The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church

You are invited to The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, a one-day event designed to encourage individuals living with mental illness, educate family members, and equip church leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to any faced with the challenges of mental illness.

I have a lot of friends who experience mental health issues who have been “turned off” of Christianity, Church, God, and organized religion in general. A lot of that has to do with the fact that when people with varying kinds of mental health issues are undiagnosed and untreated or misdiagnosed and treated incorrectly, we make choices and act out in ways which are considered willfully sinful and have been ostracized, criticized, rejected, and told that we are lacking because if we had faith and if we really loved God and Jesus, we would be different.

If you are a Christian and/or if you have experienced mental health issues which caused Christians to be hurtful to you and give you a distorted representation of the character and nature of God, this could be one of the most important events to attend and conversations to have.

Please visit http://mentalhealthandthechurch.com/to find out more and join the conversation.

Blog For Mental Health 2014

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Home Free: A Child Advocacy and Parent Support Service for Families

In my first post for the first month of this new year, I shared my story by offering readers A look at Domestic Violence. I gave an overview of my personal history and the struggles that my family and I have experienced, which have been clearly identified by others as Domestic Violence. “Others” being my now adult children, friends and acquaintances, and various professions/service providers over the years. Yet, I’ve always struggled with the labels, categorizations, and definitions which are associated with the words: Domestic Violence.

In Changing Perceptions, I asked several questions about what comes to mind for you when you read or hear the words Domestic Violence. If you’re anything like me, you may think of a manipulative, control-freak, who is on a massive power trip, and truly enjoys the systematic destruction and subjugation of the ego and personal identity of the partner in the relationship. You know, the sociopathic stalkers in movies like Sleeping With the Enemy and Enough.

According to the Parenting Support Advocate with the VOA Home Free program I met with, it takes an average of seven attempts for a person who has experienced Domestic Violence to leave the abusive relationship permanently. “Average” meaning that there are those who may have done so successfully the first try and others who had to make many more attempts, combine all of the reported efforts and divide by the number of people who were queried in the research and that’s the average number.

I shared with her how uncomfortable I have been with the DV label and it’s associated titles/roles: Batterer, Abuser, Victim, Surviver, Perpetrator, Willing Participant. I’m not uncomfortable with or opposed to them when they are applied to situations and circumstances with clear-cut physical and verbal abuse where the one party physically harms and/or uses verbal threats, violent language, and uses his or her body and words in a way to diminish and control the other party. It’s the situations and circumstances like the one I have been in where the actions and behaviors of the “abuser” are more likely the result of a combination of neurological/cognitive developmental delays which are less than obvious in combination with some unidentified & untreated mental health issues, which may be a combination of genetics and environmental factors present during the developmental years of infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Especially when that person has made the effort to grow and change through participation in therapuetic processes.

The outcomes may be similar, if not identical. Which is why it is so often met with the overly simplistic method of categorization, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . ”

I’m a very firm believer in, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

The representative from the Home Free program has been very constructive for me to speak to, interact with, and learn from. She has not informed me of her view and take of my situation and circumstances. She hasn’t tried to convince me why I should use or accept these labels or define what I have experienced as Domestic Violence. She has listened with clear intention to understand me and my experiences. She has not given me “knowing” looks or sly glances when I have spoken about the difficulties I have with the labels which are part and parcel of receiving services through the domestic violence resources and systems. She has reassured me that I am the expert on my life and on my relationships and that she is here as an Advocate for me, not as a therapist, counselor, or other service provider.

When we met for the second time, yesterday, it was in my home. She and I met in the living room while the Child Advocate met with my five year old daughter and they played together in her room full of toys. The Child Advocate is not a play therapist, but her role is to be present and engaged with the child, following the child’s lead during play and interaction. If the child brings up emotions or thoughts which are difficult or confusing regarding anything the child has witnessed or experienced, whether it is related to the relationship issues between the partners in the domestic violence relationship or anything else, then the Child Advocate’s task it to help the child talk through and process those thoughts and feelings in healthy and constructive ways, understanding that he/she is not in any way responsible for any of the things which have happened or responsible for the feelings and words of others.

