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

Be Still and Know that I am God

In my mental health struggles, I have often wondered if mental health was biblical, if it was ever mentioned in the Bible. I have often wondered if it was a sin to feel as I felt. I felt isolated, as if I was the only one who struggled with a mental health issue, and I felt guilty and ashamed for struggling. Although the Bible does not specifically mention depression or other mental health issues, the Bible talks about being brokenhearted, downcast, in despair, miserable, and in mourning. Throughout my journey I have found examples that speak about mental health issues. I’d like to share an example of mental health and hope in the Bible, one of my favorite stories to which I relate.

1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah, a prophet, who was afflicted with depression. Elijah was discouraged, weary, and afraid after running away from the threats of Jezabel after his victories in Baal. He dropped to his knees and pleaded with God to take his life:

“I have had enough Lord, he said. Take my life, I am not better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:4

Elijah had just come from a huge battle, and he was exhausted, burnt out, and afraid for his life. He ran away. When he arrived at Judah, he left his servant there, his support. When we struggle with depression, we often isolate ourselves and desire to be alone. Elijah did that. He then went a day’s journey into the wilderness, alone, and asked God to take his life. Elijah was suicidal. Elijah waited for the answer…yet, God did not answer him. Elijah’s prayer went unanswered. Feeling defeated, worn, exhausted, and full of fear, he laid down and fell asleep. Elijah had given up.

Suddenly, an angel the Lord had sent woke Elijah, who told him to get up and eat. There, provided for him, was bread and water. He obeyed by eating and drinking, and then laid back down. The angel came back to him a second time and woke him, requesting that he eat and drink again, but this time, foreshadowed that Elijah was going to be on a long journey which would be too much for him in his current state without the sustenance of the food and drink. Again, Elijah obeyed and ate, which granted him the strength to travel on the long journey.

In his struggle of hopelessness and despair, Elijah felt alone, much as we often do when we are struggling. Yet, God did not condemn Elijah. God did not disown Elijah for being honest with him. God did not become angry with Elijah. Instead, God sent help, His strength. He sent His strength through an angel. You see, God sends us help through others, whether it be the people who ask if we are okay, members of the church, random strangers whom we encounter, unknowingly sent by God to help us. In our own struggles, God is sending us help through others. In Elijah’s time of need, God sent what Elijah needed. God sent His strength to Elijah through food and water, through an angel. God foresaw the journey that Elijah was about to take, and he helped him. God is helping us, too. Not only did God send food and water, God also allowed Elijah to rest. God could have commanded him to rise up and begin the journey after the first time the angel woke him up, yet God chose not to. God knew he was not ready to move forward yet…God still had some work to do in him first. To me, that’s beautiful.

I recall a point in time in my own story which found me on the floor in my home, crying out to God, pleading with him to take my life. With tears streaming down my face and my body wracked with sobs, I cried out in anger, frustration, fear, guilt, and shame. You see, I felt very much the same as Elijah felt. I had battled against the thoughts in my head, I had come back from depression before, yet this time I felt weary, tired, abandoned, and I felt as if I could not fight anymore. I sat there after I cried out to God, yet…He did not answer me. He did not answer that heart-felt plea of a desperate heart, and I didn’t understand why. As I went out to my car, to finish what I had set out to do to end my life, I received a text, which turned into multiple texts, which turned into multiple phone calls. God was sending me an angel. That was His answer. That God-sent friend reached out to me, leading to a 3-hour phone call that saved my life that day. God gave me the strength to endure the long, strenuous journey ahead through someone He sent to me.

God knows what we need. When God allowed Elijah to rest, He was allowing Elijah to “Be still and know that I am God.” Sometimes being still is allowing ourselves to rest. Often, we expect ourselves to progress through our mental health journey so quickly as if we are on a sprint, and we choose to get up and move forward when it’s not time yet. Other times we refuse to get up and move forward when God is telling us that we are ready. Just as Elijah’s journey was a long journey, our mental health recovery journey is a long journey too. God is trying to prepare us for that journey, that marathon. It’s one day at a time, not one race at a time. Let us be still and know that He is God. Let us trust that He knows exactly what we need in our time of need. Let us know that He does not condemn us for our struggles. Let us have faith that our God is and always will be the protector of our souls. Let us remember that God is sending us help through others, whether that be through the church, mental health professionals, doctors, family, and friends, or anything else God chooses to send.

 

Let us be still and trust that He can help us in our mental health recovery.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

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Be the change

“The mental health system failed our son.” This was the phrase that stuck out to me while I watching a news segment on television. The Father was talking about his 19 year old son who took his life while waiting for an appointment to see a mental health specialist.

I wish that this was the only time I have heard of this sort of thing happening. I have had parents sitting across from me in my office asking how a doctor could let their child, obviously in crisis, to walk out of a hospital. I have seen this same sort of thing in the case of adults as well. This is not an issue reserved for youth.

The mental health care system in this country is grossly underfunded and incredibly overwhelmed. There are thousands of good mental health practitioners across the country; however there are millions of people who need their services. In the city I live, the average wait time is about 3 months to see a practitioner. That can go as high as 6 months depending on the type of help you are looking for. I have heard stories of people intentionally harming themselves because they feel they can’t wait that long so they do something drastic just to be admitted to a hospital. This is a crisis.

Please understand me. I am not posting this to condemn the mental health care system. I am not a clinical practitioner & I do not work in a mental health facility, and because of this feel underqualified to offer solutions to the problems from a systemic approach. I have my ideas of course but I have no intention of telling these people how to do their jobs. Instead I am going to speak to what I do know.

I can be a part of the solution. You can be a part of the solution as well.

Arguably one of the primary factors in effective mental health care is the removal from isolation for the person in need. Being surrounded by a community of people who are willing to include the individual is vital to a person’s mental health. While we can’t necessarily fix the problem we can serve those who are impacted by it.

As someone who struggles with multiple diagnoses I can tell you first hand that what I need the most is not someone who can fix me. I need someone who will care about me. Yes medical treatment and professional care is a key component as well, but if I don’t feel as though I have a purpose then I have no reason to seek out that treatment. My mindset changes from “This is going to be hard but I can do it.” to “Why bother?”

That is where we come in. We can be that community.

One of the things I have heard over the last couple of years since starting the Mental Health Initiative in Celebrate Recovery is that people don’t feel qualified to help, that there should be training before we approach someone who has a mental health issue. I disagree with that idea. If we wait until someone who is a trained professional to reach out to someone in our Celebrate Recovery’s, Churches, communities, then we are leaving people alone to be loved by a system that is not able to handle the demand.

Remember that what I am talking about is not treatment! If you are not trained then you shouldn’t be treating. At the same time we don’t need to be a professional to show someone we care. Think of it this way…If someone came up to you and started to talk about their high blood pressure or their diabetes would you stop and say “We shouldn’t talk about that kind of stuff. I’m not a doctor.” Both of those things require a professional diagnosis. Both of those things can be deadly if not managed correctly. Yet there is no stigma associated with those topics because society has chosen to allow that kind of conversation to be acceptable. As it should be.

The Celebrate Recovery Mental Health Initiative has a lot of pieces and differing levels of involvement. 95% of the participation is going to be CR participants showing that CR is a safe place to talk about and search for support for their mental health issues. Letting people know that while they are waiting for those appointments that there are people who will listen, people who will offer support, people who are willing to treat their brothers and sisters as equals, people who will let them know that they have value, people who will let them know they have a purpose. We very well may be the reason that someone goes from the “Why bother?” thought process to the “This will be hard but I can do it.” process.

We have an opportunity to help remove the stigma of mental health in our churches. This can and will save lives.

The month of May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. There are going to be people who reach out to our groups for hope. The question is, are we going to be ready for that? Are we going to be ready to show that it is ok to struggle with our mental health? Not to have answers. Not to have a fix. Are we ready to show the love of Christ?

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