Tag Archives: trauma

Flashbacks Triggered by Catholic Church Scandals: How to React with Compassion to PTSD

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who fight mental illness, addiction, and abuse  (c)2018  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministries

Emily* was ill. Mentally and physically exhausted, much of her time at Timberline Knolls Rehabilitation Treatment Center was spent asleep or curled up on a couch in the lounge. On those occasions she did rise, her efforts at connection and function were heroic.

One afternoon,  she and I were the first to arrive at a large group therapy room.  No one in a rehab is at their best, obviously. However, conversation was cordial and sedate.

Suddenly, Emily threw herself into a huge bear hug and buried her head. She began rocking back and forth. Soon, she had turned her back to the room, trying to hide from the danger, pain, terror, and false-guilt that accompanied her flashback.

No doubt in her thoughts she was a child again, feeling all the sensations of abuse. Her momentary reality was darkness, a hand reaching through the black, her survival threatened.

Sitting next to her I began to whisper. “Emily, it is ok now. You are safe. You are at Timberline Knolls. People care about you here. Your head is on a fireplace hearth, your body is on carpet. No one is hurting you. Girls who care about you are all around. You are not alone. You are safe here.”

Continuing along those lines for a few minutes, eventually Emily started to come out of it. When her horrible flashback ended, she was quiet, yet present.

What you can do 

With all the news in the last week about sexual abuse in the Catholic church,  PTSD is affecting many men, women, and children. Not only victims of that scandal are suffering.  Any previous victims of sexual or other kinds of abuse may find normal days interupted.  They see or hear the news, and Bam! Unwillingly, they are tossed back to a time and place they long to forget. 

You may witness this. Please do not tell a person experiencing a flashback to shake it off or just give it to God. Instead, express your care and love, and help them refocus on the here and now. One way to do that is to start describing the room you are both in and the people who are there.  Offer assurance they are safe.

Knee-jerk reactions like “get on with it'” or  “quit feeling sorry for yourself” dismiss what is happening. A tortured mind, often complete with body sensation memories,  is temporarily overwhelmed.  To treat this like an attitude problem undercuts healing.

Mention there is no danger. If their pet is nearby, bring it over. Draw attention to what his or her five senses are experiencing in the present. Disburse any hovering  crowd. Keep your words and tone gentle, calm, and positive.

Later, after this person feels more grounded and less fearful, offer to help him or her give it to God by briefly praying together.  Say, “You are not alone.”  Never suggest they are failing somehow.

Compassionate love meets people where they are in the moment.

Today’s Helpful Word

Romans 12: 15 

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

 

 

***** COMMENTS ALWAYS WELCOME

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

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S.  (for international emergency numbers, go here ), or go to your nearest emergency room. Do not be alone. Hope and help are yours.

*b/w butterfly by XYMONAU ;  yellow butterfly by CLIOVON, both on rgbstock.com

*not their real names

No Matter Your Ideas On Immigration, We Must Care About Children

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c) 2018  Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

PTSD. Those affected by Post-traumatic Stress Disorder come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes.

Even the very young need help to overcome emotional and biological scars from sudden, uncontrollable loss and fear. 

What you may not know is PTSD is not a catch-all to describe the effects of trauma in children.  Information in news reports is often incomplete or misinformed. If you want to know what it is actually like for many of these children, I recommend you read this or this or this.

It’s about the kids

You may or may not like U.S. immigration policies. Asylum, human trafficking, drug smuggling, family rights, and vetting are each serious issues deserving thoughtful consideration and debate.  We can agree to care about the children, right?

Many citizens of the world cry for an open-door policy. Other citizens of the world believe walls and zero-tolerance for illegal entry are the solution to more egregious evil.  Desperate refugees of war and crime need hope and protection.  Wicked people exploit desperation for their own gain.

We have to care about and protect the children.

The recent  wave in the U.S. of outrage and sympathy for children and adolescents caught between their parents, politics, and immigration  law is a sign, I hope.  Maybe some hearts are now stirred by children’s issues in general.

