Introducing the Celebrate Recovery Mental Health Blog!

Welcome!

This blog is a multi contributor effort meant to be both an inspiration for those who struggle with their mental health, and a teaching tool. A way to help those who want to be involved in helping to break the stigma that surrounds mental health.

All contributors are a part of the Mental Health Team or National Team of Celebrate Recovery. A Christ centered recovery program helping people find healing from their Hurts, Hang-Ups & Habits. Celebrate Recovery will never claim to diagnose, treat, or cure any kind of mental health issue. However for those, like myself, who do struggle with their mental health and need a safe place to be open in ALL areas of life, it is our prayer that you will know that it is ok to struggle, you are not alone in your struggle, and you do have a reason to hope!

This blog post serves as the official “Welcome” to the Celebrate Recovery Mental Health information blog. We will be posting here weekly, and we invite you to subscribe and follow our blog.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them here or email me at mncrnate@gmail.com

 

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Nate Stewart, National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

I don’t wanna!

As I write this I am sitting outside. Why is that important? For the most part it isn’t something that you should ever need to care about. Today however, it is important.

It is important because I don’t really want to be sitting out here. I live in Duluth MN and even though this is the first day of Summer I have a blanket over my lap because it is cold out; cold enough for me to need a blanket anyways.  My home is close to Lake Superior which makes for some beautiful scenery but when the wind blows off the lake I get to enjoy the air conditioning effects of water with an average temperature of really really cold.

I’m more of a southern kind of guy. I like hot weather and sunshine, not 9 months of winter. I really want to live in southern California but I haven’t won the lottery so that isn’t going to happen. Florida sounds nice but everything that lives in the wild is designed to kill you. I am leaning more toward Texas right now. Near the gulf because I want the water. Ya, that sounds nice.

At this point you may be thinking, “Nate, go inside or move and quit your whining.” Fair enough. Which brings me back to my first point, I am not here because I want to be. I am here because, at least for the moment, this is where I have to be.

God hasn’t released me from this geographic location, and because of the lack of sun I am outside by doctor’s orders. Being outside and being active are a part of taking care of my mental health. And my mental health as of late has been bad. Really bad. Scary bad.

So I went to the doctor yesterday. A new doctor because my old one moved. I don’t particularly like doctors, not because of who they are as people I am fine to hang out with them all day long, but because of what is involved the job they do. They get all up in my business. I don’t like to be examined. I don’t like that I pay them to do it. I did it anyways. Because that is what living in recovery with a mental health issue is. Doing things that I don’t want to do because I know that they are good for me.

Going to the doctor is good for me. Sitting outside is good for me. Exercising is good for me. Taking my medication is good for me. Taking my vitamins is good for me. Being honest with those who are a part of my recovery is good for me. So I do it.

Sitting in my Laz-Y-Boy watching Netflix all day is NOT good for me. So I don’t. But that is what I want to do.

People tell me quite regularly that what I do, being a mental health advocate, is brave. Getting up in front of people, sharing my story, sharing my vulnerabilities. I don’t see it as brave though. I see it as a way to show people something that God showed me a long time ago. Growth only comes when I am uncomfortable. I have to be doing the things I don’t want to do but know are good for me. I have to be willing to step out of my own head and do something that is bigger than me. And when I do I reap the reward.

I love what I do. I love who I do it with. Being on the Celebrate Recovery National Team is amazing. The opportunities I have had are incredible. I have been able to hear on multiple occasions “You saved my life.” Something many people don’t get the chance to hear once. I don’t take for granted the opportunity that God has given me. And it is from Him. I know this. I am not where I am because of me.

Living in Duluth I have met some amazing people who will always have a special place in my heart. People who have walked this road with me and helped carry me through the times that I couldn’t carry myself.

And I have been blessed with a wife who loves to exercise so when I go for a walk I have someone to come along with me. Sometimes she kinda has to drag me. But either way I get to be with her.

Recovery is not about making life easy. Managing your mental health is not about making life easy. “Easy Living” is an oxymoron. Recovery is living on purpose. Letting God guide you in a way that makes the life you experience an adventure, and not feel like a punishment.

