Tag Archives: mental illness

Exposing the heart of all that matters

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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.

Why Prayer Doesn't Work

 

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Prayer is not an ointment. You don’t just rub it on when something is wrong.

Prayer is not a perfume. You don’t put it on to make the aroma of Christian life sweeter and more pleasing.

Prayer doesn’t “work” because it isn’t an application for problem solving or an item on a checklist for “proper function.”

Prayer is, rather, like the life-line for a complete blood transfusion. It’s an internally-intense, delicate, and aggressive means to changing life entirely. It’s an intentional practice of surrendering the body, spirit, and mind so the power of God can flow through to clear out infection and refill the emptiness with the blood of Life.

I don’t always feel like I know how to pray. Like the intravenous tube, so thin, tiny, and narrow, that carries blood into the body, my words typically feel feeble–small, thin, insignificant–carrying my prayers up to God. In fact, sometimes I don’t even know what words to pray, and I pray from a book–either straight from the Bible or from Germaine Copeland’s Prayers that Avail Much. Most times, my prayers dribble out like a rocky stream of consciousness, resembling the disjointed yet impassioned monologue of a four-year-old.

Thank God, though, it isn’t words that give power to prayer. It’s faith. I genuinely believe that God can and will answer me because my heart seeks to align with His. My words might be feeble, but it’s the power of my heart that pumps the power of God through the wordy life-line and into whomever or whatever I pray for in my devotion. How does that power work? I don’t know. It’s supernatural. The Holy Spirit, God in spirit form, lives inside my heart. When I drop my (natural) human control and trust the “thing” beyond my humanness to take over, that’s when the power of prayer takes place.

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There is not a prayer too petty or prayer too challenging to lay before God.  At the risk of making you squirmy, I am going to tell you a story.

Not too long ago I had a friend who was suicidal and had turned away from God. I was terrified for her physical life, and I was mourning the loss of her connection with Christ, because that spiritual life-line was imperative to keeping her alive. I prayed everyday that God would please show up in an obvious way to remind her that He was/is indeed with her and that she has purpose through Him.

IMG_20150511_091132 One day, I sat down with my Copeland prayer book, and I prayed for her deliverance from Satan and his demonic forces (that topic needs a separate post on another day. If spiritual warfare makes you squirmy, I know. Just hang with me a minute, okay?) Praying against the dark forces is deep and dangerous. I soaked myself and my family and friends with prayers of protection. Then I stepped into the gap between my friend and God and prayed. I didn’t just say the words; I held up the words with the power of my heart–like a sword. I seethed against the dark dark forces that cloaked my friend’s view of God, and I used God’s Word–from the Bible–to fill my friend and protect her, to lift her back into the safety of the Lord’s hands and restore her faith. It was an intimate, intense, intercessory prayer time.

As the week wore on, my friend’s faith continued to wane. I confess: at times I wondered if my prayer would even “work”; I am human, so my natural tendency is to think that this spiritual stuff is all about me and my efforts. It isn’t. The second I would think that thought, a stronger sense came through, “I trust you, Lord. I know You will bring her back.”

He did.

Last Friday, my friend called me. She told me about the profound, intimate time she had with God that very day, which was humbling and powerful for her. She had been done with Him; she had been angry that people were even praying for her. That all changed on Friday, and the connection with Christ has been reforged. It had nothing to do with me and everything to do with God.

 

Is she all better? No. She is still grieving, battling mental illness, and enduring the journey of deep healing. But the Life-line is reconnected and the process of spiritual transfusion can continue!

Did I do a happy dance and say, “My prayer worked! My prayer worked!” Nope. I got down on my knees and I prayed a tearful and joyful prayer of thanks–“Thank you for saving her, Lord. Thank you for catching her. Strengthen her bond with You. Thank you for answering my pleas. Thank you for answering her family’s pleas. You are faithful and miraculous. Wow!”

Prayer is not an ointment. We don’t apply it on our life to stop the itch of things uncomfortable. Prayer is the infusion line by which God’s power is pumped into our lives. It’s internal, delicate, and aggressive. Prayer doesn’t merely work; it’s literally the supernatural pathway for God to hear and respond into our lives .