In the U.S.A.

  • Children are sold as sexual tools
  • Children’s Services Departments are overcrowded and underfunded
  • Suicide has moved up from the number 3 to number 2 cause of death for children age 10 and older.
  • Bullying, violence, disparity between quality of schools, medical care – all these are children’s issues we can choose as our national and personal focus.

A woman said to me yesterday, “There is nothing I can do, so I just do not watch the news. It is too distressing.”  We need to know what to do beyond railing against each other with political rhetoric.

Proactive ways to help 

  1. Write to your legislators. America is is not a democracy. It is a republic which means we are allowed to tell those in power what we will and will not endorse with our votes.
  2. Vote
  3. Financially support those institutions and organizations that are fighting against child exploitation, suicide, and any of the other issues.
  4. Volunteer hours with ministries or child advocacy groups that directly address these issues
  5. Teach your children to use their voices. They too can call and write to legislators.
  6. Be a foster parent to refugee or other children in distress

If we are going to use quotes from scripture to guide our decisions, then we do well to remember Today’s Helpful Word.  Jesus loves the little children. We need to care about that in more ways than one.

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

 

Cook, A., Blaustein, M., Spinazzola, J, & van der Kolk, B. (Eds.) (2007). Complex
trauma in children and adolescents. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved from http://www.nctsnet.org/nccts/nav.do?pid=typ_ct

 

 

 

 

 

Death, Murder, and Denial. Emotions Call for Attention

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c) 2018  Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

Denial does not work because bottled up emotions will come out some other way, affecting our physical and mental health.  Refusing to talk about something keeps us isolated, alone with our interpretation of events.

This is one of myriad reasons my suggestion is consistent –  seek a professional, knowledgeable perspective.

At 18 and single, Kimberly had already experienced pregnancy twice. Her first baby died just before birth,  and Kimberly was forced to deliver a stillborn daughter.  The second pregnancy was a rebound one, she said. 

When we first met, she was in the first trimester of the second pregnancy. She was excited!  Her strong family support system, including her mother, helped her cope. Her dreams for another baby girl knew no bounds.  As we talked, I grew to like what appeared as Kimberly’s overcomer attitude.

Family death and murder

Then her mother suddenly died. Kimberly spoke fondly of her, and expressed regret they would not have more time.  Her emotions were well-hidden. “Everything happens for a reason,” she said. I never saw another reaction. 

By now the nursery was furnished. Baby clothes lined dresser drawers. Packages of diapers collected against a wall. Her much-loved child was due in four weeks. Then the unthinkable happened. 

One afternoon, her boyfriend’s sister assaulted her, beating and pushing.  Kimberly’s pre-born baby died.  She filed charges and eventually won a homicide case against the assailant. 

The next time I saw her, she was unemotional. In the course of one year, this young woman had lost two babies and her mother. Yet she showed no pain.

Hidden emotions will spill…

Her behavior told a different story.  Only one month after the assault,  she invited me to walk her through her third round of hope and dreams. For months, all she could talk about was her developing little boy. 

“Are you sad?” I asked, referring to so many losses.

“I was, but now I have this baby to care for,” she said with a smile. “Everything happens for a reason.”

I’m convinced  she was coping the best she knew how – by tackling one storm at a time.  That’s an effective, temporary coping skill.  However, it leaves us dependent on the whims of circumstances outside of our control.  Buried emotions powerfully push us toward immediate relief.  The resulting lack of awareness does not guide us toward making healthier or wiser decisions. 

I hope for the sake of her longterm physical, mental, and spiritual health, she eventually found the will to face, experience, and share her feelings with a professional grief counselor.  

We all live with pain. God draws us to himself, gives of himself, and tells us to reach out to one another. Why? Because none of us are meant to do this alone. We thrive in honesty. 

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

 

Maundy Thursday: Finding Comfort Despite Agony of Spirit

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c) 2018 Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

Agony of spirit. It behaves like expanding foam, filling our bodies to the point of explosion, pressing against frantic hearts, making nearly useless our gasps for air, and squeezing unseen walls within our brains until there is no longer space for more pain. It has to come out.

