Suicide Prevention: Life in My Brown Robe

Blog by Shelly Beach

© 2017

Sunday, September 10th marked World Suicide Prevention Day

While I never attempted suicide, I have struggled with depression and several periods of life when I struggled with suicidal thoughts. I’ve never written or spoken much about these battles, but perhaps my story can help someone gain perspective on their own depression.

I experienced a childhood sexual assault when I was around ten years old. I never told anyone what happened because of overwhelming fear and shame. I was in trauma therapy for weeks before I even remembered the experience. My most profound experience of abuse occurred when I was 19 and assaulted by a serial rapist. I experienced a number of symptoms of PTSD but did not receive counseling or treatment.

I was married within a year of my assault. Sex was awkward and triggering. Within six months of our wedding, I was pregnant. For the two years following the birth of our first child, I slowly became frozen. The slow onset of depression can be difficult to name when everything in life seems to be “fine”: a wonderful husband, a new baby, supportive family.

But my husband Dan and I call the years after our first child was born the years of “the brown robe.” I seldom dressed, unless it was necessary for me to leave the house. When I was home, I sat in a chair and stared at the television or wandered the house in a fog.

I didn’t have the words to identify depression. I didn’t know that the birth of a child could trigger depression after sexual abuse. I simply fell into deep guilt-driven depression over my lack of ability to be a “good” wife and mother.

Right about this time, Dan and I moved to a small farming community. He worked as a school administrator. I taught English. Community life was wonderful. Our friends were wonderful. We lived in a large country farmhouse with charm and character (and a few bats).

But I was deeply, deeply depressed. I was suffering from horrible migraines and had been put on new medications that I later learned could contribute to depression. But for hours at a time I fixated on how better off my family would be if I would be gone, that I was a failure as a mother and wife. I knew I was too cowardly to actually follow through, but I devised various plans for taking my life.

All this time, I never considered telling someone, asking for help, talking to my doctor. I simply saw myself as a failure. I didn’t understand that my depression was result of multiple untreated traumas, and what I was experiencing as common to many women.

I eventually went off my beta blocker medication, and my suicidal thoughts and depression faded. I began to study trauma and PTSD and understand what had happened. The shame and guilt lifted, and I found appropriate treatment.

Does this mean I never ever struggle with depression? No. My multiple sclerosis is also a contributor to depression, so I need to be pro-active.

So what can you do? I can tell you what helps me.

I monitor my self-talk. When it slips into negative thinking, I correct it with the truth–about who I really am.

I get out of the house. No matter how I may feel, I make time to see Christian friends who hold me accountable and speak life into me.

I listen to uplifting music. For me that’s a lot of Christian music, but it’s also beautiful music, fun music, and contemplative music.

I know my trauma triggers and manage my responses. For instance, I know that I can only manage a certain amount of grief regarding abuse. People naturally share their stories with me, but

I take anti-depressants when needed. This has actually been quite helpful since receiving my MS diagnosis. I don’t tolerate sunlight well and am susceptible to depression. A low dose of anti-depressant has contributed to my overall health.

I exercise. Moving elevates my mood and breaks the patterns of my circular thinking. And exercise always makes me feel productive and generates impetus for me to do the next proactive thing for the day.

Most importantly, I pray. I am a conqueror through the power of Jesus Christ, and I access the power of the Spirit through prayer and time in the Word of God.

What about you? Have you struggled with suicide and depression? What has given you hope?

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Online chat also available at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 

Raising Stalker-Savvy Kids: How to Keep Kids Safe From Abuse

Raising Stalker Savvy Kids: How to Keep Kids Safe from Abuse

By Guest blogger Dawn Damon, award-winning author of
When the Woman Abused Was Me

 

In June of this year, 51-year-old Wisconsin school bus driver was charged and jailed after keeping a 15-year-old girl on his bus, pressuring her to come home with him, and forcing unwanted physical contact with her. He was charged with child enticement, child abduction, and stalking.

This case and others like it are far too prevalent. We can bewail culture, poor parenting, the government, schools, the media, political parties, or the high school teacher who gave us that grade we didn’t deserve, but the truth is that predators exist, and most of them are good at hiding their predatory nature. So as parents and caretakers, we must do all we can do to raise safety savvy, stalker-savvy kids.

We want to keep our children safe.We hope and pray that bus drivers, coaches, teachers, friends, friends’ siblings, and our child’s friends’ parents don’t present a threat to our kids. But the truth is that no parent or caregiver can assure their child 100% safety in the world, just as we can’t assure them they’ll never be in a car accident or get cancer.

