Messy Reality Boxed in a Neat Packaging

Forewarning: The following post discusses an uncomfortable topic that’s hardly discussed openly. It’s one of the ugly realities hidden in a variety of neat packages. Mental Health is part of the overall wellness that’s not clearly understood by many.

Mental health as defined by mentalhealth.gov “includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.”

According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, all of us are affected or impacted by mental illness through friends or family.

While going through a deep despair, a child of a dear friend took several prescriptive anxiety and antidepressant drugs. She was taken and confined to the hospital just in time and will now go through a form of cognitive therapy known as Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Not everyone’s lucky.

Just a few weeks before the school’s graduation, a fellow school festival dancer to my 18-Year-old daughter ended her life by swallowing over a hundred antidepressant pills.

The National Center for Health Statistics reveals that suicide is the third leading cause of death to children between the age of 12 and 19 years. And 90% of the teens who die by suicide suffered from a form of mental disorder.

Know the facts here.

Not long ago, I had a wholehearted talk with a teen who confessed to once having thoughts of ending her life because of a deep feeling of grief and anxiety that she couldn’t explain. She said she tried to ask for help, but instead she was told that she needed to pray hard and look at the brighter side of life and that she had to practice gratefulness. That made her feel even worse and began blaming herself for her depression. Her body started manifesting the burden of her psychological sufferings. And even with a medical diagnosis, her parents couldn’t seem to accept, much more be understanding of her agony. Fortunately, they came around and supported her by finding an appropriate therapy while holding on to the faith and love that they profess. They are now realizing, albeit painstakingly slow, that it’s not just that she’ll have to go through a precariously lifelong recovery journey, but it’s also a continuous learning process of acceptance and understanding for everyone who’s involved in her life.

Although by God’s grace, my kids are thriving healthily, they too weren’t spared from mental health issues. There was even a time that one of them shared with us that an unthinkable consideration became a part of a short and fleeting thought while going through an emotional anguish. And hearing this from a kid we raise so well broke my heart and my husband’s in gazillion unrecognizable pieces. Nonetheless, now more than ever, we’ve become a little more aware of the different battles that young kids and young adults go through. It’s not easy, sometimes. It’s never meant to be, anyway. But there is hope and clear understanding of the only love that matters.

At some point in our life, many of us will suffer from varying levels of a mental disorder. Many of us would not even get an official diagnosis, and consequently, won’t get the help we need. And in some cases, even with the right diagnosis, we won’t even get the intervention that’s appropriate for what we have. And although people can recover from a mental illness, the emotional recovery continues.

Our beloved youths are not immune to mental illnesses. And it’s not uncommon that both child and adult are afflicted with psychological and mental health issues at the same time. And often, it’s not only ignorance why we missed the signals, but it’s also pride. We hesitated to consider that our kid could be suffering from a mental illness because if we did, then that probably meant that we also failed in our role as parents. We often would refuse to admit that we’re probably afflicted ourselves and thereby would not get the help we need because of fears of judgment and of the consequences of that.

The sooner we accept that suffering from a mental disorder is a possibility and that we are all affected or impacted by it, the more help we could get and the better effective our show of love would be.

The importance of embracing Mental Health and taking the stigma out of mental disorders couldn’t be more stressed in this age of Snapchats, Breaking and Fake News, Alternative Realities, and the curated reality of Facebook and Instagram.

As we encourage one another in truth and love, perhaps, we can also reassure each other by first reining our predilection to judge or to provide immediate answers. Maybe, as we take on the role of each other’s lifeline, we can also wear a lifelong learner’s hat.

And wouldn’t it be liberating to see our youths come forward and own their story while we embrace them with hope and show them a Christ-like love and devotion? But that’s far from happening if we’d remain comfortably hidden in our photoshopped reality.

In a tiny way, my family believes we can attempt to do something. It is for this reason why we chose TVCOC’s Teen Ministry to be my daughter’s charity of choice for the family’s upcoming formal hosted event. It is our hope that whatever amount we raise from the gathering would help promote a mental health discussion with the TVCOC teens. It’s not coincidental that Julia and Linda who are the event’s master of ceremonies and production manager, respectively, are huge proponents of mental health, too. They are devoted to helping the youths be their best self. In fact, starting this Fall, they will start a mental health awareness program benefitting the students of Springs Charter School in our city.

My 18-year-old teen and I firmly believe that through Kai’s and Bj’s leading, mental health will become a stronger topic to look into in conjunction to helping the teens develop stronger ties with the Lord. At least, that is our hope. Kai is the church’s lead pastor and Bj is the head of the Women’s Ministry and a mentor and adviser to the teens.

And for the adults, perhaps, we can talk more about mindfulness, practice being fully aware and being present, while also learning to curtail a high propensity towards caring for what other people’s thoughts about us.

I don’t feel okay most of the time. The times that I feel fine only mean that the pain and discomfort aren’t that bad. However, aside from a variety of medical conditions that include chronic pains, abdominal and spine issues, I also suffer from a high functioning anxiety and chronic insomnia. I’m learning how best to communicate an uncomfortable but honest answer without becoming too exhausted in the process and also without encouraging an awkward conversation that would add to my frustration. I’m learning to be more mindful and less and less caring about other people’s thoughts about me.

Here’s sharing my scripture reflection of the week as I get ready for my daughter’s formal event on Sunday, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples, then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭NIV‬‬.

Here’s a TED Talk delivered by Thomas Insel on mental illness entitled, “Toward a new understanding of mental illness.”

 

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Thoughts on Striving for Deeper Connections

When I read this week’s focused topic which is addressed to the family groups (Bible talk groups) on a section called Directions of the TVCOC online bulletin, I found myself guilty, on some levels, of emotional disconnect. The message talks about helping others in the family group feel a deeper sense of “family.”

TVCOC Directions, Weekly Email Bulletin

TVCOC Directions, Weekly Email Bulletin

I appreciate the nudge. It’s a healthy reminder. I also see this gentle push applies to the other relationships I have.

“Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” Galatians‬ ‭6:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

So what do I need to know so I could do better? Watching Brené Brown again on her first TED talk provides some clarity. It’s summed up in one word – Vulnerability.

Although I am highly aware that I have a lot to improve on, I do place pretty well on the vulnerability scale. It’s not always like that. I don’t see vulnerability and authenticity with the same pair of eyes I had when I was younger and a much more determined person to prove others of my value.

Practicing authenticity invites grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.

Authenticity by BBrown

Do you remember the times when you stepped on a yucky gum and annoyingly feels stuck while desperately trying to scrape it off? Ironically, that’s how my inner-self would use to look at vulnerability – as a pestilence, and the goo in my human existence. The thing is, there’s no way we could establish a deeper sense of connection with another person and show our real authentic self without vulnerability. Vulnerability empowers us to give our imperfect self the permission to be seen even with the fear of judgment and rejection. It allows us to tell our story, use our voice even when faced with a lack of support and plenty of doubts from some people. It gives us the confidence to consider a fundamental truth that we are enough and that we are wired to love and care for each other. And above all, it frees us of our predisposition to negotiate with God, and instead, it makes us surrender wholeheartedly to His will.

Even now I still experience, although not often, moments where I fight the essence of a vulnerable spirit, especially so when the desire to be in control is higher than what’s needed in the flow of events. Being in control is easy. Being vulnerable is not easy. And it’s not supposed to be. It takes lots and lots of practice and showing up even when the going gets tough to get accustomed to it.

Let me go back to TVCOC’s Direction’s gentle nudge of the week. There’s no doubt that I love the different relationships I have in my life and that includes my family’s Family Group Bible Talk. The members fought a good fight of faith and unity for this family group. We acknowledge that the next steps we need to take would be on the strengthening of the bonds of the relationship that was established. What can we do to ensure that everyone in that group feels loved and cared for by each other? How do we maintain connected in between meetups? How do we grow that connection? What’s my role in all these?

Here’s what my quiet time has revealed to me.

While it is true that I need to fight a little harder everyday for a deeper sense of connection, it is also true that given the hurriedness, hectic schedule, and personal challenges that I have to deal with these days, it is not easy. And when you have to battle with, among other things, chronic insomnia while refusing medication indicated for it, it’s even harder to care for new relationships.

Often the daily schedules and the physical burden I carry prevents me from individually reaching out on a much more personal level to the beautiful people in our family group. Sometimes the disconnect also lies in fear that I’d be misunderstood or that I could offend or inconvenience people of my struggles, and not to mention, be perceived as intrusive of their personal life when encouraged to share how they’re doing. Maybe I hesitate to ask for help because I either don’t want to burden others or be seen as a burden. Or maybe I’m more scared that the other person will say yes because when you’re used to hearing a no, you’re lost when you start getting yeses. Perhaps, I don’t offer help as much as I want to because of rejection fears or of my insecurity that I have nothing of particular value to others. After all, it’s not uncommon to feel frightful when we put ourselves out there and allow us to be seen in a state of vulnerable nakedness. And also, there are that physical fatigues and pains that are just hard to explain to others, mostly difficult because being misunderstood or not understood adds to the exhaustion, quickly.

Let me bring back Brené Brown and her helpful insights. She talks about letting ourselves be seen – being authentic by having the courage to present our imperfect self,  loving with our whole heart even without guarantees, practicing gratitude so we could lean on joy, and accept that we are enough.

Psalm‬ ‭34:5‬, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
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So, here’s a link to Brené’s TED Talk on vulnerability. She talks about being authentic and real – being vulnerably seen. I watched it probably gazillion times and every time I do; I gain fresh insights. Her research on vulnerability and shame and the book Daring Greatly were referenced many times by Todd Spatt, a minister and a psychotherapist in his couples’ address during last year’s Marriage Retreat.

Cheers to all of us! And let’s all feel – not just know – that we are well loved. We are loved! We just need to do a better job at making each other experience it on a sensory and emotional level. Also, we need to be forgiving and gracious, patient of each other’s various facets of awkwardness and social faux pas without becoming an enabler. Moreover, we have to be encouraging and nurturing of our attempts to foster closer bonds.

Most likely, we’ll get it wrong more than we’ll get it right, but having the heart and the courageous vulnerability to get back to wanting to work for much deeper connections is worth the love and the appreciation we all deserve to enjoy together.

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Staying in your Joy, Thoughts for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a few days away, and I hope the hurriedness of everyday living doesn’t take from the excitement of the occasion. Every so often, I had to be reminded to take few extra time from my already hectic schedule to take care of myself so that I could be a better person for others, too.

Mothers often feel that everyone is a priority but themselves. As a mom, it’s not that I haven’t realized that this is an unhealthy perspective, but because of the military lifestyle and the constant geographical relocations that my family was subjected throughout my husband’s military career, I didn’t think it was realistic. I also didn’t believe that prioritizing my well being was practical. And because it would seem like it was a cultural taboo for moms to put their personal requirements above others, I also didn’t feel it was right to put my needs ahead of others including my loved ones.

Proverbs 31

Although I did try to take care of myself the best way I could, I kept falling back to feeling less important than everybody else. In the last few years, I made the decision to shed the guilt and rearranged my list of priorities. Doing this doesn’t mean that the value I put on others has now become less. What it means is because I get to purposely make the time to care for myself and my needs, I get to be a better person for others, too. And that seeing to my overall wellness also brings me to a place where I can appreciate others wholeheartedly.

Last Sunday, Kai, the lead minister and pastor in the church my family attends, finished his series of lessons on the Resurrection of Christ. It was refreshing to be retold about and relearned God’s eternal love for us. As beautiful as his sermon was, there was one line that stuck with me. He said, “Stay in your joy.”

Stay in your joy. It’s a fantastic reminder, especially, that there will alway be something – big or small, expectedly or unexpectedly – in our daily living that could shake our calmness and challenge our steadfastness. And sometimes, as a mom, it’s hard to stay in the joy when worrying about how best to protect your brood becomes the forefront of your living. It’s impossible to stay in your joy if the desire to be in control of every situation is more important than trusting in God’s infinite wisdom. There’s no way to stay in the joy if the fear becomes bigger than the faith you have in Him.

If everything comes to pass anyway, isn’t it foolish to give in to the temptation and surrender fortitude to irritation and worriedness? But what I would really love is when that thing did come to pass and then genuinely I could claim that I fought a good fight of faith to stay in my joy.

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms around the world! We may not get it right all the time, but God’s not wrong for choosing us to mother our children. Let’s practice self-kindness and kindness towards one another. Let’s help each other stay in the joy.

In closing, here’s a wonderful TED talk delivered by storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy about a human connection which starred her Cuban mother and she’s called it, “You’re going to miss me.” 

http://ted.com/talks/view/id/347

 

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