Tag Archives: z no category

A Toast to 2013

Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness, Addiction, and Abuse   (c)2012 Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries

mhylgrk

LET’S RAISE OUR GLASSES…  May we sing a new old song, its harmonies carried aloft since before creation, and its melody arranged to restore the most broken of souls.  May we participate in a new old dance that links empty arms and embraces the lonely.  For it is the Maestro we want to emulate, he who first composed the music of love and continues to demonstrate how to move to its rhythm. May this next year be better than the last.

Happy New Year!

 

New Year toasts have been a CompassionateLove Blog tradition for three years. 

2011    2012

Who is Responsible For This Post-Thanksgiving Mess?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2012 Nancy Virden

photo-24716021-pumpkin-and-cornucopiaSeated around the sprawling oak dining table were thirteen different tales, more than thirteen conflicting beliefs, and thirteen diverse ideas of what Thanksgiving is all about.

At one end sat a grown daughter who had spent the last thirty minutes arguing vehemently with her mother over who was in charge of the kitchen. She looked serene, but anyone who knew her well understood the forced little smile and straight back. She was angry. To her, Thanksgiving had to be a perfectly orchestrated experience.

A quick glance at this woman’s defeated contender revealed a face lined with exhaustion. Now her arms hung at her sides, her apron still tied loosely about her neck. Her Thanksgivings included weeks of preparation, and great relief at its end.

Two male teenagers sat at the table’s divide. Both stared hungrily as the measured holiday prayer droned on. Spiritual words went unheeded as their thoughts turned to the afternoon. Thanksgiving for these two meant hearty servings of favorite dishes followed by a snowball fight. 

Pious words continued as a younger girl peeked through squeezed eyelids at the expressions of those who offered thanks. Her brother was staring at the pie. Their Dad was wearing a religious face while the lips of uncles and aunts moved silently in supposed earnest. While childish cousins were playfully kicking each other under the table and suppressing giggles, her early training that nothing is as it seems colored her perceptions.

You see, behind the roast turkey and succulent dishes was a reality in harsh contrast to any superficial joy. Her parents were divorcing. Having observed abuse, lies, and hypocrisy all of her life, young faith contorted to fit around uncertainty, and her stomach knotted in dread. Wanting so much to believe in a permanent love, in her mind this Thanksgiving was a chance to deny the fear, to grab at the retreating familial fantasy for a short while longer.

One suppressed tale was not actually seated at the table. A painted plaque on the wall read, “In this house, Christ is the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation.” It was ominous for the fact that despite its profound message no one paid any attention. It was a simple story with the potential to change every family in the room. Yet much stayed the same.

The Redeemer of parents, children, marriages, attitudes, and broken hearts was given cursory attention; the grand truth that God is the difference-maker went unheeded as the Thanksgiving prayer continued.

Much was on the line now for this girl. Often having wondered what it is like to have a real family, would she search for that sense of stability and acceptance in all the wrong places? Would she grow to know the difference between the ‘faith of her fathers’ and true reliance on God? If she went on to make unhealthy decisions and her life became a wreck, could anyone be accountable for the mess?

While each of us is responsible for our own choices as adults, mental and emotional challenges not-withstanding, one of those choices is how we will choose to live in front of children. Will we create environments where the young are confused and emotionally damaged by our behavior? Or will we provide mentally healthy homes and holidays? 

We may not be able to prevent mental illness, but we do have a choice whether or not to cause suffering.

***********

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 Could Be Worse?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2012 Nancy Virden

What reached out of the car window was a limb of bright pink with more pale shades scattered about in patches of varying sizes. Five fingers, also bright pink reached for the package of food their owner had ordered.

“That will be $5.50, ” I say toward the window.  Then glancing up, I see anxious eyes peering out from behind more pink. Bright, burned pink.

The woman had been in a fire.

If she had hair, I do not remember it. Facial appendages were distorted or missing. From the top of her head to her lower neck, and down both of her arms to the fingertips was a mass of discolored scars. 

Facing the driver from the passenger seat, was a concerned looking, professionally dressed woman who spoke gently to her companion. I could see this visit to the fast food drive-thru was a pivotal moment. The burn victim had probably just been released from a hospital.

As they drove away, I turned to see an older teenager peering over my shoulder and toward the retreating car.

