Aftermath

If you read my day-after-the-election post you saw my reactionary nature in action. I’m not proud of that, but being hypersensitive is a fundamental part of being mentally ill. Our brains are already on the precipice of disaster, pain, sorrow, anger, and it doesn’t take much to tip them over the edge. This same quality affects our day-to-day relationships, our careers, and our overall sense of sanity. You want proof that our brains work differently: just take a look at how poorly we handle over-stimulation of any sort. Like, say, having a possibly Fascist, certainly racist, definitely sexist man elected to run our country for the next (God, if you’re there, please make it only) 4 years.

Having a couple of weeks of perspective under my belt hasn’t helped too much. I still feel that this defeat is personal. I still feel betrayed by everyone I know who claims to care about the “little guy” and then voted into office the Great Bully of my lifetime. I still don’t know how to talk to the people in my life with whom I want to maintain relationships but at whom I’m so angry that the right words just won’t come out. I still feel crushed beyond words that the crowd I used to proudly run with – evangelicals – bought into Trump so thoroughly that it’s going to be a challenged to maintain those relationships with the mutual respect I would have hoped to perpetuate.

I’m not a little guy when you look at the outside: White, private schools, post-graduate education, wealthy upbringing…I’m privileged in so many ways on the surface. But on the inside, I’m something very different. The control panel inside my being’s core functions like a little guy’s: scared (always, even about nothing); feeling impotent when I try to tell people what I’m really feeling; powerless to change my own situation – having sat at the mercy of 8 psychiatrists and been told so many different things, I wonder if it isn’t somewhat like being kicked around the welfare system must be like. Simply put, I feel like a little guy is someone who can’t be sure her voice will ever be heard by someone with enough power to help. And in that regard, with The Great Bully as our president, I feel more like a helpless little guy than ever before.

But I don’t want this to be a political post any more than it already is. The deed is done. Now what?

This rally cry may sound very worn-out and even trite, but most cliches have a lot of truth wrapped up inside: We need to band together. Not just to fight for mental health research and reform in our government, but on a more basic level than that. More than ever, we need to let each other know we are not alone.

I wrote a post in a Hillary Clinton fan group the other night, and as a result 5 or 6 people who I do not know from Adam sent me friend requests. I accepted them and have already felt encouraged to see their posts in my feed. I’ve liked their’s, and vice versa, and voila – I feel like I’ve made some new friends who see the world in a similar way as I do. All of my problems aren’t solved, but I feel more connected to people I believe in and genuinely like. So, (I hate the words I’m about to use)…I “challenge” (that’s the one I hate) you to use this site to do the same thing: find some friends on here. If you keep seeing someone’s name pop up, send them a friend request. Hell, send me a friend request and let’s get to know each other beyond this forum.

I need you guys. I need you to survive. Literally. I need people who get it and who see the same quandaries and dilemmas in the world around them as I do. My core belief throughout my entire life has been simply this: We need each other. We don’t know who God is or where God is or if God is. We don’t know which political system is going to be best for us. We don’t even know if butter is going to turn out to be good for us or if it will kill us. We don’t know much. But I know that humans are pack animals, and I know that I need you. Reach out to each other; support each other; love each other. Start here. Or start somewhere. But be brave…do it.

 
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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with relationships or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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Humanistic Compassion: My New Religion

A Spiritual Director once asked me to consider what my values would be if religion wasn’t in the picture. This question made almost no sense to me because I had been long trained in the belief that, without a religion or faith, one would be adrift in the moral ocean, incapable of consistency in his/her direction.

Nevertheless, I did my homework and pondered what I valued, even if there was no God up above telling me what to value. Some of what I came up with were very simple beliefs, nothing to write home about – I believed in fighting for my family…doing what it took to be healthy for them so my wife had a husband and my kids had a dad; I believed in doing work that felt like it contributed to the well-being of others; I believed in friendship and the power of companionship for those who are lonely or suffering…

I doubt if anyone wants to write the next best-seller based on my somewhat ordinary beliefs, but nevertheless, for me, these were somewhat earth-shattering. For the first time, I felt like I had picked my passions as opposed to being told what they were supposed to be. It’s like the difference between being a kid who plays football because he dad makes him and being that same kid whose dad leaves the picture and he finally gets to choose for himself.

And as I mulled all of this over, it became clear that I had one value that seemed to be defining the others: people, and in particular, the “little guy.” It’s certainly not earth-shattering to say that people are what really matter during our time here on earth. There are even cliches to help me drive home the point, like the bumper sticker that says, “No One Ever Says, ‘I Wish I Spent More Time at the Office.'”

But even if I was merely acting out a cliche, I felt autonomous for the first time in my life: This is what I believe in…This is what I want to center my life around…In post-modern parlance, “this is true for me” even if it’s not true for someone else.

Because of my belief in the value of people, I have gotten more than a little upset lately when people place their ideals about what the American flag stands for above the black mother of a teenage boy who has just been shot by police because he dresses like his friends do and looks like he’s up to no good. How can people fail to see that, even if you hate the protesters, their protest is on behalf of people who are oppressed, and every time one of us who is well-off and white opens her mouths to tell a pro football player to respect the flag, it’s actually an expression that perpetuates the mistreatment of black people. In these cases, we are putting ideals above human beings. Ideals should be held to firmly but only insofar as they serve individual human beings.

Then there’s the presidential election. Once again, so many people put their ideals over and above the individuals they are supposed to serve. Both candidates prey on our collective fears: of people who come from somewhere else, of the economic harm the other guy will do if he gets his way, of the possible impact of having guns taken away, or the possible impact of having hardly any restrictions on gun purchases. What’s lost in this rhetoric of fear is a collective awareness that not all immigrants are out to get us and the countless middle-ground options on gun rights that might actually help us be protected…from ourselves. We – Democrats and Republicans and Independents – forget about the human beings who will be impacted, and instead we focus on winning an argument rather than serving our fellow man as we create policy.

Truly, I’m not even trying to get you to vote for a particular candidate. I’m just saying that, sadly, most people vote based on how things are going FOR THEM. I think when you are facing systemic oppression that makes perfect sense. But the rest of us just want to make sure we are never the ones facing systemic oppression, so we vote in fear – trying to prevent ourselves from ever being the underdog.

Where does mental health come in to all of this? I think my mental health struggles have ultimately shaped this Humanism in me. I’ve often been the guy who is misunderstood but who could explain if given the chance.

I live daily with the fear that I will someday not be able to provide for my family. Whether it’s realistic or not, I imagine myself on the streets, trying desperately to find someplace safe for my wife and kids, so I’m passionate about refugees (from anywhere) and our responsibility to them.

And I can’t say that I was bullied any worse than any other kid in school, but seeing as how I was hypersensitive and had an obsessive brain that took even probably-not-directed-at-me insults to heart and stewed on them for days, I can’t stand it when anyone is bullied. If you read nothing else, please remember this: To use your advantage as a person of privilege to step on others to get what you want, you are doing essentially the same thing that the middle school bully does: he wants what he wants (for whatever reason), and he’s just going to take it, plain and simple.

The rights of all people are my passion, and there’s nothing that makes me feel hopeless quicker than watching the big guy pick on the little guy. So many don’t even stop to think and realize that they are, in fact, the Big Guy with the Advantage who might easily become The Bully. It wouldn’t be okay if it were your kid being bullied in the cafeteria, and it’s not okay when it’s someone who’s black, or female, or an illegal immigrant, or a peace-loving Muslim, a Syrian refugee either, or someone who’s mentally ill who doesn’t have access to proper care. They are all someone’s children. Just imagine they were yours.

So, in the end, I have replaced the religion of my youth with something that used to be considered a very bad word: Humanism. Yep, I believe in people, even people I disagree with. I believe that inside all of us is an overgrown child who spends his/her entire life trying to grow up – emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and mentally. Our bodies grow up and enable us to fool others into taking us seriously, but we all know that we need copious amounts of help to make it. And when we can learn to see that everyone we encounter every dad feels the same way, we can set of values that revolves around our belief in the value and beauty of every single other person. I would call that the philosophy (religion might be too strong) of Humanism. The values of Humanism can lead us where religion often tries to take us – to a place where others are more important than ourselves. I’m not there yet, and I’ll likely never get there fully. But I hope I can get a little better each day, and by the end of my life pretty darn good at it.

 
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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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Podcast: Two of Tim’s Friends Discuss Their Journeys with Religion and Mental Illness

In this episode, the final episode of a three part series on religion and mental illness, two of Tim’s friends, Alison and Matt, share their own journeys with mental illness and religion. While Alison comes to similar conclusions as Tim, Matt’s journey has ended differently. Please enjoy, and please know that I promise to be done with this topic for awhile!

Music Credit: Lady Antebellum, “Compass”

 
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To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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Podcast: Why I Gave Up on God

In this episode, Tim stays with the previous topic of mental illness and religion but shares his personal story rather than just looking at the big picture. He shares stories from his childhood all the way into adulthood when he finally let go of God.

Everything in this episode is straight from the heart/mind/mouth of Tim…no notes to offer in other words.

There will be a Part III with two of my friends sharing their thoughts/struggles with mental illness and religion.

Music credit: Lady Antebellum, “Compass”

 
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Please help if you can…everything helps. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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Dear Taylor Swift

This was originally published a year and a half ago. For some reason it was on my mind again and I thought I’d re-share.

 

Dear Taylor Swift,

Yes, I am a 40-year-old man writing a letter to you, but don’t get weirded out just yet. Give me a minute to explain myself.

You see, this morning on the way to my daughter’s school, she (as usual) asked for my phone so she could listen (primarily) to your music. She’s 7, and you are her favorite (and don’t tell anyone but I do love your music, too while I pretend to be strictly a Death Metal sort of guy). This morning, my little girl played your song, “Never Grow Up.”

I am somewhat sure it changed my life. No, seriously.

As is often the case in the morning, I was a tad grumpy, and to be entirely honest, I gave her the phone in part so I wouldn’t have to feign fascination with 7-year-old questions and observations. Now don’t go judging me, Taylor, until you have kids of your own. They’re amazing, but they ask a lot of questions, and at least in my daughter’s case, come out of the womb with plenty to say and may well never stop talking for 7 years. But back to my life being changed…

So I’m not a big crier. I suppose that for a male I might be somewhere in the normal range, which means I might tear up at a movie when a dog dies or when the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is especially awesome, but for the most part, it’s mainly when that irritating thing called death comes close to home that I do my real crying. Unfortunately, that means someone close to me has to die about twice a year so I can get my stuffed-inside-pretty-damn-deep-emotions out. I will admit that once the tears make their way over my lower eyelids, they can tend to be all-consuming for a few minutes. But that’s usually the end of it, even when death happens.

But thanks to you, for literally the only time in my life that I can remember, I cried all day. As my daughter played the song this morning, it was just a little tearing up that led me to reach back and grab her hand just to hold it for a minute. Suddenly, instead of wanting the carpool trip to be over, I found myself wanting to hit pause so I could absorb the maniacal beauty of this fast-fleeting time in life when kids’ shrieks (some good, some bad) dominate my life.

But when she got out of the car, I started to replay that song over and over. I don’t know what in the world attracts us to things that evoke that mixture of joy and pain that makes us do that strange thing known as crying, but whatever that impulse is kept me listening over and over again. And gradually, the watery eyes turned into actual rolling tears. And then I couldn’t stop…for hours. There was so much wrapped up in the words of your song that got me crying…

I cried because I love my kids so damn much it actually hurts sometimes.

I cried because I don’t always do a great job of expressing it to them, and sometimes I’m sure I hurt them in ways even they won’t understand until they have their own day-of-crying at age 40.

I cried because I wished I could go back to my own childhood, but not because it was so blissfully naive. It was quite the opposite. I spent my childhood petrified of all manner of things: being left somewhere by my parents, germs that might fly into my body invisibly, accidentally telling a lie, making God mad and being sent to hell, and just generally of something tragic happening to my loved ones. I obsessively ended conversations with my parents with “I love you” because when you have OCD and hear one of those horrific stories that I think people make up just to scare the shit out of kids so they’ll appreciate their parents more, you tend not to forget such scary stories (you know, the story where a kid doesn’t get what he wants for his birthday, tells his parents he hates them, storms off, and then during the day, they’re hit by a Mack truck, and the kid comes home to find the present he wanted waiting as a surprise which had been planned all along (did you hear these same stories, Taylor? For me, they struck a nerve that was already all too alive.)). So I cried for myself, honestly, for the fact that I have felt far too “grown up” since I was 4. I cried because your song says that to a child “everything is funny,” but I don’t remember anything funny about being a child; I just remember being confused and unbelievably scared. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say that to a child “everything is scary as hell”?

I cried because last year one of my students did a talent show dance to your song and needed a little ballerina to join her, and she asked my daughter. When it actually took place, I only teared up, beating myself up inside that I couldn’t shed some real tears about this overwhelmingly perfect moment in time. But I made up for that lack of tears today.

Ellie Ruth in last year's Wesleyan Talent Show

I cried because that memory reminded me that I’ve had to step away from a lot of people and activities I love to try to get better in my brain.

I cried because I used to believe that God loved me and cared about me, but nowadays I struggle mightily to believe anything of the sort. It’s not that I wanted that foundation to crumble; sometimes foundations start crumbling and don’t know how to stop, it would seem…sort of goes along with the whole loss of innocence your song is about, I guess. You don’t want to lose your innocence (or maybe you actually do) but you don’t really have much of a choice once the cage door is opened.

You’re probably getting depressed, but I’m done with my sad list now, and I’m actually writing to say thank you, so let me get to that part.

Thank you for helping some dam inside of me break open. The truth is, many people, at least historically, have perceived me as put-together and on-the-ball. You know: stable, self-assured, level-headed…those sorts of things. But on the inside I’ve always been very aware that I’m a pretty emotional guy. Unfortunately, the emotion I’m best at expressing is anger, but you and I and the 7 people who might read this now know that my anger, humor, and sarcasm are actually masks for a lot of pain I feel inside but don’t know how to get out. I got a lot out today, so thank you for providing the chisel that broke a dam I’ve been building all my life.