Looking for Relief

Some of us lay in bed unable to act, staring at nothing, questioning our will to live.  Lashing out against ourselves or others may release some of the pressure. How much energy we have to do so  varies because after fighting to survive for hours, days, months, or years, we are tired. 

Some of us try to talk it out. Others who have no one to listen, dig deeper into the cavernous despair of unchallenged negative thoughts.  There is prayer, which much of the time does little to immediately relieve intense anguish, yet provides that unfailing rope by which God holds us near to himself. 

That may be the only comfort we know for a while. 

Jesus prayed in his agony

Jesus, on the night before his crucifixion, had yet to be arrested or betrayed. He knew what was coming though. For hours overnight, he wept and moaned in such agony of spirit that his sweat was like blood.

There is much debate over whether he feared the cross, or if he was heartbroken over the momentary separation from God he was about to endure. Was he sad for his mother, family, or friends?  Was this the last temptation by Satan – to run from the mission Jesus had left heaven to complete? 

He begged God, “If this cup could pass…” Which cup? Since I do not believe emotions are ungodly, it is not confusing to me that our sinless Savior agonized over all the above and more.  Powerful claw-like emotions grasped for his mind and permeated his body. For Jesus, they poured out in tears and pleas to his Father for comfort.

Comfort, not escape

“Not my will, but yours.” Jesus surrendered once again to the only One who had ever been true to him, who loved him without measure, and who had always held his devotion. Heavy of heart, disappointed, and tormented,  Jesus clung through prayer to the unfailing rope of God’s love.

Agony of spirit does not leave us quickly. Trauma and later memories, injustice and abuse, great loss, suffering, and shaky wellbeing drop us to our knees. Nonetheless, we can rest, exhausted, in the embrace of God who hears us in our panic, depression, desperation, and mental torture. He never, ever abandons his children. 

Today’s Helpful Word

  **********COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME.

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

top pic from scottmluddell @rgbstock.com; Jesus pic from http://www.LumoProject.com

 

 

When the Facts Do Not Line Up: 6 Challenges for Victims

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness, Addiction, and Abuse   (c)2018  Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

You have a PhD in your story. You know the level of anguish you suffer(ed). You are aware, or becoming so, of the confusion, roles people play, and how trauma affects your thinking. Perhaps you do not know what to do about it- that’s ok for now- however, you can validate yourself. Your experiences matter. You matter. 

 

This post is not about blaming you for your pain. Instead, my hope is to give you a springboard to challenge falsehoods you may have always believed.  Freedom comes with the truth, remember?  So let’s explore some of it.

Truth about…

(1) Victim identity. You were once a victim and are no longer. Or perhaps you remain in a situation that causes you harm. Either way, you do not have to limit the definition of who you are to “victim.”  

You are so much more!  You are a human being with the ability to think and reason. Even where confusion or mental illness interfere, you have the power to make at least this one quality decision:  will you pursue change?

(2) Feeling stuck. We are each responsible for our happiness. I know, I know, people get in the way of that.  We cannot control what other people do. We can only control how we react.

A therapist once said, “Pain happens. Suffering is optional.” I take that to mean that you and I can extend our suffering by accepting it verbatim. We can say, ‘Oh well, this is my lot in life,” or we can choose to reach out for help, to learn how to recover and become separate from our tragedy. 

(3) Worth.  We become our worse enemy when we repeat  lies and deceptions  to ourselves. Someone taught me I am worthless unless a man says otherwise. When I think of all the times I allowed that to dictate my response to life, it is striking. Ultimately, that false belief nearly killed me. 

It’s a vital distinction between BEING worthless and making worthless choices. We all screw up. There is plenty to regret.  Today however, I fight to make healthier choices, the kind that help other people and me. 

You too are inherently worthwhile. Liars try to teach you otherwise. Instead of reinforcing the negative in your mind, how about looking in the mirror and smiling? Say, “I am valuable” until you believe it.  No one has the power to decide you are worthless- not even you.

