Healing

Author’s note: This poem illustrates how God has saved me from darkness and depression and has given me love, joy, and peace. This poem also illustrates how I aim to love others who are going through suffering and trials. Many interpretations are possible. I hope this poem gives you hope if you are going through a trial right now. 

poem written: 8/29/2018

The same things every day

You are tired of the drudgery

And of all of the hurt and pain

Hoping that you still stay sane

 

To the world you wear a smile

But inside your heart is breaking

From all the agony and guile

Of the people surrounding you

 

You ache for something true and real

You want an end to all this pain

You want to taste joy and love

You want peace from up above

 

I will hold your hurting soul

When you feel broken inside

I will heal your hurt and pain

So again you can be whole

 

I will give you all of my love

I will sacrifice myself for you

So you will know true, real joy

And the peace from up above

 

 

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How to Give Hope to the Hurting

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, or a mental health professional. If you or someone you love is in a crisis, please feel free to call -1-800-273-8255 (the Lifeline). Someone there can give you the help that is needed. Also, triggers for mentions of suicide.

 

In the past few days, many of you have heard about the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. It has been confirmed by various sources that they died by suicide. However, they are not the only ones who have struggled with depression and feelings of hopelessness in their lives. In fact, suicide rates in the U.S have gone up 30% since 1999, and 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016. (1). In fact, many people I know, myself included, have struggled with depression and/or thoughts of suicide. However, I found hope in my life in God and in the fact that I am not alone in my struggles.  I have also found that there are many people around us that need hope, and some –even motivation to live!  The good news is that, we can help them find hope in their lives and maybe even save some lives!

Here is what I found from my own life experiences that have helped others (and me) find hope in our lives:

One of the most effective ways I found that is effective in helping those who are hurting find hope in their lives again is to speak encouragement into their lives.  One way to do this is to offer hope-filled words to those who are hurting or stressed. We can offer just the right words for the person’s situation. For instance, when my manager Chris* (*=not his real name) was stressed, I gave him a note that had a Bible verse about rest for the weary soul. I think it was Matthew 28:20 (KJV), which says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He really seemed to appreciate the note.  Also, when I was upset and felt despairing of life, my friend Veronica* (*=not her real name) spoke encouraging words into my life as well.  Though I don’t remember exactly what she said, I do remember that after she talked to me, I felt much better and more determined than ever to better my life.  When we lack this encouragement, we will not have as much motivation to persevere in our lives, and can even become cynical and bitter of the people and the world around us. I remember when I felt discouraged and felt that no one was there to emotionally support me, that I became paranoid of the world around me and felt unmotivated and ready to give up on life.

Another way we can speak encouragement into others’ lives is to give praise to people when they do something good. Don’t do this just to flatter them or to manipulate them. This will only serve to make them bitter and cynical in the future, because your motivations will eventually be found out!  However, when you genuinely praise and appreciate someone for the good they do, you create a spark in their heart and their eyes often light up. When my co-worker *Ted got complimented by a customer, I knew he genuinely appreciated the gesture because of how excited and happy his voice was when he related the story of how the customer said that he should be rewarded for his good customer service to them.  When I told several of my managers several months ago how much the opportunity they gave me to be employed full-time there meant to me, they felt genuinely appreciated and loved in a way most of them never have been before.  When people lack this type of encouragement in their lives, they feel nothing they do is ever good enough, so they eventually stop giving their best efforts.  They feel like their hard work is done for naught.  If someone both lacks this encouragement and is constantly being belittled and criticized, he or she can spiral into a deep, dark depression. This lack of encouragement can even lead him or her to self-injure or, worse yet, commit suicide.

Another way we can offer hope to those who are hurting is to offer them practical helps.  If the person that is hurting emotionally is also sick or bed bound, just offering to spend quality time with them will mean a lot.  Also, if possible or necessary, help them with basic household chores to let them know that they are not alone and to help their home to be kept up. Of course, also speak encouraging words into their lives. Let them know that you value them and that they are loved. Let them know that they are not alone, even if it seems that way to them.