Thank you, also, for a poignant reminder that our little ones do grow up. The part that really gets me is the bridge where you talk about daddy’s coming home and remembering little brother’s favorite songs. During that part, my daughter blurted out, “Josiah’s favorite song is definitely Jingle Bells!” since that is literally the ONLY song he ever wants to listen to. If he wants music, it’s that song on repeat since Christmas of 2013. But all day as I’ve listened over and over to your song (enough times to move that song up a few notches on the charts), when it comes to that part, I really crack. Those images are so relevant to me, and I dread the day when the “DADDY!!!!!!” shrieks fade into unintelligible grunts when I walk through the door.

Finally, Taylor, and please keep this between us as I’m very private about these things, I’ve been going through a bit of a tough time lately. Usually, when someone close to me dies, the tears are incredibly cathartic. It’s probably pretty obvious to say that crying is a natural part of grieving, but I am quite sure I haven’t begun to grieve the recent losses I’ve experienced.

Until today.

So thank you for playing a small, unwitting part in this cathartic ripping open that I apparently haven’t solved just yet. Maybe when you read this post you can have a good cry, too, for you have had to grow up pretty fast for different reasons than I did. You seem to be handling it pretty well, but then again, perhaps, like me, you’re spending most of your energy to stay “put together” so the 29 zillion people who recognize you won’t see the little kid inside of you. The same one that’s inside all of us; the same one that we all need to take good care of, to “re-parent” as the psychology term says, to cherish and love because no one will ever understand us as well as we understand ourselves.

Sincerely,

Tim

P.S. My daughter really wants to meet you, so let us know when you’re available to meet. I’m sure you can squeeze us in, right?

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Well, the time has come to ask what I hate asking because I am pathologically afraid of annoying people. But the reality is that this endeavor has grown beyond a simple blog. I’m already spending a couple of thousand dollars a year now that I’m podcasting and doing some advertising (promoting) on Facebook. Currently, the ball is rolling to start at least one and hopefully multiple small groups dedicated specifically to helping mentally ill people know they have company. That, too, will require time and money. Long story short, I need some additional resources. Now that I have 501(c)(3) status, I can ask you for help while at the very least offering you a tax deduction. There are 3 ways to donate:

    1. You can transfer money directly from your bank via PayPal donations (seriously, why don’t you have a PayPal account by now, people?!).
    2. You can use PayPal to make a credit card donation.

FOR THE TWO ABOVE, YOU CAN MAKE THEM RECURRING MONTHLY IF YOU’D LIKE TO. Just check the box to this effect.

  1. You can write an old-school checks (ask your grandmother to show you how to write one, and then email me at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com for the mailing address).

All covering-up-my-discomfort-with-humor aside, I want to grow this endeavor into something that helps more people and helps them in more of a variety of ways. Anything you can contribute would be profoundly appreciated.

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More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

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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, 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: Christianity and Mental Illness


 

Religion and Mental Illness Podcast Show Notes:

Psyche (root of psychology): originally viewed as the human soul, mind, or spirit. Today we view the psyche as essentially rooted in our brains…something distinctly separate from our spirit. However, in religious circles, these two are still decidedly overlapped. Herein lies the problem/issue that is addressed in this podcast.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud%27s_views_on_religion

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-24/edition-4/mental-health-religion-and-culture

No matter how you slice it, we have a serious problem in that religion and psychology are usually seen as being at odds with each other. Many religious people refuse mental health treatment, believing that God can/will cure them.

Early 20th-century interest in religion and mental health was sparked by Freud’s view of religion as intrinsically neurotic. Freud described religion and its rituals as a collective neurosis, which, he suggested, could save a person the effort of forming an individual neurosis. For example, in an early paper, Freud (1907/1924) spelt out the similarities between religious rituals and obsessional rituals. He argued that guilt is created when rituals are not carried out, and assuaged when they are, so a self-perpetuating ‘ritualaholic’ cycle is set up.

Freud’s views prompted furious reaction from the religious establishment, leading in some circles to the dismissal of psychotherapy and psychotherapists as worthless atheistic frauds; but there were parallel counter-movements. Within psychodynamic theory and practice, and in the social scientific and psychiatric arenas, there were serious attempts to explore religiosity and spirituality and their mental health implications.

http://amysimpsononline.com/2013/09/evangelicals-youre-wrong-about-mental-illness/

A recent LifeWay Research survey produced some interesting statistics related to mental illness…48 percent believe serious mental illness can be cured by prayer alone.

OCD

Can Christianity Cure Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The author shows that Luther, Bunyan, and Therese had textbook OCD and overcame it by trusting in God with their obsessions. They gave the obsession and outcome into God’s hands and trusted in Christ’s righteousness as being their righteousness. I struggled with the Calvinistic bent Bunyan and Luther have. They seem to trust more in God’s sovereignty over ALL areas of life, whereas I still allow for free will. I admit that my OCD would be less intense if I were a Calvinist, but I’m not still not convinced. I do believe this would be a great read for a Christian with OCD. The author doesn’t push “trust therapy” (my own term) to the exclusion of other therapies (medication, cognitive-behavioral, etc.) but mentions that “trust therapy” leads to spiritual growth. This is a very important point. I think the book could be reduced in length because the “trust therapy,” but it’s still a fairly quick read. It is written on a layman’s level. If you suffer from OCD, may God show his grace to you. And remember, don’t give up. https://www.amazon.com/Can-Christianity-Cure-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder/dp/1587432064

Scrupulosity: A form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involving religious or moral obsessions. Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine. https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/IOCDF-Scrupulosity-Fact-Sheet.pdf

DEPRESSION

It hasn’t been easy. There are times when Earle is angry and withdrawn. He is often exhausted. I often feel overwhelmed with having to shoulder much of the responsibility for running the home and family. And I sometimes get discouraged knowing we serve a Lord who could reach down and heal this in an instant — but has chosen not to do so. http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/emotional-health/depression/depression-in-the-christian-family

http://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/health/emotional-health/christians-take-depression-seriously.aspx#GTjQOHT6zrLGeAQA.99

Finally, it might be that in some cases overcoming depression requires nothing more than praying for the will to be joyful.There’s a woman I know whose health has failed in many ways. She can only breathe with the help of oxygen tanks; her husband has deserted her; she needs charity to survive. But she is determined to be happy—and she is. Lincoln once said that most people are about as happy as they decide to be. In the end, you may have to pray for the grace and courage to decide to say “yes” to life and, by so doing, prove to the world that you have indeed been saved: “by grace through faith.” To make such a decision is not to be a Pollyanna. It is willing to will the will of God.

As we consider the causes of depression, those of us in the church must face the ways we might be responsible for creating it. Supposedly, we offer a gospel that delivers people from guilt, but often, when we think people do not feel guilty enough to take our gospel seriously, we preach to them in a way that makes them feel guilty. Sadly, we do a much better job of making people feel guilty than we do of delivering them from the guilt we create. We need to confess this and change our ways.

ANXIETY

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/may/how-god-can-use-your-anxiety-for-good.html

God may be using anxiety to draw us closer to him, allowing us to recognize our need and limitations as anchors to the One who is sufficient. Focusing on the way Jesus set boundaries in community and kept a constant line of communication open with his Father, (The Anxious Xian by Rhett Smith)Smith helpfully and practically reconciles the experience of anxiety with the reality of God’s goodness.

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2012/05/02/eight-reasons-why-my-anxiety-is-pointless-and-foolish/

6. Anxiety is pointless.

Matthew 6:27: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” [Answer: no one.]

7. Anxiety is worldly.

Matthew 6:31-32: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things. . . .”

James 4:4: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

8. Tomorrow has enough to worry about and doesn’t need my help.

Matthew 6:34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Lamentations 3:23: “[God’s mercies] are new every morning.”

http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/religion-spirituality-and-mental-health:

Studies have gone back and forth on the benefits of religion for mental health, but all that’s really clear is that the relationship is very complex.

This supports my belief that it’s an individual issue – some are helped and some are hurt.

http://www.thenewsnerd.com/health/apa-to-classify-belief-in-god-as-a-mental-illness/

The controversial ruling comes after a 5-year study by the APA showed devoutly religious people often suffered from anxiety, emotional distress, hallucinations, and paranoia. The study stated that those who perceived God as punitive was directly related to their poorer health, while those who viewed God as benevolent did not suffer as many mental problems. The religious views of both groups often resulted in them being disconnected from reality.

http://www.livescience.com/52197-religion-mental-health-brain.html

A 2010 study by Newberg and colleagues that included brain scans of Tibetan Buddhist and Franciscan nuns found that these long-term meditators had more activity in frontal-lobe areas such as the prefrontal cortex, compared with people who were not long-term meditators.

Strengthening these areas of the brain may help people be “more calm, less reactionary, better able to deal with stressors,” Newberg said. However, these studies can’t say that prayer changed the brain — it’s possible that these differences existed before the meditators took up their prayer practice. [Mind Games: 7 Reasons You Should Meditate]

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Well, the time has come to ask what I hate asking because I am pathologically afraid of annoying people. But if I am going to have the time and resources to keep writing, podcasting, and researching possible methods and models for small groups dedicated specifically to helping mentally ill people know they have company, I need some additional resources. Now that I have 501(c)(3) status, I can ask you for help while offering you a tax deduction. There are 3 ways to donate:

  1. You can transfer money directly from your bank via PayPal donations (seriously, why don’t you have a PayPal account by now, people?!).
  2. You can use PayPal to make a credit card donation.
  3. FOR THE TWO ABOVE, YOU CAN MAKE THEM RECURRING MONTHLY IF YOU’D LIKE TO. Just check the box to this effect.

  4. You can write an old-school checks (ask your grandmother to show you how to write one, and then email me at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com for the mailing address).

All covering-up-my-discomfort-with-humor aside, I want to grow this endeavor into something that helps more people and helps them in more of a variety of ways. Anything you can contribute would be profoundly appreciated.

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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.

 

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A Daily Dose of Death (and Grace)

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Let’s assume for a minute that this life is All There Is, that Death is The End. You get your 80 years, more or (much) less, but that’s the deal. One life; one death; done.

Pessimist that I am, I tend to look at death as tragic, but not so much for the dead person as for those of us left behind. And indeed, the untimely death of a loved one can and often does leave the lives of those left behind in tattered ruins, sometimes irredeemably.

Death is often thought of as a one-time event at the end of our confusing lives. We all know there’s a sand timer dripping out the sands of our days, never letting us know how much sand is left in the top half, and we’ve come up with many explanations for the seeming cruelty of all that is left unexplained as those sands drip through – why do dogs have to die? Why do children die? Why do we die? When do we die? Why can’t we know more? Why can’t we understand more? Why must we ask ‘why?’ despite the lack of answers to that fundamentally human question? Why? whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?

But on the other hand, while we are aware of the dramatic deaths of people taken by disease and tragic accidents, we are surrounded by small daily deaths that aren’t nearly as threatening to us:

We breathe in; we breathe out – a microcosm of life then death.

We wake up…a new day, a new life. We go to sleep…precious sleep, death to the day behind us.

Each step we take gives birth to a new moment, leaving behind the old moment, never to return.

Seasons come to life, slowly, gently killing off the previous season.

We embrace the new opportunities, the new stages of life, tending to look forward more readily than we look backward.

Death is forever all around us, but there’s something gracious, proper, and kind about our daily deaths. How many nights of your life have you lamented having to go to sleep? Are you ever sad to exhale? Worried that there won’t be another breath waiting for you in one moment? We might lament the passing of a beautiful fall or a life-bringing spring, but even summer and winter come with their pool parties and snowball fights – bits of joy in the midst of a season whose death comes eventually as a relief, as a moment of grace.

I don’t claim to know much about the religious stories’ validity. Is there a heaven? What about reincarnation? Or what if we just end up exactly as we were in the year 1743 – entirely unaware, literally non-existent.

I don’t claim to know or, frankly, to have much in the way of belief in these matters. But if I examine the fact that most of the deaths we die are actually not so scary, even pleasant and beautiful – just as beautiful as the precious moments when life needs a pause button. And isn’t it true that our permanent Deaths create the very Grace embedded within the frightfulness of ceasing to exist? Would anyone want to live on forever once their loved ones are lost? Once their health declines past the point of physical pleasure?

In most stories, immortality is a curse, not a blessing. The immortal character grows more and more embittered and estranged from the pleasures of the world but without the relief brought on by death.

Perhaps my argument is a bit circular…Because of the deaths we must inevitably encounter, Death becomes an act of grace. Just as circumcision is a gift to male children who will be surrounded by other circumcised children. Better to commit the horror of slicing off part of a boy’s most sensitive body part days after birth than to risk the rejection and mockery he might face in 12 or 14 years by not doing the slicing. Indeed, death is scary and largely left without satisfying meaning. I can’t pretend this isn’t a large part of Death’s Reality.

But for today, circular though it may be, I feel the need to acknowledge the Grace buried within the bosom of Death.

 

 

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The Wisdom of Rust Cohle

rustIf you haven’t seen the HBO series True Detective (season 1) with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, quit reading right now, and go watch all 10 hours of it. Did you do it? Seriously, it’s way better than this post is going to be…go watch it.

Now that you’ve watched it, thanks for coming back to read the rest of this.

So do you remember the scene when Woody’s character tells Rust’s character that he has a really grim perspective on life and to basically keep said perspective’s to himself? Cohle responds, “Given how long it’s taken me to reconcile my nature, I can’t figure I’d forego it on your account.”

When I first saw this scene, I went back to this line over and over because I wanted to remember the beautiful line out of the mouth of a man who sees the glass as not only half empty, but what’s left in said glass is inevitably poison.

I’m only about half way done with my life, statistically speaking, but it seems to me that the first half of our lives is spent trying to become what other people have told us to be, and the second half (I hope) is spent finally “reconciled to our nature,” living out a life of authenticity.

One of my favorite books to read to my kids is called “I Like Me.” On the cover is a pig dressed like a ballerina. The pig spends the book telling her readers all the things she likes about herself, from her round belly to her curly tail. The book is clearly one of those everyone-gets-an-award, self-esteem books, but I don’t say that in any pejorative sense. I think everyone should get an award…at least everyone who brings something unique to the table…which is everyone.

Having spent my entire adult life as a teacher, I have had a front row seat to watch mixed messages get sent to still-developing adolescents. Schools/Adults/Institutions… tell kids over and over and over that it is great to be oneself, that every person’s unique gifts are needed and valued. Then we give awards to the kids who were good at school (smart), good at sports, or good at popularity. The kids who are great at computers or great at making the uncool kids feel cared for or good at diffusing tension between her friends…they just get overlooked because those skills are harder to appreciate and value than the skill of having the highest GPA.

It’s a hard problem to remedy (maybe impossible), but most of us spend a good portion of our adult lives unraveling the damage done to our psyches by the cultural messages we receive as kids about what makes people valuable or worthless. I’ve met virtually no one who felt that their Truest, Innermost Self was highly valued as s/he was growing up. Even the kids who do win the awards end up feeling like people aren’t seeing the Real Them.

Eventually, whether we were cool kids or decidedly dorky, we have to decide to love and value our truest selves no matter who is paying attention or wanting to hand us an award.

The beauty of Rust Cohle’s statement isn’t that we should all strive to be more like him. He’s essentially a Nihilist, so the world would get pretty ugly pretty fast if we all saw things through his lens. What’s so beautiful is that he accepts himself for who he is. No apology; no trying to be someone different because he makes his police partner uncomfortable. He just is who he is, like it or not. And that’s a pretty beautiful thing.

For me personally, one of the more harmful notions of conservative Christianity has been the belief that, to be a human, is to be something flawed. Think about that message for a second: From the moment you are born (conceived, even), you are tainted, broken, warped, sinful. That message doesn’t exactly help any of us grow up with a strong sense of our own value and worth. Add the societal messages of how our value comes from our brains, our athleticism, or our popularity, and we’re all basically doomed to see ourselves as pieces of poop (forgive the aggressive language).

Here’s the good news of the gospel of humanism: It’s ok to be you. Are you quirky? Quirk it up like a boss. Are you fat and can’t get skinny no matter how hard you try? Put on a bikini and rock it, girl (or boy). Fuck what other people think you should wear to the pool. Are you weird? Weird people are far more fun to be around than normal people; please, please, come hang out with me, weirdos! Are you neurotic? Yeah, me too. So what! Our brains don’t seem to have the let-it-go gene that others have. Letting it go isn’t inherently better than not letting it go, so just do your best to find whatever peace you can inside your neurotic head…but don’t hate your neurosis; they’re inevitably doing you some good, too. Start looking for it.

The pretty girl wishes she was the smart girl while the smart girl wishes she was the carefree girl while the football player wishes he could come out of the closet and get the lead in the musical. Reconcile yourself to your nature and then don’t fucking forego it on anyone’s account. You are beautiful just as you are. Anyone who tells you different or makes you feel different should be promptly removed from your Facebook friends list (and your life).

 

 

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Turtles, Parades, and Unconditional Love
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Turtles, Parades, and Unconditional Love

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My friend Scott recently put me on to a new country musician named Sturgill Simpson. I can’t remember the last time I got so hooked on a new musician. Part hillbilly, part existentialist philosopher, part drug experimenter, part brilliant musician and lyricist…that’s basically a summary of Simpson. If you have any fondness for country music, you should definitely check him out.

In the song “Turtles All the Way Down,” Simpson recounts his experiences with various drugs, saying, “Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, DMT; they all changed the way I see, but LOVE’S THE ONLY THING THAT’S EVER SAVED MY LIFE.”

Another artist I’ve been obsessed with of late is the beautiful, gut-wrenching writing of Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, which was made into a movie that was up for Best Picture at the Oscars. She also wrote a book called Dear Sugar, essays compiled from an advice column she used to write for an online magazine (nothing like the advice columns you’re used to). Strayed lives in the Pacific Northwest, which, by default, makes her a raging liberal. Every year, she takes her two young children to the gay pride parade in her city. Her kids find it entertaining. They love to see the people who are dressed up in their most thoroughly “gay” clothing…drag queens…Village People…the whole nine yards. But while her kids like the “costumes,” she says she always ends up crying, and her kids ask her why. Her answer is that they’re looking at a “celebration of love born out of hatred.” I am proud to say that, while relaying this story to someone just yesterday, I, too, choked back tears for the same reason Strayed does: People saying “this is who I am whether or not you approve” brings me to tears. It’s not that I understand homosexuality any better than any other straight person (I happen to believe that God’s three greatest inventions all exist between a woman’s neck and her thighs), but I don’t believe I have to understand someone in order to support their desire to express love and commitment to another human being. Like many these days, Strayed uses the “love wins” mantra to sum up her celebration of gay pride, gay marriage, etc. Maybe love does win…would that be such a bad conclusion to all of this human chaos?

 

Something else I learned from Sturgill Simpson is the turtles-all-the-way-down story. It goes like this: In the days when people believed that the world was flat, there was a myth that earth rested on the back of a giant, cosmic turtle. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, one of the smart kids finally asked this important question: “But what is the turtle standing on?” To which some unnamed genius responded, “Well, it’s turtles all the way down, you see.”

The turtles-all-the-way-down story illustrates a fundamental problem in the human condition: Our reason/logic will always reach an end point. ALWAYS. Christians use the Bible as their turtles-all-the-way-down trump card; Muslims use the Quran; scientists use data that will eventually be called into question or disproved. None of us really know for sure what to believe.

I’ve had to abstain from Facebook lately because of all the rhetoric lately about who’s right and who’s wrong on the gay marriage issue (or Obama Care…or South Carolina’s flag). It just gets me too worked up to see all of the us-vs-them or we-are-the-good-guys-they-are-the-bad-guys posturing. Human beings are not broken up into two (and only two) teams: good guys vs. bad guys. I genuinely believe that the world would be a better place if all of us would simply admit that we aren’t quite sure what the hell is going on around us. We’re not sure who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? We’re not sure whose religion understands the nuances of God better than the other religions. We’re not sure which political party has the right answers. We’re not sure of very much, in fact.

But we can be sure of one thing: That we are UNSURE.

I tend to think we are ALL wrong at some level about EVERYTHING. So let’s quit worrying so much about who’s right and who’s wrong and start with something we can probably agree on: PEOPLE NEED TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED AND FORGIVEN AND CARED FOR NO FUCKING MATTER WHAT. Wanna change the world? Start with radical, careless, overwhelming love and acceptance, and you’ll make some good progress.

I’d rather see humanity moving in the direction of loving and accepting and caring for MORE people rather than fewer people. I’d rather see us quit trying to conserve values that are fatally flawed in the first place…like the “sanctity of marriage.” Uh, people, ½ of marriages end in divorce. We should quit claiming that marriage is so sacred until we figure out how to honor its sacredness ourselves, as straight people. Once we’re above an 88.356% success rate, we can start talking about not wanting “foreigners” inside of our “sacred” institutions. For now, we should wonder why gay people even want the “privilege” of marrying. Are they that eager to hire divorce lawyers?!

As we try to figure out these complex issues as a country and as individuals, why not err on the side of acceptance and love rather than erring on the side of “reasoned” disagreement?

Your supposed reason is faulty.

So is mine.

But there is no doubt that human beings could use more love, affirmation, and acceptance. Even if they are morally corrupt, they aren’t likely to make changes because you have a more “reasonable” thought process than they do. People grow and change through love, plain and simple. Even if you’re right and the Supreme Court is wrong, expressing that opinion will ostracize about ten thousand people for every one it converts to your point of view. Showing people that you love them without needing them to “get their shit together first” will reverse that ratio, winning over ten thousand for every one you offend with your unconditional love (though it’s hard to imagine love like that turning anyone off, but I wanted to keep the math nice and tidy).

So whether you’re like Sturgill Simson, who realized through drug use that love is the most powerful drug on earth…or if you’re like Cheryl Strayed who cries at the bravery it takes for people to come out of any closet that society has locked with a dead bolt…or if you’ve spent so much time thinking about who’s right and who’s wrong and you’ve come to the conclusion that all philosophies eventually dissolve into “it’s turtles all the way down,” I, for one, don’t believe we will do the world any harm by opting for extreme and radical acceptance of our fellow humans as “simply human.” Like you, they are confused, broken, scared, unsure about God, unsure about what happens when they die, unsure about whether it’s more important to fit in or to be authentic. Gay, straight, transgender, murderer, or even Republican…all of us deserve the benefit of the doubt. All of us deserve the life-changing benefit of radical love.

So I’ll end with this admission: I’m sure I’m wrong about most things. But I, for one, do think it’s turtles all the way down.

But I’m willing to admit that maybe it’s actually giraffes. Or cats. If it’s cats, I’m gonna be pissed. I hate cats.

 

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