The local church fails in assisting those with mental illness

Baylor University performed a study on how the churches help those who suffer from mental illness and found that they are not the most helpful places. PsychCentral notes:

churchBaylor University researchers built upon a 2008 study that found nearly a third of those who approached their local church in response to a personal or family member’s previously-diagnosed mental illness were told they really did not have mental illness.

In the new study, investigators discovered individuals experiencing depression and anxiety were dismissed the most often.

It seems that the local church has a long way to go in assisting those who suffer from mental illness. I am very thankful for CCEF that intends to “restore Christ to counseling and counseling to the church.” Here’s a blog post from Tim Lane, executive director of CCEF, in which he provides “four reasons to incorporate counseling into the local church.” And here’s another post by Mr. Lane on guidance for churches seeking outside help for counseling.

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In Suicide’s Shadow

Song of the Week: In Christ Alone by Keith & Kristyn Getty

My husband and I are still working through Transforming Grace which emphasizes that the Bible says people cannot earn heaven on a merit-based system but on a grace-based system. I often revert to this “merit” mindset. It’s inconceivable to me that God doesn’t want me to work on getting to heaven or pleasing him; he simply wants me to depend on Christ’s finished work on the cross—and that alone.

The song of the week is called “In Christ Alone” performed by Keith & Kristyn Getty. It’s my new favorite song and reminds me that only in Christ alone am I set free from trying to be a perfectionist to please God. Christ is perfect and through him, only him, am I perfect.

Irish-born Kristyn starts out the video by reading from Chapter 1 of the Book of John (vv. 1-4, 14, 16). You can hear her thick Irish accent as she reads and then she just busts out into song and sounds American. Why is it that most British people sound American when they sing? It never ceases to amuse me. The video is below and lyrics behind the cut.

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Loose Screws Mental Health News: Suicide slide

congregationA new study from the University of Manitoba shows people who regularly attend some kind of religious service are less likely to attempt suicide. The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, surveyed 37,000 Canadians and their connection with spirituality, religious worship, and suicidal behavior. Those who simply said they were spiritual but didn’t attend religious services did not show a reduced risk of suicide attempts. However, I was dismayed to read that researchers didn’t investigate why regular church attendance decreases the risk of suicide attempts. (Note to self: Go to church each Sunday!) (pic via www.assumpta.fr)

Alison Go of U.S. News & World Report cites a study from Academic Medicine (originally reported by Inside Higher Ed) which suggests depression affects 21.2 percent of medical students. The rates is 11.2 percent higher than that of the general population. And unfortunately, 13 percent of black medical student reported suicidal ideation in the survey, suggesting that the demographic is more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts.

And yet another study about suicide… The University of Gothenberg in Sweden performed a study on people who had nightmares following a suicide attempt and found out that they were five times more likely to try committing suicide again. The conclusion is based on a meager sample size of 165 patients but I suppose it’s a start.

While it appears that other sleeping obstacles do not raise the risk of multiple suicide attempts, patients who have attempted suicide seem to battle sleeping problems on a regular basis.

It is normal for patients that have attempted suicide to suffer from sleeping difficulties. Some 89 percent of the patients examined reported some kind of sleep disturbance. The most common problems were difficulty initiating sleep, followed by difficulty maintaining sleep, nightmares and early morning awakening.

Interesting observation considering that I have pretty much all of the common problems with the exception of early morning awakening.

Finally in a semi-cool story, a 22-year-old New Jersey guy who was friends with an 18-year-old Californian over the Internet called California police when he found out the 18-year-old said he would attempt suicide. Although it sounds like the teen (his name was not disclosed) is pretty upset about being saved (I know the feeling), it’s a (somewhat) happy ending compared to what happened in November when a Florida teenager streamed a webcast of him committing suicide by dying of a drug overdose. The Florida teen died before police arrived.

Song of the Week: Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond

I don’t think Neil Diamond is a Christian — as far as I know, he’s still Jewish — but he wrote a song called “Pretty Amazing Grace,” which blows my mind because it has some strong Christian concepts behind it. Maybe he’s resolved things between him and God? Who knows?

I’m currently reading a book called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. The book focuses on reminding Christians that God draws people to him based on his grace and mercy and not based on our merits or works. The Bible teaches there is nothing people can do to get to heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and became a Baptist 16 years after being a Roman Catholic. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I’d view my standing with God based on a “points” system. For example, let’s start at zero. If I was nice to or complimented someone, I’d give myself a +1. But later on, if I told a white lie to my parents, I’d give myself a -1 putting me right back where I started. So I’d go back and forth on this points system trying not to reach a deficit. The new church I joined taught that there was no points system, people couldn’t earn their way to heaven, and that one had to rely solely on God’s grace — the gift he gives the people who believe in Jesus Christ.

not good enoughAfter a few years though, being a Christian became burdensome — not because of God — but because of the rules the church I attended would begin to impose in my life:

  • you’re in sin if you don’t wear a skirt past your knees
  • if you don’t go knocking on doors and proselytizing to people, you’re in sin
  • if you’re not in church every time the doors are open, you’re in sin
  • working on Sundays is a sin unless you’re a doctor or a nurse (it’s OK to heal people on the Sabbath)

The church taught one thing but did another. I began to feel as though I was never doing enough for God no matter how hard I tried. I was back on the points system.

Transforming Grace is a book intended to blow legalism out of the water. It takes legalistic concepts and casts them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) or puts them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). It reminds Christians that any blessings they receive or any favor they find in God’s sight is not based on what they do, how good they are, or how many “points” they’ve racked up. After years of bashing myself as a bad Christian, this book reminds me that in and of myself, I’m a pretty bad person. (Romans 3:10-12) But with a belief in Christ, God doesn’t see me as bad; he sees Christ’s righteousness. So there’s no more points to earn. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me any less or any more.

And this is where Neil Diamond’s song “Pretty Amazing Grace” steps in. I don’t know what Neil Diamond’s spiritual belief is but somehow, he’s grasped the concept of God’s grace quite well. As a result, I’ve chosen “Pretty Amazing Grace” for the song of the week as I continue my studies in learning more about Transforming Grace. You can listen to the full song here, and the lyrics are behind the cut.
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This Girl's Biblical View

A little late in posting this but better late than never.


“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-34
(NKJV)

Personal interpretation
This passage piggybacks off of last week’s verse (Philippians 4:6-7) about not being anxious. Here, Jesus says not to be concerned about God providing for our needs because He takes care of all the little details such as feeding birds to allowing flowers to grow and bloom. Plus, he adds, worrying doesn’t solve anything. (Know anyone who’s been able to fix an issue while experiencing a panic attack?) His listeners are told to first seek God’s will for their lives. Jesus also admonishes them to focus on getting through that day and not worrying about the next day because there are enough issues to deal with at that present moment.

Personal meaning
In this economy, it is so easy to worry about losing a job or if that happens, what would happen to paying the rent or putting food on the table. God says He’ll provide for our needs. Not our wants but our needs. Something to keep in mind is our finite human minds cannot comprehend what an infinite God deems as our needs.

Jesus also tells the listening crowd to seek after “the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The primary need Jesus emphasizes here is God. Everything else that we consider our needs (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.) is considered extemporaneous, hence, why they are “added to” us. Our needs are first spiritual then physical. (And spiritual often ties into the emotional.)

Personal application
worryWorry. Anxiety. How can I apply this so it’ll affect my life?

The answer is simple: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

A personal application of this verse would be to do everything with God in mind and emulate His characteristics: holiness, truth, justice, love, care, compassion, and forgiveness among others. I am encouraged to “seek” those things — look for them, strive for them — they are goals to shoot for.

Recently, I’ve been learning the Westminster Catechisms. A catechism is a statement of doctrinal belief often made in a series of questions and answers. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

My chief end in life is to glorify God. Seeking after that could prevent so much worry because I’d know that God would take care of me no matter what happens.

For example, if my husband has shown evidence of his faithfulness to me, I won’t live in fear that he’s banging another woman every time he works late.

God has been in my life a heckuva lot longer than my husband has. He has proven Himself faithful to me time and time again. I’ve seen evidence of his goodness to me: how He brought me and my husband together, how He’s saved me from killing myself, and how He’s blessed me monetarily (we’re not poor). God, like my husband, has never given me any reason to worry about whether He’ll look after me.

My counselor suggested that I write a list of all the things God has done for me in my life so whenever I wonder about His passivity, I can look at it and see how active He really is. Something akin to a list of things I’m grateful for. Otherwise, I tend to have a short memory. The future scares me because I don’t know what to expect. It causes me anxiety and worry. Often it’s because I’m not seeking after Him.

