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Author: Michelle Louise

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!

Find Your Most Important Things (Free Printable!)

Find Your Most Important Things (Free Printable!)

I have way too many goals and distractions competing for my
attention. It can be
quite overwhelming! Especially because I struggle with anxiety. I find myself divided into a million little pieces, each part of me chasing after some other goal or expectation. Gotta catch’em all!

Facebook. School. The GRE. My business. Finding a church. Taking care of my cat. Text messages. Being a sister. Being a daughter. Blogging. Exercising. Cooking. Cleaning. Laundry. Sleep. Grad school research. Friends in Waco. Friends in Dallas. Friends in Peru. LinkedIn. Twitter. Pinterest. Time with Jesus. Learning Arabic. Pokemon Go. Unpacking. Redecorating. Organizing. Painting. Photography.

But c’mon, let’s be realistic. I can’t get all of that done!! Yet I still try… and as a result, something inevitably gets dropped, and nothing gets done well. Which I hate….

So… when it all feels important, where do I start? How do I calm down my mind and focus on the most important things?

Let’s go back to square one.

Step 1: Realign Your Heart with God

One of my goals for 2016 was to keep in mind that God made me who I am on purpose. Therefore, I want to live a life that honors Him! Not one filled with distraction.

A few key verses in realigning your heart…

Matthew 6:33 “But first, be concerned about his kingdom and what has his approval. Then all these things will be provided for you.”

Matthew 7:24-25 “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths smooth.”

Questions for consideration:

  • Where have my priorities been focused recently? Based on what I know about Scripture, where should my priorities be focused?
  • Do I trust God? If I don’t, I won’t follow Him…. I won’t be willing to step out on the water, and I won’t see lasting breakthrough. Do I trust Him? Am I willing to let Him make the decisions in my life?
  • Am I giving Jesus space to speak into my life? Am I giving Him room to guide me? When was the last time I slowed down long enough to let Him speak into my heart?

Step 2: Let God Redesign You

I have learned a lot about rest over the past couple of years. Part of rest means simplifying things… returning to the basics…. Instead of having twenty different time commitments, what are those three big things I can really focus on?

With that in mind, I took some time to journal on Saturday. I prayerfully asked myself this question: “Where should I focus my time and energy during this season?” Then I just waited for some sense of direction from the Lord. I felt Him direct me to three main things: studying for the GRE, spending time with Him every day, and getting invested in a church community. Makes sense.

I also asked Him for a key word or Scripture that could serve as a theme for this season. I was looking for just one word, but got a few in reply: peace, patience, diligence.

I feel so much better when I have an overarching sense of direction. I know where to focus my time and energy. I feel like I’m making progress toward my life-goals, rather than just wasting away, one day at a time.

So ask yourself those same questions:

  • During this season, where should I focus my time and energy? What should be my priorities? Now write them down. Use the free printable below to record your answers.
  • What key word or Scripture can I use as a theme for this season?

Step 3: Start One Day at a Time

Now that I’ve realigned my heart with God and sought Him about my focus, it’s time to live that out. But I don’t trust myself to make that change on my own. So I’m going to do two final things. First, I’m sharing those goals with at least one person I see on a regular basis, for accountability. And second, I’m going to write down those goals and pin them up on the mirror of my bathroom.

What about you? Ask yourself these two questions:

  • With whom will I share my priorities and theme word/verse?
  • Where can I post a reminder of those things, to keep them in the forefront of my mind?

Download your free printable now! Use this sheet to write out your theme verse (or theme words) and the top three goals you want to focus on during this season. Post it somewhere you’ll see it! Let’s simplify and return to a foundation on God’s Word and His purposes for our lives.

Goals sheet for starting back at the basics - free printable! www.hopemire.com

Helping Siblings

Helping Siblings

Moving DayHello and welcome back! Sorry I haven’t written in a while. A lot has changed…. this past month has felt like a whirlwind…. I quit my job of five years, moved to a new town, started a network marketing business (in a new town, gosh!!!), and began taking Psychology classes at the local community college. What’s more, I was doing some research three days ago and… I think I know what I want to do with my life now!

How I Hope to Change the World

One of my clearest memories from childhood was the sound of my brother crying… sobbing hysterically. Shouting things like, “That’s not fair!” or “You never let me do what I want!” Those sobs and accusations shaped how I viewed the world…. I only realized that three days ago. I listened to my brother’s description of the world (unfair and disappointing), and I believed him.

Tiger SiblingsSiblings… we grow up together. We learn from one another. Because we are family, we stay in touch throughout the years, even after we’ve lost touch with other friends. And we’re the same age, so we grow old together.

Yet there is very little research into how mental illness impacts the sibling relationship. I Googled this phrase: “developmental impact of having sibling with mental illness.” Each search result I reviewed said there was almost no research into this matter. Most research so far has focused either on the illness itself or on the parent-child dynamic. And there are very few resources for the siblings of those suffering from a mental illness.

And yet… there must be an impact….How does a “well sibling,” the one without the significant mental illness, learn to trust others when life is a dangerous, chaotic mess? How does the child learn autonomy and initiative when the sick sibling consistently lashes out against him or her? How does the well sibling discover his or her place in the world when he or she constantly feels overshadowed by the presence of the mental illness?

Please understand: I’m not blaming the child suffering from a mental illness…. That child did not ask to suffer from schizophrenia or a similar disorder, and should never be blamed. I’m just wondering about the dynamics….

My Plan of Attack

Collin_CollegeOver this next year, I will take four basic psychology courses and one class in elementary statistics at the local community college. In September, I hope to take the GRE and finish researching placement options, so that I can apply for grad school before the end of the year. …Whew… I still don’t know where I want to study….

If everything goes according to plans, I’ll start graduate school in August 2017 and eventually earn a Ph.D. in Psychology. Then I’ll apply for positions on staff at a university where I can conduct research into the sibling relationship, exploring how the presence of one sibling with a significant mental illness (such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia) affects the early childhood development of the other sibling.

After that, I hope to develop resources for both siblings and parents. Small workbooks that could help siblings learn how to understand and cope with the situation. Other pamphlets or books that could teach parents how to better balance the responsibilities of raising a special needs child without neglecting the emotional needs of the other healthy child.

Workbooks

That’s the goal anyway. I have to say I’m nervous…. The idea of getting a Ph.D. sounds like a long, scary journey…. But at least right now, I believe this is what God has for me. It’s surreal and exciting! Jesus take the wheel!

Subscribe Now to Follow My Journey

The Girl With the Semicolon Tattoo

The Girl With the Semicolon Tattoo

Today, April 16th, is Project Semicolon Day, a day when people all around the world join together by wearing a semicolon to declare that their stories aren’t over yet.

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to.

You are the author and the sentence is your life.”

Project Semicolon was founded by Amy Bleuel, and it’s all about suicide awareness and prevention. My mom told me about this wonderful group and the idea resonated deeply with me! For along time, I’d been thinking about getting a tattoo, but this was the first time something resonated so deeply with me that I’d be willing to permanently engrave it into my skin.

Almost exactly one year ago, I thought about suicide for the first time in my life. Not many people know that. I’ve pretty much always struggled with depression, anxiety, and self-harm, but this was a new low for me. Thankfully God is faithful and I didn’t give up!

Placing a semicolon on my arm is a daily reminder that my story is not over yet. Click To Tweet

That was worth permanently engraving into my skin.

The Meaning Behind My Entire Tattoo

Semicolon Tattoo

  • The anchor, which holds within it a cross and a heart:
    • The cross stands for faith in Christ.
    • The anchor stands for hope, because “hope is the anchor of the soul” (Heb. 6:19).
    • And the heart stands for love.
    • Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love!
  • The flowers: These stand for me… part of God’s beautiful creation, but delicate. Frail. So I need Jesus!
  • The vine: If you look closely, you’ll see that the vine wraps around the cross. Because of the frail nature of the flowers, the vine represents clinging to Jesus! He is my support and the only One who gets me through the hard seasons!
  • The color purple represents royalty. We have been adopted by God and now we’re His children!
  • The semicolon is the whole reason I got the tattoo. It stands for not giving up.

My Battle with Depression and Suicide (For Those Who Care to Read This Long Story…)

Depression and anxiety began early for me. Because of some challenging life circumstances, I grew up with these underlying beliefs:

  • I was never safe
  • Very few people truly loved me.
  • My safety depended on my ability to keep everyone happy.
  • Conflict was never ok and it should be avoided at all costs!

