Breaking the Stigma: I've Been Suicidal

Breaking the Stigma: I've Been Suicidal

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day today (September 10). In honor of this, I want to be really vulnerable with you and share why this is so important to me—and why I hope it's important to you, too.

I first encountered suicidal thoughts when I was a senior in high school. It seemed like they came out of nowhere; I came home from a late-night soccer practice one evening and suddenly realized I no longer wanted to live. 

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3 Things I Learned From Quitting Nursing

It's been a year—a whole year!—since I quite my job as a floor nurse. In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago that I worked those long shifts and cleaned up poop (among other things) for a living. Yet in other ways, I'm still learning to adapt to a new career and figure out what's best for me. Here are three things I've learned over the past year from quitting nursing.

1. I needed to learn to make mistakes.

As a recovering perfectionist, I hate mistakes. I've always hated them: mistakes in school, mistakes in social situations, and most of all, mistakes on the job. I hated mistakes because for a long time, I didn't believe in unconditional love. I couldn't imagine love not based on performance.

In the hospital, there was a lot of pressure to get things right. It was simply the nature of the job. And while certainly some pressure came from administration, coworkers, and patients and their families, most of it came from me. Part of that originated in natural bent towards perfectionism, and part of it was added on by depression and anxiety.

Eventually, I realized I was at a point in my life where I needed to learn about grace. If I was going to move forward and grow as a person, I needed to learn how to make mistakes. I needed an environment that was more low-stakes when it came to mistakes. I needed to quit working at the hospital.

For the past year, I've kept busy with freelance editing and writing jobs. It's been a beautiful example of how attention to detail matters, but it isn't life or death. It's given me the space to make mistakes and learn how to handle them. To be honest, it's still makes me cringe a little to admit that it's okay to make mistakes (like forgetting about the time difference when scheduling a call), but in the past year I've learned to embrace this part of being human more than I ever have before.

For that alone, quitting nursing has been worth it. But that's only reason number one!

nurse carrying hospital gurney to emergency room

2. It's time to stop hustling.

In many ways, the business world is all about hustling. When I first launched into the world as a freelancer, I bought into it completely. I learned I had to work overtime, network like crazy, and make a name for myself. I thought hustling was simply part of the entrepreneurial spirit.

As time passed, however, I've come to see a bigger picture. Entrepreneurship is much more than hustling. Hard work is definitely part of the package, but chasing success at all costs doesn't have to be. 

For example, as a pragmatic person and introvert, "networking" often seemed forced. When I focused on networking, I felt like I need to express interest in people of influence just in case they could help me later in life. I felt like I always had a hidden agenda. I know networking isn't like this for everyone, but I've learned I simply don't have the social capacity to connect with everyone—and usually the people I'm naturally drawn to are not the wealthy and well-connected (you know, the people you're supposed to network with so they can get you great, well-paying jobs).

I quit nursing to find a truer version of myself, and hustling was taking me away from that. If I feel like a fraud networking the usual way, it's not worth it. If I feel like I'm losing myself in pursuit of an audience and more "likes" or "views," it's not worth it. If I start to care more about the numbers than about the people they represent, it's not worth it.

I realized it's time to stop hustling, and it's a lesson I keep learning again and again. The data says I should be less successful since I stopped hustling, but I've found the opposite to be true. I may not be making as much money, but I consider a life of authenticity and integrity to be far more successful than losing my sense of self for potential riches.

3. Quitting my job didn't solve all my problems.

When I was working as a nurse, I would rise early before my shift, brew a cup of coffee, and then sink to the floor, totally overwhelmed with the thought of the day ahead of me. I'd sit there, with my back against the wall, and voice desperate prayers for help to get me through the day.

A few days ago, I found myself sinking once again to the floor in my kitchen, overwhelmed by life. With my back against the refrigerator, I was breathing out prayers for help when I realized I was feeling the same way I had when worked at the hospital. Even though I had radically changed my lifestyle, there I was, feeling the exact same way as the year before. I was discouraged and frustrated, to say the least. 

Yet wise words from a friend came to mind in that moment; he had mentioned that measuring progress by feelings wasn't always accurate. Measuring progress by what we've learned and how we've grown, however, was completely different. It was then I remembered I had radically changed my lifestyle so that I would be healthier, not so that I would feel better. While the change in career did decrease my anxiety and depression, it wasn't a quick fix to the hard work of getting to know myself and learning to listen to my emotions.

It did, however, provide a healthier environment to work through the hard parts of life. Another thing I've learned is that part of learning to love and care for myself means creating a healthy, nurturing environment. From quitting nursing to drawing boundaries to joining a gym, each choice I make to create a healthy environment has the potential to change my life. 

When I look back on the past year, it hasn't all been chocolate and naps (because aren't those things better than butterflies and rainbows?). It's been tough, and it still is, but in many ways, quitting nursing has allowed me to learn who I am as a child of God. It's allowed me to embrace grace through trial and error, explore the world and principles of freelancers, and celebrate progress in a more meaningful way. I've grown and changed and learned—and that, to me, makes quitting nursing absolutely worth it.

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I Don't Have to Do a Thing—and Neither Do You

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—I’ve been enjoying a break from scheduled writing and posting (though I’ve still been doing some of that over at karatmag.com). Today I’m taking a “break from my break” to share a couple things that have been wrecking my life (in the best way), and I hope they encourage you! Here's what I’ve been learning.

When God speaks to us, it isn’t always because He wants us to do something.

At the beginning of the year, I spent time praying about when, where, and if I should travel. I felt the Lord was saying this would be a year that I’d get to share a country I loved (Cambodia) with others.

I was thrilled at the prospect. Sharing Cambodia is one of my favorite things—I wish everyone in the world could visit at least once! Quite quickly, I created a long list of possible travel buddies in my head.

Then life sped up. I agreed to various commitments and shouldered new responsibilities. Days sped by, then weeks and months, and suddenly I was committed to going to Cambodia on a medical mission trip—without having “recruited” a single person. I was disappointed.

Yet a couple weeks later, one person wanted to come—and then another, and another, and another. Suddenly, a group of people I knew (and some I didn’t even know!) were eager to travel to Cambodia.

It was then I remembered the other thing God had spoken to me at the beginning of the year: 

You don’t have to do a thing.

 Photo by  Aki Tolentino  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aki Tolentino on Unsplash

I hadn’t connected these two phrases previously, but I was blown away when I did. I realized the Lord wasn’t kidding around when He said in John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

For some reason, I’d started to believe the main reason God spoke to us was because He wanted us to obey Him. When I think of the Bible, I think of instructions and commands—often within the church it’s called the “instruction manual for life.” 

Yet when I really examine the Scriptures, I find much more than instructions. I find stories, poetry, and promises—all pointing to connection. Connection with the One who created us. In fact, the majority of what I read in the Bible guides us to walk with God, not work for God.

For the first time, it dawned on me that perhaps Jesus placed that sense in my heart—the sense that this would be a year when I’d share Cambodia with others—not to instruct me but to give me something to delight in. As a friend shares exciting news with confidante, the Lord had whispered this news to me. Simply because we are friends. Simply to share His joy.

To be a servant of the Lord—this would be enough. Yet He invites us into friendship, too!

As I write, I cannot think of anything sweeter. Sometimes when He speaks, He does call us to action for and with Him. Sometimes, it’s simply for the pleasure of our company in the knowledge of His will.

That is a most beautiful thing.

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Mental Health and Spirituality

Guest Post by Brandon Smee

 Photo by  whoislimos  on  Unsplash

Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash

For years, Sunday was always the day of the week I dreaded most. For most people, church is a place to step outside of the stress of the work week, to encounter the goodness and peace of God, and to receive encouragement for the challenges ahead. But without fail, I would walk out of almost every service on edge, my thoughts spiraling down at an alarming rate.

The same thing was happening during meetings throughout the week, after small groups and worship services. I seemed to struggle to connect with God in worship like my friends, and I became hyper-sensitive to every sermon point, agonizing over whether I was in or out of God’s moral will. I was constantly anxious that I wasn’t satisfying all of God’s expectations for me, and church would remind me of these fears and keep them churning in my mind for hours and days.

I still loved God, and I loved my church and my community there, but as my anxiety increased, my relationship with God and with my church suffered. It wasn’t until I began seeking out help for mental health that I began to understand what was going on and that I was not alone.

Every year in America, millions of Christians experience mental health struggles, and while for many of them faith can be a source of comfort, it can also become a source of distress. For people of faith, mental health struggles often take on spiritual overtones. Many people shame themselves for not overcoming their anxieties with faith, or ruminate over a thousand miniscule spiritual shortcomings. Others may beat themselves up for not experiencing joy or spend hours just trying to feel close to God.

We are tempted to examine our spiritual lives with painstaking scrupulosity, looking for the defect that must be the root of our struggle. “If only I had a better relationship with God,” we tell ourselves, “then I wouldn’t feel this way.”

The reality is that people can experience mental health challenges regardless of the quality of their relationship with God. Great figures like Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon, to name a few, suffered severely with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, yet God used their spiritual walks to impact millions of people.

Depression, anxiety, bipolar and the like are not signs of weak faith but rather opportunities for our faith to shine through. As James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James isn’t saying to stuff our emotions and claim we’re joyful; he’s challenging us to recognize that our struggles test our faith and reveal it to be genuine. Instead of seeing our mental health issues as a deficit of faith, we can realize that God is at work in us, sustaining us and giving purpose to our suffering.

While church can be difficult for many with mental health challenges, there are ways we can find peace, hope, and restoration in our communities in the midst of the struggle. Here are just five tips I’ve learned through my journey.

1. Savor what allows you to connect with God.

When mental health issues develop, it can seem like God is behind a wall. None of the things that used to allow us to relate with him seem to work. It can be hard to focus on Scripture, or wake up early for devotions. Maybe you can’t feel the same emotions in worship, or you find yourself overwhelmed by all the people, lights, and music at a service. Thankfully, God graciously accepts many kinds of worship. There are dozens of spiritual disciplines that Christians have used across the centuries to connect to God.

As you have the opportunity, try different ways of reading Scripture, praying, worshipping, and reflecting. As you find practices that make sense to you, savor them and work them regularly into your life. When Israel was journeying across the wilderness, God appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night; we find that God shows up in different ways under different circumstances, even as God leads us to the same destination.

2. Know your limits.

All humans, not just those with mental health diagnoses, have limits! During the middle of a hard episode, aspects of church can become difficult to get through. If a loud worship service is overstimulating, give yourself permission to walk out (maybe invite a friend to come with you). Don’t force yourself to sit through a service or small group if you’re having a hard time. God desires mercy over sacrifice.

Instead, give yourself space to breath and ground yourself, and go back in when you are ready. Once you realize you are not trapped in the pews, the tension and anxiety around church can decrease, and worship services become less about performance and more about meeting God with the people of God.

 Photo by  KEEM IBARRA  on  Unsplash

Photo by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash

3. Embrace community.

A great temptation for those of us facing mental health challenges is isolation. Others can have difficulty understanding what you are going through, and a mental health episode can make you feel like you have no energy left for connecting with people. But God has designed us to function best both in faith and in life when we are walking with other people. When we embrace community, we can find people to pray, seek God, and have fun with.

Moreover, being with other people can help take our focus from our own struggles to those of others, allowing us to have a positive impact in the lives of those around us. Whether it’s a small group, a Bible study, or a volunteer group, it’s a great idea to find people to walk with.

4. Set up healthy boundaries.

At the other extreme from isolation, mental health struggles can lead us to rely too heavily on others, whether we find comfort in them solving our problems or us solving theirs. In Galatians 6, Paul balances his command to “Bear one another's’ burdens” with the admonition that “each one should carry their own load.”

We support each other, but at the end of the day, we should be carrying our own load, no more and no less. When we find ourselves beginning to rely on a relationship or person at church to take care of us emotionally, keep tabs on us spiritually, or make decisions for us, it’s time to take responsibility for these things ourselves.

While it can sound scary to limit the amount we rely on a friend, it is actually empowering and freeing to carry what God has given us to carry, as it allows us to trust in an unfailing God to support us rather than another person. In addition, a mental health diagnosis in no way diminishes our worth or value as Christians, and as such we should not be okay with people taking advantage of our struggle, abusing or manipulating us, but we should assert boundaries as the respect that comes with bearing God’s image.

5. Maintain a perspective of grace.

Grace is unmerited favor, and God extends it to us abundantly. In our mental health journey, we will find that at many turns our spiritual lives are difficult, and as humans we often mess up and sin. In the process, there is grace for when we walk imperfectly, and grace to strengthen us as we continue toward the future.

Moreover, there is grace to extend to other people who have difficulty understanding or supporting us in the struggle. For people who don’t experience a mental health challenge, what you’re going through may be totally unfamiliar, and they may say or do things in response that hurt more than help. There is grace for them and for you as you seek healing and restoration. As we hold onto that grace, we will find peace, hope, and love accessible to us along the way.

Wrapping It Up

Jesus invites all people to come to the Father through him, including those who experience mental health challenges. He healed whoever he came in contact with, and he has the power to restore the broken thought patterns, neural connections, and trauma that underlie these issues. As long as we remain in the process of healing, may church be a place where we find the love of God among the people of God, and receive empowerment and encouragement to move toward recovery.

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