Although I said the answer was simple, I never said putting it into action was easy.

Mood rating: 6

The Art of Distraction

I babysat the 21-month-old son of a friend on Thursday. He's an adorable, sweet little kid. Very affable and social. With the addition of a new brother, he's been craving the attention that he used to have as an only child so he's always happy when someone takes the time to sit and play with him.

His mother had to go to court to contest a traffic ticket and she took the baby with her so I offered my (free) babysitting services. I'm not a babysitter and I normally don't offer to babysit kids alone because I'm not very good with them and most young children don't like me much. However, I've really grown to love my friend's son—we'll call him Danny—and felt like I could take care of him without too many problems.

We were upstairs on the second floor in his bedroom and I talked to his mother about a few logistics before she left. Finally, she kissed Danny goodbye and headed down the stairs. Since Danny's only 21 months, he needs to be carried down the stairs. When he saw his mother disappear, he began crying (much to my surprise and much to my dismay). My first thought was, Oh great. Now, he's crying for his mommy. This isn't going to be as easy as I thought.

I tried to sit down with him on my lap in the bedroom but he was extremely fidgety and got up and began running to the edge of the steps. Fearful of a fall (remember I don't have much babysitting experience!), I grabbed him, picked him up, and shut the door to the bedroom. Realizing this meant mommy wasn't coming back right away, he cried even harder. Now I was really at a loss of what to do.

I saw a little toy helicopter that he had been playing with earlier. The helicopter made noises and I tried to hand it to him and pressed all sorts of buttons to amuse him. He wasn't fazed. Danny kept right on crying.

Suddenly feeling desperate, my next thought was, I can't have this kid crying until his mother comes back. She's going to think I hurt the poor child. I searched around the room and found a teddy bear and handed it to him. He wasn't interested in that either. Finally, my eyes fell upon a toy set up like a two-level parking lot with a car ramp that twisted around to the ground. Several small cars sat on top of the lot. Remembering Danny loved to pick up cars and hand them to people one by one, I tried the tactic as a last-ditch effort.

I picked up the first car and held it open in the palm of my hand. He kept crying but looked down at it. I grabbed a second car. His crying began to die down and he began to look at the two cars with curiosity. I snatched another car. He stopped crying and simply looked at me with a blank stare, wondering what I'd do next. I picked up another car and held them flat out on my hands for a few moments, letting him take in the number of growing vehicles. Finally, he gave me a little smile. I started rolling a car up and down his belly and he began giggling.

Problem solved. We stayed busy until his mother came home. I expected him to run and cling to his mother after she got home but he gave her a quick glance and wanted me to keep playing with him because he was having so much fun. That was pretty satisfying and felt like my first solo babysitting gig had been a success.

Just like I'd distracted Danny from the sadness of his mother's disappearance, I'm finding that a lot of people in my life have been trying to distract me from the sadness and emotional pain that have been plaguing me lately.

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Song of the Week: It's Going To Be Alright by Sara Groves

Another regular feature that I’ll try to do is post songs each week that really mean something to me and apply to my life during this week. One of my favorite artists is Sara Groves who writes so many songs that have helped me through different periods in my life.

This past week, I suffered from severe social anxiety on Tuesday and ended up having a panic attack. (I thought I was going to die; I couldn’t breathe!) My husband and I were on our way to counseling that night and Sara’s song “It’s Going To Be Alright” came on. I sang along with the song, fighting back tears the entire time. Finally my husband asks, “What does that song mean to you?” Immediately I burst into tears and told him I was fighting back tears, especially toward the end of the song where she urges the listener to “cast your cares.” That specific line is based on I Peter 5:7 where Peter writes, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” I’ve been really struggling with trusting God in the midst of all this, freaking out about what my coworkers think of me. I’ve been going through a “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” phase. Where is God in the midst of my social anxiety? Where is he when I’m feeling alone and abandoned because my coworkers go out to lunch and don’t invite me? Where is God when I’m on the outskirts of forming close bonds with my coworkers just like they’ve formed close bonds with each other? Why am I the weirdo and the freak? What makes me so socially repulsive?

Then I hear Sara sing to me (it felt like it anyway), “I believe you’ll outlive this pain in you heart, and you’ll gain such a strength from what is tearing you apart” and those lyrics just GOT to me. It was as if God was speaking to me through the song and said, “Hey, it’ll be okay. I’m here for you and you’ll only get stronger from this situation. Marissa, you’ll be fine. It’ll be alright. Just talk to me. Tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me all about your pain. I’m here to listen and give you strength each day.” After feeling like God’s been like my dad for the past few years—not alive but up in the heavens somewhere, it’s like the silence was broken and He finally just communicated to me to turn to Him instead of running straight to my husband first. Talking to God is easier (and cheaper!) than talking to my husband.

Enough of the backstory. But now you know why I’ve chosen this particular song for Song of the Week. It seems like a good way to end the week on a good note. You can listen to the full song here. The lyrics are included below the cut.

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US Airways jet falls into Hudson shortly after takeoff; all onboard survive

Praise the Lord! Seriously. God is so merciful. Tragedy averted. A lot of people were spared grief, heartache, and—of course—depression.

US Airways jet
From The New York Times:

A US Airways jetliner with 148 passengers and 5 crew members plunged into the icy Hudson River on Thursday afternoon five minutes after taking off from LaGuardia Airport, and a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration said everyone on board escaped safely.

Moments after the plane, a twin jet Airbus A320 bound for Charlotte, N.C., landed on the river near the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, at least a half-dozen small craft rushed to aircraft to rescue the freezing passengers and crew.

I’m sure more details will be released in the following hours, days, and weeks but I’m so happy to hear that everyone on board the plane was okay. Here’s my favorite quote from the Times article:

“The plane was totally intact,” Mr. Duckworth said. “Everybody thought it was a sea plane. I kept trying to tell them no.”

Actually it looked like everybody was really calm, like on the subway platform when it’s really, really crowded, and everyone’s standing shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “Everyone was standing right up against each other on the wings.”

This Girl's Biblical View

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7
(NKJV)

Personal interpretation
Don't worry about anything. Pray and ask God for your needs and desires, thanking Him for everything He's already given to you, and God will provide you with assurance—a kind of heavenly, unfathomable assurance—that will protect your heart and mind from constant worry and anxiety.

Personal meaning
While I know I shouldn't worry about anything, I still freak out over things and usually they're the littlest things. (See Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.) The verse encourages me to pray and beseech the Lord for help but I've got to admit, I often forget and try to do things on my own.

Personal application
The verse encourages me to really talk to God—to make God real in my life as though He were standing face to face with me. Just like I would talk to my mom and go, "Hey, Mom, I'm a little short on cash. Can you help me out today?" Well, not that irreverent but that's the idea. If I have a good relationship with my mom, I wouldn't sit in my bedroom, fretting and worrying about whether I should ask her for money or not—especially if I know she has the money she can spare me.

God wants to hear me talk to Him. And instead of opening my big mouth to Him, I start complaining about my worries and fears to other people. Voicing my concerns isn't so much a problem as ignoring that God can handle it is. And God's word promises that if I give my burdens over to Him (with faith in Jesus Christ), He will provide me with comfort and reassurance that He's got everything under control.

As I am wont to say: It sounds nice in theory. Maybe I should try testing it.

Mood rating: 5.7

This Girl’s Biblical View: Introduction

During my conversation with Natalie two nights ago, she emphasized infusing her brain with Bible verses and Scriptural passages and encouraged me to do the same. Finally, a thought came to me that a good way of constantly keeping myself in step with the Bible would be to meditate on God’s word. I know all about creating 3 x 5 index cards to help memorize Bible verses but I think a great way for me to really absorb some of the principles that I read would be to post a Bible verse and reflect on:

    1. What I think it means
    2. What it means to me
    3. How it has impacted or can impact my life

      Open BibleWhile the Bible is no cure-all (nothing currently in this world is!), I believe God’s word “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

      I plan on trying to make this a weekly thing, hopefully for publication each Wednesday. I don’t promise to be perfect but I think doing this over the coming weeks (maybe even months!) will deepen and strengthen my relationship with God and others and will help me to overcome some associated behavioral issues (ie, fear, anxiety, etc.).

      Social Anxiety and Social Awkwardness

      AnxietyIf you met me in person, you’d never know that I struggled with social anxiety or what I’ve deemed social awkwardness.

