You Don’t Understand – BUT, Please Try.

Those struggling with mental illness DO NOT JUST WANT TO BE HEARD. There is a want and a need to be listened to. There is a difference. It is appalling how little is known about anxiety and the associated “attacks” or physical ramifications of it.

An anxiety attack. One of the most terrifying physical and psychological manifestations that can occur. When those like me who struggle say our anxiety is high and we’re horrified of an attack occurring, this is what we mean… This is how it CAN be experienced.

For me: It starts out with slight nervousness. A knot in my stomach. I have to clear my throat. Then comes the tingly sensation all over my body. My limbs refuse to move. Then it hits. I am slammed to the floor. It’s crippling. And it takes over.

I CAN’T RUN. Everything within seeks escape from this assault – but, there is no such thing. It’s a trap. The walls close in. The air grows thinner and thinner. The paralysis is temporary – but, in that moment, it’s never ending.

I CAN’T BREATHE. I forget how. Hyperventilation becomes my meager attempt at respiration. My chest tightens. The capacity of my lungs seems to decrease. My heart pounds erratically to the rhythm of overwhelming terror. Dizziness comes first. Then nausea.

I CAN’T SPEAK. On the inside, I’m screaming for mercy, for prayer, for help, for some kind of relief. My jaw is clenched shut. My throat unable to produce speech. The utterances that make it out are feeble stutters and cries.

I CAN’T REGAIN CONTROL. I’m frustrated. Every muscle now becomes rigid yet spastic – moving or rather twitching on its own accord. My body is not submissive to my control.

I CAN’T LOCATE THE TRIGGER. I don’t know why this is happening. AGAIN.

I CAN’T CALM DOWN. I tried the “grounding” technique I’ve read all about in textbooks. I tried to harness my senses. I tried to hone in on the tangible. It failed.

I CAN’T STOP. So, I give in to it. I’ll let it run its course. It has won. I CAN’T STOP. It keeps happening. I CAN’T STOP. The most horrifying ten to Thirty minutes possible whenever they choose to appear.

THAT IS A PANIC ATTACK. And it is only one facet of many mental illnesses.

I hope you understand a little bit better now. It is no exaggeration. It is horrifying. You may not understand firsthand – but, you can certainly try to understand. That is all anyone could ever ask.


Madness, The Human Condition, & The Infinite

We’re all a little mad sometimes. I love that quote. Many people believe madness and brilliance are interdependent or even synonymous. This could be true. It certainly feels this way most times. But, is not man capable of creativity and anguish? Joy and agony? Are we not capable of being proud and disappointed? Capable of peace and war? Are we not complex in spite of our preferences for simplicity?

To think otherwise is sheer stupidity. It’s the definition of the human condition. We are a pained and broken people. It is beautiful. And, it is ugly. It is miraculous. And it is tragic. Madness as I’ve come to find just looks different for us all. Some of us have legitimate mental disorders that drive us to the point of irrationality as we desperately cling to rationality. Some of us drink until we forget the day and every day before it. Some of us pop pills for the blissful numbness that “heals.” Some of us work until absolutely exhausted to escape any other responsibility that isn’t money. Some of us end every good relationship we’ve had for fear of commitment. Some of us isolate ourselves completely. Some of us physically hurt ourselves. And the list goes on.

Truthfully: we all drown our sorrows in x, y, z. it’s ironic to think that we so easily stigmatize another person’s “crazy” because it is less acceptable than our own. Hypocrisy at its finest. Our state of nature is sad. We are feeble. Weak. Bitter. Selfish. And finite. Even in our victories and successes of life, we are STILL tossed to and fro by the changes of the wind and seasons. There is such a lack of consistency. All is meaningless. All is void. To find value in life, it never seems to be enough to look within ourselves. There is a curiosity and need for a transcendent view that goes beyond the self.

There is hope. More specifically, there is a hope. Despite our madness and helplessness and sickness, how amazing is it that there is this infinite God that makes the most broken of individuals and situations whole again? This infinite God permeates our atmosphere of suffering and impossibility. This God loves like he’s never been hurt before. He forgives us when forgiveness is not warranted. He extends mercies that are new every morning. he supplies a peace that surpasses all understanding. He takes our finite emptiness and overflows it with his infinite goodness. He takes broken vessels to be his mouthpieces to reach a generation and the one that follows. He empowers the weak. Believing in God moves us toward a love for this human condition of ours – for when we are beyond the self, we find that there is purpose for the pain; that everything may not be good, but, everything turns out for the good.

You just have to take a chance on the intangible. To go beyond textbooks, tenth grade biology, and your degree. That last one holds value – but, isn’t it still a piece of paper? Now, the big bang theory? Portions of evolution? Could God – the divine creator of the world – not be capable of such unexplainable genius and complexity? Many people have this idea that because we cannot physically see god or hear him or touch him that: he isn’t real. Well, at one point, we thought the world was flat because we limited what we believed to what we saw. Further… even though we cannot see god, there was and is: JESUS.

Jesus was physically seen and heard and touched. Jesus lived this horrid human condition and came out on top. He still lives. And that’s why we have hope. A future. A security. A comforter. A renewal. A healer. A purpose. A reason to live. A reason to thrive and not just survive. There is more. In the darkest hours, remember there is more. There are infinities of opportunity. There are songs to sing; prayers to pray; lyrics to write; tears to cry; books to read; poems to recite; sketches to draw; shows to watch; pictures to take; blogs to write; conversations to hold; coffee to drink; hugs to heal; food to eat; drives to take; and most of all, there are stories to tell.

