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

 

Eight Things to Tell Your Children Often

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Most Christians know they’re supposed to talk “nice.”

You know–grace-filled, life-giving words.The problem is that our words pretty much reflect the way we feel, and we often don’t feel grace-filled or life-giving. We often feel exhausted, annoyed, frustrated, and worn down by the unjust, imperfect, and frequently vile world we live in and the far-from-perfect people who populate it. (Including us.)

Then there’s the additional fact that we may feel weary, achy, bleary, and annoyed by bodies that don’t often work the way we’d like them to (this from someone a tad over 30). Sickness, whether it’s ours or the illness of someone we love, is part of the fabric of life. When our kids were small, they never went longer than 10 days without needing to be taken the pediatrician–until they were about eight years old.

It’s easy for parents to feel exasperated and exhausted, discouraged and distracted.

We can be unaware of the things we say about our kids in front of our kids, or simply not think through the realities of our choice of words from our child’s perspective. For instance, we may…

  • compare one child’s grades, talents, looks, or abilities to another child’s grades, talents, looks, or abilities (sibling, relative, or friend). This silently tells your child they’re not measuring up, that they’re not as good as other kids. It reinforces the negative message that they should measure themselves against other people to find their value and erodes their self-respect.
  • label them according to what they do or how they look (the shy one, the chubby one, the smart one, the athletic one, the beautiful one, the bully, the fearful one, etc.). This can communicate that our kids win our love and approval through their academic success, abilities, appearance, etc. It can also reinforce their own negative self-talk or criticism from peers.
  • say negative things about them to other people in front of them. Speaking disparagingly about your child, whether they’re in your presence or not, is disrespectful. Respect runs two ways in healthy relationships. (Speaking honestly to teachers or mentors about areas of learning and character that need work is a different matter.) Take every opportunity to teach and reinforce positive character and integrity in your child (this is not the same as bragging.) Affirm their accomplishments, character growth, and courage on a regular basis.
  • yell/scream at them out of exasperation. I struggled with this behavior for years, all the while feeling horribly ashamed. I ultimately had to go to my kids and confess my sinful behavior. But I could never take back the hurt. I knew my rage was toxic and that no child deserved to be spoken to the way that I yelled. I needed to change my heart and my behavior, and I did. If you rage at your children, get help, apologize to them, and help them understand that parents aren’t perfect.

Eight things to tell your children often:

1. I will always love you. No matter what you do as you grow up, I will never stop loving you, and I will never stop being your (mother/father).

2. I will always be proud of you. I may not be proud of everything you do in your life, but I am proud to be your (mother/father) because you are uniquely you. I’m not proud of you just for the things you do. I’m proud of you for who you are.

3. I have your back. No matter what you do as you grow up, I will always do what’s best for you. This doesn’t mean I’ll always do what you like, but I will do what will bring you the greatest good because I love you.

4. You aren’t perfect, and neither am I. Sometimes you’re going to disappoint me, and sometimes I’m going to disappoint you. That’s okay, We’ll pick up and move on.

5. I’m sorry. There will be times when I will need to apologize. I need to teach you to take responsibility when you hurt others or mess up, so I promise to tell you I’m sorry when I make wrong choices that hurt you or let you down.

6. I forgive you. I will not hold grudges or past disappointments against you. I will forgive the way I would want to be forgiven.

7. You are a valuable child of God and worthy of respect. Don’t allow people to deceive you into thinking that you are less than a child of God, worthy of dignity, respect, and value.

8. Respect others and treat them like you want to be treated. All human life is created in the image of God and to be valued. You are no better than anyone else. Treat others with the grace, respect, and dignity you expect.

I must be honest and admit I didn’t hit all these goals in my parenting. I wish I’d been more deliberate. As a grandma, I hope to be more strategic in the words I speak to my grandkids.

What about you? What things do you try to engrain in your children when you speak to them?

Photo Credit: Pixaby

 

 

How to Cope When We Feel Ripped Off

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When’s the last time you felt ripped off?

Ten minutes ago? Yesterday? Last week?