If the person is hurting because he or she is stressed and/or anxious, we can offer hope by removing them, if possible, away from the stressful situation. For instance, if a family member is making a person stressed, suggest they spend some time away from them, whether it is at another location or even just in separate rooms of the house, until they are ready to deal with the source of the stress again.  Also, we can offer to be there for them in the stress. Your presence should help them feel less alone in their fears and stresses.  You can also offer to pray for them, if they are religious. We can also be an outlet for them to be able to vent and talk about their stress and fears. When you want to be an outlet, there are some important things to keep in mind. 1) Don’t judge them. Judging someone will only make their stress and anxiety worse, and won’t help the situation at all. Moreover, they will, most likely, shut down immediately.  2) Also, listen attentively to their concerns. This will show that you care about them.  3) Don’t offer to “fix” things (i.e  give unsolicited advice). Sometimes, all people want is for you to listen and affirm them.  4) Affirm who they are as a person. This does not mean you have to affirm their behaviors, but you do need to let them know that there is hope for them and that you value them.

One final way we can offer hope to the hurting is through our own example, mainly having a joy-filled, eternal perspective on life. By focusing on our legacy and being motivated on something that will last a long time, you can inspire others to live hope-filled lives as well. Don’t focus on things that won’t last, such as money, material things, fame, or outer appearances. However, focus more on things that will last forever—such as God (if you are religious), the legacy you leave to the next generation, your relationships with others, and who you are inside.  By focusing on things that will impact your legacy to the next generations, rather than just things that will be gone when you die, it will give you a bigger perspective on life and will give you more motivation and hope for the future.  We can then teach this principle to others, giving them hope as well, especially when they are looking for it themselves.

When we help others find hope through our encouraging words, through coming alongside them and helping them in more practical ways, and by inspiring others through our hope-filled, larger perspective on life, we can help heal a broken world.  There is always hope when you are alive, and you can make a positive difference in others’ lives by how we live every day.

Source: 1) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.  (June 7, 2018). Suicide Rates Rising Across the U.S. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide/index.html.

Effects of Bullying

Disclaimer: Absolutely no disparaging comments about the author or any other bullying survivors  Triggers for talk of abuse, references to suicidal thoughts, and talk of bullying.

Bullying can impact almost anyone, regardless of any human identifier, though it is more likely to happen to those that society perceives as “different” or “inferior” in some way.  According to the website, StopBullying.gov, from about 1 in 3 up to 1 in 4 students in the United States has experienced bullying (U.S Department of Health, Facts about Bullying).  Unfortunately, I am part of these statistics, having been bullied at school since the third grade until about the ninth grade, though there were several incidents of more sporadic bullying later as well, in my life.  Bullying has many forms, including verbal abuse and taunts, social exclusion, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and other related abuses.  The effects of bullying can be devastating and life-altering for the survivor of such behavior.  People experience bullying and are affected by this demoralizing behavior in different ways and in different degrees. No two people have exactly the same bullying experiences in their lives. However, many of them share similar effects.

However, this is my story of how being bullied for years has impacted me personally. I share these three major effects of being bullied, not so people feel sorry for me, but so that people will realize the gravity of this demoralizing behavior and that more people will not have to experience what I went through.

Effect#1 of me being bullied—Low self-esteem/insecurity

In third grade up to eighth grade, I was regularly teased and mocked because of the clothes I wore, the way I wore my hair, and even how I looked like on the outside.  I don’t remember one classmate or teacher at that time tell me that I was “beautiful.”  Some of them even wanted to “re-make” me into their image of what they thought was acceptable, not accepting the way I was made or looked like.  To add to this torment, I did not feel very close to any of my peers during that time.  Some people would pretend to be friends with me, only to have them callously “reject” me later.

As a result of this torment that I experienced during my childhood years in school, I have struggled (and still struggle) immensely with insecurity and low self-esteem.  For instance, when I get criticized or put down (especially harshly) , even by strangers, I often get a sense of discouragement and hurt.  It’s like I am unconsciously keeping in mind the times when my classmates and even teachers taunted me for either my appearance or something that was a struggle for me. Like people who have been abused by family members, criticism can be especially hard to take by people who have been mercilessly bullied by peers and even authority figures in school.  We can tend to take criticism as rejection of who we are as a person, rather than something we just need to correct to become a better person.

Another result of this torment that I had experienced was the feeling that what I do is never “good enough.”  I am a tenacious person. I do not give up easily, but sometimes never feeling like you measure up to any good standards can threaten to undermine my tenacity.  I sometimes (wrongly) think, “Why even try when no one will accept you and your work anyway?”  I struggle with the concept of doing good just because it’s the “right thing to do” sometimes, because I feel that if we are not rewarded in some way and if we are not going to change anyone else’s lives for the better, then why do anything good at all? Sometimes, I felt that if I just did x then the bullying would stop and that people would love me as I was.  This is another effect of being bullied by others.

Effect#2—Fear of trusting God and others/paranoia

When I was little, I had a very trusting nature. However, people would use that to take advantage of me and hurt me for their own pleasure.  For instance, they promised if I gave them x thing, then they would be my friend. So, I did, but they just continued to belittle me or ignore me.  Because a lot of people pretended with me, and were not very honest or genuine towards me, I began to have a blanket paranoia of almost everyone around me. By high school, I was dubbed in my last year there, as “most paranoid.” Moreover, some well–meaning friends tell me to “believe the best in people,” not knowing that I have had a history of being bullied and taken advantage of by others by doing just that! However, to their credit, when I become paranoid, everyone seems evil and self-aggrandizing in my eyes, and I become cynical and bitter. I have met and talked to some abuse and bullying survivors that have had similar experiences of becoming paranoid and cynical to the world around them because of how many times they have been abused and taken for a ride, so to speak. This paranoia has also led me to sometimes have this immense fear of what people think of me and could do to me.

Effect#3—Depression

Ever since I was little, I have also struggled with depression.  Because of my experiences of people bullying me and simultaneously excluding me from their gatherings, I felt this impending sense that no one outside my family would really want to know me as a person, with both my blessings and flaws that I bring to this world.  No one wanted to know my story.  I felt alone, bored, and miserable, especially during my early teenage years. I struggled with several mental health issues that I tried to keep hidden from the outside world and deny, even to myself, that I had.  It has been said that bullying increases the risk of suicide in its victims. Yes, people have died from the torment that they endured from being bullied at school by their peers and others.  This is why the fact that there is no law against bullying is a sad indicator of what our society values more. (U.S Department of Health, Facts about Bullying)

Healing

However, because of the supports that has been graciously provided for me through a variety of means, I am happy to say I am beginning to heal from the effects of being bullied.  However, this has taken many, many years.  I am thankful for the consistent support that I have received thus far from my friends, both near and far, for my co-workers and managers at my current job, for my mentor J, and last, but most importantly, support from my family and my God.  Because they have believed in me and encouraged me, I am slowly able to heal from the years of pain inflicted on me in the past. Though I still struggle with these effects, I have great hope that things will continue to get better for me.  If you have been bullied, please know that you are not alone and that there is hope for you. If you are reading this and are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-8255 (Suicide Prevention Hotline). Remember, there is always hope when you are alive.

Source:  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  (September 28, 2017). Facts about Bullying. Retrieved from: https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html.

How to Support People With Invisible Disabilities

DISCLAIMER: No disparaging comments about anyone allowed, or your comment will be deleted!

When most people hear of the word “disability” they think of someone in a wheelchair, or at least someone with some type of physical impairment.  But did you know that up to 10% of all people with disabilities suffer from what is called an “invisible disability?”  An invisible disability is a condition that one has that impairs, or makes it more difficult for someone to function successfully in everyday life, but that is not readily visible to the human eye.  They may have problems getting up from bed, may be tired a lot of the time, may have trouble interacting with others, or may have trouble taking care of themselves without help, to name a few symptoms.  These symptoms are, of course, not all inclusive or even applicable to some of the invisible disabilities that there are, but they do apply to some of them.

What to say and do and what not to say or do to people with invisible disabilities:

What to say/do:

  1. Do offer to help and support them if they ask and are in need of that.—If they ask for help or are in obvious need of support, do whatever you can to help them. Validate them and be a caring friend to them. Help them also get the accommodations they need, or at least help them find some.
  2. Do acknowledge their disability and take them seriously.—There is nothing more frustrating than people who don’t take our disability seriously just because they don’t “see” anything wrong with us! If someone tells you they have a disability or some medical issue, believe them!  Just because you can’t readily “see” it, does not mean that they aren’t suffering from anything! Everyone has issues in their lives, but some can’t be “seen.” This doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that the person is “faking” it.  For instance, as a hypothetical example, what if you told a friend of yours when you confided in them that you just had cancer, but they just said something like, “It’s all in your mind,” or “Don’t worry. Everyone else has issues, too.” You would be furious, right?  This is why it is important to acknowledge the struggles and disability as valid and try to help them through it.
  3. Do emphasize their value as a person, not just their disability.—Another frustrating thing that people tell those suffering from an invisible disability, is something like, “Oh, I didn’t know you could drive? Most people with [insert disability] here can’t do that. You are amazing!” Even though this seems like a compliment, it really is patronizing and insulting because it assumes that just because someone has x disability, they can’t do or be anything of value to this society. This is also why upon learning their child will have developmental problems, the doctors sometimes will recommend abortion to the parents, although a lot of the time, parents that have children with these disabilities are blessed by their child(ren)’s joy and what the child(ren) can teach them about what really counts in life.
  4. Speak out against discrimination and educate people about the nature of invisible disabilities.—If you really want to help your family, friends, and other loved ones who you know suffer from invisible disabilities, speak out against the blatant discrimination that exists against them and advocate on their behalf.

    Ways to do this include:

a.)Educating yourself about invisible disabilities and what people who struggle with them go through on a daily basis.

b.)Speak out when you hear a misconception or discriminatory comment against those with any type of invisible disability.

c)Listen carefully and thoughtfully to the people in your life with an invisible disability and offer to help and understand them better (and, of course, follow through on that promise).

d) Be an advocate for getting us that suffer from an invisible disability more resources and research to help others understand us better and help us navigate through life more successfully.

 

What not to say/do:

  1. Tell someone with an invisible disability that they don’t really have one or that they are just “faking” it or “being lazy.”—This is very invalidating and borders on being verbally abusive! Just because you don’t “see” anything wrong with the person, doesn’t mean the person is fine inside! If the invisible disability involves mental or neurological conditions, do not tell them it’s all in their head or that they are “being lazy” or somehow not trying hard enough to overcome their disability. First of all, unless you are also suffering from that disability or know what’s going on in the person’s mind (i.e are God), don’t assume to know how they are feeling or coping! More often than not, they are already trying the best they can and your invalidation can bring about feelings of self-hatred for themselves, causing resentment and anger against you.
  2. Value the person only in terms of their disability—(See number #3, in what to say/do.)
  3. Exclude or treat the person differently because you found out about their disability. Never, ever exclude or treat the person with the disability differently or exclude them from certain activities just because they have a disability (unless the person asks you to). We should treat everyone, especially those with invisible disabilities, with kindness, respect, and dignity! This means not treating them as if they were aliens or someone to be avoided or excluded. Treat them with the dignity you would your non-disabled family and friends.
  4. Make fun of /or ridicule them for their disability.—Along with the above, you should never ridicule someone for their disability, invisible or not! If you ever encounter another person mocking or ridiculing a person with a disability (invisible or visible), speak up and stand up for the person struggling with the disability. Silence basically signifies agreement with the action. Do not stay silent!

These are the ways you can support people with invisible disabilities, and the things you should never do.  If more people knew about what we go through on a daily basis, there would be more understanding and less prejudice against those who struggle  I struggle with an invisible disability, and on behalf of all my family and friends who likewise struggle, know that we appreciate you taking time to learn about our condition and understand us better.

The Importance of Life Stories

I have three main occupations (and many “sub-descriptive” occupations as well): First and foremost, I am a follower of Christ. God saved me from the pit of despair when I was just sixteen years old.  I am a sales associate. This is my day job that helps pay the bills and where I serve God the most.  Finally, I am a blogger and writer.  In writing, I have been made very aware of the power of stories—both fictional and real—in order to cultivate learning and more effective interactions with others.  Letting people share their stories and telling our own are both vital in cultivating more effective and fulfilling human interactions.  Here are some reasons why learning other people’s life stories are so important to effect better communication and interactions with others:

  1. It eliminates prejudicial attitudes.—A lot of people call racists and other prejudiced people “ignorant,” which I believe is a fitting term for them because they are often judging without knowing their targets’ stories. Although there are elements in some circles of feminism that I disagree with, one thing I like about almost all feminism, especially intersectional feminism, is that they take the time to learn about others’ stories, especially those that are often marginalized and shunned by society. If all of us (me included) would take more time to just get to know others better without prejudging them as “bad” in some way, we would probably discover that they are more like us than we realize. For instance, there were some people at work that at first irritated and angered me.  However, as time passed and I got to know them a little bit better, I realized not only did they have a lot of similarities to me, but there was a lot of pain and hurt in their life stories.  I know it is difficult (even for me), but as Rachel Scott said in one of her essays, “Code of Ethics” about not judging others and showing compassion, “ [D]id you ever ask them what their goal in life is, what kind of past they came from? Did they experience love; did they experience hurt; did you look into their soul and not just their appearance? Until you know them and not just their “type”, you have no right to shun them. You have not looked for their beauty, their good.”  (source: http://rachelschallenge.org/media/media_press_kit/Code_of_ethics.pdf)
  2. Knowing other people’s life stories cultivates a sense of understanding. –When we learn about other people’s goals, likes and dislikes, what kind of past they came from, and their experiences with love and hurt, we understand them better and are able to interact with them more effectively. For instance, before I knew one of my former pastors well, I did not trust him. In fact, because of his gregarious and upbeat personality, I assumed he “had it all together” and would not be able to relate to my problems and issues, or anyone else’s. However, when he told me part of his life story, I realized I had it all wrong.  I realized that he didn’t always have it all together.  I realized that because of what he had told me that he would indeed have great compassion of all that I had been through in life. I have realized that when I know a person’s life story better, I begin to understand what motivates their actions and why certain things bother them, or why certain things make them very happy.  If we took the time to get to know others better, it would not only eliminate wrong judgments, but we would be more understanding and compassionate of them because we know what they have been through.
  3. Getting to know other people’s stories adds value to them as a person.—When we listen as people tell us their stories or when we have a genuine interest in another’s life story, we show that we value them. We are, in essence, saying to them, “ I want to know more about you because you are that important to me. I want to understand you better because the stories you will tell are valuable to that purpose. Your story has value, and I can learn much from you.” We are also saying we respect them and what they have to offer when we have a genuine interest in learning about them.  For instance, if a good friend of yours confided in you about being abused in his or her past, when you listen to them without offering advice, but instead offer encouragement and just a listening ear, we are telling them, “I care about what happened to you, and you are not alone in this.”

This is why learning about others’ life stories is so important. It would eliminate much of the prejudice we see in this society; we would truly understand others’ motivations better and not just assume they are doing things just to be “mean” or “nasty” or out of selfish desires.  It also tells others that they are valuable and what they have to say is important. What are some important life stories you have learned that helped you understand someone or several people better? Please feel free to share in the comments, but please do NOT use people’s real names or specific details of a situation.

 

 

Ten Common Myths about Mental Illness and its truths

Everyone has struggles whether it be a physical ailment or disability, a mental illness, financial issues, or other life issues.  I know many people that have struggled with some form of mental illness, some for many, many years.  What I find that all of us who struggle with mental illness have in common is that many people around us believe at least one (if not several) of these commonly held notions about mental illness. Here’s some of them, and the facts that counter these myths:

  1. MYTH: People who struggle with mental illness are “crazy.”  FACT: This is a hurtful and often, untrue characterization of people who struggle.  The fact is that many of us may be depressed and trying to overcome past traumas.  If you were in our shoes, you’d probably react similarly.  Also, we should try to refrain from using the term “crazy” to describe anyone, because it is similar to using the word “retarded” to describe something or someone who you deem “stupid.”
  2. MYTH: People who are suffering from depression, should just learn to “get over it” or “deal with things better.”  FACT:  This is also a very hurtful myth that a lot of people believe. When I am stressed at work, some people (I won’t name names) think I should “just get over it.” The fact is that people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses are often doing the best they can to do better to avoid the stigma that comes from their illness, but they can’t do it alone.  It’s not like we have an on and off switch that makes the illness go away in only one or two days. It often takes years to overcome. Otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle!  What we need is validation. What we need is understanding, someone to come along side and help us.
  3. MYTH: Taking psychiatric medication is sinful (i.e morally wrong). FACT: I don’t understand why certain people in certain religious circles believe this!  They certainly don’t typically believe this about heart medication, or medication to treat ulcers! If something is wrong with the wiring in your brain, you need to treat it somehow. Therapy doesn’t always work for this, nor is it always effective.  If you take medication for heart problems, for instance, then taking psychiatric medication should also be morally permissible, no questions asked.
  4. MYTH: People who hurt themselves (i.e self-injure) are often doing it for attention. FACT: First of all, many people I know who hurt themselves don’t want the attention. They just want to be loved and understood.  This is why in my own research, I have found that people who self-injure often hide their scars underneath clothing or other things. If they really wanted attention,  they would probably not even bother to hide anything! A lot of my friends I know who struggle with self-injury have a low sense of self-worth and may be self-injuring to relieve unbearable pain and anguish. Again, validation, love and genuine support are the keys to help them be able to stop self-harming.
  5. MYTH: When someone is considering self-harm or suicide, you should always call an ambulance so they can get the help they need. FACT: This is only true if they are actively suicidal or planning to do major self-harm.  Some (but certainly not all) people use this method as a cop-out so that they don’t have to actively support and encourage them themselves. Many people don’t know how or simply don’t really care.  Yes, it can be emotionally difficult to care for a person struggling with these deep issues, and you shouldn’t do it all alone. However, unless the person is actively considering major self-harm or being actively suicidal, calling an ambulance or sending them to the hospital, may create more problems for them in the end than good.  First of all, the mentally ill are often not treated well in hospitals, because people are afraid they will become violent or self-destructive.  However, if we took the time to try to understand and love them better, sending them to the hospital would not be needed. Also, a lot of mentally ill people are in therapy, so if you don’t have the emotional energy needed to support them, actively encourage them to talk to their therapist or doctor before they do anything harmful to themselves.
  6. MYTH: People struggling with depression or anxiety should just “get out more.” FACT: If we could, we would. The truth is these illnesses are often debilitating and disabling. This is often why it is a struggle to “get out and enjoy life.” What we need is guidance and a gradual introduction to the “real world” when we are better and are able.  What we need is encouragement and understanding from loved ones, who will be there when we want to talk about what’s going on inside our minds.
  7. MYTH: (A lot of people may believe this in one form or another, or unconsciously) People with mental illnesses are emotionally “weak” or “lazy.” FACT: This couldn’t be further from the truth! I’ve heard a lot of people imply or even say to me that because I get stressed about certain things or cry sometimes, that I am a “weak” person emotionally. The truth is that people who suffer from mental illnesses are often the ones that have had to deal with the most emotional baggage in their lives. Many have experienced abuse or bullying, or both, during some period in their lives.  Some of them have experienced deep, personal losses.  The fact that we are able to cry and “open” up shows that we are not weak, and in fact, strong and not afraid to be vulnerable to others.  Often, being able to let the feelings come out and talk about things with people, is the first step towards healing and dealing with underlying issues.
  8. MYTH: People suffering from mental illness just need therapy. FACT: Therapy can be very useful and helpful, but it is not a “one-size fits all measure” for everyone suffering from mental illness. Some people have struggled with getting the right therapist because of continuing stigma against their illness. For instance, someone who has a borderline personality might not be understood by a lot of therapists because of the commonly held notion in the medical community that they are very difficult to deal with and understand.  Also, therapy alone is often not the answer. We need not only therapy but often times medication and a strong support system to help us through the tough days.
  9. MYTH: People who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be violent, so we need to put protective measures in place. FACT: This myth irritates me more than some of the other myths out there! Yes, there may be a few mentally ill people who can get violent, but most of them are not violent at all.  To treat everyone who is mentally ill like wild animals needing to be caged is not only perpetuating this myth, but I believe it is inhumane as well.  I have heard of people being chained to their beds even though they wouldn’t hurt even a fly!  Or that they can’t enjoy music because the medical facilitators are afraid they may hurt themselves with earbuds! If one is that afraid, then watch them. Don’t suck the enjoyment out of an already bad and stressful experience for them!
  10. MYTH: Referring to people who struggle with mental illness: “It’s all in their heads.” FACT: Mental illness does not only affect people mentally but physically as well. For instance, in addition to feeling bad mentally,  people with clinical depression often don’t eat or sleep well, can have headaches, cramps, or an upset stomach, or feel much more physically exhausted than usual. (source: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-symptoms-causes#1).  Also, people with anxiety disorders often experience physical ailments as well, such as sweaty palms, palpitations, nausea, dry mouth, shortness of breath, and sleeping problems. (source: http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/anxiety-disorders#1-3 )

These are just some of the commonly-held myths about people suffering from mental illness. I think we need to remove stigma about these illnesses and treat everyone, including people afflicted with mental illness, with more love and compassion.  What are other myths you have noticed people believing about mental illness? What can we do to dispel them? Please feel free to discuss in comments. Absolutely NO disparaging comments or your comment will be deleted! Thank you.

How to Help Someone Who Feels Depressed or Anxious

This has been one of the toughest two days of my life. I was about to give up on almost everything I believed in. I felt no one cared about me, except maybe God and my family.  However, just reading through other people’s blogs, gave me a renewed sense of purpose and passion that I hadn’t felt during that time.  So, a special thank you to my blogging community to give me the strength and the drive to keep on keeping on!

Since there is much stigma and misconceptions in the general society today on what to do (and what not to do) when someone you love or care about feels depressed or anxious, here are some tips that have helped me and many people I care about who get depressed and/or anxious. (Also includes what not to do and/or say to someone who is depressed and/or anxious):

1) Validate what they are going through.– This does not mean always agreeing with them about the lifestyle choices they made or sounding like a parrot to them. That does not help them either! This does mean to listen attentively and offer compassion and love to them. For instance, if the anxious person tells you about what they really fear, instead of ridiculing them or telling them to “toughen up. It’s only_______ (fill in the blank with what they fear),” thank them for having the courage to tell you about their deepest feelings and being vulnerable, because, as I (and many others) can attest, it takes a LOT of courage to be vulnerable like that. Don’t ruin their trust in you!  If they are depressed, a good thing to say to him or her is, ” Your feelings are valid. I am sorry that you are feeling that way. Know that you are not alone though. I care, and is there anything I can do to help you?” This statement does several things: a.) Shows that you care about how the person feels, not just caring about your own feelings. b.) The open-ended question lets the person know that they are allowed to make their own decision about what you can do to help them, and makes them feel less controlled and trapped in whatever situation or situations they may find themselves.

2) Make every effort to be there for them during this difficult time.—It is understandable to be busy with life’s responsibilities, and there is a certain point where it can be too much for one person to be responsible for another’s happiness and comfort. If that is the case, find several other people who can care for or talk to the depressed and/or anxious person during this time. Also, recommend and/or find a licensed counselor or therapist to help them. This way a.) The person knows that they don’t have to fight their illness alone and that several people actually care for them.  b.) The responsibility of being there and helping the person does not fall on only one person, which if it were, would cause compassion fatigue.  However, if that is not the case, make every effort to be there for the person suffering and to care for them, even if it is just offering a listening ear.

3) Do not tell the anxious or depressed person, to “get over it” or “toughen up”. –Many people (including myself) who struggle with depression or anxiety problems are already doing the best they can to cope with what they are dealing. Again, telling them to “toughen up” or “get over it” only invalidates what they are going through and implying that they are not trying hard enough to cope with their illness. A better thing to tell a depressed or anxious person is, “I will help you through whatever you are going through. You are not alone,” and then commit to being there for him or her.

4) If the depressed person is having suicidal thoughts, do not accuse them of being selfish or uncaring.–While that may have a grain of truth (or not), accusing the depressed person of being “selfish” or telling them to “think of others first,” does not help them at all! It actually makes the depression worse because a lot of people who are that upset or sad a.) already don’t feel good about themselves. b.) aren’t usually in the mindset where they can think about others right now.  Also, someone with those kinds of thoughts often does think about others, just not in a way that makes sense to us.

5) Help them find their purpose and passion in life again.—DISCLAIMER: This may not be a viable option for everyone, but it CAN work for some people. Use your own judgment. This applies to loved ones with people who suffer from anxiety and those who suffer from depression.  This can be a simple as having joy and purpose in your own life and/or caring enough to let the person who is suffering participate in the joys of your life. For instance, if you enjoy cooking for others, you can encourage the person who is suffering to participate in what you are doing. It can also be encouraging them in the positive qualities and abilities you see in them and helping them find the motivation to cultivate them again. For instance, if you see that he or she is a normally very generous person, you can encourage him or her to give away some things he/she no longer needs but that can be useful to others in need. If he or she likes to write, encourage them to cultivate that interest again. Remind them of the positive impact they already have on others, and encourage them not to give up.

6) If they are anxious, help them gradually overcome their fears.—For instance, if the anxious person is afraid of socializing because they fear what people may think of them,  encourage them to meet one trustworthy person. If they do well in that situation, bring several people to hang out with them. Then, take them to a restaurant or some other venue with more people.  However, don’t rush them into interacting. Do it slowly.–This may take a few months or even years to accomplish.  Be patient with them, and reassure them (with both your words and actions) that they can trust you.

7.) If you are religious or spiritual, pray for them.–I personally believe in the power of prayer.  If you do too, I would suggest fervently and regularly praying for the depressed or anxious people in your life. Pray that they will be surrounded by people who care about and love them genuinely. Pray that they will find joy and hope in their lives again, and not be riddled with anxiety, depression, anger, and/or hurt.  Pray that they will be delivered from their illness and find wholeness again.

What do you suggest in helping encourage an anxious or depressed person? What do you suggest we not do? Why? Please feel free to comment below.  Please no disparaging or disrespectful comments, or they will not be approved. Thank you.