Guest Blog

Journaling to Communicate by Sheryl Kayne

Sometimes when the going gets tough, and we’re not even sure what exactly is going on, the people closest to us turn scared and run away, or shut down, or become frightened and overwhelmed asking far more questions than we could possibly ever answer. As a volunteer, certified mental health support group leader, a common thread I often hear from people of all ages is that “my family and friends just don’t get it. They have no idea what I’m going through.”

 

Which is probably true. A mental health crisis can change your life in an instant. When that happens, although you’re the one going through it, those who love you are frightened, bewildered and trying to fix it. Often when people are upset, confused and intent on controlling the uncontrollable, it can be easier to write than to speak.

 

“When I needed them most, my parents stopped talking to me because I wasn’t talking to them. I couldn’t think straight when I first started taking meds,” says Seth, age 23. “I had no idea I had anything to say until I started writing it all down in a notebook given to me by a social worker. The anger poured out, I began seeing what was happening as more of an observer than a victim. Some things actually began making sense and suddenly I knew what I needed from others.”

He wanted family support and realized the person he most wanted to communicate with was his younger sister. I asked if he would consider journaling with her; not giving up his own private journal, but creating a shared journal that they could both use. He thought it was a great idea and talked to her about it. Since she lives in South Carolina and he’s in Connecticut, they created an online journal which they can also access from their phones. They each make their own entries and responded to each other’s, at least three times a week.

Shared journaling gives you the opportunity to open, or reopen, lines of communication. Sometimes it’s helpful to agree on a few guidelines, such as being responsive to questions asked. If you need more time to think something through, say that. Be open to receiving the information being presented without making judgements or trying to fix everything.

“Growing up, when things were so horrible, I saved myself by writing in 100s of journals,” says Yanni, age 34. “Then I read and read, finding power in my words. It kept me going. I wish I’d known about journal sharing when I was growing up. Perhaps if my parents wrote down and reflected upon their thoughts, they might have been more thoughtful, considerate and flexible with their words.”

www.SherylKayne.com

www.facebook.com/Sheryl-Kayne-Writes-1073800502637870/timeline/

Twitter: @SherylKayne

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Adventures in Electro Convulvise Therapy: A guest blog

It was still dark as Barb and I pulled into the near empty parking lot. I was feeling groggy since I hadn’t my much-needed morning coffee. In fact I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for the last 12 hours.  Paying the outrageous parking fee we crunched across the icy parking lot and up the salt saturated stairs. We went through the very heavy doors, followed the signs to the room we would be spending the morning.  This part of the hospital was quiet and dark, dark except for a room at the end of a corridor. We walked towards the light. It was the ECT clinic.

 When I think back, I think I always had a depressive personality. I always felt like an outsider, isolated, melancholy and unloved.  Knowing what I know now about depression. I must have had my first major depressive episode in my early 20s. I muscled through it and it eventually lifted, however I believe it never left me completely. I did learn to manage it though with alcohol and being a workaholic. These things could only mask the depression for so long, eventually it crept up and escalated to a point where I couldn’t function any longer.

By the time I reached my late 40s I was barely able to concentrate any longer, hardly sleeping, and had a constant feeling of dread and impending doom, I could barely get out of bed. I had reached a crisis and needed more medical help.

 The psychiatrist I had just started seeing urged me to go to the emergency ward at North York General, which I did and that began the long difficult process of finding effective treatment for a mental illness.

  Treatment for depression as with most mental illnesses is not an exact science; it’s very hit and miss. One needs to try different medications to find one that shows benefit. If there are any benefits from that specific medication, it will only show it self after several weeks. If not, you must start again, and try something new, repeating the process. In can be very frustrating. It is very frustrating. One can start to feel like a lab rat.

 After about a year and more of trying different medications and group therapy sessions I was only having minimal improvement. I was labelled as having refractory depression, or treatment resistant depression.  While things were improving, I still could hardly function. I eventually asked if he thought ECT would be a viable option. I had heard an interview with Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia, where she stated she was having ECT once a month and it had saved her life. He did think it was a good idea, and I was referred to CAMH to pursue this form of treatment.

 ECT stands for Electro Convulsive Therapy, a frightening scenario to think about. A doctor sends a low and brief electrical current through the brain, which triggers a seizure.  During the seizure the brain is flooded with different chemicals, like adrenaline, dopamine, and a bunch of others I don’t know the name of. It has been shown that these chemicals can open pathways in the brain that will lift the patient out of depression or kick-start the medication to work. The history of the treatment is interesting to look into if you are interested.

 So there I was, with my wife, on a frigid February morning, cold, scared, frightened and craving a coffee, heading to the lit room at the end of the hallway. The room was a classic cinder block construction, inspired by Soviet era designed by people who hate people. Painted a drab yellow with florescent lights overhead. Much to my surprise the waiting room was already full. There was room for me to sit but not Barb.

 Scanning the room I noticed an adjacent room where the nursing staff was preparing what seemed to over twenty gurneys with sheets and small pillows. They were lined up side by side, for some reason this really disturbed me. It reminded me of pictures and videos I have seen of war hospitals where the dead and dying all lined up, waiting to be treated. I was also shocked at how many people would be receiving treatments that morning.

 There was nothing to do but sit down and wait. Eventually a nurse came around, took my temperature, blood pressure and confirmed I had not eaten or drank anything over the past 12 hours, and that I had a ride home. The information was added to my chart and placed at the bottom of a pile. The small room continued to fill with people and was spilling into the hallway. The first light of morning was beginning show itself.

After what seemed like forever, a man carrying a brief case hurriedly walked in. He headed towards a second door without looking at the room full of patients. Who was that?  Ten minutes later a second man arrived and went through the same door the same way.

Things were about to get real. The gurney room door was closed, the pile of charts was grabbed, I guess its show time. The first name was called and an older woman went through the mysterious door the two men had gone through. After about five minutes I heard a beep, beep beeeeep, then silence. Fifteen minutes later the next name was called, then the next, until eventually my name was called. I was so nervous, I had only  small idea what to expect.

 Weak kneed I entered the treatment room where I was instructed to remove my shoes and lie down on the gurney. The nurses came at me from all directions, tearing the backs off adhesive tabs that were used to stick monitor leads to both my ankles and chest. A cool gel was applied to top and side my head. The man who had arrived first was sitting next to me and painfully inserted a needle into the back of my hand that a was attached to an IV bag.

 I could now hear my heart being monitored on a smaller beeping machine. The second man who had his back to me the whole time while he read my chart finally turned around, said something to the staff then told me about some drug he wanted me to start taking, and how often and how long I would be receiving the treatments. Like I’d remember any of that, I was very frightened.

  I was told to take some deep breaths, and the head nurse told me to relax that they will take good care of me while I was asleep. I felt the anesthetic enter my arm. Before I knew it I was losing consciousness, listening to the beeping fade with a swooshing sound, staring at the fire sprinkler attached to the drop ceiling.

 When I awoke, I was lying on my side on one of those gurneys lined up in the room I saw earlier. There were people, knocked out on either side of me. My head was killing and I was disoriented. I called out about my head and a staff member calmed me down. After lying there awake for several minutes, I was helped up offered a Dads cookie and a juice, which I took.

I was escorted back into the waiting room where I was required to sit and wait for another hour, just to make sure it was safe for me to go home. Besides the headache I noticed I felt like I had to bounce my left leg and that I was clenching my jaw.

 After that hour I was allowed home, I had a coffee and light breakfast and went back to bed as if in a dream.

 I continued with two courses of treatment. Which meant 3 weeks twice a week then a gradual tapering off maintenance treatments. They got easier to endure as I got more acquainted with the procedure. I did experience some memory loss, which was disconcerting; although handy when watching a movie I had supposedly already seen. Eventually I got to know the nursing staff and got to know my fellow patients. People, who had been not three weeks earlier almost catatonic, zombies now had a spark of life in their eyes and were able to have conversations and show emotions.

The procedure seems archaic, barbaric, torture: mainly because of  “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. While it is quite unpleasant, every effort was made to make it as painless as possible by the staff. I don’t think medicine fully understands why ECT works, but it does. It helped me.  I hope I never need it again.

I still have depressive episodes; they are not as long or as intense as they once were. Suicide doesn’t seem like a treatment option any longer, and because of the illness I have become more active in the mental illness artist community. I have met some of the most genuine, caring people amongst the mentally ill, than I have in the so-called well population. It has helped me be accepting of the things that are out of my control and I think it has help me be a more compassionate and empathetic person. And I guess that’s all right.

Steve In Toronto stevenlewisart.com

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The Attics Are Already Full: A Guest Blog by Kristen Polito

The Attics Are Already Full

“Are you going to eat all that yourself?

The delivery guy’s expression was incredulous as he handed me my order–an order, which, I’d used illegal means of obtaining, so desperate and pathological the means of my destruction had devolved.

I paused, immediately conjured a plausible lie, dismissed it and admitted, “Yes.”

“Whaaat?” He assessed my frame in disbelief.  “But…how?”

I had no energy for shame or mortification.

“I’m going to throw it all up when I’m done.”

Caught off guard by my candidness, his speech faltered, “Oh!  OhmyGod.  I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.  It’s not your problem.”  I pause.  “Only, if you don’t ask your customers so many personal questions, you might not have to deal with so many personal answers.”

He nodded, reaching for the signed receipt.

Now, he is finally walking away, and I think he is going to let me be.

Still, not put off, he’s got one more for me.

“So…you’re like, Anorexic or somethin’”?

