PTSD AWARENESS: PTSD in the Pew

Photo Credit: photographyblog.dallasnews,com

Photo Credit: photographyblog.dallasnews,com

Most people associate PTSD with veterans returning from war. They don’t see PTSD as an issue that affects babies, children, teenagers, young adults, professionals, in fact, anyone of any age, background, race, or from any demographic region can be affected by PTSD.

PTSD is far more common than we think.

If you attend a rural church of 100 people, at least 5 adults and adolescents in your small congregation suffer from PTSD. If you attend a church of 1,000 in an urban area like Atlanta or Chicago, approximately 250 adults and adolescents in your congregation are struggling with PTSD.

According to ptsd.ne.gov, approximately 4% of U.S. adults and 5% of adolescents have PTSD in the course of a year. This statistic does not take into account younger children who also often suffer from PTSD, and much higher percentages in larger cities.

Unfortunately, rates of PTSD in urban areas are higher than for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq (from 11-20%).

PTSD is primarily a war-related condition, right? Wrong. 

 

The most common cause of PTSD among the general population is car accidents. In fact, up to 30% of people who experience car accidents will go on to develop symptoms of PTSD. 

PTSD can be caused by any event that causes paralyzing fear and overwhelms the brain’s ability to cope. PTSD can be caused by

  • natural disasters
  • technological disasters
  • pre-birth child loss
  • adoption (the child’s or mother’s experience)
  • childbirth
  • preverbal childhood medical trauma
  • childhood medical trauma
  • adult medical trauma
  • neglect and abandonment
  • domestic violence
  • sexual abuse
  • secondary trauma (first responders, social workers, spouses)
  • caregiving
  • grief
  • bullying

PTSD is a brain illness rooted in chemical and biological causes that typically require trauma-specific treatment.

Unfortunately, the church often treats mental illness as a spiritual problem. However the brain is an organ, and its function is rooted in the same created biological and chemical processes as the rest of our organs. Diabetics take insulin and other medications for their diabetes. People go for physical therapy for rehabilitation following strokes and brain injuries. Those living with PTSD also require therapy and rehabilitation. That need does not connote spiritual weakness. Unfortunately, “guilting” and counsel people away from needed PTSD treatment is too often the position of the church.

People who suffer from PTSD need compassion, patience, understanding from the church, and friends willing to listen.

Christians who suffer from PTSD feel guilty.

They feel unfixable.

They feel alienated.

They often suffer with symptoms like depression, addictions, obsessive-compulsive disorder, extreme anxiety, hyper vigilance, and other coping mechanisms that have helped them navigate life. These coping mechanisms begin to fail as the years pass.

People with PTSD find it enormously difficult to move past their PTSD symptoms unless they find effective trauma treatment, which the church often minimalizes or even demeans.

The church needs to provide greater understanding of and resources for those with mental illnesses like PTSD.

Mental illness is brain illness and deserves focus in the church as a stewardship issue–stewardship of body, soul, and spirit.

 

Additional information is available in our FREE ebook, “The Truth about Trauma,” which can be downloaded from the pages of this blog.

For more information and to inquire about training your church on biblical foundations in mental illness, contact Kristen Kansiewicz, author of “On Edge: Mental Illness in the Christian Context.” 

 

Observations about the Duggars, Judgment, and Human Nature

WhenAWomanCoverFew people have received more media coverage in the past weeks than Josh Duggar and the Duggar family.

The family became well-known for their television show (Fill in Ascending Large Numbers here) Kids and Counting. Josh is the oldest of the Duggar children and in recent years has become an outspoken political voice among conservatives. (Paint target on his back here from both political liberals and Christians whose feathers are ruffled by girls in dresses and home schooling, among other Duggerish practices.)

I’ve watched the show on and off, which I find preferable to reality choices such as Honey Boo-Boo, Jersey Shore, and The Real Housewives of Places I’m Glad I Don’t Live. I can say that I don’t agree with everything the Duggars are purported to believe about childrearing and theology, but I do find them charming and loveable in many ways.

Josh Duggar was barely 14 when he engaged in irresponsible sexual behavior.

The same age as four people who engaged in similar sexual activities with people in my family. Other children responsible for the same kinds of actions were a few years younger or older than Josh. No one in my family chose to stone these kids, throw them in jail, or demand adult legal action.

I find several things interest about the public’s response to Josh Duggar and his family.

1. We judge those we dislike or don’t agree with more quickly than those we love or see as like ourselves.

Take a real look at your self-talk. Be honest. Many Christians who see themselves as “liberal” are simply “reverse Pharisees,” judging those more conservative in their choices in negatve ways. We see ourselves as liberated and above them, often speaking and acting condescendingly toward Christian brothers and sisters. We judge more harshly. I know few people who would want their fifteen year old child treated as Josh Duggar has been treated.

Who of us has actually has heard the facts firsthand, unfiltered by the media? How would you like your story told by someone who didn’t know you and whose job–at least in some news outlets–was to slant the facts and tell the story in the most sensational way possible in order to engage their readership? Someone who already has drawn a conclusion about your lifestyle and values?

Who of us has or is willing to apply the same standards of judgment to their loved ones and require the same kind of treatment many are demanding of Josh?

 

2. A “killer” lurks inside all our hearts.

The truth of the matter is that we ENJOY seeing the demise of those we dislike or disagree with. Competitive sports and politics are evidence. And if that’s not enough, think back on junior high and high school.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you’re an adult you’ve risen above the killer motives that lurks inside all of us that likes to watch the downfall of those we hate. The creators of reality television understand this principle better than most Christians do. My heart…and yours, is deceitful and desperately wicked…so wicked, in fact, that we don’t even recognize it most of the time. (Jeremiah 17:9)

 

3. As long as Satan can keep our panties in a knot about someone else, we take our eyes off our messed-up selves.

You see, Josh sinned because he’s a sinner, and I’m pretty sure he knows it because he’s admitted it. The people who are busy throwing stones at him are probably not taking the time to see how much they’re like Josh and every other sinner on earth. I, for one, and so messed up that Jesus had to die for me. The good news is that He’s changing me. But we can only be changed when we take the time to focus on our self-talk and movtives as we interact with others in this world.

I’m reminded that Jesus was a friend of sinners. If we’re to be like Him, what should our response be in balancing accountability and love from those who act irresponsibly and hurtfully?

4. We should place focus on the long-term wellbeing of abuse survivors.

Josh’s parents did the responsible thing. His actions were reported to authorities. Law enforcement investigated. The Duggars were public in their dealings. Josh went for counseling. Reports indicate that the Duggar family has been open and forthcoming.

However, survivors of these types of events internalize their experiences differently.

Forgiveness does not replace needed trauma therapy. If the sexual experience took place in an environment of intimidation, fear, threat, etc., the survivors may need ongoing therapy. Other women may need less professional care dealing with the violation that occurred.

But according to Nancy Arnow of Safe Horizon, a New York-based victim services agency, the children who were the objects of Josh’s actions do not match the definition of sexual molestation.

“We have to distinguish between sexualized behavior that might be pretty normal — experimenting, touching each other — versus molesting, subjecting another child to harm.”

Jessa and Jill Duggar have made it clear in media interviews that this incident was forgiven and in their past. If the media and pulic truly cared about so-called “victims,” they should respect their wishes and focus, instead, on the egregious violation of the law in leaking Josh’s juvenile records and publicizing details. 

According to Dawn Scott Jones, award-winning author of When a Woman You Love Was Abused, it’s important for true abuse survivors to do a thorough and honest inventory of the losses they sustained because of their experience before trying to move on.

In the media frenzy to destroy Josh Duggar, little has been said about the needed focus on the long-term wellbeing of the survivors.

The media and the public has missed the point. Their goal has been to crucify Josh and his family. No one would want their child’s DHS records unsealed, their past made public, and exploratory behavior common to fourteen year-old boys applied to their family and friends.

And NO, it doesn’t matter if Josh Duggar is a public figure. We all deserve the right to make mistakes as kids and move on. This is what juvenile court is supposed to help accomplish. And this is the core of Christian community. (I can dream, can’t I?).

Let’s at least pretend to be consistent. And let’s pretend to be consistent.

Abuse is not over when it’s over. Forgiveness, while an important step, is just ONE step toward healing. Don’t drag out a child’s past and ask for adult judgment. The true injustice is the victimization of the children and the entire family by the individual that released Josh’s records, the media that published it, and Christians who love to sling mud instead of focusing on their own dirty hands.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Cedar Falls Christian Writer’s Workshop Taking Registrations

Photo Credit: Photo by anankkml. From FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo Credit: Photo by anankkml. From FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writers of fiction and non-fiction will have the opportunity to hone their skills at a three-day workshop, June 18 – 20. Nationally known authors/speakers will lead the Iowa workshop.

 

Keynote speaker James Watkins, known for spreading hope through humor and writing, will provide practical strategies for communicating effectively with humor. Watkins will also offer insight into how to get your message out into the world, how to write a proposal with the editor in mind, and the ministry of writing. Watkins is the acquisitions editor for Wesleyan Publishing House and the author or co-author of 37 books, including the “Why Files,” which was awarded Christian Retailers Choice for best book series.

 

Keynote speaker Twila Belk, works with veteran author Cecil Murphy and has written or co-written six books. Her latest book is “Raindrops from Heaven: Gentle Reminders of God’s Power, Presence, and Purpose.” Belk interacts daily with the media, editors, agents, publishers, conference directors and other professionals. She will share her knowledge of the industry through sessions that cover obstacles of getting your message out, thinking beyond book writing, and how to create excitement for your book.

 

Shelly Beach, co-founder of the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop, will present sessions on becoming a class-act speaker and building plotlines. Beach is an award-winning author of ten books. She is a national speaker with Advanced Writers and Speakers, as well as Daughters of Destiny prison ministry. She is also co-founder of PTSD Perspectives and has co-authored Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma and the Pain of Life with award-winning author Wanda Sanchez on post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

The workshop will also include sessions on technology, dialogue, poetry, self-editing, memoir, co-writing and research.

For a complete description of all 20 sessions and the daily schedules, visit cedarfallschristianwritersworkshop.org.

 

The workshop is sponsored by Cedar Falls Christian Writers and will be held at the Riverview Conference Center in Cedar Falls, IA. Early registration tuition is $235 through April 30. Registration from May1 until the workshop is $255. Tuition includes all sessions and meals, except for the Friday evening banquet, which is an additional $20. Tuition also includes a 20-minute conference with one of the presenters.

 

Paid manuscript critiques are available on a limited basis for $35. Please visit the website for details.

 

Details, registration forms and lodging accommodations are available at cedarfallschristianwritersworkshop.org. If you have questions, call Jean Vaux at 319-277-7444 or Sue Schuerman at 319-277-0295.

 

How have writer’s conferences helped you advance your writing goals?

Love Letters from the Edge Nominated for Selah Award

Photo Credit: AltonGansky.typepad

Photo Credit: AltonGansky.typepad

Co-author Wanda Sanchez and I were delighted to learn that Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life is one of three books nominated for a Selah Award in the General Nonfiction category.

The Selah Awards, which are awarded annually at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, are awarded to books within Christian publishing that are considered excellent within their genre.

The Selah Awards represent 14 genres, 29 publishing houses, and hundreds of authors. The nominees are listed below:

The 2015 Selah Awards Finalists
Listed in Alphabetical Order According to Book Title

Children’s
Dare U 2 Open This Book by Carol McAdams Moore (Zonderkidz)
Just Sayin’ by Carol McAdams Moore (Zonderkidz)
Our Daily Bread for Kids by Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley (Discovery House Publishers)

Children’s Picture Books
God is Always With You by Michelle Medlock Adams (Candy Cane Press)
If Jesus Walked Beside Me by Jill Roman Lord (Candy Cane Press)
What is Thanksgiving by Michelle Medlock Adams (Candy Cane Press)

Middle Grade Novels
Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper by Burton W. Cole (B&H Kids)
Johanna’s Journey by Cindy Murray Hamblen (Ambassador International)
Speak No Evil by Mary L. Hamilton (HopeSprings Books)
Fiction: Contemporary Romance
One More Last Chance by Cathleen Armstrong (Revell)
Quilted by Christmas by Jodie Bailey (Abingdon Press)
The Calling by Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell)

Fiction: First Novel
Mercy’s Rain by Cindy K. Sproles (Kregel Publications)
Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas (Bethany House Publications)
The Covered Deep by Brandy Vallance (Worthy Publishing)

Fiction: Historical
Soul Painter by Cara Luecht (WhiteFire Publishing)
The Hatmaker’s Heart by Carla Stewart (FaithWords)
What Follows After by Dan Walsh (Revell)

Fiction: Historical Romance
Lightning on a Quiet Night by Donn Taylor (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)
Love Comes Home by Ann H. Gabhart (Revell)
The Pelican Bride by Beth White (Revell)

Fiction: Mystery & Suspense (Third Place Tie)
A Cry From the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks (Thomas Nelson)
Blind Trust by Sandra Orchard (Revell)
No One to Trust by Lynette Eason (Revell)
Nowhere to Turn by Lynette Eason (Revell)

Fiction: Novella
A Shenandoah Christmas by Lisa Belcastro (Washashore Publishing)
One Holy Night by Elizabeth Ludwig (Barbour Publishing)
The Fruitcake Challenge by Carrie Fancett Pagels (Hearts Overcoming Press)

Fiction: Speculative
Once Beyond a Time by Ann Tatlock (Heritage Beacon Fiction)
Shenandoah Dreams by Lisa Belcastro (OakTara)
Thunder by Bonnie S. Calhoun (Revell)