“Did you see that poor woman? She’s been in a fire,” I commented.

“I know,” he paused. “She’s my mom.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry. What happened to her?”

His young eyes grew dark, and he turned to walk away. “She set herself on fire in front of me,” he said.

I have seen tears, heard gasps, and watched the horror on people’s faces when I tell that story. My emotions in the moment fell to shock and sadness.

Surely, this young man has had reason to struggle emotionally for the rest of his life. His mother was obviously tormented. By now he would be in his mid-forties;  she will have lived with her scars for over twenty-five years.

Could there be anything worse? 

A fellow support group member once said to me, “I hear your problems and I think, ‘what do I have to worry about?’  But my problems are horrible to me.”

He’s right. There is no purpose in or means by which to weigh the enormity of another’s grief or despair. Pain is pain, and while one person will react differently than another due to a number of factors,  pain is still difficult for anyone to bear.

**********

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.

“Take Care of Yourself!”

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness  (c)2012 Nancy Virden

“Drive safe!”photo-25256993-pretty-teenage-girl-hiking-outside-in-the-summer

“Don’t push yourself too hard, now.”

“Get some rest.”

“Take care!”

Sound familiar? It’s common to assume this kind advice will be heeded, at least a bit. However, there are those who seriously struggle with the concept of self-care. Perhaps you are one.

“My health doesn’t matter. If I die it will be a blessing.”

“It doesn’t matter if I protect myself.”

“Not sleeping postpones the next dreaded day.”

“I don’t care!”

If this second set of phrases sound familiar, you’re not alone. I’ve heard them repeatedly, and said them when I was depressed.

Self-care is crucial to improving one’s outlook on life. The regular practice of self-care can even change a negative self-esteem into a more positive one.

If we behave as if our outlook is joyous, regardless of how we actually feel, our brains will eventually catch up.  Someone once said, “we cannot always think our way into action; but we can act our way into thinking.”  One quick way to feel a bit better is to do something kind just for you.

“You can think about what you need and then pursue getting those needs met,” my therapist once said.

“Really? That’s ok?” I said.

“Yes!”

What had made me feel good in the past? What made me feel empty by its absence? The answer was obvious – creativity.  Without it was as if my brain would shrivel up.

Finding an art class in the midst of severe depression was not easy. Attending was even harder. Now art is a regular form of self-care.  

What is it you need? What does making yourself happier look like? Ask what activities you would be involved in if you were not depressed, then do them. Major Depression saps our motivation, so I am not saying this is easy. It is doable.

We all deserve, yes I said deserve, to exercise self-care.

**********

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 Do Beliefs Have to Do With It?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness      (c)2012 Nancy Virden

vector image of a idea bulb in brainHow is it that deeply rooted beliefs affect a depressed person’s suffering and recovery? What can an observing loved one do to help?

Three steps have to be followed to create a belief.

(1) Someone significant sends a message. It may be spoken aloud or not, but we have to “hear” it.

(2) Experience supports this message.  We accept events that seem to agree with the message as proof it is true.

(3) We repeat the message to ourselves.  Self-talk reinforces it, and the new belief is formed.

Leave out any one of these steps and the message just remains a thought that can be ignored. Watch for this pattern in the story of the original fall of humanity.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. Satan is a created being. He chose to disregard God in pride. Now he was posing as a serpent and was therefore more crafty than the other beasts of the field.  He would have intrigued Eve because he spoke, displayed intelligence, and asked her a question which led to her doubting what she had always accepted as true.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,  but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Eve defended her belief but stayed to hear more.  Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

She looked at and studied the tree. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes…  Her doubt rose. What she heard from this creature (significant in some way because he held her attention), what she saw with her eyes, (experienced) all gave evidence to the new idea. Then her doubt became belief as she supported it with her own thought, this tree is to be desired to make one wise.  At that point her behavior matched her new thoughts, and she took of its fruit and ate.

What messages have we been given? Some of us have been fed falsehoods of worthlessness, value dependent on what others think, incapability, ugliness, no purpose. Have we stared at and pondered these messages?

Choosing to give final credence only to the experiences (basically what we can see with our own eyes and interpret as we will) that support negative doubt, is to gawk at a presumed understanding greater than God has already given.  What if those messages were wrong? That changes everything, doesn’t it?

What can repeating these messages to ourselves do for us? The consequences for me have been as they were for Eve and Adam. Destruction. Like searching for treasure and finding fool’s gold, great energy has been poured throughout my life digging for affirmation that will prove to me I am important. It has never worked. It will not work. All that has come of that is depleted energy resources, fueled depression, and attempted suicide.

It is up to us what beliefs we want to change. Do we want to continue to stare at the fruit tree God told us to avoid?  Perhaps it would be best to take him at his word that people will sometimes fail us and he will not; that significant others will not always meet our hopes but he will; that our value is  we are his beloved, and always have been.

Ask: Why do you want these beliefs to change?  Because they hurt? Because they are false? If you can change these ancient, deeply rooted, negative beliefs, then anyone can, right? And you can be an encouragement to them as they try.

Genesis and Changing Beliefs (c) 2012 Nancy Virden . Taken from Genesis 3:1-7 ESV

**********

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.

“Straighten up!” Even Hair Can Have a Mood Disorder

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2012 Nancy Virden

photo-24800380-a-shocked-woman“C’mon baby, you can do it!” Switching from cheerleader to beggar, I add, “Oh, Pleeeez.”

The jammed front door is not responding to my direction. No human can hear because none are around. It begins to rain. Of course. Reaching for my umbrella, I hold it over my head and press the button. Nothing.

“Oh man! What’s wrong with you now?” The rain gathers speed and soon is a downpour. Meanwhile, the umbrella becomes the object of frustration. “You dumb thing, you. Why do you choose today to take a nap?”

One more desperate push and the door flies open. I stumble through it carrying thousands of raindrops and a drenched broken umbrella, the latter of which pops open in the living room. “A little late, doncha think?”

I cannot be the only one who talks to inanimate objects. Why I bother, I do not know. Neither demanding from nor cajoling these seemingly moody  items has ever had any effect, at least not in my world.

Take my hair for example. Today  it looks sad and in it’s misery will not do anything I ask. Yesterday it cooperated. It’s true, my hair has a mood disorder. Good hair day, bad hair day, nothing I say to it will affect the outcome.

Demanding that a living human who is struggling with a mood disorder just “snap out of it” is like bargaining with a computer that just froze. It simply does not help.  Instead, an interesting question to ask of ourselves might be, “Am I concerned about this person or trying to control them?”

Take the following quiz; answer with “Controlling” or “Concerned” as you see fit.

(1) She doesn’t want to listen. That is why she is just sitting there. I’ll tell her again, “Get up, you’re depressed because you won’t do anything about it.” I have the advice my loved one needs. I will tell her even if she does not want to listen.

(2) Life would be easier if he weren’t so moody. There is work to be done and now I am stuck doing it. I tell him, “Hey, we need you to get with the program.”

(3) My friend has just lost her parents to a car accident.  Many people are saying, “Let me know if I can do anything to help.” My friend does not know what she needs. She is spending hours a day just staring out a window. Sitting with my friend while she grieves is better than asking what I can do to help.

(4) My son is 42 years old and wasting his life in a loser job. He says he has anxiety. Doesn’t he know his family deserves better? Every time I see him I remind him of his potential and wish him luck in finding a better place of employment. 

(5) It is difficult watching my elderly mother struggle with daily life. I have repeatedly told her to sell the house and move into assisted living. It is past time to lay off and respect her wishes. I will just pray now and watch God work.

(6) I miss him. He is my best friend and so withdrawn lately. I want my husband to be there for me again. So I will try to cheer him up by being especially nice tonight.

What did you decide? 1,2,4,and 6 are examples of controlling attitudes and behaviors even if subtle. It’s not wrong to wish life were easier or to want the best for someone. It is crossing the line from concerned love into an attempt at control when our agenda is really for our own good more than for theirs.

It is a valuable lesson to remember – people are not to be “handled,” they are to be accepted.

Whether a person is struggling against Depression, Bipolar Disorder, a Personality Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Anxiety, or another mental health issue, nothing but compassionate love is worthwhile. Compassion does not reprimand people for their feelings. It does not try to manipulate another’s response to life events.

It listens. It visits. It prays, and allows God to have the whole situation. After all, aren’t our loved ones in better hands with God than with us?

**********

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.