Historically, I have not done a great job at seeing and understanding when my children were experiencing difficulties in how they were perceiving and internalizing those perceptions regarding the things I was dealing with in our lives together. Dealing with the cycles of depression and hypomania, being severely codependent, and not having processed and dealt with my own emotional and psychological trauma from childhood all blinded and deafened me to the things my two oldest children were struggling with. I did the best I could to get them help and services, connect them to others who seemed more knowledgeable or better qualified than myself, to help them. However, I wasn’t emotionally or psychologically present and available to help them as their mother. I’m determined to do better by their youngest sibling.

That is why I’m so grateful to the Home Free program and the people I am working with in it. They are not only able to see and advocate for what my littlest is experiencing, they are here to help me see and advocate for her as well.

Volunteers of America Home Free Program

Emergency Hotline: (503) 771-5503 (Mon – Fri, 8AM – 6PM)

Business Line: (503) 239-3929

“Home Free’s mission is to assist adults and children surviving domestic violence to move not just toward safety, but toward freedom and all that the word home suggests.

Our programs provide long-term, post-crisis support designed to prevent victims from having to return to an abusive home. Our commitment to reaching survivors means mobile, active advocacy that reduces the barriers to domestic violence support services. All of our services are free, flexible, and individualized, and driven by survivors’ needs and goals.”

Blog for Mental Health 2014

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  ~ A Canvas of the Minds

Blog For Mental Health 2014

I personally have dealt with mental health issues and have family members and friends who have done so, identified or not, throughout the entirety of my life.

There are a number of things I didn’t know and understand for a very long time about Mental Health is that much of the “acting out” behavior of adults behaving badly – things like compulsive behaviors, out of control/extreme emotions and mood swings, addictions, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse – can all have their roots in poor mental health and/or be exacerbated by lack of mental health support.

All of those things I just named, I have experienced and in a lot of ways continue to experience on a daily basis.

I knew I had depression. I’ve been seeking services and treatment for it in one way or another since I was pre-adolescent. My first therapeutic encounter was an Incest Survivors group when I was 11 years old. A few years later, after my mom’s depression and my out of control, angry little girl issues clashed, and she turned guardianship of me over to her younger brother and moved away, we got a call stating she’d killed herself. That single event, in combination with everything that had gone on before, I can now see, flipped a switch in my brain, that has kept me on a psychological and emotional spinning, roller coaster ride of chaos, overwhelm, codependency and dysfunction, for the past 33 years.

It has impacted, informed, and impaired all of my relationships with other people: family, friends, co-workers, people in my faith community. It has affected my ability to parent my children in healthy and constructive ways, setting the stage for them to experience psychological/emotional neglect and abuse from me and partners in my dysfunctional and distorted adult relationships. It has impaired my ability to work and educate myself toward achieving my personal and professional dreams and potential.

I have carried and lived with the stigma and shame, blame, and labelling from myself and others because, as a mother, I should have known better, done better, been better.

It’s taken me a tremendously long time to get to where I am today, admitting my powerlessness over the fact that my brain and emotions are not under my control and that I have to be completely honest about that with myself and with others, and especially with my Higher Power, if I am to be able to get healing and live a healthier, more functional life.

I am pledging to participate in this Bloggers for Mental Health 2014 project in an effort to educate, inform, offer resources, reduce stigma, and raise awareness and sensitivity to the Mental Health Issues and Challenges that people experience, every single day . . . people whom we love and care about, people we work with, people we live next door to, people we go to church with, attend school with, or drive down the road beside. People who may just be us.

A Canvas of the Minds is a community of individual bloggers who either experience or whose lives have been impacted by another who experiences Mental Health issues and challenges. The blog posts shared on Canvas are focused on Mental Health issues and concerns. The personal blogs of the individual bloggers can run the gamut and are not necessarily exclusive or focused on Mental Health issues, however, reading through them with the context and understanding of the impacts and challenges the writers have experienced due to Mental Health issues while reading whatever it is that they have written can provide a rich and layered understanding of people who deal with Mental Health challenges as being more than a diagnosis or partner/caregiver of someone with a diagnosis.

Reading through their posts can offer hope and the knowledge that, however isolating and debilitating a Mental Health diagnosis may be, it is possible to survive, live, and even thrive with one.

It is our collective story of hope, strength, experience, and wisdom.

Join the conversation, read, follow, comment, write, and share:

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/acanvasoftheminds

On Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/canvasminds/

Changing Perceptions

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term, Domestic Violence?

Is it Sleeping with the Enemy with Julia Roberts?

or the JLo movie, Enough?

Is it sensationalized headlines in local and national news media?

USA Today: Domestic Violence On the Job: Prepare for the Worst in Your Workplace

Portland’s 2013 homicide list: Domestic disputes, fights outside bars, gang shootings

What comes to mind when you hear the terms: Batterer, Abuser, Perpertrator? Is it all the various actors and actresses portraying soulless, remorseless, sociopathic, and psychopathic killers without a conscience? Is it the Pimp, the Drug Lord, the Alcoholic/Addict?

Who do you see when you think of a DV victim? Do you see the mousy, brow-beaten, kowtowing figure of a modern hausfrau? Does she look like someone you know?

What are your feelings about these images and notions of the kind of people who are involved in Domestic Violence? He’s bad? He’s evil? She’s weak? She brings it on herself? They’re both nuts, they deserve each other? What’s WRONG with them?

What if I were to tell you that these are some of the contributing factors to me staying and returning to my almost 18 year toxic and dysfunctional relationship? What if there are others, like myself and my relational partner, who don’t fit into these dirty, neat little boxes? What if, when we have tried to reach out, because our stories didn’t look or sound like these, we were dismissed, scoffed at, and scorned? What if we saw some of the things that fit, but they didn’t quite fit, and there were other things going on, like mental and physical illnesses, which we didn’t realize or understand are often part of the larger picture around Domestic Violence? What if we only thought we could get help if there was an actual crime?

What if these movies, headlines, and notions are true, but incomplete representations of what abuse means, what it is, what it looks like, and how it impacts the lives of the people experiencing in, whichever side they may be on?

I had an amazing conversation yesterday with Davonna Livingston, author of “Voices Behind the Razorwire” and founder of Changing Perceptions, “an organization dedicated to working with anyone who has been affected by abuse.”

Changing Perceptions is a nonprofit organization that utilizes peer-based support and a writing curriculum to provide measurable outcomes for victims of abuse and neglect. The program focuses on helping victims of abuse regain their feelings of control by encouraging them to stop thinking of themselves as victims and to begin to live their lives as survivors.
This transformation begins with having their experience validated and given a purpose.

I’m meeting with her in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I’m actually feeing excited, like something really big is about to happen from this. We’ll see.

In the meantime, if you or anyone you know hase experienced abuse or neglect, as a child or as an adult, consider exploring and sharing this resource as a tool for healing.

The Connundrum of Accessing Social Services: Control, rules, and authority

There are a lot of agencies, organizations, and programs designed to assist people and families that are experiencing subsistence level needs of all kinds. Government administered programs through county, city, and state offices such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrtional Assistance Program or “Food Stamps”), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (Cash Assistance or “Welfare”), Medicaid (OHP/OHP Plus and other health care coverage administered by the state), and ERDC (Employment Related Day Care assistance) are the most common programs thought of, but there are many others. Other programs are administered through community based social service agencies and CDCs (Community Development Corporations) such as Human Solutions, LifeWorks Northwest, and Hacienda CDC are just a few.

It can be quite overwhelming for a family experiencing life crises, especially crises that are economic in nature, to know where to start or how to deal with the complex and seemingly arbitrary rules associated with accessing the services. If family members have been exposed to, grew up in, or have prejudicial attitudes toward those who access government benefits and assistance, it can be even more challenging. For families which have been caught up in generational patterns and cycles of poverty, it can be even worse because of the stigma and prejudices that are so widely prevalent in all forms of media. The degree of stigma, judgment, prejudice, and negative assumptions is very disheartening, demeaning, and undermining of people who genuinely are trying to find a way to dig themselves out of entrenched poverty cycles and for those who find themselves, for the first time in their lives falling into that trench.

Today, I want to address those who find themselves in the unenviable position of needing to ask for help through these programs and agencies.

Asking for help, regardless of the reason for needing the help, is a position most people find themselves in at one point or another in their lives. Everyone makes a mistake, makes a wrong decision, or encounters unexpected events they weren’t prepared for. It’s a fact of life. Some people are educated, trained, equipped, and have the cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and psychological strengths to navigate these things with minimal externally visible effects. Many people are not prepared and may experience any combination of things which combine together in ways that show unmistakable effects, often identified as negative.

If you are someone who is feeling overwhelmed with panic and axiety about your circumstances and who has experienced a lot of hardship and difficulty, reaching out to strangers behind a counter and having to explain your need for their assistance can feel like you are walking into the lion’s den. I’ve been in your situation. I understand what it feels like to fill out packets of forms, then get interviewed and have to explain the answers on the forms. I know, firsthand, the conflicting feelings of defensiveness and desperation, which make you second and third guess every word that comes from your mouth as you watch every eye twitch and body shift of the person you are being interviewed by to determine how they may be judging you and and your words.

I think one of the biggest problems for those of us needing to ask for assistance from these programs is the fact that we are required to disclose every detail and facet of our personal information and provide documentation that we are who we say we are, then justify the fact that we are in a position needing assistance. We often face people who may see tens to hundreds of faces like ours with stories like ours, day in and day out, and our stories and circumstances are not unique in their experience. So, they become numb, jaded, and immune to what we are experiencing emotionally. They appear bored, indifferent, jaded, cynical, matter of fact, and uncaring a lot of the time. There is little to no empathy or compassion displayed and while they may say they understand, they do little to demonstrate that understanding of what we are experiencing.

Somehow, being in the position of requesting assistance, subverts our rights to privacy, autonomy, and independent action. We become accountable to the rules, guidelines, and policies, because they are the rules, guidelines, and policies and these people are the gatekeepers who get to say whether or not we are worthy of being assisted, after we have submitted to full disclosure and full exposure of our most sensitive selves. We become serfs, supplicating ourselves, at the feet of beaurocratic cogs in the system of funding streams, political posturing, and edicts established by highly educated academic theoreticians in think tanks who have little to no direct personal experience with the kind of subsistence and hardship we have gone through which brought us through the doors.

So, people who are feeling the heat of societal stigma, subjected to indifferent and seemingly uncaring administrators, while experiencing stressful and disruptive life-circumstances, who may not be experienced or equipped with effective communication and social skills, are expected to act in rational, compliant ways to make the jobs of those who are processing their requests easier, with little or no expectation that the person they are dealing with is equipped or experienced at interacting with the same level of communication and social skill competency they are expected to have.

Social Work Cartoon: Client, service user, what’s his name?

Do you see the conundrum?

Depression: Finding more threads to hang on by

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In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I’ve spent a significant amount of my almost 30 years of parenting dealing with chronic physical and mental health issues. I was first identified as depressed as a young adolescent. My first diagnosis of fibromyalgia happened by the time I was 20. My son was born when I was 17 and I’d just turned 24 when my oldest daughter was born.

The impacts and effects that living with a parent experiencing these things without sufficient understanding, knowledge, and support in dealing with them, have been very much like is experienced by children who grow up with an alcoholic or drug addicted parent.

The mental and emotional instability which results in children taking on adult responsibilities (like parenting their siblings) combine with the parent’s inability to sustain basic needs with consistency: housing, utilities, and community resulting in chaotic lives lived from one crisis to the next.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – no one sets out to live a life of chaos, confusion, and fear-based decision making. It comes from a combination of nature and nurture. Things experienced in our environments as we grow up can trigger and exacerbate predispositions and latent tendencies.

Without early identification and constructive intervention to understand, educate, and train people in how to differentiate emotion from reality and self-regulate their emotional and psychological responses to stressors, children experience a variety of attachment disorders and act out in ways that are all to often dismissed as phases they will grow out of or attributed gender, class, race, etc. These same children get passed on, shifted around, and their maladaptive coping behaviors turn into character defects and personality disorders.

You can’t learn what you were never taught. You can’t grow seeds which were never planted. A broken vessel cannot put itself back together and generally isn’t responsible for breaking itself. Yet, every single day in all kinds of ways this is what we are expecting of ourselves and the people around us – to be capable of being and doing the things we aren’t equipped for and then deprecating, diminishing, and demoralizing ourselves and others for not meeting unrealistic expectations to be something we aren’t.

Mix that in with stessors such as job loss, death of a loved one, or a government shut down and the scenario for triggering a depressive episode in someone prone to depression, is pretty much guaranteed. Trying to make ends meet, trying to ensure my children’s psycho-social development needs were being met, all while consumed with guilt and depression didn’t work well. However, despite how difficult things were and the twisted paths they wound up choosing, some things must have helped, otherwise much more severe consequences would have been realized by us all.

Here are a few of the resources I have accessed over the years, which may be helpful to you or someone you know who is experiencing depression:

  • School-based counselors/therapists: middle school, high school, and college. If they can’t provide the level and depth of services needed by the individual and the family, they are the first person who has knowledge and access to resources which can help. They can meet with the individual and the family and create an action plan to address the current situation and beyond.
  • Crisis phone lines to help someone who feels too close to the edge of feeling overwhelmed with despair and/or rage who might be feeling on the verge of causing harm to self or others:

Multnomah County Department of Human Services: Crisis Number</a> 503-988-4888. Toll-free at 1-800-716-9769

Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000. Serving teens and parents in crisis. Suicide prevention.

National Parent Helpline: 1-855- 4A PARENT • 1-855-427-2736

  • Employee Assistance Program: Just about every employer has an EAP service, available at no cost to their employees, even if the employees are not eligble for any other benefits. Depending on the employer and the contracted services, the employee may be able to access their EAP for three or more sessions a year for free. Since it is so short term, the employee can utilize the available sessions to do some problem solving and goal setting around accessing longer term services. EAP is available to help with any employee issue that could impair that employee’s ability to perform his or her job, including things like compulsive behavior issues, substance abuse/addiction, grief counseling, and any other psychological, emotional, or relational disruption or disturbance. Even if you work part-time at a minimum wage job, the chances are high that the employer has an EAP program. Contact the Human Resources Department to find out for sure what is available.
  • Medicaid/State-based health plan (OHP): Under the Healthy Kids Oregon program, the state of Oregon has health care coverage for all children under 18 whose families income qualify for the program. This preceeded the Affordable Care Act which will open up Medicaid to many adults who are currently uninsured who fall within 185% of the Federal Poverty Level, effective January 1, 2014 (Unless Congress succeeds in unfunding the ACA as part of the shutdown resolution). At any rate, if the child is covered under the Oregon Health Plan, mental health services for the family can be accessed. Since a parent’s mental health is critical and essential to the healthy care and nurture of the child, a parent who is experiencing mental health challenges and disturbances can receive mental health services under their child’s benefits, as long as the child is included as part of the service planning and is identified as benefiting from the services.
  • Child Protective Services: This agency has a scary reputation because they have the power and authority to remove children from a home if a report of child abuse or neglect is made and the investigator determines there is sufficient cause to do so. However, the people who are working in that system genuinely care about the welfare of the children and know that keeping families together or working toward reunification is always the first preference for all parties. When parents are mentally and emotionally unwell and overwhelmed, it can feel like the workers are unsympathetic, uncaring, and as if they may have it in for the parents. This is seldom the case, but it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because the parents are suspicious, fearful, feeling threatened and react with belligerance and resentment, often being combative and resistant to what the worker and the agency are trying to offer the family. Parents who reach out for help and self-identify as needing additional supports can often be connected with and referred to a community based service agency which can provide supportive services to help the parent through the initial crisis and get connected to ongoing services which will improve their stability and ability to successfully manage the multiple roles and responsibilities associated with parenting.

Essentially, the parent who is experiencing any form of mental and emotional disturbance, disruption, or detrioration needs to do the thing that feels the most dangerous and counter-intuitive. He or she needs to reach out and talk to a professional or trained volunteer who can and will help with listening in a non-judgmental manner, work with the parent to identify and assess needs, and provide resource and referral information and connections.

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