Advice Articles

Et tu, Gene Simmons? Oy vey!

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

genesimmons

Admission: I kind of like KISS music. I kind of like Gene Simmons. Some aspects of him, anyway.
I never joined the KISS Army like my husband did in the 70′s – wait, I wasn’t alive in the 70′s – but after 15 years of being married to a man who starts jumping around the room every time he finds out the band is going on tour, I’ve found a few tunes I actually enjoy.

I loved Gene Simmons Family Jewels. It was one of the funniest shows I think I’ve ever seen. It was rather satisfying seeing a guy who calls himself The Demon taken down a peg by his unimpressed family. Over time, I sort of started to respect Gene for all the work he does on behalf of the troops. Yeah, he’s a misogynist…maybe a narcissist…but he loves America. He appreciates it because of the new life it gave him and his mother – a holocaust survivor – when they immigrated here from Israel.

But last month he made these comments during a radio interview and people got angry, and for good reason:

“My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear f**k all about ‘the world is a harsh place.’ She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life,” he said. “And for a putz, 20-year-old kid to say ‘I’m depressed, I live in Seattle,’ f**k you then kill yourself.”

“I never understand, because I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says ‘Jump!’ when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, ‘That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump,’” Simmons continued. “Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut … up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.

“By the way, you walk up to the same guy on a ledge who threatens to jump and put a gun to his head, ‘I’m going to blow your … head off!’ He’ll go, ‘Please don’t!’ It’s true. He’s not that insane.”

So Twitter totally blew up over this …


The Science of Prayer and Healing

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

powerofprayer

Yesterday I wrote about praying for others and how it can improve and stave off depression in many cases. Sometimes I get accused of not being “scientific” enough for some tastes – understandable – so I thought I’d throw a little science into the equation today.

I found a study on the U.S. National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health website that I wanted to share with you. The purpose of the study was to find out how effective person-to-person prayer is in the treatment of depression. In other words, researchers wanted to find out if someone with depression would improve if they had someone directly praying for them.

I won’t go into all the details because you can read it for yourself, but the outcome was pretty amazing:

At the completion of the trial, participants receiving the prayer intervention showed significant improvement of depression and anxiety, as well as increases of daily spiritual experiences and optimism compared to controls (p < 0.01 in all cases). Subjects in the prayer group maintained these significant improvements (p < 0.01 in all cases) for a duration of at least 1 month after the final prayer session. Participants in the control group did not show significant changes during the study. Cortisol levels did not differ significantly between intervention and control groups, or between pre- and post-prayer conditions.

Now, if you’re not the praying type or you think the idea of God is nothing but baloney, this study might not mean much to you. I know what you’re thinking because despite my faith in God, I tend to analyze things pretty deeply. Maybe the people in the prayer group improved because they knew they were being prayed for, and thus felt more cared for and just felt more positive knowing that someone was trying to intervene on their behalf. You could argue that humans just swap and absorb each other’s energy, positive and negative alike, and that’s why the depressed participants improved so dramatically. You could also attribute patients’ improvement to the meditation and repetitious aspects of prayer, though …


Pray for Others and Stop Pitying Yourself

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

fallingpiano

When I’m stressed out and overwhelmed by anxiety, I picture the red parlor piano my grandparents had in their basement in New York. It was always out of tune but my cousins and I couldn’t resist it. They actually knew how to play the piano, but no matter what they played it always sounded kind of creepy, even a little demonic because the wires were warped.

Then I’d come in with no piano skills whatsoever and just pound on the keys until my hands hurt or my grandmother yelled at me to shut up from the top of the stairs.

Sometimes I feel like that piano is sitting on my chest and the creepy music could be the soundtrack of my life. I feel it squeezing my rib cage, pushing on my heart, making it harder for it to beat. I don’t get a little cranky when I’m stressed, I get crushed.

Then, just when I’m about to accuse God of being an absentee father, I hear something or read something that jars me out of my own head and shoves me away from my pity party in the making and I realize someone else in the world has problems, too.

I can’t always stop that wave from hitting me and I can’t always immediately fix the circumstances that are turning me into an emotional pancake! But it’s really hard to baste in my own misery when I turn my time and attention to others. When I’m stuck on me, it’s time to start praying for someone else. It doesn’t have to be a long, flowery prayer. (Thank goodness because I’m not the long, flowery type.) “Lord, please help Bob” is plenty effective. God knows when we’re having a hard time. If God digs obedience when we’re doing great then I have a feeling He appreciates it even more when we’d rather eat a tub of Nutella, spoke a pack of cigarettes and curse the day we were born.

My dear friend and mentor, Shaunti Feldhahn, has always tried to instill this little wisdom nugget in me. It’s biblical, obviously, but …


Our Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media

Friday, April 18th, 2014

241ebdd759d8b7ed503aa59258d464ed

Ah, social media. I kind of hate you, but I can’t quit you.

Facebook is great for many things. I love keeping in touch with my family in California on a daily basis. I like seeing pictures of my friends and their kids (and their cats, and their dogs), and even their food, sometimes. It’s a good place to have deep, meaningful discussions and heated debates. It’s where I keep up with Amy Grant and find out what’s going on with the production of “24.”

But have you ever been un-friended by a family member, or sent someone a friend request who rejected it? Have you ever had a friend block you because of your political views? Not very pretty. Those Candy Crush invites make smoke pour out of my ears, too.

According to a recent study, social media is changing us, and not entirely for the better. For one thing, social media makes us braver. That can be a good thing, if it means raising money for a cause, standing up for the oppressed, or educating the public about an issue (mental illness, for example.)

Not everyone can handle the anonymity, however. It allows people a forum to be as obnoxious as they want to be with few repercussions, and most of the time, nobody will ever even know their name. I’ve experienced it on Twitter, and even on this blog. People do and say things online that they’d never be caught dead saying or doing in real life.

Social media has created the perfect environment for bullies. Bullies don’t just dump your milk on you in the middle school lunchroom anymore; they can follow you virtually anywhere. Take, for example, the case of Melody Hensley, a feminist atheist who claims she has been so harassed on Twitter that she has developed PTSD. Whether you like Melody Hensley and what she stands for is not important. It’s not even important whether or not you believe that Twitter bullying actually gave her PTSD. What’s scary about her tale is that so many people feel justified in treating another person …


Know Your Medications, Options, and Risks

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Interest's ConflictsCreative Commons License David Goehring via CompfightNo drug is risk-free. Know your stuff before you pop that pill.

On May 5, 2006, I realized that I was happy. I remember the date because May 5 is my birthday, and there is no greater birthday present than the feeling of true joy. Maybe cash? I digress…

Up until that point, I’d struggled to find a combination of medication that helped my bipolar disorder AND helped me sleep. Insomnia has been my worst enemy for as far back as I can remember, and a lack of sleep just makes mental illness worse. But as I stood in the sunshine under a cloudless sky on that unseasonably warm morning, watching my nephew’s Little League team struggle to get a hit (they were only 5), I realized that my medication was actually working. I also realized that I had never felt that good before, which is sort of sad, considering I was 27. That’s a lot of years of unhappiness.

My “wonder drug” is Seroquel. Though it took a while to pair it up with Lithium and eventually Effexor, I knew the Seroquel was helping almost immediately. Of course, it made me gain about 50 pounds.

Oh, and I went from being pre-diabetic to full-blown diabetic. And it wasn’t always easy staying awake…which is part of the reason I’m not self-employed.

I write for a large national law firm based in New York City. I’ve become somewhat of an expert on the FDA and drug manufacturers. Drugs are a Godsend, but there is a downside to everything. For example, many people don’t realize that a new drug doesn’t have to go through any studies or clinical trials to be approved by health officials. Using an expedited approval process known as 510(k), the FDA can approve a new drug as long as the manufacturer can prove that it is significantly similar to another product already on the market.

In other words, if the new drug has …


Is Your Cat Making You Depressed?

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

As I write this, my cat is bumping her head up against my leg and purring. That doesn’t make it any easier to write what I’m about to write.

Mommy loves you, baby. Forgive me.

mollybob4

For those of you who think cats are the devil incarnate…let me add to your arsenal.
A new study has found an unusual link between cat bites and depression.
According to the study, published online at the journal PLOS ONE, Over the course of 10 years, 41 percent of people who presented at hospitals with cat bites were also treated for depression at some point. Women who have been bitten by a cat have a 50 percent greater chance of being diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.

So I guess it’s just as you thought – cats’ eyes glow with pure evil.

The study notes that pet ownership has numerous benefits. It lowers blood pressure better than hypertension medication, for example. It also provides much-needed companionship. In my opinion, it also gives depressed people a reason to get up and do something when they’d rather retreat to the bedroom all day. The cat won’t feed itself, unless you have a rodent problem or leave the door to your parakeet’s cage open. He won’t clean his own litter box. Trust me on this, you do not want to neglect a litter box.

Researchers found that depressed people were more likely to own cats to begin with. I’d give you my personal opinion on why this is the case, but I never set out to be a cat person. I was always a dog person who didn’t understand how anyone could think a cat was cute, or why they’d want a pet that ignores them all the time. But then Molly showed up on my doorstep 5-1/2 years ago, just a fluffy little kitten, and she stole my heart. I can’t imagine life without her, yet I never would have adopted her if I’d seen her at Pet Smart.

The real link here, though, is between cat bites and depression. Supposedly cats have some of the …


Depressed? Be Compassionate Toward Yourself

Friday, February 21st, 2014

choosehappy

There’s a fine line between prioritizing personal space and becoming a hermit. I seem to toe the line all the time. I can say with great certainty that I think life would be easier if I could just hole up in my apartment and ignore the rest of the world.

Ah, but that’s just depression talking. ‘Tis the season. I don’t know where you live, but here in Pennsylvania, we haven’t seen green grass…shoot, no grass at all…since just after Christmas. So even if I felt emotionally up to going out, icy roads, bitter winds, and snow up to my chin would have kept me from wandering far.

Sometimes the weather makes life more stressful than it needs to be, so we curl up under a blanket and shut out the world for a while. Sometimes other people make life more stressful than it needs to be, too. I don’t know how you deal with it, but I I’m learning to react much the same way as I do to blizzards, and downpours, and the razor sharp wind chills: avoidance.

I know we usually think of avoidance as a bad thing, but not in this case. When the local government says to stay off the roads, you avoid the roads. (Unless you’re one of those people who will risk life and limb for a Snickers bar.)

Depression messes with my judgment – much more so than mania. If I had a million dollars, I could probably do a lot more damage in my manic states, but the opportunity just isn’t there. With depression, though, I take minor things far too seriously, hurtful words cut deeper, it’s easier to hold onto anger, and it seems impossible to hand over bitterness to God. I guess that’s what depression is – a hyper-inflation of all the bad stuff.

Well, I decided to take a little time off from what was eating at me. I decided to back away from the things that were making me sicker. Man, I felt some serious guilt about that, too, but here’s how I look at it: if I …


Triggers

Friday, September 27th, 2013

As I write this, I’ve got a lot on my plate.
A husband facing a health crisis.
Financial struggles.
A book project I can’t seem to dream into existence.

I don’t know how it is for you, but around here life is a delicate balancing act between trusting God and throwing something really big and heavy through the TV. That’s about as encouraging as I can be today.

What worries me, even more than the problems I face, is the sense that I am always this close to going through a bipolar cycle. It won’t be the health crisis, the financial struggles, or the professional frustration that gets me. It will be the combination of all of them combined. I’m sure you’ve felt like life was piling up and you’re one more memo from your boss or one more car problem away from breaking. Everyone, whether healthy or mentally ill, knows what that’s like. It’s just that it’s more catastrophic for some of us than others.

Any type of life change, no matter how big or how small, can trigger an episode of bipolar disorder, depression, and other mental health issues. For some people, all it takes is an argument or the change in seasons.

All my life, my mother told me that God would never give me more than I could handle. Now I know that’s not true. Relevant Magazine just published an article on this very topic. In the piece, author Michael Hidalgo points out that not only did God notpromise to give us more than we can bear, there are plenty of examples of overwhelmed souls in the Bible – Jesus included.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus told His father, “This is too much for me!” We see this kind of thing in the Psalms, too. The Psalmists ball their fists in rage, and shout at God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22) In their sadness they say, “darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88).

So I go into this period of my life not expecting God to lift me up and over the pain. Even the best psychiatric …


Talking Faith and Mental Illness: Suicide

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

silentangel

Blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock is hosting a “broad conversation about faith and mental illness” and last week I responded to his question about the way my own faith community has historically viewed mental illness, and how my own faith shapes my views of it. This week Warnock touches on the very sensitive subject of suicide.

Research suggests that religious faith protects against suicide. Why do you think that is in light of how your community responds to suicide? How can we tread the fine line of discouraging suicide while not making the grief of family members worse?

In my 20+ years as a believer, I have found it very difficult to nail down what Christians truly believe about salvation, let alone suicide. There are Christians who believe in “once saved always saved” theology – there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation, short of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and even fewer Christians seem to know what that means. There is another set of Christians who believe that if you renounce your faith and walk away from God, you absolutely can lose your faith. I can only assume that ending your life – which, if you believe in Christ, is no longer yours but His – would fit into the category of renouncing your faith and walking away from God to this particular group of Christians.

I don’t believe religious faith protects against suicide in every case. Certainly, for many it does. But mental illness isn’t really about faith, and that’s why this conversation is happening and why this blog exists in the first place. Wow, don’t you wish you could just believe yourself out of faulty brain? Lots of people seem to think you can – ha, if only!

My official stance on this issue is simple: I’d rather not find out. But God knows the difference between someone who just decides to abandon Truth and someone who is truly afflicted with mental illness and can’t choose.

Here in Christian America, we love telling people that God has a “wonderful purpose” for their lives.
We …


Family: Trading Understanding for Acceptance

Monday, May 13th, 2013

handMothers Day is a touchy holiday for some people. I know it was for me.
I didn’t always get along with my mother and, actually, there was a time in my life when I wanted to disappear without a trace because I was sick of all the fighting and painful feelings. But that was many years ago and now I have a pretty good relationship with Mom. It’s not perfect, but no relationship is. I’m just happy that we are friends and as my mother ages, my instinct is to draw closer rather than run away.

When I told my parents that I’d been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. I knew the conversation was going to tank. I thought about not telling them at all, but it seemed like such a big thing to skip over. I didn’t want one of them to read about it before I told them about it, either. As I expected, they didn’t believe it at first. They didn’t even believe that BP was a real disease. You pulled yourself up by the bootstraps and dealt with life, you didn’t give it a scientific-sounding name and take a pill for it – that was for weaklings! For years, the topic would never have come up had I not brought it up myself, and when I did, my mother did everything she could to steer the conversation in another direction.

I’ve never wanted to be a mental health evangelist, believe it or not. I believe the Lord tried very hard for many years to get me to write and speak about it, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I especially didn’t want to be the mental health evangelist in my family because it was so frustrating and disheartening. I just wanted my family to understand it and have my back, and I wasn’t sure that would ever happen. Ah, but relationships are about compromise, aren’t they? If you go into any relationship thinking you can change somebody, you will be sorely disappointed.

Sometimes, you have to trade understanding …


 

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