When I made it into my current position at work, I quickly learned that conflict is a common part of managing people. But the problem was, any time there was a conflict, my mind would just shut down. 

My learned response was: conflict isn’t safe. Tell them what they want to hear, then get out!

Well, that’s not a very successful management philosophy…. So I began researching and gaining tools that would help me navigate conflict in a healthier manner.

Conflict is ok and can

actually be quite useful

when handled in a healthy manner.

Slowly I gained tools for resolving conflict and maintaining friendships in the process. My courage grew and I began addressing conflicts here and there, even though every part of my brain would tremble in fear and want to shut down!

Something interesting happened…. When I voiced a disagreement, no one began yelling at me. No one struck me or threw a chair across the room. …Perhaps conflict was safe. My confidence grew and I thought, yes, I’m getting better at this whole “conflict” thing!

But then one day, a co-worker disagreed with how I was training her and she started yelling at me. Once again, I froze. I felt that old fear rise up. I didn’t know what to do or how to respond. My mind just… shut down.

How do you forgive when you have been so deeply hurt?After that meeting, my depression came back with a vengeance! And my brain was not helping at all.

This was the progression of lies:

I thought I was getting better at dealing with conflict, but once again my mind shut down and I couldn’t handle it.

I’ll NEVER be able to handle it. There’s something actually broken with me.

I can’t function in life. I’ll never get better. I’ll never be able to contribute to society. I’ll never make a difference.

Why am I alive at all? Why am I even trying?

I shouldn’t be alive. I have no purpose.

Why bother?

I’m just tired….

Wow! That was a hard, challenging place! The enemy attacked me with all sorts of lies. My unhealthy thinking was at a max. At the same time, I was not taking care of myself:

  • I was overworking myself at my job
  • I wasn’t getting enough sleep
  • I wasn’t taking time to rest and be with friends
  • My exercise routine was non-existent
  • My diet consisted of donuts, hamburgers, french fries, and ice cream (yikes!!!)
We're holistic beings, and I was running myself into the ground. Click To Tweet

My Sister Saved My Life

Thankfully, this wasn’t the end! As my thoughts turned to what life might look like if this progression of thoughts were to continue, I remembered my sister.

I have a twin sister and she is so important to me! I knew that, if I were to die (no matter the method), it would devastate her. And I just couldn’t do that to her. I’ve never told her this, but she quite possibly saved my life!

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help

Around that time, my sister also said something that really changed my perception on going to counseling:

“No one questions us when we go get our annual physical. Well, the brain is a physical organ in our body. Why should we question getting a brain check-up once in a while?”

She was right! And I’m so thankful I listened to her.

I took three steps that made all the difference:

  • I started seeing a counselor who helped me process through my painful memories and unhealthy thought life.
  • My PCP got me on some medicine to help manage my anxiety levels.
  • I got connected with the Mental Health Grace Alliance in Waco, which is a wonderful nonprofit that has helped me learn the value of self-care and taught me the tools to live that out, through their Thrive curriculum, which I highly recommend!

These three pieces together have helped me immensely in the recovery process! I already feel like a different person….

Long story short, I got my tattoo as a daily reminder that:

  1. My story isn’t over yet.

  2. I must cling to Jesus, because He is the one who will help me get through life’s challenges.

  3. I am royalty. I’m loved and I’m worth taking care of myself.


Thanks for reading! I hope this story was encouraging for you! I want people to know they don’t have to feel ashamed for encountering challenges in life and that it IS ok to seek help!

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My Bedtime Routine and Why You Should Have One

My Bedtime Routine and Why You Should Have One

About three years ago, I went from working 40 hours a week to working 60 hours a week, basically overnight. The first thing to suffer? My health. And boy did it suffer! With that came a significant increase in my anxiety symptoms.

At one point, I met with my friend who’s a 4th grade reading teacher and asked her how she manages the 60-hour-work-week lifestyle. She said something that stood out to me: “Michelle, you know what is super important? Having a bedtime routine and sticking to it!”

I was taken aback. Aren’t bedtime routines only for children ages 10 and under? And… my routine at the time? Uhm, not your shining example…

  • Get home from work
  • Watch Netflix until 2am
  • Fall asleep

Obviously… that wasn’t quite working!

Bedtime routines are for adults too, especially those struggling with anxiety. Click To Tweet

Here’s why:

  • Having a routine lowers my anxiety levels, because there’s the sense that I know what’s coming next.
  • Having a routine is something I can easily fall back upon when my mind doesn’t have the capacity to try something new.
  • I never know whether I’m going to get up the first time my alarm clock goes off in the morning, or if I’m going to be racing out of bed and straight to work at the last minute. So my bedtime routine includes specific steps that help prepare me for a smoother morning.

Here’s what my bedtime routine looks like now (…or at least on most days):

1.) Prep my lunch for the next day (so that it’s grab and go).

Since I don’t have much time (or energy) for cooking, I try and do meal prep on the weekends. I’ll cook one large meal (like a family-size lasagna) and eat a little bit for lunch each day during the work week. Since I’m still single with no kids, this seems to work well.

  1. Each night, I’ll dish out a portion of that large meal into a travel container, just what I need for the next day.
  2. Then I grab 1-2 small snacks. That normally includes a Fiber One 90 calorie brownie, which gives me something sweet, but substantial (thank you Fiber!), and if I’m doing well, I also pack a zip lock bag with a portion of frozen fruit.
  3. I place everything in a plastic grocery bag (Recycle! Don’t throw them away!) and it sits over night in my fridge. …Yes, the brownie goes in the fridge too. Everything together in one bag. Spending the night in the fridge ain’t going to hurt my non-perishable snack. And I don’t mind my frozen fruit thawing out over night. That means they won’t crack my teeth when I try and eat them the next day….
  4. In the morning, I just pass by the fridge and grab the bag on my way to work.

Lunch Prep

This process takes maybe five minutes per night, and it’s the first thing I do, because my roommates are normally chatty and it allows me to get something done while still interacting with them. It’s also a cue to them that I’m gearing down for the night.

P.S. Depending on what I cook for my large meal, this isn’t always the healthiest option, but it helps keep me sane. I use a 7-day pill container for my medicine as well as a women’s complete vitamin and a fish oil supplement. That helps get me some nutritional value when my energy level just doesn’t allow for healthier cooking. … Or another healthy option would be one of those tasty Bistro Bowl salads, like in the picture above.

Bedtime2.) Head to my room, turn on my bedside lamp, and turn off the overhead light. 

This dims the lighting and sends a cue to my brain that it’s almost time for sleep.

3.) Personal hygiene 101…

  1. I brush and floss my teeth. Final call if my roommates are still feeling chatty….
  2. I brush my hair and always pull it back into a pony tail. That’s because my hair is long and flowing, and I have a cat who just loves to crawl all over my hair while I’m trying to sleep!
  3. I wash my face. This comes after brushing my teeth, because toothpaste can sometimes aggravate the skin.

4.) I decide on tomorrow’s outfit.

This saves me a TON of time every morning!!! And it helps me sleep relaxed. At night, I have more time to check my calendar to see what types of appointments I’m going to have the next day, make sure my clothes have dried properly (without wrinkles), and perhaps even check Pinterest for something cute. It’s much more peaceful to do this at night time!

5.) I kick everyone out of my bedroom, ideally at least 30 minutes before going to sleep.

It’s time to be alone now! I love my roommates, but because I’m an introvert, I need to wind down each night by being absolutely alone. Just me.  …If I ever get married, I’ll have to figure out how that will look… but for now, being single, it works great!

6.) I set my alarm.

Ok, I have a terrible habit: the snooze monster… ahem, I mean, “button.” I’m terrible about hitting the snooze button for more than an hour almost every morning!!! Sometimes I’ve even gotten into the habit of setting my alarm for at least one hour before I need to be up. Because I know I’ll snooze. Does anyone else have that problem?

The best method I’ve found for slaying the snooze monster is to set my alarm for around when I think I’ll be ending a REM cycle. That’s when your body is naturally sleeping at it’s lightest and it’s easier to wake up. There’s an Android app that helps with this: Sleep Cycle. One of my readers told me about it. Sleep Cycle takes out all of the guess work. I tell it how long on average it takes for me to fall asleep. Then I tell it what time it is when I’m going to bed, and it tells me what time for which I should set my alarm. (Proper grammar right there….)

Sleep Cycle App

7.) I put my phone away.

Ok, I need to work on this one. But ideally, the phone goes away at least 30 minutes prior to sleep, because those LED lights keep me awake!!! And also because every time I check my phone, I somehow get sucked into the Facebook vortex and, before I know it, another hour has gone by… and I’m still awake!!

8.) I calm my mind with some light reading (or Sudoku).

Ok, Sudoku annoys the crap out of some people, but for me, it’s very relaxing! My mind prefers it when things are black and white…. When there is one “correct” solution to a problem. When things can be figured out. Sudoku helps give me that sense of peace…. plus I’m also good at Sudoku, so that helps too! Overall it relaxes my mind before going to sleep.

9.) The light goes off.

10.) I close my eyes.

Ok, confession, I added this last one (which is kind of a given, right?) just because I wanted to end on number 10…. I like ending on a 3, 5, or 10.

So there you have it! That’s my bedtime routine! I’m still working on being consistent, but hey, at least I have a one now…. What is in your bedtime routine? Anything good?

When You Just Need Some Validation…

When You Just Need Some Validation…

Does anyone love me?

Journaling_at_StarbucksSitting here at Starbucks, drinking my grande java chip frappuccino, I stare down at the empty page in my journal. What do I pray? What should I write? It’s my custom to have a daily devotional, a time meant to grow in intimacy with Jesus, but I so often fall into the habit of “performance.” I want people to like and admire me… because it helps me feel validated, like I’m an ok person. So I often focus my quiet time on uncovering some great theological truth that I can share on Facebook. Then I’ll finally feel like I’m on the right track. I’ll feel validated, satisfied in my own deep (prideful) “wisdom.” Especially if my post gets a lot of Facebook likes!

But today? … Nothing. A blank page.

He loves me! That is enough!

How do you forgive when you have been so deeply hurt?These last few months have seemed… so dry. I’ve been tired. Not physically, but in just about every other sense of the word. Tired.

I haven’t wanted to go to church. I haven’t wanted to spend time with Jesus. Sometimes I haven’t even wanted to get out of bed. I’ve just been tired. A mess.

But here’s the amazing truth…

Even when I feel like an absolute mess, God is still absolutely committed to me! Click To Tweet

God loved us first! When we hated Him, when we were evil, even then, He loved us! Even then, He let His Son take our place on the cross. So… now? I don’t need to have it all together. That means, even on my worst days, He still loves me!

He loves me!

If I can remember that,

I’ll be ok.

I feel it again today: the nagging lie that I must come to some great revelation if my time with Jesus here at Starbucks is to be “worth it.” But if I’m seeking validation through my actions, I’m missing the gospel. There was nothing we could do to earn God’s grace and forgiveness. Yet He still loved us and He sent His Son to die on the cross, in our place, that we might LIVE! 

Why is it so hard to believe that He loves us, just as we are? We don’t need to earn His love, especially when spending time with Jesus, journaling or reading the Bible. That’s when we should be at our most peaceful with God! Our most secure. Why can’t we rest and simply hang out with our Friend?

I’m not saying there’s something wrong with studying the Bible or seeking to grow in our understanding of Scripture. I actually believe that is quite important! But what lies behind our drive to study the Word? Is it so that we can impress people as we spout off various Bible verses we have memorized? Is it because we want to be the teacher’s pet at Sunday School (and on Facebook)? Or is it because we hunger to know our Savior better? Because we want to stare into the depths of His soul and discover more deeply His love for us?

Y’all! The Creator of the universe loves me AND YOU!! He chooses to hang out with us. He longs to be with us!!! Oh if only I could never lose sight of that truth! What a comfort to my soul! Everything else could be falling apart, but I’d still have one thing–one Person–who is FOR ME! 

Even when there is nothing else I have to cling to, there is nothing else I need but Jesus! Click To Tweet

Encouraging Scripture Verses About God’s Love for Us:

  • “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” –1 John 4:9-10
  • “Who is this coming up from the wilderness Leaning upon her beloved?” Song of Solomon 8:5
  • The Good Shepherd“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name…. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” — Psalm 23:1-3, 6
  • “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” — Ephesians 2:4-5
  • “For I am persuaded , that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:38-39

Oh, what joy is found in those passages! The next time I’m tempted to seek out a brand new “most-liked Facebook post” during my time with Jesus, let me just turn off my phone and simply focus on these verses! Lord, make these ring true in my heart today!


 

Thanks for reading! I hope this post was an encouragement for you. If this blessed you, please share the love with others! You can also subscribe to this blog if you want to hear more encouraging messages.

Other devotionals you might enjoy:

Why I Don’t Hate My Brother

Why I Don’t Hate My Brother

One day, when I was about ten years old, I sat watching TV in the living room. It was kind of a big deal, because we had cable now for the first time!

Suddenly, my older brother came stomping down the stairs and into the living room. Without saying a word, he grabbed the remote control and changed the channel.

“Hey!” I shouted. “I was watching that!”

“Well, I don’t want to watch that,” he shouted back.

We were suddenly thrown into this deep argument. He felt he had the right to do whatever he wanted, even if it inconvenienced everyone else.


Ok, I know… first world problem, right? But this is just one example of a common day occurrence while I was growing up.

Here’s a glimpse at childhood with an older brother who has Asperger’s Syndrome, ODD, and Bipolar Disorder:

  • He threw chairs across the room when he got angry.
  • He punched holes in the wall at least three times growing up. He even got so angry once that he pulled the sliding car door right off of our mom’s minivan!
  • We’d be on our way to a museum or amusement park, when mom would have to turn us around because my brother was having a temper tantrum. I’d have done nothing wrong, but still felt like I was being punished….
  • I was constantly on edge, because I never knew what would set my brother off on a tirade.
  • I couldn’t have friends over because my brother was having a bad day.
  • My brother wouldn’t stop talking about everything I didn’t want to hear.
  • People looked at my entire family as if there were something inherently wrong with all of us.
  • My brother was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility nine times within six years.

Things I remember hearing my brother say to or about me:

  • “You’re wrong!”
  • “I hate you!”
  • “I want to kill her!”
  • “This is all her fault!”
  • “I don’t care what you want!”
  • “That’s not fair!”
  • “You were supposed to be a boy! I wanted a brother, not a sister!”
  • “Life was better before she was born!”

How do you forgive when you have been so deeply hurt?I expect that all siblings have some level of conflict while growing up. But for us… it was constant…. Every single day, since as long as I can remember. And it really tore down my sense of identity.

But today,

I want people to understand

one thing:

I love my brother! And I forgive him!

Whether it’s you or a loved one, navegating mental illness can be challenging and scary, but there is hope!

THE FORGIVENESS JOURNEY

Growing up, my mom constantly told me that I needed to forgive my brother for his hurtful behavior, because it was “just his disability.”

But…

How do you forgive someone who has hurt you so deeply?

No direction was provided…. So, my childhood answer?

Stuff the pain. Ignore it.

Pretend it never happened.

But that didn’t solve anything. It just bred bitterness.

“Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

That is so true! I was dying on the inside.

  • I decided to be perfect, and then fell into deep depression because I wasn’t perfect.
  • But then I kept trying to be perfect, which only created deep seated anxiety.
  • I isolated myself from my family, not sharing my emotions, problems, or
  • I was already self-harming by the time I reached kindergarten!
  • I used food, tv, and sleep to escape my problems, which means I never learned healthy coping methods.

It's hard to forgive.... Forgive anyway.

Getting Away For a Time

In 2006, I moved to Waco, TX and began my freshman year at Baylor University. Within a couple of months, I got involved with a local church called Antioch and joined a lifegroup. For the first time, I was held accountable in spending time with Jesus every day. That changed my life!

I quickly learned that God’s love for me is not dependent upon my ability to be perfect. This revolutionized everything! But what does that have to do with forgiving my brother?

For the longest time, I pretended nothing was wrong, I was happy, and things were great, because that was “the Christian thing to do.” When I realized that God loved me no matter what, it released me to admit that I wasn’t ok.

And admitting that I wasn’t ok meant that I no longer needed to bottle up my emotions. Suddenly I could explore my pain, fear, and low self-esteem, because I knew that Daddy in heaven would love me the whole way through it!

How to choose forgiveness when all you feel is pain.

I didn’t just wake up one day and forgive my brother. It was more of a combination of many things:

  1. The distance really did help. Things had been fairly toxic growing up. Being able to set some boundaries helped us each gain perspective and decompress. When I would go home to visit, it was normally for short periods of time, maybe just a weekend, and tension wouldn’t have time to build. That meant we were able to develop newer, happier memories. That didn’t mean the bad memories went away, but it helped us begin to create a newer, happier history to help balance out the places of pain.
  2. I realized that he wasn’t the only one who was messed up. I had my own junk and my own problems to work through. I had never been perfect and often made my own mistakes. I’m sure I have hurt him too. Many times. I lashed out. I was mean. By no means was I innocent. We were both just two messed up, struggling people in need of a Savior. Did that excuse the ways he had hurt me? No. But he no longer seemed such a villain when I discovered my own villainy apart from Jesus.
  3. So much of it wasn’t his fault. That might sound strange to some people. I do believe there’s something important about taking responsibility for our actions. And I’m sure some of my brother’s behaviors were simply the result of immaturity, just like many of mine were. Yet at the same time, he struggled with a very real mental illness that impacted his thought processes and behaviors. And suffering from a mental illness was not his fault. It was not the result of some sin that he committed or anything like that. He didn’t ask for it. It just was. Thankfully he’s on a good mix of medication now, has learned some coping methods, and has also matured a lot. Just as I needed to do.
  4. I began praying for him. While I was in college, my brother was not a believer. I prayed almost every day for him to encounter God, because I knew God was the only one who could help my brother find purpose and healing. My prayers weren’t about forgiving him, but that’s still what happened, because the more I prayed for him, the more I received God’s heart and love for him.
  5. I was able to replace the lies in my head with God’s truth. One of the challenges of verbal abuse during childhood is that you grow up internalizing all of the negative things spoken over you. Those lies and negative perceptions become a part of your world view, to such an extent that it’s hard to separate the lies from the truth. As I began exploring my childhood pain with God, the Holy Spirit helped me identify various lies I was believing and replace those lies with truth from Scripture. For example:
    1. Lie: No one loves me. Truth: For God so loved the (entire) world (including me!), that He gave His only Son to save it. – John 3:16
    2. Lie: I’m never going to be good enough. Truth: I’m forgiven and I have been made into the righteousness of Christ! – 2 Corinthians 5:21
    3. Lie: Things will never change. Truth: Things have already changed, for eternity, because Christ took a fallen and broken world, and He saved it! And now we go from glory to greater glory! – 2 Corinthians 3:18
    4. Lie: I am helpless.Truth: I have the strength of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of me! – Philippians 4:13 and 1 Corinthians 3:16
  6. God’s truth healed my places of pain. As my thought life improved and my perspectives grew healthier, I noticed that I didn’t experience as much pain when I’d think back on my childhood. Those childhood memories no longer carried the same amount of power. And that released me to forgive my brother as well, because I was no longer living in a place of fear and victimization.
  7. I was able to release myself and my brother into the hands of God. One of the hardest things about forgiveness is choosing to let go. We feel that, if we hold onto the resentment, we can play the martyr, which somehow makes us seem “more righteous or just.” And if we hold onto the resentment, the whole world will somehow know all the terrible traits of the person we hate. But that’s just not the case. If we hold onto our anger, we’ll live a life weighed down by bitterness. We’ll never grow or feel freedom, because we walk in chains, bound to the very person we hate. But if we release our anger, we can fall into the arms of Jesus. And there is no place I’d rather be!

WHY I LOVE MY BROTHER

me-and-my-brother

Let me end by sharing all the things I love about my brother! I want people to know how amazing and wonderful he is!

  • He is a teddy bear! I know that sounds counter everything I described above, but my brother really does have a tender heart, once you get past the surface. And he’s great with little kids! They love him!
  • He is so smart and loves to learn! I’ve had so many fun, interesting conversations with him, and it never gets boring!
  • We enjoy taking walks and just catching up.
  • He wants to know more about God and often asks questions.
  • He looks up to me. That might seem like a prideful thing to say, but it speaks to the change in his heart as well. God has restored our relationship and I’m so thankful! And in awe!
  • We can have awesome, nerdy conversations about things like Stargate, Doctor Who, and Final Fantasy.
  • He’s family. We’ve been through so much, and I honestly think we’re stronger because of it!
  • He loves to dream big. He doesn’t get stuck in the doubts, but pursues the passions of his heart.
  • He really does love us. It may be hard to show it sometimes, and it may come out in … interesting ways … but he loves us, and after everything is said and done, I am thankful!

HOW ABOUT YOU?