      I’m a pretty quiet and shy person at first but the more you get to know me, the more you get to love me! (Just kidding about the latter.) In all seriousness, the more I become comfortable in certain social situations or a group of people, I can be loud, outgoing, silly (zany if you’d like!), bubbly, and full of energy.

      After close to a year of being at my current place of employment, I have yet to be fully comfortable. My personality comes out in short bursts but then I get quiet, withdraw, and “shut down,” keeping to myself and avoiding interaction with my coworkers if I can help it.

      I assume—I don’t know for sure—that they have judged me negatively and for whatever reason don’t like me. In a previous post, I tossed around a couple of social situations where I felt like this before. I invent all sorts of reasons in my head:

      • I’m a freak
      • I’m a weirdo
      • I don’t interact much with them
      • I don’t have an immediate warm, outgoing personality
      • I don’t dress very fashionably
      • I have nervous habits that they probably don’t like
      • I am all-around irritating, grating, and annoying in some manner that I don’t know of

      Most people struggle with this kind of thing without any real basis. My fear used to be completely unfounded and after the incident at my previous job, I am plagued by thoughts of social anxiety and awkwardness tenfold. I don’t know what I did at my last job to rub my coworkers the wrong way but I wish I knew so I could try to work on it and cut it out. Vague references of “immature” and “annoying” don’t help me much.

      So here I throw out the detailed descriptions of social anxiety and social awkwardness. The first one was developed by the NIMH; the second is my own invention built off of the social anxiety description.

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      Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

      Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

      Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

      I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

      Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

      NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

      But NC has its Christian critics.

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      CCEF 2008 Annual Conference: The Addict In Us All

      CCEF 2008 Annual Conference

      I’ve previously mentioned that I receive (currently weekly) counseling at CCEF in Glenside, PA. They hold a conference every year on various topics. Last year’s subject was overcoming fear and my husband and I found it to be immensely helpful. This year’s topic focuses on addiction. I received a PR from them and am posting it below.


      Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) Announces
      2008 Annual Conference – The Addict in Us All

      Addiction sounds ominous, and it is. Addictions to drugs, alcohol, and gambling tear families apart and ruin lives. But this conference is about more than the junkie scoring dope or the alcoholic hiding vodka around the house. Even the average person gets stuck in negative behavior patterns. Overeating, shopping, sexual temptation, people’s approval, even love…everyone struggles with something. And everyone faces moments of despair and thinking that change is not possible.

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      For No One

      NOTE: This post heavily focuses on God, His impact on my life, and living according to the Bible.

      When I talk to my husband about embarking on freelance writing, he often asks me: "What do you define success as?"

      Hmm. Good question.

      My responses vary:

      "It’s educating others and making a difference in other people’s lives."
      "Bringing in a decent income."
      "Doing what I love to do every day."

      But if I’m honest with myself, I define success as writing a brilliant piece, receiving recognition, being lavished with laud and praise over it, and winning a slew of writing and/or journalism awards. I’ve done it in the past. I’d like to do it all over again.

      Back in my senior year of college, I won an award as the best student print journalism writer on Long Island. I beat out I-don’t-know-how-many other college students on an island that boasts a population of 2.8 million (as of the 2000 census). Sure, it was just college but it opened my eyes and made me feel as though I had the potential to do that on a bigger scale.

      Then comes Epic Fail. (Link provided for your amusement.)

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      Taking on pretentious Christianity: You don't always have to be happy just because you call yourself a Christian

      Nancie at More Than Conquerors has a great post up including a devotional that reflects on Jeremiah 17:17: "Do not be a terror to me; You are my hope in the day of doom." It really contradicts the notion that Christians are supposed to be bright, happy, sunshine, and flowers. Christians always seem to act like because they have "joy" in Christ, they are supposed to be happy-go-lucky and everything just works out for them.

      How absolutely and utterly wrong.

      The path of the Christian is not always bright with sunshine; he has his seasons of darkness and of storm.

      Because I’m essentially faceless on this blog, I can be me–like it or not. I’m not your typical born-again Christian. I don’t act pretentious. If crap is going wrong in my life, I say it is and I won’t act like things are butterflies and sunshine. I cuss (sorry to those it offends!) at times when I’m angry or frustrated. This is me; I am a human with faith in Christ.

      So I’m out to blast this notion of Christians always have the "joy of the Lord," meaning "I am so happy because Jesus saved me from my sins that I have to go around and smile all day." NO. "Joy of the Lord," I think, means quiet confidence in him. Knowing who he is and what he’s done for you and through all the trials of life, never letting go of that faith because you’re secure in his love for you.

      No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God’s full-grown children.

      We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ.

      The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.

      Boy, do I feel like winds and tempests are exercising my faith. And I’m not going to act like they’re not. Jesus showed the weak side of his humanity. I’m not sure why some Christians think they need to be "stronger" than Jesus.

      /end ex-fundamentalist rant/

      Current Mood Rating: 5.5

      Assorted links roundup

      Pastor Mike at KUPC Ask the Pastors answered the ever-controversial question about suicide that plagues Christianity: Will a Christian go to hell if he or she commits suicide? Pastor Mike answers that suicide is "forgivable but not permissible."

      Spacedit at mydepressionconnection.com says that she has gained victory over depression as a result of evil spirits being cast out of her in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s a subject I’ve grappled with myself, and I’m not sure what to believe. But I won’t be passing judgment on her.

      Celebrity Sensitivity: Juanita Bynum

      Juanita BynumAs reported by BET News, Juanita Bynum, a televangelist who is in the middle of divorcing her husband Thomas Weeks III, admitted that she wanted to kill herself when she saw her marriage falling apart.

      “Suicide crossed my mind … You know, I felt hopeless,” Bynum says in a two-part episode of the TV show “Divorce Court. “I didn’t because the name Bynum represents a legacy of people that have gone before me and had I done that I would have given too much power to an individual to not just wipe me out but to wipe out the integrity of the legacy I was born in.”

      There’s a debate in the comments section of this post in which people are arguing that Bynum, who calls herself a prophetess, is human and is allowed to have a weak moment like Jesus did in the garden but there are others who aren’t taking her claim seriously citing her “self-absorbed” reasoning about the “Bynum legacy.”

      Suicide? If you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you. She is too infatuated with herself to do that. We need to stop listening to this person of continuous drama. She does not practice what she preaches.

      Many people reach a point in their lives where they either have suicidal thoughts or consider committing suicide but move past it. I’m sure Bynum falls into this category, and it’s understandable. J.K. Rowling recently admitted to something similar while she was in the middle of divorce proceedings.

      CCEF: Ed Welch on Self-Injury

      I’ve talked about how I get biweekly counseling from CCEF (Christian Counseling Education Foundation) in the past. I attended the foundation’s annual conference last year and have since received their bimonthly newsletters. This month, Ed Welch, licensed psychologist and author of more than more than six books and booklets (some of which are on my Helpful Reading list to the left), wrote an article about self-injury and the relief that comes from the pain. Obviously, he doesn’t advocate it but delves into the thought processes behind it and how to work on controlling the urge with God’s help. Here’s an excerpt.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      "You can do this"

      From October 10, 2006:

      carI’m tempted to go crash my car.

      Again, the boy cried wolf.

      Except I’m a girl.


      Right now, I’m going through what my old pastor used to say is a “spiritual winter.” I just fall into moments when I just cease praying and reading my Bible for whatever reason. I’m not mad at God or anything; I still struggle with believing in a God that I’ve never seen with my own two eyes. But then I think about the specific events that have taken place in my life and I know He exists.

      With that being said, I sat in my car this morning with the ignition turned on, ready to drive my car over the bridge into the Schuylkill River. I was ready to run home, make the stupid “goodbye world” post on this blog, text my husband “I love you. Goodbye” and then ram my car into a divider on I-76. It’s the worst suicidal thought I’ve had since I ended up in the hospital in October 2006.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Assisting those who are suicidal

      I attend biweekly counseling sessions at the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF). I've been going there for close to two years and had the privilege to attend their last conference that focused on overcoming fear. Since then, I've been receiving their perodical newsletters. David Powlison, one of the people who teach Biblical counseling at the foundation, wrote an article on Help for the Suicidal that I found helpful. It mainly speaks to those who are Christians and puts great emphasis on reliance on God. He doesn't say that God will suddenly "deliver" you from all of your troubles or take away your suicidal feelings, rather he identifies triggers that might bring about suicidal thinking such as personal failure, failed dreams, and false hopes. While suicidal behavior can stem from depression, much of the triggers lie in cognitive behavior.

