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

Learning to Trust Again

Most days, if you were to see me without really knowing me, then most likely you wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m struggling with a mental health issue. By looking at me you wouldn’t be able to tell that I’ve attempted suicide 3 times. You wouldn’t tell that on most days, I struggle to like myself. You wouldn’t tell that for me, I fight day in and day out with the horrible thoughts in my head, thoughts which tell me I’m not good enough, that I’m not worthy, that I’m not loved. You see, I am lied to constantly by my own thoughts, my own brain and on most days, I do okay with discerning the truth from the lies. However, I do have days in which the lies overwhelm me and take me by surprise, throwing me into a dark state of depression. In fact, I am having a day like that today. It’s days like today that I find it difficult to trust myself.

I recently found out that I struggle with symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, and Dissociative Identity. When my therapist and I discovered this, I was in complete shock. I could not believe that for the longest time I have been struggling with these issues. I began to have thoughts of doubt. Pair this with major depression and before long, I wasn’t really sure how I was feeling anymore. I knew I had a problem, I knew that I was struggling, I just didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t want to hear that I was struggling with a personality disorder because didn’t that mean that there was something wrong with me? My personality? I began to question my thoughts. My behaviors. Am I supposed to be feeling this way? Is this really me thinking this or is it my alter? Am I being too much? Is this impulsive behavior? What is considered normal? I began to question my every thought, my every motive, my behavior, and even my feelings. If I couldn’t trust myself, then who could I trust?

Having a mental health issue creates such destruction and chaos within the depths of my mind, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Often thoughts race in my mind, thoughts filled with self-doubt, hatred, self-loathing, harsh criticism, and things I would never say to a child, close friend, or anyone else for that matter. When I feel, I either feel everything too intensely or almost not at all. I struggle to find an in-between. I struggle to discern whether my thoughts are true. Can I believe what I am thinking? How about my feelings? Can I trust my feelings enough to act upon them? With my impulsivity, can I trust my judgment and intuition? I find myself questioning myself over and over and over again, creating a vicious cycle of anxiety, depression, and major mood swings. However, if I am going to recover and learn to manage my mental health issues, I have to be able to have a relationship with myself. I have to be able to trust myself, to know that I am able to trust my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions, and behaviors, and that I am capable of managing this. I had to realize that I am capable of trusting myself to discern between the truth and the lies.

Do I trust myself now? I’m still working on it. It’s a work in progress. Every day I try to do something outside of my comfort zone, and I choose to celebrate the small successes. I am learning that not every thought is a lie. I am learning how to question those thoughts and compare them to the truth of what Jesus Christ has promised. I am learning that I am just as capable of being an effective mental health champion after discovering these struggles as I was before these struggles were ever known. Nothing has changed other than the fact that I now am aware of what I am struggling with, and where I need to go from here. I am still the same, trustworthy person. A diagnosis has not changed that. I am going to make mistakes. I am going to stumble, fail, and sometimes take 2 steps forward and 7 steps back. What matters is that I’m not giving up, even when I so desperately want to. What matters is that God trusts me. He trusts me to trust in Him. He gave me the free will to be able to turn over to Him because He trusts me enough to do just that. He trusts me with the spiritual gift that He has given me. He trusts me to shine His light onto the world. The real reason that I know that I can trust myself is because I’m not walking this journey alone.

 

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

How do I open up?

Our right to privacy is guaranteed by the constitution. Like any of our other rights as Americans we, as a culture, hold very tightly to that right. If we feel that our rights have been violated then we feel as if we personally have been violated; taken advantage of.

So the idea of unlawful wire taps, someone reading our mail (even if it is the junk mail we were going to throw away anyways), someone going through our homes, our financial records, or any other of the millions of ways that someone could put their nose were it doesn’t belong is enough to make our blood boil. We want our privacy and no one should feel they have the right to take that from us. I agree with all of this and I can say that the idea of someone going through my personal information bugs me as well.

