He Equips

When I was in high school I was part of a group that was selected by my peers. I really didn’t know anything about the group or the position I was supposed to fill but it was exciting to be voted in. I really was not completely sure what my role was. I kind of went with the flow and helped here and there. I went to the activities and participated but I was never what I would call ‘a leader’.

After school one day a teacher that worked with the group pulled me aside. One of my friends was with me so she tagged along. I plopped up on a desk and she stood by the door. Immediately the teacher started scolding me… asking me what had I done for the group? She was upset and condemning. I was in such shock at her approach I just started to cry. I really wasn’t sure what I should be doing in the first place and now I was being scolded for it. Immediately my friend came to my defense. She told the teacher she shouldn’t talk to me that way and instead she could instruct me rather than scolding me. She also said the group was lucky to have me (not sure how true that was) but we walked out of the classroom that day and I never spoke to the teacher again or went to another group meeting. I felt attacked and I was hurt. So my reaction was to quit. To run away from facing the issues. 

As I look back I think of how God has called us. How at times it is easy to get overwhelmed at what that is. We have this life, maybe a position (location, place, stance) and you know you are supposed to do something with it. You know God has called you but you find yourself getting caught up in what it is EXACTLY you are supposed to be doing. Ever feel that way?

Well 2 Timothy 1:9 says:
Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

Sometimes things happen where there is simply an opportunity to share God’s word or to just encourage someone and I realize my purpose is not necessarily a title or a role I should play, but simply to love and uplift others. To hug a friend or message another mom and simply say, “God has equiped you to get through this.”

Now the enemy is tricky… he wants to pull us aside and make us feel isolated. He wants to corner us and make us question, “what good am I doing?” Then he brings his lies in to occupy our mind. He wants us to believe we are useless and that we have no purpose. He will remind you of past failures and maybe even convince you that the small things you do are insignificant and do not matter. He wants to try to make you believe you are not worthy or able to help anyone.  But these thoughts are LIES. Lies to trip you up and distract you. He want to bring worry and fear and try and make you feel  inadequate. His goal is to make you walk away, throw in the towel and quit.                                       

Everytime I want to quite God reminds me HE is the reason I do what I do. He is the reason we should show love and share our story with the world. Not because we have life figured out and everything all together but because we are willing… And that is all He needs. God does not ask you for something you do not already possess. He equips you! 

2 Corinthians 8:12 – For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

God will always provide you with the exact tools you need. Trust Him.

Hebrews 13:21 – May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. 

The pain of really seeing yourself

I remember clearly the day I was somehow capable of seeing myself. I mean, truly seeing….

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I didn’t immediately seek help but it was at that moment when I  knew I needed it. I would continue on a path where it took me years to seek treatment but in the back of my mind I knew I was sick. The image of my face burnt into my memory. Why I could see myself this day and then not again, I do not know.

I had been starving myself for days. I was constantly tired and sleeping more and more. It had to be from the lack of nutrition. I loved sleeping. When I was asleep I didn’t have to worry about food or deal with people expecting me to eat. I had also convinced myself that as I slept I was getting thinner. I did eat but I would binge eat and then rid myself of all the large quantities of food by forcing myself to vomit. Then I would go without eating again. I also popped laxatives like candy. The feel of food in my stomach disgusted me. I had to get rid of it as soon as I was able too. Sometimes this meant hiding and vomiting after eating out with friends or family. I always managed to eat in front of others. I never wanted anyone to know about my secret battle with food. I thought I was hiding it but I now believe some people knew.

On this particular day I had woke up late again. I dressed quickly and grabbed my makeup bag to finish getting ready at the office. There was a small mirror in the hall where I could finish up my makeup before the office would get busy.

That is when it happened. I walked past the mirror on my way to the restroom and I saw it… I saw me. I saw a person I did not recognize. A pale person drained of life with a sunken face and large protruding cheek bones. I had brittle hair and extremely dry skin from the continual vomitting. There were black rings around my eyes and a yellowish tone to my skin. I was horrified!
I was seeing myself… the real me. A person I had never seen. I did not want to believe in that brief moment that the reflection I saw was me but I knew in my gut that it was.
I do not know what happened in that moment that allowed the true image of myself to be revealed. It was as if my mind opened up for a split second allowing me to view the monstrosity I had become. I saw what I had done to myself.

