Tag Archives: Bipolar disorder

Christmas and Your Mood Disorder: How to Redeem the Day

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness   (c)2017 Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

A few minutes ago, in the local drug store’s parking lot, a woman smiled at me warmly as she stepped out of her car.  We are strangers, yet around here people tend to smile more at each other during the late autumn months.

About two hours ago, I left church where songs of praise to God and our Lord Jesus were joyful, and the sermon, inspirational.  A larger crowd than usual greeted each other with welcoming attitudes.  I am new there, and only three of today’s hellos were by name. However, that is not what mattered.

What is special about Christmas time  is that briefly, society takes on a sense of obligatory friendliness. This is not to say it is insincere. In fact, I think the holiday season gives us permission to reach beyond ourselves in ways that may seem out-of-place the rest of the year.

A similar phenomenon may occur when a mood disorder such as major depression or bipolar disorder are part of our reality. There may be predictable times of the day, week, month, or year that our symptoms tend to flare up. One of those may be holidays.

In the middle of episodes, our emotions are heightened and we see only how we feel. The truth of people’s best intentions can bypass our notice. That warm smile from a stranger may seem like mockery. Greetings at church (if we venture out at all) can feel hypocritical. After all, why don’t these people hear us screaming desperately for help? Why does no one care?

Truth is, as much as family, friends, church leaders, therapists, and even strangers may want to be there for us, they cannot see beyond our masks and walls. Meanwhile, Jesus is already aware. He sees us, knows our every thought and pain, and loves us still.  He does not reserve his welcoming stance for his birthday. Year ’round, every minute of the day, he is available to anyone who is ready to turn to him for salvation, wisdom, and change of heart.

I speak as one who lives it. In those times we sense emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, or feel out-of-control, the answer comes from that baby in the manger. He is no longer a child, but is the King of kings.  Heaven is his home, yet he lives in human hearts. He is not an illusionist,  a philosophy,  only a good teacher, a liar, or religious fantasy.

He is the Redeemer.

Jesus is the redeemer of my major depression. In the pit of despair,  I sought death while he offered life. My eyes focused on pain, while he extended his hand full of promise. He did not reject this daughter who lost her way emotionally. Instead, as I barely hung on yet believed in my Savior, he guided me to the right helpers.  Over time, through these people and his Word, he met needs I did not know were unmet. He allowed me to go to the bottom so the whole of my spirit could be healed.

It took time and is not done yet. That is okay.  Mood disorders are tough. Their roots run deep. Learning to manage them may take years.

As for now, this Christmas Eve and Day tomorrow, you and I can turn to the Savior whose birthday we celebrate.

Allow the King to redeem your Christmas.

Today’s Helpful Word

Blackmailed into Slavery: Abuse Matters

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness   (c)2017 Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

I had a brief conversation with a woman who was very wealthy. Her money shielded her from fears and injustices many others face. She proceeded to describe  why she felt some humans deserve to be relegated to trash. Something about eye shadow. I wanted to puke. 

I wonder what she would have thought of Molly. 

Molly Tries to Start Over

Molly was thirty-three years old when I met her. A mother to several children, she was not raising any of them. Her sobriety was less than one year old, and she was in the worst quandary of her life.

You see, Molly was pregnant again. One might think this would be old-hat to her, to deliver a baby then give it up. That’s not how she saw it. That’s not how her heart felt it.

She was experiencing this pregnancy as if it were her first. She knew of her other children and cared about them, however that love and ache was fairly new. No longer in a haze of nearly constant drug abuse and alcoholic binges, she was comprehending reality. Unfortunately for her, the truth unveiled reason for regrets and sorrow.

I first met Molly when she about to give birth. She was glad for her recent victories, and proud she had not used drugs or alcohol throughout the entire pregnancy. Yet her heart was breaking. Family Services had informed her she could not keep this child either, despite parenting classes, collecting a baby’s material needs such as a crib and diapers, and attending her 12-step programs faithfully.  Why?

Molly was homeless.

She told me about a man who had used her before, paid her for sex so she could get drugs. Her lifestyle at that time had been especially self-destructive, and as a result, Molly was uncertain as to the father’s identity .  Nevertheless, this one man was making her an offer. If she would be willing to serve his sexual cravings, she could live in his house.

We spoke of second chances and eternal hope. Weeping, she prayed to receive Jesus Christ’s ultimate gift of love for her. 

Molly is Blackmailed into Slavery

A few weeks later, we met again. She held a beautiful baby girl and grinned widely as I exclaimed over her new daughter. Molly grew quiet. Anxiety crossed her face as she answered my questions. Yes, she was still sober. Yes, she had found a home. No, she did not have custody of this child.

“Then how is it you have your little girl with you?” I asked.

“Her father has custody.” Molly’s eyes were downcast. “We took a paternity test.”  She sighed helplessly. “It’s the man I told you about. He has agreed to let me live with him and our daughter. He says he will take her away if I ever fail to please him.”

“Molly! That’s abusive!”

“I know. But I have no choice. Nancy, what else can I do?  He has full custody!”

We Need Not Play Favorites

We need to grasp what is reality for some people.  Often we do not know what to do in desperate situations like Molly’s, and so do nothing.  It is true, social problems are overwhelming. It is easier to hide in front of the TV or go shopping than think about it. 

We do have at least five options for making a difference. 

  1. Believe people’s stories.  Anytime we assume someone is exaggerating or has ulterior motives for crying “abuse” before we  research all the facts, we are choosing blindness.
  2. Vote for healthcare for the poor or sponsor a family yourself.  If Molly had sufficient and appropriate health care her story would probably look much different. She has Bipolar Disorder and cannot afford meds. This particular mental illness, if left untreated,  can prevent a person from holding down a job, or making quality life decisions.  
  3. Volunteer as a mentor to someone who is different from you. Spend time with people in need. Listen and care. 
  4. Pray with compassion. God hears the cries of broken hearts. 
  5. Verbally stand up to bullies with superior attitudes. More importantly, make sure you are not one. 

Abuse is important. Each time. Each person. Always.

 

Today’s Helpful Word

James 2:8,9

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

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Comments are always welcome (see tab below).  NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

Your Mental Illness, Your Responsibility (Part One): Are You At Fault?

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2016  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

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Neurons transmit messages by way of neurotransmitters. People diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) seem to produce less of a neurotransmitter called Serotonin. Top left: neural pathway of someone without MDD; Top right: neural pathway of someone with MDD; Bottom: comparison of neural pathways of someone with untreated MDD and someone taking medication for MDD

In past Western society, symptoms of mental illness were seen as behavioral choices, bad attitudes, or at least repulsive deficiencies. We used to institutionalize struggling people because loved ones did not know what else to do. In worst case scenarios patients were used as lab rats, or sterilized against their will. Dark, rubber-walled isolation chambers were thought “safe” places where a person who was symptomatic could unwind.

Our understanding has grown and continues to do so. We’ve learned that isolation is the worst possible response to mental illness, and in fact, can exacerbate symptoms. We’ve abolished the formal inhumane treatment, but have instead relegated those with mental illness to combinations of homelessness, ridicule, poverty, and blame. Access to Mental Health services is often unavailable if one does not have money, lives in a rural community, or simply cannot function due to the illness.

I believe the reason for the wide disparity between what is accepted as “normal” healthcare and mental healthcare is blame. We may say the politically correct phrases and nod our heads in sympathy sometimes, but in many minds the concept of mental illness is still an excuse for avoiding responsibility.

The frontal cortex (the part of our brain “responsible for planning and carrying out meaningful goals and activities … the center for thinking, foresight, judgment,integration of thought and perception, reality testing, initiative, and perseverance”*) has been studied long-term and patterns have been found showing tissue loss, depletion of cells, less connecting fibers, larger amounts of some types of cells, and other structural changes in people with a variety of mental illnesses. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Schizophrenia, Bipolar Affective Disorder (BPAD), and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) are some of these illnesses. In fact, with BPAD and MDD, post-mortem studies discovered that 40-90% of the cells necessary for nourishing and supporting neurons in the brain, were gone.

These PET scans were taken while study participants performed simple tasks. Top left: the frontal cortex is lighting up; Top right: the frontal cortex is not lighting up. This sluggishness of blood flow and metabolic funtioning is traced back to to overproduction of the neurotransmitter Dopamine
These PET scans were taken while study participants performed simple tasks. Top left: the frontal cortex is lighting up; Top right: the frontal cortex is not lighting up. This sluggishness of blood flow and metabolic functioning is traced back to overproduction of the neurotransmitter Dopamine *

Brain disorders are complex, with many different genes and gene mutations contributing. The same is true of cancer, and diabetes, for example. And like cancer and diabetes, a genetic factor in mental illnesses is known. Rates of risk for mental illness are affected by how many relatives and which ones share the same diagnosis. Studies of identical twins have helped us to explore genetic influences on mental illness.

While there appears to be a genetic predisposition, not all cases have a family history of the disease. Researchers call environmental factors the “second hit.”* We know that viral infections and a pregnant mother’s weak immune system greatly raises the risk of her child having a mental illness. Brain injuries in utero or early childhood are linked to Schizophrenia.

When I was twenty-seven, I was diagnosed with a Giant brain aneurism.  I was told it was likely a brain injury at some point in my life including perhaps in utero. There was no sign of a problem until I was a teenager, and symptoms gradually worsened over at least thirteen years. In a similar way, BPAD and Schizophrenia can be present and unnoticed. They are considered organic brain diseases stemming from brain injury, and reach critical stage when a person’s central nervous system matures. This is why symptoms tend to appear in late adolescence and early adulthood.

This is why medications can help. Unlike for a brain aneurism, there is no quick-fix such as I experienced with surgery. As of now there is no known medical “cure” for mental illness. The chances of finding a more normal and satisfactory life highly increase with medical treatment.

The next part in this series will address more “second hits” such as family life, experiences, and emotions.

979Today’s Helpful Word

Psalm 7:10 (NIV)

“My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.”

-King David who struggled with depressive episodes

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COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME (see tab below)

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

*National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Peer-to-Peer Recovery Education Program

 

 

 

Bipolar Disorder – A Mixed State of Affairs

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2016  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

photo-24737764-a-man-holding-the-globeBipolar disorder is tough to live with. It is a mental illness of extreme up and down emotions. It takes different forms, and what may be manic for one is not necessarily the same for another. The intensity of symptoms can vary.

At the highest, Bipolar disorder is manic, with lack of self-control, lowered inhibitions, and grandiose ideas. A person in a manic state may sleep very little (who needs sleep?) eat very little (I don’t need food) and perhaps overextend themselves physically (I’m invincible).

In a manic state, a man or woman might be dangerously reckless and impulsive, highly irritable or aggressive, unusually energetic, or non-stop talkative. Like most mental illnesses I am aware of, mania causes a divide between thought processes and reason. Hallucinations and delusions may occur.

When I was in the hospital for major depression, I met a young man who refused to take medication for his Bipolar disorder. “I feel good (manic) I don’t need meds.”  A  young woman tried to describe her manic experience. She said she didn’t take care of herself physically, planned to learn Chinese in 3 days, spent too much money, and was promiscuous.

At the other extreme is Bipolar depression. This can be every bit as low and destructive as severe major depression. Persons with Bipolar depression may stay in bed, go on medical leave from their jobs, withdraw from family and friends, and experience other depressive symptoms.

I saw a woman years ago standing outside a CVS and asking for money. “I have Bipolar and cannot work,” she was saying. No doubt she was not exaggerating. Bipolar disorder is sometimes rapid-cycling, such as many mood changes in a day. It is often gradual, with longer periods between stages. This means mania or depression can last from days to months at a time. Either way, it is hard to hold down a job.

Justin has Bipolar disorder and was generous enough to share his story on CompassionateLove Radio. I learned from him that mania does not equal happy. A “mixed mania” state, which is what he experienced, includes the high energy and agitation with anguish and hopelessness simultaneously. This is a dangerous position because impulsivity and despair can lead to suicide.

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COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME (see tab below)

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

 

So You Have a Diagnosis of Mental Disorder: What Does That Mean?

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2016  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

photo-24714732-stressed-businessmanIt is said that students of psychology come away from classes believing they have the worst kind of mental illness – a condition I call IATMU or “I am totally messed up!” That is because each of us have traits of all kinds of personality and mental disorders.

As humans, we have a broad range of common needs including love, acceptance, validation and a sense of value. How we strive to get those needs met is also riddled with similarities. For example, we tend to connect with people who think like we do.  Might it be because when our ideas go unchallenged we feel more validated, accepted, etcetera? This appears normal.

Some personality, relational, behavioral, and thought process complexities stray from what mentally healthy people experience and cannot be so simply dismissed. These are often termed “disorders”, extreme and dysfunctional ways of coping with life.

Disorders tend to earn more specific labels for the sole purpose of identifying commonalities and thus guiding mental health professionals in assessment and treatment.  A diagnosis of eating disorder for instance, comes from observing accumulated symptoms including, but not limited to, abnormal behavior around food.

One young college student I met believed he had to be perfect. He had become obsessive, carried two majors and a minor, excelling in each. He had also attempted suicide a few times. His thinking and behavior negatively affected significant aspects of his life.  A diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder helped doctors understand how to help him, and he also learned how to help himself. 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most commonly aligned with veterans returning from war.  It has also been attributed to other traumas. Complex Post Traumatic Syndrome (C-PTSD) better explains a grouping of symptoms unique to children and adults who endure prolonged, repeated abuse. Yet  C-PTSD is not officially listed in the diagnostic manual of mental disorders. This example shows that labels cannot tell a complete story. 

Labels serve only as professional guidelines, not as identifying markers of a person’s value, potential, purpose, intelligence, or ability to overcome. No one is a diagnosis.

You are not a walking list of symptoms. You’ve been diagnosed with a mental disorder? Good. Now you know what may be wrong and can face the issues square in the eye. 

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COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME (see tab below)

NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

*I always recommend professional help in dealing with psychological difficulties of any kind.

Ring Around the Rosies, Pockets Full of …Prayer?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2015  Nancy Virden

photo-24784637-praying-businessmanMy four year-old son Jonathan (Jon), was excited when he was asked to say grace just before dinner. We were at a restaurant with extended family members and Jon was beaming, thinking himself one of the grownups. Surprisingly, he asked everyone to hold hands and bow their heads so he could say grace.

“Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies .” Explosions of laughter circled the table. Jon was congratulated for his prank.

I was asked to say grace in public once. My sense of humor proves Jon and I are related. With everyone’s heads bowed, I reinterpreted an old poem. “God, please bless these vittles. May they add to your glory and not to our middles!” That was a hit. Then we prayed for real.

Prayer is just talking to God and listening for his wisdom. Why not tell him everything? (He knows it already anyway.) Spiritual and mental health depend in part on having someone to talk to.

Since my job is at home, and my sons have lives 8 hours away, isolation is a common reality for me. However, I can reach out and engage with friends, people at the store, the waiter where I stop for a bite to eat, the man who fills my car with gasoline, and anyone who crosses my path.  

More significant is the privilege of an audience with the Almighty God. 

No matter how our major depression, bipolar disorder, or any other mental illness is manifesting, we can talk to God. Sometimes finding the words for prayer is deeply challenging. This is when all I can muster is, “help me.”

And that has always been enough. God meets with me and inspires hope. 

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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

 – pictures from qualitystockphotos.com

Judging the Warren Suicide

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2013 Nancy Virden

Many of us have heard of Pastor Rick Warren and the tragic news of his son’s suicide this past Friday evening. After spending a few hours with his parents, Matthew Warren went home and killed himself. I can guarantee a few things are happening now:

(1)Rick and Kay Warren are questioning repeatedly what they missed in Matthew’s demeanor, or anything he said. (2) They are wondering what they could have, should have done differently not just Friday, but all of Matthew’s life.  (3) They are tempted to blame someone, anyone. They have felt at least a twinge of anger at each other, have questioned God, “Why?” and are temporarily angry at Matthew. (4) Others outside the family are debating Matthew’s eternal situation. (5) The Warren family, especially the parents, is being judged.

It is not easy to admit mental illness in the family. Fact is, folks do judge. Matthew Warren suffered with Bipolar Disorder his entire life. One aspect of that disease is bipolar depression, every bit as severe as major depression.

This morning I heard a prayer at my church from a man who honestly admitted he did not understand the pain those of us with chronic depression endure. He asked God for the wisdom to “not hurt those who suffer when we think we are helping.” It is encouraging to know some people consider this. There are not always set rules on what to say to a person who is suffering, however there are certain messages to avoid.

  • Snap out of it;  don’t worry, be happy;  look on the bright side. These ideas invalidate the hurting person’s feelings, and perhaps their character. Even if not meant directly, it is strongly implied, “You are a failure for feeling so badly.”
  • God doesn’t want you to feel this way;  trust Jesus;  joy will come when your priorities are Jesus, others, then you.  Talk about condemnation!  How encouraging could it possibly be to inform someone in emotional agony that they are selfish and spiritually deficient?
  • “Just…” . Nothing about depression or suicidal ideation is easy. It is a long road ahead for recovery, and some know it is a daily decision to be as healthy as possible. No “just”s about it.
  • I know what you feel. This is difficult to avoid because in our enthusiasm to help we may want the discouraged person to know we can relate, that they are not alone. Problem is, this statement implies that we, our pain,  our recovery process, and our means of hope are identical to theirs. This is never true, not ever.
  • Medications are not the answer; you can get off those soon; people in the past didn’t have those meds and they did OK.   a) A severely depressed mind is an unreasonable one. However, you will not likely convince someone in the throes of an episode that his thoughts are unreasonable. Why? Because his reasoning is impaired! Sounds simplistic enough, yet most people seem to miss this point.  b) Medications are not cure-all or happy pills. They have to be taken as prescribed, and cannot be safely dropped without psychiatric supervision. They help the brain react in normal working order, then decisions can be made.  c) As for people in the past… history tells a different story than the one where they were all OK without medical help. 
  • Look only for godly counsel, from a  Christian, and never trust secular psychology.  I have heard godly (righteous) and ungodly (sinful) counsel from both Christians and non-Christians. A surprise to me has been how very ill-equipped many biblical, pastoral, and christian counselors can be due to lack of training or improper training with regard to mental illness.  An aversion to psychology backfires when we dismiss centuries of study on human behavior. Blanket advice such as this can deter someone from the best care possible.

Let’s remember that similar to the Warren family, those struggling with grievous tragedy are hurting big-time whether majorly depressed or not. Does it make sense to make any of the above statements to Matthew Warren’s parents?  Of course not. In the same way, those with mental illness are also painfully aware and overwhelmed by loss.

Be gentle with each other today.

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NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

What Does an Emotionally Struggling Person Need the Most?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2013 Nancy Virden

Tired businessman working in office

Imagine with me there is a five year-old boy in America, who takes a big dirt shovel out of his family garage, half-hoisting and half-dragging it. He is fairly successful at taking it to his project site, even though the heavy end catches in the earth in front of him and nearly topples him on his nose.

Once there, all of his three feet and eight inches lifts the five foot wooden rod and manages to plant the tool into position. He squeezes. His grip is hard, and he thinks, muscular.

Committment to the mission shows on his little face as he strains to dig. The shovel is awkward, and he is inexperienced with this type of labor. Yet the joy of finding a short-cut to China is all his passion in the moment.

Now, let’s take a look into his future. He is twenty-one, talented,  and on a path toward becoming an architectural engineer.  His work ethic is proven, no one questions his focus. He has friends on the university campus, a family who keeps in contact,  his grades are good, and an internship at a prestigious firm may be on the horizon.

Something is bothering him, though. In between classes and horsing-around with his friends, he senses a sadness, and sighs.  Heaviness is wrapping itself over his shoulders. He literally tries to shrug it off. He reasons, “I’m stressed because of all the pressures. I just need to man-up and not let things get to me.”

The same determination that helped him dig a ten inch wide hole in hard earth as a child, now pushes him to class every day, and compels him to finish his homework. He feels temporarily distracted from his somber attitude while with his friends, however lately, their boisterous activity has annoyed him. Inwardly, he reacts to what seems their go-lucky existence. That was a stupid old joke. I just want to be alone. I hate happy people.

This irritation begins to seep out in words, and display itself in rolled eyes, and occasional abruptness. His friends are starting to ask him how he is feeling, only the phrases they choose are more like, “What’s your problem today, man?” They offer advice too, “Chill out!”

As he experiences more self-imposed isolation, and rejection from his friends who are not enjoying his company just now, his mood sinks further. It doesn’t help that he is frustrated with himself as well as life in general.

Are you sensing you would not want to be around this young man either? Did you like him at the beginning of the story?

Time frame, symptoms, situations, and relationships all differ between people who face emotional and mental difficulties. Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder,  Anxiety Disorder – all present mood changes and may be challenging for supports to watch. So, what is needed most in these situations, and by others who struggle?

Defining this young man by his present mood is unfair, albeit easy to do. Writing him off as a pain in the neck is understandable to a degree. That does not change anything, though. Remember what he is like when he is well. Recall the diligent five year-old, the jokester, the man who gave you a bear-hug last summer.

See past today and into the potential of wellness for your loved-one or your friend. The investment is worth it.  Because what people with emotion and mental challenges need most is non-judgemental acceptance and love. You know, just like everyone does.

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NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.