(4) Reality.  Is the impossible actually possible? Other people have made it through and talk about how life changed for them. AH, so change IS possible. A more revealing question  you may ask is, “what about me?”

There was a time I did not believe change was possible for me. Hope was 100% gone. Yet change occurred anyway.  Quite simply, I was wrong in my assessment. Major depression skewed my thinking while truth remained the same:  I had, and always did have, the ability to know freedom and joy.  

Blindness to options made it impossible without help.  That brings us to our fifth challenge.

(5) Messengers .  People fail. A male therapist joked, “Men suck.” He knew how many of  his female clients had been hurt in some way by a male figure.  Nonetheless, we all hurt each other whether through ignorance, insensitivity, or outright selfishness.  

Since the folks who taught you in some way that you deserve to be victimized or that you brought it on yourself, are indeed people, we can assume they failed.  What if they were liars, or narcissists, or psychologically impaired? What if they were evil, or didn’t know better? 

What if they were WRONG? That changes everything, doesn’t it?

(6) Being alone. The world is full of hurting people who think they are the only ones who experience the thoughts, habits, quirks, pain, confusion, and emotional distress that they feel. Oddly enough, we are all much alike. 

I’ve heard repeatedly in support groups and in conversations other people express ideas I once believed were mine alone. Uncertainty, fear, and distrust of ourselves and others are common. Each of us struggles with damning thoughts and difficult-to-function days.  Many deal with PTSD. 

No, you are not alone with uncomfortable and guilt-ridden thoughts and behaviors.  One of the best ways to discover this truth is to share your experience with others in a safer environment like a support group. 

Finally, as a follower of Christ, I would be remiss not to mention how close I know Jesus is when I hurt. Even when all I wanted was to die,  my Savior did not let me go of my heart.

Loneliness comes and goes, suffering lingers and passes, memories of victimization wax and wane. Some days cloud nine is far below, other days the silver lining is tarnished and dull. 

Yet I am no longer a victim! And will never, ever  walk alone.

Today’s Helpful Word 

 

What It is Like to Feel Prepared for Disaster

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

My son walked into the living room and I jumped. Nevermind I knew he was due home. Nevermind I heard the door open and close when he arrived. What mattered was his steps were quiet. He went from unseen to seen in an instant, without precise warning.

That is one way PTSD affects my daily life.  Jumpy.  No matter how much I mentally prepare for certain predictables, they manage to unnerve me. I breathe in sharply, shriek a little, and jump.  Clarity is immediate as I observe my surroundings.  Adrenaline turns into controlled anger.  PTSD has rescued me from attack because of that anger reflex. It has helped me protect others as well.  

With my sons, it is not true anger.  Usually they hear something like, “Oh you sneaker!” while my heart calms and breathing returns to normal. We laugh, and on the day goes as if it is normal to shriek in fear when a loved one shows up.

Prepare and observe

It is normal to feel anger after trauma and senseless violence.  We see that happening around us with people casting blame and looking to “fixes” such as classifying whole groups of people as dangerous.  Jimmy Kimmel did that this week when he assumed the shooter in Las Vegas must have been mentally ill.

The Las Vegas shooting is a big deal.  In the US, hurricanes, massive wildfires, a flu epidemic, and other issues have us all a little jumpy. One article written by a determined soul stated he would not stop going to concerts because he refused to live in fear.  What of you and me? Will we stop living?

That depends on how we observe our surroundings.  If we begin to perceive potential crisis in every corner, we will likely remain angry.  If we fixate on “solutions,”  blame will result. How about we focus on preparedness? 

Practical ideas can be wise, such as a man in the Tampa area who invested in hurricane-proof windows.  However,  to keep level heads, something unshakeable must be our foundation. To feel secure, we need to rely on the unchangeable.

There are no catastrophes

A psychologist who follows Jesus Christ touts this philosophy, “There are no catastrophes.” In light of the obvious – he meets with traumatized people every day – this idea may seem off-kilter. He explains that in the face of grave loss, we can know we will be ok. This is not because we get to bypass sorrow, but because we can be unafraid of death. He said he is certain where he is going after this life. He knows in whom he trusts.

“In God we trust.”  Whether you think that phrase belongs on a coin or not, for millions of us, it is reality.  A lifetime of trials has grown my faith.  I have seen God’s power and faithfulness in my surroundings.  Of all the therapeutic strategies that help, knowing Jesus as Savior and obeying him as Lord is my overarching banner of peaceful assurance. 

As stated, my head is not in the clouds untouched by pain or anxiety. It is simple – I know God holds me know matter what.  Offering hope and insights to those fighting mental illness, addiction, or abuse is a joy as long as God has me here.  At the same time, I look forward to being with him for eternity. It’s a win-win.

And that feels good.  

Today’s Helpful Word

Hebrews 6:18, 19

“Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”

 

 

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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.

  • anchor pic by TACLUDA on rgbstock.com; sky pic from kozzi.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace, Be Still

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2017  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

nbvwcha

It was combat. Faces were tense with the unnerving desperation of wavering hope.

Soldiers strapped to their guns, pinned down to a “safe” place laced with mines, had been holding their precarious position for five months. Over one hundred of their teammates, comrades, and friends had been carried off and buried. There was no time for grief. No room for sentiment. 

Who would be next, no one knew.

From the outside, it appeared that order and discipline in the form of rank and file remained intact. A lieutenant was in charge now, having assumed the role after the captain and commander were killed. 

However, tempers flared. Brave chatter had morphed into a single thought. Hold. 

Hold out, hang in there, stay the course, keep yourself together, don’t think too much, don’t lose focus, push away the emotions, calm your nerves… hold. Above all, remember those who die are heroes. Your sacrifice is secondary to the mission.

Hold! 

The above scene is merely my humble description of a sci-fi television portrayal of war.* In reality, men, women, and children fight battles against trauma every day. Soldiers who stood their ground in actual wars, victims of abuse and torture for other people’s sexual pleasure, witnesses to accidents and violent crimes – all these and more have survived literal and figurative foxholes. 

Well after one has escaped, and is living, breathing, and responding to outward freedom, unresolved trauma pins down the mind. Relief is incomplete. Night tremors, jumpiness, nightmares, unrelenting memory tapes, hypervigilant distrust, depression, rage, a sense of being different from everyone else, and loss of innocence are parts of an ongoing struggle for survival. Often, despite abject aloneness, there is still a single thought.

Hold. 

It is in my foxhole of PTSD and major depression that I find it impossible to be atheistic. 

I held my position for decades, trying to avoid feeling too much. This means of survival wore me out until I was looking at the walls of a psychiatric ward, more alone than thought possible. Stigma would tell you weakness and lack of discipline were the problem. Truth is, my mind held out long beyond what it was meant to take. I broke. 

Does that mean my faith is a crutch? No, I’ve used emotional crutches. Compulsive eating, running up debt, escapism, over-dependence on other people, self-punishment, religiosity – all were destructive and added to my pain

Jesus is my source, not a temporary support. Reliance on his unfailing love is foundational to my spiritual freedom. Refusal to surrender to him pinned me to philosophical imaginations of religion which save no one. When I finally gave up clinging to false promises and stopped trying to hide from him, his love shone through.

I know who allows me rest from striving. While learning to heal from trauma, his words are rich with calm. “Peace, be still.”

Because of him, I can release my hold, and just be held.

Today’s Helpful Word : Mark 4:39 ESV

“And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

Today’s Helpful Word

Mark 4:39

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

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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.

1st picture from rgbstock.com

2nd from kozzi.com

*Deep Space Nine, one of the Star Trek television series 

3 Ways to Make Joy Your Realistic Attitude

CompassionateLove Blog: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle With Mental Illness  (c)2016 Nancy Virden

Collage with hands and blue cloudy sky

Two of Kimberly’s children died – one due to murder – and her mother also died within a period of 15 months.

