An internal battle

I got called fat the other day. They looked me in the eye and called me fat. I wish I could say this was the only instance, but it happens quite a bit. I am overweight but being told I was fat, that hurts a bit. Better I guess than what I hear more commonly, that I am stupid. Worthless is the leader of the pack if I were to list them in order. If I could, I would avoid the person calling me these things, but I can’t. There they are, every day, staring at me in the mirror. It’s hard to get away from yourself.

Somedays I can tell myself to shut up. Those are the good days. I can look at my reflection and think, “This is who God made. If God says I am good, then I am good.” It isn’t a pride thing, I don’t look at myself and think I am any better than anyone else. I just see someone whom God loves. Someone whom God says is worthy of His love. It’s not because I earned it. I’m not good enough, at really anything, for that to be the case.

On a lot of days, I look at the guy in the mirror and agree with the assessment. I think of the things I want to be and compare them to where I see myself falling short and it is pretty much downhill from there. Once I say yes to my reflection, I can think of a list of things I can also agree with; a long list. These days are very hard to navigate if I don’t catch on to what I am doing. I am very good at convincing myself that I suck. The level at which I can degrade myself is pretty extraordinary. Not a thing I want to be good at, it just happens naturally.

The thing with negative self-talk is for some reason I don’t fight it nearly as hard as I would if I saw it happening to someone else. If I saw someone say the things I say to myself, to another person, I would go off. No one deserves to be talked to that way and yet I say it to myself all the time. Why is that? Why do I put up with myself?

I know I am not alone in this kind of mental critique, so I tried to come up with some ideas to explain my cruelty. If you are riding in the same boat, maybe they can help you.

The biggest source for me is my mental health. My borderline personality disorder (BPD) is great at taking something small and transforming it into something huge. I can’t adequately explain the why for this, it just is. If I were to make a mistake, even something as basic as forgetting why I walked into a room immediately after walking into it, (this happens to a lot of people) I see it as a defect in my mental capacity. I didn’t just forget, “I’m stupid for not being able to remember” is what I will tell myself.

The other mental health factor that is hard for me to battle comes from my depression. If I am feeling a sense of futility and hopelessness then I have a hard time looking at my assessments with a level of truth. As a result, my despair feeds the lies I tell myself. I know I matter, I really do, I just hear an internal voice telling me the opposite and I have a hard time mustering the strength to fight it. Battling against my mental health is exhausting! Something you will probably never hear from someone who struggles with clinical depression…”Wow! My depression is bad and I have so much energy now!”

I also struggle with comparison. Not that I compare myself to other people that much, although that does happen, instead I compare myself to the person I think I should be. I have an extraordinarily high level of expectations for myself. There are many different things I hope to accomplish in life, in pretty much every aspect of life; personally, professionally, relationally. The problem I run into comes from not giving myself the chance to develop. If I can be patient with myself and continue to do the “next right thing”, eventually I will get to where I want to be. For some reason, I seem to exempt myself from that process. I am an all-or-nothing kind of person with impulse control (another part of my BPD). I end up looking toward my goal, instead of the steps required to reach that goal. Since I have not yet taken the steps, I haven’t hit the goal. Because I haven’t hit the goal I feel like a failure. Feeling like a failure is just one more opportunity to reinforce the lies.

The last thing I want to touch on is probably the hardest for me to overcome. Too often, it is just easier for me to believe the lies than it is to combat them, mainly because I worry the lies might be true. What I run into is a fear that I will fight the lies with everything I have only to discover it was true the whole time. “What if I really am worthless?” or “What if I really don’t matter?” It may seem contradictory for me to agree with the lies to keep from making them true, but it is actually a decent, albeit unhealthy,  form of self-protection. If I can agree with the thoughts, there is still a part of me in the background that is thinking, “Maybe it’s not true.” But if I fight the lies and nothing changes then, “It is definitely true.”  That is a huge risk to take if I am not sure of the outcome!

I say all the time, no one is invaluable. We all matter. We all have a purpose. God has us here because He loves us, wants us to know Him, and to live out His plan for us in a life that is extraordinary!

I believe that! I know it is true!

But somehow there is still that little voice that whispers…”What if that’s not true for…you?”

Sometimes, what we say, what we feel, and what we believe doesn’t match up. I have no silver bullet for fixing this. I do know that I don’t hear people talking about it. I get it. I don’t like to say this kinda stuff. It’s embarrassing. It’s personal. It’s a place in my life I want to think doesn’t exist. But the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that it’s there. If I don’t face it I can’t change it. I don’t expect people to do what I am doing; putting this out on a screen for the world to see. Thankfully, I am, in all of this, not really concerned about negative repercussions from being this open. With all the things I say to myself, the statements from the outside world are not a big deal to me.

In this case, I am sharing with the world because I want people to know they are not alone. And if you feel the same as I do, please know I wasn’t lying at the beginning of this post, I have good days too. Good days are very possible! They are possible for you as well. If not a whole day at first, then maybe a good moment.

I also want to encourage you, if you do struggle as I do, there are things you can do to help navigate the thoughts when they come. I have grown immensely since the day I heard of tools like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I strongly encourage you to connect with a trained professional who can take you through the options available to you. If you are not sure where to begin looking for support please visit the Mental Health Pulpit website and check out our resources page. (We don’t do affiliate marketing so no one is getting paid to show you these resources. We just want to help.)