HOW DO YOU FORGIVE SOMEONE WHO HAS HURT YOU SO DEEPLY?

One word: JESUS!

Sometimes the places of pain are just too deep. We can’t handle them alone. For those who have been abused, there’s often a level of fear that’s so deep. We just don’t want to open the wound long enough to get out the infection.

You need Jesus! He’s the only One who can heal us. He’s the only One who can help us truly move past our places of fear, anxiety, and prejudice long enough to even consider that a different reality might be possible.

Jesus! We need You!

-Michelle Louise

 

Why You Should Be Showering at Night

Why You Should Be Showering at Night

Sleep Experiment

Week #2:

Bathe Before Bed

Hey everyone! We’re back for week 2 of our sleeping experiment! Last week, we learned about the 4-7-8 breathing technique. This week, we’ll talk about taking a hot shower before bed!

The Basics

Studies show that taking a hot shower or bath before heading to bed helps you sleep better. When you move from the warm temperature of the shower to the cooler temperature in your room, it sends a signal to your brain that it’s bed time. Check out Greatist’s post for more of the science behind this!

The Experience

To shower or to take a bath? That is the question! Well… not for me, because strangely enough, I hate baths! So shower it is!

And I must say there is just something incredibly delightful about a hot shower on a cold January night!

It just feels like the whole rest of the world disappears for a moment and you just hear the rushing water and feel the warmth that melts away the weight of the world. It’s amazing!

P.S. I know they say hot water is bad for your skin, because it dries it out. But I’ve never noticed a huge difference…. So it doesn’t bother me. But also be careful about not scalding yourself and, if using super duper hot water, limit your exposure time…. (The pragmatic part of me feels the need to include that statement for liability reasons!)

Whenever I did shower at night this week, I definitely noticed a difference in the speed at which I fell asleep. It was much faster!

Why you should be showering at night, and how to set a bed time routine.

Here’s why I believe it’s better to shower at night:

  • It helped me fall asleep. As I said above, warm rushing water is sooo relaxing! I go to bed without the stress of the day, because the water washed that stress right down the shower drain! And going to bed without as much stress is definitely a plus!
  • I can take my time in the shower. If I shower at night, then the next morning I won’t have to experience the panic of oversleeping and the great debate it causes: arrive at work late but clean, or arrive on time but smelly…?
  • It makes for super fast morning hair prep (if your hair is long and flowing like mine.) I can french braid my wet hair, let it dry that way over night, run my fingers through my hair in the morning, and then simply add some hair spray. Quick hassle free beach curls that look fantastic! Maybe only two minutes of morning prep time required.
  • I can sleep in longer. And that, my friends, is glorious! I’m definitely a fan of sleeping in longer! Since I don’t have to worry about a shower or hair prep, that shaves at least half an hour off my morning routine.

So What Now?

Well, I have definitely seen the benefits of showering at night. But I’m so used to showering in the morning, so I’ll need to work hard at changing that habit.

A Good Bed Time Routine

8:00 pm – Brush my teeth and start showering. Enjoy my time in the hot water, and get out by 8:30pm at the latest.

8:30 pm –  Put on pajamas and french braid my hair.

8:45 pm – Pick out my clothes for the next day and do any final tasks in preparation for tomorrow.

Meal prep.

Gather any out-of-the-norm items I’ll need and pack my bag.

Check the weather forecast. That might change my ideas on what to wear the next day.

Etc.

9:15 pm – Put away the phone. Turn off the overhead light and use the lamp on my night stand. The dim lighting is another signal to my brain that it’s time for bed.

If I’m ahead of schedule, I may use this extra time to tidy up my room just a tad. This is not a time to get distracted by other things, but just to throw any dirty clothes into the hamper, gather any books or papers into a stack, and take any dirty cups to the kitchen sink. 

9:30 pm – Set my alarm. Get into bed and start reading a book.

10:00 pm – Lights out.

To me, that sounds like a great routine! Although the idea of beginning to get ready for bed at 8pm seems… so early! But I really think it would help me out. It would decrease my stress, provide consistency, and help cater to a more peaceful morning. 

Did I miss anything?

What do you do as a part of your bedtime routine? Have you noticed any additional benefits to showering at night? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you! And don’t forget to come back in about a week for the next addition of our sleep experiment!

Ok, well, signing off now!

Sleep well, my friends!

Michelle Louise