Message To Youth: It's All Okay

January 24, 2018

“It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be, the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help.  Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ Gets help. (The Message Bible)  

Sunday night I went back to the church I grew up in and talked to the youth group about mental health. It was a surreal experience to know that X-Files is still popular and cosplay makes me cool - it was not so cool to be a nerd in the mid 90s.  I am trying to not think about my own youth group years with regret. I did feel victorious eating dinner with the teens like a normal person; I was so stuck in the eating disorder back then, memories of teenage meals are not pleasant.

I thought I would share some of my notes.  I tend to write a lot to prepare for a presentation but never get to cover nearly all of it.  I focused on giving encouragement to decrease the sting of stigma even more so than usual.  
No matter how intense or scary your experience or feelings are, know that God loves you and it is always possible to get better and to move toward the life you want. No matter what.  You may have to change your exact course, but a better life is ALWAYS possible.  


My story - always intensely sensitive and cried easily.  Yelling, loud noises, not enough sleep were top triggers.  As a teen, I struggled with thoughts of hurting myself, mood swings, restricting food as a way to feel in control; only told a few - I wish I had told my parents.  I was deathly afraid of the stigma and of hospitals. 

College is often when people first get diagnosed. 

College is tough - for many it is the first time that they have been on their own.  It introduces so many changes and freedoms and questions.  If you start struggling with intense stress, or urges to self harm, make an appointment with your college’s mental health center - that’s what they are for.

In College, I had more intense anxiety, panic attacks, more restricting, more mood swings, so anxious I couldn’t memorize music and had to change my major.  The first summer I came home I was severely depressed and had no motivation or energy.  

The importance of setting a goal - College was very hard for me-I didn’t know how to manage stress, but having the goal to finish no matter what is what kept me going.  I am very proud to have a degree.  

What keeps you going?

I continued to be  in and out of mental hospitals until I got to the point where I no longer wanted to go to the hospital anymore - I took a class called DBT and it taught me skills that help prevent crisis and keep me well. In the last eight years, I have only been hospitalized once.

Shame  - I knew that something was wrong but I struggled with a lot of shame for many years.  Because I so did not want to be “sick” I would stop taking my meds once I started feeling well and then I would relapse.  

It was only when I started looking at what keeps me well instead of what are my problems are and once I started learning skills that I could do on my own to help myself that life really started turning around.   The focus on wellness is part of my job and training as a CPSI don’t look at myself as sick anymore, but as someone with mental health challenges to overcome.  I look at what keeps me well as living skills instead of as coping skills.  I don’t think of myself as “mentally ill,” although I do acknowledge that I have some extra limitations (we all do in some way).

I see a therapist, psychiatrist, a nutritionist a few times a year, facilitate support groups, participate in the community (church, The Rise Theater), art.

A large part of prevention is doing those things that keep you well and reaching out when you notice signs that things are not as well.

More tips to help with stress…sleep, balanced eating, positive affirmations, mindfulness, relaxation, not abusing drugs/alcohol - THEY ALL HELP

Getting help is strong

Peer Support can be life saving.  I desperately wish that someone had introduced me to peer support when I first started experiencing high anxiety.  

Focus on your wellness and strengths.  
What’s right with you?  What keeps you well? 

I leave with these thoughts:

Consent: Everyone is in charge of their own body. Don’t assume anything - yes means yes.

Life is better the more I reach out, the more vulnerable and authentic I am, and the more I serve others. 

Don’t play “the comparison game.” Comparisons will make us miserable.

I’m on disability but I still have a full life.  I work low hours because I’ve found that helps me stay well.  Our worth is not found in our jobs - we are inherently worthy as children of God. 
Of course, only life’s experience will truly be able to teach any of these lessons, but it is my hope that some of the teens can learn these lessons sooner than I did.  I am so grateful that I can be honest and transparent with people - I find life to be so much fuller when I can give all of myself to the world and not just a thin facade.  I really do believe that life is meant to be full and enjoyed, although getting there takes a lot of hard work.  This hard work is definitely worth more than all of Trump’s hotels and golfing courses, bless his little, tiny heart.
(My goals for January)

Link Love:

when we compare ourselves (unfavorably) to others, we often beat ourselves up for not trying hard enough. It’s much more likely that the differences we see reflect an uneven playing field—a reality that Americans just don’t like to accept. Hard work just isn’t enough sometimes.

Huiting Xie - Strengths-Based Approach For Mental Health Recovery

Instead of employing the traditional medical model which emphasizes on pathology, focusing on problems and failures in people with mental illnesses; the strength-based approach allows practitioners to acknowledge that every individual has a unique set of strengths and abilities so that he/she can rely on to overcome problems. [...] Firstly, everyone possesses strengths that can be utilized to improve quality of their life.  Secondly, the consumer's motivation to have a better life stems from the focus on their strengths.  And, finally, all environments contain resources that help consumers develop their strengths.

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