Mental Health: More than just a phone number

It seems like everywhere we turn these days we see someone who, when faced with dire mental anguish, decides to hurt themselves or hurt those around them. During the past 7 days alone we have seen the self inflicted demise of two world renowned people. The sobering fact is that depression and suicide does not discriminate but will devour anyone it can get its hands on. We as a society have started the conversation to bring mental illness out from under the rock it had laid under for too long. But at what point will we move from talking about it to taking meaningful actions to remedy it? Ever since the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain I have seen plastered all over social media phrases such as “if you are struggling please reach out to 1-800…” or “help is only a phone call away, 1-800…” and while I applaud what the suicide hotline does, it’s really only a band aid when we really need a tourniquet. I see dozens if not hundreds of people I associate with wanting to do the right thing and wanting to make lasting positive changes in the realm of mental health, but they simply do not have the tools to make those changes. So, today I pose the question, how do we move from words to actions to stop the harmful actions of the Anthony Bourdain’s or the Dimitrios Pagourtzis’ of our world who have not acted yet? Lets explore some of what, I think, are good places to start.

Don’t rely on someone else to take action for you. People need you. Yes you, who are reading this right now. They need not some doctor or psychologist, they need you, a non-threatening safe place to express their hurt. Far too often we hear those who were close to a tragic situation say “I never saw it coming” when in reality they were trying to see things from a mile away. Suicide and mass shootings would decrease if we were willing and able to be there before the poo hits the fan. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. But it could save lives. Specifically in the case of Anthony Bourdain there were signs. I’ve never met the tall and grey haired man who is best known for shedding light on different cultures other than our own, but I could tell he was hurting years ago by how often he spoke about his battle with drugs and alcohol. I’d be willing to bet those closest to him waited on someone else to take action for them to save Anthony. Let this be a lesson that we need to move on past that way of thinking.

Another step is to bring the goodness of life to the surface for those who are struggling. If you know someone who has experienced trauma then I would suggest trying to show them that the bad experiences they had do not have to shape the experiences they will have in the future. This takes a willingness to know what a persons love language is. Find out what makes them feel loved and do it. Depression often suppresses our ability to express fully 1) what is hurting us and 2) what would make us feel joy again. That is why it is crucial to be there in the good times and bad to see people in various stages of life. Consistency is key.

Lastly, don’t stop knocking on the door. Keep checking in. Keep reassuring those around you they are loved. Never lose that sense of repetition that is so crucial to help people get out of the dark pit that is depression. But I also caution us against going too far and leaving those we are tying to help feeling smothered. Sometime’s people need space, and that is alright. Giving space becomes an issue when we lose sight of what is happening though so we also should be mindful to never be too far away that we seem out of reach to those we are trying to help.

These tools are just the start of what I feel is real change in the area of mental health, but if we don’t start here where will we start?

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Reflection

As 2011 comes to a close and 2012 is about to begin it has caused me to reflect on my life over the last year. Looking back I’ve realized just how dark some of the places are that I have been. In April I lost my grandfather on my Dads side, which was somewhat expected due to cancer. I had a few weeks to prepare for that one. My dad’s mother passing a week after my grandfather caught me off guard though. That was tough. Really tough.

Over last summer I began a dialogue with a family member over what we each believed in regards to Christianity. Knowing what I know about this particular person I now regret not seeing that those conversations were going to turn out hurtful to me. The conclusions that were reached was that I was wrong and basically condemned because of a disagreement. I came out of that situation feeling defeated, rejected, and attacked on a personal level. The fact that I live with this person did not make it any easier. If that was the God I was around all the time because of my living situation then I wanted nothing to do with it. Sadly I abandoned God for a period of time because of it.

And then the semester started. Not only was i still trying to cope with my family situation I had school deadlines and stress to manage. At the time I couldn’t understand how or why God could let me suffer like that. This fall semester is one I will never forget. November 4th of this year seemed like a normal day but it would end up far from it. I remember I was at Red Lobster with a buddy when we saw posts about a possible bus accident with a group of ACU students. The next couple of hours were filled with confusion. Later that night I found out that the bus was indeed from ACU my friends Jason and Kathleen were on the bus that crashed. I can’t begin to tell you what it was like thinking two of my friends might have died. But I am thankful they both survived. ACU is still feeling the ripple effects of that day but each day we get stronger. The memory of Anabel Reid, a student who died in the crash, will live on at ACU and in the lives of those who knew her.

One thing I see in my life the longer it goes on is that God has a hand in everything and that God can and does take horrible situations and is able to bring about great lessons and blessings from them. I loved seeing my Dads family after my grandparents died. I will always cherish the good times I had with them on that trip and every trip I have taken out there. And because of that tragic accident I have seen the ACU community come together like I have never seen before. Praise God for that. And because I’m challenged and questioned by my family I am even more convinced I want to go into ministry and counseling.

A wise person once told me that whether a pebble or a boulder falls into a lake it still makes a ripple. In this same way difficult times act on our lives. The key is to not make a pebble out of a boulder or vice versa. Whether you face pebbles or boulders never forget to look for God’s presence in every situation.

~B

Change

Change is a powerful thing. Change can cause a dull caterpillar to morph into a vibrantly colored butterfly. But change can destroy lives too. Too many people have made it a point in their daily lives to avoid change as much as possible. But if you examine God’s Word you will find that change is both natural and good in some cases. The Bible speaks in several places about one growing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Growth in and of itself is change. By avoiding change as a whole we are hindering ourselves from growth on many different levels and thus halting the process by which we become unified with one another.

Change within our relationships is something we generally dread. But Jesus taught and the Bible speaks of change as a positive thing in many cases. Look at these passages:

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”n~ Luke 2:52

Christ Himself was always seeking ways to advance his emotional and spiritual aspects of His life. We can learn very much just from this one passage alone.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.~ 2 Peter 1:5-15

Here we see a progression of traits that God instructs us to be dilligent in obtaining in our every day lives. Not only do we have instruction to obtain these things, we have a warning of what will become of us when we don’t strive to incorporate these things into our lives. Our faith becomes ineffective when we are complacent and unopen to change.

I pray that you will meditate on these passages and in all things give God the praise for the life He has given you. Be blessed!

Tragedy

Earlier this week people across the world were hit with something very few people, if any, expected. Japan was rocked with yet another earthquake not even a month after a 9.0 magnitude quake already devastated this island. In its aftermath this natural disaster has left tens of thousands of people dead and many more still missing. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people have been effected either directly or indirectly. Even in the small town of Abilene Texas there are people who have been directly effected because of this horrible event.

My first question is what can we as a population learn from this? The lesson to be learned that jumps out in my mind most prevalently is that we should not run from things that make us uncomfortable or even feel some pain. Moses in Exodus 4 tried to run from God’s plans three times but all three times God would not let him. Moses after trying to bargain with God eventually gave in and followed Gods plan and he, by God’s power, was able to lead the children of Israel out of captivity and do many other great things.

Do we trust God’s plan to help us become better people and more like Christ or do we fear so badly what might happen to us if we follow such a plan that we neglect the life God has in store for us? I would suggest it’s more the latter than the former of that last sentence. God reassures us like he did with Moses that He will be with us every step of the way. God doesn’t ask us to do things we are not capable of. All we must do is follow Him where He leads us. That’s not to say where He leads will be easy, not by any means. Each day God leads people through things such as divorce from a spouse, abuse from those we love, poverty, layoffs at our jobs or a number of any other hardships but one thing is for certain. God is ALWAYS with us. Do you trust God to guide your life even though it most likely will bring many hardships? I plead with you to lose all control of your life and give it to God. Speaking from personal experiences I can tell you that my life is much more abundantly blessed because I follow God.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”~Psalms 23:4

Perception

Life is only as good or bad as we perceive it. We are not defined by the circumstances by which we live but by how we choose to see ourselves through all the joy and chaos we go through on a daily basis. We are capable to do much more than we think we can, if only we view things in the bigger scope of reality which has been formed by Christ in us.

I wrote that not long ago on Facebook and I believe it whole heartedly. Want to change how you feel but cant change the circumstances that make you feel the way you feel? Change your perception. What I mean by that is train your mind to accept what’s going on and find peace through God. When I think of changing perception in us I am reminded of Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight”. The part of this passage that states “lean not on your own understanding” is very important to how we perceive our lives and also how we percieve others around us. In my opinion my generation has failed at this. We are created as beings who are supposed to be in relationship with one another yet we form an opinion and judge others because we think they fit a certain criteria. The problem with this is we don’t know the circumstances by which that person is living. We don’t know their story. So in my opinion we can not think much about something or someone we do not know. That’s like someone walking off the streets onto a car dealership and trying to sell someone a car without reading up on the cars specifications. It just doesn’t work. PLEASE, if you’re going to form an opinion about someone get to know them enough to have an accurate opinion. As your relationship grows with that person so should your perception of them, but not until then.

Scars

Lately I have been thinking of the scars I have obtained because of my past, and it’s not as depressing as you might think. Some might say I have been through a great deal of hardship and I would agree. But it is through these hardhships I have found myself extremely blessed. My parents divorce has been without a doubt the thing that has impacted me the most on a spiritual level. You might be thinking that the pain of my parents divorce was overwhelming for me, and four years ago I would have agreed with you. But today I now know what healthy, Godly relationships are supposed to look like because of the things I have experienced in reaction to the divorce. Romans 8:28 states that God works in all things and this has truly been affirmed in my life. Looking back I can not see a time where God was not doing something in my life. Sure there have been times where I was selfish and wanted to live my life on my plan and not God’s plan, but even then God was working in my life as He stepped aside and let me fall flat on my face. 1 Corinthians 10:13 has also been affirmed in my life. Through each trial I faced I can see that God was right there waiting to help me out of the situation, or to at the very least comfort me until the trial passed. Growing up I always saw my disability as a punishment from God, but now that could not be further from the truth. God has blessed me with the gift of great interpersonal skills in spite of my disability and He has allowed me to create a ministry to others that could not happen without me having my disability. I thank God for giving me Spina Bifida and for giving me the talents I have. Without God I could do nothing or be nothing. I am thankful that even though society may see me as incapable that my God sees more capablities than incapabilities within me. Life has been a tough journey, but I’m on this journey with a Sword in the word of God and a Shield in God Himself. With God anything is possible, I’m living proof of that.

“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain”~ C.S. Lewis

I love the times where I dont have much time to blog, because lately that has meant that God has been teaching me so many lessons in so short a time that I havent had time to write. But times like these when I do have time to write are also a blessing to share what God has done for me. The past month has been a spirtual blur in a way, and in a lot of ways I never saw myself being at the place I am today. I would venture to say that I have grown and learned more things about myself spiritually and as a man in general, as well as about the God I love and serve, in the past 5 weeks than I have in the past 5 years combined. I wish to share what I have learned in hopes that God’s lessons through me can bless your life.

One thing I learned from God is that you cant change people. No matter how hard you try or how much you invest into someone else things will not change unless they are willing to work to make the changes. Loving someone helps, giving them the resources to change helps, but ultimately it is the decision of the person to want to make the change. Whether the change be for a relationship, for personal health reasons, for financial reasons, nobody will do something they deep in their heart have not committed to do.

I have also learned that people will let you down, but God won’t. God holds our well being in the palm of His hand each day and never lets go of it. This alone brings me joy. To know that when everything else crumbles around me that I have a God who is there to say “Well that’s unfortunate, but I love you and I won’t leave you wanting anything else but Me” is something so far beyond anything I have ever experienced that I struggle to put into words the magnitude of what that means to me.

Probably the biggest thing I have learned is that I don’t need anyone but myself and God to get by. Sure, God has blessed me with relationships with people who I love dearly and who I would not trade for anything, but God has shown me that I am capable of doing more things on my own with His help than I ever thought was possible. Philippians 4:13 takes on a whole new meaning for me now.

I hope these things help you in your walk with God. I see more blog entries like this in the future. Have a blessed day!

~B