Follow Friday: Sevenly

Wanted to let you guys know about another great company!

I’ll let my wonderful co-worker Tiffany explain over at The Giving Keys blog:

http://thegivingkeysblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/296/

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Spiritual Sunday: Sensitive Strength

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I tried out a new church this morning and it was pretty amazing. I’m still processing a lot of it because there were quite a few cool things that happened. So, I’ll just focus on one. I got to pray with two amazing women – one who knows me and one who had just met me 5 seconds before. I expressed that even though I felt God had me in this amazing place right now, I will still feeling doubtful and insecure. There was something holding me back and I was tired of it. The one I had just met started telling me that God wants me to know that my sensitive heart is “not a curse” and my friend said that I am so strong at my core. I had already gotten teary during worship, but this sent me over the edge. Like full-on, unashamed, ugly crying. Because there have been so many times in the last year where my sensitivity has certainly felt like a curse. I have had to deal with a lot of unexpected personal obstacles related to school and I started to get a bit resentful when it would get in the way of my learning or creativity. If only I could let things roll off of my back or if only I was stronger. I felt so confused because I knew God had called me back into the area of media (an area that is wrought with rejection and criticism because of its subjective nature) but yet I also knew that He made me sensitive for a reason. I’ve since worked out how I think this all going to mesh, but I think the reason I struggle so much is because I have a distorted view of what strength is.

Sara Bareilles released another amazing album last week and one of my favorite songs on it is simply called “Hercules.” Her lyrics are the ones in the graphic above. I was listening to this song this afternoon as I was reflecting on this morning and had a small “a-ha” moment. I already know that I have problems believing I am strong because of my depression and anxiety issues. But even when I am feeling strong in those areas, I don’t particularly embrace the idea of me as a warrior of God. Warriors are violent, adventurous and masculine – all things that do not make up the essence of Katie. Yes, I know that the warrior imagery was the best way that God could relate to the Israelites and the Romans and in a lot of ways is the perfect way to describe the power we inherit from God and the very real spiritual battle that is being waged against us. But for me, because of my more sensitive heart, these metaphors are not going to make me feel particularly confident of my strength in God. These images do not reflect with more quiet manifestations of God’s strength in me. Not that I will never be able to relate to this warrior imagery, but I realized that during the times where I feel weak, it would be more beneficial for me to meditate on a verse like Isaiah 30:15. In Isaiah 30, God is having a frank conversation with the Israelites (as He often does) telling them of the good qualities that they “wanted nothing to do with.” He says:

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”

or “in quietness and confidence is your strength”

For me, a verse like this (that describes strength as a quiet trust), is something I can get on board with. Quietness and rest? Sounds like an introverts dream. Now THIS is a verse I can repeat it times when Satan is trying to convince me that my quiet strength isn’t strong enough.

Does this resonate with anyone….Bueller? Is there any imagery that distracts you from the meaning in a passage?

Follow Friday: Krochet Kids

KKI hats

On Fridays, I want to feature some of the people, organizations, fellow bloggers, etc! This week I wanted you to all know about an organization called Krochet Kids whose  vision is “to create sustainable economic development programs that support holistic growth of individuals and communities within developing nations.” They currently work in Uganda and Peru and are hoping to expand to other countries in the future!

Take some time to check them out at

http://www.krochetkids.org

AND

check out The Giving Keys Blog (which I helped write and took some pictures for) about a really cool event that Krochet Kids hosted last Saturday!

http://thegivingkeysblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/krochet-kids-sample-sale/

Thesis Thursday: The Rubble or Our Sins?

pompeii

“Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?”

Pompeii by Bastille

Have you ever read a book or even just a chapter in a book and said to yourself, “Self, you should have read this book years ago!” That is precisely what I thought (and maybe even said out loud) after I read Chapter 2 in a book called “On Depression: Drugs, Diagnosis, and Despair in the Modern World’ by Nassir Ghaemi. In the chapter entitled “The Varieties of Depressive Experience”, he talks about depressive episodes vs. major depressive disorder calling the former “depression nondisease” and the latter “depression disease.” This nurture vs. nature concept was nothing new to me.

But the most insightful part of the chapter is when Ghaemi goes on to define what he calls “first cause” and “efficient cause.”  First cause is “the initial biological susceptibility to depression” and the efficient cause is the “immediate life events that trigger a clinical depression at that time” (pg. 15-16). This concept was nothing new to me either, but putting it in these terms was particularly helpful when he explained the relationship between them. He says:

“The first cause is necessary for the latter depression though not sufficient; it usually is not enough to lead to the actual depressive episodes of adult life. The efficient causes are not necessary – depression can occur without them, and the same life events occur without depression in other people, and even in the same person they do not invariable produce depression- but they sometimes are sufficient: in some persons they can lead to depression whenever they occur” (pg. 16).

In plainer English:

“So first causes are necessary but not usually sufficient; efficient causes are often sufficient but not necessary. One usually needs both, and neither alone is the cause of depression” (pg. 16).

I found this sort of comforting and yet it brought up some old feelings. I’ve often wondered what set me off that summer and I have a few ideas. Overall, I think it was just a perfect storm of changing hormones and social situations. I remember asking my therapist if there was a point in trying to figure out what set it off. She told me that it was more beneficial to look forward and learn how to cope with it, than dwell in the past and speculate about what happened. Even though I knew this was true and knew that the main cause was biological, I still couldn’t help but wonder (especially in the beginning) if I did something to bring it on. Was there something I could have done to prevent it? Some sin or lack of faith that I had control over? This question still creeps up every once in a while and I’m not sure what to think. The first, biological cause is something I never had control of. But what if I did have some sort of control over the efficient cause? Does it matter because some later efficient cause (that maybe wasn’t my “fault”) would have set it off anyways?

But as I write this, the word that keeps coming to mind is GRACE. Why I am so obsessed at figuring out exactly if and how I was to blame? Well, because my western individualistic society and it’s mythos tells me that I alone am to be praised for my successes and therefore blamed for my failures. And because whether actual or perceived, the emphasis in church seems to be on sin and not grace. Not that sin is not a real and dangerous thing – I’m not going all relativistic on you. But if ten years later, I am still concerned that there might be a sin I haven’t confessed or that I’m still apologizing for ones, just in case they were the efficient cause, then I think we might have a problem.

What do you all think? How does sin play into depression disease in terms of first and efficient cause?

Additionally, is there a difference in sin with depression nondisease?

Thesis (Sunday) Thursday: John Mayer

So, this blog took a couple days to write as it is basically a summary of my journey. I had to recall some painful things, but at the same time, I think it healed me a little bit to recall everything and process all the events in sequence. So I present to you, this week’s Thesis Thursday:

It is amazing how a song has the power to transport you back to a very specific place and time. The songs can recall happy or sad, significant or insignificant memories. But the songs that always paint the most vivid images from the past are the ones where we wondered if the writer had somehow crawled into our head. They are songs that take the feelings that you can’t describe, or sometimes even understand and put them to an appropriate melody with profound lyrics. And for me, most of the songs that have given me an “a-ha” moment or provided much needed comfort were not sung by Christian singers because they often don’t delve deep enough into the pain. I am so glad that I found a few artists that helped me grieve and helped me realize how essential music is to my healing. One of these artists is John Mayer and although his personal life is a bit rocky, his songs have pointed me to God’s truth and provided more answers than any song I have ever heard on Christian radio. There is a song(s) on each of John Mayer’s 5 albums that describe a specific marker(s) on my journey with depression and anxiety and helped me in the general process of growing up.

The entire Room For Squares album

July 2003: Black Butte, Oregon – I was on vacation with my wonderful extended family when I had my first panic attack. It’s quite funny to joke about now, but at the time it was quite terrifying. I was supposed to be relaxing and enjoying my family while we swam, rode bikes and went on adventures in the surrounding area, but instead I was filled with an overwhelming sense of fear and insecurity. One of the days, we decided to go on a field trip outside of the camp. I was not too happy as I subconsciously wanted to stay in familiar settings. We hopped in the car and I decided to put on Room for Squares (but only the upbeat songs) on my walkman to distract me from how uncomfortable the excursion was making me feel. It worked enough for me to enjoy the day.

Room for Squares

Bigger Than My Body from Heavier Things

August 2003: I got home from that vacation and my parents and I decided that I needed to go to a therapist. She told me I was having symptoms of anxiety, depression with a fun side of agoraphobia. We started working through practical ways I could deal with it and it seemed like I was improving. I started to learn about what was going on in my brain and how to change my thought patterns. We visualized me getting out of the car on the first day of school (as this was my biggest fear at the time) and I really started to get excited about seeing my friends again! I wrote lyrics, bible verses and random thoughts on index cards and went over them whenever I started to feel anxious. And it really helped.

But unfortunately the therapy wasn’t enough to calm the chemical storm that was still raging inside me. The Friday before school started, I received some information about a social situation that brought up a ton of insecurity and set me on a down-ward spiral. I ended up missing the entire first week of my junior year and was put on depression and anxiety meds (Thank God!). The months that followed were some of the hardest I have ever endured, but by that next summer I was out of crisis mode. But still there was still a lot of healing that needed to happen.

biggerthanmybody

September 2006: Studying Abroad in Florence – I had been on medication and in therapy for about 3 years now and my depression and anxiety was pretty much under control. I survived my first year of college, a bout of mono and my first real job. But I was still battling my mind a lot, especially when it came to my faith. It got significantly better after I settled into college, but I had definitely becoming acquainted with the fact that my flesh was weak. I still had many years to go to forgive my body and my mind for “failing” me. Naturally, I was worried about living in a foreign country for a year. What if I started having panic attacks? What if I had to go to an Italian hospital? How would I fly home if I was in some sort of crisis mode? But somehow (aka the grace of God), my year abroad was pretty smooth mentally except for a few weeks of depression in February. This song always reminds me of that victory and I am still amazed at how incredible that year was and how many deep, long-lasting friendships that God has used in profound ways came from the bond created by that experience.

Biggerthanmybody2

War of My Life from Battle Studies

November 2008: I was in my fall semester of my senior year of when this album came out and I had recently had a setback with my mental health. In Spring of 2008, I started sleeping A LOT, to the point that my roomie thought I had mono again. Something was off, but I didn’t know at the time that medication could just stop working. I’m having trouble recalling the specifics of the timeline and medications but basically I had to switch medications and it was hell. Panic attacks resurfaced along with side effects from the depression meds that made me feel not human. To this day, one of my biggest fears is having to switch medications again and whenever I start to feel a little off, my thoughts avalanche to this conclusion. I was so angry that it was happening right before and during my senior year. I was supposed to be soaking up the last bit of the college experience and I had to deal with anxiety again. But by the time War of My Life came out, I was feeling a little less fragile, but was still needing that something to get me back to normal.

“Come out angels
Come out ghosts
Come out darkness
Bring everyone you know

I’m not running and I’m not scared
I am waiting and well-prepared”

When I sang these words or repeated them in my mind, I was declaring at some times, and at other times still hoping to convince myself that I knew who would always end up the victor. The fact that my mind felt strong enough to call out my struggles and ultimately, Satan in this way was a huge turning point in my journey. Out of all of the songs, this is the hardest one to articulate how it impacted me. I guess it just helped me realize my strength and my progress at a time when I desperately was looking for a little boost.

francis

The Heart of Life from Continuum

Flashback to Summer of 2003: When this song first came out, the following lyrics brought me back to that first summer and that frightened little girl holed up in her bedroom wondering why she had to cancel her first driving lesson or why the thought of a trip to Target made her throat close up.

“I hate to see you cry
Lying there in that position
There’s things you need to hear
So turn off your tears and listen”

It’s still painful to think about now because I was so fragile and so scared. But when I first heard this song in 2006, I think it allowed me go back to that place, feel those feelings and maybe heal a little bit from replaying the pain. Needless to say, this song was quickly added to my Life Soundtrack on I-Tunes and played through my mind anytime I felt overwhelmed with life.

November 2009 – 2010 : Continuum came out in 2006 and The Heart of Life was immediately added onto my Life Soundtrack playlist in I-Tunes. Although I drew a lot of comfort from this song when I was in college, the time that I most associate with it was the three or so years after college. I was already in a strange transition period after graduating from college in May of 2009, feeling a bit lost and betrayed by the education I worked so hard for. Then in November, my grandpa Bill’s cancer came back and then he spent 9 weeks in the hospital eventually passing away in January of 2010. The whole family was devastated as he was an amazing man and had such a special relationship with each of us. I experienced several times during those 9 weeks where sadness permeated my every cell, especially the night I said goodbye to him and hold up the phone to his ear as my mom said goodbye to her father from Switzerland. But for me, I think the hardest part was watching other family members suffer and there not being a single thing I could do to help them. Not that I wasn’t sad, but because of my struggles with depression, I had already lost something very dear to me – a normal life. I knew how to grieve and I already knew that life wasn’t fair. This “life wasn’t fair and completely out of your control” theme continued throughout the next two years with a couple of other crises. But even within the midst of (or soon after) all of these shocking and life-altering things, God graciously let me in on some of the reasons why His timing is perfect.

The song’s lyrics say:

“You know, it’s nothing new
Bad news never had good timing”

Bad news, the kind of news that immediately puts that sickening pit in your stomach, is never going to come at a good time. The reality is that life really sucks sometimes and there are situations where you will have to live in a prolonged state of the unknown. And although John isn’t known as a Christian, this song is a profoundly simple and comforting answer to “the problem of pain” and is one I always pass along to friends when they are grieving.

“Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won’t all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good”

GPA colored

Age of Worry from Born and Raised 

June 2012: To me, Age of Worry signifies another turning point in my life. In the weeks leading up to my 25th birthday, this song became my mantra. I’m not sure what John’s “age of worry” is, but I feel like mine is now. And as I sang (and still sing) some of the lyrics out loud, I can’t help but ponder how 16 year old me would have listening to this song. At 16, I would not have sung along to lyrics like “Build your heart an army to defend your innocence while you do everything wrong” like I was at a pub cheering for my favorite football team. I would have thought “An army? Uh, no thank you. I’m too weak to win. And doing things wrong and failing is the worst thing I can think of.” The bravery I feel when I sing parts of this song like “There’s no time that you must be home so sleep where your darkness falls” or “Sing out in the age of worry and sing worry, why should I care?” is a stark contrast to how I had been for so long. I was consumed with worry and never would have joked about it or called it out like this. Worry and fear had once held a firm grip on all of my thoughts and made me miss out on life, doubt God at every turn and make me wonder why He still puts up with me.  Although I still have my times of fear where my mind lets anxiety creep in (this past week being one of them) there has been a consistent pattern of God working through tragedy, and through enough times of depression and anxiety issues, that even my irrational brain is starting to get it. Now, it is much easier to put negative thoughts out of my mind immediately instead of letting them fester and ruin a day or a week. Well, it ruined a day or two last week, so I’m definitely still a work-in-progress but still, this song is special to me because singing it always reminds me of how far I have come and how faithful God has been on my journey.

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P.S. John Mayer’s new album Paradise Valley comes out August 13 and I can’t wait until I get to add another song to this list.

First Thesis Thursday: Survey Time!

Survey Time: Mental Health and Christianity!

First of all, I must say that I have been overwhelmed with the support and encouragement I have received since posting the blog on Monday. I received a phone call and read many comments  that made me tear up a little and reassured me of the huge need for this project. I am excited for all of the future support, suggestions and involvement. Many of you have expressed a desire to help out and here is your first opportunity:

The first way you can help out with my project is by taking and passing along this survey I created to help me in my research. I hope that the results collected from this survey will help me narrow the scope of my research, better understand various ideas about mental health issues, provide me with some interesting insight and hopefully give me a lot of suggestions of books, articles, films, etc to use in my research.

This survey is for those people who most identify with the Christian faith and were born in the United States. As I explain in the survey, this is the background I am most familiar with and the environment I was in while experiencing mental health issues. So please pass this survey along to those who fall under that category – especially those non-California residents over 40!

The link will take you right to the survey and please read the introduction information before starting. Thank you so much and Happy 4th of July!!!

Ten Years Ago and My Master’s Thesis.

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In July 2003, exactly ten years ago, my life changed forever.

I can summon the emotions of that summer day quite easily. Yet, 26 year-old me could never describe it better than 16 year-old me:

“I couldn’t breathe. I gasped for air as darkness crept in from both sides. My head felt like a helium balloon with thoughts frantically bouncing around. The sun hit my face and I cowered back into the house. My muscles tensed making it difficult to breathe or swallow. I thought I was dying. I ran to the bathroom, a dark hole where I wanted to stay forever.”

This was my first diagnosed panic attack and although I had been experiencing moments of severe anxiety in the year prior to this, they had never been this physically debilitating. In the months that followed, this panic would continue, ultimately leading to a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and depression. It would be the reason why I was confined to a hotel for two days, overcome with anxiety any time I tried to venture out. It would be the reason I missed the first week of my junior year of high school. It would be the reason I didn’t get my driver’s license until 17. But most importantly, it would be the reason that I had to re-evaluate everything – friendships, family, identity, priorities, and my faith.

My faith took a beating, as it often does whenever a child has their first “grown-up” experience. I wrestled with God as I desperately cried out to Him for comfort. Answers that had seemed satisfactory in the past suddenly seemed shallow and simple. As I look back on it, all of this doubt and confusion was probably the result of suddenly being caught in this tension between science and faith. I knew what was happening to me was a result of chemical imbalances and genes I had inherited from my parents. But yet there was this underlying message, either self-contrived from scripture or actually stated in a sermon or two, that this was somehow my fault: my sin, my weakness or my lack of faith. And at this time, when I desperately needed healing, the Devil used these thoughts to delay my restoration and it took years to overcome these roadblocks to my recovery. I did the best I could with the material I had and I also had a great support system with family and friends who were willing to learn along with me. But my therapist seemed to be the only person who could really explain to me the complex interaction of science and faith, genes and sin, medication and prayer.

Yet as I suspected then, and ten years of reading and research has confirmed, there is no lack of opinionated material on the subject. And the most readily available information seems to simplify the issue, causing a further polarization between science and faith. At the beginning of grad school I wrote down 3 different ideas that I wanted to explore through media. One of them was Christianity and mental illness and I finally got to explore it in a documentary proposal for my ethics class last semester. Revisiting the subject through this class and through some providential experiences reinvigorated my passion to create something to help people stuck in this tension.

And so today, on July 1st, 2013 after ten years of dealing with anxiety and depression, I am officially starting my Master’s Thesis. I will create a website complete with forums, blogs and videos in an attempt to create a community of Christians caught in this tension. I am very excited to bring together psychological and theological experts, stories of personal experiences, books and films, in an attempt to understand and bring awareness to the complicated intersection between science and faith in dealing with mental health issues.

But I cannot do it alone – I need your help, your stories and your opinions to help me sift through all the information. I need you to come on the journey with me. For now, my updates will be through this blog on “Thesis Thursdays” and through the White Fence Media Facebook page.” Like”  it, subscribe to it and read it, and I will be extremely grateful. And you can help me out in a huge way this Thursday – so be on a look-out for that!

I am so excited for this new chapter in my life and I thank you for your support – friends, family and the new friends I will meet because of this project!

Love you all,

Katie