It is because of this concept of privacy and our tendency to want to hold things back, that I think are the motivating factors in the comments from people who are amazed (Their word, not mine.) by the transparency that I exhibit when it comes to my mental health issues. Why would I want to share that kind of information with the world? Why would I put something like this online, in the mystical clouds where data never dies?

The answer for this is simple. Some things are meant to be shared. If I keep all of my experiences to myself and never let them out into the light then those experiences become wasted. I have had people tell me that something I was willing to share publicly literally saved their life. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!? Some of my worst moments in life are now being used to help others experience tremendous freedom.

But…I certainly didn’t start out this way. And I would never tell someone to just start telling everyone everything. I do know that being willing to be open and vulnerable carries a great risk. Not everyone is safe. It is because of this there are many things in my life that I don’t share with the masses. I share them with a very select few. It is my opinion that everyone should have those select few in their lives who really get to know us at a deeper level than everyone else.

So with those things in mind…in that being vulnerable offers tremendous reward and being vulnerable brings with it significant risk, how do we start to open up without hurting ourselves in the process?

This is just a partial list to get started but here are a few things to consider:

  1. Remember the benefits to you. No this is not all about you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t receive some of the blessings. One of the biggest side effects of sharing is the healing that you will receive by getting out from under the shame associated with our negative experiences. I have heard several times in my Celebrate Recovery meetings people sharing the phrase, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” And it is true. Once something is brought into the light it immediately loses some of the hold it has on us. It doesn’t magically make all of the harsh feelings go away but it definitely lessens the effect it has on our lives.
  2. Start small. Test the waters with a person you know you can trust. Share some of what you have dealt with/are dealing with. This can be both for the times when you need to get something off your chest and for the times when you think your experiences may benefit someone else. The smaller the share the smaller the risk. When you see how the person responds then you can begin to build trust.
  3. Do this because you want to. Don’t start sharing things with people because you are feeling guilty for keeping things to yourself. Guilt is a condemning emotion and it does not come from God. Share because you have seen healing in your life and you want to pass that on. Share because you need healing in your life and you know this is a great way to progress in that. Don’t share simply because I am telling you to. Don’t give me that kind of control over you. Share because you want to.
  4. Share in a safe place. As you begin to open up it may be difficult to find a place that you feel is safe. So start in a controlled environment. Talk to a therapist or counselor. With the exception of some mandatory reporting situations, they can’t tell anyone anyways, it’s confidential. And ask them to help you get used to being vulnerable in a safe way. Ask them to help you with understanding when the correct time and place is for sharing personal things.
  5. Don’t compare yourself to others. When people open up it can feel really uncomfortable. It goes against all those things I talked about in the beginning. Don’t feel bad if it feels uncomfortable. Don’t say to yourself, “Why can’t I be like them? They have no problem opening up.” I didn’t start out talking to thousands of people when I began doing this, I talked to one person.
  6. Pray about it!! God is the one who uses our stories for His glory. My words make a difference in people’s lives when God uses the words. Not because of anything I am doing. I can’t fix anyone. God is the one who works according to His good purpose. I just invite Him into the conversation.
  7. Remember that sometimes we get it wrong. This is ok. Sometimes we come away from a conversation thinking, “Why did I do that? I should have never opened my mouth.” I have had many people tell me that they never want to open up again because of how people reacted. While those times can feel painful, they are opportunities to learn and to grow. This is part of the process. Trust that God is working it out. Don’t give up on sharing your story because of a bad experience.

What are your experiences? Have you opened up and had it go well?  Go poorly? What did you learn from the process? What did I leave off the list that you wish I hadn’t? Share your thoughts; I would love it if you opened up with me. (See what I did there? Don’t worry, I promise not to judge.)

Not ready to comment on a blog post but want to share? Shoot me an email: mncrnate@gmail.com

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

Mental Health Mythbusters Edition: Continued…

Two weeks ago I introduced the mythbusters series on mental health. If we are going to continue to break the stigma that surrounds mental health, that means we need to get educated. We need to become aware of the different thoughts, ideas, and beliefs which are commonly held, but hold absolutely no truth to them. So here are more myths. Let’s change the way we view mental health.

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Myth: If only people would just choose to think more positively, they would be happier and less depressed.

This is a huge misconception, one that is particularly hurtful and invalidating to hear. Trust me, I’ve heard this quite often, and I STILL get told this. “Just think positive.” Um…okay. I’m positive that I don’t feel better. HAHA!!! Seriously though, our brains cannot control the universe. We can just think one thing and then it magically happens. Our thoughts are products of a lifetime of environmental, biological, social, and spiritual changes. Think about it this way. Think of a time which you got hurt, had surgery, or something else which was physically painful. If in the middle of your excruciating pain I told you to think positive and not to think about the pain, do you think that you would have magically stopped hurting? That you would be in less pain? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. I’m not saying that we should not be intentional in our treatment of mental health, or that thinking positive doesn’t affect mental health. I’m just saying that “think positive” is not the most effective way to treat depression. There’s much more to it than that. Chemically, the brain produces four primary chemicals which influences the affect of happiness in the brain. If the brain cannot physically produce these chemicals, then the treatment would then need to be neurological, not cognitive. So please, stop saying “be more positive” when we are down. Please.

 

Myth: I have to have a diagnosis to start taking care of and being concerned for my mental health.

If we have a car, do we wait until the car runs out of gas to put more gas in it? Do we wait until the engine seizes up to replace the oil? No, of course not. (Well I would hope not anyway.) If we have something of value, we take care of it. We perform maintenance on our car to keep it in the best possible running condition. Without proper maintenance and upkeep, the car will not perform as effectively as it could. The same goes for ourselves. Without the proper mental health wellness checkups and maintenance such as self-care, we may find that we will not function as effectively as we have the potential to. Regarding a diagnosis, that “label” is just a way for the mental health practitioner to discover the best avenues of treatment. Let’s call it Mental Health Maintenance. It’s necessary. It’s required.

 

Myth: The only way I can help out with the mental health initiative is if I am a Mental Health Champion.

FALSE! In fact, just because you don’t have the label does not mean you are not capable of making a difference in breaking the stigma of mental health. You do not have to be a leader or an expert in mental health to contribute to the mission of this initiative. I have my own term for it: Mental Health Missionaries. As a mental health missionary, you can empathize with others. You can help create a safe place within your local CR to talk about mental health. You can share your own stories. You can challenge other myths that come up in the battle against stigma. You can become an accountability partner of someone who is struggling. You can utilize the mental health agreement in your own recovery journey. You can reach out and get your own mental health wellness check. One small step at a time, one story at a time, one small action at a time. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE BY JUST BEING YOURSELF.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

What’s more important?

I had a conversation recently that had me surprising myself. I was sharing with a gentleman about some of the things going on in my life and even though I barely know him I laid out quite a bit of information that not many people know about me.

I think the reason for that conversation being so open is because the information we were talking about was important to me. I have noticed, over the last few years especially, that my passions drive me more than ever.  I don’t want to sit and have small talk with a person. I want to get to what will make a difference. I want to work on what is important. “Let the meteorologists talk about the weather. I have things to do.”

I don’t know if it is because of my age. Now, being a 40 something, I am guessing my remaining biological experience is shorter than what I have had so far.  I may live to be one hundred years old I don’t know. But if I had to venture a guess I would say it’s doubtful. Because of this I know that time matters more now than it used to. Even if I get another 40 I have less time every day to look forward to so I don’t want to waste it.

This mindset pushes me to work harder than I had in the past. I spend more time expanding my circle of influence, expanding myself and my understanding of life, and generally wanting to make a difference in this world. The problem with this mindset is that I sometimes forget in the process of life to actually live.

Meaning, I don’t spend as much time enjoying the people along the way. I don’t enjoy the experiences. Even when I sit down to rest, my mind is going a million miles an hour thinking about all of the things that I could or seemingly should be doing. My body may rest but my mind doesn’t, so even if I sit around all day I feel tired.