I can’t promise your negative thoughts will go away completely, but there is still reason to believe that over time things can be different. Better.

You are not the lies your mind is telling you.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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The ER and a Robbery

This past Monday, I woke up with intense pain in my back. I usually have back pain, because of a work injury 20 years ago but this was different. I felt like my kidney was about to explode. So off to the emergency room I went.

The hospital I use just built a new, and very efficient, ER. When my wife went in for her broken foot last year, we were in with a doctor almost immediately. It was our understanding, after talking with one of the nurses during that visit, that the design was intended to drastically reduce the amount of time a person had to wait in the lobby. Especially during the peak of the pandemic, limiting the exposure of patients to one another was important. Because of our previous experience, I assumed things would flow decently well.

Nope. I was wrong.

As soon as we opened the door to the lobby, I knew we were in for a long day. They were packed. We checked in with the front desk. “We”, meaning my wife (Sherawn) and I. They took my name and we were told to have a seat. Almost immediately I got a sense of how long things were going to take. “This is ridiculous!” said one person. “What is going on back there?” said another. At one point in the day, I heard an older man tell a small child, “I was your age when I walked in here.” (Seriously, old people, stop scaring young children. It’s not funny!)

Every once in a while, a person would walk up to the front desk and complain about the wait by asking if they knew when they would get in. I say complaining because the question never seemed sincere. It always seemed to come with a tone of, “I haven’t been brought back yet.” I wanted to say, “Dude! You are 15 feet from the desk. They. Can. See. You. No one thinks you got better and left.” That was my own form of snarky though, so I kept those thoughts to myself. I do understand the frustration. We were all waiting for hours. I think it was about two and a half hours before someone took my vital signs. After that, it was a couple more hours before I went back to a room for my exam.

Patients in an ER are never their “best selves” when they come in; that’s why we were there. If everything was great, we wouldn’t be. Stress, pain, sickness, and uncertainty are the prevailing feelings so even in the best circumstances an ER patient is going to be struggling. At the same time, in a busy ER, the hospital staff is under an intense amount of pressure. Part of their job is to help relieve some of the patent’s stress by remaining calm, confident, reassuring, caring, and all the while trying to make sure the person isn’t dying. And, they do this with people who are scared, angry, sick and want answers combined with a magic pill to make them all better. I could never work in an ER. I’d make it a day, maybe two.

Hang on because we are about to make a very hard turn. (Eventually, this will all come to a point, I promise.)

So…let’s talk about Sherawn’s involvement in an armed robbery.

Because of sitting in the ER for as long as we did, the two of us missed lunch. I couldn’t leave but there was no real reason Sherawn absolutely needed to stay, so she ducked out for a few minutes to try and find some food. There is a Subway restaurant a few blocks away that felt like a good option. She pulled up to the building which has two customer entrances. On the left, a door that leads up to the counter. On the right, a door that goes to the restroom. After some deliberation, and there really was some thought that went into this, she decided to use the restroom before getting her sandwich. This was a critical decision because when she came out of the bathroom, the manager was standing in front of her and asked, “Are you coming or going?” A strange question..

Sherawn, not expecting to be quizzed, replied, “Umm, I’m here to get a sandwich?”

“Well,” the manager said, “we just got held up, so…”

“Wait…what? WHILE I WAS IN THE BATHROOM?!”

“Yep.” He said.

She looked over to see the two young women by the counter, obviously shaken. Sherawn says “momma bear” kicked in and she hugged both of them at the same time. She wanted to make sure they were ok. It is amazing how we can be so close to such a dangerous event and have no idea.

From there it was over to Burger King and then back to the ER to check on me.

Eventually, I did get back to a room. I sat in there for a few more hours before they eventually got me to a CT scan and read the results. Turns out, my kidneys are fine. My Scoliosis caused my back muscles to get into an acute spasm that just made it feel like my kidneys were exploding. No problem, I can deal with that.

It was while I was waiting in my room, that I was able to finally see “what was going on back there.” I saw nurses moving quickly around calling out instructions to each other to “check number 19” and “6 needs a blanket.” I saw a doctor running from room to room. Literally running.  Then shortly before my discharge, I heard that doctor telling someone on the other end of a phone call, “We don’t have any more ICU beds. I mean I physically don’t have a bed to give to anyone. We can’t take any more transfers. We need to divert, we got to shut it down.”

Every time someone spoke to us, or when someone came into the exam room, I heard apology after apology. They seemed to be bracing for a tongue-lashing as they said, “I’m so sorry you had to wait.” Each time we would say, “It’s ok. We get it.”  For half a second we could see them ease, then it was back to the task at hand.

While they were saying sorry, I’m thinking to myself, “I’m sorry I can’t hug you.” I wanted to be able to offer them some sort of relief. I wanted to let them know that it will all be ok. Sherawn wanted to let the girls at Subway know, it will all be ok.

The hard part is…we can’t. It might not be true. If our years before didn’t already teach us that, this last year and a half certainly has. I can’t tell anyone it is all gonna be ok because it might not be. Subway might get robbed again. Next time my kidneys could be failing. Covid isn’t going away. We are all living with brains deeply affected by the trauma we’ve been experiencing. We might not be in the same boat but are all in a storm.

Revelation 21:4 says,  “ ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Eventually, God will take away all of our pain and suffering. In the next life, things will be ok, but we are not there yet.

I believe God is still in control, and while I am not always happy with how things go down, I trust that He knows what He is doing. However, it isn’t enough for us to just say, “well, God has this so I’m not gonna worry. Just need to have faith.” We are humans designed to need other people, and for me, last Monday was a reminder of that fact. Our mental health, our physical health, and even our spiritual health require us to share in each other’s burdens. Right now we have a tremendous amount of burdens. People are hurting. People are struggling to have hope. People are exhausted!

So while we are learning it is “Ok to not be ok.” It is not ok to face our “not ok” alone. This doesn’t require us to become each other’s therapists. I think we get stuck on the idea that having a support system is having someone willing to sit and listen to us talk about ourselves for an hour twice a week.

I suggest we start with thinking about who we can talk to. Who are the people you care about? Who do you see regularly? Maybe begin with asking them how they are doing. Many of us don’t feel like we matter. Be in a hurry to let someone know they matter.

Invite people into your life. There are a lot of people who want to help but don’t feel like it’s their place to do so. Is there someone you are drawn to? Ask them out for coffee. Invite them over for dinner.

Sharing each other’s burdens sometimes begins with being thrown into a crisis event. Having a shared catastrophe is not the norm though. Usually, the people in our support system are just people we have grown close to over time. Maybe it is someone from church, our job, some other community group, or school. In the age of social distancing, maybe it is reaching out to that friend on Facebook you haven’t said one word to since they became your Facebook “friend”. (They may find it strange to have someone actually communicate with them through a website designed to connect people, but hey, that is the age we live in.) Send me an email, I’m happy to help figure out ways to connect: nate@mentalhealthpulpit.com

Thinking back to the times I’ve felt the loneliest, the last thing I wanted to do was try and put myself out there or force someone to like me. So please understand I don’t say this flippantly. Getting to know people, growing close to people, or risking being vulnerable with people isn’t always easy and can often lead to being hurt. But ultimately it doesn’t change the need. We need other people.

Just keep trying. It will be worth it.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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22 years

22 years is a long time to be married to me. Yet somehow, we have managed to keep things going. We were together almost six years before getting married. My wife, Sherawn, deserves a medal.

For those of you that know me, I know you are probably thinking two things. 1) “You must have gotten married when you were seven. You don’t look a day over 28.” 2) “She deserves two medals.”

To the latter…you’re probably right. And to the former, while I wasn’t seven years old, looking back to July 17th, 1999, we really were just a couple of kids. We thought we knew what life had in store for the two of us but we had no idea. Neither of us would’ve guessed any of what we have experienced.

Well, maybe one thing we could have guessed. After 22 years, we still like each other. Notice I didn’t say we liked each other for the full 22 years. We always loved each other. But like is different. Especially when the chronic mental health challenges I have, have made me feel as if I wasn’t the same person; in the eyes of either of us.

It isn’t fun for me to talk about, but I feel disingenuous if I don’t. Being married to someone who struggles with their mental health can be incredibly difficult. For both of us.

In the past, Sherawn has told me she has felt like a single mother, even though I was around because I didn’t have the emotional capacity to be present for my family. She has had to change her lifestyle around the fact that I have a dual diagnosis, mental health struggles, and addiction. Over the years, she has spent so much time on her knees begging God to bring back her husband; asking God to restore me to the man she walked up to at the alter.

For me, just having the diagnosis that I have, is challenging enough. I have a brain that seems as if it is actively trying to kill me. I walk a tightrope every day between acknowledging my struggle and not letting my struggle define me. I need to be open with my wife about what is going on, but it rips me up inside to see the terror in her eyes when I say I am spiraling. I am the one who is supposed to protect her, yet I am the one who makes her afraid. Will I sink into a depression I won’t come out of? Am I going to relapse into my addiction? Will she come home and find out that my suicidal ideation has become too much for me? I hate that I do that to her. But for some reason, If you were to ask her, she would say that she would do it all over again. She would still choose me.

We both signed on for, “for better or for worse.” Overall we have had far more “better” than “worse”, but the “worse”, has been significant. For us, divorce has never been an option. No matter how hard things get, we will never divorce. We don’t have the philosophy that a divorce is never an option for others. If there are safety concerns; physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse – these are never ok, and seeking help is absolutely the best thing you can do. But we don’t have any of those in our relationship. Despite all our adversity, we are still absolutely over the moon in love! We still fight over who loves who most, we still go out on dates like we are teenagers, we still laugh, we don’t get tired of being around each other, and we even get told by our daughter “oh quit it already” when we flirt with each other in front of her. We are really, really good.

Being in love doesn’t mean we don’t struggle though. We need to be open about that. Our relationship has taken a lot of work, support from friends and family, and faith in God as the ultimate example of how to love each other. What we have we worked up to. We built.

According to the CDC, just over 50% of people will experience a mental health struggle in their lifetime. Many of those people are married or seriously committed. In light of that, we must learn about the role mental health plays in our relationships. Both for the person who is struggling and for their partner. To get us started, there are a couple of things I want to suggest.

Seek counseling. My wife and I could never have reached the 22year mark if it were not for the support of the people we are close to. Whether it is from a therapist, pastor, marriage coach, etc, lean on the people around you.

Find a mentor. Early into our marriage, Sherawn and I grabbed hold of a couple who modeled the kind of marriage we wanted to have. We looked to them for guidance in marriage, not just as people we would call when things were tough, but also for when things are good. Learn from the people who’ve been there.

Keep getting to know each other. When we know more about who a person is and why they do the things they do, it is much easier to offer grace in the times it is needed. I do dumb stuff all the time, but Sherawn knows my heart. She has a default pattern of assuming good intent because she knows me. She trusts me.

Say you are sorry. Then live that out. When I mess up I should be quick to own up to what I have done, quick to say I am sorry and intentional about doing what is in my power to try and prevent a reoccurrence. I may do something more than once, but if Sherawn sees that I am making an effort to change, it shows her that I respect her enough to care about the impact my actions have on her. Respect is a key building block to a happy relationship.

Celebrate the good. I can say, “we’ve had far more better than worse” because we acknowledge the better. The hard stuff is really good at getting in my face. By looking for the good in our relationship, I find the good in our relationship. And there is a lot of good. Try not to let the bad push away the good.

Relationships are not easy, especially when there is as deep an emotional attachment to your significant other. There is a lot at risk when we put our hearts out on the table. Wounds go a bit deeper when we care. At the same time, being married to my wife for 22 years has also helped me to really, truly, understand what love is.

Having a mental health struggle adds a layer of complexity to a relationship but it doesn’t have to keep us from having loving, caring, and passionate relationships. Having a diagnosis doesn’t have to remove us from the joy of experiencing love.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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My train is stuck at the station

I’ve been out of the blogging biz for a couple of weeks. I have a bunch of things going on that have pulled me in a few different directions and I needed to set aside work so I could be mentally present last week while we traveled to visit family and do the tourist thing through Chicago. The break has been good for me in many different ways but it has also brought with it some challenges.

Much of what I’ve had going on is centered around some professional goals.

Because of all the problems I have had with getting the IRS to issue an Employer Identification Number (EIN), I have not been able to complete my tax-exempt process for Mental Health Pulpit and that means I have not been able to fundraise in the way I had hoped when I started the ministry. Many people don’t like to give funding to an organization that doesn’t hold a 501(c)3 designation and many of the grants I had hoped to apply for won’t accept applications without it. I get it, seeing “we are still in process” on our funding page for as long as it’s been there is super sketchy. I don’t know if I would give to me if I was on the outside looking in. Unless I go the route of a complete rebranding, investing money I no longer have (because I already did once) into starting over from scratch in many areas…I am stuck waiting.

Waiting doesn’t mean twiddling my thumbs and hoping something finally goes through. I am pressing ahead and looking for another source of income by way of a couple of other passions I have, woodworking and art. I am about to launch the business officially in the next couple of weeks and hopefully, in time, the extra revenue will allow me to invest in the ministry and get us back to where we want to be.

What I have going on is also a big part of managing my mental health.

When I am creating I feel a release. I can block out many of the thoughts that plague me. Creating gives me something I can see, touch, and smell. (Fresh cut cedar is my favorite cologne) I can pray. I can process. I can look forward. My wife has told me many times, I seem happiest when I can spend time in my garage workshop.

Considering everything that is going on with the IRS, and a seemingly never-ending search for an EIN, having a plan in place for potential funding is a good thing. Having the ability to create while I am waiting for things to come together is a good thing. Getting to see my family is a good thing. Visiting my favorite city is a good thing. But if I have these good things going on, why am I saying there are some challenges?

Even though I have good things going on and have been able to take some breaks, good, doesn’t equal perfect. My mental health struggles never take a vacation. And sometimes, breaks can remind me of just how prevalent my struggles are. Going away from something requires starting again. Think of a train beginning its journey down a track. It has to struggle and force itself to move. Once it is moving it is good to go, but stopping it means the effort required to start it up again is there. In my situation, the weight of the train takes on the form of anxiety and depression. I see the to-do list in my head and I feel frozen to the track. I know what I want to accomplish, I want these things to be done, and yet here I sit…thinking about the list. This is the reason many people don’t ever stop in the first place. It is the reason I am not good at stopping, often adding to my to-do list even though the list is already full.

I have no regrets about taking the time to redirect and for resting. I absolutely loved the trip and I am enjoying the work I have been doing for my new business. I am in no way saying I wish I hadn’t done it! I am really glad I did. Taking a step back, or looking at how and why we do what we do is an important part of self-care. What I want people to understand, is sometimes even taking care of ourselves is hard. Doing the good thing is not always easy even though we know it is good.

If you are trying to get your train moving again, struggling doesn’t make you weak. If you have someone in your life that can’t seem to get going, don’t assume they are lazy. We all have our own train to pull. Sometimes the train is going up a hill, sometimes down. We’re wise not to judge a person when we can’t see their track.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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My sort of blog post

I wanted to write a blog post today. I’ve sat at this computer writing, then deleting, then writing some more and all that has come out is:

;laksdnfv z;ox.djfmq;owakej zfmdpol;a,jzfmd;oxalkzja wombat.

That is my reality today. My head is racing around like a…thing that races a lot. Its just one of those days.

So today I am just gonna give you this…

If you have days where your head just can’t…you are not alone and it doesn’t make you any less of a person for having a brain that’s as jumbled up as…a thing that’s all jumbled up. So for all those times you are thinking “why am I the only one who can’t do…?” You are not the only one.

And ya know what? This is all ok. We can “just can’t” together.

God still loves you.

And I do too.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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could be worse…

“Hey, look on the bright side..” has become, at least for me, a consistently common precursor to someone saying something stupid. Sure, I could have had something worse happen to me; but I didn’t. So, good for me? When I hear this phrase, I think of the old Roadrunner cartoons when Wile E. Coyote would fall off a cliff leaving a coyote-shaped hole in the ground when he landed, and then just when he pops his head up out of the hole, a giant anvil falls on his noggin. Look on the bright side is kinda like saying, “At least the anvil didn’t hit you.” Never mind that I just fell off a cliff.

When used light-heartedly in day-to-day passing, it can be funny. I think back to a time when my wife and I, were driving around Chicago with my brother and his wife. As is common for Chicago’s weekend traffic by the waterfront the car had moved about 100 feet in about as many minutes. I spoke up to offer a lighthearted, “It could be worse. At least we don’t have to pee.” When in a level of comedic timing I could never have imagined, before I could finish my thought, what happened instead was, “It could be worse…” BAM! The car next to us rear-ended the car in front of them. Suddenly, my punch line was no longer necessary. (Just to be clear, nobody was hurt. Although, ironically, I was now laughing so hard I had to pee.)

In general, I understand the sentiment I believe is behind this statement. A person is trying to cheer me up after something went wrong. I do my best to be appreciative of the effort, but I think people don’t really understand the hurt so often caused by the attempt. Instead of shifting my eyes to something that might brighten my mood, I instead feel as if my current situation is pushed aside as something I should never have felt poorly about in the first place. My experience is delegitimized since whatever happened is apparently, “not adequate for suffering.” In other words, my pain wasn’t “bad enough.”

I will grant, there is some truth to the statement since no matter what the situation, things could be worse. We could have broken both arms instead of one, had two loved ones die instead of one, or lost a home instead of a car. It is for this reason however, I see a “look on the bright side” approach, as particularly damaging. I want to scream, “SO WHAT!” I don’t care that it could be worse, I am in pain, I have very real trauma going on, and I’m losing sight of hope.

Positivity is an important approach to much of life and, in and of itself, is not a bad thing at all. Especially when coupled with a balance of realism, positivity is a healthy and enviable trait. The difference is when positivity mutates into a toxic positivity. There is only a fine line that separates the two viewpoints but the impact of crossing that line can be tremendous.

Toxic positivity occurs when a person fails to acknowledge the existing pain of another person by attempting to diminish or flat-out ignore the struggle of the other person. What is often hard to navigate in this kind of situation is that the perpetrator usually has no idea what they are doing. They may think they are genuinely helping, it could be a protective response due to their inability to face anguish, or they don’t realize the extent to which the person is hurting. It’s because of this I try not to get too upset when I hear a version of this kind of “help”. I know many people don’t get it, I have been guilty of it myself, and probably will be again. Nobody is going to get it right all the time. Just because I will never be perfect in my attempts to help, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. So trying is something I will continue to do.

A first good step is to pause and acknowledge the person and validate their struggle, remembering that even when things could be worse, they could also be better. The ability to slide up and down the scale has little relevance when it comes to feeling broken. When I was going through inpatient treatment for my mental health after my last attempt to end my life by suicide, I would have people tell me I was blessed because I was still alive. This didn’t help. While technically true, I didn’t feel blessed. I didn’t need someone to tell me I should cheer up. I needed someone to tell me they could see what I was going through was hell. To let me feel like my pain was real and allow me to have a safe space for figuring out how to live the life I was so blessed to have, because at the moment I was feeling cursed by still being alive.

Making a practice of listening to someone who is struggling is a great way to avoid pitfalls. On my first day in the hospital, I had a therapist sit by the side of my bed and tell me how his life sucked. It was a country song kind of scenario, wife left him, lost his house, etc etc. I think he was trying to let me know that we can survive after bad things happen in life. “You had it worse than me. Congratulations.” I thought and then ignored him. The therapist who sat next to me on the couch and said, “What do you think you need?”“, she was the one who put a crack in my walls.

I get the urge to fix it. I am a fix-it kind of person. So when we, myself included, meet a person who is struggling I ask that we try to remember this…

Some things can’t be fixed, just navigated. Instead of trying to find a positive spin, the best thing we can do is join each other in the journey.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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Why am I responding this way?

I did an experiment in a middle school science class that related to the nerve endings in our skin. The idea was to figure out how sensitive our sense of touch really was. To get a better idea of how our nervous system works, our task was to poke our lab partner with a needle, hold it there, and then without looking, our partner was supposed to touch the location of the poke. I assumed that would be pretty easy, but surprisingly, it wasn’t.

While we have a bazillion different nerve endings in our skin, they do not cover every single spot exactly. Some of what we feel is approximate. The way I remember it, our skin is somewhat similar to a chessboard. Our nerves go to the dark squares but not the light ones. Our nerves are sensitive enough to feel the pressure in the light squares, but our skin feels it as if it was a dark square. If we poke someone in the light square, they will point it out in the dark square. 12 year old me was blown away. Besides becoming another one of those random facts I keep stored away in my brain closet, I have learned over the years that the phrase “close enough” is way underutilized.

“Close only counts in horseshoes”, isn’t accurate. “Close”, and in some cases, “not even close” is plenty close enough to make an immeasurable impact.

In regards to mental health, we all have something that, either triggers a response we don’t want to have or wish we could reproduce. The other day, while scrolling through Instagram, I saw a drawing of two people hugging and that unexpected image gave me an emotional charge I would love to carry over into every day, it felt warm and peaceful. I also have flashbacks to trauma I’ve experienced by a slight smell or sound. I can be forced back to a place I never wanted to be, in an instant. These things can seem like they shouldn’t be having the impact they have on me but there is no doubt about what I am feeling.

I think it’s important to remember that just because something “seems like it is no big deal,” doesn’t mean something isn’t a big deal. The trigger itself, even if it isn’t close to our resulting emotion, isn’t the determining factor in how we unconsciously respond to the trigger. The positive or negative impact of the originating event is the source for our response.

For instance, a while back I watched a video of a couple I care about quite a bit.  We had grown very close over a couple of years of doing ministry together. I was in a public place when I saw the video and had to retreat to my car in a panic because I felt like my world was caving in on itself. These are people I love, and admire greatly so shy was I so upset? The couple wasn’t the issue, they are great. It was the flood of emotions that came from the post-traumatic stress I developed through a series of events at the end of my time in that ministry.

On the flip side of this, the smell of copy machine toner makes me feel peaceful because it reminds me of some good experiences I had with my Mom when I was a child. It’s simple, but it has shaped some of my behavior as an adult.

If you’ve ever said…

“This is dumb, I shouldn’t be feeling like this.”

“I feel stupid for complaining, people have it so much worse than me.”

“I should be able to do this, it’s no big deal.”

“I really love the smell of copy machine toner and warm paper.”

I want you to know, it is not as strange as you think. The senses are not just a tool for navigating our day-to-day tasks. Our senses are a key to our past and future as well. For as frustrating as it was for me to bolt out of the church I was in, and bawl my eyes out while sitting in my van in the parking lot, I was able to eventually connect the experience to a piece of my PTSD puzzle and take another step toward healing.

Our responses to the things we experience in life are not meant to be a statement of our value; they are very real connections to very real events. While sometimes we do things that make no sense and we may never figure them out, our responses are an opportunity; an opportunity to grow, to learn, to heal, to rejoice, or to cry.

We are not a failure for the struggles we face. We are normal. Life is a simple, complicated, hard, beautiful, easy, confusing, messy, and weird thing. Just keep living it.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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Returning to life

I need to state something before going forward with this week’s blog. This is not a post about vaccines, masks, restrictions, or any other of the topics that seem to bring with them a felt need to debate their merit. While I normally encourage feedback, I am not going to debate anyone on the topic of Covid. Frankly, I am tired of the debate and at this point, I think most of us have our minds made up about what is or isn’t ok anyway, so if you need to tell me that masks do or don’t work…please don’t.

The vaccine is in the arms of half the adult population. Restrictions are being lifted in many states, some getting ready to lift them completely. People seem to be getting out of the house and meeting with friends and family again. So why is it so anxiety-inducing to begin to crack that door to the world again?

In the last couple of weeks, I have had a series of firsts since the shutdown began. My first time hugging someone besides my wife and daughter, my first time attending a recovery meeting, and my first time attending church in-person to name a few. I have wanted to do these things for a year and was excited to get back out there. My family has received our “Fauci Ouchies” and many of our reasons for sitting in the high-risk category have passed. I was ready! And then I wasn’t.

After roughly 12 months of hypervigilance, breaking from the norm made me realize just how ingrained my precautions had become. Suddenly, I was able to live life normally in many ways and it caught me off guard with how strange that felt. I could hug someone! I am the kind of person that thrives on physical touch and I got to hug someone! I wanted to cry, and I wanted to hold my breath because I was within six feet of another person. Being in a building with other people was freeing and yet unnerving because I felt like I should be counting the number of people to make sure the occupancy wasn’t above CDC guidelines.

New feels strange. What I didn’t know, is how the things I have done for decades, are now suddenly new. Walking into church on Sunday was fine because the walls still had the same paint and pictures, yet the people in the room, for as much as I can tell through the masked-up faces, were people I didn’t recognize. People I have known for years couldn’t tell who I was because I don’t look the same anymore. My hair is longer, and I have managed to pick up the covid 40. A place I felt comfortable in a year ago wasn’t comfortable anymore. It was good to be there and unsettling at the same time.

Before I started living this post-vaccine life I thought, “I can’t wait. This will feel so good!” After going out into the world I thought, “I better pace myself.” Just the sheer number of people out and about makes things start to close in around me. Too much too soon might make me change my mind about wanting to leave the house. I am hoping my anxiety will ease quickly. If I take things slower, I think it will.

I know that getting out will ultimately be good for my mental health so we are making plans. I put a schedule on my recovery meetings to every other week. Going out and getting the camper set up for the summer is this weekend’s goal. Vacation in Chicago this summer is being set up. And for Mother’s day this year, I get to actually hug my Mom!! Just typing that gets me choked up.

A return to life outside of our bubble will be wonderful. It really will. I just want people to know that returning to life may, or may not be, easy. Either one is ok. Many of us are entering into old becoming new. I think it is important to acknowledge that. To understand that it may not be as easy for some of us and that doesn’t make us bad people for being uneasy around people. Please be patient with those of us who are not rushing out into the world. There are many people I want to connect with, but I can’t go see someone every day.

I want to be out. I want to feel normal. I also want to do this right. I’ll get there, I know I will. I’ll just do it a day at a time, one moment at a time. But just know, when I get my Free Hugs t-shirt, I expect it to get a lot of use.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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Lets talk about suicidal ideation

Trigger warning. This post contains language of a descriptive manner that may be potentially triggering. You can reach the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting “Start” to 741741. I also want to tell you that I am safe and at no risk of taking my life. I have a support system in place for times like this.

“When I was in hospital at 16, I was encouraged not to talk about what had happened to anyone other than my care team because of the stigma I would face. It was then that I decided to talk about it to anyone who would listen because if I had known then that experiencing suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean you’ll be kidnapped from home and locked away forever, I might have told someone. I want everyone to know that they can.”

This is a section of an article by Felicity Allman, published by “The Mighty”, an online community for people who struggle with various health challenges. This article, which you can read here, came at a time when I needed to hear it.

As many of you know, I struggle with suicidal ideation; intrusive thoughts about ending my life by suicide. This has been a part of my mental health journey since the age of 10. Their severity changes from day to day, sometimes it is only one or two times a day, but this is not one of those days; not one of those weeks. My ideation has been relentless lately. Several times a day. Several different scenarios playing out in my brain and none of them mild.

I used to keep this to myself. I figured, if someone knew what was going on in my head, I would be forced into a mental health facility. Again. Please understand, when I went into the hospital I needed to be there. I needed the help they offered, and if you are in a place where you think you might need it, PLEASE GO. It’s just that I am not in a place of needing to be admitted. So for many years, fear kept me silent.

Silence is not beneficial. When I have these periods of intense ideation I need to find an outlet. If I don’t communicate in some way what I am thinking, I give the thoughts more power. I internalize what is going on and it builds. These thoughts are generally in conjunction with increased levels of depression and are a part of my BPD, so the more I stuff my thoughts, the worse my symptoms become.

In my instance, I have people I can reach out to. It has taken a long time to find my people because I don’t trust others with this kind of information very well. There have been plenty of people I have cracked the door to, only to slam it shut when I see how they react to the mild stuff. Some people have a hard time navigating these kinds of interactions and I get that. Some people are just wired differently than me and that is ok. I don’t expect anyone to change who they are because of my struggle. My hope in sharing this is I may be able to help people who are wired to support others in this way to understand how much they are needed because it will take some work on your part.

Much of what we see in the mental health community is reactive. We see a crisis and we react to what is going on. Not all crises are going to be recognized before happening so we need people who are trained to navigate a crisis. In addition to crisis care, we need more people who are proactive about mental health. People who are intentionally available for the people around them as a place for support. Someone who will go out of their way to ask how we are doing. People who will let us know we can speak without fear of judgment. People who are willing to stick around.

I have a friend whom I reach out to that is aware of many of the details in my thoughts; all of the different ways I visualize ending my life. I do mean visualize. I don’t just hear a voice telling me to do something, I see it play out like a violent tv show in my brain. Since we have communicated in the past, I can say, “I’m just dealing with my usual suspects.” and they know what I mean. I don’t have to go into each detail and fixate on what is going on. They are safe, they are available, and they are genuine.

The benefits of this are beyond measure. Sharing allows me to give voice to what I am feeling which takes away most of its power. Sharing allows me to have someone who will pray for me in a specific way. Sharing gives the people close to me the ability to watch for the warning signs in case things do get to the point of needing crisis intervention. Sharing lets me know I am not alone in my journey; I will have someone by my side. Sharing lets my support system know I need encouragement to fight the lies my brain is telling me.

Thinking about suicide is a serious thing and it requires attention. Suicidal ideation is nothing to ignore, but it isn’t something to be ashamed of either. For many of us, it is just a part of our journey. Thankfully, some things can be done to help manage it. Before a person can find treatment they need to know it is ok to seek it out in the first place. The trick is helping people understand that it is ok to not be ok. That it is ok to talk about our thoughts of suicide.

The way to do that is by fostering a community that embraces each other’s struggles. A community that is brave enough to face something that seems scary. The best way to build that kind of community is to step out into the lives of the people we care about. Asking someone if they are thinking of suicide doesn’t give them ideas. If a person struggles with thoughts of suicide, the ideas are already there. If we are worried about someone, ask. It is ok to be direct, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” is a question that can save someone’s life.

Don’t judge the thoughts or dismiss them, just offer help and support. Having suicidal thoughts doesn’t make someone a bad person, so let’s let them know they are not a bad person for having them. If the other person is having those thoughts and you don’t know what to do, call the number to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline I listed above, and they will walk you through what to do.

I can’t stop my thoughts from coming but having people around me as a support system helps me know I don’t have to surrender to my thoughts. If you want more information on how you can help support someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can find more information here.

Talking about suicide is the best way to prevent it. Let’s go save some lives.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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Listening

Talking to someone about our mental health can at times feel like walking a tightrope. We know it needs to be done but at the same time, we don’t want to reveal so much that we scare off the person we are talking to. It can be even harder to navigate when talking to a mental health practitioner for the fear of being diagnosed with something new or possibly being placed on a three-day psych hold. Being able to open up about what is going on inside our heads is vital to our overall health.

BUT HOW DO WE FIND SOMEONE?!?!

“Ya, I get it! I need to talk to someone, and I am willing to, but there isn’t anyone to talk to!” is a statement I have heard shared with desperation So. Many. Times. And they are right. It is hard to find someone. This post isn’t about that side of the conversation though. I mean, ya it is, but not directly. This is for the person who wants to listen but isn’t sure how.

(If you are in danger of hurting yourself or anyone else please call the suicide prevention lifeline 24hours a day at 800-273-8255 (TALK). If you are one of the people looking for someone to talk to, I get it. Please don’t stop looking. In an ideal situation having someone to sit across from and share space is so wonderful. Not everyone has that. I am willing to listen if you want to send an email. nate@mentalhealthpulpit.com I am not a clinical psychologist, more like a pastoral coach, but I keep the correspondence confidential. If you want to just vent and don’t want a reply, simply put “Do Not Respond” in the subject line. I am not a replacement for clinical treatment, but I am as here for you as I can be.)

Some tips on being a listener.

Let people know you feel they are important. Check-in with people. Ask people how they are doing and pay attention to how they respond. Listen to what they say, or don’t say, and let them know you care about their response. Stop what you are doing, look them in the eye, and listen. Most of my experience says the simple act of being present with the person you are talking to will open doors to conversations. If you want someone to know you care about them, then show them you care by giving them your time and attention.

Don’t force a conversation. A person’s thoughts are one of the most intimate parts of themselves they can share. This kind of intimacy rarely comes during the first conversation. Give a relationship time to grow. Not that it can never happen, I’ve had times when I meet someone and an hour later we are saying things like, “I don’t normally open up like this.” If a person is going to trust you, that trust usually needs time to develop.

Listen for cracked doors. If I am trying to figure out if a person is safe I will slowly crack open doors to a topic to see how the person responds. If someone dismisses my comments, “You just need to pray about it. Do you think God wants you to stay depressed?” then I know they are not safe to go deeper into the conversation. Nobody will get this right every time. I get this wrong with other people and I am the one writing this tip. This just boils down to being present with the person I am talking to and doing my best to learn about them as a person. Use phrases like, “How so?” “Tell me more about that.” or, “What does that look like for you?”

Don’t judge their response. This can be difficult. Depending on the topic it can be almost impossible because of what we bring into a conversation via our values and personal history. Try to remember that having “bad” thoughts does not make a person “bad”. They are just thoughts. If we are honest with ourselves, we all have a list of thoughts which if shared publicly, would leave us feeling embarrassed. I am not saying we have to agree with everything the other person says, or celebrate it. I am saying we should follow the example of Jesus in that we don’t jump to condemning the person we are speaking with. Rather, we should first let them know they are loved by God and their presence in the world matters. This is not to say we must sacrifice our safety for the sake of giving someone a listening ear. If a conversation makes you feel unsafe it is ok to remove yourself from it. “I want you to feel heard, but I am not comfortable with this conversation.”, is a perfectly reasonable statement. For instance, someone who has experienced abuse may not be safe continuing a conversation with graphic detail of abuse. This is ok to voice and doesn’t mean you are responsible for letting the other person down.  Not being judgmental is not the same as having no boundaries.

Be open about your boundaries as they come up. Especially in the faith community, people can have a hard time knowing what is safe and unsafe to talk about. And also how to talk about it. For instance, I really don’t care about someone using swearwords. It just doesn’t bother me. If I see that a person is having trouble verbalizing their emotions, I will let them know they can say whatever they need to say however they need to say it. But at the same time, if a person is going on a racist rant and continuing to dehumanize people I will let them know in a very direct way that I will not participate in that kind of dialog. Boundaries are a good thing for you and the other person. Having clear parameters gives us the freedom to move within those parameters; this is so much easier than guessing.

Be honest about your limitations. If you have no experience with depression don’t pretend you know what it is like. “I can’t say I know how you feel, but if you are ok with me asking questions, I am willing to learn.” is a powerful statement. Being a friend is far better than being an expert.

Be open about your struggles. If people can see you being open, they will also feel permission to be open. People can see through hypocrisy, so asking someone to do something you are unwilling to do, will quickly fall flat. I’m not saying we should be airing all our dirty laundry for the world to see, but maybe a sock.

Know you will probably mess up. Messing up is part of the human experience but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we accidentally offend someone, apologize, learn from it, and move forward. Being humble in our approach gives much more room for relational growth.

Don’t make someone a project. It isn’t our job to fix someone who is struggling. It is our job to love them as we would want to be loved. Listen, support as you can, and come alongside the other person to celebrate the victories as they come.

Ultimately, we are all limited in our ability to be what other people would like us to be. I wish I had more bandwidth in my life but I don’t. I mean, c’mon, even Jesus took breaks from people. I would never want to make anyone feel guilty for not being enough to enough people. And the fact that you have made it this far in this post shows you are someone who gets that people need people. So thank you. This topic is quite vast; something people go to college for. If the idea of being there for someone and having the right thing to say at the right time sounds daunting that’s ok. God works exclusively through imperfect people. Rely on Him, be present in the moment, and the rest will work itself out. You will be great.

Nate Stewart

Founder ~ Mental Health Pulpit

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Your support is critical to our success!

Mental Health Pulpit, is an independent mental health ministry that relies primarily on gifts to operate and offset speaking fees and cost of overhead. As of right now, we do not have 501(c)3 status. (We are still in process) For this reason, all gifts are desperately needed and appreciated, but, GIFTS ARE NOT YET TAX DEDUCTIBLE.

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