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.

 

Image result for myth

 

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

I need to say this

I know this blog is going to make some people mad. For some of you this will make you mad in a way that is helpful. For some of you this will make you mad in a way that proves my point. I make no claim to be “all knowing” in regards to school shootings, I may be off base, I may not. But I make no apologies for what you are about to read. Please understand that these views are mine and have not been previewed by Celebrate Recovery leadership as a representation of the views of Celebrate Recovery. The views expressed are mine.

Recently the discussion of the 2nd amendment has hit a new level as a result of the latest school shooting in Parkland Florida, another tragedy, which has become all too familiar in the United States. This post is not going to take a position one way or the other as to whether or not people should be able to own an AR-15.

I have decided to focus on something I feel has become a scapegoat for many people who are trying to argue both sides of the argument. I am referring to those of us who struggle with our mental health. One side says that it is mental illness that caused the shooting. Another side says that it is the drugs that the mentally ill person takes that makes them homicidal and that the drugs are to blame. Then there is the discussion of how to do, or not do, background checks on a person’s mental state before they can buy a weapon in the first place. Ultimately I think these are all important questions that need to be addressed and answered, but if this is where the sole blame lies, we will not stop all of the shootings.

This is why I feel this way:

Two days ago a young man in my community was arrested for threatening to shoot up a school. This person is the same age as my daughter. This person could have been talking about her school. (The press never released that information.)

As a parent this is terrifying. I long for the days when the biggest concern I had for my daughter, when I would drop her off each day at the doors of her school, was centered around whether or not she will be treated nicely on the playground.

Going back to the shooting at Columbine I have watched, with tears in my eyes, the horror of parents and children who have been impacted by these events directly. The tears of relief on the parent’s faces as they are reunited with their children. The anguish on the faces of the parents who were never going to be reunited.

In 2015 I had the honor to meet Nelba Marquez-Greene, LMFT – Executive Director, The Ana Grace Project. Her young daughter, Ana Grace, lost her life in the Sandy Hook shooting. As I listened to her tell her story I remember thinking, “How can she do this? How can she tell this story? How does she get out of bed every day? This woman is far stronger than I could ever imagine being.”

I am at a point where I am afraid. And while fear can be a powerful motivator, it can also lead to poor decisions. My judgment can become clouded by my emotions.

As we race to find a solution as a society to these kinds of tragic events, I ask that we take the time needed to stop and listen.

Listen to facts.

A person who has a mental health issue is far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than to commit that crime. Mental health is not something to fear. Taking guns out of the hands of people who are not mentally fit to possess them is a good thing. But just because a person has a mental illness doesn’t mean they will hurt someone. It won’t stop the violence to just take the guns out of the hands of the “crazies”.

Stereotypes are not solutions. They impede the process of finding solutions. And the longer we insist on blaming something or someone as a miracle cure for mass shootings, the longer it will be before we can find a solution. THERE IS NO EASY FIX!! And for all my brothers and sisters in the faith who are thinking “Sure there is, they need Jesus.” You are not helping. Yes they need Jesus, but if we place all of the responsibility of school shootings on the devil then we are refusing to take responsibility for our part in the problem. And make no mistake; if you are an adult American you have a part.

Sharing a Facebook post is not activism. Blaming the other side is not helping.

I cannot tell you what all needs to be done to fix this. You cannot tell me exactly what needs to be done to fix this. BUT TOGETHER we can work to find a way to fix this.

So I beg you to stop.

Stop fighting with each other.

Stop and listen.

Stop and remember.

Stop feeling bad but doing nothing.

Stop and plan, and decide what your action is going to be.

Stop waiting for someone else to do it.

We all have something that we can do. Talk to the people in your schools and find out what their needs are. Talk to a child and let them know they matter. Get involved in politics if that is your gifting. Make your community a better place to live in some way so that people have a reason to have hope. Get educated on the topic; don’t just read editorials that validate your opinions, read statistics, and seek to hear the other side. There are any number of things that you can do. Most don’t even involve money. You matter in this.

Share this post and more importantly comment your ideas. We can’t do everything, but we can do something.

I want to stop being afraid.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

What do you need?

Just recently, someone asked me, “How are you holding up?” I didn’t have the words, so I sent this pic:

The question was followed by “Anything I can do to help?”

*crickets chirping…*

I literally did not know how to answer that question. I didn’t know what I needed. I didn’t know what would possibly help the way I was feeling. I didn’t know how to answer in a way they could understand. I was struggling with something that I have never struggled with before. To me, that question read:

“What shape is the color blue?”

There are so many times during my recovery that I don’t have a clue what I need. I don’t know how to identify what I’m feeling. I don’t know how to make the racing thoughts stop, or the tears from falling, or explain to everyone why I’m having a temper tantrum in the front of the grocery store over the inability of being able to find my keys that are sitting in the same side pocket that they always are…just..apparently invisible. I can’t explain what it’s like to sit inside my head on the days that I struggle to even like myself. I can’t explain what it’s like to feel as if I have to run away to another room, close the door, turn off all the lights, and rock myself as I’m sobbing hysterically. I can’t explain what it feels like to begin typing a text, or an email message, and have it sit there for minutes before I delete the message entirely in fear of what the recipient is going to think or say or do.