You may be a little mad sometimes. Or maybe even tremendously mad most times. But, you are also beautiful and brilliant. Don’t deny that you are a multi-faceted being. You are more. We are more. There is more. Beyond ourselves is freedom from the finite. We are not prisoners to our sicknesses or struggles. Here’s to hope. Here’s to the the little victories of making it to tomorrow when you never thought you’d make it through today. Here’s to the hopeful. Let’s be infinite.

Scars, Bathroom Floors, & Hope

Scars, Bathroom Floors, & Hope: Jesus, Pain, & A Call to Better Things

When I see my scars, I fight disgust – but, I do not truly hate them. Why is this so? They remind me. I remember. Everything. I will always remember. They represent pain. They represent life. At times that I had no other way of showing it – pain that had built up was etched into my flesh forever. I’m not proud. Do not be mistaken. My razor was the brush, my skin the canvas, and my blood the paint. But, it was not beautiful. Most of the artwork birthed from anger, guilt, numbness, or self-punishment. I felt so little and thought so much. It is both a blessing and a curse to be a thinker. That will forever be the case. Despite this, you see there was unexplainable relief in the opposite sensation: of feeling too much and not thinking at all. Powerful expressions of raw emotion plagued me into horrendous actions and taunted me with their permanence thereafter.

Each scraggly line of scar tissue was a moment when the reasons to live held on tight and came out victorious. When life was near obsolete and death was not just inviting, but deceitfully necessary. Yet, by the power of Christ, I saw the sun every morning that followed the darkest of nights. My scars are the markings of a fighter – permanent reminders for someone who battled what I assume was depression and mental anguish daily for years. I assure you – I love life and I look forward to the future. Understanding that, you can see how frustrating of a struggle it is when your brain defiantly disagrees with your heart. I still fight daily against those disagreements.

However, there is a silver lining born from all of the struggle and blood, and it’s simple: none of these scars were previously near fatal wounds. I am still here… ALIVE. That is all that truly matters at the end of the day – that darkness never won. Jesus had his hand on my life. The enemy screams negativities from the scars– but, Jesus, he whispers reassurances and encouragers. Satan shouts ugliness while the LORD’s still small voice declares beauty from the pain. The loss of blood by my own hands is a dark and reasonably stigmatized concept. Thankfully, the blood of Jesus doesn’t care what it is or was – there is nothing too much for Him. I’ve been washed white as snow by his death and resurrection – and those horrible nights…every single one, I was never alone. He was right there with me, holding me tight and crying with me on the bathroom floor.

How thankful I am for the scandalous grace and compassion of Christ that dives into trenches for people. For people like me. That unconditional, infinite, and unfathomable love that saves people, all kinds of broken and hurting people: the cutters, intellectuals, the mentally ill, atheists, politicians, the anti-theists, porn addicts, convicts, the divorced, alcoholics, hookers, drug addicts, the porn stars, white collar criminals, celebrities, child abusers, sex addicts, adulterers, sports icons, gays and lesbians, murderers, transgenders, rapists, and everyone else in between. This God I serve is greater than the worst of pasts. A God of grace and redemption. And that is what my scars will forever express: beauty from pain, restoration from brokenness, and victory from defeat.

Further, for those struggling with any addiction or sin, shame is such a wasted emotion – especially, in my case, when one’s wounds are physically and visibly healed. What benefit does shame provide now?  What did it then? With God’s forgiveness, why allow shame to reside in your heart or mind? You shouldn’t allow it, encourage it, or instigate it. This takes us to the core of mental health stigma that I’d like us to consider – the pain experienced by those struggling with suicidal thoughts or any kind of brain illness is exacerbated tenfold by the silence and unwillingness of others to offer assistance in any capacity. Now, I understand these things are not always easy to identify – but, I am not referring to those instances of unidentifiable turmoil.

No. I am referring to that teenage girl you see with the downcast eyes and the drastically declining weight. The young man with the bruised knuckles and the bandages on his wrists and arms. The college kid always plastering sad quotes on his social media accounts. That single mom living paycheck to paycheck – that drowns herself in liquor once her children are asleep. It’s everyone and anyone who is visibly and obviously hurting that I am referring to.

C’mon church – isn’t it time we stop fearing messy ministry? Isn’t “messy” the very definition of what ministry is? Love is radical and calls us to do more. To be more. To shame less. To speak more. To listen close. To reach out and down – and all around. We are the hopeful and its time we start acting like it. A scandalous love has us meeting people where they are in the most vulnerable of states and loving them enough to not leave them there. We must get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable – otherwise, we serve little purpose to anyone except ourselves. Love before judgment – an undeniable selflessness. A few nights ago, my favorite college pastor emphasized the following beautifully (my interpretation of what he said of course): it is not enough to be a theorizing scholar who understands doctrine and theology; no, we are called to be active and practical sons and daughters. Ministry is not neat or pretty or selfish. So then, let’s be like Jesus.

LASTLY, to the addicts, alcoholics, cutters, depressed, suicidal: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. God is here. Second, do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help of any kind: for prayers, for company, for someone to take you to a counselor, for a cup of coffee and some good conversation with a trusted friend, for doctors, for an accountability partner, or even for a hug. Silence only makes matters worse. Getting help in any capacity may be hard – but, it is necessary. Breaking the stigma may seem impossible – but, it is not. Your voice is needed. My voice is needed. You are loved. Loved beyond our finite understanding. Trust me when I say I understand. Breaking the silence will open doors. Hope is real. God is real. There is still time for you – more songs to sing, tears to cry, more lyrics to botch, laughs to hear, road trips to take, meals to eat, prayers to pray, coffee to drink, sports to play, Netflix series to binge watch, books to read – life to live. Dark days will still exist – but, hold on to hope. There is always hope in help.

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:13-16