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” John 5:14

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

 

 

 

 

What anorexia intervention feels like

IMG_20140117_090116She doesn’t want help because she thinks treatment will make her fat. 

What?! No. No one was allowed to know this. This was something I kept so hidden that I barely acknowledged it was there. How dare this woman know the ugly that lived in the mired muck of my soul. How dare she expose it! How. Dare. She.

I felt betrayed. Exposed. Hurt. Unsafe. Violated. Undermined. Angry.  Intervention feels like crap.

I was a wreck. The dam holding back my anxiety crumbled. I was crying and hyperventilating and angry and shooting evil-eye laser darts at my beloved husband, who, I felt somehow, had betrayed me. I hated him for calling the counseling center (on speaker phone) and answering all the questions honestly. I couldn’t believe the audacity of the woman on the phone who called me out:

  • Your wife needs help.
  • She’s on the cusp of needing hospitalization; her bmi is on the edge.
  • We wouldn’t put her in a support group until she was ready.
  • She doesn’t want help because she thinks treatment will make her fat.
  • She’s terrified; deep down she wants help.
  • She will be okay but she needs intervention now.
  • Tamara would be a great counselor for her.
  • We have a dietitian that can work with her dietary needs and food fears.

I can’t remember the rest of the afternoon. I do remember one thing, though. I was left with a choice: Do I accept the intervention and say yes to help, or do I say no?

The next day I felt exhausted and scared. I picked up the phone and dialed the number. Intervention lady answered.
“Um. Yeah. This is Leanne Sype. My husband called yesterday.” I started to cry.
“Hi, Leanne, yes. I remember. How can I help you?”
Through tears I said, “You said I didn’t want help because I think treatment will make me fat. Well, you’re right. And the fact that you know that makes me want to punch you in the face. You’re not supposed to know. But the fact that you know also tells me that maybe you can actually help me. I’d like to make an appointment.”
“You’re going to be okay. We can help you.”
I went into treatment the following Monday on November 3, 2014.
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What saying “yes” to intervention feels like

Ladybug
Have you ever rescued a ladybug? You know when you see a ladybug in danger, you so carefully lead the ladybug onto your hand or you even gingerly pick it up, so careful not to hurt it. And then you let it rest in your hand while you carry it over to place a safety?

Think about how scary that must be for the ladybug–to be lifted and carried by a giant hand, not knowing or understanding what is happening or where it is going. That little ladybug has zero control. How helpless it must feel!

I felt like that ladybug. I was resting in God’s hand while He carried me to a place of safety. While I knew the Hand that carried me was God’s, I was terrified as to where we were going. I had zero control. I could have lifted my wings and flew away, and trust me, in those days of waiting for Monday to arrive, my wings fluttered. But I wanted to be obedient and I wanted to let myself, for once, trust–to let God have control and let myself be carried.

I wish I could tell you that it felt like a glorious ride through the breeze. It wasn’t. I was a nervous wreck. If there was sand covering the floors of my house, you would have seen a well worn path in a giant circle from my front entry, through my dining room and into my living room where I had paced and paced. Yet, I had a sense of peace in being completely surrendered. I was so tired and ready to be carried–and to finally land in a place where I didn’t have to worry about food anymore.

I am six months into recovery now. I don’t worry about food. I am no longer in danger. Am I completely healed? Not yet. But I am happy and alive and hopeful and back to living life without anorexia as my main focus anymore.

So if you’re reading this, scared to see what help might mean, I can tell you the Hand that carries you has a destination of peace, safety, and healing for you. Healing is hard and uncomfortable. I’m not going to lie. However, as you heal there is freedom… from fear, from food,from pain, from uncertainty. I promise.

And if you are the one who is thinking about an intervention for someone you love… do it. It’s not going to feel good. Should your loved on say “yes,” know that it will be a hard road to healing and they’re going to need your patience, grace, and love. But it’s going to be worth the journey when they come back to life. I promise.

A letter to my body

What you are about to read was an assignment given to me by my dietitian, who has been an integral and God-given guide in leading me back to health from a 13-year battle with anorexia. In an effort to connect with my body, and to begin healing my distorted view of my body image, this exercise proved to be as powerful as it was awkward. While I still severely dislike what I see in the mirror, this letter was a starting point for disarming the shame associated with what I see every morning when I step out of the shower, and reaffirming me as a vessel for a heavenly Spirit. 

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Dear Body,

I wish this could be a love letter. It isn’t a hate letter to be sure, but it is more of an I’m-learning-to-like-you-as-I-understand-you-better letter.

I guess I never really understood you, how you work, why you function the way you do in all processes, and why your processes make me feel crummy. I don’t always feel crummy, but most of the time, at the very least, I feel uncomfortable in you.

Since entering rehabilitation, however, I am beginning to learn more about you, and as I do,  I find myself appreciating you more. Let me just say, thank you for always trying to protect me. I think the biggest lesson I am learning is that you are always, and always have been, working hard to protect me. Even when I was abusing you, starving you and ignoring you, you were trying to keep me alive. I am sorry for taking you for granted.

I ask for your patience as I continue trying to understand you, because while I am beginning to feel genuine appreciation for you, I simultaneously feel irritation, confusion, and discomfort toward and inside you.

For example, Belly, I have a love-hate relationship with you. I love that inside mypregnancy2 gut hosts the epicenter for my immunity. When you are feeling good and operating normally, you are working to protect me from illness. Also, I think it’s amazing how you stretched to accommodate my babies. While it was no picnic for me to carry around an extra human inside my body (twice), it’s pretty damn cool that you could house, feed, and grow my children . . . And shrink back down to a relatively normal size without too much evidence that I had babies. Pretty incredible. Props to you too, Uterus (I’ll get back to you in a minute).

Overall, dear Belly, I think you are pretty neat. What I struggle with, though, is that for some reason you often feel like a freshly pumped bike tire. It usually happens after I eat or drink anything. Now that I feed you regularly, I feel like a Huffy bike tire regularly. I understand that my brain is sort of broken and tends to distort reality; I probably don’t look as puffy as I feel. However I do feel like by the end of each day, after all the food and drink is in, my assessment of you is pretty accurate. It causes me angst to feel larger than I actually am. I want to understand why you puff up, and maybe if I understood better, I could have a bit more compassion and grace rather than shame when I wear a fitted shirt. Or pants.

Since we’re here, I may as well address my female reproductive team. First off, Sean and Haley Cookiesthank you for giving me children. Without the work of all the parts (ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus) there is no way I would have Sean and Haley today. I have friends who have had lots of trouble conceiving children, so I don’t take for granted what you have done for me.

Here’s the deal. You hurt and exacerbate the issue with my belly at least once a month, sometimes twice when we consider ovulation. Wouldn’t it be nice, now that the babies are born, if we could retire from the menstruation process. I know it’s a lot of work for you, and it’s no monthly vacation for me either. Once again, though, maybe if I could better understand why your process makes me feel so miserable, and why the protocol is necessary post-reproductive season, then maybe I could have more patience and understanding for you.

Body, there are parts of you that I really do try to take care of, but I feel like you don’t cooperate in return. Like my skin. I have come to accept that you don’t tan, and I have become less embarrassed by the permanent porcelain tint you have chosen for my legs (which, by the way, Legs, I like you). But I am constantly covered in rashes and bumps. Again, your blemishes, which randomly appear on my abdomen exacerbate my displeasure with Belly. What can I do to heal you and keep you rash free? And moist? You are always so dry. Do you need more water? I would love to show you confident and cool in shorts and swim suits, but it is tough when you are covered in itchy spots. People ask questions and I don’t know what to say.

As I just mentioned, I do like my legs and even my arms. You guys have good shape and the capacity for good strength. I love that I have all of you and you serve me well for walking, hugging, lifting, and holding. I am working to build the muscles and bone strength to keep you healthy and strong all the way through my senior years. Hands, I am so grateful for all you do in helping me with–everything. I don’t know what I would do with you. You are literally writing this letter!

Brain, I understand you the least, and I find myself frustrated with your thinking quite often. Why do you fight with my heart so much? What my heart knows to be true, you tend to negate and persuade me otherwise. You house the voices that try to convince me that I am invalid, unworthy, and ugly. Yet, you also feed my introspection, helping me process and express my truest thoughts that have nothing to do with those false voices. I know if I didn’t have you, my body would be lying in a hospital bed, completely dormant. You are a little bit broken, but I feel you yearning for healing and working to accept the new beliefs that debunk the lies you’ve been holding.

