Trekking Through Madness.

“I have traveled through madness to find me.” – Danny Alexander

 

I’ve spent countless moments giving off a bit of my light, but mainly in secret. My biggest nightmare has never been to give a public speech or being the center of attention. (Although those things are terrifying…) I’m most afraid of being perceived as faking it. Being disingenuous. That I’d be characterized as a phony.

Someone would assume that the things I truly love, the passions and beliefs I carry, I may not be as passionate about as I claim. Or that my abilities and skills probably won’t match what others perceived. It’s funny because the price I’m paying for coming out of hiding; for being me out in the open, is that now I’m looking over my shoulder. Aware that others are, in fact, watching. And they are constantly drawing conclusions about what they see or don’t see. It makes me paranoid, honestly.

I know that the right answer is to not give a single care about what others think. But you must understand something about me: I care. And I cannot help it.

One of the struggles attached with being a self-declared empath (google that one) is that I’m aware of others without trying to be. I can feel variations of others comfort levels, hear depths within the inflections of someone’s voice, feel tension the second I walk into a room. While navigating through this, I often gather that what I’m picking up is directed at me. Ha. Insecurity is poison for an empath.

Beyond wanting to be liked (which is what we all want if we’re honest), I desire to be helpful. Effective. I want people to leave my presence with more good things than they came with. I understand it’s not all on me, or about me, and I often do not have the power to make things happen 100% of the time. But I’m aware that a tiny bit of my own madness can find a way to attach itself to others…..if I’m not careful.

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Have the Conversation: My Thoughts on ’13 Reasons Why’

DISCLAIMER: The following blog discusses the topic of suicide in detail & may be inappropriate for some readers. I encourage the reader to divulge into this topic in the presence of a trusted support person, if needed. The information presented are from limited years of mental health work, culmination of academic study and passion for youth, and my own budding clinical judgment. It is not meant to be a substitute for clinical research.

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My husband and I stumbled upon this show shortly after the buzz began generating on social media. We watched the first episode and expressed mixed feelings: shock over the content, and curiosity of hownthe writers would unfold the remainder of the story. We’re both mental health counselors who work with teenagers/children & felt a mixture of intrigue and dread. When I finished the final episode, I was deeply affected and incredibly sad. Faces of real-life would-be Hannahs, including myself, flashed across my memory. I made a mental check-list of folks I knew were watching to check up on & made a reminder to myself to talk the show over with my supervisor and colleagues. I gathered that whatever conclusions I would make about this show, I was responsible for what I did next.

’13 Reasons Why’ is probably one of the most successful shows Netflix has created in a long time, as far as viewership. But many parents and mental health professionals feel that the program is dangerous and irresponsible. As a mom I share in their caution. It is deeply upsetting to watch a beautiful, smart young girl  carry out a detailed plan to end her life. Secondly, it is normal for adult viewers to become disgusted and disturbed. However, after further processing, I felt the need to look at the popular program from a different angle.

Let’s walk through the criticisms I’ve heard about ’13 Reasons Why’:

  1. The show glorifies and/or oversimplifies suicide.

I must start off by stating that this program is rated TV-MA. Which means that it contains very disturbing material. The drama given to the storyline provided a necessary entertainment element, but I feel Hannah’s suicide, itself, was handled very openly.

Secondly, this isn’t the first time the topic of suicide was portrayed on television/movies.

Image-1Side note: If given the time, I can critique the above movies for their handling of the topic of suicide, but the fact still remains that many will still keep their acclaim. We ultimately  settle on the fact that the writers/directors have an artistic license to portray a topic and leave it in the hands of the consumer to view & digest responsibly.

To some critics, the writers portray suicide as a viable option – one both tragic and simple. Some say that the writers made suicide look easy to accomplish. I would have agreed with this criticism, if this wasn’t close to the train of thought held by many (not “all”) people who are suicidal. They may have moments of seeing death as easier, more peaceful, and better overall. They may feel it will ultimately ease suffering. It isn’t the NOT DYING part that’s difficult for a suicidal person, it’s LIVING that’s often too hard. If anything, the writers attempted to show how intently a person will pursue a suicidal plan if gotten to that point.

There is always hope, I sincerely believe, but because Hannah suffered very much alone, she had no one to help her grasp on to that hope. The tragedy behind Hannah’s fight with suicide is that it did not resolve her problems, ultimately.

The only critique I do have concerning this is that actually many who are suicidal have a methodical period but end up acting impulsively towards the end in order to complete suicide. Meaning, a suicide note is not commonplace (which Hannah’s tapes are considered akin to a suicide note.) The writers do portray Hannah to have been much more methodical than is realistic. However, this isn’t to say that some sufferers do not focus intently on escaping their pain and carry out a plan.

Other critics say that Hannah’s high school setting was overdramatized. It would be a mistake to believe that sexual assault, bullying, and harassment aren’t prevalent issues for our youth. Also, some feel that teens may over identify with Hannah. I say there may be more Hannahs than we are aware.

  1. It is an extended revenge fantasy; blaming those who mistreated Hannah for her death.

I’m often blown away at how much humans lack common courtesy and kindness towards one another. It shouldn’t take a television show to magnify this fact. However, the common culture among youth is fueled by bullying, scandal, and violence. For my adult readers, we all remember how tumultuous our teen years were…any mental health issues aside.

I’m constantly reminded how important it is to extend kindness to the next person, because what I do can deeply affect him/her. To deny the fact that her peers, family members, and school were partially responsible dances dangerously on the line of victim shaming. It places their pain center stage without taking into account the millions of interactions that led them to having suicidal thoughts.

Suicide has always been an “us” issue. Let me be clear, her classmates were not the CAUSE of her suicide, but did play a ROLE in her mental illness. We are all connected and responsible for one another. Hannah felt abandoned & mistreated by those around her. It’s not sound logic, we understand, but it doesn’t make it a fantasy. Rather than focusing on how intently Hannah unjustly sought revenge, let’s take a preventive stance by teaching our children how to treat one another.

  1. It encourages struggling students to not go to their guidance counselors/reach out for help.

This critique hit me hardest, considering I’m a counselor myself. Hannah’s guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, is completely unhelpful and distracted towards her. In Hannah’s tapes, she openly states that no one cared about her. Critics said that the show unjustly encourages Survivor Guilt. Here’s my take-away: Survivor Guilt will occur, regardless of the quality of relationships of those who remain after someone dies.

Also, the sinking feeling I was left with after witnessing Mr. Porter’s behavior was sobering. And I used it properly. It reminded me of my responsibility as an advocate. Simply put, if I am truly present on my job, then I can be a proper channel for change. Many of our counselors (especially school-based ones) are often burned out and overworked, distracted by test scores and administrative responsibilities.

But this actually segues into an even bigger conversation…which we won’t get into today.

To me, the most dangerous thing about the depiction of violence is not that our kids are watching violent content (and might be encouraged to reenact said violent content), but that even after hearing of teenagers struggling and dying, we still put the responsibility on entities that are not actually attached to our homes, classrooms, churches, and communities.

It has never been the responsibility of entertainment venues to educate or heal our children. Allowing them to consume without seeking them out to process afterwards is more irresponsible than the show being created in the first place. Much more. Entertainment is a good access point leading to the discussion, but they were never meant to BECOME the discussion.

  1. It will trigger those already struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression.

I had a friend who took to her FB status to ask others whether she should watch the show. I, more or less, replied, “Not alone.”. I would hope that those who are already getting treated for their depression will have the insight to stay away from watching, or at least be cautioned by a loved one or counselor to do so.

The population I feel the most concerned for are those who are without support and are struggling silently with depression and suicidal thoughts. However, I would still look towards those who are already called out to be the supporters/advocates; our teachers, counselors, pastors and family members. The girl scout leader and the mentor. Bus driver and the babysitter.

We are the “Village” that the quote “It takes a Village” speaks of. It is us that should be raising and safeguarding our children. The show presents a very real & important topic. One that our teens are faced with everyday; the hallways of their schools and text threads already contain the topics we shudder about. It’s our conversations with them after the last episode ends that will better determine their interpretation.

Important to note is that there is a 30 minute interview-style documentary on the hit series on Netflix, called ‘13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons‘, which contains more context and discussion about the content in the show from it’s actors, crew, and mental health professionals.

I also encourage anyone who knows a young person to arm yourself with knowledge on the topic of suicide, because this will be needed, even after the fame of this show ends. Here’s an amazing document I found on the SAVE/JED Foundation’s webpage (www.save.org) , outlining 13 Talking Points when watching the show with a teenager.

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Use it to start a conversation; one that someone you know may be afraid to have. If we can remove the taboo nature from suicide, then we might just become the right safe spaces for someone to take their first step towards desiring life.

Wrestling with Greed: A Cautionary Tale

I dreamt greed almost killed me.
I woke up abruptly with my shoulders hunched and my body shaking because it was right before she snapped my neck into two that I’d opened my eyes.
At first, Greed had taken on many forms:
An overweight neighbor who’d lost her home;
my mother, but with much grayer hair and soft hands, needing me to feed her before she got a hunger headache. Or a pastor I once knew who kept asking me to serve in yet another ministry.
There was always Legitimacy behind their pained monologues.
The large neighbor chased me swiping at my last bag of possessions that I carried on my back. All she wanted was my daughter’s baby doll that resembled one she had as a child. She made multiple attempts at this doll until I screamed at her, “This does not belong to you! Why can’t you just go buy one like everyone else?”

That’s when her face contorted from sadness to rage. She moaned from her soul then; focusing her eyes on to me. From then on she repeated softly “No fair. You take faster than you give. No fair.” I didn’t understand what she meant until the moment she had her fingers interlocked around my throat.
I was somehow responsible.
She did not always go by her current name, I realized. And she had a story filled with loss before I decided that her level of need was uncalled for. It was then I shared her rage.
“I get it now”, I gasped through a struggling breath.
Her eyes widened and she loosened her grip;
Sat on the sidewalk in front of us and immediately I saw the sadness had returned.
It hovered over us like a cloud; shielding the sun. But even in the haze of the gray I saw her more clearly.
I realized the only reason greed did not kill me that day is because I learned her real name.

She wasn’t Greed, she was Poverty.

Pride.

I have spent so much of my life trying to hold a compliment in my head long enough for it to seep through my ribcage and into my heart. Most times, I end up gagging on a fear that I’ll be found out as a phony.

I’d end up holding the compliment in my sweaty palms, instead. Awkward and unsure, give it a once over and toss it back to its recipient. Or into the thin air.

Now. I can’t seem to hold a criticism in those same palms without my heart crumbling inside of my chest. I’ve never been this fragile. Every face is a potential enemy. Everyone carries the potential to destroy me. My husband. My clients at work. My God.

This isn’t the “toot your own horn” on loop kind of pride. But a sinister type where I feel inauthentic in moments where I want to shine the most. I look over my shoulder and test out each glance. Are you pleased with me?

….and I answer the question with a “Of course not.”

I can see an image of myself as a small girl, with my mother’s church clothes, jewelry, and shoes on. They are obviously too large for me. Swallowing my tiny frame. I want to feel pretty. As pretty as the person whom these clothes belong to. But I spin and twirl and pray for a “Oh, darling. Look at how beautiful you look.”

The one compliment that satisfies the need. Finally.

So I can rest my tired feet and stop this rat race; constant pursuit of pleased nods and grateful hugs from those around me that I often get. But it never seems enough.

I think pride is kin to memory loss. You must be privy to forgetfulness to be prideful.

I forget that I have alwaysbeen valued and cherished.

Even before I was cognizant of any desire to please and take the credit. Before any hands raised in front of pulsating hearts to give accolades, high-fives, or wide hugs. Before the creation of selfies and high school superlatives. Before I knew what it was like to be ignored by a boy I liked.

Pride is an insatiable black hole. Matched only by Love. Nothing can win against Pride except Love. Only Love. When I let Love have its way in me, I can rest, return glances with smiles, and be great because I am Loved. And I truly know it.

“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” – Zepheniah 3:17

Glory.

We’ve finally announced it.

…I’m pregnant again. 12 weeks and 5 days to be exact. And while this pregnancy has already been so different from my last pregnancy, I cannot help but remember where I was mentally and emotionally 2 years ago.

I remember being excited and fresh. I also remember not being prepared at all for the news we were going to get in 7 weeks. If you’ve been following, you know how it changed us. But God, in His sovereignty, decided to allow us the gift of seeing our daughter be born healthy and fully developed. Not a day goes by where I don’t consider how differently things could have happened.

So.

Here we are again. Armed with more medical knowledge, more hope, and a bit more spiritual vitality. Because we know that if God “did it before, he can do it again”. Prior to my first appointment with my midwife, I caught myself formulating a Plan B for this pregnancy. A safety net so that the likelihood of pregnancy loss or preterm labor would be next to nothing, spiritual intervention aside. And, it just so happens that I am not eligible for this special medical provision.

So.

Here I am again. Warmed by the growing miracle inside my belly & holding on to the only thing I have/need: A Promise. This promise was spoken to God’s people before. It was a promise of being the vessels of God’s glory.

Isaiah 60:19-21

“No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. “Your sun will no longer set, Nor will your moon wane; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be over. “Then all your people will be righteous; They will possess the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified.

How crazy is that? God promised them that they wouldn’t need natural means to see & feel light in their lives. He wanted to be so prevalent in their hearts, that the only illumination they would need to see their way, would come through Him. Their glory would be His Glory.

I want my life’s purpose to be to hold and reveal the Glory of God to others and to be used to encourage and inspire others through it. It’s a humbling thought, because God could have chosen a different platform for me to display his Glory. “Why this way?”, I wonder. When I am tempted to question God’s plan for this pregnancy, I train my mind to remember what’s already been spoken.

…the day I took my pregnancy test, I was alone in the bathroom at home. My husband and daughter were in the living room and I managed to sneak away without having my daughter accompany me, as usual. I wasn’t “late” by extreme measures and I was barely symptomatic. I had a feeling and was curious. The moment the test turned positive, I (almost instinctively) placed my hands across my stomach and prayed.

After my “Amen”, I heard, “Joy. Joy this time around.”

Let Them Play

I’m reading the book, Scary Close by Donald Miller and it is jarring loose major parts of my life and thinking.

He tells a story of one of his breakthroughs that occurred while in therapy: speaking to his 9 year old self, who’d he had given the burden/responsibility of gaining attention and validation from others. His 9 year old self had the mindset that he had to be bigger and better in order to gain love from others. Also, this 9 year old represented his outer self; the persona he projected for others. There was also his inner self that existed, his true self, whom the author decided was about 35 years old. His inner self was at peace and okay with being alone most of the time, meanwhile the outer self was stressed and fearful.

The therapist told him to sit in a chair across from his 9 year old self and talk to him. Donald Miller said, “I also want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for pushing you out there in the world so you could impress people for us and fight for us and make money for us while I sat in here and read books”.

I paused after reading this and begin to cry. Looking across my bedroom, I stared at the wall and imagined the age/image of my inner self. She is 14 years old; bangs covering up her quiet, wise eyes, but sitting up straight for fear that others are watching. She wears baggy clothing so that her shape doesn’t show too much, and she’s picking at the sides of her jeans to help keep her from running off to her room; her place of refuge.

She sees me staring at her, so she straightens her back even more, and waits for me to speak.

“I bet you’re exhausted, huh? I’m sorry I let them put so much pressure on you. You’re not even close to being done being a kid, but you’re preoccupied with so many burdens right now. Here, let me take those from you. I know just what to do with them. Please, go off and play. You’re far from done playing.”

Those last two sentences resounded deeply inside of my heart.

Children find both expression and freedom when engaged in play. Imagine, the whole world is filled with turmoil and pain, but our children (the brightest and purest of us) actively seek Play. I had not reached the age where I no longer needed play to express my joys and frustrations. In fact, I needed play at 14 more than ever. It was stripped from me, and I was given adult burdens in its place.

A child who is unable to play is a traumatized child. They see the world with a different set of eyes, and without an adult to protect them, they are left to both understand and defend against this new world on their own.

This was a profound truth to realize because it made me understand why I interact with others the way I do. Why I still throw up a wall when I have conflict in my marriage. And why I still struggle with trusting spiritual authority.

I’m so thankful that God sees me as His child, no matter my age. And that He still encourages me to have liberty and joy in Him. I can cast all burdens to Him and truly be “as a child”. I still believe my days of play are far from over.

Additionally, my struggle fueled my purpose, which is to work with children. Provide them with an atmosphere where they can play freely, without judgement, and encourage their sense of joy and abandon. There are many children who do not have anyone to defend their right to play. Some who have placed adult burdens on to their shoulders and emphasize correct behavior over exploration and the process of becoming an individual. My heart of hearts is to “let children play”.

Their…our…lives depend on it.

Second Wind.

I am NOT a runner. Never have been.

Oddly enough, I hate running outside. If I must run, I’ll do it in the comfort of an air-conditioned gym with a big screen television obstructing my view of the all of the incredibly fit people. I am a poor runner because I am a bad breather.

Let me give you another, unrelated, example:

I remember the year I worked at Liberty University’s Career Center as a Career Counselor, we would go make presentations in various classes. It was a blast, but also anxiety-producing for me. There was a particular class, a freshman Communications class, that had at least a hundred students stretched across the room in theater seating. I and another colleague made a presentation on resumes. I struggled that day, because I had forgotten to breathe in between powerpoint slides.

…by the 4 slide I was completely out of breath and sounded like I’d gotten punched in the stomach. I recall seeing a couple of students in the front row looking amused.

Terrible, right? I stink at breathing (albeit, pacing myself) when under pressure.

I’m drawing a similarity with my life at the moment: lots to do, many hats to transition into and out of, but starting to struggle with pacing all the responsibilities. I won’t write out a list here, because you could probably look back on my previous blog posts and see that I am an incredibly busy woman. Duh.

And at times, I feel that if I have to think of ONE MORE obligation (merited or not), that I’m going to run away. Dramatic, I know. But, it honestly agitates my introversion. My desire to grab my favorite blanket (the one that my former college roommate made for me — thanks Jess), my cell phone, and hide in my bed. Somehow I can do that because the baby has enough milk to last her a month and my husband’s love tank is full so he won’t miss me for at least a week. And miraculously enough, I was able to clone myself to go to work FOR me so that I can continue to help support our family, meanwhile taking care of the finances and managing the home (and never feeling like a failure of a wife). That same clone will also be incredibly active and innovative in church, and call all of my family and friends to give them personal time every week so  no one feels neglected. My clone doesn’t need sleep or pampering or nutritious meals or self-care. And she battles all of the mommy guilt for me, thankfully.

She will take care of all of that, so I’ll be able to sit in my bed and take that much needed second wind.

Glorious, isn’t it?

I feel like I’ve been running for ages but rarely take time to breathe. God the Father Himself took a break after creating EVERYTHING. Why can’t I? Maybe God wasn’t tired, but rather He wanted to show me the way it’s (and by “it” I mean Kingdom building) done appropriately.

All of my efforts to rest won’t satisfy my weariness if I don’t look in the right places. I tend to look for rest externally, when I’ve been commanded to find my rest IN God. And I can free up my schedule to the bare necessities, but still not find rest.

I can have more free time. But miss having genuine rest.

Isn’t that sad? So, is it really about just “not running” or trimming back the distance?

Maybe not, because the race MUST be run. It will be. Once my life is done and over, there will be a summary of how well I ran. How far. And where I ended. Maybe the point is to learn how to breath in the midst. On the journey. Staying connected to the Source that can breathe new life; the One who first breathed into us.