I am still cold. I am still struggling. I still have stress. I still have debt. I still have days when giving up seems like a viable option. I still have all of the things that make life hard. But the thing that I do have-that I didn’t have before-is HOPE. Jesus gave me that, He uses the world to shape it. I am on a path He is directing. And that is right where I want to be.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

Breaking the Silence

Depression is a monster, a foul beast that creeps into the mind, a storm that torments the soul, wreaking havoc, and destroying hope. I struggle with that beast daily. My name is April, a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with depression and anxiety.

Ephesians 4:29 states, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to others.” I hope that my story can provide some hope and encouragement. I was born the last day of June, on a Sunday. During my mother’s pregnancy with me, the doctors had told her that I was going to be born mentally disabled because at 8 months, I had stopped growing. My father, at that time, did not believe that I was his. At 19 years of age, with my father disbelieving I was his, and my mother struggling with depression, my mother still decided to keep me and raise a child who was to be mentally disabled. Unfortunately for that doctor, his diagnosis was completely wrong.

Once I was born there was no denying that I was my father’s child because I looked just like him. Through most of my childhood my parents struggled to make ends meet, causing stress and tension in the household, and many arguments. With my Dad being self-employed and just starting out in his business, it took its toll on their finances and on their new marriage. Still we thrived, and I lived as an only child for five years.

Throughout those five wonderful years, I spent weekdays at my grandma’s house so my parents could work and every weekend I could with my grandparents. Those were the best times of my childhood. My Mema and Papa believed faithfully in Jesus Christ and went to church every Sunday, and took me along. When I was just a few weeks from turning 5 years of age, my little sister was born. It was a huge surprise to me and I was completely jealous because I didn’t want to share the attention. But I grew to love my sister and to protect her. Soon after my sister was born it seemed that my mother was spending a lot more time with my sister and less time with me. I was deeply hurt. My mother began to get angry with me over little things, and I didn’t understand why. It seemed that my mother had developed a special bond with my sister, one that I just could not seem to compete with. Although try as I may, I could not garner the love and attention that I so desperately needed.

Being a daddy’s girl, I LOVED my Daddy with everything I had. He drove a big log truck, and I would be so excited when he would come home. I was so proud of my father. But my father was gone for long hours, and was gone even on the weekends. I rarely saw my father because he was a workaholic, a self-employed businessman trying to make ends meet. Money was always an issue. There were fights between my parents, and I tried not to get in the way. Sometimes I thought I was the reason they didn’t have any money.

I tried to protect my sister from everything so that my sister would not have to experience the emotional trauma that I was going through. We got along great, and I still remember the smiles and laughter we had as we played at Grandma’s house every weekend. We would sing praise and worship songs while I played the keyboard and Grandma sang. And boy, she sang so beautifully. I had even given my life to Jesus Christ. Every Sunday. For a month. I just loved the attention which I did not seem to get at home, and I did not fully understand what I was doing. But at the time, nothing could have taken away my happiness. Except cancer.

My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember her losing her hair, and we would play dress up with her wigs, and I would help her with her breathing machine. She would always say that she was going to get well enough to run circles around the yard with us, and I believed her. She couldn’t possibly lie to me, right?!?!

I trusted that she would get better. I didn’t know what cancer was at age 11. Looking back on it, she had been trying to tell me goodbye when I left her that day, but I didn’t know. I knew she wasn’t feeling well, so I left her my teddy bear, believing that she would be okay with him by her side. November 30, 1996, my grandmother passed away. That was the worst day of my life, and it caught me by complete surprise. I was not expecting to hear the words, “She’s gone”. That was the day that the illusion of my life, and everything I thought I knew and trusted about it, was destroyed. I began to hate God, question His existence, and if I even mattered to Him. I was angry with God. He had taken away the only security blanket that I had, the only life I had ever known. I slowly became an atheist, and would continue walking that rebellious path for 12 years.

After that day, I began to slip into a deep depression. The kids at school bullied me daily and I hung out with the kids that no one seemed to want to hang out with, but who accepted who I was without judgment. In eighth grade, as I got off the bus, I was told I walked like a kangaroo, every day, without fail. It began to take its toll, and I had lost my virginity, smoked my first joint, and my first cigarette, all at age 13.

Working full time, my parents didn’t get to spend much time with me, and I had trouble making and keeping friends. I felt completely alone. I hated school, and I began to hate myself. In high school, I sought out the attention of males because it was the only thing I knew how to do. I had learned that if I gave them sexual attention, then they would give me attention back, just not the kind of attention that ever filled my needs. I stole boyfriends from others, and persuaded guys to cheat on their girlfriends. I began to be violent towards my sister, physically and emotionally abusing her because I had nowhere to place my anguish. I was no longer a good girl.