And that’s a struggle that many of us with mental health issues have in trying to open up to others, to talk to others in small group, and even to talk to our accountability partners. It’s hard to ask for help when we are speaking a language that the rest of society doesn’t understand. It’s hard to talk to others about what we need when we don’t even know what we need ourselves. That’s why it’s important for us to continue working to break the stigma of mental health. To keep talking about it. To share our struggles in small group and in our step studies. The more we talk the more people will be able to speak our language. The more people will open up about their own struggles and show us that people can and do recover effectively from mental health issues and are able to manage them. This is what the Mental Health Initiative is all about.

There is a whole world of people who are hurting and struggling, and they are in need of someone to walk with them on their journey, just as I need others to walk with me on mine. That is the beauty of Celebrate Recovery.

Although I have absolutely no idea what I need in my recovery at times, God always does. And it is through Celebrate Recovery and the Mental Health Initiative that I will keep coming back to be guided by the 8 principles and the 12 steps. To be reminded that there is a God who knows exactly what I need and will give me only what I need. To have accountability partners and small group members and step study sisters to help remind me of that. I don’t always have to know. I hold onto the comfort of that subtle truth in those dark times that I can’t answer that question, “Anything I can do to help?”

Thank you for letting me share.

April N Brantley, Mental Health Team X-factor

It looks like a good idea

My wife and I are considering building a house. We have found a possible spot of land. We have a home design that we really like. It would allow us to do several things that would both simplify our lives and allow for us to have the ability to serve others more consistently in various ministry ideas that we have had. Seems like a no brainer.

We have talked for a while about wanting to downsize. We would love to get into a smaller house. The idea of getting rid of the majority of our “stuff” sounds nice. Over the last couple years we have started to let go of many of the things, that for some reason, we just had to have at some point in our lives. To be clear, my wife has been pretty good at that for a long time now, I am just catching up to her.  The idea of lowering our cost of living is amazing. I love the idea of being able to give more of my finances and my time to people. In all of this there really isn’t a downside to our idea.

So why haven’t we done it yet? Good question.

Sometimes I can see things that seem so perfect that I can’t imagine them being anything but from God. I think about the opportunity in front of me and I reach out and I seem to find that my reach is just two inches too short. It’s so close I can taste it. I can see it perfectly in my mind. But it is just out of reach. And then I get so frustrated that I can’t reach it that I think that there is no way that it is from God and I get mad at myself for even wanting it in the first place. My mental health exacerbates this problem and it often makes me want to give up on God. I can feel like God is mad at me. I feel as if God has abandoned me. I feel like I am just a huge disappointment to Him.

Why do I do this?

I think there are several reasons. Some reasons are good; having a desire to help others for instance. Some reasons are not so pure, such as greed or pride.  I often times don’t know the reason until after the fact when God shows me what my motivations were. But one thing I have found is that each time I go through this I learn something. Usually in reference to my character.

I don’t believe God desires for us to never want for things. I think God just doesn’t desire for us to want the wrong things. For myself, I have found that I am a very slow learner when it comes to what God has for my life and what He doesn’t. I do take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in this.

Genesis 3:6  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

Eve looked at the tree and saw that it was good for food and a delight to the eyes. Just because something is good doesn’t mean that it is good FOR ME. There are a lot of things in life that look good on the surface. Those ideas that “seemed so good at the time.”

I am not saying this house idea of mine is one of those things. God also wants us to dream. He wants us to have goals. He just wants us to learn which ones of those come from Him so we can weed out the ones that come from an unhealthy place.

So how do we do this? Here are a few tips to getting started.

  1. Pray. If you want to be able to recognize God’s voice you need to talk to Him. Just like when a good friend calls on the phone. You recognize them by their voice. Good friends don’t need to introduce themselves, you know them by their “Hello.” God wants you to know Him that way as well, so develop a habit of talking to Him and then waiting to hear His voice.
  2. Humble yourself. If you are aware of the fact that you are not perfect and are fully capable of making mistakes, then you are much less likely to rush into decisions. It is real easy to say that something is so perfect it “has to be a God thing.” But did I ask God if it was His thing? If we ignore our ability to make mistakes then we assume we are above making them. No one is perfect.
  3. Wait. People in recovery love to quote Jeremiah 29:11 “11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” But remember verse right before that one “10 For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” They would have to wait 70 years to see that promise come to pass.  Just because something is coming from God doesn’t mean you are the one to say when it comes. If you don’t know then don’t rush into anything.
  4. Do the next right thing. Sometimes the path isn’t very clear. I don’t know yet if this house thing is where we should be going but I haven’t been told by God not to either. So while I wait I take the next right step. This is often called “Active Waiting” It’s not fully committing but it is not sitting around waiting for God to drop it in your lap. I would love to go to my mailbox and find a check for $150k sitting there. But I am guessing I will need to work with a bank. So I will start to talk to a banker to see where things sit.
  5. Learn from mistakes. I may not get this right. I like to think I will but I might not. The problem doesn’t necessarily come when house plans fall through and I get bummed out for a while. The problem comes when I don’t learn from my mistakes. I need to keep growing, not get everything perfect.
  6. Try again. As discouraging as it can be when our dreams don’t come true. That doesn’t mean we should quit trying. God is a big God. He can do anything. Don’t let disappointment limit your idea of how big God is.

Ephesians 3:20-21 

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery