Can we have an honest chat?

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Have you ever had a “down” day?  Have you ever felt “blue”?  I have and I’m sure you have too.  There are times when the challenges of life feel like they are crushing in on us, there are times when situations catch us so off guard that it sends us into a sad tailspin for days or even for a short season.  The ebb and flow of life can bring both sadness and joy.  Even King David had some “blue” days where he cried out to God “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Ps. 31:9-10).

However, what if you found it impossible to move past those “blue” feelings?  What if you’ve tried everything you know to be happy and positive but the heaviness you feel remains?   What if anxiety and depression have become and unwelcome guest on your life journey? Shouldn’t you be able to fix it with enough faith in God?  What’s wrong with you?

Peter Kramer in his article; It Can’t Be Depression, I’m a Christian tells us:

“Christians feel guilty about being depressed. They feel they should “know better.”  This leads to denial, which only makes matters worse. Well-meaning friends, and even pastors, who don’t understand what is going on, encourage them to “snap out of it,” and offer advice on “getting their Christian act back together.”

But clinical depression and anxiety isn’t something a person can “snap out of.”

What if your depression and anxiety required some form of wisely administered medication to assist you in regaining that needed chemical balance? This is where we get religion and physical health mixed up?  With every other physical challenge, thyroid issues, asthma, cancer, heart disease, etc, we find it completely acceptable to require medications to bring greater health and healing, yet historically  the church can get really uncomfortable when medications are required for greater mental health.

Carlos E. Whittaker, a pastor, in a recent article says;

Common myths in the church as it relates to mental illness are:
1. A person struggling with mental illness needs to have more faith.
My faith and my serotonin levels have nothing to do with each other.
2. A person struggling with mental illness should forgo medicine and pray harder.
You wouldn’t tell an asthmatic to pray harder during an asthma attack. You would tell them to suck on that inhaler.

If you are a person who struggles with regular anxiety and depression then you are probably nodding your head in agreement.

Years ago, as a very positive type of person,  I was shocked to find myself in the midst of postpartum depression! I loved my baby.  Why couldn’t I shake off these feelings? Didn’t I have enough faith?  I was ashamed to tell anyone about how I felt and I didn’t know how to make it stop!  Finally, I got some much-needed help and over time I re-gained my emotional balance.

God understands our dark feelings, our doubt, our discouragement, and yes, even our depression; and his desire is to help us. Sometimes, the help we need might include professional counseling and some form of medication. After all, God created the minds that created these medications, and it is not a sin to take them if you truly need them. Sometimes simply making better choices for food, rest, and relaxation rhythms can be all that’s required to move us to a healthier place. Sometimes we need greater intervention.

You may agree with me or disagree with me, and that’s okay. However, as a Pastor’s wife and a Coach for many years,  I have heard the shame in the voices of those who struggle with the depression and anxiety; this breaks my heart.   Add their need for medication  and the shame triples! I don’t believe they should feel any shame; I don’t believe they are faithless people.  I believe God cares deeply and wants His church to express His heart to hurting people in the midst of a very difficult struggle.  I know you do too.

If you struggle daily with depression or anxiety; please get the help you need. Find someone to talk to, get some medical support, and refuse to let shame or embarrassment keep you from living a life full of purpose, peace, and joy.

Romans 12:15  Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

Empty Tank?

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 Your tank is empty because you drained it.

While driving my car I tend to forget all about my gas tank UNTIL the red light goes on and alerts me to the fact that I am running low on gasoline. I respond according to my personality by waiting a day or two “certain” that I’m not that low and the car can run a little longer.

Unfortunately, so many of us run ourselves that same way with the exception that the  warning that we are “getting low” on fuel may look like exhaustion, challenged relationships, a health crisis,  or even depression.

Just like in my car I am the one responsible to fill up my own gas tank.

Emails, phone calls, to-do lists, and texts force us to continually engage in on-going information 24-7.  When are we done with work?  When will we walk away from all the “screens” in our lives and take a walk or engage in a hobby that re-fuels us? Perhaps today we need to declare out-loud ” I give myself permission to rest.”

As a Coach I often use the example given on the airplane by the stewardess: ” in a crisis place the oxygen mask on yourself before attempting to help anyone else!”  Have you made yourself a priority on your calendar? Do you have weekly practices that keep your “tank” above the EMPTY line? What are the activities that drain your “tank”?  Is there anything you need to stop or start in order to maintain a healthier balance?

Take a moment today consider your energy level.  Is there a RED LIGHT on that you are ignoring?   Remember, you are responsible to manage your own “gas tank” so “Fill’er up!”  🙂

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Tears of a Clown~

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I had just given birth to my precious newborn son~ I had long-awaited his birth with great love and anticipation! Why then, when we arrived home, did I feel blue, dark, and sad……..for days?  I am a happy, positive person! Why was I feeling so “dark”.  I felt guilty and embarrassed.  I reached out to my personal doctor who helped me walk through what is called “postpartum” depression.  I found that experience scary and disconcerting; once it passed I was incredibly relieved.

It was in a small town in Northern California where my husband was serving as a pastor in a small church, I experienced the impact of depression once again.  I had two small boys, we were isolated, we were poor, my husbands schedule was enormous, and I was struggling to see where I fit in this community.  The darkness slowly began to settle in. As the church leadership became more and more unhealthy I became worrisome, scared, and lonely.  The darkness settled in even deeper.  I can remember the day when I called my mother who had always been so supportive; we talked for a half an hour when she began to say her goodbyes.  I can clearly remember saying to her ” No mom, you cannot hang up the phone, I can’t promise you that I’ll still be here”.  She remained on that long phone call until I could catch my breath and see a glimmer of hope again.  Depression had led me to the brink of reactional and unhealthy thinking.  It was scary.

In light of the recent passing of Robin Williams; a multi-talented actor and comedian, I was reminded of the power depression can have over the emotions and will of those struggling with it. I recognize that my depression was a result of hormones and situations that felt out of control~ yet, I have experienced just enough to know how scary it can be.  Clinical Depression is really serious and to onlookers often makes no sense.  A flourishing career and a history of great success could not remove the darkness that continued to settle into this actors heart.  Drugs, alcohol, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms could not make this darkness disappear, in fact it only made things worse.

We are left to ponder the power of depression in the lives of those we love and care for.  How can we help?  I know I don’t have all the wisdom needed to be a definitive voice on the subject; I have dealt with many people struggling with different levels of depression. Here are some ideas that could support those who struggle with depression:

1.  Talk about it, draw them out.  Be willing to sit and listen, really listen. Encourage them to journal.  Encourage them to find a counselor whom they can trust over a long period of time.

2.  Pray for them.  intercede on behalf of their un-healthy emotions. Believe that God cares for them. Remind them how precious they are to God.  ( Psalm 139:13-16)

3.  Get educated on clinical depression.  (http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-resources)  If we, or a family member struggles with depression, we must intentionally learn what we can so that we can watch for the signs and respond IF we see them.

4. Invite them into life-giving experiences–get outdoors in the fresh air, create opportunities for laughter, show you care.

5.  Isolation is a response to depression; be mindful that your friend or loved one does not experience long seasons of isolation.

Ultimately, we all need each other. Learning about depression, finding helpful tips, being prayerful can make a difference in those we love who are facing this “darkness”.

Suicide is heartbreaking for everyone! Everyone!  My prayer is that we will not lose another mother, brother, friend, or celebrity due to  the effects of depression!  😦

We need one another, we really do!

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  I was reminded again this week, through the sad events in Boston, Massachusetts that we really do need one another.  Out of the rubble of lost lives and limbs arose an army of people connected by sadness and grief going above and beyond to make sure they helped and supported every person they possibly could. Strangers housing disoriented families, men carrying children to safe places, and medical professionals jumping in to help wherever they found a need. In times of crisis we really do need one another.

However, in the regular rhythm of our daily lives we really need others as well. From the website “Live your Life well” I saw that research points to the on-going benefits of good social connection:

1.  Social connection brings increased happiness. When you are offered concrete help, emotional support, fresh perspective, wanted advice, and encouraging validation you will find that your emotions will stay more hope-filled then downcast.

2.  Better health is another benefit from being connected to others.  Loneliness is associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure, sleeplessness, and depression.

3.  Connecting regularly with others helps us to remember that life isn’t all about our challenges.  When connected to others we are also able to care for their needs, focus on being supportive, and share in our common challenges.  This can help us to have a balance in our own thinking.

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When thinking about friendships, some people think that in order to be less lonely they must be liked by everyone. That’s just not true!  The person who has 4,000 friends on Facebook is not necessarily “connected in relationship”….especially if the bulk of their free time is spent maintaining their Facebook page!  Two or three amazing , trusted friends/family can be all we need to be known, heard, or validated.

Life is busy.  Perhaps this has been an especially crazy season for you and quality connections with others has been tough to find; yet with a time of reflection you would have to honestly say that you have been experiencing some of the symptoms of a disconnect: discouragement, restlessness, isolation, etc.  Perhaps a few of these steps would be helpful in moving you into a place of connectedness:

1.  Make a list of those you would like to connect with, calendar a bi-weekly/monthly  time with them that allows you to spend some quality time.

2.  When spending time with those you value the most: turn off phones and other distracting devices.  Maximize what little time you have!

3.  Listen really well and repeat back what you have heard to be sure you truly understand what is being shared!

4.  Ask for help.  Even great friends will have trouble reading your mind.

5.  Share your appreciation for those you value; you may be thinking it but bridges are built when your actually share it!

6.  Move out of unhealthy relationships to give yourself fresh emotional and time margins to begin to invite quality connections into your life.  Boundaries are a good thing!

We need one another~In our personal lives as well as in a national crisis!  If you have found yourself isolating I beseech you to reach out and invite people IN again. 🙂

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“It is impossible for us to be all we can be in isolation.”  Paula P. Brownlee