Tag Archives: Mental Illness

Me versus Mental Illness

10 Oct

Today is World Mental Health Day-a day to raise awareness for the monsters of mental illness we who suffer battle every single day.

It doesn’t make me less than.

Or crazy. (Most of the time.)

It makes me cleave to God all the more because I desperately need Him to function with the appearance of a somewhat normal person.

But I also think living with anxiety and depression makes me more compassionate, more thoughtful, and maybe a little more interesting than I would be without it.

Oh, I’ve railed at God for creating me like this, begged Him for healing, and groaned prayers that only the Spirit could understand.

I’ve been ashamed to talk about it because I don’t want to face scorn. I don’t want people to see me as incapable, yet I desperately want to be understood in spite of it.

I am me, not in spite of my mental illness, but because of it. It’s a gift that keeps me in the folds of God’s love. I don’t understand it; I accept it.

Like the aspostle Paul wrote, I choose to see it as a gift to cause me to constantly and wholly rely on God. It’s not a gift I would’ve picked, but it has and is shaping me, molding me, changing me.

Maybe there will be a day without daily medications, therapists, panic attacks, and days I just can’t make it out my front door. Maybe not.

I just trust God to shine through all the broken places so people can see His love in my eyes.

I choose to live because of it, not in spite of it.

Choosing to Heal

17 Oct

I’m tucked away in my writing nook on this beautiful fall morning.  My sinuses are rebelling against the rest of my face causing a throbbing effect, but my heart is full.  Well, maybe half-full if I’m going to be honest.

And it has been such a long time since my heart has felt anything but empty.

Recently I said goodbye to someone who is very dear to me. For almost 9 years, she’s walked with me through the darkest of times.  She helped me work through issues and fear and I’m a stronger person today because of how God used her in my life.  We said goodbye on September 29 and I sobbed for the rest of the day.  I randomly cried in the weeks leading up to those final moments together.  And now I feel the ache of her departure from my life.  I miss her warmth, her honesty, and how she encouraged spiritual growth in my life.  Very rarely do people touch in our lives in such a way and there is a hole when they leave.

I have a hole in my heart.

But God–two powerful words–is filling that hole with Himself.  He is calling me nearer to Him and I’m reluctant to bask in His comfort.  I’m angry that He took her away.  I want to live life with open hands, trusting that God will use absolutely everything for my good and for His glory.  I believe this!  Yet it’s hard to accept it.

The hole is slowly filling in because wounds usually heal–sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly and sometimes never at all.  With this type of wound, I have a choice.   I choose to heal.  I choose to care about others knowing that they could one day disappear from my life through death or circumstances.

When I started writing this post, I thought I would tell you about my new house, my new ministry (Share Beauty Project), or offer some scriptural insight.  However, that’s not what I needed to write and I suppose that’s not what you needed to hear.

Let’s give our hurts to God.  Let’s allow Him to heal those holes in our heart.  Through Him, let’s love others, even if it hurts.

A Deafening Silence

13 Aug

Silence can be deafening.

It can fill a whole room, a whole body, a whole heart.

It’s a lonely, depressing ache that goes on and on.  How I wish for the breath to say something, to find words, to hear my voice.

The silence is emptiness and emptiness is deadly, dark and meaningless.

Silence, for me, was a way of coping.  As long as I remained quiet, as long as I pretended I had it all together, then maybe I would be OK.  Or at least people would think I was OK.

But I wasn’t OK.  I was falling apart.

My secrets ripped me apart, caused me to hide in the shadows, and question my existence.  Did I deserve to take up space, resources, air?  The thoughts were loud and angry.  The train whistle cut through the silence several times a day.  There was life somewhere outside of my apartment.

It’s hard to imagine someone like Robin Williams, who has the resources to access the best doctors, best medicines, and best therapy could fall into the deafening silence.  There’s a cruel irony in entertaining the masses, yet dying inside.  Tears of a clown or something like that.

Those of us who have been there or are there or live with constant battle against the darkness know what it’s like.  The silence only makes the illness more pronounced because the angry thoughts swirl around, the clichés become tormenting (“Why don’t you…?” “Someone has it worse.” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” “Trust in the Lord”), and it’s a sad, lonely place.

If someone like Robin Williams couldn’t make it through the pestilence of mental illness, specifically depression, what hope is there for the rest of us?  We swallow our pills, see our therapists, practice using our coping skills, and hope against hope we’ll make it.

We hope and pray that we won’t end up like Robin Williams all the while wondering if we will.

There’s a choice in suicide.  There’s always a choice.  It’s just hard to make sense of what’s up and what’s down in mental illness, which doesn’t make sense at all.  Yet everyone seems to have an opinion on depression, anxiety, PTSD, and so forth.  Just like week someone told me I couldn’t possibly have PTSD because I’ve never been in combat.  Oh, yes, I’ve seen combat, just not in the military.  The world is its own battlefield.

The reason why I’m alive, the reason why I didn’t tighten the noose around my neck or jump in front of that train was this—hope.  No matter how small, God placed that hope in my heart when I was a little girl.  Though I had run away, battered and bruised from the Church, His hope kept me alive.

It may sound overly simplistic, but maybe it is that simple.  Maybe hope really is an anchor to my soul—an anchor firmly rooted in Christ Himself.  Christ died every possible death so that I could live.  Through the brokenness of my life, He shines forth.  Into the deafening silence, His voice speaks.

Into the deafening silence, His voice speaks the words of hope I desperately need to hear.  His soft whisper drowns out the angry thoughts.  His truth slices through well-intentioned, but ill-timed clichés.

In a world that judges, God accepts me just as I am and uses me despite my weakness.  Because of God, I have meaning and I don’t have to be silent anymore.  I can speak out of my weakness because He has made me a display of splendor.

In the deafening silence, His sure whisper can be heard.  Perhaps it’s in silence, God can be best heard.

The gift of anxiety

28 Feb

Today was a victory, just like yesterday and the day before and the day before.  Today’s accomplishment?  I went to Wal-Mart by myself—got myself out the door, drove to the store, and shopped for needed household items (and a couple of extras).  I purchased my items, walked to my car (almost got run over in the crosswalk by some lady in a van who had the nerve to beep at a pedestrian was in the middle of the road when she sped around the corner), and drove home with a triumphant smile on my face.  Victory!

Some of my mom friends are probably thinking, “Going to Wal-Mart alone?!  That would be a dream come true!” 

Others might think, “Seriously?!  What’s your deal?”

A few of you get it because you know me and a few of you understand because you live or have lived with this reality.  Sometimes getting out of bed is a win and making it out the door is a victory.  Such is life for a person who lives very real battles with anxiety and depression and related issues. 

Now that I live a more open life, my absence has been noted, both here on this blog and in my personal and church life.  It started as a sinus infection, then a huge stress attack, and then a second, much worse sinus infection that affected by TMJ.  The stress set my usual anxiety spiraling out of control.  Being home recovering from the second sinus infection has turned anxiety into a major emotional/psychological l battle.  Like all things, it impacts my whole being and becomes a spiritual battle as well.  The enemy always preys on our weakest spots.

Since I was unable to attend church this week, I decided to watch a series of talks by Andy Stanley called, “The Comparison Trap.”  In the first talk, Andy said something I immediately wrote down, “When we speak out of our weakness, we never run out of things to say.”   So, when I write about my weakness, I always have good material to which God gets all the glory, for His strength and light radiate from my cracked, weak spots.

However, talking about my current struggles can be hard because well-intentioned people like to throw misinterpretations of Bible verses at me and tell me that my anxiety is a sin.  Worse are those who think I can just snap out of it.  While I can ask God to remove mental illness from life, I cannot make it go away.  Simply put, my brain is sick.  Neurons are misfiring.  Neurotransmitters have run amuck.  But I’m learning how to deal with it and through it all, my faith is growing because I must cling to God in my struggles.  He never lets go of me.

I used to think the true measure of faith was the absence of fear, but I was set straight during an interview with musician whose music is a breath of life to my weary soul.  He told me clinging to God, reading Scripture, writing in my journal—those are the very acts of faith that seeks God first.  If that’s all I can do, I am doing well.  Everything else is an act of grace for us and grace, in and of itself, is a gift of God’s good pleasure.  My pastor often prays, “Even if Jesus was all You gave us that is still more than we deserve.” (paraphrased)

Sometimes we sing, “Your grace is enough, Your grace is enough, Your grace is enough for me.”  It’s a great song, but do we, do I really believe that?  I mean, if Jesus was truly all God gave me, would that be enough for me?

I don’t know, but if it was all I had left I hope it would be enough.  As it is, today I was given an extra measure of grace—a chance to go to Wal-Mart, shop for a few items, and go home.  This, too, is an act of God’s grace and it is not small thing; it is God-reliance.  If I didn’t have the gift of anxiety/depression, I would be able to rely on myself, but I am forced to rely on God and He has given me a wonderful support system that provides me tangible help.   Mental illness isn’t the kind of gift I would wrap up and give a friend as a birthday present, but I am thankful for the chance to know God more and more through it. 

Tomorrow I will get up and fight this monster again.  Will I be victorious?  I sure hope so.  I do know that God will be with me either way.

Let my ruins become the ground You build upon

18 Oct

“Let my ruins become the ground you build upon
Let my ruins become the start
Let my ruins become the ground you build it on
From what’s left of my broken heart”

“Ruins” by Bebo Norman from Bebo Norman

I used to think the Apostle Paul was a madman when he asked fellow believers to “rejoice” in their suffering (Romans 5:3-4, AMP).  Are you freakin’ kidding me, Paul?  Throw a party for mental illness?  Get jazzed over medical issues?  Maybe a pity party; that’s all.

That’s how I used to think.  Admittedly, I’m still working on “rejoicing”; however, I am learning to be content suffering.  My current struggles have forced me to find true dependence in God.  I am starting to believe that suffering is a “gift” and I do not fully, nor will I ever, understand its spiritual implications on my life.  Where I see only pain, God sees hope and promise…and beauty.

The brilliant red, orange, and yellow leaves beginning to dot the landscape of southeastern Pennsylvania illustrate beauty in death.  And isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do—to die to self and to find true live in Him?  And now just once or twice, but daily?  Besides the promise of Heaven, the Holy Spirit, God’s love, and much more, Jesus promised that in this life, we would all experience trials and suffering.  Yet He urges us to “take heart” for he has overcome the world.

For the past seven or so years (maybe more), I’ve bitterly resented suffering—my dad’s affair, my parents’ divorce, my life altering (and chronic) illnesses, my inability to find a job in ministry (which I now realize was a good thing), my mom’s remarriage and subsequent divorce from a horrible man who inflicted a lot of pain and abuse on our little family, and of course, debilitating mental illness.

At first, I sought after God and He is and always was present.  As I watched my life shatter around me, I screamed at Him, “How could You let this happen?  How could You do this to me?  You are supposed to love me.  You are supposed to do something with my life.  If You could do this to me, if You could let this happen, what else will You do?  What else will You ask?”  I simply ignored God and His still small voice that beckoned me home.  I prayed, read my Bible, and gave Him lip service only when it suited me.

I would not—I could not—relinquish all of me.  Yet God asked for ALL of me, so He could do immeasurably more than I could ever dream or imagine.

A few weeks ago, when I shut down emotionally, physically, and spiritually, I knew drastic changes needed to me made.  I could NOT go on like this [that] anymore, so I stepped away from Backseat Writer as well as other things so I could focus on overall wellness.  I have been learning so much about myself, God, and the Bible (among other things) through circumstances that forced me to come face-to-face with God.  No more running, no more hiding—just the naked truth of who I thought I was versus who God says that I am.

I am finding my identity in Christ, asking Him to help me overcome my unbelief, to help me believe the truth instead of the negative self-talk I readily offer myself, and most of all to learn to trust God in all things.  It sounds simple enough, yet it is a hard, long road, though it is the path worth taking.

At this time, God has called me away from many things, including Backseat Writer.  Not forever, not even completely, just for a little while.  When it is time, my sporadic and erratic posting will cease and Backseat Writer will return to a new “normal” with content that is solid, personal, and REAL—not the publicist pleasing garbage I’ve posted at times.  Although I assure you that not of it is garbage or posted to please publicist (or anyone else).  I can hardly wait to see what sort of future God has for Backseat Writer—something I believe will be far more wonderful that either you or I could imagine.

For now, dear readers, I must continue my sabbatical to focus on knowing God and knowing who I am to God.  I would like to pop in weekly with updates on what I’m learning—for there is so much to share with you!  Still, most will remain close to my heart; these things are spoken only between God and me.  But I want to let you in, at least a little, to show you what I’ve discovered.  I want you to know that God is not safe, but He is good.

I hear God calling to me, wooing me to Himself, “Come now, my love, my lovely one, my beloved.”  And it’s been such a long time since I felt lovely to anyone and loved by God.

“[God] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 5:20, slightly paraphrased)

Currently Listening To: Selections from various Bebo Norman albums, Jason Gray’s latest album, A Way to See in the Dark (“Remind Me Who I Am” has been essential in my recovery. I hope to post more about this song/album at a later time.  Thank you, Jason Gray, for crafting such a wonderful album!) Select others including Matt Hammitt (latest album, Every Falling Tear, is excellent!), Josh Wilson, NeedToBreathe (mostly The Outsiders.  Yes, I purchased their latest album on iTunes, but haven’t really listened to much of it yet.  Shocking, I know!), and Cat Stevens.

Currently Reading: My NIV Study Bible (does that sound cliché?) as well as daily passages from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young and The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen.  I highly, highly recommend both of these books.  I am just about finished with a powerful, lesser-known book by Elisabeth Elliot called The Path of Loneliness—not for the faint of heart.  An excellent read that I heartily recommend! Next I hope to read God’s Plan B by Pete Wilson and Jenny B. Jones’ latest, There You’ll Find Me as well as a smattering of writing books and whatever else pops up.

Other Randomness: I’m enjoying the new seasons of “Modern Family,” “The Middle,” and “Glee” as well as peeking at “The X-Factor.”  I’ve discovered Facebook games like GnomeTown, Words With Friends (play with me!), and Bejeweled Blitz, as well as exploring my world and spending time with friends, my mom, and of course, my beloved fur and feather children.

Please Pray For Me: To have continued spiritual, mental, and physical healing; that my nasty tooth infection would heal and my root canal procedure could be completed; for the small group Bible study I lead; that I may find a meaningful volunteer opportunity; and for my future writing endeavors.  Thank you so much for your faithful prayers!

So, that’s me…what are you up to?  What’s going on with you and God?  Any new pets or babies or anything I missed?  What are you listening to, watching, doing?  Dish it!

Women of Faith: Finding My Faith with a Weirdo

11 Sep

The Women of Faith “Imagine” weekend in Philadelphia was not what I expected.  At all.  Instead of an authentic women’s conference, Women of Faith felt more like a fabricated “worship experience” that could be plopped down in any city to be enjoyed by the throngs.  In essence, I suppose that is what a Women of Faith weekend is—something that can be easily created and re-created for women all over the country.  Then again, isn’t that also what a concert tour is?  Yes.  But here’s how my Casting Crowns concert experience differed from Women of Faith—with Casting Crowns, I felt like I was having an authentic experience, but with Women of Faith, I felt like I was just another cog in the ol’ money making machine (which strikes me as funny since I received comp tickets for writing about the event).

The event started with a worship team made up of four female singers, who had excellent vocals.  However, there was no worship band, which meant the praise music was piped into the stadium and the ladies led the audience in a big sing-a-long.  In between songs, the singers shared one-to-two sentence insights, and dived into the next song.  These songs were loud, upbeat, and instead of leading worship, I felt like I was watching a Point of Grace concert.  It was just too perfect.  A live band, who could led worship by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, though it would require more set-up/tear down would have improved the worship immensely.

Sheila Walsh

Next, Sheila Walsh spoke about the woman who was bleeding for years before being healed by Jesus. Walsh was flawless in her presentation, using a combination of personal anecdotes, Scripture, and body language that really drove her message home.  I was very impressed with Walsh, but slightly confused when the lights went down at the end of her talk and she belted out “Amazing Grace.”  Apparently, Walsh is not only an author and a speaker, but a singer as well.  Anyway, she received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Then Women of Faith president, Mary Graham, took the stage to introduce well-known author and speaker Dr. Henry Cloud, who somehow snuck into a Women of Faith event, despite his obvious maleness.  Graham asked the audience if they knew what day it was.  One woman yelled out, “Your birthday?”  No, it was not Graham’s birthday, but it was “Wonderful Weirdos Day.”  Graham said that if anyone knew about weirdos, it was certainly Dr. Cloud (she called him “Henry,” but I feel more comfortable calling him Dr. Cloud or just “Cloud”).

Dr. Henry Cloud

While those around me seemed to think this was both a charming and personal introduction, I tried my best to hide the tears streaming down my face.  See, Dr. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist, the “weirdos” he works with are mentally ill.  As someone who has been in therapy since 2006, I suppose I could count myself among the “weirdos.”  It was then I wondered if I truly belonged at Women of Faith.  I thought about leaving, but I was in the very first row, so I tried in vain to choke back my tears.

Dr. Cloud mentioned a verse here and there, but mentioned his latest book, The Law of Happiness, a lot more.  I mean, if there was a drinking game for each mention of Boundaries or his latest book, the Women of Faith audience would have been rip roarin’ plastered.  Still, I thought Cloud was OK…until his second talk.  This time Cloud casually mentioned “hoarders.”  Instead of treating hoarding as a serious mental issue, Cloud talked lightly about how hoarders don’t get rid of things because they “might need it someday” or because of the emotional attachment to object.  Then Cloud joked that a hoarder probably wouldn’t get rid of her baby’s first poopy diaper because of its sentimental value.  What could have been a very important spiritual lesson about keeping things we don’t need (I do believe that was supposed to be Cloud’s point), the illustration derailed into a joke about hoarders.  Ha-ha, let’s all laugh at the mentally ill people whose gross houses we see on television.  As if seeing a half-hour program on someone’s life truly illustrates the frustrations of obsessive-compulsive disorder!  I assumed that Dr. Cloud, being a trained clinical psychologist would treat mental illness with a soft touch. He came across as brash and uncaring, especially when interchangeably throwing around the words “wacko” and “crazy.”

Pretty doodads hanging from the center of the "Imagine" WoF stage.

When Mary Graham took the stage again to announce that Sheila Walsh was going to talk about “their little monkeys” at World Vision, I just got up and left.  I didn’t even look back to see if my friend who accompanied me was following me out.  I ran right smack into a crowd of women gathered around the Women of Faith merchandise table.  “How much is this bag?” a well-dressed middle-aged woman asked a volunteer.

“Oh, you can’t buy that bag,” said the volunteer.  “It comes as part of a set.”  Apparently, it was a set-up to generate more income because in order to get a tote bag, a woman had to purchase either a $50 set (bag, mug, and some other stuff) or an $85 set (bag, two books, two albums, and a special treat). I could get a nicer bag at the Fossil outlet for the same amount of cash.  But I guess it wouldn’t have the Women of Faith logo on it!

However, I did leave my mark at Women of Faith, just after eating the subpar lunch provided for attendees, I decided to fill out a card for the Q&A session with Sheila Walsh and Dr. Henry Cloud.  I wrote, “Dr. Cloud, as a mental health professional do you think it’s appropriate to refer to the mentally ill as ‘weirdos’ and ‘wackos’?”

Then I turned the card over and wrote, “I have an M.A. in counseling.  I am mentally ill.  And, yes, my feelings were hurt.”  I doubt my question was chosen for the Q&A.  I guess I will never know.

"Wheat Field in Rain" or simply "Rain" by Vincent Van Gogh

I hoped my Women of Faith weekend in Philadelphia would be a time to reconnect my hardened heart with a living God—and it was.  However, that didn’t happen at the Women of Faith weekend; it occurred at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  There was something magnificent about glimpsing at Vincent Van Gogh’sStill Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” painting for the first time—the real painting—not a print.  To discover the dimensions in his blobs of paint, to have tangible proof that my favorite painter lived and died, to be reminded that he was a madman (a “weirdo” or a “wacko”) and not recognized as a genius in his time.  I’m not calling myself a genius or believe that my “art,” my writing, will outlive my life.  I suppose I just felt more at home with a fellow weirdo’s priceless painting.

I was most affected by, “Wheat Field in Rain”, his depiction of beauty beyond the window of his asylum. Despite being interned at a mental hospital, Van Gogh still saw value in the world and still painted.  Sixteen dollars to get into the Philadelphia Museum of Art versus 100 bucks for a pre-fabricated “worship” experience at Women of Faith?  Next time, I’m going to skip the conference and head straight for the art museum.

*In exchange for a fair and honest evaluation of the Women of Faith weekend, I was given two complimentary tickets by Thomas Nelson.  Clearly, I was not required to write a positive review, only a fair review, and that is what I feel I did.  Other views may differ, and I truly hope that others did have a good time to connect with God and others at Women of Faith weekends and other events.*

Fat Dogs and Fat Women

31 Aug

My mom's "fat" dog, Katie.

Whenever people encounter my mom’s one dog, Katie, it seems they cannot help but comment on her weight.

“Wow, she’s a little butterball, isn’t she?”

“What a beautiful dog!  She’d be gorgeous if she lost a few pounds.”

“Your dog is fat!  Why is she so fat?” (That’s my favorite tactless statement.)

Sure, Katie is a bit tubby, but why do close friends and even perfect strangers mention it when they encounter her (and of course, my mom, since Katie doesn’t wander the streets alone)?  It just doesn’t seem to be good etiquette to comment on a new acquaintance’s fat dog.

My mom's "fat" daughter (me) . Yes, my family loves dogs.

Not only that, but for people like my mom and me, it drives our suspicions about our own struggles with weight deeper—that when people look at us all they see is a big ball of fat.  They don’t see a person with a name and a history and a personality and a love of books and the outdoors, just fat.  Each of the statements people make about Katie can easily be said to me.  In fact, they have been said to me.

“You have such a pretty face.  If you lose some weight, you would be beautiful.”  (Because apparently I can only date the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man right now.  I mean, he doesn’t seem to be much for conversation, but I guess he’ll do.)

“Do you really need two cookies?”  (No, I don’t.  But I had a bad day and I’m cramming the extra cookie down my throat to make myself feel better.)

“Lose weight and you’ll find a husband. (Uhhh…who says I want a husband?  Maybe that’s just not part of God’s plan for me.  I am painfully aware of how many guys view fat chicks, especially those who sport “No Fat Chicks” t-shirts.  I am told that confidence is sexy to guys, but haven’t actually found that to be the case.)

And I know people are just dying to say, “You’re fat!  Why are you so fat?”  I don’t know!  Because I ate two cookies?  Because I don’t exercise enough?  Because I’ve only been able to effectively lose weight by eating grass (it was salad, but it tasted like grass) and chicken noodle soup?

I know I need to lose weight, not so I can nab a husband, but so I can feel better and be healthier person.  But I do not need to be reminded of the fact I need to lose weight by well-meaning friends and family members.  It’s not like I woke up one morning and “forgot” I’m fat.  I am aware of it all the time—when I don’t sit on flimsy lawn furniture for fear my girth will break it, when a store doesn’t have clothes in my size, when I look in the mirror (or avoid looking in the mirror), when I don’t pretend it bothers me.  Believe me, I know better than anyone that I’m fat.

Then why don’t you do something about it?  (Another fun question.)

It takes time, lots of time.  It took a lifetime to get like this, but it won’t take a lifetime to undo it.  There are physiological, psychological, physical, mental, and personal issues at play.  Sadly, eating salad and exercising isn’t as easy as it sounds due to financial limitations (healthy foods cost more), emotional issues (food is comforting), mental health issues (depression and anxiety suck the energy right out of you.  Plus, my fear of open spaces and crowds doesn’t help at all), and medical issues (my medications make it hard to lose weight.)

But I know this woman/man/horse/what who (fill in the blank with weight loss tip) and lost 80-100 pounds!

Everyone knows someone who lost a massive amount of weight and that’s great for that person.  I am not getting weight loss surgery (as it could *kill* me), trying a fad diet, joining Weight Watchers (can’t afford it), signing up for Jenny Craig (can’t afford it and their commercials are incredibly annoying.  Their commercials alone make me want to stay fat.  Sometimes people who have successfully lose weight are most annoying) or Curves (can’t afford that either). 

I am going to do this thing my own way—slowly as I learn to enjoy food, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle.   I am not going to trade one problem for another.  I am going to trust my therapist and my doctor to treat my eating disorder, those close to me (who someone don’t even see my fat), and my God to make it through.

So, instead of focusing on whether or not I take one or two cookies, how my fat has ruined my chances at love, and why I’m fat, maybe you should take a look at that plank of condemnation in your own eye.  Hear that rattle?  The skeletons in your closet are calling.  You just don’t wear them on your physique for all to see and judge.

And while you’re at it, stop calling my mom’s dog “fat”!  Animals don’t like it either.

(Note:  All thoughtless remarks, insulting comments, and diet tips will be deleted.  Remember, I am Backseat Writer’s benevolent dictator.)

What is something you wish you could hide? (It doesn’t have to be physical.)  What thoughtless remarks are repeated to you by people “just trying to help”? (And how are you dying to respond?)  Do you think my mom’s dog is *that* fat? (I think she’s cute. By the way, I groomed her myself.)  Do you have a fat pet?  Do people comment on your fat pet?

Listening to Bebo Norman

10 Aug

Photo by Beckham Photography (pulled from BeboNorman.com)


I’ve been listening to a lot of Bebo Norman lately.   Even though I have piles of new (and wonderful) music to digest, review, and prep for interviews, I continue to listen to my old stand-by Bebo Norman.  When I don’t know what else to do and everything seems all mixed-up in my heart and mind, Bebo’s music is like salve for my wounded spirit.  Something about his music—the chords, the melody, the lyrics—bring peace in madness.  Lately, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True has been a companion in the melancholy.

The first track, “Into the Day” has been particularly inspiring—sometimes bringing tears and other times giving me the strength to make it through the day (or at least brush my teeth.)  This lyric is particularly striking: “The ache of life is more than you are able.  Hold on, love, don’t give up.  Don’t close your eyes.  The light is breaking through the night.”

If you’ve been reading Backseat Writer for a while, you know that Bebo Norman is my favorite musician in the whole wide world!  That’s a pretty important title when you consider the sheer amount of music I enjoy!  The first time I interviewed Bebo Norman by phone I was trembling and sweaty.  The phone rang and I could barely answer it.  It was Bebo.  I was terrified.

Normally, I handle interviews with a little more flair than that.  But this was Bebo Norman—someone whose music has been vastly important in my life.  Knowing that Bebo also suffers from anxiety disorder, I knew I could confide in him.  The result was a beautiful, encouraging conversation.  No longer were we journalist and musician, but two people talking about our experiences living with the horrors of anxiety.  That interview not only produced a wonderful article (read “Bebo Norman: From the Ruins”), but has helped me tremendously in my own walk as a woman living with mental illness.

The next time I interviewed Bebo I told him what that first interview meant to me.  We talked about his latest album (which happens to be his latest album, OceanYou can read that interview, too.) and again, Bebo encouraged me.  He was present in the interview (some artists zone out, go off on tangents, or give pat answers) and it felt like a real conversation.  I appreciate that about Bebo.

We’re not friends—Bebo and me.  Sometimes I say things to him or about him on Twitter, and every once in a while he responds.  I doubt he would know me or my name without a bit of coaching, not because he’s a jerk; it’s just the nature of being a well-known musician who is interviewed by a lot of people.  However, when I do jog his memory, he knows exactly who I am.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if Bebo Norman knows my name or remembers my story.  What matters is that his music leads me to God, when I can’t find my way in the darkness of life.  It matters that during our interactions, he is been kind, gracious, and humble (I think he’s an introvert by nature).  It matters that Bebo Norman has shown himself to be a man of God, through his actions and through his music.  It matters that Bebo’s songs are personal, transparent, and lovely.

Most of all, it matters that when I am struggling with the ache of life, when it seems more than I am able, I can listen to Bebo Norman’s music over and over again.  And somehow in the mix of words and melody, I find God and I find peace.

Is there a musician or band that helps you find God when you feel alone?  Have you had the chance to meet or personally thank the artist?  What did you say? (Or what would you say if you had the chance?)

Dear Huff Post & AOL, Suicide is NOT painless

7 Jun

In my undergrad journalism classes, the importance of the headline or title of our pieces was always emphasized.  While some slick editor might come in and change a catchy headline to save space or cause sensationalism, often in magazine writing or op-ed pieces, the writer’s title was left intact…unless it was terrible.  After years of study and sometimes less-than-stellar titles for my own work, I try not to judge others too harshly.

For instance, our local paper, The Morning Call, which I think is lacking in various areas including bad headlines, terrible lay-out, inadequate copy-editing, stupid opinion pieces, and lack of newsworthy content (there’s not much else to lack in, is there?), uses the term “obits” on its main news page instead of “obituaries.”  While not the most terrible mistake in the world of news, it is in the very least tacky.  I mean, let’s look up Grandma Ruth’s “obit” online just sounds insensitive.  Some things shouldn’t have catchy little names outside the newspaper office.

This morning while I was munching down on my cereal and reading the morning news, I decided to check my AOL email.  I was aghast at what I found–and no it was not another spammy email from my wanna-be fiance James–it was this news teaser on AOL’s main page, which linking to a Huffington Post news article.

(While the screen shot below is here for effect, you actually have to CLICK HERE to see the picture in its full size to see the teaser.)

Did you see it?  And, no, it’s not the picture of Anthony Weiner and Weiner Gate or the naked man chest or even the Sprint ad (because we all know they have crappy customer service.) In case you didn’t catch it, I’ll post the picture again with a few handy dandy modifications of my own.

The teaser is so small you can’t read it, so you’ll have to view THIS VERSION, which is unreadable, so then you have to go back to the ORIGINAL FULL SIZED VERSION and see it for yourself.  I know that’s a lot of work, but I want you all to see to see picture proof.  Here’s the faulty header (in case your computer shut down looking at all those pictures): Man Finally Kills Self After 10 Tries (emphasis and color added.)

I just about threw up my Rice Krispies.  First of all, why is an article about a clearly disturbed man from California front page or national news at all?  And, more importantly, did the word “finally” really need to be added to this headline?  Then again, the teaser is only pulling from the first sentence of the Huffington Post news article which reads, “After at least 10 documented suicide attempts spanning several years, Francisco Solomon Sanchez finally succeeded in killing himself last Friday, reports the Pasadena Star-News.”  Gee, poor Francisco may have been unlucky in life but at least he finally succeeded in something–suicide!  Perhaps The Huffington Post wanted to cover this story, but did they have to be so thoughtless in the delivery?  The fact that that’s a number for the National Suicide Prevention Life Line at the conclusion of this short article doesn’t soften the blow, not for me.

Even more shocking than the piece itself are the comments left by anonymous morons with cartoon avatars.  Yeah, I’d be afraid to show my face if I uttered some of the statements these people made, which include this from “Huff Post Super User Dr Scott”: “The poor man. Can you imagine the depression this guy experienced over not being able to kill himself 9 times? The last 9 attempts took considerab­le fortitude. I’d never try it again after the first failed attempt. The shame would be too much.”  I truly hope this man isn’t a real doctor.  I can only imagine his bedside manner.

Then there’s “amugsey,” who not only disdains capitalization, but writes, “you can reach your goals if you work hard enough.”  And actually a lot of people echoed this sentiment.  Wow, you all are hilarious.  I hope you feel so proud of yourselves for being disgustingly unoriginal and callous together.

I didn’t read all the comments, but out of the ones I did read, the next comment has to be the winner for the most despicable of all, courtesy of “InsuranceGuy”: “Good to see that this determined man finally got his wish.  It will save the taxpayers money. It is the County that picks up the costs for comminting him to the mental institutions all of this time. More than likely, the county or the state paid for all the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for his previous failed attempts (one of his previous attempts resulted in 2 prosthetic legs).”  Incidentally, I also appreciate his fine grammar and spelling.

Thankfully, there were a few rational comments, but the vast majority were stupid one-liners, like suicide is funny, like Francisco Solomon Sanchez was a joke, like Francisco Solomon Sanchez wasn’t a human being who suffered or had a mother and a father.  I don’t know what demons tormented Francisco; I only know the scant details of his life reported in these articles.  I do know that Francisco Solomon Sanchez lived among us, suffered among us, and died on June 3 after jumping onto the 210 Freeway in LA County.  And I know this is a tragedy that has little finality to it.

*If you stumbled onto this post because you are contemplating suicide, please seek help.  Talk to a friend, a family member, a stranger, anyone!  Call the National Suicide Prevention Hot Line at 1-800-273-8255.  Please do this!  My friend, Matt, suffered from schizophrenia and committed suicide in 2002, just after I graduated from college.  I will never forget that day–the moment I received the phone call about his death–and I don’t want your friends and family to feel the same way.  You are so valuable, even if you don’t see it at all right now.  You matter.  You were created for a reason and a purpose.  Please, please, please get help.*

Emma on “Glee” and Mentally Ill Me

26 Apr

In Tuesday’s extended episode (“Born This Way”), “Glee” tackled self-image, including appearance, sexual orientation, and mental illness. While this made for an interesting mish-mash of self-awareness, I found myself relating most to Emma Pillsbury, McKinley High’s neurotic guidance counselor. Since the beginning of the show, Emma’s been a bit (OK, a lot) of a “neat freak.” Early on, I got the joke, “The guidance counselor needs guidance.” Hilarious. I find it especially funny given that I’m a gal with a Master’s degree in counseling who suffers from mental illness.

In episode after episode, Emma frantically sterilizes her environment, and the audience laughs. Ha, that smartly dressed redhead! Each week I pretended to laugh along thinking that “Glee” just makes fun of everyone (especially Christians and virgins.) But last week, the show took a major turn—it started to address the issues associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Though an imperfect representation of mental illness, at least “Glee” is bringing the issue into the public eye, and not in the “funny” and endearing way that shows like “Monk” and “House” and movies like As Good As It Gets and Matchstick Men have addressed mental illness. “Glee” shows that Emma suffers from mental illness, that she suffers.

Mental illness is a strange beast—either it is portrayed as “not a big deal” (“Everyone gets a little down sometimes”) or as a monstrous disease that overtakes the lives of its sufferers (think sociopathic killers on crime dramas or the aforementioned dramatizations of characters with OCD.) Then there are celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Demi Lovato, who are willing to admit they struggle with mental illness, but they’re OK now. And, of course, Charlie Sheen who clearly has a mental problem, which he won’t admit. But where are the people like “Glee’s” Emma who live in spite of mental illness? Few and far between.

No one wants the stigma of mental illness. I certainly don’t want it to plague me my whole life. I am keenly aware about how much I say, wonder if I revealed too much, and ponder if I should just shut up about my severe depression and anxiety. I don’t enjoy the sideways glances I get from acquaintances that read my blog or hear a rumor about me. They wonder if I’m in my right mind, if I’m OK, but no one dares to ask what is really going on or how they can help me. I know the stigma; I live it every day. And like Emma, it keeps me sick. Someone rightly told me that secrets keep you sick. What if the secrets are about how you are sick…mentally?

Towards the end of “Glee,” Emma finally seeks professional help and is given a prescription for a SSRI, which she takes in her office (because who doesn’t want to down her first psychiatric medication at work?) With that swallow, Emma spoke for a lot of mentally ill people who have been kept silent. Yes, we suffer. Yes, we go to weekly therapy. Yes, we know we are mentally ill. But like Emma, we are not our illness. Emma does not equal OCD anymore than Amy equals depression, anxiety and the rest of the stuff my therapist writes on my diagnostic sheet. Emma is a person with OCD, not an illness, just like Amy (that’s me) is a woman who lives with depression.

And I bet you thought “Glee” was just a show about a bunch of underdog kids who sing and dance. In reality, “Glee” is becoming more of a phenomenon that is making outsiders (homosexuals, fat girls, the mentally ill, and more) insiders, which encourages all of us to be a little more honest about who we are.

For an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the Glee episode “Born This Way,” head on over to the Glee homepage (link).

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