In school, I was made fun of and isolated because I didn’t fight back. I reasoned with myself and made the excuse that if it was me that was getting made fun of, then it was preventing the bullying of someone else. I justified it and begun to accept the things that I heard, believing the lies that I was not good enough; that I didn’t belong. That I deserved the pain.

A few months later, I decided that I did not want to, and did not need to live anymore. God hated me or didn’t exist, my family wasn’t available for me, and my grandmother had been taken from me. I wrote a poem about suicide and showed it to one person, who told the guidance counselor, and I was summoned to her office. I then confessed that I did not want to live anymore, and I was sent to a local mental health facility to be evaluated and voluntarily committed. I stayed for a week, and that week was the most horrible experience.

As if I didn’t get made fun of enough in school, I was made fun of by the kids in the co-ed psych ward, and the nurses and doctors did not seem to care. In fact, the first day there I was not aware that I was supposed to choose what I wanted for my meals for the next day. No one took the time to explain anything to me. How in the world could I make a decision about what I wanted to eat when I could not even make the decision about whether or not I wanted to live? In that ward, I learned that if I just pretended that I was okay, that if I showed that I was happy and could manage, then things were okay. All I had to do was pretend and hide the pain, the hurt, and the suffering. So I bottled it up. After a week, I was discharged because they said I was stable enough to go home. However, I was definitely far from it.

I was still totally against God and church, only choosing to go again because of someone I dated. I wasn’t there for God. I was there because I wanted attention. Fast forward a few more relationships, and then I was engaged to be married. I met someone else who was engaged to be married, and I fell in love. Both of our engagements fell apart, and I’d like to say that it wasn’t my fault…but I’d be lying. We found ourselves fast, best friends who could just hang out and have fun.

I got married at age 22 to that best friend and the love of my life. Him and I fought constantly, and I found myself in a deep depression again. I felt isolated and inferior at my own job. I struggled with my anger and uncontrollable emotions, and I was someone that no one wanted to be around. Because of this, I was kept at the same position for years without consideration of getting a promotion. I could not control my depression and I lashed out in anger and pain. One day, I just lost it. I broke down. I completely lost all emotional control, and I was sent home from my job. Because they did not seem to care to ask, nor did they fully understand what was going on with me, there was no way they would have known what was to come next.

I went home and immediately attempted to take my life. I thought it would take me away from all the pain and suffering. It was supposed to be my freedom from pain. My attempt failed, leaving me emotionally overwhelmed. I had to deal with it, by myself, by my choice. I never told anyone about that unsuccessful attempt on my life, not even my husband nor my coworkers. I kept it bottled up inside.

Years later someone was hired at my work that MUST have been sent by God. I was still a practicing atheist at this point, so I was skeptical when he began talking about God and what He had done in his own life. He told me how his church was planning to start this thing called Celebrate Recovery. I looked it up, so desperate for this hope and healing that I was hearing about. But I had to wait. And I didn’t want to wait. As time went on, I began to lose all hope of being healed. I thought to myself, “God, if you are truly alive and well, then please show yourself to me. I only want to be happy. Lord I NEED to be happy. Or I need to die” I even went to my knees, and pleaded with God to just take my life, for I was not worthy of living. I pleaded and pleaded with Him to take the pain away, but it did not happen. Still it remained, and still I lived.

I was invited to church, took a seat, and waited for it to start. It just so happened that the preacher was preaching a sermon series on “How to Be Happy,” based on the beatitudes of Jesus Christ. The pastor was preaching on the HOPE choice, Principle Two which states, “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.” And the verse that started my whole recovery, “Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” Matthew 5:4.

For the first time, I had hope that I would be comforted in my pain if I followed Jesus, so I rededicated my life back to Christ. I so desperately wanted a change from the life I was living.

I purchased a Celebrate Recovery bible, eager to get started on that hope and healing I kept hearing about. When I received it, I the first verse that jumped out at me was, Psalm 25:17, “Relieve the troubles of my heart, and free me from my anguish.” That was God telling me that He heard me, He had heard my angry heart crying out for help, and this was His answer.

