’ve given you to write never once have you experienced what you fear. Not even in your most public confessions of sin. You are a lovely hostess with many guests I’ve brought to you because they can hear you; your translation from the Kingdom to the guests is good! But you leave them so you can wait by the phone for the “no” RSVP’s to call. They aren’t calling… and you’re missing the party! You have faithful friends, family, and even strangers who believe in you, but most importantly I believe in you. I have work for you if you’re willing; the fruit will be good and beautiful if you will trust Me.”

Here’s what I want to tell you:

I’ve spent the last 14 years pouring into and editing the stories of others, defining myself as an editor and merely dabbling in my craft as a “wet-noodle” writer. I confess that while I adore, honor, and value other people’s stories, I’ve been using editing as a way to avoid the true work God has for me–writing. I have been fearful of stepping into the public arena of vulnerability, giving power to voices of the gremlins and cloaking my fear in humility so as to justify my place behind the scenes (which, incidentally, is where an editor works. How convenient.)

Yes, some of my recent writings have been more confessional and vulnerable (evidence of God’s effort in coaxing me out into the arena), but I can tell you they were published in trembling obedience and reluctant submission.

I surrender with humble declaration that I am writer. I write creative non-fiction about real-life, my story, and God’s unwavering persistence to be the anchor for both. I translate through written words what I hear, see, and feel from God so I can better understand the purpose he has for me, how I can live that purpose for His glory, and how I can invite others to discover the same for their lives. My prayer always, dear reader, is that through my experiences, you find yourself encouraged, inspired, and invited into a Kingdom that is safe and welcoming, and promises purposeful life no matter how broken you are. You are loved unconditionally. And so am I.

God gave me my first assignment in January– a children’s book called The Hungry Garden. It’s an alphabet book the Hungry Gardenthat explores the ordinary to extraordinary food that gardens grow and why these foods are so exciting. It comes with a 26-recipe “snack book” that parents and children can use in their kitchen to be creative with food. I have completed the first draft of the main manuscript, and I am currently developing and testing the recipes.

I never wanted to write a book, let alone a children’s book . . . let alone a children’s book about food.  I didn’t feel qualified. But as I have been following His lead on this project, it’s becoming more clear that as a recovering anorexic patient, I understand the fear of food intimately. I know what it feels like to see food in front of me that looks scary, smells weird, and would certainly be the worst thing ever if I ate it. As a child of God living with an eating disorder, I can relate to children in a way others cannot. Only God can orchestrate such a unique connection.

I look forward to sharing with you the nutty things that have happened since beginning this process, along with the mysteries and surprises I encounter as I journey forward. I promise not to hold back anymore! I am joining the party and will step into the arena as my name is called.

And those grumpy gremlins? Well, they aren’t invited.

 

When faith and culture don't line up

I think every writer should have a place where they can be divinely inspired in their craft by other writers. For me that place is the Faith and Culture Writers Conference here in Portland. Here’s a bit of my writer’s story (guest blogged on the Faith and Culture blog) and how my life changed when I met Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack. Enjoy!

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If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “So when are you going to write a book?” I would be a kazillionaire.

My response is: “As soon as God gives me a book to write.”  Usually my remark elicits a reply of, “Oh” or simply a blank stare. Somehow the qualification for being a writer has come to mean either one has written or is writing a book and/or is also published or seeking to be published. Well, if this is the case then I guess I am not a writer because not only haven’t I written a book, but I don’t want to.

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