Fiction: Women’s Contemporary
Just 18 Summers by Michelle Cox & Rene Gutteridge (Tyndale House Publishers)
The Revealing by Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell)
The Shepherd’s Song by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers (Howard Books)

Nonfiction: Christian Living
For the Love of Horses by Amber H. Massey (Harvest House Publishers)
Not Who I Imagined by Margot Starbuck (Baker Books)
Praying Through Hard Times by Linda Evans Shepherd (Revell)

Nonfiction: General
Heart Wide Open by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (Waterbrook Press)
Love Letters From the Edge by Shelly Beach and Wanda Sanchez (Kregel Publications)
Renew Your Hope! By Pamela Christian (Protocol, Ltd.)

Nonfiction: Memoir
Bethany’s Calendar by Elaine Marie Cooper (CrossRiver Media)
Dead 13 Times by Cam Tribolet (Whitaker House)
Out of the Dust by Avis Goodhart with Marti Pieper (Aneko Press)

Judging will take place Wednesday, May 20th.

Our sincere thanks to the Selah Award contest organizers and sponsors for the honor of this nomination. It’s our desire that the hopeless find hope through Love Letters from the Edge. We wrote this book to help those who’ve been wounded and broken by life to hear God’s words of love poured out specifically for them.

The Grief of Chronic Illness

WorshipatBHBC

I love going to church.

L-O-V-E with capital letters and exclamation points. Not because our church is perfect, but because I love being surrounded by God’s people.

His bride.

After all, the church was God’s idea, and it’s not like he didn’t know we’d all be imperfect.

All of us.

Yet still he chose to partner with US–self-centered, fickle, and prideful as we are–to change the world.

But since I’ve become chronically ill, going to church has changed for me. And it saddens me.

You see, I’m a people person. A talker. A connector. The lady who had to be shooed out of the auditorium so the maintenance staff could lock up.

I love worship–standing with my hands raised and singing harmonies–sweet or off-key–with my brothers and sisters.

I’m addicted to taking notes and listening for life connections. I dedicate my books to my pastors because they inspire me with my best writing ideas.

But illness has made church a different experience for me.

My attendance has dropped significantly because of pain, fatigue, and other disease-related complications.

Simply dressing for church, driving, and navigating my way to my seat can exhaust me. I often don’t have the strength to sing, much less stand.The chairs in our auditorium don’t have arms, so I lean on my husband or my cane to ease the aching in my arms. I typically “ration” my energy for note-taking, which can be difficult because of vision complications and migraines.

I often pray my way through the service for the most basic of reasons. My illness causes bladder problems, and the restroom is too far for me to walk to with my cane.

By the time the service has ended, both my bursting bladder and aching body are screaming. Dan and I usually attempt our exit during the final prayer because I fear that a prolonged conversation with a well-meaning friend could mean my demise.

But even though church is a challenge for me, I’d rather be uncomfortable there than more comfortable at home.

Why?

  • “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. I can feel His mighty power and His grace.”
  • I can hear the Word of God openly preached–a freedom that may be gone before my grandchildren are grown.
  • I’m inspired by the stories of my brothers and sisters who are also struggling in a sin-cursed world.
  • Because the church is God’s idea, and I’m privileged to be part of his story.
  • Because my story is one thread in the tapestry of love in my local body.
  • Because my church needs me and I need them.

am allowed to grieve for my losses and my pain. God grieves with me. But I also rejoice for life experience that keeps my eyes fixed on the cross. And in the grief of chronic illness, there’s no sweeter place to be than in my church.

Has suffering changed YOUR experience of church or worship? We’d love to hear your story.

 

Chronic Illness: Things I Miss

I

Photo Credit: personal.psu.edu

Photo Credit: personal.psu.edu

t’s been four months since my brain surgery on December 30, 2014. I’m actually surprised I can remember that date without asking someone. My life has changed a lot in the past few months. I’d like to share a few things I miss. I hope it will help bring understanding to those who have friends with chronic illness and/or brain illness.

1. I miss my memory.

I forget things easily. It can be embarrassing, and I can never predict when it will happen or what kinds of things I’ll forget.

Like how to count change at the grocery store.

The name of an old friend.

How to use my phone.

I’m not sure if my memory loss is related to my illness, my brain surgery, or other factors like exhaustion and medications. Doctors haven’t given me a good answer, which is disconcerting. So if you meet me somewhere and I don’t refer to you by name, don’t be offended, Bub.

2. I miss eating.

Not that I can’t eat, but a lot of things about eating have changed.

My mouth hurts all the time. This is because the lesion in my brain stem is pressing on nerves in my face.

Foods with texture can be uncomfortable and difficult to eat. For instance, salad is a challenge. And rice and chips and crackers. It’s also difficult for me to eat and carry on a conversation because I need to focus on swallowing and where food is in my mouth.

Because portions of my mouth and the back of my throat are numb, I choke all the time. I choke when I’m not eating, and the choking makes me cough. So I’ve become a bit picky about the kinds of food that feels “safe” for me to eat and doesn’t hurt my mouth.

3. I miss walking. 

I am able to walk around my small house. And I do walk through Dollar General. But larger spaces are a challenge for me. I’m unable to “walk the mall” or do the kinds of walking others do.

I plan my activities around the limited strength and function of my legs. I’m on a plan to increase my endurance and get on my treadmill as often as possible. But, unfortunately, dizziness and nausea are part of life on a regular basis for me. When they strike, I walk as little as possible and lie on the couch to help keep my tummy under control.

Often my legs are “gone” by one or two in the afternoon. Apparently they hike off somewhere on their own and leave me behind on the couch.

4. I miss church. 

I go as often as possible, but my illness makes my life unpredictable.

I’ve missed the last three weeks, and I’ve cried about it. Yep. Cried. I LOVE my church and being with the people there. We’re an army for Jesus, and I need to see my friends’ faces and be reminded of their stories.

I need to worship.

I need to be broken. Encouraged. Blessed. Humbled. Given the privilege and to express my gratitude.

5. I miss life. Simple things like…

Any activity that involves walking more than twenty-five yards.

Going out for lunch or coffee.

Seeing friends I haven’t laid eyes on in months.

Attending events after 7pm. (This has meant not seeing many close friends since before Christmas.)

Anything that happens after 8pm.

This is NOT a complaint list, but a description of some of the ways life has changed and the things I grieve.

If you know someone with chronic illness or who has experienced personal loss, they grieve every day of their lives. This does NOT mean they do not have joy or trust God. We are allowed to say that challenges are hard and bring that pain to God.

Pray for them. Show compassion and curiosity. But most of all, consider how God might be calling you to enter into their story. 

A great resource for families, caregivers, and friends of those living with mental illness, offered free of charge from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Family to Family 12-week educational course.

If you or a loved one has experienced chronic illness or loss, what resources or assistance has helped you?

Faith, Depression, and the Truth about Mental Health

Photo Credit: Fandango.com

Photo Credit: Fandango.com

One of the hardest things Dan and I ever have done was admit Dan’s dad to a mental health unit. 

You see, we were raised in churches where clinical depression wasn’t talked about. And if someone was brave enough admit they struggled with depression, they were told to trust God, read the Bible, and apply their faith.

Admitting you had any kind of mental illness meant spiritual failure.

But the biology and chemistry that apply to medical science don’t stop at our neck. 

I prefer to talk about mental illness as brain illness because I think the term better describes the true issue. My brain is an organ that is susceptible to illness–in the same way my pancreas or liver or heart or appendix are susceptible to illness.

Illness is rooted in biologicial and chemical processes that take place in our bodies.

Brain illness has been stimatized because it has been misunderstood and feared. As Christians, we known that God loves us in our deepest need and certainly in our health challenges.

He graciously created laws and principles that can be applied to the production of pharmaceutical cures that help us in limited, imperfect ways while we’re living on earth. I take medication for my diabetes. While my mother lived with me, she took medications that would give her the greatest quality of life during her battle with Alzheimer’s–a horrific mental illness.

If you or someone you know struggles with depression or other forms of mental illness, please don’t listen to to messages that shame, stigmatize, or throw false guilt in your direction. 

1. In the words of Cinderella, “Have courage and be kind.” Forgive those who don’t understand your struggles. They are very likely ignorant in the true sense of the word, meaning they don’t have a clue what life is like for you. Unfortunately, the church has done a poor job of reaching out to those with mental health struggles. But the good news is that steps are being taken to change that.

2. Advocate for your mental health and find your tribe. It’s common to think you’re the only one struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, or some other aspect of brain illness. But the truth is that many Christians are fighting the same illnesses. Seek out advocates who understand your struggles, effective medical therapies,  and will fight for you.

3. Consider the role of your church and support team. Does your church support those with brain illnesses? Does it provide support groups? Does it help you find mental health services within your community? Do friends and family provide assistive roles and advocate for you?

God is ALWAYS our ultimate healer and provider.

But we must first admit that we have an illness that merits medical attention before we can seek effective treatment. Admitting that brain illness is a physical reality is often the starting point in the church.

For more information about mental health and Christian therapy information visit ChurchTherapy.com.