In August of 2015, our Celebrate Recovery began its 30 days of prayer, and in September, launched the step studies for leadership training. I wasn’t there to help anyone else. I was there to fix myself. I was broken, hurting, and desperate for love, hope, and healing. I had no intentions of being a leader, a volunteer, or anything else. I started attending the step studies, and opening up was the hardest thing I had ever done. Having built up my inner fortress around my heart and soul for so long, I did not want to tear it down, much less let anyone in.

But, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, we must do the thing we think we cannot do… and so I did. I began answering those questions within the step study book, and writing down answers to those difficult questions. I dreaded attending CR every Friday night. I dreaded having to answer those questions in front of everyone. I was ashamed of my depression, and I wanted to hide it. But every Friday I still showed up. Keep coming back right?

Working the steps, I was able to ask forgiveness from my sister for the pain and suffering I had caused her. I was able to forgive my mother, and ask for forgiveness for how I had hurt her. We had that conversation the day that my mother had the test that eventually led her to find that she had a mass in her kidney, which later was revealed to be kidney cancer. It is through God’s grace that I was able to spend what little time I had left with my mother and show her the love that I refused to show her through my stubborn anger. One year later on December 1st I was able to be there for her when she needed me when she was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer after being taken to the ER, something we were all not expecting. I was able to take care of her like she had taken care of me when I was a child when she came home and into Hospice care. I was able to hold her hand as she took her last breath on December 29th. I thank God that through CR, our relationship was restored so I could experience all of those beautiful, painful things.

During those 30 days of prayer I felt that God was calling me to volunteer in CR, but I asked why me? I was not the person for the job. He answered, “My child, who is more qualified to take someone through the darkness than someone who has been through the darkness themselves?” I went to my God-sent friend of mine and I asked, “Have you ever struggled with something that God has called you to do?” The answer was so simple but so powerful. “Yes, I have struggled. But I have never been disappointed when I have answered that call.” So I signed up to volunteer as a co-leader for a small group.

1 Corinthians 7:17 states, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” And for the first time, I took a leap of faith.

A few months later, I began to sink into another major depressive episode. I attempted to hide it, but it came to a point that I could hide it no longer. I could no longer deny that I was struggling with depression.

 I was trying to fight a fight by myself that I was powerless to fight.

One Sunday in June, two years ago, I didn’t want to fight back anymore. I sat in my driveway, determined to end my life. I sent only one text, which wasn’t expected to be immediately read, but it led to a 2-hour phone call that saved my life. After the crisis was over, I was gently reminded that I had made the choice to continue living. That meant there was still some fight left in me. And let me tell you, that was God’s strength, not mine, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

I made the choice to begin to seek treatment. I began to reach out for help. I began to open up for the first time in my life, and boy did I have a lot to say. I sought professional help. No longer did I have to hide the fact that I was suffering with depression. I now realize that I am not my depression. That I am worthy of love and grace. That I am worthy of being alive. That I am worthy of recovery. I have a choice to recover. This month I will receive my two-year coin for continuing to make that choice. I earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and He has the power to help me recover.

If you are coming to Celebrate Recovery for the first time, I just want to tell you that I am thankful you are here. I am thankful you came through those doors against the fear of the unknown.

It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s NOT okay to give up.

By reaching out for help and through talking about mental health struggles, we shall begin to open the dialogue for mental health recovery and break free from the bondage and chains of the stigma that bounds us to shame and guilt. We no longer have to be chained and bound. We can be free. I still struggle, but I cannot, and will not, give up. If you are struggling, ME TOO. It’s time to break the silence.

1 Corinthians 1: 3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

I am so thankful and so blessed to be a Mental Health Champion and part of the National CR Mental Health Team.

Thank you for letting me share.

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

Purpose in Suffering

I am not a fan of suffering, of struggling, of enduring hardships. Yet right there in the serenity prayer that we read it clearly states that hardships are a pathway to peace. Well surely there must be another pathway, right? There’s got to be more than one way to peace rather than to follow the yellow brick road. It says that hardships are A pathway, not THE pathway… there is no possible way that a loving God would allow me to suffer, to put me through these difficult trials and situations. I thought if I loved him that I would be free from evil? I mean I’ve heard before that God won’t give me more than I can handle, and God knows that I can’t handle much so surely he knows not to give me very much, just the easy stuff. God can give it to one of those stronger warriors I keep hearing about. That’s not me.

Yeah. We all know it doesn’t quite work like that. But I have had this conversation before. I have asked God these questions, gave God these stipulations, and questioned why he would allow me to go through so much that I could not possibly bear anymore. In fact, I have felt like that for most of this year. I haven’t felt very strong. I felt as if things have been piling up on top of one another, suffocating me in my struggling, overloading my abilities to effectively cope with life. I have been angry with God, questioning why I have to endure such hardship, such pain, to fight an ongoing mental health battle at times. Well, God has an answer, and of course it wasn’t the answer that I was hoping for, but it’s the truth.

 

God allows us to suffer and to struggle because it is a gift.

 

God allows us to go through the darkness, to struggle in the midst of our chaos and our unexpected situations because there is a greater purpose in store. Nate shared this quote with me, and I found it quite fitting. “God won’t keep anything from you that will make you more like Christ.” In the Bible, Christ suffered. There mere fact that we are following Christ on a spiritual journey does not exempt us from the darkness. Instead, we are taught how to use the darkness. When we say yes to God and give him our will, we are asking him to change us to be more like Christ. As humans, we can be kind of stubborn. Therefore, God often utilizes pain and suffering to change us. Pain changes people.

 

Suffering allows us to learn how to cope, to be resilient, it highlights our strengths, it allows us to be able to appreciate the blessings that God gives us and has in store for us. Our suffering allows us to be closer to Christ. God uses suffering to strengthen our faith. God uses the darkness of suffering to allow his light to shine brighter, the light that is within all of us who have Christ within us.

 

We all suffer. However, we have a choice as to how we will the let pain of suffering change us, either to make us bitter, or make us better.

 

1 Peter 2 21

 

Thank you God for your gift.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-factor

May all year

Today is the last day of May 2018. Thus marking the last day of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month. I have seen a great deal of Hope being passed around and that is exciting.

I have received multiple messages saying things like “3 years since my last suicide attempt”, “Finally found a med that is working! Praise God!” I love getting those kinds of messages. It lets me know that we are doing something right.

I had the opportunity to dialog with one of my heroes, Kay Warren of Saddleback Church, during a Facebook live about the experience of having a mental health issue and how Celebrate Recovery has helped me in realizing hope in my own life. It has been seen over 29,000 times!  You can watch that interview here.

The Celebrate Recovery Mental Health Team has grown which will improve our accessibility and increase the effect that the Celebrate Recovery Mental Health Initiative can have on the lives of those of us who struggle with our mental health.

One of the more encouraging messages was one I received from a pastor who let me know that he shared with his congregation about his own struggles and how there is still victory in Christ for those who struggle. This kind of message will not only break the stigma that surrounds mental health but it will shatter it into a million pieces.

God is moving and lives are being saved!

While I want to sit back and enjoy these beautiful successes, because they are worth celebrating, I fear taking the time to do so for too long a period. Because people are still dying. People are still losing hope. People still need to hear that they are loved. People still need to hear that they belong. I know, because I was one of those people.

I want to make people aware of what so many of us struggle with. We need to make others aware. But when it comes to mental health awareness I personally feel that one of the most powerful messages that can be shared is from those of us who struggle, and those of us who used to struggle so never forget what that struggle is like! I don’t want us to hold onto our pain but I want us to remember. I don’t want us to wallow in self-pity like some badge of honor, but I want us to understand that there are many more out there who still know the pain and isolation because they have not yet heard of the hope that is available. We have been in the trenches. We know the fight. And it is imperative that we don’t find hope all the while forgetting the struggle and with it those who still struggle.

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. (SAMHSA) in 2016 almost 45,000 people died by suicide. That is out of the 1.3 Million people who attempt suicide every year. And 9.8 million people a year consider suicide as an option!* We still have so much work to do!

If we consider that according to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) roughly 1 in 5 people (18.5%) will experience some sort of mental illness this year or 43.8Million people**, and according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) only “25% of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness”***, then we need to not just focus on all of the deaths but the millions of lives that feel as if the world doesn’t care. Don’t forget all of the people who live with those people and are impacted indirectly.

The numbers are so overwhelming!!!

But these numbers are no reason to give up. They are reason to press in even more! And if we who know the struggle will turn around and help others who are in the struggle then those numbers can change. If we remember that mental health struggles are not limited to one month of the year and we continue to spread a message of hope then we can change those negative numbers in a positive direction.

If you grow weary of the battle take heart in this; for all of the negative numbers remember the millions of people who have received hope over the years. And the ONE life, your life, that can make all of the difference in one more life. You matter. Your story matters. If you have breath then you have opportunity. Seize it!

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Galatians 6:9 (ESV)

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

*https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml#part_154973
**https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers
***http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/data-behavioral-health.aspx

The Future

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  
Revelation 21:3-5 English Standard Version (ESV)

This section of the Bible is my favorite. I talks about how things will change when Jesus returns to Earth, and God, takes Earth as we know it, and replaces it with a new version. The new Earth thing is pretty awesome but that is not the part that grabs me. God is what grabs me.

At this point in my life I have had the opportunity to both experience the presence of God, and the feeling of being a million miles away from Him. I enjoy the presence part much more. To feel God working in my life and in the circumstances around me is such a peaceful and yet exhilarating experience. To know that I am close to the Creator is mind blowing and really hard to describe.

The feeling of being a million miles away from God is not that way. There have been times when the separation was by my choosing. Thinking that I know best and trying to do things my way. There have been times where I feel that God has pulled back the feeling of His presence so that I am required to walk by faith. While the latter is a way to build me up and ultimately strengthen my relationship with Him the resulting feelings can be just as painful. In my worst moments I have wondered if God had decided to go out to lunch or take a nap. I question His faithfulness, I question His goodness and His grace and mercy and love. I have yelled, screamed, cried out to God “WHY?!?”

Just because I am a believer in Jesus Christ doesn’t mean I will never have doubts.

I don’t know if I will ever completely know the “why” that was going on in those times. But I do know that no matter what is going on someday I will never have to worry about that again because I will never have to feel that separation again. God will be with me. He will be close.

God will wipe every tear from my eye because I will no longer need them. I won’t have to feel the sting of loss and death because I will have everything I need and want with me in Him. I won’t feel pain because the world will no longer be broken, so there will be nothing to hurt me.

My mind will no longer suffer from the struggle that is mental illness. Because I will have a new body, a perfect body, a perfect mind. The lies that tell me that God doesn’t love me, want me, or see me as His own will be cast away because I will be able to look to Him for truth and ALWAYS hear His voice.

These verses give me hope. Hope that things will not always be this way. Hope that one day it will all make sense. Hope that I will never feel distant again.

It is because of this hope that I can face the struggles I face day in and day out. I can look in the mirror and see a man who has a purpose. A man who has a reason for being on this Earth until the new Earth comes and my God will be with me. Holding me, letting me know that it will all be ok, because His words are trust worthy and true.

I am reminded of an old hymn that was sung in church growing up. It is called “Because He Lives” by Kristin Chenoweth.

The chorus goes like this:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

My present may have times of trouble but when it comes right down to it I know that I am never truly alone. God never actually leaves me. I know He holds the future, so life is worth living.

33 I (Jesus) have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (ESV)

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

Fighting the Darkness

This past year for me has been pretty rough. I’ve been working full time, going to school full time, and doing CR as well for the past 2 years. Last September I found myself checking into an intensive outpatient treatment program because my mental health had deteriorated to the point that I could no longer manage it, and I needed help. I was attending 3-hour group counseling sessions 3 times a week. I had to take a break from work on short-term leave for a month. I became so overwhelmed that I had to decrease my responsibilities in CR. I had to step down from small group leadership. I remember I was so ashamed and so full of guilt that I did not tell anyone what I was doing, or that I was attending an intensive outpatient treatment program. I did not even tell my family, talk to my husband about it, nor did I openly admit my struggles to my CR accountability team.  I was afraid that if people knew what I was going through, that I would be kicked out of my CR leadership position. That I would be replaced as mental health champion. I was afraid of how people would look at me, what they would think of me, and how they would treat me. If I told them, I was afraid that I would be rejected, ridiculed, laughed at, whispered about, and pushed aside.

The reason I felt this way? Because of how I’ve been treated in the past. Because of how I’ve seen other people treated. We read in the news about how people with mental health issues engage in violent acts, how they can’t lead. We see memes and jokes about people being insane, how crazy people need to be institutionalized, and that people with mental illnesses need to be locked up in a mental institution. I still find myself in conversations with people who argue that depression and anxiety are acts of sin against God and who believe that medications for mental health issues are ways of playing God.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have really great days. A year ago in June I gave my testimony for the first time on my birthday, with my mother and father in attendance, where I picked up my one-year coin for choosing to stay here after my suicide attempt. That was a really great day. I was also asked to assist Nate on the Mental Health Team. That was also a really great day. It is these really great days that I try to hold onto. You see, I’m still struggling. I’m still grieving the loss of my Mom. I’m still struggling to find a combination of medications that work for me. I still have suicidal thoughts pretty much every day. (As a disclaimer, I am safe and not at risk for harm to myself. I have a safety plan in place and I do use it.)

 

Speaking from my point of view, let me tell you what has worked for me in the midst of my mental health struggle. I have a person in my life who has accepted me unconditionally, who has been there and seen me deeply struggle. This person cannot fix me. This person cannot wave a magic wand and make it better, and I know and understand this. The best thing that this person has done is given me empathy. This person has given me an ear to listen, has encouraged me, and supported me through my mental health journey. The times which have been my darkest times, I was never asked why I felt like I did. I was never told that I shouldn’t feel that way. I was never made to feel as if I was unloved, unworthy, and incapable of recovery. I was never told to just pray more or read the Bible more. Instead, this person responded with patience, with kindness, and just allowed me to be open and honest, to feel without judgment or condemnation. It’s amazing how much just being allowed to talk and write has helped me get through the darkness and through the pain. This is the epitome of empathy. This is what it looks like to be an accountability partner and/or sponsor. This is what helps someone with a mental health issue.

You see, we don’t have to know how to fix them, or be experts on their mental health issue, or know exactly what to do. All we must do is to love them unconditionally, to not judge, to listen with an open heart. This is what it means to be a mental health champion.

 

Thank you for being awesome. You know who you are.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

recover

Ignorance is dead.

My mental health struggles began when I was 10. They did not get diagnosed until I was 20. I don’t blame anyone for this time span. It is no one’s fault. But it hurt me.

At the time my issues started mental health was never spoken of except in the context of someone who was locked up in an institution. As I got older and my condition got worse I do remember my parents asking me if I wanted to talk to someone, but at that point, to me that just meant they thought I was crazy. They didn’t think that! But that is how I felt so my pushback was swift and direct. Seeing someone was not an option for me. I was unaware of what was going on, I was ignorant toward the seriousness of my situation. Ignorance is not in fact bliss.

Often times the word ignorant is seen as dumb but that is not what it means. Ignorant just means unaware or lacking knowledge. I didn’t know how bad I was. No one did.

Now I do know, but for years though I didn’t share. I felt like I couldn’t share. Or if I did share I was met with the damaging statements that made me feel worse about my situation. I heard things like “You just need to change your attitude.”, “Why don’t you ask God to heal you?”, “Whatever that sin is in your life you need to repent of it. God is never going to help you until you get your act together.” Again ignorance was holding me back. This time it was the ignorance of others.

I no longer am willing to let ignorance hold me back. One of the beautiful things about knowing that I struggle is that I now have the opportunity to share my knowledge of the struggle. Unfortunately I can’t help everyone.

So here is your opportunity.

You have the chance to be brave. I say brave because that are people who will still judge out of ignorance. There are people who will fight you tooth and nail to say that you need to be silent.

Ignorance was an excuse when I was young. There is too much information for that to be acceptable anymore. The thing is, information is only as good as its delivery system. If a message is not delivered then it is no message at all. To have the strength to share our message we need to remember what our motivation is to share.

Think of ten year old me, and all of the ten year olds’ that are like me in the world. I was not an anomaly. There are kids all over that are in the same situation that I was in. I would ask that you would be willing to be brave for them. Like I said, the ten year span from onset to diagnosis hurt me. No child needs to suffer that same fate. Early intervention saves lives and prevents suffering.

50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. And each one of those youth are watching. They are watching to see if we care. They are silently screaming for help and hoping that you will still hear them. I watched, I screamed. Hindsight shows me that. This is not something that has changed.

Today May 10th is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. I would encourage you to reach out, open up, & be brave. They are waiting for you. They may not show it but they are.

I am including a link to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) web site. The link contains facts about adolescent mental health and some warning signs to watch for. I would encourage checking that out and visiting http://www.nami.org for valuable resources. Ignorance is dead.

https://www.nami.org/getattachment/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers/childrenmhfacts.pdf

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery