Podcast: Self Harm

Show Notes:

  • Statistics taken from: http://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/self-injury/self-injury-self-harm-statistics-and-facts/
  • Self-harm is more an act of self-preservation than self-destruction.
  • Aron Ralston: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aron_Ralston
  • Tim shares first-hand stories from 3 people’s self-harm experiences.
  • Tim discusses Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy 
     
    *****
     
    Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!

    *****

    Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]
     
    *Image from: https://trojantopher.wordpress.com/tag/to-write-love-on-her-arms/

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Parenting Your Inner Riley

When my friend Riley died, I reacted how I always react when someone dies: I went numb. Around me, people cried and told stories and cried some more and laughed and told some more stories, but I just sat through it all, numb. Of course I didn’t want to feel this way. Well maybe some part of me did want to so I didn’t have to feel the pain. But I knew that being numb wouldn’t last forever, and while it did last, it only would make me feel like a jerk for seeming cold or distant or uncaring.

But I couldn’t stay numb forever. One of my dearest friends – one of the people who really understood me – was gone. I was bound to break.

Three weeks later, I sat in a Mexican restaurant and the dam decided to burst. Neither the stares of the other patrons nor the periodic stopping by of the waiter could embarrass me enough to stop the flow of tears. With my poor friend sitting across from me, helpless, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I couldn’t stop.

My Mexican-restaurant friend couldn’t possibly have handled it any better. He let me cry and he didn’t try to offer stupid platitudes that were supposed to make me feel better or stop crying. After I had been going for a while you gently asked me, “Tim do you know anyone else who has the same sorts of struggles and battles that you have? Anyone who might have felt like you feel now?” I told him through a sardonic laugh, “yeah, but he just died!” And then he asked me something life-changing. He said: “Tim, if you knew that Riley was feeling like you’re feeling right now, what would you tell him to do?”

At that time, for me, the answer was obvious: I was in a miserable work situation that was making my life harder and harder by the moment for many reasons I won’t list here. I knew I needed a break, if not forever, for at least a good while. But this decision came with a lot of unknowns and a lot of fear. If I were talking to Riley, I would have told him these things would work themselves out, that his sanity was worth more than any paycheck or job security. But in my own life, I simply couldn’t accept the advice I would’ve freely offered to Riley. I was trying to muddle through, even if it killed me.

I don’t want it to seem that I was crying about my job; I was crying about Riley. But I also knew that my job was contributing to my extreme depression, the kind that might well lead me down the road Riley had just taken, a dangerous intake of alcohol and drugs that stopped his heart. I knew that my job was a weight on my shoulders that would make it impossible for me to move forward or heal in the way I needed to at that time. I knew I needed to walk away from my job, at least for awhile. I knew that’s what I would tell Riley to do.

Psychologists often talk about parenting your “inner child”. It’s really a beautiful practice to take out an actual picture of yourself as a precious little boy or girl whose eyes indicate a deep hunger to understand and to be understood…to be cherished…to be safe…to be loved. We have all been that child. In psychological terms, inner child work means treating your current self as you would that little boy or little girl who is easy to feel compassion for.

And sometimes when I’m trying to have compassion for myself, I imagine the little boy in the pictures I have who is in fact me. I have a few different pictures in my mind of myself as a seven or eight-year-old child, and I can see the pain and struggle behind those eyes. It’s easy to feel deep compassion and love for that little boy.

But I don’t always imagine my childhood self in order to feel compassion for my inner self. Sometimes, it’s easier to think of someone else for whom compassion comes easily. Believe it or not, I often imagine Riley. Sometimes it’s easier to have compassion for someone else than for ourselves. That day in the Mexican restaurant, the person I imagined who was hurting and desperate was Riley. And Riley was a stand-in for me, for my inner child. As I thought about my job and how much it was harming me, I imagined what I would tell Riley to do if he were in the same situation, and it wasn’t even difficult to know the right thing to say. I told him that he deserved a break, that he was fighting a damn hard battle, that he deserved to wake up in the morning and want to be wherever he had to be that day, that he deserved a work environment where he was supported and loved and accepted for exactly who he was. Talking to my inner child as if I were Riley made it remarkably easy for me to know what to do.

It’s never hard for me to find compassion or grace for Riley. Sure he had addictions and mental health problems that Some might say made him imperfect, but never for one second do I feel incapable of loving the person who he was inside, who cared for people so much that it almost hurt him more than he could bear. I feel that way too, but I’m also far too hard on myself. So when I imagine my inner child, or my inner Riley, I can be a lot easier on myself because I know that I’m hurting and I know that I’m scared and lonely and broken and often desperate. But like Riley, I also know that I’m trying my best.

So that’s the lasting legacy, among others, that Riley has left with me. In a weird sense, he is my inner child. I can always have the proper perspective on myself when I look inside and see that I’m a lot like Riley, just someone who’s trying my hardest – often failing, but always trying.

I’m grateful to Riley for many things. He will forever be one of the people who really understood me. I will always be able to imagine conversations with Riley where I felt understood and loved and appreciated no matter how warped I actually felt. When I can’t bring myself to care for the little boy inside of me, I can always look to Riley and imagine how I would care for him. And if I care for myself in that way, I can care for myself the right way. For that and for many other things, I will always be grateful to Riley for teaching me how to love myself a little better.
 
 
For more about Riley, check out the foundation Riley’s Wish
 
*****

Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!

*****

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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When You’re Not “Fine” (Attempt 2)

A few nights ago, I posted a version of what’s below. Within about fifteen minutes I had gotten enough “Tim, don’t kill yourself!” emails that I took the post down. So I thought I’d try again. Here goes…

***

“How are you?”

My least favorite question.

Sometimes, mercifully, the answer really is “fine.” Some of the time, the answer is more like this: “barely putting one foot in front of the other; feel like crying all the time; want to lash out in anger at most of the people I know for one reason or another.” Worse yet, sometimes this would be the honest answer: “barely surviving…if I told you how badly I want to die, you’d put me in the mental hospital right this second. I fantasize about ways to kill myself. Better yet, I long for something/someone else to do the job for me so no one has to live with all the what-could-I-have-done guilt. If only I could get into a car wreck that looked like a true accident, one that would be guaranteed to kill me. Ahhhh, now that would be the ticket.”

If I told you how often I think like this, you’d probably have me committed. But I also know enough people who think like me to know that I’m not alone and that thoughts like these are not at all abnormal for those who are mentally ill. However, those of us who actually think these things aren’t allowed to verbalize them. Understandably, people are not prepared to hear someone else say they are longing for death. My purpose in writing this post is to encourage those of you who support someone who is mentally ill to understand the difference between wanting to die and being suicidal.

The truth is that all of the mentally ill people I know think about dark things far more often than you would want to know about. We are at war with our brains…constantly. No matter how much we want peace, it won’t come. No matter how much we want to get over our emotional pain, it won’t heal.

Here’s an example of my brain’s incessant negativity even about the smallest things: A friend introduced me to someone who has become one of my favorite musicians EVER (Sturgill Simpson). We were talking about him and I made some analogy comparing Simpson’s song-writing to my blog writing. I was by no means comparing our writing skills, but my friend laughed and said something like, “If only you could write as well as he does.” He didn’t mean anything harmful by it, and I understood his point, but here’s the rub: every damn time I listen to Sturgill Simpson, his songs are poisoned by my hurt feelings because of what my friend said. My brain won’t let it go. Trust me, I don’t want to hold on to these things; why would I want to hold on to something that hurts me and that I can’t do anything about? I can’t go back and confront my friend because he didn’t mean anything by it. I can’t prove him wrong because how would I do that? How would I prove that I’m as good a writer as Sturgill Simpson is? I’m probably not, but that’s not the point. The point is that, when Simpson’s songs play (and I have all of his albums so I hear him a lot even when I hit shuffle), I have a wound that won’t heal. I hear it over and over in my head: “You’re not as good as him; you won’t ever amount to anything as a writer, Tim. You’ll never impact people the way he does.” Maybe that’s not what my friend meant but it doesn’t matter. Whether I want to or not, that’s the “song” that plays on repeat in my head when Sturgill Simpson plays on my iPhone.

Our brains are broken, irreparably. In order to support someone who is mentally ill, you need to brace yourself for the ugliness of what we have to share. If I were to share the above with someone, most likely, they would say, “You’ve got to let go of that, man!” And I would say, “No shit. I want to let it go more than you can possibly imagine. I would give ANYTHING to be able to let it go.” But someone who tells us to “let it go” doesn’t understand the battle. We have bled, sweat, and cried, “Please help us let it go!” to no avail. And if you are going to be our supporter, you are going to have to reconcile yourself to the fact that we aren’t able to control our brains in the same way that you are. “Let it go” or “think positive” are meaningless to us. It’s not that we don’t want to; we can’t. Can a cancer patient make her hair grow back by thinking positively? Can a paraplegic make his legs start working again by letting go of negative thoughts? Obviously, no. And those of us with mental illness can’t quit thinking negative thoughts no matter how hard we try. Trust me, I would give literally anything to be able to let go of negative thoughts. Yet, the truth is, negative thought essentially consume my brain 24/7. I don’t want that to be the case. But it is.

So what should you do to support your friend who is mentally ill? You should prepare yourself for a very ugly reality. Instead of saying, “think positive,” you should just say, “I’m sorry” or “I will listen for as long as you want to talk” or, “tell me everything and I promise not to judge or freak out” or, “what’s your favorite mixed drink and I’ll make you five of them.” Better yet, in a peaceful moment, ask your loved one what they want you to say to them, and say that.

People talk all the time about “removing the stigma” of mental illness. Well if we are ever going to do that, there have to be people in our lives who see it all, know it all, hear it all, and still treat us with dignity…without minimizing our pain as if it were something that a clever phrase or new perspective could help us overcome. Our brains are broken. Allow us to tell you about our real, raw experience.

Here’s the truth: just because we think constantly about death, doesn’t mean we are suicidal. Those of us who think of death as a welcomed relief need people who can listen without freaking out when we talk about longing for death. These thoughts are the fundamental reality of our lives. Our lives are hard…so hard that we want to die. This doesn’t mean we are suicidal; it just means we are mentally ill. It just means that our brains are broken beyond repair. We’ll keep trying; we’ll keep fighting. But if you want to be part of our support system, you’ll have to accept that our reality is a dark one. And the best thing you can do for us is to listen without judgment…even when we tell you we want to die.

 
*****
 
Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!
 
*****
 
Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Podcast: Talking about Mental Illness at Work

In this episode, Tim discusses the pros and cons of telling people at work about your mental illness. He also welcomes two guest contributors whose experiences differ somewhat from his.

Helpful websites (the links are giving me trouble so you’ll have to copy and paste these):

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/your-organisation/support-workplace/telling-my-manager
https://www.headsup.org.au/taking-care-of-myself-at-work/talking-about-a-mental-health-condition-at-work
Music credit: Lady Antebellum, “Compass”

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Trolling for Columbine

I have a mighty struggle that rages within me as I write these posts. On the one hand I can write something that will inspire and motivate you. Those posts always perform much, much, MUCH better than the other ones. But here’s the problem: the other ones are, frankly, more honest, more real, more raw. But you don’t seem to like those as much, unfortunately.

You don’t like my anger or my confrontation or my aggression. And I get it. I would skip those posts too. But if you want the news from the front lines of mental illness, you’ll have to read those posts. This is one of those posts, I’m afraid.

I’ve been sinking lately…hard and fast. Everything hurts me. Everything upsets me. Everything makes me want to be done living this life. Everything.

A former student posted a picture of herself holding up a rebel flag. I confronted her. She got upset. Others saw the encounter. I don’t know if I should be embarrassed or proud of myself.

Another person called me an intolerant liberal who criticized those who defended gun rights while allowing those such as gays and transgender people to shout their opinions from the rooftops. He thought this was inconsistent.

Yet another friend told me I was “willfully ignorant” because I didn’t want to shoot his AK-47. He was convinced that, if I shot it, I would realize how much fun it is and would thus quit calling for it to be outlawed.

The fact that I felt the need to respond to these posts, some call “trolling”…someone who goes around looking for fights on the internet. And maybe that’s what I was doing. Or maybe I was just reacting to all the evil in the world, the police shootings, the massacre of police officers, or just the run-of-the-mill racism I hear every time I go to my once-favorite cigar shop and am forced to listen to both Fox News and the real-life people who think Fox News is the only truthful news. Lately, though, I can’t take it. All I hear are racist and anti-liberal comments spouted as if there’s no way anyone in that shop could possibly disagree. I disagree, but I keep my mouth shut. I know an unfair fight when I see one.

I’m angry. I’m hurt. I want to run away from humanity because so much of humanity seems to suck a giant dick. I can feel you cringe when I talk like that, but it’s how I really feel.

In 2002, filmmaker Michael Moore made a movie called “Bowling for Columbine.” If you’re not familiar with Columbine, you should be. Go look it up. But the movie calls attention to the problematic gun laws and attitudes in our country. Moore is an unpopular figure, at least in conservative circles, because he unabashedly calls attention to the ways that the conservative agenda (never heard that one, have ya?!) is perpetuating the problems in our country. And I agree with him.

I often feel like Michael Moore: someone who feels compelled to point out the absurdities and atrocities that so many people seem to ignore. I once heard Moore interviewed, and he claimed that he didn’t really want to be the whistleblower for these issues, but he felt like he had no choice. That’s a bit how I feel in this post. I don’t want to be an angry asshole, but I want to be honest with you: All of the negativity in the world takes a giant toll on me – from the obvious negativity of the recent news to the micro-negativity of people who don’t listen, don’t understand, don’t care, or don’t have the first clue how to interact with someone who is mentally ill.

I’m tired. I’m tired of being more sensitive than everyone else about the horrible things that happen in this world. Being mentally ill is really fucking hard. It’s hard to walk through the daily morass of idiocy that bombards us each day. I might be oversensitive and mentally ill, but I’m not stupid. I have a right to be angry. Sometimes I think everyone else is stupid for not being more angry.

So I take my anger out on my Facebook friends for posting pictures of rebel flags and pro-assault rifle propaganda. It’s easy to say, “Tim, you’re not going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook.” And you’re right, undoubtedly. But my brain goes fucking crazy, wanting to be heard, wanting to have a voice, wanting to be listened to.

I suspect many of you have quit reading by now. This post is too angry, Tim! We want more of the posts that encourage us…that tell us how to get over those speed bumps in our lives. But this post is one of those that acknowledges that the speed bumps can be insurmountable. The anger can consume us. The outrage can be too much to be contained. The hurt feelings, even when no one was aiming their hatred in our direction, can be so painful that all we know how to do is to direct our anger at the next person who does something stupid – a driver, a Facebook poster, or a family member who just doesn’t seem to “get it.”

It’s hard, having these fucked up brains. They don’t work right. And even if we know they are malfunctioning, just like someone with Parkinson’s who knows his leg won’t behave properly, we still can’t seem to get them under control. Please bear with us. Please forgive us. Please love us. We know we are angry and spiteful, but we want, more than anything, to be someone worth loving. We are trying, trying, trying…in both of the ways that can be taken. Please be patient with us.
 
 
*****
 
Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!
 
*****
 
Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Alison Dotson Interview

In this episode, Tim interviews Alison Dotson, author of “Being Me with OCD.” They talk OCD, of course, but much more, too. They discuss how people can support those with a mental illness, how/when to seek treatment and much more.

Here’s the link to Alison’s website: https://alisondotson.com

And her book: Being Me With OCD

John Hirschfeld’s book: When a Family Member Has OCD

Music Credit: Lady Antebellum, “Compass”

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Lessons from a Tattoo

I got my first tattoo three years ago. I had always liked tattoos but knew that if I got a dolphin coming out of the waistband on my lower back, I’d probably regret it at some point. I knew I couldn’t get one unless I could be sure I’d never think it was ridiculous. I figured that my kids’ and wife’s initials with an infinity symbol would probably be safe. Hell, even if Ann divorces me, we have two kids together so I’ll keep her initials. I’ll just require her share of the retirement money in exchange for doing so. But I digress.

People often tell you that once you get one tattoo you’re going to want more…they’re like Lays Potato Chips apparently. And, well, they are in fact just like Lays, only less fattening.

After the ice (my skin) was broken, I immediately wanted another one, and I knew what it would be. It would come from a 10th century Japanese poem I found in a book I was reading. This poem wouldn’t leave me alone. It haunted me, in a good way, and I wanted to have it with me all the time. Here’s the poem:

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.
~Izumi Shikibu

It was so simple but so profound: it seemed to fully encapsulate my own experience of life…Life is windy, terribly windy. Life is a ruined house with a shitty roof to boot. But damned if that stupid roof doesn’t sometimes let in a little moonlight that’s make-you-weep beautiful. So often, any sort of book or greeting card or song that has a look-at-the-bright side message wants to oversell the good side. Like this:

Although the sea breeze can be a bit harsh every fourth year or so
the SUNLIGHT is so beautiful that you have to be an idiot to
focus on anything else. So quit complaining if the air conditioning blows a little
too cold for your liking.
~Tim Blue (ca. July 1,2016. 8:33 pm)

And shit like that makes my skin crawl because life is really really hard. At least it is for me. I’m a bundle of anxieties, obsessive thoughts, deep bouts of depression, uncontrolled fits of anger, and every once in awhile, gentle kindness with a fun sense of humor. Unfortunately, the light I can see is usually “just” moonlight. I am unceasingly aware of the crappy house I live in (the one called my body and brain).

But man can moonlight be beautiful. Way more beautiful than sunlight, IMHO (ask someone who texts a lot). And if we’re all honest with ourselves, the houses we live in are all pretty broken. I mean, we are all living in houses that are going to ultimately fail us when that little monster called Death comes calling. We’re on the Titanic, people. We know how the movie ends. But ironically, we all went to see the movie anyway. I, for one, wanted to see Kate Winslet’s boobs. But the other 2 hours and 59 minutes were pretty worth watching too. So why go see a movie when you know the ending and that most of the people will die? Because there’s something very, very beautiful about the doomed, moonlit lives they were living.

And the same goes for us. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that your life is more of the moonlit kind than the sunlit kind. Maybe you, like me, curse the ruined house you live in once or twice a minute. I’d love to wrap this up by saying “it’s all going to be fine!” But it won’t. The old bumper sticker put it well: Life’s a bitch, and then you die. And life is a bitch. And we will die.

But I hope you’ll look up and see some moonlight every once in awhile too. And I hope you’ll cut yourself some slack for how hard life can be. If you’re like me, you’re pretty tough on yourself. But you’re probably trying your best. And you probably deserve a lot more moonlit nights than you think you do.

So here’s to moonlight. And here’s to those of you who keep fighting despite rarely noticing much light of any kind. And here’s to remarkably painful tattoos that serve as a permanent reminder to notice the moonlight while you’re looking up, cursing your drafty roof.
 
*****
 
Friends, I need your help growing the reach of TKWANA. Its aims are to 1. encourage 2. educate and 3. connect people with mental illnesses and their supporters. Beyond blogging, podcasting, and speaking, I ultimately hope to develop a small-group model for those with mental illnesses – something not too different from what AA is for alcoholics. If you see the value in this endeavor, please consider sharing TKWANA with your Facebook friends or with someone in particular who might need it. Thank you!
 
*****
 
Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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Our Beautiful Connectedness

If you’ve read more than one paragraph I’ve ever written, you’ve picked up on the fact that I’m somewhat of a glass is half empty sort of guy. But allow me to depart from my usual vantage point to share with you about what a beautiful day I’ve had.

I need to set the scene a bit to help you appreciate the good events of today. Yesterday sucked. I heard from an unhappy customer who listed multiple things I had done wrong in my cleanup process. I had literally told her I would have to leave some of the cleanup work to her because the deck I’d stained would be wet. She ended her litany with, “I don’t know where you were in such a rush to get to!” Now I do get my feelings hurt easily, but she was being downright ridiculous and unreasonable…so it hurt all the more. Then I sat in a cigar shop and listened to two very outspoken men express their own litany of political passions (essentially opposite of my own, of course) for about two hours; really? All I wanted to do was enjoy a cigar. A few other things happened that are too personal to list here for fear of hurting people’s feelings who might actually read this post. I also broke an expensive piece of my work equipment AND a treasured ashtray that I made at a pottery painting place while on a date with my daughter. It was truly one of THOSE days.

But today made me feel like humanity is redeemable and meaningful connections, both close ones and passing ones, are possible.

I had dinner with a former student who, if I may say so, is like a little brother to me. I just love the kid (he’s 21, so, not a kid I guess). He is endlessly compassionate toward me; he almost never ceases to give me a gift of some sort when we’re together. Tonight, in honor of my recent birthday, he insisted on treating me to dinner (so I had two drinks and four entrees and seven desserts). When we parted we hugged and said, “I love ya buddy” to each other.

While we were at the movies, I had one of those passing encounters that make me feel like maybe, just maybe, we all COULD get along. At least under the right circumstances. I was waiting in line to pay the equivalent of a car payment for a drink and some Twizzlers and got to chatting with a couple behind me. We were just lamenting how expensive these snacks were while ironically waiting to pay for said snacks. We were talking about the fact that you sort of get psychologically tricked into thinking the prices are reasonable since you have no other options for food or drink. Then I mentioned Vegas and the psychological tricks they play on you so you’ll spend more money gambling. I asked if they’d ever been and they said they might go for their honeymoon. Then the lady, beaming, showed me her engagement ring and said they had just gotten engaged TODAY! Overcome with goodwill as it was my birthday and had been a good one, I blurted out, “Well then, I’m buying your snacks.” Don’t go thinking I’m too generous because my mother, who expresses love by handing out money to her children, had given me $100 earlier that day. Anyway, they were very touched and the lady wanted a picture with the three of us. (The line was long…so we had plenty of time for all of this to unfold). We took a picture together and she sent it to me; we got our snacks; we hugged and I congratulated them, and off we went to our movies. It was just a beautiful encounter.

I got home and checked my email and yet another beautiful act of love and grace was waiting for me. An old friend from high school (okay, if I’m honest we even “dated” for a little bit, but since we were too young to drive, I’m not sure we went on many dates. Truth be told, I treated her like none-too-well when I broke up with her, and I wouldn’t have held it against her to still think I’m a jerk. If she does, then what she did is even more remarkable…) We had been dialoging about me maybe speaking at her church sometime. She said she’d mention it to the pastors, and I expected a two or three line email that would probably amount to nothing. Well, she wrote something more like a research paper and cc’d me on it. She cited mental health statistics and elaborated on the lack of proper education about these topics in the church, and much more. I had to bookmark where I stopped reading so I can finish it tomorrow. No, not really, but it was such an “above and beyond” act of kindness that I was and still am overcome with a sense that there is goodness in the world and in people.

I have nothing more to say about this because I just want to let the stories speak for themselves. In this moment, I just want to breathe in the grace and beauty and dignity of being a part of humankind.

 

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

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How to Tell Family and Friends about Your Mental Illness

Survey of evangelical Christians’ views on mental illness: http://blog.lifeway.com/newsroom/2013/09/17/half-of-evangelicals-believe-prayer-can-heal-mental-illness/

 

Tim’s goals for TKWANA non-profit:

  1. Encourage – through writing, podcasting and speaking.
  2. Educate – through writing, podcasting, and speaking.
  3. Connect (this is the big, audacious goal that might take the rest of my life) – develop an AA-like model for people with mental illnesses to meet in small groups for the purpose of knowing they are not alone and having peers who help them take the necessary steps forward.

Tips for telling someone you’re mentally ill:

  1. Pick a “sure thing”, someone you’re as safe as possible with. If you don’t have such a person, email Tim or talk to a therapist at the very least.
  2. Proceed with caution; go slowly!
  3. Point out specific behaviors or events that will illustrate to your loved one(s) how this illness affects you.
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After Orlando

My friend Matt, from California, texted me this week to say how much things like the Orlando shooting affect his moods. I understood what he meant. When I’m not doing well, I literally can’t read the news – any news – because the bad news (most of it) will inevitably send me spiraling downward.

Rather than heed the internal voice that told me to stay away from the news about Orlando, in an attempt to make my own life miserable, I did the equivalent of a diabetic eating nothing but donuts: I started sharing my political views on Facebook. There’s a reason people suggest not doing this, and now I know what it is: people are fucking crazy. And illogical. And mean. And, well, stupid. (Not you, of course!)

Not to mention the “me” part of the equation: I’m hypersensitive, opinionated, liberal (with lots of conservative friends), and mentally ill. I don’t know how long it’s going to take before I realize that I am not emotionally equipped to have “spirited” debates about things like whether or not a 9-year-old should be allowed to take her AK-47 to the playground for recess, but 40 years haven’t done the trick. I STILL think, “this time, I’ll be fine. My brain is in a good place (which it’s not, actually)…I can deal with a little backlash.” So I post something nice and benign, something Gandhi would probably post, like this: “I think semi-automatic rifles are helpful…for identifying the people with the smallest penises and the greatest need for a therapist who specializes in daddy issues.” Oddly, people react negatively, and then guess what? I get my feelings hurt because I’ve been misunderstood. Again. (For the record, I do like the idea of the post above, but what I actually posted was a good deal more nuanced and generous.)

But completely seriously, I’ve discovered yet again how bad it is for my brain to get into debates without some really safe boundary lines. I only have a few people in my life with whom there is enough trust and safety that I know we can discuss anything openly without me losing my shit at some point. It’s true that perhaps the quickest way to send me over the edge is to make me feel misunderstood about something I am passionate about. I still can’t entirely identify why it makes me so angry to feel like someone isn’t hearing me out or catching my drift, but aside from threatening my wife or children, it’s the quickest way to see my very worst side. Please don’t try it!

In talking with my mentally ill pals, what I’ve discovered is that this sensitivity is a common theme. Our brains are already hardwired for chaos, fear, depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts, etc. We don’t need any help going down rabbit trails that are unhealthy. So when a “friend” calls us “willfully ignorant” or “just another liberal who espouses tolerance while being intolerant,” we are not able to, as some seem capable of doing, think to ourselves, “Oh well, that’s just X’s opinion. We’ll agree to disagree.” Instead, we lay awake at night going back and forth between mentally drafting angry responses to wanting to cry for how misunderstood we feel. And this, my friends, has been my week: attempts at dialogue leading to arguments leading to hurt feelings leading to lost sleep, anxiety, incessant what if questions about how to proceed, withdrawal from family, extra doses of Xanax, and so on.

So the first point I’d like to make is this: If we are going to take care of ourselves as mentally ill people, we have to be willing to set different boundaries than our “normal” friends set. So often I am guilty of berating myself for not being able to do things like so-and-so does them, and my friends tell me this is true of them, too. But we have do some inner child work here. We would never tell a five-year-old that he should be able to do what a fifteen-year-old does. Likewise, we must parent our own inner, mentally ill child and reassure him that it’s okay to not be like the other boys and girls. It’s okay that he can’t handle the madness of Facebook the week after another massacre. If Sally can handle it just fine, let her. I’m not Sally. I will do what’s best for me. It’s not so different from alcoholism. The alcoholic has to forgive herself that she can’t hang out at bars with friends. Sure, the rest of her friends can do so, and sure, she wishes desperately that she could. But the bad too far outweighs the good, and she has to gently, lovingly care for the inner child that simply isn’t capable of handling the temptations of a bar.

There’s another angle on the Orlando shootings in regard to mental illness, though. It has to do with the “all of these mass murderers are mentally ill…that’s the problem we should be focusing on” utterances of this week. On a practical note, and for the record, anyone who says, “THIS is the issue we must focus on” is oversimplifying the problem. It’s never just one thing. But the reality is that virtually every shooting is perpetrated by someone who is mentally ill. I once talked to a very experienced therapist who made the point that he didn’t think anyone who WASN’T mentally ill even had the capacity to commit murder. It may just be that, in order to kill someone, by definition, one must be mentally ill.

This week, yet again on Facebook, during one of these, uh, er, discussions I was having on Facebook, someone pointed toward mental illness as the thing we really need to be talking about. I whole-heartedly agreed. But I don’t think I meant what she thought I meant. I wouldn’t put mass murder at the top of the list of reasons why we need to address mental illness in this country.

First on my list would be simply the quality of life for mentally ill people…then maybe preventing mentally ill people’s suicides…and so on. As horrific as these mass murders are, what might be even more horrific is the daily trauma faced by millions of people who suffer inside their own minds and can’t find anything to make the problem better.

It’s amazing to me that we can send a rover to Mars that communicates with earth and we can send an email to Japan that takes less than one second to get there, yet despite the collective thousands and thousands of years those of us who participate in this blog have spent seeking mental health treatment, many of us are more hopeless than ever. We’ve tried the drugs, the talk therapy, the shock treatment, the magnetic field treatments, the deep brain stimulation, the support groups, the illegal drugs, the alcohol, and yet, we are still DESPERATE for something that provides even just a little bit of relief. People who like to point to the mental illness crisis as the reason for these mass shootings may mean well, but if they really knew what they were talking about, they would sound this drum day in and day out on behalf of those of us who grimly hope that we will one day be the victim of a mass shooting. Many more lives are being lost at the hands of mental illness than the victims of shootings. Millions of people right here in America have lost their lives in an entirely different sense. Let’s talk more about how to help those people.

Please.
 

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