DearBodySo you see, Body, I am trying to improve my attitude toward you. Everything you have and do has a function. As I figure out what is harming you, like I did with gluten and starvation, I desire to heal you–to engage in better behaviors and habits that will help you thrive. I want to love you. All parts of you. Even when I don’t feel good, I know that as I learn the whys and hows around how you work, loving you will become easier.

Last but not least, in fact, most importantly, you are a home for which the Holy Spirit dwells. This is a new perspective that I hadn’t considered in earnest until today. In honor of the the One who created me, this home called Body, I simply want to respect you with care, compassion, nutritional fuel, so the Spirit can work as it was designed. I pray as we continue to heal together, the image of the God shines through.

In growing understanding,

love,

Leanne

Noticeably Imperfect

The reality of recovery is this: The healthier we get, the more noticeably imperfect we become. This is really uncomfortable for me, and today I find myself sitting in depression because of this truth.

Addiction of any kind, but specifically, for me, anorexia (the addiction to starving my body), serves as a sort of protection against being noticeably reflectingimperfect. I’ve been imperfect my whole life, and unfortunately in my formidable years, was bullied into believing that because of my imperfections I was ugly, invalid, unworthy, and unacceptable. I was outspoken and brave for a little while, which made things worse for me, and by eighth grade I placed myself along the wall where I wouldn’t be noticed as much.

As I entered into my adult years, the bullying ended but the world supported my invalidity and ugliness through cleverly disguised messaging : “Oh it’s okay. Nobody is perfect, but here are 500 billion ways to be perfect.” The world is filled with information, diets, medication, tips, products, and “secrets” that will make me better, to perfect those things that supposedly aren’t so great. So sure, I am not perfect but I am not good enough as I am either.

It’s maddening.

I had coped with the madness by developing an eating disorder and an obsession with perfectionism, hiding my imperfect self behind what I thought was more acceptable according to the way of the world–a super thin perfectly beautiful body, with a quiet and agreeable disposition and orderly lifestyle. This (seemingly) served me well for the last 13 years or so, until I reached a fork in my journey and was faced with two choices: die or recover.

I chose recovery. With recovery comes the revealing and rediscovering of the girl I had hidden away and had mostly forgotten about. As she begins to emerge, I find myself ashamed and uneasy about my imperfections and my voice (the part of me that speaks my place in this world); I am scared to death to let me show and be heard… because remember, I’ve been told my imperfections are ugly, invalid, and unacceptable by a harsh world. But I can’t have recovery and hide at the same time–if I choose recovery then I choose to be noticeably imperfect.

IMG_20150317_090306I’m discovering and learning to accept that I have a normal-sized body with curves (that thrives on food with carbohydrates, sugar, and fats), dry skin, an insatiable sweet-tooth, and a trick stomach that’s easily upset; I have a type-A personality that notices details, anxiously desires order, and doesn’t handle stress well; I am a woman in love with Jesus and hears/obeys his voice on a regular basis (this alone makes me wacky in a worldly sense); I adore the people who sit sheepishly alone on the wall whom the world deems as strange and useless; I have a nasally voice that, when I’m feeling brave, speaks strongly against the tide of popular thinking for the sake of Truth; I’m a mother who doesn’t like volunteering in her kids’ school (there, I said it.); and I’m a writer who constantly trips over the line into verbosity because I have a lot to say about stuff.

When I get scared and feel completely unworthy of boldly taking my place out-of-place in the world, like I feel today, I am tempted to run back into the disorder–to go back to the hidden path I walked so certainly for the last 13 years. But it leads to death. I can’t go back to that. I don’t want to go back to that. But I don’t want to be noticeably imperfect either because it makes me vulnerable.

So I sit down in the middle of the road, depressed, and cry.

It’s then that I am comforted by my (seemingly wacky) friend, Jesus, who says:

Remember that it’s the world that tells you your imperfectness–your unique humanness as Leanne–is not good enough.  But, My grace is sufficient for you for my power is perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) I know the plans I have for you… plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11).  He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6), [so] do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)