This can disconnect me from the people around me. My mental health is greatly affected by this. Connection is vital to my mental health. Even with knowing this, all too often I can be in a large group of people and be completely disengaged. You wouldn’t know it because I will still nod my head while someone is talking, I will still laugh at the joke, I will still offer up a phrase or two about the subject, but my mind is in a different place. I am missing what is right in front of me!

I believe that we all have a purpose. I believe God has something in store for each of us. And if someone is searching that out and driving to be the best that they can be for Christ then that is great! Awesome! Spectacular! I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty with this post. And I certainly don’t want anyone to come away from this with the idea that unless we are doing things Nate’s way we are not doing it right. In all actuality this post is more a letter to me.  I need to remind myself that I cannot be so busy trying to be something or do something that I forget to focus on what is in front of me.

I have to ask myself the questions:

Am I talking to this person because God placed them in my life for some reason and I should try to figure that out? Or am I talking to someone because I want to try and get something done?

I am not saying that all of my conversations are going to be deep and meaningful. What I am trying to learn is that I need to make sure that I at least give my conversations, my interactions with the world around me, the chance to be meaningful. I don’t want to be so busy making a difference that I miss my opportunities to make a difference.

The biggest changes I have seen in me did not come from spectacular events. It was the little things that added up over time. It was in the little conversations, the passing comments, or the short interactions. My family won’t care if I change the face of mental health in the church forever if I didn’t take the time to connect with them along the way. I want to think that so far I have been good at doing just that. (Although I do need to call my parents more. Sorry Mom & Dad.) But there are times that I feel myself slipping that direction and that is something I don’t want to do.

I want to make sure to experience life. To live. To let my conversations be deep and open because that is a better way. Not because I want my way. If that means that weather is important to you, we should talk about the weather. I probably still won’t care as much about the weather, but I do care about the person who cares about the weather. My passions and goals are important, God gave them to me. But God gave me the people in my life as well. The people in my life need to be a passion for me. I want people who know me to say, “I am important to Nate.” I want them to know they are appreciated. I want them to know they are loved. I want them to know they matter.

You matter.

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

Mythbusting: Mental Health Edition Part 1

The mental health initiative is all about working to break the stigma surrounding mental health. What is stigma? Merriam-Webster defines it as “a mark of shame or discredit.” How does this apply to mental health? Well, stigma is a preconceived set of beliefs or ideas which cause an individual or group of people to be perceived in a negative way, devaluing that individual or group. That’s my definition. Preconceived ideas and beliefs can also be known as myths, so that’s what the focus is going to be about: Busting myths of mental health. By no means is this an all-inclusive list of myths. No, no, no. But it’s a start.

 

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Myth: Seeking help for mental health issues is a sign of weakness and failure. 

Remember when we were 5 years old and we were trying to tie our shoe or dress ourselves and someone tried to help and we said NO, I DO IT MYSELF!!! Well, I think that most often in our quest for independence, we grow up keeping that same mentality. Instead of asking for help for our issues, we still want to maintain that independence and try to fix it ourselves (I DO IT MYSELF!). Seeking help for a mental health issue is NOT a sign of weakness and failure. In fact, it’s a sign of great strength. There is nothing harder than admitting that we need help with something, regardless of whether it’s needing help opening a jar, fixing a car, or with something else. Why should it be different with mental health? Trying to admit we need help is hard enough without having to fight against the lies that make up our thoughts. We are fighting an invisible battle in our heads every day. To be able to fight those harsh, negative thoughts that tell us we are a failure, that we are weak, that we are not worthy of recovery, my friend, that is great strength and courage. Principle 1: Realize I am not God and that I need help. We cannot heal a wound, or a dysfunctional brain, by ignoring it or pretending it’s not there.

 

Myth: Those who struggle with mental health are easily spotted in a crowd and just look crazy. 

Well now. Think about the last time you were out in a crowd. Did you spot every single individual who was struggling with a mental health issue? Are you sure? No, I don’t think so. In fact, 1 out of every 5 individuals will struggle with a mental health issue at some point during their life. Therefore, in a group of 100, that means an average of 20 of those individuals will struggle or have struggled with a mental health issue. Before I gave my testimony and opened up about my mental health struggles, I hid it rather well. So well that I hid it from myself. After my testimony, people walked up to me and said, “I would have never known…” Therefore, we can’t assume what’s going on with somebody just by looking at them or judging them on their behavior. In CR, we are to give others the freedom and safety to be able to speak about their own mental health issue. We don’t go around diagnosing other people. Leave that to the professionals. Stop judging and start loving.

 

Myth: You can’t recover from a mental health issue, disorder, or illness. 

Mental health is so misunderstood. Mental health is not a disease to cure, it’s a quality of life. Much like physical health, which can range from good to bad, mental health works much in the same way. We can’t just get rid of mental health; everyone has mental health. How our mental health is functioning determines whether it is an issue or not, just like physical issues. With the proper help and resources, we can learn to manage and improve our mental health quality, which in turn improves the quality of life. There will be good days and there will be bad days, and we won’t experience the best mental health at all times, but we don’t have to experience the worst at all times, either. Mental health issues can be debilitating, painful, annoying, and frustrating, but that does not mean we have to suffer with it forever. We have the choice to decide what we are going to do to take the next step toward improving our mental health, whether that be through counseling, medication, self-care, mindfulness and relaxation, or other avenues.

 

 

What are some other mental health myths that you recognize?

 

April N Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

Christopher Robin

“Promise me you will always remember.

                    You’re braver than you believe,

                                    and stronger than you seem,

                                                and smarter than you think.”

~ Christopher Robin to Pooh

I have a sign in my living room with this phrase on it. I love this sign.

In part, my admiration for this phrase goes back to my being a child. I had a stuffed Pooh bear that I would carry around with me. I see pictures of myself with it and instantly feel more at peace. I associate Winnie the Pooh with comfort. So much so that when my daughter outgrew her stuffed Pooh bear I kept it for myself. I never out grew Winnie the Pooh.

The other motivation in this is because I have grown to realize the importance of a Christopher Robin. Having someone who believes in me when I don’t believe in myself is critical to my mental health. I don’t think this falls into the category of an unhealthy codependency necessarily, but more along the lines of having the reminder of the value that has been placed on me by God.

I wouldn’t call this codependency because I really don’t care for the most part if someone likes me; if a person doesn’t like me that is their problem. I don’t go out of my way to make people not like me, but I don’t place my value in that opinion either.

For instance, I don’t like snakes. I think they are nasty little creatures, and even when I see them on TV I feel a creepy shiver go down my spine. I am not afraid of them, I just think they are horrible. That all being said I can still appreciate the role that they play in the ecosystem, eating mice and whatever other little creatures smaller than them. I realize that they have value. Snakes, as much as I hate to say it, serve a purpose.

I don’t have to like them to see the value in them. (Although if I were God I would just introduce more owls to the world but whatever, not my call.)

While I would prefer if people liked me, more importantly, I want to know that I make a difference. I want to know that the world is a better place with my having been here. Not because I am of a higher value than someone else, but just because I have value.

My mental health tells me the exact opposite. My depression says that I am not good enough. My depression says that I don’t matter. My brain tells me every day that I am a screw up and the world would be better without me.

I need a Christopher Robin to tell me those things are not true. I need to hear that I am making a difference. I need to hear that I do serve a purpose. I need to be reminded that God put me on this planet for a specific reason and that reason is not to be a “good example of a bad example.” I need to be reminded that I am in fact braver than I believe, and stronger than I seem, and smarter than I think.

My Christopher Robin changes from day to day. I won’t rely on one person to dictate my value, that would be unhealthy.  And because of the severity of my mental health issues no one person could meet those needs anyways. Instead I listen when people say good things. I may not say, “Yes you’re right. I am a good person.”, when someone offers me their perspective but I at least stopped telling them they are wrong . I notice the impact I have on others even if they don’t know I was the one who impacted them. I search for the good that I do. I have invited people into my life who speak truth into me. And they do speak into me, even if my mental health issues make it difficult to believe it.

This didn’t happen overnight, it took years. This didn’t happen by accident, it is intentional. I have had to be open and vulnerable. I had to ask for help. So if you are in a position like me and you are reading this thinking, “I wish I had a Christopher Robin in my life.” You can. It is possible. Please keep reaching out. Please don’t give up on yourself because of the disconnection to others. I BELIEVE YOU CAN DO THIS!

And know that whoever you are, you can be a Christopher Robin to someone else. Never underestimate the importance of acknowledging the light that is inside those around you. That is the basis for respect.

A person who feels respected will feel their value.

A person who feels their value can change the world.

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

Putting my Recovery First

These past few months have been a little rough for me. Losing my mother was something that I never would have imagined I would have to go through at this time in my life, a time when I thought I was getting my life together, obtaining a master’s degree, switching careers, and getting more involved with the CR Mental Health Team. I mean, I had it all planned out. I felt that I had everything all together. Yeah, I know…God laughs at our plans. However, my plans were feeble attempts for me to hold the illusion that I still had some sort of control over my life. I admit there are still some things I’m working on to turn over my complete will and control.

 

When I first started helping out with CR, I had always heard the phrase, “put your own recovery first.” I heard the words, and I had also brushed them off because I thought, my recovery is going great. I had become a leader, was covering social media, and helped out with the administration and behind-the-scene aspects of CR. I mean, if I could do all that, I had it all together. I’ve just always been that type of person to be kind of naïve when it comes to figuring out what I need and what I don’t need. I’ve always struggled with trying to balance the amount of water being poured into my well with the amount of water being doled out from it.

 

So after the death of my Mom, I figured that I would carry on like I usually do, still reaching out to others, still encouraging, I would be able to carry on with my mental health advocating, and life would be pretty much the same. Needless to say, I quickly realized that as time passed, I was insanely trying to draw water from an empty well. Frantically I began to scrape and scrape and dig and dip, but not a drop of water was to be found. In my grief, I realized just how powerless I really was, that I could not control my mental health. I couldn’t just go on as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t doing anything to nurture my own recovery. I was blindsided by reality and that major reality check. I had been on the journey so long in my recovery, that I forgot that sometimes, we need to revisit step one. I mean who would have thought that having years of recovery would bring us back to principle 1? Realize I am not God. Realize that I cannot control my mental health on my own. Realize that on my own, I cannot manage my mental health. I can’t do this alone.

 

After realizing that my well was dry, I was brought to a different perspective of what it meant to put my recovery first. It wasn’t just a phrase, it was a priority. For me, it meant stepping back from leadership. It meant stepping down from extra responsibilities that I had volunteered for. It meant utilizing my accountability partners and my support system. It meant taking the time to practice self-care. To make sure that my well is filled again. To make sure that I was holding myself accountable to following those same 12 steps that I had been following since my recovery journey began. How could I continue to lead and walk beside someone if I was not actively following the CR steps myself? If I was not seeking out help myself? If I was not following the mental health agreement myself? Nate put it best… “I cannot ask others to do things I am not willing to do myself.”

 

Putting my recovery first means making sure that I am willing and able to do the things that I am talking to others about doing. It means actively taking care of myself and nurturing my relationship with God. Sometimes, that means reminding myself that it’s necessary, not selfish. I have to remind myself that I model an example…an example of what making recovery a priority should look like, because for some, I may be the only chance they get to see how the recovery process works. Also, I must put my recovery first because if not, then I run the risk of relapsing and falling back into what I have worked so hard to accomplish.

I am worthy of recovery.

 

What are YOU doing to put your recovery first?

 

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor