Browsed by
Month: August 2016

The Day I Wanted to Die

The Day I Wanted to Die

I remember the first time I truly considered ending my life.

I was sitting in my bedroom, remembering a confrontation that had taken place at work a day or two previously. And I couldn’t get the racing thoughts out of my head.

Confrontations scare me. So many memories and challenging emotions from my childhood always race back into my head when conflict happens.

There is an underlying sense of “not safe” that hides at the edge of my consciousness. Most days, I’m able to ignore it, but when confrontation happens, that “unsafe” mindset rears its ugly head and abducts my brain. All I want to do is run and hide.

The Conflict that Sent Me Over the Edge

I was training a co-worker on how to complete a month-end financial report. It was a very complicated, manual Excel spreadsheet. I had shown her how to do it the previous month, but wanted to check her work this month, because it was her first time completing the report on her own. I wanted to make sure she had everything she needed to succeed and confirm that I had done all I needed to do in training her.

Apparently she didn’t like that. After I asked to review her work, she scheduled a meeting with me and spent several minutes practically shouting at me. “I know how to do my job! I don’t need you hovering over me and watching my every step. Stop treating me like one of our office assistants!”

My mind began reeling. She was basically yelling at me. Her eyes were angry and bulging. My heart beat increased and I felt that tension rising in my gut… I wanted to run. I needed to get out of there! But I also knew that, as an adult and a professional, I needed to somehow try and work through this conflict in a constructive way.

So, after listening to her for a few minutes, I began explaining my perspective. This was her first time doing the report on her own. I only wanted to make sure I had done a good job training her and that she would be prepared for success. I emphasized that I was not going to do that every month, but just wanted to give her some further details this month on the portions she hadn’t completed properly, so that she would have all the tools she needed to perform well in the future.

No matter what I said or how lovingly I tried to phrase it, she kept shouting the same thing, over and over. “I know how to do my job! You don’t need to be reviewing my work! Don’t treat me like a child!”

Finally, I got up and left the room. We were getting no where. If she didn’t want my help, then I would just let her fail. I wasn’t going to try working through it with her any longer.

What My Brain Told Me

How do you forgive when you have been so deeply hurt?I couldn’t stop thinking about that confrontation for the rest of the day. I think I even left work early, because I was so upset and couldn’t get anything done.

The thing is, I had spent the whole previous year working on my ability to keep my head in the midst of conflict. I’d thought I was making progress, but apparently I wasn’t. Once again, that fear response had risen in my body, and once again, my mind had shut down. I’d gotten up and left.

At home, I continued thinking about the event. Perhaps I would never be able to handle conflict. Except, isn’t that a pivotal part of being a leader? My whole life, I’d wanted to do something great… make some great contribution. But… if I couldn’t handle conflict, what would I ever be able to contribute to society?

There must be something inherently broken about me… out-of-order. Some part of my spirit that just doesn’t work properly, and can’t be fixed. I’ll never be able to live out my calling. I’ll never be able to truly live!

So… why try?

What My Friend Told Me

Those thoughts crippled my mind for the next several days and, for the first time, I was actually considering whether or not I wanted to end it all.

Then my friend Millie came over. She asked how I was doing and I told her I was just crashing. I shared the above story with her and how disappointed I’d been in my reaction.

She was like, “What? Why? You handled the conflict just fine. Your co-worker was the one who didn’t handle the conflict well.”

That took me off guard, so I asked her what she meant.

“You handled the conflict. You listened to your co-worker’s side of the story and then shared your side. You were looking to communicate and understand one another, so that you could both move forward in a positive way. She is the one who wouldn’t listen. She repeated the same thing over and over again, and never even heard what you were trying to say. She is the one who didn’t handle the conflict well. You did fine.”

I was shocked. I hadn’t even considered that perspective, but it made perfect sense.

What I Learned Through This Experience

I don’t share this story to bash my co-worker. Nor am I trying to say I’m such a saint, because I’m not. I wasn’t blameless in that event and there were things I could have done better, especially leading up to the conflict.

However, I do share this story with the goal of demonstrating that we need other people (like my friend Millie) to help speak hope into our lives.

Sometimes our minds play tricks on us. When we struggle with unhealthy thinking, it’s easy to filter out all of the positive evidence and hone in on the negative evidence, contributing to a low self-esteem and an unhealthy view of the world. That’s what makes some of us want to give up.

I’m thankful for my friend Millie and the conversation we had that day. It changed my perspective on a few things.

  1. Handling conflict well doesn’t mean being the smartest, most commanding person in the room. It means aiming to love and serve well. It’s about the heart, not being in control.

  2.  Conflict and confrontation are hard for me. That probably won’t ever change. I may never be able to handle conflict without some level of fear. But I can learn, and am learning, positive coping methods to manage those stress levels. I will continue getting better, as long as I don’t give up.

  3. We can’t always trust our own interpretation of an event, especially if it’s causing us to plummet into hopelessness. It’s always worth it to open up to a trusted friend and get an outside opinion.

  4. Suicide is never the option. Don’t give up. There is always a way to find hope!


Thanks for reading!

May you be blessed and find fresh hope in your journey!

–Michelle Louise

Screenshot

Thrive: the Little Book that Changed My Life!

Thrive: the Little Book that Changed My Life!

This little book changed my life. Literally…. I’m not joking!

Background:

The Thrive book holds several lessons on holistic health, with a focus on improving quality of life for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. The curriculum was developed by the Mental Health Grace Alliance, in Waco, TX.

How I Learned About Thrive:

I first got involved with the Grace Alliance after my church counselor failed to address the main concerns with which I’d come to her: my fear of conflict and increasing anxiety levels. I wasn’t ready to see a professional counselor yet, but knew I needed help.

At that time, my friend Jenna was on staff with the Grace Alliance, so I reached out to her for more information. We scheduled a meeting, and she told me all about the Thrive curriculum. I was intrigued!

The Difference it Made:

For the next few months, I met weekly with a Thrive coach, who helped me walk through the material and held me accountable in applying those truths to my life. The first topic was about sleep, and it was life altering!

At that time, I was working way too many hours at my job. I’d often stay in the office well past midnight. Yikes!! Not surprisingly, it was negatively affecting my memory, quality of work, stress levels, and overall sense of wellbeing.

The thing was, I didn’t care about myself enough to even consider making a change. The possible negative repercussions (not getting everything done perfectly, feeling like a failure, not being prepared, etc.) were too risky.

Sleep Log - Thrive WorkbookThe Thrive lesson on sleep discusses how important sleep is for quality of life as well as proper brain functioning. Our application step for that week was to try and sleep at least 7.5
hours each night, and to keep a sleep log, recording hours and quality of sleep, as well as how I felt during the next day.

I noticed these immediate benefits within just one week of proper sleeping habits:

  • A huge decrease in stress levels
  • An almost complete reversal of my anxiety
  • Improved memory functioning
  • More efficient, productive work days

But the BIG revelation was this:

I had been working myself into the ground, partly because I’m a perfectionist, but also because I truly wanted to serve people well and give back to the community. I thought that working a lot of hours was helping me get more done and provide better services, but it was slowly killing me.

Because of Thrive, I learned this vital lesson:

If I want to continue giving back to the community for the long haul (i.e. the next 30-40 years), I have to learn how to take care of myself now, so that I’ll be alive for the long haul.

And once I realized that…

For the first time ever, I was able to put my #selfcare first, without feeling guilty about it! Click To Tweet

Amazing! I truly don’t think I would have learned that lesson without having completed the Thrive curriculum. And that revelation was a springboard toward many other positive changes that have overall helped transform my life!

I’m so glad I got connected with the Grace Alliance and would highly recommend this resource to anyone!

So Here Are the Deets:

The Table of Contents is posted on the Grace Alliance website, but roughly, the book covers the following topics:

  • Physical Needs:
    • Sleep
    • Medicine
    • Relaxation
    • Diet
    • Exercise
  • Mental Needs
    • Finding Balance
    • Renewing Your Mind
    • Stress Management
    • Cycles and Triggers
    • Brain Resilience
  • Spiritual Needs
    • Hope
    • Identity
    • Relationship with God
    • Finding Purpose
    • Community
  • Relationship Needs
    • Healthy Relationships
    • Conflict Management
    • Forgiveness
    • Overcoming Stigma
    • Serving Others

Each topic includes:

  • 1-2 Scripture verses related to that topic
  • Questions for discussion / reflection
  • A bulleted list of relevant facts for better understanding of the topic
  • “Making a Change” section that gives tips and ideas for how to improve your habits and quality of life with respect to that topic
  • Homework (i.e. mood charts, sleeping logs, meal plan worksheets)

Mental Health Coaching

The Thrive book can be completed alone, but (depending on location) the Grace Alliance might also be able to provide a mental health coach who can help walk you through the curriculum. Having a coach gives you someone with whom you can discuss the material, as well as someone who will pray for you and help hold you accountable to applying the material. And accountability does wonders!!

The coach is not normally a licensed professional, but rather a peer, and should not replace professional therapy.

There is a small cost associated with utilizing a mental health coach through the Grace Alliance. It’s $35.00 per session and was designed to be not much more than a typical insurance co-pay.

Accessing a mental health coach through the Grace Alliance requires having someone in your area who has gone through their training process, but it’s my understanding that the training process is readily available. If you, or someone you know, is interested in becoming a coach, I would encourage you to contact the Mental Health Grace Alliance for more information.

Target Group:

The Thrive curriculum is designed for those who struggle with mental illness, but honestly, I believe it’s a great reference for just about anyone, providing practical skills and knowledge on holistic health.

Benefits:

  • The steps are easy to understand and apply
  • The curriculum emphasizes small, manageable changes that are sustainable, rather than large, unrealistic changes all at once
  • Each application section includes a variety of suggestions, so the book appeals to any experience level, and the reader can choose which portion he or she wants to focus on
  • Working with a coach provides accountability, which is huge!

Challenges:

  • Depending on where you live, it may be hard to find a coach
  • $35 a week for a coach comes out to $140 a month. It’s definitely worth the price, but for some, that might be too expensive. I ended up moving our meetings to every other week, to better fit my budget. The good thing is, they can be flexible with you.

Where and How to Get it:

You can purchase the Thrive book through the Mental Health Grace Alliance’ website. The booklet is $25.00 for a paper copy and $22.00 for digital only. They do have some bulk order discounts available.


Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this review and hearing about my personal experiences! I loved working through the Thrive booklet as well as attending a Grace Group with this organization.

To all the wonderful staff and volunteers of the Mental Health Grace Alliance, thank you for all you do!

What is Depression, Really?

What is Depression, Really?

Lots of people talk about depression, but not everyone knows what clinical depression really is. Phrases like, “I’m so depressed!” are creeping into every day language. The term “depression” is replacing more common words, like “sad” and “tired” or “unmotivated.”

So what is clinical depression? How do I know if I have it?

That’s what we’re going to explore today.

Disclaimer: This website is for information and support only. I am not a mental healthcare professional. I only have personal experience with the topic. This website should not be used as a substitute for professional treatment or advice.

DSM-IV - a little light reading!What is clinical depression?

In diagnosing their patients, mental healthcare professionals use a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

According to the DSM-IV (please note that the DSM-V has now been released; I just don’t have a copy of it yet), a major depressive episode has the following characteristics:

DSM-IV Criteria for Major Depressive Episode

What is generally not considered depression?

  • Going through the normal grieving process when a loved one dies
  • Feeling tired because you are on medication that causes fatigue
  • Feeling disinterested because you’ve gotten bored
  • Feeling down on one isolated day, perhaps because of something that happened

What does depression feel like?

David Snyder, blogger at www.snyderspace.comOne of my friends, David Snyder, has been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. He has his own blog at www.snyderspace.com, where he shares some of his experiences as well as his hope in Jesus . In his post Down so Long, he did a good job describing what depression feels like, so I’ll quote him here:

“The waves of depression hit me like a tital wave. The smallest tasks are like trying to climb a mountain. The act of breathing becomes a bothersome chore. It becomes work rather than an automatic process. Sometimes my standard for a ‘successful day’ is minimized to being able to prepare a bowl of cereal. I sometimes go days without eating because I am so ‘paralyzed.’ The subjective experience is very difficult to describe. It is sort of like being blindfolded by all the joys of life. Everything that makes me laugh fails to do so. I have no motivation to even do things that benefit me. There is the lack of ablity to propel myself through the day.”

For further reading:


This website is for information and support only. I am not a mental healthcare professional. I only have personal experience with the topic. This website should not be used as a substitute for professional treatment or advice.

Seven Steps in Working Through Distressful Situations

Seven Steps in Working Through Distressful Situations

Let’s face it. Life is hard. We all encounter seasons of distress. But very few people are taught how to deal with that distress. At least I wasn’t…. It’s not like they go over that in school. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health care professional. For any medical advice, please contact a licensed professional. Also, for emergency situations involving a crime or the potential for physical harm, call 9-1-1.

1. Start by re-orienting yourself

When something distressing occurs, it’s easy to feel trapped within the downward spiral of negative thoughts, especially if you struggle with anxiety. Perhaps there was a conflict at work and you can’t stop thinking about what that co-worker said, or the single distressing word in that email you read. In your mind, you imagine a hundred versions about what they meant. And when you can’t think of any more versions, you start recycling through previous ones. I experience terrible racing thoughts like this and they can last for days.

So do something to re-orient yourself. It’s kind of like shocking yourself out of the situation that you feel stuck in. For example:

  • Splash some cold water on your face. This can help decrease the rise in temperature you’re experiencing from the fight or flight syndrome.
  • Go outdoors. Even if it’s just for a couple of minutes, changing your environment can really help you get outside of the situation. Your mind will be distracted by the new stimuli coming in through all five senses. The sunshine. The sound of birds (or cars, depending on where you’re at). The smells. All of these things can help pull you out of the downward spiral.

2. Distract yourself

Take some time to get your mind off of the situation. Of course, when a distressful situation needs attention, seeking distraction sounds counter intuitive. However, science shows that, while we’re not consciously thinking about a problem, our subconscious mind is still working toward a solution. In fact, science states that we need this period of subconscious thought, in order to come to the best resolution. Sound crazy? Think about the phrase, “Sleep on it.” 

Also, distracting yourself gives your mind time to calm down until it can return to homeostasis. When you’re in the midst of a crisis, your body and brain move into fight or flight mode. It’s an increase in the sympathetic nervous system. Your brain makes quick decisions, ones that are not always the best decisions. You owe it to the situation to get yourself calmed down, so that you can think clearly again.

Try some of these ways to distract yourself:

  • Watch a funny TV show, like Parks and Rec.
  • Clean your room or work space.
  • Listen to some music.
  • Work on a Sudoku puzzle.
  • Read a book.
  • Play tennis.

Or anything that might distract you for a little bit.

3. Practice self-soothing behaviors

This is similar to the previous step. It involves calming and grounding ourselves, in preparation for dealing with the problem at hand.

When I’m too overwhelmed by a situation, the last thing I want to do is address it. I’d rather run in the opposite direction. In fact, I get really good at distracting myself with Netflix! However, I can’t do that forever. Being an adult, at some point, I have to address things. But before I can address things, I need to feel safe in doing so. Self-soothing behaviors are my warm-up for moving back into the situation.

For me, self-soothing behaviors could look like a few different things.

  • I take a walk in the park, because there are trees and water, which remind me of growing up in beautiful, peaceful New England.
  • Exercise causes endorphins to flow through your system.
  • I also love staring up at the night sky, thinking about the stars and planets, different constellations, the Milky Way. There’s a sense of wonder that comes from that. I realize how small I am compared to the entire universe, and it gives me deeper perspective.
  • For some people, it might be swimming or a hot bath.
  • Getting a massage.
  • Listening to worship music.
  • Hanging out with your best friend.

It could be anything that creates a pleasant emotion within you and helps you relax. You’ll need these pleasant emotions to groud you as you head back into dealing with the situation.

4. Take some time for prayer and consideration

Once you’ve calmed down a bit, you can take your emotions and the situation to God. Remember that He loves you and He has some creative solution for the challenges you face. That doesn’t mean the challenges will necessarily go away. Sometimes they don’t. But it does mean He has something in mind to help you get through it.

There is also a greater sense of peace knowing that you have a constant ally, One who is much stronger than you. And He works all things out for good. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is good. It just means that, whatever happens to us, He can bring something good out of it, whether it’s a lesson we learned, a new career path, new friendships, or even just simply the ability to help others in similar situations.

Pray for things such as: peace, wisdom on how to approach the situation, reconciliation between the individuals involved, perhaps physical healing (miracles can happen!), perseverance, and anything else that comes to mind. Above all, ask for clarity on how best to move forward in a way that honors God and loves people well.

5. Recognize any unhealthy / unrealistic thinking traps

Sometimes when a situation distresses us, it’s because we are practicing unhealthy thinking habits. Other times, such as in interpersonal conflict, it’s often due to a simple miscommunication.

Common thinking traps:

  • All or nothing thinking (for example, people either fully love you or fully hate you)
  • Catastrophic thinking
  • The Fundamental Attribution Error
  • Mind reading (assuming you know what others are thinking)
  • Using a negative brain filter (filtering out any positive evidence and honing in on all the negative evidence)

To learn more, check out this website on thinking traps.

6. Take action, but remember the steps above and repeat them as often as necessary

I find that, when facing a distressing situation, I may have to pass through the above steps multiple times. That’s ok. Everyone is different and stressors will vary greatly. Part of building resilience is not giving up. If you get to step five, but you’re still utterly overwhelmed, you might not be ready to address the situation yet. I’ll say it again: that’s ok! Especially when we’re talking about situations of abuse or other trauma. Oh and on that note, please be safe…. That brings me to my final step, number 7 below.

7. Recognize that it’s ok to seek help

If you are the victim of any type of abuse, please seek help. The phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. Call them if you are in a situation where you fear physical violence from a loved one. In other cases of physical violence or actual emergencies, call 9-1-1.

For other situations, if you are really struggling, you may benefit from talking to a licensed professional counselor or psychologist, and that’s totally ok! It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, nor does it make you weak. If this helps, just think of them as a consultant who can help you brainstorm healthy, constructive solutions to the problems you face. I’ve seen a counselor multiple times in two separate situations, and, both times, I found it incredibly beneficial!

Anyway, I hope the above steps help. They are just a starting place and take practice, but they’ve definitely helped me on many occasions!

What about you?

What helps you get through stressful situations? I’d love to hear about your coping methods, so please leave a comment below!