Sometimes that surge of frustration comes in small doses. And sometimes feeling ripped off produces a tsunami of emotions that carry the power to decimate everyone in our path.

It may have been as you sat in a miles-long traffic jam on the interstate and cars flew past you so they could cut into the front of the line.

Or it may have been when your kid sat the bench again and wouldn’t see playing time for the seventh consecutive game.

Or was it when your sister who lives out-of-state said your mom certainly didt have dementia so she wasn’t going to waste her money by helping you with expenses for your mother’s caregiving. If you believed Mom had dementia, the cost of paying for her care was your responsibility.

The question is never if we will feel ripped off by life, but how often, how much, and how we cope with the hurt.

It’s normal to feel upset when people act unjustly. It hurts when people take advantage of us, disregard, and disrespect us. But the truth is that everyone lives from a self-centered core. That includes me and you. We choose friends who agree with us and our lifestyle choices. We believe our opinions are right. We spend most of our energy trying to make sure we get our way.

When someone rips us off, treats us unfairly, or acts unjustly, our response is usually a mix of emotions:

  • ANGERWe’ve all felt this familiar rush. I know I did the other day as I waited in line at a medical clinic for more than twenty minutes, leaning heavily on my cane for support as my legs cramped and throbbed. I finally gained the first position in line. My legs were burning, so I slipped into a chair near me to rest for a moment. Moments later the receptionist called “Next!” and the young man who’d been standing behind me raced to the counter. I instantly thought of bopping him over the head with my cane. He’d watched me stand in front of him since he’d walked in the door a few minutes after me. He’d seen me finally  sit down out of weariness and knew I was next in line. He simply didn’t care. And I wanted to smack him for his rudeness. Or at least give him a piece of my mind.
  • SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESSI immediately started an internal monologue about how disrespectfully people can act.   I would certainly never have done such a thing. I pumped up my feelings of righteous superiority, although I was blind to it that just then. I thought I was just observing the truth about someone who needed to learn how to respect others. But I failed to recognize that I was excusing MY disrespectful attitude just because I allowed someone to hurt my feelings.
  • ENTITLEMENT. I felt entitled to feel angry toward someone who treated me rudely. But truth should never be measured by our emotions–especially in moments of anger. Bug when we feel hurt, our default is to tell ourselves we’re entitled to have people treat us well. Jesus tells us to expect to be treated unjustly (Matt. 5:10-12; 2 Cor. 4:7-11; Jn. 15:18-21). As followers of Jesus, we lay down our lives and our rights. “I am crucified with Christ…” (Gal. 2:20).
  • DESIRE FOR REVENGE. I was once with a friend who was searching for a parking spot. After circling the parking lot for twenty minutes, he finally spotted someone pulling out just a few spaces ahead of us. But as the gentleman pulled out, another car driven by a young woman raced into the space behind him. My friend circled the lot one more time as the young lady entered the store. Then he returned to the car and deflated the tires on her car. Certainly not an action I recommend, but one I think we all have related to at one time or another.
  • BITTERNESS. Bitterness is resentment that bears poisonous fruit. (Deut. 29:18) Bitterness comes from walking in the stubbornness of our hearts (Deut. 29:19), refusing to change, or holding on to our anger. “…the one who… blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ In other words, in spite of what the Word of God says, we continue to think, speak, and act in a manner that justifies our anger.
  • VALIDATION. We try to garner support for our position and draw people into our “camp.” If you’ve ever lived through a church split, you’re familiar with this emotion. We long for other to see how right we are (and how wrong they are). We lose sight of the double-love command to love God with our heart, soul, and, mind and to love others the way we want to be loved.

Wow do we cope when we feel ripped off? 

  • Acknowledge emotions. God created us with emotions. It’s healthy to acknowledge them and unhealthy to stuff them. If an employee embezzles from you, it’s natural to feel angry. Acknowledge your anger and deal with it appropriately, but don’t let it rule your life, your tongue, and your choices. We can’t allow anger to take root in our hearts and tend and feed it like a pet petunia.
  • Heighten your awareness of your self-talk. Shut down negative dialogue and replace it with statements of gratitude. “Yes, I lost thousands of dollars, Lord, but I still have my wife and children.” Negative self-talk plays a major role in anger and bitterness, and it’s important for us to take control and stop the cycle.
  • Choose to focus on the positives in your life. If you don’t think there are any, create some. Look for someone who needs a friend. Volunteer at a hospital, school, or nursing home. Tutor. Teach a skill at a homeless shelter. Write letters. Break the cycle of victim thinking.
  • Spend time with GodThe more time we spend with God and the more intimately we know Him, the more our gratitude grows. The more our gratitude grows, the more we love others. The more we love others, the more we’re able to deal with emotions when we’re angry.
  • Pray for a humble heart. We’re all sinners saved by the Grace of God. Self righteousness and pride have no place in a believer’s heart. If you’re looking at people in terms of “them,” something’s wrong.
  • Commit to living an “altared” life. As Jesus disciples and God’s children, we’ve relinquished our rights. We live  to glorify God. Every moment is an act of sacrifice–including our responses to others’ mistreatment.
  • Pray for the other person. Nothing can change our hearts like praying for someone we don’t like. God uses prayer to change our hearts and our perspective, so prepare to be transformed. Ask God to help you see that person’s story, their wounds, their needs, and their heart.
  • Be still. Stop communicating with others about the issue. Be still. Read the Word. Listen to God. Let the Spirit of God work and trust Him to work in ways you cannot see. Then rest in the peace He will give you. We are responsible for bringing justice to every situation in the world. Our attempts often complicate matters further. We can trust a God who always works for our God and who does all things well.

When have you felt ripped off? How did you handle it? What advice would you offer to others?

Encouraging Ourselves Through Truth Talk

vineandbranchesLately I’ve been focuing on the the truth that Jesus is the vine and I am a branch. This means that I’m connected directly to Him. My life flows from Him. My nourishment comes from Him. I can’t do anything that isn’t connected in some way to Him.

I have to admit that I don’t always feel spiritually connected. I need encouragement. Aches and pains, financial challenges, relationship heartaches, and other frustrations can infect my attitude before I have a chance to figure out what day it is (sometimes that takes ALL day). One of the key aspects of practicing my “vine life” has been remaining in conversation with Jesus. To do this I literally envision Him standing beside me (because He IS with me) and telling me all the things He’s said to me in His Word that apply to my life in that moment or in my hurts and challenges.

Conversing with God is one of the best ways to encourage yourself. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10.) This means that I sit quietly as Jesus tells me who I REALLY am. Who He REALLY is to me. What my REAL purpose is in life and on this particular day. What I am responsible for (obedience, loving God and others, trust, repentance) and what He is responsible for (loving and taking care of me).

The more we converse and stay connected to the vine, the more encouraged we become because we focus on truth and Jesus.

For more help on transforming your self talk, check out The Silent Seduction of Self Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God. and to hear more from me and author Wanda Sanchez on the topic of encouraging yourself, tune in to the Freedomgirls Sisterhood blogtalk podcast with host Dawn Damon Monday nights at 8:00ET.

 

Dealing with Depression

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

 

One of the common side effects of multiple sclerosis is depression. Not long after my most recent relapse, I recognized symptoms of depression and discussed appropriate treatment with my family and my doctor. Read more about MS and depression HERE.

On average, 1 in 6 people – 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men – will experience depression at some stage of their lives.

There are different types of depression, and they can be linked to different causes. Symptoms can range from minor (but still disabling) through to very severe. Symptoms of depression include sadness, feelings of loss, disillusionment, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping,

My first experience with depression was following the birth of my first child. I called these the “years of the brown robe” because I pretty much never got dressed unless I was going to church because “good” Christians can’t be depressed or shopping for groceries–a necessity of life. This depression was profoundly deep and lasted several years.

Looking back, I believe that during these years I experienced depression related to the trauma of a sexual assault when I was nineteen years old. I felt enormous guilt for not being a “good mother” to my children or a “good wife” to my husband. Unlike the church I attend now, the church I went to during this time in my life didn’t talk about how the Bible related to practical issues like mental and physical health. I believed I was supposed to be in-right-out-right-up-right-down-right happy all the time.” To learn more, read the article “How Trauma Can Lead to Depression.” 

My second period of depression occurred approximately five years later. It seemed to be linked to a medication I was taking for migraines. Once I stopped taking the medication, the depression disappeared.

The depression I’ve experienced with my MS has seemed persistent yet more manageable that my two previously episodes of depression. I’ve found several key factors to be helpful in beating the blues:

  1. Talk to your doctor about whether or not medication may be right for you. Chemicals and hormones in your body may be burnt out and need a re-boot to recover. Anti-depressants are a tool to help you make better choices–they do not make choices for you. There is no shame in taking medicine that addresses biological illnesses. Your brain functions chemically and sometime may need medicine in the same way your pancreas and heart need medicine.
  2. Try to get out into nature at least a little every day. I have trouble walking, but I walk to the mailbox. I pull a few weeds. I’m not supposed to be in the sun or in heat, so I spend my time outside in the morning. Read a book in the park. Take your lunch break outside. Drive to the beach, a lake or river. The beauty of flowers, the scent of the grass, the sound of birds lifts our spirits. God wired us this way.
  3. Do something to lift someone else’s spirits. Send a card. Pay for someone’s lunch. Send an anonymous gift. Write a letter of appreciation. Tell someone how beautiful they are. Thank a police officer, fireman, teacher, pastor, nurse, doctor, social worker, or other people helper.
  4. Remind yourself who God says you are. Beautiful. Chosen. Flawless. Forgiven. Beloved. His child. Depression often produces negative self-talk. Be committed to mindfulness in the battle against stinkin’ thinking–about yourself, others, your circumstances, your future, even about who God is and His role in your life.

What about you? Have you or someone you love struggled with depression? How have you dealt with it? Who or what has helped you most?

One-for-All Love

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I was doing my devotions this morning and was so blessed, I just had to write a blog.

I’ve always understand that God lives in me. I’ve understood that I’m made in the image of God.

I’ve understood that I’m joint-heir with Jesus and that the same Holy Spirit that empower Jesus empowers me.

But this morning I was reading John 17. There I saw that God and Jesus shared the very likeness so that Jesus could accomplish God’s plan in the world. John 17:11 states that Jesus is no longer in the world, but we, His children are. He desires that we BE ONE, just as Jesus as God are one.

Our unity as brothers and sisters should reflect the unity and love of the Father and the Son.

To put it in very simple terms my actions and words should convey “One for all, and all for one” love.

If you pay attention when you read the Bible, you see that Jesus only ever says positive things about the Father. The Father only ever says positive things about the Son.

I’ve known very few people like this in my life–people who always believe the best first about others, who refuse to listen to gossip, who don’t speculate about what they don’t know, who don’t thrive on the type of voyeurism that has become part of our media culture and mentality.

The truly mind-boggling thing is that God’s very image is manifested in His Son, which is manifested in us (John 17:21).

Through our unity and love, we have the same power to glorify God as Jesus.

Okay people, can I get an Amen! or a Hallelujah!? Today, you can choose to love people in a way that glorifies God here on earth with the same power as Jesus Christ. Nothing prevents you from exercising that power but your own self-choice. I can choose.

As God’s children, we have POWER to change the world. Today. Wherever we are.

Think about that today before you speak.

Before you spend your money.

Before you ignore that prompting.

Before you say “yes” to that urge.

Before you dishonor your body. Or your spouse/future spouse. Or your friend. Or the person you see as your enemy. Or your employer.

“So that the world may that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).

 

 

Gossip and Speculation: The Silent Seduction

ConversationAndBubbles“You won’t wear that ring in public, will you?” My mother examined the three modest diamonds set into the new antique-style ring I’d just picked up from the jeweler.

“Why wouldn’t I wear it?” I was surprised by her question. “The stones were gifts from people I love, and it didn’t cost me much to have them set. I can hardly believe I own something so beautiful.”

Dan and I lived on a Christian school administrator’s salary. Groceries, a mortgage, and bills would always beat out jewelry. I’d saved for years to pay to have the gifted diamonds set.

“People know you can’t afford a ring like that. What are they going to think?”

