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.

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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

The Current & Future Challenges of Rape & Porn Culture

Identifying the heavy drug-related incarceration rates in the United States as a current and future challenge is easy – but, what about the more stigmatized and less publicized issues of rape and porn culture in this country? These problems are sleeping giants derived from the growth and acceptance of over-sexualized American mass media and popular culture – which elicits a normalization of sexual violence and the oppression of women. This may seem like an overreaching allegation. Unfortunately, it is not. When considering mainstream media examples and criminal statistics, it is viable. In the media, many examples are evident: music videos like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” openly objectify women, products are sold for women to lessen their chances of being raped (i.e. rape whistles or female condoms with teeth), films like 50 Shades of Grey normalize rape fantasies and violent sex (whether consensual or not), and the most recently the Sony scandal imposing that popstar Kesha must work with her abuser (producer Dr. Luke) to maintain her contract. Statistically: the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (2014) records that 1 of every 6 women has been raped in their lifetime and that approximately 97% of rapists will never spend any time in a jail cell.

Firstly, what is rape culture? It is the societal atmosphere and environment in which sexual violence is normalized and gender-based injustices are permitted, such as: mass media misrepresentations and expectations of women (Buchwald et al., 2005). Further, rape culture mocks, justifies, and even excuses violence. Morczek (2015) expanded on this concept when she wrote: “…sexual violence is the foundation of rape culture and rape culture normalizes sexual violence.” The predominant issue here rests in this dual functioning, circular nature – as we seek to end sexual violence in theory, yet encourage rape culture in practice. This creates a paradox: a heinous self-contradiction. Our society preaches the message of “don’t get raped” rather than simply: “don’t rape.” Either intentionally or unintentionally, we cast responsibility onto the victim – even in our supposed prevention efforts and measures.

For a moment, let’s consider the role of technology in American culture and sex crime. A new age of technology is upon us in which most electronic devices are handheld and affordable with Internet accessibility and camera capabilities – allowing for instant access and opportunity for exploitation in sexually based behaviors and offenses (Branch et al., 2015). Additionally, smart phones present more of an issue with sexually themed apps (applications) such as: Tinder, Blendr, Tumblr, Vine, Kik Messenger, Snapchat, etc. Further explained, for example, Snapchat is a video/photo texting application famous for its disappearing/self-destructing “snaps” (media sent or received). How is this relevant? Consider these: the rise of sexting, false conclusions made by smartphone users, the possession and distribution of child pornography, and also, the phenomena of revenge porn. Revenge porn refers to a type of harassment in which sexually explicit or suggestive material is put online, without consent, to publicly shame or hurt another person (Branch et al., 2015).

Constant exchanges of nude or sexual media have become commonplace and even, expected by the younger generations. This is a pandemic of extreme concern as this commonality has nearly stripped these actions of their immorality and dangers. Teenagers have little awareness as to the potential negative replications of their actions – once they send a nude photo or post it to social media, the photo could end up on the Internet permanently and be shared indefinitely. Consequences extend beyond embarrassment or shame – reaching as far as potential victimization and/or targeting for assault. New age sexual norms and crimes present a new kind of nightmare for public safety and sexual assault recovery. While, technology has served as the catalyst for this atrocious dynamic.

Understanding technology’s role, let’s get back to the key aspects of rape culture, the concepts of: victim-blaming and the generic lack of responsibility the public conveys regarding it. Our “don’t get raped” society exacerbates benevolent sexism: the incorrect idea that a woman’s worth arises from her purity – and further, that women are to somehow maintain this purity in preventing sexual assaults against themselves (Glick & Fiske, 1997; Niemi & Young, 2014). Perpetrators of sexual assault are hardly ever attributed full responsibility and blame. Instead, attention shifts to the victim’s clothing or lack thereof, their sexual orientation, sexual history, toxicology reports, social media accounts, sexual deviance and preferences, party/clubbing habits, religious or political beliefs, etc. We embrace the irrational concept of a “good victim” and persecute any other victim that does not fit this stereotype; victims who dress provocatively, who had been drinking, and have elaborate sexual histories should not place the blame on themselves (McKimmie et al., 2014). Even prison sexual cultures identify with this, as within male prisons, cases of rape are considered to be debt payments in which a victim “gets what he deserves” for failing to comply with the demands of his rapist (Pehlic, n.d.). This should not be.

Rape is rape. Abuse is abuse. An assault is an assault – whether in the cases of giving consent and being pushed further than warranted, not giving consent at all, or not having the ability to give that consent. Most people wrongly seek to discredit the victim and rationalize the actions of the assailant in any capacity. Why is this? This misstep widens the path of injustice for survivors. Until we stop insisting that they are “asking” to be violated and identify assault as assault, this culture of rape will continue cultivating a sickening public stance.

Lastly, as it follows: what is porn culture? It is the pornographic suggestive or explicit content of today’s popular culture; the wide acceptance of the objectification of women; and the booming growth of the porn industry as a whole and specifically, the violent material. How is this porn culture problematic; what are the associated concerns? Pornographic films have the subconscious agenda of promoting the acceptance of promiscuous activity and unsafe sex, glamourizing gang rape scenarios, regularizing violence against women, and fueling the crime industry (namely that of: human and sex trafficking). There has been an increased demand for commercial sex and erotic pleasure options – so much so that there has been an increase in global trafficking numbers for the purposes of producing porn and providing more prostitution services (Chung, 2009).

Consider this: XVIDEOS.com has become the most popular source for online porn as it has over 1 million uploaded videos and averages approximately 350 million users on a monthly basis (Ogas & Gaddam, 2011; Anthony, 2012). Various research studies have begun to investigate this issue – one of these in which had found that 9 out of every 10 popular scenes featured a woman being physically and verbally/emotionally abused without appearing to be distressed (Bridges et al., 2010). The sad truth is this: the precise lines of understanding what sexual assault or abuse is have become horrendously blurred. Further, the definition of consensual sex has become far too flexible, debatable, and ambiguous. Many argue that a link between porn and sexual assault is an egregious stretch – but, Katz (2006) emphasizes that it is equally absurd to believe that there is no such connection. Correlation may not imply causation. However, it also does not dismiss the possibility.

The intentions for this research review were to introduce and explain the prominent rape and porn cultures evident in the United States. It is beyond the scope of this paper to extensively detail a solution to remove this culture – however, it is appropriate to briefly introduce the necessary approaches for its removal. In order to combat such a prevalent culture, we must: eradicate all stigma associated with the survivors of sexual assault, reform our prevention efforts behind the teaching of “do not rape,” enforce the laws against assault in a stricter fashion, discourage victim-blame attitudes and ideologies, address the immense rape kit backlogs present across the country, place heavier restrictions and punishments on the mass media, and educate our youth on the dangers of new age sexual behavior and technology.

It is one thing to not contribute to rape and porn culture – but, it is yet another to allow the growth and acceptance of such evils. To do nothing is just as detestable. As these issues intensify, there is no room for apathy, indifference, or delay. It is time to act in accordance with this: enough is enough; we will have no more and that begins now. For change to occur, theoretical approaches must transition into widespread activism and immediate practice.

References

Anthony, S. (2012). Just how big are porn sites? Retrieved on 28th February 2016 from ExtremeTech: http://www.extremetech.com/computing/123929-just-how-big-are-porn-sites

Branch, K.A., Johnson, E., & Dretsch, E. (2015). New Age Sexual Aggression: An Introduction to Revenge Porn. Sexual Assault Report, 19 (1), 3-4.

Bridges, A.J., Wosnitzer, R., Schamer, E., and Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16, 10.

Buchwald, E., Fletcher, P.R., & Roth, M. (Eds). (2005). Transforming a rape culture. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Chung, R.C. (2009). Cultural perspectives on child trafficking, human rights & social justice: A model for psychologists. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, 22 (1), 85-96.

Glick, P. & Fiske, S.T. (1997). Hostile and benevolent sexism: Measuring ambivalent sexist attitudes toward women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 119-135.

McKimmie, B.M., Masser, B.M. & Bongiorno, R. (2014). What counts as rape? The effect of offense prototypes, victim stereotypes, and participant gender on how the complainant and defendant are perceived. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29 (12), 2273 2303.

Morczek, A. (2015). The Synergistic Connection Between Sexual Violence and Rape Culture. Sexual Assault Report, 18 (4), 49-60.

Niemi, Li, & Young, L. (2014). Blaming the victim in the case of rape. Psychological Inquiry, 25 (2), 230-233.

Ogas, O. & Gaddam, S. (2010). A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet tells us about sexual relationships. Strand, London: Penguin Group.

Pehlic, Diana. (n.d.). The Cultivation of Sexual Violence inside Prison Walls (Review of: The Myth of Prison Rape: Sexual Culture in American Prisons. By Mark Fleisher and Jessie Krienert). Department of Sociology, State University of New York at Buffalo, 430 Park Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260.

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. (February 28, 2014). Recommendations to the White House Task Force to protect students from sexual assault. Retrieved from https://rainn,org/images/03-2014/WH-Task-Force-RAINNRecommendtions.pdf