Yeah, buddy.  Or somethin’.

They don’t understand.  It isn’t gluttony.  And isn’t hedonism.

This is not about pleasure.  This is all about pain.

Near or distant, it’s likely that nearly every family has at least one “mad” relation.  You know who I’m talking about; the one who’s responsible for the legendary tales of insane behavior, collective embarrassment, and general familial strife? Chances are if you’re reading this essay, you either love a “mad” person or are one of them.  Well, you’re in good company my friend.

As late as the 1970’s, those “affected” were institutionalized in barbaric versions of asylums and hospitals, a la One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Strides made in modern medicine and mental health care ought to reduce the destructive ripple effect these individuals wield upon their respective families, but, in my estimation, it hasn’t done much to help.

At best, positive changes have been minimal;  mental illness poisons entire families.   The reality of mental illness is that there is no cure, only strategies of maintenance and coping.  The management of mood disorders is largely guesswork: trial and error requiring time, patience, resources and information.

And step one is diagnosis.

Correct diagnosis, that is.

From childhood into my early 30’s, I’ve been the unwilling passenger of a perpetual rollercoaster, with violent emotional waves dictating my behavior, decisions and interactions.

I felt (and still feel) so wrong in the head, not understanding the constant intensity of emotion, the internal turmoil always clutching at my insides.

I’ve been confused by the behavior of those around me.  Everyone else seems so relaxed, so unaffected, so very, very even.

When I was younger, in elementary, middle and even high school, it frustrated me to no end that, when I was in a manic rage or sobbing desperately, my parents didn’t seem to take me seriously, dammit.  In fact, they often appeared amused.

Outrageous! How dare you! This is life and death we are talking about here!

I was quite indignant.

Talking to my dad about it now, he tells me: “I didn’t realize anything was really wrong.  I just assumed the fighting with your mother, the emotional outbursts, the dramatics…that it was all part of being a girl.”

Sexist, maybe.  Understandable? Absolutely.

Most of the time, I covered up the illness.  I desperately wanted (and still want) to fit in, be accepted, appear normal, be liked and admired.

And still, to this day, I seek external validation.  My 20+ years of Anorexia and Bulimia can certainly attest to that.

But of course, an Eating Disorder is not ever about just one thing.  Yes, a significant part of me wants to appear attractive, controlled, on top of things, and strong (ha ha…ha), BUT the main role of my Anorexia and Bulimia has been a homemade mood stabilizer,  only I never realized its true function until 2014, when I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

For years, family, doctors, psychologists, and therapists attempted to treat only the presenting symptoms: the starving, bingeing, purging, over-exercising, self-harming behaviors.

All the while, not seeing the forest from the trees.

At my sickest, I felt angry at them.  Patronized.

My problems were chalked up to the trivial pursuit of beauty.  Thinness. Perfection.  Attaining the unattainable, blah, blah, blah.

My parents theorized it was a preoccupation with vanity; a hyperbolic representation of societal standards for the aesthetic ideal.

The times when I veered toward the danger zone, more dead than alive, they realized it had become an obsession over which I’d lost control; a set of destructive behaviors so addictive and necessary that I was willing to die for them.

And I may, still.

My parents tried to understand, but they did not have all the information.

Wanting very much to keep me alive, they’ve attempted all conceivable ways to help: spending tens of thousands of dollars on treatment, hospitals, rehab, therapists, doctors and dentists.  Arguing with insurance companies on my behalf, fighting for more comprehensive care.  Seeing me through divorce and bankruptcy.  Moving me back home and opening their own homes to me, all the while providing financial and emotional support.  Straining their own relationships, prioritizing my needs at the expense of my siblings.

I am a living, breathing investment.

And then.  

 

Then, the true and full extent of my family’s unconditional love, support and patience was tested when I had my first psychotic manic episode.  I had initially not been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder because, for years, doctors, psychologists, therapists, and counselors had been focused on the presenting symptoms of my eating disorder.  Forest…trees…you get it.  

 

Around the time of my divorce, my family had helped moved me back home, at their time and expense, I might add, but I’d already been relapsing into Anorexia once again.  Historically my anorexia has always manifested as sub-type 2: purging type.  What this means is, that I primarily restrict my calorie intake, but if I do binge, or even eat normal portion sizes, I will purge through vomiting.  During anorectic relapses, this behavior is always accompanied by excessive exercise.  I normally run 45 minutes to an hour, but during a relapse, a two to three hour workout would be about average for me.  OCD behaviors always intensify during these times as well.  

 

Having refused to go to inpatient eating disorder treatment during this relapse,  I was seeing both a medical doctor and an outpatient therapist regularly, at my family’s behest.  The doctor, in an attempt to treat my “depression and anxiety” prescribed me anti-depressants, which promptly sent me into full blown mania.  

Starvation-and not in the hyperbolic sense, mind you-combined with, well, basically speed for Bipolar people, made me a fucking lunatic.   

Compounding that, a Bipolar person, having a mixed-manic episode, I was readily and enthusiastically putting myself in peril. There’s that impulsive, risky element that’s so magnetically attractive in this state; even suicidal thoughts are idealized and appealing.

 

When mania verged into psychosis, the following behavior ensued for the next several months non-stop: compulsive shoplifting of food in mass quantities and back-to-back occurrences despite consequences (repeated arrests and jail time).  I became divorced from reality during this time.  My mind and reasoning were gone.    

 

I am a convicted felon three times over because of this compulsion.  During various mixed/manic episodes, I would run around town, a psychotic, starving skeleton, and steal cartloads of food from grocery stores to either hoard and not eat (Anorectic features) or to binge/purge on it (Bulimic features).

 

A normal, non-eating disordered person will read this and not understand.  They will view this as disgusting, and, in some ways, it is.  

A normal, non-mentally affected person will read this and not understand; they will view this as an excuse, and, in some ways, it is.

A normal, non-addict will read this and not understand; they will view this as a weakness, and, in some ways, it is.  

 

Unfortunately, I’m an eating disordered, mentally affected, addict and, when I have relapsed, consequences don’t matter.  At that moment, my eating disorder is my drug of choice, and, it is the one making the choices.  

 

My family was able to provide legal representation the first time I got into trouble, but it just kept happening.   There was nothing they could do.  Like I said, I am a convicted felon three times over because of this compulsion. I’ve not been able to work for the past two years.

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, an M.B.A. in Finance, and 7 years experience working in the Banking and Finance industry that’s all worthless per the legal consequences of my unmanaged illness.  

That, and I’ve still not been able to get my mood swings under control, even with a heavy medication protocol.  I’m either in bed for days or awake all week.  Regardless, I am no longer suited to work in a traditional business due to the realities of mental illness.  Period.  

 

I often find myself wondering if an early childhood intervention would have helped me; if just getting me into a doctor’s office under the pretense to treat my Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors, my Magical Games, the refusal to get under my own comforter and actually feel comfort, the acute vexation with asymmetry, the doctor could have either ruled out or acknowledged the OCD diagnosis and POSSIBLY connected the dots on the Bipolar disorder diagnosis much sooner.

Maybe, if my parents and I knew what we were dealing with–Bipolar I, Anxiety, Borderline  Personality Disorder–earlier on, things would be different.

Or maybe they would be very much the same.  My brain chemistry would be exactly the same, so it’s anyone’s guess.  In my private writings; my secret letters that I never mail, I demand to know why my parents did not take my childhood instability more seriously and, thus, look into professional help for me sooner; my words; my yelling, angry language marching across papers; accusatory, defiant, unquestionably imbalanced.

Would it be better or worse to show my parents in words, rather than in skeletal illustration, why I feel badly, act strangely and impulsively, treat others cruelly, and consistently, predictably, invariably let the whole damn world down?

Present day, I am not better.  My body tells a lie; it’s a facade of repair, of restoration, of health.

I am still quite “mad”.  Borderline.  Bipolar.  Rapid-cycling, mood-switching.  Manic.  Depressed.  Anxious.  Compulsive.  Impulsive.

I’m told I’m a danger to myself.

When you’re Bipolar I, and just climbing out of depression, it seems there is a limited window of opportunity to capitalize on any talent, intellect, or ability. It vanishes into the terrible blackness that surrounds you like a death shroud more often than not.

Just when you’ve gotten free of it, there are so many things you want to do, and normal time is so finite.  And you find yourself, running down the street at full-speed, attempting to evade the blackness.  But, it’s gaining on you.  You’ve got maybe a quarter of a mile head-start, so you must get things done quickly before you get sad again and your brain is put on hold once more.

The best moments are in that elevated state of hypomania (it’s below Mania but above feeling “flat”).  It’s that good, creative-flow, “in-the-zone” kind of state, that fantastic-yet-fleeting, when you think you’re finally creating something brilliant, you’re led to work straight through the night, and CAN’T WAIT! to share it with the world because you finally have your brain back.  Your intellect, that is.  Not your sanity, of course.  

BUT,

The heart of the matter, the disease, the disorder, the affliction must still be addressed; managed.

The problem lies in the neurological; in the chemical.

Inflammation of the brain.

Only now, the roots of my illness are finally being dug up, exposed.  There is an overwhelming amount of discussion and analysis, experimental damage control.

In Jane Austen’s time, as a more humane alternative to the institutions and asylums, the mad relation was simply locked away in the attic.

We won’t speak of them again.  Brush off hands.  Problem solved.

Until a workable treatment plan is found, I still rely entirely on my family’s support, siphoning resources, straining budgets and patience.  When my mad behavior becomes untenable, I will be shuffled again.  To another gracious family member or friend.

Because, alas, the attics are already full.

Kidding.  Sort of.

_____________________________________________

Kristen Polito Bio:

You can read her public blog, SaltandPepperTheEarth @www.saltandpepperthearth.com, follow her on twitter @saltandpepperth or instagram

 

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Living With the Rollercoaster of Bipolar: A guest blog by Brooke

Cycling Again

 

Ah, my old friend Bipolar Disorder. You’ve reared your ugly head again. What I love/hate about this disorder is its unpredictability. Just when you’ve spent years believing you’re fine, wham! it rises up again and swoops in like a plague of locusts.

 

I had had no real issues since 2008. I don’t know what triggered that cycle but I ceased to need sleep and on top of a full time job I decided to teach a Saturday morning English class for high school students who were in danger of failing but wanted to go to college. I loved doing it but I don’t remember sleeping much at all during that time. I finally recognized this manic cycle when I started flipping through my journal and saw the changes in what I was saying and doing.

 

I found myself a good psychiatrist (my old one was in Tucson and I was now living in Phoenix) and got back on medication, which I had been off since I started having children in 1998. I somehow had thought that with pregnancies and hormones I’d been cured but apparently not.

 

With my psychiatrist’s help, I received a re-education in bipolar disorder and began again with my medication. In fact, I was so compliant and stable, that just last year, in 2015, I asked if it was possible that I would be able to get off my medications. It seemed as though my psychiatrist might laugh but he takes his job and patients much more seriously than that.

 

And then in November I began seeing things out of the corners of my eyes. Strange things: on the right side, I saw a large block of marble that seemed rather like a sheet except I knew it was cold stone. Behind that, a fleeting glimpse of a head, also made of marble. On my left side there were dark figures dancing. These actually have a name: shadow people. They were moving stealthily but in rhythmic motion.

 

My doctor said I was having a minor psychotic episode. It didn’t feel very minor to me but ever compliant, I took the new medication my doctor prescribed home and took some that night. It made me feel as if I wanted to crawl out of my own skin.

 

That manic episode lasted through the middle of December. And I thought then that I would be stable again. But now, today, another manic episode is beginning.

 

So what can I do to help anyone else going through this? What can I say to make anyone else’s struggle with bipolar disorder any easier?

 

First of all, accept that you have it and there is no cure. It’s not cancer and you’re not going to “beat it.” This is frustrating because our instincts tell us we should go out and find a cure for things, make things all better, keep them from coming back. But this doesn’t go away. You’ll have to accept it in order to move forward at all.

 

Second, see a qualified psychiatrist you feel comfortable with and trust. It may take some time for this one. And insurance. But even without money (I’m broke, trust me, and applying for my state’s Medicaid program), there are good psychiatrists there for you. It’s important to find one who is right for you and who will be there when you call. Because I can almost guarantee you will have to call.

 

Third, TAKE YOUR MEDICINE. Yes, I was yelling that. Many people, myself included, feel stable and think we can stop our medicine. That is one of the most dangerous situations with bipolar disorder. It can result in very risky behavior during mania and such intense depression that suicide seems like a bright and shiny option. If your meds are not right for you, talk to your doctor. But don’t just stop taking them. There may be no cure but stability is possible.

 

Fourth, don’t give up. I know that sounds so trite. Why bother if there’s no cure, or the meds make you sick? Well, you are important. You need to grow into believing that. The world needs you. It took me a long time to learn to believe that about myself. I still have a hard time. But when the strength comes from inside, you will have the ability to survive and thrive.

 

So, even though life is a roller coaster with bipolar disorder, you can learn to ride it without falling off. I’m going to hold on tight during this new manic episode and take my meds. I’ll get frustrated and irritated and angry and find ways to deal with it that don’t involve yelling at anyone or attempting to harm myself. And when this is gone, I’ll probably be depressed. And I’ll survive that too, even if I have to keep the crisis hotline number right next to me at night. I’ll survive and I’ll thrive. And I know you can too.

 

Brooke is a freelance writer and blogger, living in Arizona. Check out her personal blog Brookesworldofwords.blogspot.com . She will be starting a new blog shortly about Tea and Organic Food.


Follow her on Twitter at @bfred58

 

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I Am a Spiritual Abuse Survivor: A Guest Blog by “Christy”

Spiritual Abuse Survivor

By: Christy

You wouldn’t know from looking at my life now, but as a kid, I used to reenact exorcisms during play dates. As a teen I spent my summers doing dramatic, religious, crucifixion mimes for onlookers in third-world streets. As a young adult, I could be found trying to convince Buddhist kids they were sinful, and there was a hell waiting for them if they didn’t convert. Most of you with church backgrounds reading this don’t have such extreme stories, but many of you may have baggage around harmful beliefs you were raised with and some of you are survivors of spiritual abuse.

 

Spiritual Abuse Definition: Harm, or control inflicted on a person in God’s name, or under the guise of religion.

 

I was raised in The Jesus Movement, a Christian counter-cultural response to the Hippie Movement. The Jesus Movement was characterized by living in communes, and helping others in need. Some major beliefs and practices of this movement were speaking in tongues, exorcisms, spiritual warfare, and the End Times apocalypse. Our family of five, lived “on faith” with no income, and were meant to be a sort of healing agent for people who came to live with us. This included people with criminal records, addictions and untreated mental illnesses. We lived with some very dangerous humans.

 

My memories and personal formation in The Jesus Movement are mixed, sort of like a crazy circus filled with laughter, then changing to absolute horror, then back to laughter.

 

The horror part, the part that is connected to trauma for me, is something that I’m still working on even now. I was subject as a small child to beliefs that were overwhelming and terrifying, which are the very definition of trauma. I’ll name a few: Hell for unbelievers, The Rapture, Satan/demons seeking to destroy Christians, and not trusting others outside of our belief system.

 

Imagine if you will:

  • The years I spent thinking about the people around me suffering in hell for eternity if I didn’t share my faith/be a witness for Christ.
  • The obsessive terror that I would be demon-possessed if I didn’t put my spiritual guard up.
  • The fear about how I would survive an End Times apocalypse.

 

The results were:

  • Unspeakably violent nightmares for decades.
  • Chronic anxiety, and OCD tendencies.
  • Migraines, chronic illness.
  • Final diagnosis of PTSD

 

Spiritual abuse is openly evident to most people who witness the awful televangelists taking advantage of people financially, especially the poor. Or it’s clearly exposed in high-profile cults such as Scientology. But it’s often not validated in the general public in every-day church experiences.

Some common examples are: being treated differently or poorly because you dared to challenge a pastor/leader, being slated as dangerous because you asked too many questions about doctrine, being viewed as “less than” because of your gender or sexual orientation, being used up as resource in church, but never acknowledged or thanked, and being shamed and manipulated for any religious reason.

 

For children, spiritual abuse can look like: being scared into making a conversion decision, using God to shame or scare a child into good behavior, teaching violent, complicated scripture inappropriately, and teaching children they so bad/sinful that Christ had to die a violent death for them.

 

These abuses, often unintentional, can be both implicit and explicit. They often represent the ultimate double bind – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

 

If I honestly acknowledge the depth of my own spiritually abusive trauma, I can say I felt like I was living in a Saw horror movie with a Jigsaw God playing sadistic games with humanity. He asked me to either commit violence on myself (don’t ask questions about anything, keep in line and ignore my doubts, fears and abusive experiences) or commit violence on others (other people are going to hell to be tortured forever, and I have to be ok with it to keep my community, and retain my salvation).

 

In short, many people have walked away from church for spiritual abuse reasons. The ultimate “fuck you” from the church is to call them “weak, fallen, or deceived” or some other invalidating or diminishing label. I see a tragic and tangible example of this horrible double bind in the high rate of suicide in LGBTQ youth coming from religious backgrounds.

 

Is it any wonder that there is a mass exodus from churches? Between doctrine that is engrained into children as shame and fear, to invalidated adults not being able to question and be honest about human struggles, to the church being judgmental and politicized, people are leaving. They are sadly not finding many places to process their pain, or be understood. People who’ve experienced spiritual abuse often feel utterly alone, and unseen in their struggle.

 

I’m not saying all churches or religions are bad here. There are many great, faith communities who do wonderful, healing work in the world. But, religious systems overall need to do a better job for those who have been harmed in God’s name. The Church especially needs to practice non-judgment, non-violence, acceptance, kindness and speaking out publically against all forms of abuse.

If you have experienced any of my story, or this type of trauma, find a safe mentor or counselor to help you process your feelings. Spiritual wounding goes deep, and we need others to help us navigate our healing like any other trauma in our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Dread : A Guest Blog by Cassie J. Sneider

I love Christmas, but I am dreading the inevitable questions from my boyfriend’s well-meaning midwestern family that always seem to come up about what my family is doing, what they’re up to, how they celebrate, etc. Even though they know that I don’t talk to my family, this always seems to come up and it can turn a great day into a teeth-grinding panic attack spiral. It’s hard for normal people with healthy families or at least only mildly quirkily sitcom-dysfunctional families to understand why me or you or anyone we know would want to remove themselves from their Family. Families stick together! Blood is thicker than water! My family is my everything! My mother is my best friend! Sisters are special! Number One Dad! Live Love Laugh! Dance like none of your creepy uncles are watching!

If you don’t understand why you might want to not spend the holidays, or any day, with your family, try to imagine surviving in a cave with a pack of wild, angry dogs. At first you’re like, “Oh, cool! I love dogs!” and you reach out your hand and a dog bites your finger off. You’re like, “Wow, that’s terrible, but at least I have nine more fingers.” Throughout your time together, the dogs growl and snap at you more often than they are nice, but you still try to reach out to them when you are lonely, afraid, or sick, and then the day comes where you only have one finger left. You can try with the dogs again, and hold out hope that maybe this will be the time they come around to you. Or you can try to protect yourself and keep that finger, because you might want it someday to press a power button on a TV or to ding a bell in a hotel lobby or to point at something or maybe even just to fill out one of those foam hands at a sporting event.

I chose to leave the cave of wild dogs and to keep my one finger. I try to surround myself with people who love me and care enough to say, “Holy shit! You only have one finger! I’m so sorry. Can I help you with that Cat’s Cradle?” when I am struggling. It’s not easy to get by with this much damage, but my life has improved greatly knowing that I am no longer putting myself at risk by trying to be a part of a pack where I don’t belong.

Cassie is an artist living in NYC.  Check out her blog

Follow her on Twitter @CassieJSneider

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3 Changes Newly-Diagnosed ADHD Adults Should Make: Guest Blog by Vee Cecil

While adults with ADHD don’t often exhibit the hyperactivity of children with the condition, they do have the inattention and impulsivity associated with the disorder. As Mayo Clinic explains, adult ADHD symptoms include difficulty focusing or concentrating, restlessness, impulsivity, trouble completing tasks, disorganization, frequent mood swings, struggling to cope with stress, and a hot temper. These symptoms often lead to several problems, such as unstable relationships, poor work performance, and low self-esteem.

 

Once they have a diagnosis, adults can make their lives easier by making some changes. Newly-diagnosed ADHD adults often feel a sense of relief for finally understanding why they are the way they are, but that relief may turn to fear or regret. That’s why the first step newly-diagnosed ADHD adults should take is to accept and honor their feelings. Once people come to terms with the diagnosis, they are able to take positive steps toward dealing with it.

 

  1. Determine the Best Treatment. After being diagnosed with adult ADHD, people should work with their doctor to determine the best treatment for their symptoms and situations. As PsychCentral.com explains, current treatments commonly involve medication, psychological counseling, or a combination of the two. The combination of therapy and medication is thought to be the most effective treatment. Of course, your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of medication, and it may take some time to identify the best treatment. Counseling often includes an educational component, so that newly-diagnosed adults gain a better understanding of the disorder and how to live with it.

 

  1. Proactively Manage Your Impulses. One change ADHD adults can make to better manage their impulsivity is to consider the situations in which they are most likely to be impulsive and make a list of them. Identifying those situations is the first step to better managing them, because ADHD adults will be more aware of the need to think before acting. Another great way to manage impulses is to get plenty of exercise. And as this article notes, going on a walk with a furry friend is an excellent way to work off some of your extra energy, and in turn, clear your mind. It has also been proven to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.

 

  1. Get Organized with Structure and Neat Habits. The inattentiveness and distractibility associated with adult ADHD often results in difficulty being organized at work and at home. This also tends to make ADHD adults feel overwhelmed. Breaking tasks into smaller chunks and developing a system for getting organized is one of the best changes ADHD adults can make. Developing a structure for organization and adopting neat habits will make a world of difference for ADHD adults.

 

For organizing at home, determine which objects are necessary and which you can store or trash. Though this article addresses the needs of children with ADHD, its advice holds true: organizing work areas, setting up a “staging area” by the door for keys, wallets, etc., and storing items in labeled bins can be a big help in managing your ADHD at home.

 

At work, use lists and make notes for tasks, projects, deadlines, etc., and consider using a to-do list app so you can set reminders for tasks as well. Finally, help yourself by avoiding procrastination. If it is a task that requires a very short amount of time, do it now to alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed.

 

Certainly, newly-diagnosed ADHD adults have much to consider upon learning they have the disorder. But, there are changes you can make to manage your symptoms and make your life easier.

 

Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, bootcamp instructor, and all-around health enthusiast. When she isn’t training clients or playing outside with her family, she is working on her recently-launched blog where she shares her favorite wellness tips and recipes.

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OCD and CBT OMG!: A guest blog by Lindsey

This week, and every year during the second full week of October, is International OCD Awareness week. Now, here’s the thing: it’s awareness week for those that do not experience and suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders. For those that do, it’s nearly impossible to be unaware. Maybe I’m exaggerating, because I’m sure there are those that find some repose from their obsessive thoughts, but for many of us it’s hard to fathom a life free of OCD and the stigma that accompanies it.

The world has come a fair ways in trying to quash the stigma of mental health issues, but we still have a long ways to go. There are too many people like me who take years to seek treatment because of stigma. I didn’t even know trichotillomania had a name until a decade after it had started affecting my life. I was the butt of many jokes in high school due to my obsessive use of purell, and yet many of these same people poking fun at my OCD asked me on multiple occasions to use some because they knew I was likely to have a bottle in my bag. I’m learning how to laugh about it now, but it’s taken me a long time to get here.

Obsessive thoughts are a part of being human; it is physically impossible to control our thoughts. What we CAN control is our behaviour, and our actions. (It is when our obsessions and subsequent compulsive actions threaten our daily life and routine that we must take initiative and seek help.)

Keeping everything neat and tidy doesn’t make you OCD, just as being sad doesn’t mean you’re depressed and being nervous for an interview or exam doesn’t mean you suffer from anxiety. Language is important!

If you have people in your life living with OCD, the best thing you can do is be kind. Be patient. Try to understand without judgement. Talk about it. OCD ≠ quirky, if the thought of changing the way you do something, not repeating something, etc. makes your brain scream, reach out to someone.

My god, if you’ve made it this far, you are a brave, brave man. I posted that into the facebook void a few hours ago, immediately wanted to take it back, but didn’t. I’m thinking of it as an exposure therapy exercise in and of itself.

In summation: OCD sucks, and the exposure therapy I’ve been doing in CBT sucks worse because it’s scary as fuck, but it works.

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I Have Been Diagnosed as a Sociopath: A guest blog by “Damon”

I have been suffering from depression since I was 16 years old. It has been on and off since then and when I felt I was spiraling downward, I always felt there was something more to it. As of November of 2014, my therapist, who I had been seeing for about 4 months, told me who I really am. I was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder among other personality disorders. In layman’s terms, I am a complex sociopath.

I didn’t know how to react to this information when it was given to me. Sociopaths are people you hear about on the local news or America’s most wanted. But I never felt that it was something that could be described about me. Immediately, I felt like I was a pariah, an outcast, someone to be avoided. I suddenly felt as if I understood what it was like to be hiding something about myself that defines me. Similar to someone who has not come out of the closet yet.

Looking back, I can see that I had many of the traits that would be characteristic of someone with this diagnosis. I shoplifted as a teenager and convinced all of my friends to join me as well. I didn’t treat my pets in the best ways. I used to trespass on private property including breaking and entering. I hated authority and often disregarded rules. It was difficult for me to hold employment (and sometimes still is) because I genuinely did not care.

Here’s what being a sociopath means to me today:

I feel no shame, guilt, or empathy toward others. I realized that the only moments I felt sorry was not for what I’d done, but rather I was sorry I got caught doing. During a group therapy meeting, I was told by a member that her son’s wife had had a miscarriage. Everyone in the room was crying or aghast but me. I couldn’t relate or care.

I feel nothing. I often feel nothing. Most of my emotions are a ruse, a lie to seem like a generally happy friendly person. The few feelings I do feel frequently are rage when something does not go my way and joy in the form of laughter at a good joke.

I am exceptionally intelligent in ways that often astonish my friends and family. All of my immediate family and friends have advanced degrees whereas I do not but I can often best them in games of trivia. My father will often ask me about songs and events that happened before I was born when he wants to learn about them.

I can be charming and interesting at any point in time that I choose. It is easy for me to start up a conversation with anyone at anytime, but again this is hollow. This process of putting on a face is something I can only do for so long. I feel like I am out of breath after a while. Women often tell me that I’m sweet or a great guy, but what I’m showing them is a mirage. In fact, I am the exact kind of person their friends and family would like to avoid.

I don’t feel love where others would say I should. I see my parents more as landlords than I do as a loving support system. My brothers would say we have grown close over the years, though I feel no such connection. I don’t know if I can love a person fully and I hide who I really am from potential mates. I can cut ties with any person in my life at any time I choose.

It is difficult for me to understand other people. I am often irreverent toward attitudes and traditions that others hold near and dear. I don’t understand the point of funerals, weddings, and most family events.

I am a fan of Boston area sports teams as well as LeBron James because many dislike them although I don’t know why, and I can relate to that.

I never could find the root cause of why I am what I am. Maybe because my brother molested me in front of my parents, who did nothing. Maybe because of a major concussion I’ve experienced. Maybe because of a horrific traffic accident I’ve experienced. My therapist says family history of diabetes is often found. Perhaps that is it, I don’t know. But what I do know is that for the rest of my life, I’m going to be fundamentally different than other people in this way. I am in the process using the positive aspects of this diagnosis to my advantage. For example, I don’t have fear taking risks. I can approach any woman I want to be around. My ambition is one that can hardly be matched.

All in all, it has been confusing to try to live with this part of myself. Though I have told my immediate family and some friends, we have not talked about it. I have felt like the black sheep of the family and will continue to feel that way. But as I have already received help when I felt I was in my darkest hour, I feel I can continue on knowing the roots of my sporadic melancholy.

 

“Damon”

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