      Ed Welch, also a counselor at the foundation and an author on Biblical counseling, has an article on Loving Those Who Are Depressed (PDF). I enjoy Ed Welch's writing. He doesn't dole out pity on depressed people but at the same time, he's not heavy handed with his advice. He finds the right balance in dealing with the sensitive subject of depression even when it comes to the tricky area of the "chemical imbalance," normally a touchy subject among evangelicals. Then there's this random article on procrastination (PDF) that I have yet to read but I can always have time to procrastinate by reading an article on how not to procrastinate. 🙂

      God and mental illness

      Thanks to Gianna for sending me a link to an ABC News article about the relationship between religious faith and depression. The article analyzes whether faith can help or exacerbate a mental illness. The exacerbation, as referred to in the article, mostly comes from the stigma of mental illness within the religious community.

      “You might be shocked to find out there are some denominations that do harm to people,” said Patricia Murphy, chaplain and assistant professor of psychiatry at Rush University. “Some congregations teach that depression is a sin … that’s the reaction they get when they turn to their pastor.”

      Being punished by your religious leader for an unavoidable disorder sounds bad enough — yet it’s often compounded with tacit warnings against leaving the condemning sect.

      “Studies have shown that faith leaders are least supportive [with mental health problems],” said Gregg-Schroeder. “There’s this attitude that if you pray harder, you’ll be able to pull yourself out of it. I’ve gone to funerals of people who were told to just pray to Jesus and stop taking your meds.”

      praying dogI’ve been told that I suffer from depression because I didn’t pray enough or I wasn’t “right with God.” When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after my high school graduation, I found my pastor and church noticeably absent even though they were aware of the situation. When I was depressed, I’d get verses like Proverbs 15:13, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Great. That’s helpful. Especially when I don’t have a “merry heart.”

      When I was forced to leave a fundie conservative Christian college midyear because of my depression, my pastor at the time was clearly disappointed with my decision not to return the following year. I decided that attending a college close to home as a commuter student would be better for my mental health. There was no need to scare more roommates with my occasional mixed episodes. I felt like I’d failed my pastor, my church, and my God. God more so than anyone else. I convinced myself that He must be upset with me – disappointed in me. It’s not easy to recover from depression when you feel like the One who dangles your life from His fingers is pretty pissed at you.

      (Image from AP via Yahoo! News)

      Read the rest of this entry »

      For the Christians with bipolar disorder

      If you haven’t found it already, I’ve stumbled upon My Life with Bipolar Disorder written by Nancie Koo in Singapore. She’s a born again Christian who writes about her struggles but remains steadfast in her faith. I started my blog nearly two years ago in the hopes that I could provide encouragement and information to other Christians suffering from mental illness. It’s good to see that many blogs have come along since then to fill the void.

      Christian stigma surrounding mental illness

      If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know that my dad suffered from schizophrenia. As a result, in late 1998, my father stopped attending work (and by default, was considered abandoning his job after not calling in sick for three days). His illness was so severe that he wasn’t able to work. However, he heavily became involved in our Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church.

      Quick background before I continue: One of the main sticking points from IFB beliefs is salvation by faith. (Romans 10:9-10) Basically, all you do is believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and that he was crucified, died, and rose again. The emphasis here is on BELIEVING. (There’s a reason I’m saying this other than sounding like I’m proselytizing.) The more I became involved in the church, the more I found it was salvation by works (works-based salvation). The problem? IFBers weren’t practicing what they were preaching.

      Back to the story: The church was in the middle of a building program and the pastor – we’ll call him Pastor B – heavily called on his members to help out during their free time. My father was so dedicated – he was severely mentally ill now – that he rode my bike for 10 MILES in the RAIN to help put up sheetrock. Then a Sunday or two later, Pastor B tells me, "You know, your dad should really be working. The Bible says that a man who doesn’t work doesn’t eat. You know what I think? I don’t think he was ever saved to begin with."

      Talk about judgment. I was shocked beyond belief to hear my pastor tell me that he thought my father wasn’t a born-again Christian. The Bible also says God doesn’t look on the outside appearance, but looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) Pastor B took advantage of my father’s dedication, but judged him as “unsaved” because he wasn’t working. IFBers don’t believe in "losing" salvation, which means that you fall out of favor with God and won’t go to heaven unless you do something to correct it. They view losing salvation as works-based, which – as I said before – is contrary to their beliefs.

      My uncle, who really means well, encourages me to keep praying, trusting, and believing God as if my depression/bipolar is a result of a lack of faith on my part. (While all those things are well and good, it’s like expecting my Lamictal to just make everything all better.) Funny thing, I go to Christian counseling and my counselor – who reads this blog – Hi, C! – has flat out told me that Christianity is not a cure-all for depression. (Or maybe it was my current pastor. I can’t keep track these days.) I became a Christian, hoping to save myself from depression and suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t “delivered” like some people are, but in the midst of these trials, my faith has given me a reason to keep going. For me, it helps to feel like I’m alive for something bigger than myself. Atheists call religion a crutch. It’s a pretty bad analogy. Crutches serve an important purpose: to allow healing. If my “crutch” paves the path for me to heal in more ways than just my depression, then I’ll be happy to have something to lean on for the rest of my life.

      Many Christians who suffer from mental illness face similar situations. I read this article on Today’s Christian Woman from 2004 and it seems like the woman in the article had a ton of support from those around her. It sounds like she didn’t run into very many problems at her church either. I feel confident in saying her case is a rarity. Christians who suffer from any kind of mental illness are "demon-possessed, " "don’t read the Bible enough," "don’t pray enough," "don’t believe enough," "aren’t saved enough," yadda yadda yada. There’s every excuse out there to make those who are mentally ill feel subhuman.

      I hate to say this, but those who aren’t religious tend to be more compassionate toward those with mental illness. It’s interesting that the religion that teaches “judge not and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1) is one of the most judgmental religions of all.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Conclusion

      "The basic rule of suicide intervention is this: if the level of suffering can be reduced a little, the individual might choose to live." – Jeffrey S. Black

      The quote above is the entire point of this post and the preceding posts on this subject. Suicide’s a difficult and divisive topic. People never seem to run out of opinions on the matter.  Jeffrey Black’s booklet was directed to an audience that wanted to know how to help a suicidal individual. I added a couple of things that I thought were relevant, but for the most part, Black is on target. I stopped harping on this through my posts, but I remained dismayed at the straightforward approach and lack of empathy in the book. While a person struggling with suicidal thoughts shouldn’t be "babied," he should be treated with compassion and care. Tough love works on some people, but its potential for backfire is great. Many people who consider suicide are extremely fragile and the slightest criticism could further convince them that they need to kill themselves. (FYI – I am one of these.) If you’ve known the person for a long time, assess his normal-tempered personality. From there, decide whether he is capable of accepting a bit of a heavy-handed push. A general rule: Avoid tough love if the suicidal person normally wouldn’t consider you "a loved one."

      So this post concludes my longest-running series on suicide. This series has been in the works since October, when I entered the hospital, but I never had any time to really devote to it. The semi-meticulous person I am, I went through my posts and tried to edit them as much as possible. (OK, with the exception of this one.) A few mistakes might slip through, but for the most part, they should be relatively readable.

      The point of this series wasn’t to bang non-Christians over the head with a Bible. (Uh, so to speak.) The booklet I dissected came from a Christian point of view, but I think there was a lot of helpful information, not just for Christians, but for anyone who wants to help a suicidal person. It’s not foolproof and it certainly isn’t the "be-all and end-all." It’s a guideline and a good start. Purchase the book at Amazon, if you’re interested.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part VI, Hopelessness

      “If a Christian is without hope and sees himself as helpless, it underscores that his thinking is out of alignment with God’s.” – Jeffrey S. Black

      A hopeless Christian is a paradox considering that Christians should have reason to hope. But when faced with trials of life, “keeping hope alive” proves difficult.

      Black defines hopelessness in three ways:

      1. A failure to recognize God’s wisdom.
      2. A failure to desire what God desires.
      3. An unwillingness to view time the way God does.

      Important questions for a hopeless Christian to ask himself:

      • Are my hopes in the situation getting better or in Christ?
      • Are my hopes in me or in Christ?
      • Are my hopes in other people or Christ?

      A quote from Psalm 73:21-22:

      “When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant.”

      When a Christian’s focus isn’t on Christ, everything is hopeless. I struggle with answers how to get a Christian from a point of hopelessness to hopeful ness.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part V, Felt Need

      According to Black, those drawn to suicide are being denied a “felt need.”

      “Depressed people who report feeling suicidal normally associate their pain with some thwarted felt need. Second, they have come to believe that they cannot endure the pain associated with that ‘unmet need.’”

      He continues:

      “Where does all this anguish come from? It is created and sustained by thwarted desires that a person experiences as felt needs: ‘I need what I have lost and have no hope of getting.’”

      I like the principle of felt need. It can be used in any suicidal situation. The principle of “felt need” correctly identifies why a person considers suicide. The main statement follows Black’s model:

      “I need ___[fill in the blank]___ and feel hopeless about ___[fill in the blank]___.”

      In my case, sometimes I don’t have specific reasons for being suicidal – I just am. Therefore, the previous statement for me is as follows, “I need TO BE FREE FROM EMOTIONAL PAIN and feel hopeless about FREEDOM FROM EMOTIONAL PAIN.”

      This lack of hopelessness is what drives me directly to suicide.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part IV, Helping A Suicidal Person

      Helping a suicidal person is a touchy subject.  Black’s booklet is addressed to people who want to help a person who is suicidal.  Black’s provides some tips to help a suicidal person:

      1. “Acknowledge the reality of [the person’s] pain.”
      2. “Help him see the connection between his pain and his felt need.” Get them to say, “Life without ___ [fill in the blank]___ will be unbearable because ___[fill in the blank]___.
      3. “Challenge constricted options and irrational thoughts.”
      4. “Explore [the person’s] perceptions of hopelessness.” How hopeless is the person feeling? Can the situation be rectified or is it hopeless?
      5. “Help the person to separate pain and need.”

      Assessing risk
      Black’s following guideline is a good way to assess whether a person is considering suicide:

      1. Presenting problem – Assessment begins by evaluating the problem that triggered the downward spiral.  This is difficult to do if the person can’t identify any triggers.

      2. Background information – Analyze the person’s life and personality to gain a better understanding of how and why he is driven to a point where he considers taking his own life.  A good warning sign: If someone says, "I can’t deal" repeatedly. "I can’t deal" really means, "I don’t have the appropriate coping skills to handle my situation."

      3. Substance abuse – While a person who abuses drugs or alcohol may not be suicidal, the likelihood that a depressed person who abuses drugs or alcohol is.

      4. Resources – Encourage the (potentially) suicidal individual to seek out a support network: family, friends, church, therapists, or social groups.  If a person feels needed, he is more likely to realize that his death will have a significant impact.  Perhaps he’ll think twice before making an attempt.

      5. Suicidal thinking and intent

      A.     "Evaluate the person’s felt experience." Use a mood scale from 1-10 to gauge how good or bad a person is feeling. (Feel free to use mine on the right.)
      B.     "Determine how often the person has suicidal thoughts and how intense or compelling they are."  Frequent "passing" thoughts are no longer passing thoughts.
      C.     Dry run. A person contemplating suicide might have “tried out” the way he plans on killing himself.

      “Has she ever taken a few pills to see what it feels like, tied things around her neck, driven at high speed, or practiced with an unloaded gun? Dry runs help the person to resolve any ambivalence she might feel about suicide.”

      If a person admits to attempting a “dry run,” the person likely is in extreme danger of following through.

      6. Noble End – A person who is at the point of beautifying suicide as a glorious end to his life is completely disillusioned and should be seen as a high risk.  Watch out for talk of "No one needs me anymore" or "Everyone would be better off without me."

      An addendum: A person who says "I hate myself" may be a suicidal risk, but not always.  An admission of self-hatred provides evidence that he may want to eliminate the hatred in some way.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part III

      A “situational crisis” may lead a person to have “intense psychological pain.” As a result of this psychological pain, a person can begin to experience “distorted thinking” and/or may “abuse medication.”

      1. Situational crises

      These include financial problems, illness, bereavement, relational conflict, or public humiliation. Black notes that situational crises tend to act as a “catalyst to suicide,” driving the person to believe he or she has no other solutions to solve his or her problem(s).

      2. Severe psychological pain
      Black gets to the heart of suicide attempts:

      “The goal of suicide is often simply to end that pain: ‘I just want the pain to go away.’ … ‘I just want to die’ most often means, ‘I want to stop feeling bad.’”

      This, above all things, is the biggest reason behind a suicide attempt. If people felt like they had other options to their problems apart from suicide, most would take the alternate routes. In a suicidal moment – whether planned or not – the suicidal person is thinking about ending the “pain.” Death itself is not the goal; it’s an end to emotional pain. Death seems to serve as a means to that end.

      3. Distorted Thoughts
      Distorted thinking is a characteristic of suicides. Black writes:

      “Problems may seems catastrophic when they are not. Predictions about the future can become arbitrary and unrealistic.

      While problems get unbearable and circumstances may seems bleak, instead of looking for assistance, those who are suicidal convince themselves that only death or loss of consciousness can release them from emotional pain.

      4. Abuse of medication
      A person who attempts to overdose on medication seeks one of two things: death or loss of consciousness. Abuse of medication that requires hospitalization provides a legitimate reason to “escape” the problems of life. Abusing medication is a person’s way of saying that he needs, as Black puts it, “an emotional vacation.” The person feels overwhelmed by the stressors of life and temporarily need to block out all distractions. At this point, it is safe to say a person is mentally ill. The need for escape from problems is the mind’s way of saying that it needs time to recover and become mentally healthy again. Abusing medication is the desperate way of doing this.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part II

      In 10 years of struggling with suicidal thoughts, I’m practically a “suicidal” expert. (I said "practically," not actually.) I know quite a bit about suicidal ideations and many of the thought processes behind them. Jeffrey Black lists more common features in suicidal thinking:

      • Extreme psychological pain related to unmet psychological needs.
      • A view of self that says she cannot tolerate such intense pain.
      • An overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, and the belief that she is helpless to solve problems.
      • A sense of isolation or desertion accompanied by the belief that others cannot, should not, or do not want to offer support, nurture, or care.

      Not all suicides are planned. I, for one, can attest to the fact that they can be impulsive. The combination of elements that Black identifies can seem to lead someone to a suicide attempt. Black’s pattern of identifying someone who possibly could have suicidal tendencies is as follows:

      • Sense of hopelessness
      • Pattern of poor coping skills
      • Limited tolerance for pain
      • Need to flee from help

      All four are likely to be present to classify someone as suicidal. Two out of four does not a suicidal person make. Desperate, yes, but not undeniably suicidal.

      “Hopelessness can be both a source of psychological pain and a result. A person’s belief in her inability to change things is probably bound up with her experience that the pain is intolerable.

      Here’s the equation for a suicidal mind, here is the equation:

      problems + inability to change problems = intolerable pain.

      If the equation becomes problem + inability to change problems + intolerable pain, then the only solution – as perceived – is suicide. Black breaks down the facets of suicide:

      • The result of a continuous transaction between a person’s heart
      • The symptoms of depression
      • The kinds of stressors in the person’s environment
      • The strategies a person uses to cope with depression and other life events

      A person turns to suicide if he is suffering from severe depression; has poor coping strategies; feels that his stressors are too much to handle; and in his heart, has decided that as a result of these circumstances and feelings, he must end his life.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part I

      Black’s Common Features of Suicidal Thinking

      1. Bitterness
      2. Anger
      3. An unwillingness to forgive
      4. The “last word” in argument
      5. A way to punish someone

      “Romans 1 suggests that a person – believer or unbeliever – who contemplates suicide must actively suppress the Spirit’s testimony that he is a creature made in the image of God, living in dependence on him.”

      “Actively suppress” is a strong statement. If it means a person is aware of this suppression, then I’d disagree. Some people may be aware of this but that isn’t always the case. Black emphasizes suicidal believers are made in the image of God and insinuates that suicidal attempts are willful acts of disobedience:

      “We want to demolish the idea that someone who takes his life is a sad, wounded, and weakened victim, and that suicide is a noble expression of his fragility and God’s failure to rescue him.”

      While suicide is not a noble expression of fragility, suicide shows a suicidal person and those around him how weak he is. This is not “weak” that describes someone with a character flaw; those referred to as weak are those who need emotional help. Those who are emotionally stronger are able to encourage someone who is emotionally weak. A man who takes his life may have been sad, may have been wounded, and may have been weak – but God’s grace was not beyond him and what is perceived as God’s “failure” to rescue him was still within God’s control. (I won’t get into the fine details of why He allows some people to live and some to die in this post.)

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Outline

      While the book had me put off, I did glean a couple of things from it, mainly things that pertain to Christians who struggle with suicidal ideation.