 

The world is a scary place. According to the FBI, in 2016, 465,676 children were reported missing to the National Crime Information Center (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 2017). And since many missing children are never reported, there is no way to determine the true number. Then consider the additional one in five girls and one in twenty boys who become victims of sexual assault.

So what can we do to protect the children we love and care for from abuse?

First, it’s important to understand that no parent or caretaker, no matter how well-intentioned, loving, and responsible, can ensure that their child will never be harmed by someone. It is simply impossible to protect children from every possible scenario that exists. But the following guidelines can help you make the world a safer place for the children you love.

  • Begin early. Talk about sexual safety when your children are small. Teach young children the names of their body parts and that certain parts are private.
  • Teach privacy. Be sure your children know that certain parts of the body should not be seen or touched by others. Stay with your child for medical exams.
  • Teach your child to say ‘no.’ Children should learn to listen to their instincts. If they feel uncomfortable about touch, they should say ‘no.’ Let them know they can and should say no to adults who cross boundaries or make them feel awkward. Then reinforce it when you are with them.
  • Teach your child to tell. Children need to know that perpetrators try to trick kids. Roleplay different ways someone might lure them. Teach them that abusers lie and ask children to keep secrets. Teach them to expect to be told that terrible things will happen if they tell an adult. Let your child know you will protect them, and that telling is the best and right thing. Explain that telling is the only way to protect themselves and others and for the perpetrator to get needed help.
  • Assure them they won’t get in trouble. Experiencing abuse is never a child’s fault. Make sure they understand they won’t be punished if they tell you, and telling when someone is someone else is courageous. Be a safe place for your child.
  • Make time. Be available to talk about everyday life with your kids—school, sports, friends. What’s happening? Who do they spend time with? What are those people like? Listen to your child’s concerns as a regular part of your day.
  • Use your life. Give illustrations of safe conduct from your life or the lives of those you know. Or provide examples from the media. Talk about safety as the topic naturally comes up.

Warning Signs:  Children are often reluctant to talk about sexual abuse, even when asked directly, and understandably so. Be alert to changes in behavior, such as personality changes, anger, grades dropping, regression (bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, etc.), new fears, clinginess, acting out, nightmares/sleeping problems, or self-harm.

Most importantly, know that whether you are educating a child or responding to a child’s tragic story of abuse, your calm, loving, reassuring attitude will lay a foundation for healing, hope, resilience, and a sense of safety in an uncertain world.

#resilience #childabuse #childabusesafetytips #parenting #safetysavvykids #childpredators

 

Dawn Damon is the award-winning author of When a Woman You Love Was Abused and the recently released When the Woman Abused Was You. She is an

author, national speaker, radio host, and pastor. Her first book won multiple awards for excellence and is used by educators, community outreaches, therapists, and prisons across the country. You can find her at dawnscottdamon.com.

Childhood Trauma and the Church

BackToSchoolBlues

I’ve done a fair amount of research over the past few years on Kaiser Permanente’s ACE Study. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.

More than 17,000 Kaiser Permanente employees volunteered to undergo a comprehensive physical examination to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

Ten categories were determined to be adverse childhood experiences. Five are personal:

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect

Five are related to other family members:

  • A parent who’s an alcoholic
  • A mother who’s a victim of domestic violence
  • One or no parent in the home (divorce, death, abandonment)
  • A parent who’s incarcerated
  • A family member with mental illness

The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. It is critical to understand how some of the worst health and social problems in our nation can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.

More importantly, the ACE Study provides insight about why so many people are physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken in our churches and communities. 

According to Kaiser’s findings, a stunning link exists between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional problems. The study’s researchers came up with an ACE score to explain a person’s risk for chronic disease. Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma you’ve experienced. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems. For instance,

  • For women, the risk of need for antidepressants by the age of 50 increases to 100%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of COPD in adulthood increases by almost 20%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of serious financial problems in adulthood increases by approximately 23%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of of teen pregnancy increases by 40%.
  • With an ACE score of 4 or more, the risk of being raped later in life increases by more than 30%.

My best friend, a woman who has clung to her faith in God since childhood, scores 10 out of 10. Social workers who have met her and know her story call her a “miracle” and consider it beyond remarkable that she has lived into her fifties.

It’s time for the church to recognize the value, dignity, and role of the broken and hurting in our midst.

Jesus came for the lost and hurting, not so we could minister to one another.  Our programming should reflect integrate the needs of families with special needs children, those with mental and physical illness, caregiving ministries, and knowledge of community resources. Our pews are filled with adults, young people, and children, who are suffering from domestic violence, abuse, hunger and neglect, mental and physical illness, caregiver fatigue, pornography addiction, eating disorders, addictions, and many other wounds and are searching for help and hope.

I, for one, am enormously grateful for a church that ministers to needs such as these, and provides counseling and practical support for those in need. Churches also need to equip each of us to step into roles of loving service as God leads.

For practical resources for the hurting, visit MusicfortheSoul.org.

How do you think the church can better meet the needs of those who have been influenced the the categories of the ACE Study?

My Love-Hate Relationship with Waiting

make today countIt’s been eight months since I walked through emergency room doors and asked for an MRI of my brain.

I knew something was up. It was the same old feeling I’d had in 1999 when I knew something was seriously wrong with my head. And I was right.

My MRI showed a large SOMETHING.

The problem has been figuring out what it is. My diagnoses have ranged from an aggressive and deadly form of tumor, to multiple sclerosis, and finally to a stroke or bleed in my brain stem.

Over the course of eight months, I’ve been seen by more than seven doctors in multiple hospitals. Every doctor has overturned the diagnosis of the doctor before them.

In a nutshell, I have found this experience frustrating.

Mostly because I haven’t had a treatment plan or a way of determining which of my ever-changing symptoms are important and which are simply oddities.

Illness is frustrating. And exhausting. And often stirs misunderstanding.

Over the past eight months, I’ve come to hate a lot of things about waiting.

  • Waiting can suck me into focusing on the injustices of the world (or at least my perception of injustice), Like why I’ve been billed near six figures for so many conflicting diagnoses. Pain so easily shifts our focus away from others and onto ourselves. And while it’s all right to make ourselves a priority, it’s not right to make ourselves the focal point from which all things are measured.
  • Waiting can lure me into wanting to demand my rights. After all, aren’t I entitled to my freedom? Actually, I’m entitled to nothing except to love mercy, to seek justice (which isn’t the same as demanding my rights), to walk humbly with God and people.
  • Waiting can narrow my vision. The longer I wait, the more I am tempted to see only my narrow slice of life and magnify my seeming needs. Waiting can take my eyes off God and others as I grow increasingly self-focused.
  • Waiting can pull me into isolation.Exhausted by circumstances, I may choose to withdraw or simply slip into isolation unaware.
  • Waiting can stir me to anger. The longer I look at circumstances and other people, the more easily I become convinced that I’m getting the short end of the stick. I convince myself that God doesn’t care enough to help me, and my anger feeds my attitude, which feeds my anger, in a vicious cycle.

Over the past eight months, I’ve also learned to appreciate a lot of things about waiting. 

  • Waiting can broaden my vision for the injustices of the world.If we allow it to, our pain can shift our attention to those suffering in similar situations–or in worse situations. I’ve found that ministering to others over these past months has been one of the most restorative things I’ve done for myself.
  • Waiting offers me opportunities to advocate for others, based upon what I’ve learned.Fifty percent of the U.S. population suffers with chronic illness. We often don’t take the time to understand what it takes for these people and their caregivers to manage life. I recently went to the zoo with my family for an outing. The heat and physical exertion overwhelmed me, and I pulled my scooter under a tree to rest while my husband went to get me something to drink. Hundreds of people passed me without saying a word. Except for one young father and son who stopped to see if I was all right. Why? Because they were looking past themselves and the crowd for people in need.
  • I’ve learned that waiting can enlarge my vision for God and others. Waiting can draw me toward God and others if I focus on his character and his goodness and his faithfulness. As I focus on him, other elements of my life and purpose come into focus, including the way I see others and my heart to know and serve them.Waiting can fill me with grace. The more I focus on the goodness of God, the more I see how blessed I am, how loved I am, and how secure I am. I become increasingly convinced that I am never out of God’s care, and my gratitude explodes into a grace-filled, purpose-driven life.
  • Waiting can fill me with grace. The more I focus on the goodness of God, the more I see how blessed I am, how loved I am, and how secure I am. I become increasingly convinced that I am never out of God’s care, and my gratitude explodes into a grace-filled, purpose-driven life.

Yes, I’ve been waiting for eight months for a diagnosis, but I get to choose where I place my eyes, my heart, and my faith.

But God’s goodness, mercy, and grace in my life haven’t dimished for a moment.

 

Love Letters from the Edge Featured on WZZM Take Five

LoveLettersCover

 

Tomorrow, July 21, I will be talking about Love Letters from the Edge: Meditations for Those Struggling with Brokenness, Trauma, and the Pain of Life on WZZM TV’s Take Five. The show airs from 9-10am ET.

Be sure to ask friends, educators, medical professionals, ministry workers, those who work in the justice system,and employers to listen in for valuable information on post-traumatic stress disorder and the toll it takes on those who have experienced trauma in its many forms.

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?