I’m currently in Florida enjoying my first vacation in over three years and my first full week off of work in four. I am at a familiar site, on the beach in the gulf of Florida, a place I’ve been before…yet this time it feels so different…in a really good way. Most of you know that the past three years contained a whole lot of struggle and suffering for me and my family. I’m so grateful now for that period, for that crisis, for without it, i wouldn’t be where I’m at today. Thank God for suffering…and the hope it brings forth when you don’t rush through it too fast. When I arrived at the beach yesterday evening after a non-stop 20 hour drive, I sat by myself for a few minutes with my toes in the water. Everyone in our caravan was so relieved to be at our destination and the joy was unspeakable…the kids literally jumped into the ocean with all their clothes on. I walked a few yards down the beach to reflect and spend some time by myself. It was like I was at the beach for the very first time….and in a very profound way I think it was my first time. Sure, I’d been to the beach before, but i think mostly in the physical realm. I don’t think my soul (the essence of who I truly am) had ever been there. My life is so different now than it was three years ago. I don’t pretend to be happy anymore because I don’t have to fake that. I don’t hide from hard things, ignore difficulty, or avoid pain. I know what freedom feels like, and I know that gratitude is the birthplace of joy. My cup truly runs over. So there I sat, on the beach, for the first time, with my soul connected to both creation and creator, exposed…and I didn’t hide. I know now there is no need to hide from who I AM, nor do I need to hide from I AM. The waves pushed the water up onto my feet and legs and the cool touch sent chills up my spine. The sun shone bright upon my face. The laughter from nearby pierced right through my chest and my heart felt as if could explode. All of creation was reflecting glory and shouting the goodness of Father, Son, Spirit…and as the tide went in and out I could hear that still small voice say, “I love you (tide in), You are Loved (tide out), Always have been (tide in), Always will be (tide out). And in that moment, where I was fully present, completely filled with presence, my spirit became one with spirit, heaven was on earth and eternity stood still as I smiled ear-to-ear and Papa smiled back, all of us immersed in the love that made us out of love, for love. Peace really is made manifest through presence and when our soul is awakened to the grace that we all deserve and we let the light of love permeate every fiber of our being, awakening us to the truth of a love so pure, so warm, our heart is home no matter our physical location. I’m grateful for moments…moments of beauty, of consciously knowing and accepting love, and choosing to soak it all in…every ounce…every drop…because you realize that this is the abundant life of living loved and loving life.
Friends & Followers,
Two months ago I released my first book, The Ugly Beautiful: a journey of hope via the road of suffering. I am so grateful I had the courage to follow my dream and share my story. The response to the book up to this point has been very positive. It has been an avenue that has opened the doors to numerous conversations with people dealing with extraordinary circumstances and learning to find hope in the here and now.
However, being a self-published, first time author with no budget has its difficulties. I am learning a lot about the book business and the truth of the matter is that I need help sharing my story and spreading the word about this book.
Recently, I was approached by Mike Morrell, founder of Speakeasy. Mike has helped numerous authors to get their message discovered and is passionate about authors who are offering new and relevant messages pertaining to the Christian faith in different ways. Brian McLaren, Frank Viola, Paul Young, and N.T. Wright are just a few of the authors that Mike has helped in the past. Mike only takes on a selected number of books each year to give his clients the most attention possible.
Speakeasy is a network of over 1,000 websites and bloggers who take recommendations directly from Mike and commit to spread the word to their audience in succinct stages over a period of six weeks. The result is an online word-of-mouth media blitz including book reviews, interviews, and podcasts.
The results of speakeasy are not guaranteed but the projects that Mike and his team have pushed have experienced some great success, including helping launching Paul Young’s novel, The Shack, into the national spotlight.
Those of you who know me well know that my intention with this book is to shed light on topics that rarely get talked about. The issue of depression, shame, and mental illness, especially as it pertains to faith is one that needs to be talked about. My passion is to get my story in the hands of as many people as possible to raise awareness and spread hope.
I believe that Mike and the Speakeasy team is the right platform to help me do that on a massive scale. The Ugly Beautiful will be read right away by 1,000 book reviewers who have committed to share their findings with their followers. Mike will also be doing a feature on the book through his blog and social media outlets to over 20,000 followers.
Obviously, a marketing project like this is not free, which is why I’m reaching out to my friends and supporters for help. If you have read the book already and believe that the message of hope it contains can help others to find peace, enjoy the journey, and live loved, I am asking you to help me spread this message on a massive scale. Any amount that you can provide will be accepted and received with the utmost gratitude. Together, we can let thousands know there is hope, real hope available in the world of The Ugly Beautiful.
Thanks for your support!
I love a new pair of boots. I come from a boot wearing family. My Dad owns nothing but cowboy boots. He has dress boots, work boots, casual boots, and yes, the one time I remember going to the beach with him, he had beach boots ready…that he wore with shorts!
Recently, I celebrated my 35th birthday and my Dad asked me the week before if I had a good pair of boots. I told him I hadn’t bought a pair in a couple of years and I was due a pair but was holding out. Boots are expensive, ranging anywhere from $100 – $1,000. My Dad told me he wanted to help me get a pair for my Birthday and to be on the lookout for my card.
Earlier this week I came home from work and was excited to see that my new boots had arrived. I love the smell of new boots and couldn’t wait to try them on. Keep in mind that it had been a couple of years since I had new boots and I completely forgot about the discomfort that comes the first time you slip those new boots on.
So, all this week I have been breaking in new boots. It’s a painful process. Eventually, the boots will be the most comfortable pair of shoes in my closet, but pain will be a part of that process. It depends on the type of boot and leather, and some boots take longer to break in than others, but all new boots inflict some pain before becoming healing tools for your feet!
And so it is with the healing process. I have said it before but it is worth repeating, healing is painful…which is why so many avoid it and continue to live with the pain from old wounds. But here is the thing about pain; it will not go away until it is healed. Our pain will continue to speak to us because it demands to be listened to, and if it is not observed it will manifests itself in other ways. Our pain is trying to tell us something very important if we are willing to listen and by listening, the pain itself will lead the way to healing. That is why the most important step in the healing process is a step toward the pain, not away from it.
It is quite the paradox. It doesn’t make logical sense but so it is with the healing process. I can’t promise you that it won’t hurt to visit your pain, but I can promise you that it will be worth it. After a while, these new boots that I’m breaking in that cause discomfort and pain will become like a sanctuary for my feet. I will slip them on and my feet will relax into their comfort and rest.
Your heart is begging for that kind of rest, comfort, and peace. The pain will lead you there. It’s time to make friends with your pain. Your heart is begging to be healed and the voice of your pain is trying to get your attention.
Dive in. Do the work. You are worth it. You deserve it.
Break in your boots.
Be Blessed Friends…You Already Are!
In this blog series on depression I’m aiming to do one thing, and that is to raise awareness around the very real disease of mental illness. It has been one week since the news of Robin Williams’ death shook us to our core. There have been many great pieces written since them, many wonderful tributes to the great man and person Robin was, and lots of positivity and well wishes sent to Robin’s family. But it is fading. Each day that passes people will stop talking about it, our news feed’s will not be filled up with posts and videos, and I’m afraid that while literally millions still suffer alone and misunderstood, the majority of our society will not think about the illness again until unfortunately, another well-known person or celebrity falls victim to the disease.
What about the thousands of veterans suffering with mental illness?
What about the millions of homeless suffering with mental illness that are horribly stigmatized and stereotyped as worthless, lost causes?
What about the single mother overwhelmed who is suffering with depression?
What about the elderly that very few pay attention to?
What about the poor who have no access to mental health resources?
What about those victimized by other human beings who haven’t yet been able to overcome their grief, hopelessness, sadness?
What about the middle-aged man who everyone thinks has it together, who goes home each night overwhelmed with the thought of ending his own life?
I love the awareness being brought to ALS through the ice water challenges on social media. Last night I watched the moving story of Pete Frates that started the phenomana. Click here to watch it. I have been given hope that people do care and heck, why not have fun in the process. I’m all for it.
But what if I told you that mental illness is the most misunderstood and least talked about disease in America? Can I share with you my heart for raising awareness about Mental Illness and why it is so important?
- 1 in 4 adults – 61.5 million Americans – experiences mental illness in a given year. 1 in 17 (13.6 million) live with a serious mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia
- 20% of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year.
- 7% of American adults – 14.8 million people – live with major depression disorder
- 1 percent – 42 million people – live with anxiety disorders
- 2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders
- Approximately 60% of adults, and almost 50% of youth ages 8 to 15 with a mental illness received no mental health services in the previous year
- One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14
- Mood disorders such as depression are the 3rd most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults ages 18-44
- Adults living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than other Americans
- Over 50% of youth with a mental health condition age 14 and older drop out of school – the highest dropout rate of any disability group
- Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. (more common than homicide) and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years
– Military members compromise less than 1% of the U.S. population, yet veterans represent 20% of suicides nationally. Each day, 22 veterans die from suicide
*Statistics provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2013)
The numbers are staggering. I hope those numbers shake you to your core, and keep in mind, that these are only the cases of mental illness that are reported. Thousands more go unreported and untreated each year.
The scary truth and realization is that if you have not been affected already by mental illness in your immediate family or closest circle of relationships, you will. And when that happens, where will you turn for help? Who will you talk to for guidance? Where will you go for support?
I have suffered with mental illness for much of my adult life. I know too well the full measure of hopelessness that comes with the disease. I know the hopelessness, and the numerous side effects that come with it. I narrowly missed becoming a permanent statistic. I’m very grateful for the healing I have experienced in my life through numerous sources.
But my heart aches and hurts for those still affected with mental illness and the suffering that ensues for both the person and the family. I intend to continue to be a voice for awareness and to shed light on this dark and misunderstood disease. I hope you will join me. There is no need for anyone to suffer alone. This is an issue that needs to be talked about.
I will continue this week with my series on Depression and its numerous effects on the whole person and all involved. Please share, retweet, and help spread the message. Together, we can #EndTheStigma.
If you have been following this series I have been sharing my personal struggle with Depression and Mental Illness. It has been quite the journey for me and I’m sharing because I believe in the hope of my story and the stories of others who have healed from this awful disease. I am sharing because I know exactly what it means to be depressed, to feel less than, and to struggle with, “what does this mean for me and for my life?” If you would like to read my entire story I suggest you head to my website to check out the book I recently published where I not only share all the details of my struggle, but the hope and healing I have found. CLICK HERE.
In the spring of 2012 I hit my low point. I had ignored several warning signs that my condition was getting worse and I spiraled further and further into a very deep and dark depression. Everything changed and it changed rapidly for me. The dark cloud of depression attached itself to me and completely took over and almost cost me my life. That is what clinical depression does. It is more than a bad day or feelings of sadness. Clinical depression, when untreated, is a life stealer.
I lost interest in everything I would normally find joy in, including my wife and children. I stopped caring about sports, about the outdoors, about people, about myself. I shut myself off in every way possible to every person in my life. This is one of the numerous side effects of depression that I experienced that caused severe problems in my significant relationships. I didn’t have words then to communicate what was going on with me to the people that I loved, so I just went silent and avoided conversation at all costs.
If I could go back I know what I would say now. My hope in sharing this is to provide insight for those who are struggling to understand what their loved one is experiencing.
- It’s not your fault.
I wish I would have had the ability to communicate this to my family. One thing that happened with me is that my anger, irritability, and irrational thoughts often came spewing out violently toward those I loved. In short bursts, with hurtful words, I projected my pain onto those who cared for me the most. It was not a conscious choice. I didn’t want to hurt them and afterwards I would internalize those experiences which resulted in more shame and drove me further into isolation. I blamed my loved ones for things they had no control over, and I didn’t either. Instead of being angry or placing the blame where it belonged, on the illness, I placed it on the people I loved.
- I Love You.
I stopped communicating this message. The words literally became too painful for me to say. I didn’t believe I was worthy of love, or to give love anymore. Depression stole from me my value and worth as an individual who was extremely loved and able to love back. Not only did I take out my frustrations on my family, I stopped giving them love they were used to receiving. I wasn’t capable of it but I wish I would have been able to say, “I love you. I’m not sure what is happening with me but I need you to know that I love you.”
- I don’t know what I need.
The people in my life that knew I was struggling were constantly asking me what I needed. I honestly didn’t know but I never said that. Their attempts to help and keep suggesting different things only made me want to isolate myself further. I lost the ability to know that they had my best interest in mind. I wish I would have been able to communicate that I truly didn’t know what I needed.
- I need you now more than ever.
Everything I said, my behavior, all communicated I didn’t want my family around. The truth is that I did but that it was extremely painful at the same time. I wish I could have let them know that I needed them more than ever. I wish I could have found words to let them know that their role in my life was still valuable and that I needed their presence in my life.
- What I want is relief. I need help.
This was the big one. No matter how bad my depression got (and it got really bad), I didn’t want to admit that I needed help. I refused to tell my wife that I knew I was sick. It was fear that drove me into silence. I wish I could have communicated to them how much I really did want help but didn’t know where to go, what to do, or where to start. I wish I would have said, “no matter how much I tell you I’m fine, I’m not. I need help. I want relief.”
Depression and Mental Illness don’t just affect the one inflicted with the disease. They affect every person connected with the one suffering. Family members and loved ones equally suffer from the illness, but in a different way. I encourage you to seek help in your own way. You may not be able to force your loved one into treatment or help, but you can seek help/wisdom for yourself that will help you learn how to take care of yourself in the best possible way. Many organizations provide support specifically for families and friends of mental health sufferers. Consider seeing a therapist who can help you understand the disease and what your loved one is going through. Perhaps you know a friend who has had a similar experience and you can connect with them to have someone to talk with? One thing you can is to check with your local mental health department to inquire about services that are available in your area.
Eventually, my wife and I attended therapy together and it was one of the best things that ever happened to our relationship. She was able to understand more fully what I was experiencing, and I was able to see the pain she was going through. We committed to helping each other heal and that allowed us to join in one another’s pain without blaming each other for causing it. We got angry for each other and focused our energy on healing…one day at a time.
My heart is with each of you and with all those who suffer from this illness. Together, I believe we can find healing, hope, and wholeness. I wouldn’t say it if I haven’t experienced and continue to experience it.
Make sure to check back tomorrow when I will discuss: DEPRESSION and Spirituality.
Be Blessed Friends…You Already Are!
This is where some of the stigma is created and misunderstanding can cause a great divide. The word, “depressed” is overused a lot in our society…especially by young people. I’ve even seen it used as #hashtags on social media when people are expressing or describing their day or an event that happened. I am not trying to minimize anyone’s feelings or experience. However, there is a huge difference between feelings of sadness and/or a melancholy attitude, and clinical depression.
The former is something that everyone experiences. Disappointment, sadness, rejection, loss, it’s all a part of the human experience. But most bounce back, rather quickly from said experiences even though they may touch feelings or a disposition of depression. Clinical depression is not the same.
The difference is that the person doesn’t bounce back, they sink further and further into darkness…and it’s not a choice. When this happens every part of the whole person begins to suffer and depression literally attaches itself and becomes a part of you. The physical body suffers. The brain experiences extreme trauma. The core of who we are, our soul or spirit if you will is wounded. It is more than a chemical imbalance. Severe depression literally begins to cripple the body in every single way you can imagine. It is painful, it hurts, it is torment, and it is hell. A person begins to feel extreme emotions that flood the parts of the brain that help regulate and produce rational thought processes. As a result negative thought patterns take over, which perpetuate the problem by producing more extreme emotions. It is an ugly, cyclical pattern that develops, and leaves one with a warped sense of reality. This is what causes peculiar and unusual behaviors in a person that is severely depressed. The mind is literally waging a war that is exhausting, debilitating, and very dangerous. Up becomes down, left becomes right, and there is no normal anymore.
NO ONE ASKS FOR OR WANTS TO BE DEPRESSED
I have never met a person struggling with depression or mental illness that asked for it. Part of the struggle with Depression is the intense feeling of shame. Remember, shame is different from guilt because shame says I AM BAD, I AM WRONG, I AM UNWORTHY, etc… As I have shared my story and experience with depression I have spoken to many people who have also suffered, and healed, and almost every single time there is a common thread…at some point or another each of us believed that we had done something to deserve it. This is a lie that the disease produces, shame tells it because it needs it to be true to survive, and we believe it. I can’t tell you the amount of time and energy I spent trying to figure out where I’d gone wrong and what I could do to fix it.
What I want people to know who have never experienced this kind of depression, is that your friend or loved one is not at fault. No one is. Depression/Mental Illness is a sickness, not a punishment. The reason we need to #EndTheStigma is because our society has long treated mentally ill or depressed persons as “less than.” We are compassionate towards so much in our country that we need to be compassionate toward, but this is one area where we are horribly missing the mark. A side effect of depressive episodes is the pull to withdraw and isolate oneself, which only feeds the monster that is depression. When people don’t feel safe to share with someone because of the stigma that does exist it drives this need of avoidance and isolation further and further into the abyss of hopelessness, loneliness, and darkness.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO FULLY UNDERSTAND OR RELATE TO DEPRESSION OR MENTAL ILLNESS TO HAVE EMPATHY FOR IT.
Empathy is about being human. It is about awareness, compassion, and grace even if you don’t understand or haven’t shared an experience. Empathy is grounded in grace. Empathy combined with Grace is a remedy that shame stands no chance of surviving. Empathy is the antidote to the shame that so many who suffer feel day in and day out.
You may never suffer with depression in your lifetime. I hope you don’t. But mental illness in America is at alarming rates and chances are you will know (if you don’t already) someone who will struggle mightily with the disease. My hope is to provide you some insight to help you love that person the best way possible and to help them find hope and healing. I am a walking miracle. I would not be here today if I didn’t have some people in my life who knew how to love me through the struggle.
In the words of the great Jim Valvano: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” Together we can shed light on this awful illness, raise awareness, and give some much needed hope to those who need it the most.
Make sure and check back tomorrow for another post on this series: DEPRESSION: What I really Wanted to Say to My Loved Ones
Be Blessed Friends…You Already Are!
As the news of Robin Williams death circulated the world of social media yesterday it left me plenty of time to reflect and remember the dark and ugly world of depression. While many were offering their opinions (some good, some not so good, some incredibly shaming) I had no choice but to visit my own experience.
SUICIDE. Every time I hear the word I get a knot in the pit of my stomach and I’m transported back to the night where I walked up to the threshold of death and stepped over the line. That was over two years ago but I can be transported there in a heartbeat, like the flip of a switch, in an instant. I’m very lucky to be alive these days and I’m extremely grateful that my experience with the fiery flames did not consume me.
I have spent the past two years (and continue to do so) healing in my mind, body, and spirit from the awful illness that is depression. Recently, I published a book: The Ugly Beautiful: a journey of hope via the road of suffering, where I extensively share my experience with depression, what I have learned, and most importantly the healing I have found.
My life has changed so much over the past 2+ years. I spend a lot of my time now talking with other people who find themselves dealing with the debilitating disease that is depression. That is why days like yesterday are so difficult for me, because although I didn’t know Robin’s exact circumstances surrounding his struggle with depression, I can guarantee you I know the feelings that are associated with that level of hopelessness.
IT IS TIME TO SHED LIGHT ON THIS AWFUL DISEASE AND RAISE AWARENESS.
Over the next several days I am going to be writing several posts on this subject. I hope you will read them and I hope you will share them. Why? Because you never know who you know that may be on the brink of the same decision. Most of the people in my life had no idea I was in the darkness that I was in. Depression, even severe depression can be masked very well on the outside.
Here is the main thing I want to share in this post. Our society by and large does not understand this disease and is one of the contributors to the isolation that those who struggle experience. If you are new to this discussion then I want to suggest that if you have no personal experience with depression then please educate yourself before taking to the world of social media to express your uninformed opinions about the subject. Chances are that someone who follows you or sees your comments does in fact struggle with depression and those uneducated comments wound deep and keep people in the dark.
NO ONE CHOOSES DEPRESSION
I have talked with so many people who struggle with depression and I have yet to meet one person who has chose this tough road of loneliness, hopelessness, and despair. Contrary to what you may think or may have been taught it is not as simple as choosing to be happy or think positive. I begged and pleaded every day for my depression to go away. I did not want to be depressed and when I would read or hear comments like, “why don’t you do something you enjoy” or “just be grateful your alive” or “I suggest you pray and really read the Bible”, I would only descend further into the grip of shame and the abyss of darkness would swallow up my soul.
It is a proven fact that the brain of a severely depressed person does not function like it is meant to function. The parts of the brain that are responsible for rational thought process and being able to overcome what would normally be easy to deal with literally stop working. What may seem to others like “crazy” or “irrational” decisions or behaviors, seem like the best option available to the person dealing with the numerous problems that depression brings with it.
When someone makes the choice to do something as drastic as to take his or her own life, it is a decision that seems like the best option available at the time, often the only option. Depression clouds the mind and reality is so skewed that everything is inside out and turned upside down. It is not a decision made out of selfishness, it is a decision made out of complete and total desperation.
Why am I talking about this?
Because I have gone to the bottom, I have been in complete and total darkness, I flirted with death, and I survived. Since then I have been the unbelievable recipient of some great people who helped me find the healing and freedom I now enjoy. But I think it is time to raise awareness. I would much rather have found healing before I made the decision to do what could have ended my life. It is time to let people know that hope does exist inside of depression and that real help is available.
It is time to end the stigma that exists in our country that depressed persons are Less Than. It is time to overwhelm the shame associated with this disease with enormous amounts of grace, empathy, and understanding. It is time to extend a hand and say, “I don’t know what you are going through but I am with you. I’m not leaving you and you are worth the fight.” It is also time for those of us who do know, who have walked the same road, to share our stories. People need to know that this illness does not define them, that is not who they are, and that there is help and hope available to them.
Stay caught up with the blog this week, as I will be digging further into several aspects of this disease and offering insights to both those who struggle, and the families and friends of those who struggle. Together, let us end the stigma associated with Mental Illness.