I hoped they’d think I was blessed to own a beautiful ring. I can still remember my outrage at my mother’s question.

But looking back, I understand that my outrage was youthful naivete.As humans with a fallen, sinful nature, we struggle with pride.

One facet of our struggle with pride is judging others for things we know nothing about. 

You know, a family member goes on a cruise that we can’t afford, and we automatically assume they’re spending big bucks (which we judge to be “bad”). We swell with a rush of pride that we don’t spend our money in such frivolous ways and may even drop an offhanded comment or two to a few people about “So-and-So” being off on “another one of their high-priced vacations again.”

You know. Not REAL gossip. Just enough of an insidious dig to cause someone to question their character.

At the heart of gossip lies a killer’s heart: “Did you hear…” Gouge out a little piece of someone’s pride, their reputation, their dignity, their honor.

One.

Little piece.

Of gossip.

At a time.

I became angry the day my mother questioned me about my beautiful ring because I didn’t understand a central truth about my heart.

Like everyone, I sometimes use my tongue to decimate those I claim to love.

I gossip because I put myself first.

I gossip because I want to be noticed.

I gossip because I want to always be right.

I gossip because I don’t love you enough to treat you the way I want to be treated.

I gossip because I’m willing to push you into the mud to make myself feel better than you.

I speculate because pride pushes me to believe the worst about you so I can feel better about myself.

I speculate because it inflates my skewed sense of self-righteousness.

Gossip and speculation are driven by pride–our sinful desire to makes ourselves feel and look better than other people. 

Romans 1:29-30 states God’s opinion of gossip pretty clearly: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents.”

It’s pretty clear that God hates proud, self-motivated language.

Romans 1:29-30 shows us that He ranks it right up there beside murder and depravity. Perhaps this is because gossip is the first to mar God’s creation.Satan introduced gossip into the world shortly after Adam and Eve were created. He distorted the truth about God and spread rumors when he told Adam and Eve that God had lied to them. He made them question God’s motives and doubt God’s love. Satan’s twisted words introduced literal and spiritual death into the world. (Gen. 2:16-17)

When Eve repeated God’s words a chapter later, she added the phrase, “lest you die” (Genesis 3:3). Satan’s rumor had already begun to seep into her thoughts and erode her opinion about God. She was beginning to believe God was unfair.

Beginning to believe…in other words, she was beginning to believe that lies were truth. To the point that she didn’t even recognize the fact that she had twisted God’s words.

And we, just like Eve, tend to believe anything we repeat enough times.

Our words carry the power of life and death. But we typically speak without evaluating our true motives. 

This is because we seldom think before we speak. Philippians 4:8 should serve as our guide for both our thoughts and our speech:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true,

whatever is honorable,

whatever is just,

whatever is pure,

whatever is lovely,

whatever is commendable,

if there is any excellence,

if there is anything worthy of praise,

think [and speak] about these things.

Overcoming Gossip

Gossip is one of Satan’s most powerful spiritual weapons. To overcome gossip, we must fight using spiritual weapons through the power of the Holy Spirit. The first step is to understand that Satan’s goal is to justify your actions, to accuse others, and to judge. Satan wants you to look for every opportunity to tell yourself that you’re better than “those people.” Gossip and speculation are two of his most powerful tools.

Of course, God’s agenda is for you to repent of prideful actions, not judge, not accuse, and not justify gossip or idle talk about others. Before repeating anything about anyone, ask yourself if you have the facts. Then ask yourself if you could repeat the information in the presence of the person involved and if they would allow you to pass it on. Finally, ask yourself if repeating the information is helpful or potentially hurtful.

Our ultimate goal as Christians is to love others as we desire to be loved. If we remember to speak of others as we would like to be spoken about, we will have no question about what to say and when to say it.

For more information on gossip, listen to the podcast on “Brain Gossip” featuring Pastor Dawn Damon and author Wanda Sanchez. You may also want to read a more in-depth explanation of self-talk from a biblical perspective in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk.

Oh, and by the way, I’m still wearing my favorite diamond ring.

 

What about you? Have you been hurt by gossip? How did it affect your life?