This moment prepared me to believe I truly needed help and eventually I did get treatment. It would be several years down the road but that day stuck with me.

Today I try to lead a healthy lifestyle. I still have days where I struggle with self imagine but I look back and ask myself, “was I truly happy in that condition?” Of course the answer is NO. My size, weight, ect… none of that really made a difference. What mattered most was dealing with what was going on with me on the inside. Finding what was behind my behavior. There were so many underlying issues I hadn’t faced at the time that fed into my disease…  Until I faced them, I could not truly face myself and my own reflection of truth.

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My scale was ruling my life

Yes, I said it. My scale… a 20 dollar, digital box that I would stand on every morning ruled my life. The number that came up would determine if I have a good or bad day. It sat so perfectly on my bathroom floor and could strip me of any amount of joy in a matter of seconds.
Each morning I would remove all my clothing. I did not want anything adding even an extra ounce to me. And regardless of what it told me I would exam myself in the mirror and go over every area that I felt needed improvement. My back, my legs, of course my stomach. Nothing was flat enough, thin enough, good enough.

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I was a pro at dieting. I would go on any fad diet I would hear about. I would think to myself, “they need me as a spokes person, I make this look easy.” But the truth is I made it look sick. I didn’t realize how sick at the time. I could go three days at this point without eating. Friends starting voicing concern. Telling me I was getting scary thin. Yet there were still others who I wanted to notice and didn’t. I could not eat without throwing up and I knew people saw me and heard me. I wanted them to care… wanting (maybe even needing) that attention intensified my illness.

I was also in a depressive state. I could feel and see my life unravelling around me. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I was going through a divorce and I would cry and cry. My sons would visit and I couldn’t keep it together. The hardest thing was seeing them afraid. It was at this point that I knew they needed to stay with their father until I could pull it together. And to add to it, missing them caused me to mourn for them. It got to where I would hide in bed and wasn’t eating at all. My heart hurt, my body was weak. I wasn’t even sure why I was still here… It was God’s grace that kept me alive. I didn’t feel I had a purpose anymore. I had become so self involved I was only thinking of myself the majority of the time. Something needed to change. Anorexia had consumed me and it was killing me mentally and physically.

To be continued…

The military and mental health disorders

Today is Veteran’s day and children are out of school and many others have the day off.
My Facebook news feed is overflowing with photos and statements of gratitude toward servicemen and everyone seems truly grateful until tomorrow when there is no longer a reminder to be grateful to those who have fought to protect this country.
I am not saying people aren’t truly thankful but there is little than can be said to those who have sacraficed. We know of the many soldiers that return wounded not just in body but in mind. Like my uncle who returned from the Vietnam war with an undiagnosed mental disorder that soon followed. My very own father had a mental breakdown while serving and mental illness soon took hold and he was given a disability discharge.

We proudly wear the title of “Land of the free and home of the brave” while we have become home of many military mentally ill. Are they brave? Yes! The bravest!! But our freedom has come at a great cost.

How many veterans are homeless in your city due to mental illness and who are we to say it is okay because we are free? Are we simply going to say it is the price we have to pay for freedom? Well, I am telling you that is not okay!

Many of our servicement are left in the balance because their mental issues aren’t considered severe enough. So these men and women are discharged from duty but are considered “chaptered” out for misconduct instead of getting the medical help that they need. This means a less than honorable discharge and no retirement, no student aid or medical benefits (that are promised to them at enlistment).

Often a generic code is used to discharge the men and women that have been released due to a mental health issue or disorder such as PTSD. Because of this there are no records of how many men and women are discharged from duty based on their mental health… which often results in a lack of followup care and medical mental health treatment for those who desperately need it.

We need to take a stand to ensure those that have been discharged from duty do not continue to have conditions that remain downplayed and untreated.

How can we help?

First, it is important to be educated on what is happening with our military and their mental health.

Second, be a voice and spread the word! The more we talk about the issues it brings awareness and can not so easily be swept under the rug.

Third, contact your Congressman or woman. Men and women who have enlisted to protect this nation should not lose their benefits from a diagnosis that is a result of serving this country.

More stories are coming out and though we are not where we need to be progress IS being made. We all need to be a part of the change. This affects those that serve, their families, and their friends.

I have only touched the tip of the iceburg with this topic. If you are interested in knowing more please look up and read the below posts.

http://www.npr.org/2015/10/28/451146230/missed-treatment-soldiers-with-mental-health-issues-dismissed-for-misconduct

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/12/16/3604091/ptsd-veterans-benefits/

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How can you love others if you can’t love yourself? It is simple, I just do.

My pastor recently shared a message on love that penetrated deep into my heart. All my life I have struggled with love. Not the love of others but loving myself. I have heard the saying multiple time... How can you love others if you can’t love yourself? It is simple, I just do.
I love others, my children, my husband and I do for others because that is what love does but when it comes to me I see every flaw. My lack of love for myself is not something I decided on one day…  It was a gradual thing that I learned as a child. Don’t misunderstand me, I know there were people that loved me and there are many people who love me now but as a fragile child seeking love and affection I worked and worked for approval but didn’t find it. I had little to no contact with my mother who left me when I was a baby. I never understood how she could leave. I realize now that the struggle was within her and not me. And of course growing up with a schizophrenic father wasn’t easy. He stayed in his room or in the hospital and I grew up afraid to speak of his mental illness. I am not telling you this to make anyone feel sorry for me. I am telling you this because children long to be loved and when they feel rejected and unwanted it determines how they will love and be loved as an adult. We need to show love and give love to our children and even to those who aren’t ours. You never know if they are receiving the love they need at home. Many are not.

Here are the points my pastor made. I hope they touch you too.

* Love that is given to someone without a guarantee of change or that they will love you back is love given in courage.

* Love has the power to catapult you past fear.

* Love makes you a conqueror.

*Learn you are valuable simply because you exist.

*God knows you and loves you better than anyone on your friend list.

*Find a friend that will stick with you in all your junk and in all your awesome.

I am learning to love myself and loving myself has been a conscious decision I have to make and then remind myself of everyday. Sadly it took a lot of time to get to this point and I still struggle and fight the negative thoughts daily but I want you to know that no matter what this life has programmed you to believe, “YOU ARE LOVED” We are in this journey together and loving and supporting each other is how we learn and grow. No matter what happens keep loving!!

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Why I hide my depression

My mom tells me I was a strongwilled child. So as long as I can remember I have bucked against the system.
Go ahead and tell me I cannot do something and I will prove you wrong. Being strongwilled isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Especially when it pushes you to be better. But there are times being extremely strongwilled or stubborn (let’s call it what it really is) can have its downfalls. Like those times you need help but you are so prideful you cannot accept it. Why? Because you should be a strong female that can handle her own.

Well, this mindset has not always been a good thing and has prevented me (many times) from admitting when I am struggling with depression.
I feel this sense of pride, this bullheadedness, that I should be able to hold my own.  There have been times where my husband has asked me why I did not confide in him. Why did I not tell him I was having a hard time?

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Below are some reasons why I often do not admit I am struggling and what I have learned about myself.

#1. I am a mom – my children need me.
Regardless of how I may feel I know I need to be there for my boys. This often results in me making a choice to put on a happy face and going with the flow instead of asking my husband or a friend for assitance.

#2. I have responsibilities.
I have things I need to get done. There are times I want to hide and veg out on the couch but who else is going to clean the house, grocery shop, and drop off and pick up kids from work and school?

#3. I am supposed to be the strong reliable one.
People are relying on me. Plus, many of my friends and family have struggles of their own. How can I add to their stress? I am supposed to be there for them and maybe they will feel I can no longer handle it.

#4. I am embarrassed.
Pride! There I said it. This should probably be #1. I do not want anyone to know about my struggles. I am supposed to be strong. How can I admit that I am weak and need help too?

The bible talks about pride being a downfall to man. (2 Chronicles 26:16)
I know I am only hurting myself when I react to depression with a prideful attitude. It is okay to say I am struggling.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Overall I am learning that it is okay to ask for help or even just admit that I cannot carry the weight of everyone all of the time. There are times I am weak.

I am allowed to tell a friend or family member I am overwhelmed and cannot help out or commit to an outing.
It is okay to confide in my husband about how I have been feeling down and out and just wanted to cry all day.
Most of all it is okay for me to not always be okay. I do not have to feel bad or make excuses for what I am experiencing. I can take the time to refocus and recoup. I am allowed to take care of myself and not feel bad about it.

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good (physical & mental) health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 1:2 NASB)

Cancer threw me into depression

I gave up.
I am not completely positive when it happened… if it was a week later or weeks but somewhere along the way I gave up.
I did not plan for skin cancer to impact me the way it did.
After a biopsy, PET scan, and bloodwork I found out that my cancer was caught early and not as serious as it could have been. I mean stage 3 skin cancer is nothing to mess with. Especially when your lab results show that it is ‘brisk’ (fast growing).
BUT stage 4 means it has gone into your lymphnoids and chemo is necessary. I was lucky and able to rid my body of the intrusion by the hands of a surgeon with no further treatment needed.
When I think about it there are people who have gone through so much worse. I even became angry with myself that it affected me the way it did.
I froze. It wasn’t overnight. I just knew one day I woke up and I was overwhelmed. Everything overwhelmed me. Dealing with doctor appointments and tests all while driving children to work and school and no help made me feel so anxious. Taking my sixteen month old son with me to appointments didn’t help matters either.
I was tired. So tired I was comatose, zoned out with my head nodding trying to stay awake enough to monitor my children. All I wanted to do was nap. I was experiencing extreme fatigue.
And I wanted to cry but had somehow convinced myself I was not allowed to. Well, because I had to be strong (I was even told by someone) it is really not that big of a deal.
But… If it was not that big of a deal why did I feel paralyzed? And no one understood and no one offered help.
I am not even sure I realized how bad things had gotten until about a week after my surgery. It was almost like I had woken up and saw all that had been neglected. 
I stopped fixing my hair and wearing makeup. The house was a wreck. Laundry was piled – not just in the laundry room but in every room. Junk piles of mail and school papers were stacked everywhere and toys cluttered the rooms and everything had collected dust. Where had I been that I let everything go?
I realized what had happened. I do not know how I did not see that I was in a depressive state until it had passed. I thought I was coping. I thought “I got this!” Man was I wrong.

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These things never happen to me

I was numb at first, but now it is starting to hit me…
My childhood seemed to be filled with challenges and as an adult I have faced many things, but in recent years life seemed to glide along, uncomplicated. I am not saying I do not have hard days but I try to have a good attitude about things. I have been in a place where I do not tend to see things negatively.  I try to be a positive person. Maybe I am.
Maybe everything IS dependant on our attitude and seeing life a certain way. I have seen things happen to others and at times those things have had an impact on me but I have not had anything happen to me personally in quit a while. I have had scares… Like the time I thought I was having a miscarriage and actually had torn a blood vessel in my stomach and baby was fine.
But this time… This time it was happening to me. Not a Facebook friend or a lady at church. It was happening to ME.
I read and signed the release that said once I was injected with radioactive dye I could not nurse my baby for 24 hours.
As I lay flat getting a PET scan to make sure I had no other masses, I knew this was real.
I have a melanoma… skin cancer.

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My father’s mental illness made him think I was dead

I remember getting the call that my father had been rushed to the VA hospital in Phoenix. He had been in and out of the hospital a lot lately and each time seemed worse than the last. I remember it being late  – by the time I pulled into the hospital parking lot it was dark.

I was nervous as a walked through the corridor to the psychiatric unit and asked to see my dad. My parents had divorced when I was 20, so as the oldest child the responsibility of my father had landed on me. This was not my first time dealing with this situation, but it was the first time I felt its weight. I had a sick feeling as I was directed into a large room with chairs and a phone on a small side table. I could tell it was a lounge and visitation area for patients and their families, but other than my father who was sitting next to the phone, it was empty that night.

As I walked in he grabbed me. This was really unusual – my father never hugged or shown affection towards me. I thought he was going to hug me until he started feeling around my stomach and waistline.

He asked, “Where are the bullet holes?”

Of course I was confused and asked what he meant. He continued to feel around for gunshot wounds. I had to take a step back.

At the time I was young and did not have an understanding of the extent of my father’s mental illness.  I proclaimed, “Dad! How can I be dead if I am standing right here?” My father was confused. He told me about a shootout with the police where I had gotten caught in the crossfire. He saw them take me away in a body bag. It did not make sense to him that I could be standing before him. 

The blow hit me in that moment. It was as if someone had punched me in the gut, hard, knocking the wind out of me.

I could not imagine living my life seeing such awful things and believing they were real. I had to stop and consider that losing his children must be one of my father’s greatest fears for it to haunt him so heavily.

My father has a hard time being convinced something did or did not occur. You can spend all your time telling him the voices are not real or that no one is conspiring against him, but you will likely never be able to persuade him. To him, they are real. 

There have been other times like this one. Once he thought my siblings and I were all four killed in a car accident. He said he received a call saying all four of us had died.  At the time my brother was stationed in Afghanistan and the rest of us all lived in different places. There was no possible way we would be in the same car together. Schizophrenia does not operate in logic. It causes the mind to believe what it wants and there is no convincing otherwise. My father didn’t fully believe we were all OK until he spoke with us and saw us for himself. Today he will tell you that all of his children are alive and well.

My father still has hallucinations and moments of paranoia but taking his medication correctly plays a huge part in keeping them to a minimum. 

I often find myself afraid for my dad. That someday his illness will take him to a level of madness that he will not be able to return from. I don’t want him living his life continually experiencing a fear that we can only imagine. At least for now he still has great moments of reality.

I know he desires for his mind to be free.  I see it every time he tells me God has cured him, and he doesn’t need his medication anymore. And I want to believe it. I want to believe with all my heart that he is better and that his mind is no longer haunted by such horrific thoughts. I also know there is no magic pill or cure that will suddenly make him better. I know it every time I get a call telling me my father has been admitted to the hospital again.

We will never understand why this disease has chosen him, but I know he would never wish it on another soul. He is to kindhearted for that.  Yet this is a lifetime for him. A lifetime of experiences many cannot understand. All I can do is hope and pray that his episodes are few. That he no longer sees me being carried away in a body bag. That I no longer have to tell my dear, fragile father, “I am not dead, I am standing right here. I wish I could help you.”

 

 

The Price Tag of Freedom

It was something we never talked about growing up. It was hush hush in our house except for the prayerful cry that came from my mother’s bedside in the middle of the night. She was grieving and begging God for a miracle. Even at five years old I could recognize it. My dad had been away serving in the military but he was home now. He was not dead but to my mother he had died. He was now a man we no longer recognized.

My dad told me what happened a few years ago…

“It was a normal day. We would get up and run drills and go through training. We would prepare in case there was a war. This particular day I was having a hard time. I had gotten a letter from my mother a few days prior with news from home that was hard for me to know about. All I could think was that I wanted to be home. Everyone was homesick. I was stationed in Germany at the time and we were preparing for a drill.  We were suited up with equipment and given directions. This drill used toxic gas. We went into a building and we were supposed to put our gas masks on. I fumbled with my mask and I was slow at getting it on. By the time I had gotten my mask on my eyes were burning and I could not stop crying.  We were directed out of the building and my sergeant was yelling at me to get myself together but I couldn’t control it. I was sent to the medical building where they rinsed my eyes out.

Then two days later I had a massive stroke. I was paralyzed on one side of my body and I could not walk. I had to go in a wheelchair. I was in Germany and there was no one there. No family just me. Then the military decided to send me home. I was lucky because the feeling came back into my body and I was normal again but something happened to my brain. They said I had a chemical reaction.”

My dad is a paranoid schizophrenic. After discussion with some family members the accounts above are true. There are some facts that are left out but this is his recollection of the events.  I share this with you because we do not know if the toxic gas or the stroke could have caused the schizophrenia or if the overall event was the trigger. I believe that this tragic event triggered schizophrenia in my father but because of our family history he was already vulnerable to the disease. It could have been triggered at a different point in his life if this had not occurred.

People who have been through a stressful or traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia. However, a positive major life event such as winning the lottery can also trigger schizophrenia in some vulnerable people. There are also some environmental factors that can contribute to schizophrenia but there is a higher probability that a person already has a predisposition to the disease. Yet with study, scientist are discovering that genetics does not necessarily mean destiny. These means that there is hope for my children and yours.

 

(Image Source: Debby Tsuang, M.D., M.Sc., University of Washington/VAPSHCS, Special thanks to Dr. Kristin Cadenhead, UCSD)

(Image Source: Debby Tsuang, M.D., M.Sc., University of Washington/VAPSHCS, Special thanks to Dr. Kristin Cadenhead, UCSD)

 

If you are concerned that you, or someone you know, may be developing schizophrenia please contact a health professional. You are not alone.

Do you have a story about a loved one or yourself that was hurt in the military? I want to share your story. Contact me by completing the form below.