Only a few weeks after she’d lost her second daughter, she was excitedly pregnant.  As her mentor at the time, I walked her through months of fresh hope and dreams, aware there was no change in her demeanor.

“Are you sad?” I asked.

“I was, but now I have this baby to care for,” she said with a smile. “Everything happens for a reason.”

Kimberly’s reality included trauma, tragedy, and coping challenges. Nothing, certainly not grief and violence, resolves easily, and she had healing work to do. Still, she turned her focus to her son, and he was a bright spot in her darkened world.

To Kimberly, hope is also reality.

We all have sad stories and memories we would rather forget. No one goes untouched by suffering. This is news only to those who prefer to live steeped in denial. We’ve been hurt, we’ve hurt other people, and this is what we call life.

One often-repeated phrase these days is, “The world has gone crazy.” That is how many perceive reality. Without hope, all the violence and bad news causes fear to rise up in people, and that displays itself in anger. Are you finding more anger in homes, workplaces, and the world now?

Three years ago I read on Facebook, “Talking about our pain is our greatest addiction – let’s talk about our joy.”* I don’t know if I agree with that summarily, however talking about our joy is usually a good idea. Let’s start where Kimberly did.

Refocus. Try to not think of the color red. Careful now, do not think about red! Can you do it? Trying to stop a thought is counterproductive. What actually helps is if we replace that unwanted thought by refocusing on something we want to think about.

Accept reality as multi-faceted.  Kimberly has plenty to grieve and process, and for which to rejoice. At the time of her son’s birth, she looked at both the harsh and beautiful facts, and acknowledged them as equally real.

Compare evidence. We have witnessed resurrections of the human spirit. We have seen ourselves and our loved ones spared. We have known the miraculous, and hope has filtered through the fog of our sufferings. We have each received second, and third chances.

Which list is reality – troubles or blessings? People who want to defend their negativity will say, “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.” But if joy is real, then why don’t we say, “I’m a realist, and I believe tomorrow could be better than today”?

Some of us struggle with emotional challenges that help to make coping hard. Scars of inner or outer trauma may meet us every day in the mirror.  When the ache of daily sorrow reminds us of our losses, and hope seems impossible to obtain or not worth chasing, paying close attention to whatever beauty is around us this Christmas will help to refocus our thoughts, however intermittently, on the possibility there is hope.

I’m a realist. Perhaps because of my closeness to the world of emotionally harmed people, I see pain everywhere I look. I also hear stories of recovery, treatment plans that work, and lives that change from the inside out through surrender to the perfect will and love of Jesus. These experiences are every bit as realistic as bad news.

Today’s Helpful Word

John 16:33 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus  

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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.

 

 

Your Mental Illness, Your Responsibility (Part Two): Did Something Bring It On?

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

Little girl in car is going to miss her friends.

I read an article written in 1960 supposing that mental illness is not illness at all. A simplified version of the author’s reasoning was, in part, that the mind is not the brain. Personality and emotions (mind) cannot have a biological source because they are not tangible.

What is fascinating is just how tangible in a way, these invisible aspects of who we are have become. While we cannot literally touch emotions, brain scans allow us to “see” them as our brain works. The biology of mental illness is now evident.

Part one of this series takes a brief look at some of the science surrounding the topic of mental illness. Beyond what we know of the biology of mental illness and physical environments that may increase our risk, social experiences are tougher to define. Scientists call environmental factors the “second hit.”

We like to make comparisons because the more something is measured and  understood, the safer we feel.  If Johnny experiences the blues and is over it in a week, and if he never left his stressful job or withdrew from his friends and family, then all Susie has to do is quit feeling sorry for herself and grow up, right? Susie says she cannot handle work now, and stays in bed all day. We are tempted to say, “C’mon, Susie, be like Johnny already!”

Embracing the idea that Susie’s inner experience is different from Johnny’s might lead us to uncertainty. It helps to both look beyond the surface and to admit our limitations. Johnny may not have mental illness, or he might. Mental illnesses take various forms, and symptoms differ from one person to the next. There are criteria for diagnoses, and a professional’s assessment is superior to our guessing.

Some parents do well in teaching their children to cope after a death in the family or some other difficulty. As love and acceptance are freely offered in one home, the house next door may be unsafe. One family member may disrupt peace in a house. Many of us attended safe schools, while some students had to look over their shoulder every day. Religious training, friendships, television, video games, apps, books, and current events in the world all affect our beliefs, and how we think and cope.

While it is not precisely fair to say our families or one person brought on our mental illness, there are some connections from childhood maltreatment and trauma to adult mental illness that I believe even the most doubtful have to consider.

Trauma changes the brain. Whether lived or observed, people are traumatized by hard life experiences. Consider a boy who grows up in a violent atmosphere. He lives in survival mode during childhood while his brain is developing. He is flooded with stress hormones in a fairly constant state of threat. In a crisis, some regions of this child’s brain shut down while others fire up. There are “teams” (multiple parts of the brain working together) formed temporarily to handle fearful situations. All of these normal responses are overactive. It does not take a medical degree to see how this can affect the boy into adulthood.

Maia Szalovitz, neuroscience editor for Time .com, reported,  “Even among the most resilient survivors, the aftereffects of abuse may linger. Not only are such children at later risk for mental illness, but because of the way trauma affects the stress system, they are also more vulnerable to developing chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.” Scans uncover changes in particular parts of the brain in young adults who were victimized in childhood.

80% of adult patients in psychiatric hospitals were physically or sexually abused.** The lifetime number of suicide attempts significantly increases in cases of sexual abuse. Stress hormones early in life can damage us permanently. Our brain’s ability to bounce back, or flex with future stress may be injured. We may struggle to cope. Mental illness as an adult is itself a traumatic event, and with each episode the brain can be further damaged, raising the risk of more episodes.

Real Hope Over Platitudes: Addressing Chronic Emotional Pain

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

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Chronic pain is not always physical. Sometimes those with mental health disorders awaken, breathe, and go to bed in pain. As with physical issues, treatment may involve medication and coping strategies. Each day requires courage.

Some Christians respond to another’s chronic pain with platitudes that seem dismissive. “Just give it to God and you won’t be anxious,” or “You cannot be down if you rejoice enough.” These are beautiful sentiments on the surface. Who doesn’t want simple solutions? There’s only one hitch to all this promised comfort:

It is not real hope for those in chronic emotional pain.

Those born into families without nurture, who grow up abandoned or victimized by cruelty, do not always experience faith like believers who have not been traumatized. Complexities like personality, sensitivity, brain function, experiences, spiritual understanding, and more, create unique beings who handle faith differently.

Understanding love at a foundational level has to exist before one can fully experience God’s love. Knowing how to trust is a challenge if betrayal came through significant people. No one can advise a solution of “just” anything and expect to resolve chronic emotional or physical pain. 

A woman in Florida was sexually abused numerous times as a child. As a young adult she struggled with functioning. People who knew her back then could have written her off when she failed to snap out of it and get on with life. 

Yet she became the founder of a residential treatment center for child ex-prostitutes and otherwise sexually abused young girls. She is pouring her life into their healing and mental stability. She has become a safe person who imposes healthy boundaries.  Enthusiastic, consistent, and obviously deeply invested in guiding these children, her work moves them beyond lies they once thought true.

How would it work if she said to the child whose abuser used God as an excuse, “you just need to trust God”? 

This woman is victorious yet not pain-free. This champion of wounded girls says she longs for safety and family. Chronic emotional pain follows her into bed each night and faces her in the mirror every morning. Her hurt spirit discourages her, interrupting life when she least expects it. She knows reality though – God is good all the time regardless of how she feels.

There is only One who shares the hurt and shame of our pasts.  He too rose above mental and physical anguish to change the world. Jesus Christ does not offer platitudes. He does not promise to take physical or mental pain away. Rather,  he guarantees he will be with us as we suffer, even if our pain is chronic.

Therein lies real 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.