      “The paradox is brought into full focus when a suicidal Christian wants to know if she will lose her salvation if she kills herself. The contradiction in her thinking – that the same God who has the power to condemn her eternally doesn’t have the power to help her now – seems lost on her.”

      The key here for Christians is to focus on “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is especially difficult to do when a person doesn’t know the next path to take, what to believe, or desperately wants die. The Biblical view of Christianity holds that a person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and commits suicide is not condemned to hell. However, the booklet deals with issues leading up to this point and does not focus on suicide per se.

      While suicide is viewed as a psychological act born out of a depressive state, the author correctly states it is “the act of a sinful heart.” All Christians must come to terms that many mental illnesses are a result of a sinful, fallen condition. Christianity rejects the teaching that “all people are inherently good.” From a Biblical standpoint, that’s a fallacy. Psalm 53:3 reminds readers, “There is none who does good, not even one.” Those who believe in God must accept that they are fallen, sinful creatures incapable of consistently doing good in and of themselves. Depressive and suicidal tendencies stem from this sinful nature.

      Black quotes G.C. Berkouwer:

      “One cannot find sense in the senseless and meaning in the meaningless.”

      Life as a non-Christian can be senseless and meaningless because there seems to be nothing to live for other than the self. A belief in Jesus Christ as Savior gives life a brand new sense of meaning. But even a Christian can lose track of that. Again, the inability to remain focused on God stems from a sin nature.

      Black uses the apostle Paul as an example of someone who overcame trials, hardships, and suffering. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul refers to his suffering as a “light affliction, which is but for a moment.” Black outlines how Paul is able to regard trials as light, momentary afflictions:

      1. Paul lives his entire life with purpose. He endures the suffering because of the good he knows will come out of it.
      2. His life is lived for the future, for a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (II Cor. 4:17)
      3. Paul is “strengthened” to face the challenges that God has given him through the Holy Spirit.

      While Black explains how Paul overcame his difficult trials with courageous faith, his application flies over the head of any depressed believer. The above may be encouraging to a believer who is disappointed by trials, but it is an application out of the grasp of someone who is suicidal. A more appropriate application would be King David in the Psalms, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 43:5) or rather Elijah, who after a great spiritual victory, prays to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” (I Kings 19:4) Perhaps even a suicidal person can relate to Job, “"Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not.” (Job 3:20-21) Black overlooks believers with applicable moments of despair and opts to use the apostle Paul as example for hope. Here, the cliché is applicable: a person must go through the darkest part of the tunnel before he can see the light.

      Not only did I feel as though Black throw Paul’s example in for a “See? This is how a true believer should act,” he immediately delves into how “suicide is a sinful act.” Pitting depressed people against a great apostle like Paul is just an awful reminder that they just don't “stack” up. Contrasting a suicidal person with a spiritual giant is yet another reminder as to why he needs to die, not to live. As I mentioned before, using Elijah, David, or Job would have been a more empathetic approach.

      An underlying base of suicide is selfishness. Black capitalizes on this thought:

      “My goal is not simply to get the person to repent over a specific act of lawbreaking (suicide), but to undermine his pattern of sinfully self-centered rationalization.”

      He adds that suicide is an “expression of self-centeredness contrary to our position as creatures responsible to a Creator.” Suicidal thoughts remove God from being the primary focus of life and make people gods in their lives. Suicide seems like a noble way of dying (a form of narcissism) while it is essentially a slap in the face to God. Suicide says to God, “I don’t trust that you can help me through life so I’m taking matters into my own hands,” whether the individual is aware of God or not.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Introduction

      “Won’t you share a common disaster? Share with me a common disaster. Oh, a common disaster.” – Cowboy Junkies, “A Common Disaster”

      SuicideI receive weekly counseling at CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) in Glenside, Pennsylvania, The foundation has an outreach program called Resources for Changing Lives that publishes educational material on different topics. One of the small booklets I purchased was “Suicide: Understanding and Intervening (SUI)” by Jeffrey S. Black. The booklet is a tad bigger than a 3 x 5 index card and consists of 31 pages. Of all the things I read in the book, the last paragraph stood out in my mind:

      “In the years I have been involved in biblical counseling, I have not completely fathomed the hopelessness and despair in a believer that makes death more attractive than life. I pray that my inability is not merely a lack of empathy for someone who struggles. I hope that it is a vision for Christ and his kingdom that keeps the true ‘meaning’ of suicide out of my reach.”

      While I understand Mr. Black has years of counseling those who struggle with suicidal ideations, I can’t help but wonder: What made him qualified to write this book?

      In reading SUI, I felt as though the author took an objective stance in writing this. It came across as matter-of-factual rather than empathetic or sympathetic. I read the book – in all honesty – looking for answers and some kind of sympathy. I only received a slew of answers. The book should aptly be renamed “Suicide: A Factual Guide to Intervention.” No understanding required.

      The book wasn’t bad; it just felt like the author wanted to keep his distance. “Don’t get too close to the reader lest you understand what a suicidal person is experiencing!” But the lack of emotion to relate to the reader detracted from many of the positive aspects of the book.

      Out of five stars, I give the book three stars. Despite the absence of emotion, the book gives great bits of information I hope to share. As a person who struggles with suicidal thoughts on a recurring basis, the book was a bit of a disappointment. I know of other counselors at the foundation who could have written a more sympathetic book than Mr. Black. But he wrote it, so it’s time to delve into it.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening Series

      Beginning next week, I’ll be unveiling a series on a booklet that I read called, "Suicide: Understanding and Intervening," by Jeffrey S. Black. According to the booklet, Mr. Black pastors Calvary Chapel in Philadelphia and is an adjunct faculty member for the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation’s School of Biblical Counseling. (Since the booklet was written in 1998, I don’t know if the previous sentence still holds true.)

      The book is directed at readers who want to know how to help a suicidal person. I quote much of the book and offer some comments, but I also try to add some important pieces that I think Mr. Black overlooked. The booklet relies on the Bible to support many of its points so it is heavily Christian-themed. However, there are other interesting tips that anyone – Christian or non-Christian – can use to help those who are suicidal.

      I’ll be honest: I read the book myself, and as a person who struggles with suicidal thoughts, I found it to be disappointing. This probably stems from the fact that suicidal people are not the target audience. Those who care about suicidal people are. Regardless, reading the book allowed me to gain some insight into my thought processes when I become suicidal. These thoughts aren’t evident to me when I am suicidal, but they do occur. Perhaps the coming book analysis can be a helpful tool for readers of this blog, not only for those who want to help suicidal people, but also for those who have attempted suicide and are looking for a way to thwart the process.

      Revisited: Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

      Many thanks to Gianna for reminding me about this post. It sunk into the recesses of my blog and I’d forgotten about it, I reread it recently and found it incredibly relevant and uplifting. Go ahead and read it for yourself.

      Suicide and baseball

      I’m suicidal right now. And it sucks.

      According to my mood rating, yesterday I was a 0. Then I forced myself into a 10. I really felt more like a 5. I’m a 3.2 today: moderately depressed, passing thoughts of suicide with some difficulty functioning.

      I know exactly what’s triggering my suicidal thoughts: my stupid assumptions about how my co-workers and boss feel about me.

      I’m a total people-pleaser. Despite my assumptions, I have a tendency to read people quite well. I can tell when they don’t like me, when they do, and when they’re pretty much ho-hum about me.

      I have two co-workers that are basically annoyed with me because of my absence on my birthday Friday (I know this because they were fine on Thursday), my boss is "ho-hum," and the rest of my co-workers don’t really care. (More later throughout the week on my birthday weekend.)

      My husband continues to remind me that I need to keep my thoughts focused on God. My suicidal tendencies develop because I’m so self-absorbed that I take my focus off of God.

      I want to kill myself as I way to punish my co-workers. There. I said it. I want to kill myself because two people are annoyed with me. (And I know they’ll get over it; they always tend to.) But I can’t stand the cold, stony silence. I can’t stand not knowing what people are thinking about me. I can’t stand the cold e-mails I receive when I try to be warm and friendly.

      I have a lot to do at work. I’m a little overwhelmed because I’m still quite new, but I’m doing my best to keep up with things here. I should be currently working, but I’m taking the opportunity to use my 15-minute paid break as a way to relieve the pain that’s beginning to develop in my mind and heart.

      It’s totally stupid to kill myself because TWO people don’t like me. I have a whole bunch of family and friends who love me to death (npi) and I’m suicidal because TWO people are currently annoyed with me.

      I realize how silly that is.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Suicide debates rage

      Wow. I never realized all the responses that my post on “Suicide” would garner me. Again, I am not proud of my tendencies toward suicidal actions. I have some opinions on the following comments that I’ll reserve until afterward.

      First, a comment from Amy:

      “My brother committed suicide via hanging in our garage. My parents will never be the same some 17 years later.

      Suicide is selfish and to be brutally honest, if you are going to do it do it somewhere where your dearest family and friends will not find you first. The aftermath and lingering nightmares are just too much.”

      A follow-up comment from Anna:

      “Amy,

      I have attempted suicide, unsuccessfully; my sister killed herself, my grandfather killed himself with arsenic, my sister-in-law's mother gassed herself, my step-father's mother took an overdose. We do suicide in my family. All of us have been severely affected by it; I still cry at the thought of walking into my sister's flat and finding the dried pool of blood – an image I will never get out of my head, some 15 years later.

      I have kept myself alive through all the pain because I have 3 children who I could not bear the thought of damaging in that way; I have been living for them, not for me.
      However, I have tremendous sympathy for all those who attempt or succeed at committing suicide – I say succeed with emphasis. Any person who has ever felt the depths of despair of not being able to face another hour of the intolerable pain of deep depression, would understand the longing to end that pain. Living through it takes an unselfishness which is arguably admirable, arguably the biggest form of self-harm and denial possible. For someone to continue to live with that pain so as to avoid giving someone else the pain of grieving is not necessarily the kindest act; watching your loved one living (or rather "existing") with the pain of depression is arguably as bad, if not worse, than grieving for their death. They are existing in hell for that period of time it takes for them to crawl out of that hell. Nobody wants the person they love to live in hell – why keep them there???

      Who is being selfish: the person who takes their life to end their suffering, or the person who watches that person suffering day in day out and doesn't want them to die because they themselves cannot stand the idea of their own grief and suffering when their loved one commits suicide? I personally cannot "judge" which person is being the more selfish.
      I wouldn't want my worst enemy to have to endure that pain, day in day out, and to know that the only reason they are keeping themselves alive is for my benefit. Ultimately each of us has the choice to live or die and that choice deserves respect and compassion, not condemnation.

      I understand that families left behind are often distraught as my own family has been; I have been, but I also understand why someone does it. If you can develop that understanding, it eases the pain, lessens the blame and enables all who are affected to feel compassion – a vital element in loving and being loved.”

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Suicide From a Christian Point of View

      I was excited to stumble upon a Christian blog that dealt with the topic of suicide. However, despite the fact that I think the author makes many good points, her ending left me a little more than sour: "Deciding to commit suicide whether because of financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical circumstances is a sin that separates one from God for eternity (1 John 5:17)."

      I John 5:17 (NASB) says, "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death."  The sin that leads not unto death is pardoned sin, sin that a Christian has asked forgiveness for.

      The author of this blog makes the statement of saying that a person who commits suicide spends eternity apart from God. A person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and commits suicide does not spend eternity apart from God because even though the sin is committed in death, Jesus’s atonement on the cross pardons that sin. (I John 1:7-9) If the author is making a statement that a born-again Christian who commits suicide is plunged into eternal condemnation, the author is in grave error.

      God's paradoxical grace

      A friend sent me this today:

      "God’s grace is an amazing, terrible thing. Free but not cheap."

      Whoa. That’s a concept for me to behold.

      Loose Screws Mental Health News

      Bush Concedes Iraq War More Difficult Than He Expected – No kidding? Well, then, it's "mission accomplished."

      Liz Spikol linked to this article in which Angelina Jolie bounced out of depression by "dreaming of playing a sexy comic book character in the upcoming Sin City sequel." – Wow, that's a way to cure the blues… But not "depression."

      I have more to post on but I'll do so later in the day after I've done some work. (I'm running low on sleep and not functioning at optimal level.) I've also found a Christian blog that I'd like to post some thoughts on because we see things quite differently when it comes to suicide, but I need to do some serious Biblical research before posting so nothing until after the New Year. (Whoo-hoo! Former journalist doing research again! How fun.)

      Today's Mood: 6.5

      Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

      Despite the fact that Liz Spikol is messhuggeneh, she linked to an amazing blog with a Christian perspective on depression. (I’m ashamed I didn’t find it before!) I’m pleased and excited that a Christian in the blogosphere finally has the correct approach to mental illness.


      CLIFFS NOTES VERSION: Christians have a very limited understanding of depression, suicide, and other various forms of mental illness even though there are SPECIFIC examples in the Bible. Christians need to learn how to take care of those with mental illness or they may very well isolate the people they are called to love.


      (The rest is a half-finished personal background. You can stop reading here if you choose to.)

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Loose Screws Mental Health News

      More than likely, I’ll be doing short, quick updates today since I have a LOT of work to get to… you know, at work.

      I found a new forum that discusses drug-related items, mainly Paxil: http://www.paxilprogress.org/forums/ It uses one of my more favored layout of forum versions, vBulletin. But they have a worthwhile discussion on the whole Eli Lilly/Zyprexa thing going so it’s worth checking out.

      Time's 2006 Person of the Year According to the Toronto Sun, Sienna Miller told the UK Mail that she went to a psychiatrist to deal with Jude Law cheating on her — but ended up insulting her when the psych asked a difficult question. Therapy won’t work, dear, if you don’t put any effort into it.

      More later on goodies like Christians and depression (what Liz Spikol linked to) and Time‘s Person of the Year. (Okay, Time has NOTHING to with depression but it’s sooo lame it requires a post/rant.)

      BTW – I’ll get to everyone’s comments soon. I’m having e-mail issues and once I get them sorted out, I’ll start responding.

      Identification

      I identify with Dawdy’s article on a variety of grounds and many of his words have me thinking.

      “Mostly, the suicidal show no clues that they are on dangerous ground.”

      This is true for me only with people I don’t know. When people at work, friends, or family see me, they think that all is right in my world. I’m the type of person who keeps a pleasant expression fixed on her face and in general, has a bubbly, cheery attitude. (Co-workers, acquaintances, and casual friends would never know how negative and pessimistic I am.) If people found out that I struggled with depression to the extent of attempting suicide on 10 different occasions, they’d all be shocked because it doesn’t seem to jive with my “personality.”

      People who really know me — those closest to me — know that when I’m suicidal, it’s extremely hard for me to not show. I withdraw from social contact, refuse to make eye contact, become extremely quiet or reply with a succession of short, one-word answers to questions, or corner myself in a seat or in bed with my head hanging down, eyes spacing off into somewhere. Those who know me should and can know when I’m suicidal. It becomes so obvious that I don’t need to say anything. I usually don’t tell anyone, but my body language speaks volumes.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      The Suicide Matrix

      "There are three kinds of people in the suicide matrix: those who succeed, those who try it and live, and those who are hounded by suicidal thoughts—ideators, as they are known in the literature." — Philip Dawdy, "One Suicide Too Many," the Seattle Weekly

      I'm both a suicide survivor and an ideator. I've tried overdosing on pills many times to no avail. I've also tried jumping out of cars. Each time, the driver has caught me before I could roll out into the street. Most of my other "attempts" have been strong ideations: drinking Windex, stabbing myself, shooting myself in the head, driving my car into a wall, jumping in front of a train, jumping off a high building — TO NAME A FEW.

      I'm not proud of it; the list could go on and on. I identify with Dawdy's words in his SW article:

      "In each case, there was little warning. One minute I'd be muddling through a weeks-long depression—wound up, angry, and lethargic all at once—and the next I'd be on the lethal precipice."

      I can't really remember planning any suicides. I don't plan suicide attempts; the ideations hit me as an impulse. I become obsessed with the thought and I can't distract my mind. It's like a train headed full speed into a wall with no reverse gear.


      This is me when I am suicidal.


      My Latest Obsession
      My latest obsession has been shooting myself in the head with a gun despite Dawdy's stat that "It is uncommon for women to kill themselves with a gun." I've never had access to a gun but if I did, I'd be dead by now. The act of pulling a trigger is final. So much more so than any act of suicide. A person can survive a stabbing, a jump, overdosing, or self-designed accidents. But once a person sticks a gun inside the mouth and pulls the trigger… it's difficult to miss. Survival isn’t impossible but not likely.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Transforming Grace

      Originally written on October 16, 2006

      orphansIn Rose Marie Miller’s introduction for from fear to freedom, she outlines the orphan mindset of a person who has accepted Christ as his/her Savior through grace but does not recognize his/her son/daughtership:

      “- Life consciously or unconsciously is centered on personal autonomy and moral willpower, with grade understood as God’s maintaining your own strength — not as his transforming power.
      – Faith is defined as trying harder to do and be better, with a view to establishing a good record leading to self-justification
      – Obedience is related to external, visible duties with attitudes and deeper motivation virtually ignored
      – ‘What people think’ is represented as the real moral standard, based upon visible success and failure
      – An I-am-a-victim attitude is supported by coping strategies, wall building, blame shifting, gossiping, and defending
      – All this is accompanied by intense feelings of aloneness, believing that no one understands and that one is trapped by circumstances.”

      I identify with all of the above. But it doesn’t stop there. Miller says:

      “Here then is my theme: the only hope of liberation for a helpless, resisting caterpillar in a ring of fire is deliverance from above. Someone must reach down into the ring and take us out. This rescue is what brings us from the orphan state into that of the son or daughter. This is not mere supporting grace, but transforming grace.”

      So my only hope of help is total deliverance. Meds aren’t a “cure-all” — never have been, never will be. In the meantime, I need to find Someone to pull me out of my “ring of fire.” I can only look to God.

      Today’s Mood: 4

      Faith vs. Presumption

      Originally written on October 16, 2006

      "Presumptive self-confidence may look like faith, but it has a very difference spiritual root. (Jeremiah 17:5-10). Faith and presumption look alive because both qualities are characterized by confidence, but faith begins in the recognition and acceptance of our total human weakness. It relies solely on God and his gracious willingness to empower us.

      Presumption, on the other hand, is a reliance on human moral abilities and religious accomplishments, on visible securities. It ultimately relies on human will power to serve God and people… a mix of presumption and faith produces a personal instability that surfaces in crises and major life transitions." — Rose Marie Miller, from fear to freedom

      Truth vs. Lies

      Originally written October 10, 2006

      "This is the one thing I know, you said you won’t let me go, you said you won’t let me go. You’ve done a good work in me and you won’t quit till I’m free." ~ Sara Groves, "This Is The One Thing I Know"

      Sometimes I need to believe thigns are true, even when I don’t feel they are.

      Of the few things I learned at my outpatient therapy, three lessons (truths) stuck with me:

      1. God loves me. (Romans 5:8, I John 4:9-11)
      2. He will never leave or forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)
      3. The devil is a liar. (John 8:44)

      I don’t feel any of the above but I’ve got to assume it’s true. Even if I’m afraid, it’s got to be enough to keep me going.

      Understanding Depression, Pt. 2

      depressedI have a mental illness.

      To say that is not easy to admit. Admitting mental illness, especially for me, carries a stigma of “crazy,” “psychotic” or “schizophrenic.” Admitting mental illness carries with it the weight of thinking of my father starving himself, obsessively reading the Bible, acting erratic and claiming that people had bugged our house, our car and were watching our home to kidnap me.

      Below are my thoughts on common depression myths from “Understanding Depression, Pt. 1.”

      • Depression is not a sign of weakness. My experience is that depression has always made me weak. It has inhibited me from accomplishing goals and kept me from achieving my full potential. I have to disagree with this statement in some fashion; depression IS a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that the person is too weak to do things alone – he or she needs help.
      • Depression is not a lack of character or courage. This is extremely true. Being able to get up every day while struggling with depression is absolute courage; it’s harder to face life than face death.
      • Being depressed is not abnormal. I think I get what the statement is trying to say “most people experience depression” but depression IS abnormal. Depression is not a normal feeling and no one should have to “live” with it.
      • Depressed people are not crazy. Are depressed people psychotic? No. Can psychotic people be depressed? Yes. But they’re not one and the same.
      • Mental depression is not the same as “feeling blue.” “Feeling blue” is a temporary state of mind that goes away. “Feeling blue” is not severe. It is possible to “feel blue” after a loss, failure or unexpected event. Mental depression is chronic; its state is not temporary, lasts much longer and requires treatment. “Feeling blue” goes away on its own or with minimal professional help.
      • Depression is not hopeless; feelings of hopelessness are a symptom of depression. Hopelessness and despair mean that a person is at the end of his or her rope and is ready to do something drastic. This can be a result of depression but it’s also a warning signal that help is not sought, it could turn into something much more drastic.

      Does mental illness jive with anything Biblical? I think so. There are instances of mental illness, many forms in fact, but a particular person who suffered from chronic depression was King David of Israel. All throughout the Psalms, he writes about his constant lows, but continues to keep his focus on God. A common example of someone suffering from depression (that was eventually overcome) was the prophet Elijah in I Kings 19. Elijah’s example, however, is not chronic. He was depressed for a period of time because of his circumstances, but it appears that his battle with depression wasn’t lifelong as it was with David. Elijah and David, however, serve as models as to how Christians should deal with depression.

      Compliance

      I’m reading the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, I’m learning a lot about myself, what troubles me, what ails me and what I’m doing wrong.

      There are four kinds of boundary-problem types Cloud and Townsend identify: The Compliant, The Controller, The Nonresponsive and The Avoidant.

      The Compliant: Feels guilty and/or controlled by others; can’t set boundaries
      The Controller: Aggressively or manipulatively violates the boundaries of others
      The Avoidant: Sets boundaries against receiving the care of others
      The Nonresponsive: Sets boundaries against responsibility to love

      What am I? Total compliant, hands-down. I don’t do some of the compliant things, i.e. pretend to like the same things as others just to get along — well, not always. I tend to do that with people I don’t know to be agreeable. For the most part, namely with people whom I know, I have my own mind.

      The significant compliant problem is the inability to say "no." Reasons that Cloud and Townsend provide:

      • Fear of hurting the other person’s feelings
      • Fear of abandonment and separateness
      • Fear of punishment
      • Fear of being shamed
      • Fear of being seen as bad or selfish
      • Fear of being unspiritual
      • Fear of a person’s overstrict, critical conscience (experienced as guilt)
      • A wish to be totally dependent on another

      "Compliants take on too many responsibilities and set too few boundaries, not by choice, but because they are afraid." – Cloud and Townsend, Boundaries

      I’m still trying to figure out what’s me being "compliant" and me doing what I really want to do — i.e. managing organizations, freelance writing, living where I currently live, etc. My compliant personality doesn’t need to be with a dominating personality, although I tend to feel worse with those kinds of people.

      Example: Paying my mother’s $1,000 eye doctor bill when really, it’s not my responsibility at all. Talk about compliant: I took on the task of paying down the student loan she took out for me even though I’m not legally responsible. But it wasn’t getting paid, I felt bad and decided it was my education she invested in me so I took her financial responsibility on me. All $8,000 of it.

      Another recent example: I felt pressure from a job recruiter and my mother-in-law to take a job I was iffy about but the calls were scarce and patience and money were running low so I said, "yes." Now I’m a bit unhappy — for a number of reasons, but now I realize I didn’t really want the job — I just said "yes" because other people wanted me to.

      Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not trying to pass the buck — I take FULL responsibility for my decisions, influenced by others’ opinions or not. Admitting compliance no longer means shifting blame; it’s learning that my inability to say "no" is really my problem and that I brought some of these problems on myself. Knowing that I’ve got a compliant personality is the first step to overcoming it.

      Elisabeth Elliot devotional

      'Tis true. None of our problems are unique; someone else has experienced them in some way.

      Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen

      Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp For My Feet
      Hebrews 4:15-16
      When we begin to imagine that our own problems are so deep, so insoluble, or so unusual that no one really understands us, we delude ourselves. It is one of the many delusions of pride, for Scripture tells us not only that our High Priest, Christ, has been tempted in every way as we are, but that no temptation has ever come our way that is not common to man. There are no more new temptations than there are new sins. Our story, whatever it is, is an old one, and He who has walked the human road has entered fully into our experiences of sorrow and pain and has overcome them. He has comforted others in our situation, gone with them into the same furnaces and lions' dens, has brought them out without smell of fire or mark of tooth.

      It is a bad thing to take refuge in difficulties, thus excusing ourselves from responsibility to others because we think our situation is unique. If we are willing to receive help, our Helper is standing by–sometimes in the form of another human being sent by Him, qualified by Him to help us. It may be a case of our not receiving help because we were too proud to receive the kind God sent. Sometimes we really prefer to wallow.

      "Ours is not a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who, because of his likeness to us, has been tested every way, only without sin. Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of our gracious God, where we may receive mercy and in his grace find timely help" (Heb 4:15, 16 NEB).

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