Monday, August 18, 2014

New York Daily News Crosses the Line with Robin Williams Cover

I know the New York Daily News is just a tabloid, so we can't expect much from it. However, even a tabloid paper should have a better sense of human decency and respect than to do this to anyone:


From NY Daily News Facebook Page.

For the love of all things holy, what is wrong with the people that work at this place?

If we ever wonder if stigma against people with mental illness is still alive, and if people are made fun of and shamed for death by suicide, this proves that both of those things are still true. 

I guess I should be less naive than to think that because people are inherently good (darn my Universalist theology), that they would not throw all of their morals and compassion out the door for money. Because, really, all this cover does is use sensationalism to sell more papers. 

I would love for the editor, owner, or someone in charge at the New York Daily News to explain how they ever thought this was an acceptable cover. It crosses the line from sensationalist journalism to irresponsible, heartless, and offensive. 

I not only hold the newspaper accountable for creating such a horrific cover, but also all the people who bought it. If a large group of our population was not just as heartless, then there would be no reason for the New York Daily News to create something like this.

I don't even know where to start with why this is so offensive. Viscerally most people would look at this and just know on a million different levels that this is wrong, but here are a few points to mention:
  • He was not "hanged." If someone dies from a complication of their illness, you do not phrase it in this way. A person who died from cancer would not have been "tumored."
  • The general public does not need to know details of how he died. Reports on death due to other illnesses rarely ever include descriptors of exactly what happened. This further stigmatizes mental illness. 
  • The graphic description of his death is triggering for people who have been, or who are currently suicidal. 
  • Why deliberately put his family and friends through even more anguish by printing something like this?
  • What does where his wife slept have to do with this story? Clearly the paper was just trying to hurt her as well.
  • The format looks like a wanted poster, further stigmatizing mental illness. 
  • Creates a sense of shame around mental illness and death by suicide. 
It's just sad that we live in a culture where dozens of people (at least) saw this cover, approved it before it went to print, and they all thought, "Yes, that looks great. Not heartless at all. I can endorse this and still sleep well tonight." And then hundreds more people bought the darn thing! 

(For a better version of this cover, see this modified Daily News cover by Alan Scherstuhl.) 

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Cooking Chicken and Accepting Limitations

We have no food cooked in the house and I was feeling great after a productive morning, so at the grocery store today, I bought a chicken. A whole chicken.

Because I was feeling great, and I had all of this time today, and we have no food. I was going to easily make a chicken and even cook stuff to go with it! Like those butternut squash that have been sitting around forever on the kitchen counter and I hope have not sprouted inside.

My son and I got home from the grocery store, I cooked up the sausage I had bought us, and we ate lunch together. He went to his room to play on the computer, and I sat in front of my computer. Now its 3pm, and I still have that chicken and those butternut squash.

All of this seemed so accessible earlier in the day. I thought I had all this time, and cooking a chicken and squash is easy for most people. I was so excited because we were going to have food! I was going to have dinner ready when my husband got home. We were going to have leftovers so we actually had breakfast tomorrow, whereas today all my son got to eat for breakfast was beef jerky and dried cherries.

It is 3pm, and I have at least 3 hours to cook this chicken and I just don't know if it will happen. This is what it is like when you have limited hours with which to function each day. You have no idea what each day will bring, how much time you will have, and if today is the day you can figure out how to cook a chicken, or not.

I am getting better at not feeling bad about these days because, what good would that do? I don't really care that other people find it easy to cook a chicken and squash for dinner. I don't really care that we may all be eating jerky and dried fruit for dinner tonight. I am exhausted and overwhelmed, and just not functioning. If I push myself over what I can handle, I risk triggering bipolar cycling which will end up with me either a crying mess or a screaming lady by the time dinner roles around. So, even if I push myself and cook the chicken, I doubt my husband or son would enjoy who they were eating the chicken with.

The chicken is taunting me from the fridge. In a while I may have rested enough to actually get that chicken into the oven. If not, that is ok.

It is hard to accept your limits, especially in our world of competition and shaming. Where parents shame other parents for how many fun places they took their kids, or did not take their kids, in the summer. Where those who have an easy time cooking chickens, taking care of dogs and kids, and working, look down on those of us who are lucky if we got out of our pajamas.

Everyone has different limits. I choose to be grateful for the things I can do, instead of hate myself for what I can't.

Here is what I did do today:
  • I got up at a normal time today! (Shocking)
  • I got to CrossFit and did a workout that was awesome.
  • I bought groceries so at least we have food should any of us figure out how to cook it. 
  • I got through the grocery store without a panic attack! 
  • The dogs have been taken outside, so I have not had to clean up anything off the floor. (Win!)
  • I took a shower, brushed my teeth, and got dressed.
  • I had a therapy appointment.
  • I watched a TV show with my son.
  • My son laughed at me while I sang a song about Baba Ganoush, which he won't eat. 
  • I am neither depressed or manic. (Also a win.)
  • I wrote this blog post, after zoning out on the interwebs for a while. 

That's a pretty good day, even if the chicken never gets cooked.

UPDATE: The chicken is in the oven, plus one butternut squash because I did not have the energy to peel and cut two of them. But, OMG!! You have to clean up after the chicken and squash get into the oven. And then clean up after you eat it all. See, that is why one "simple" task is not so simple.
...And, it is now 8:30pm and I just realized that the only reason I was able to cook the chicken is because I had a parenting fail and completely forgot that my son had CrossFit Kids tonight. See, again, this is why it's a bad idea to overextend yourself. You end up getting everything out of whack.

What are the great things you did today that you should be proud of?

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mental Health Discussions: What Can a Minister Do?

Recently, the amazing Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery posted this to her Facebook page:

"Dear All The People,

Please, if possible- this:

Before doling out advice about medication for the mentally ill, pause to ask yourself these quick questions: 1. Am I a doctor? 2. Am I the doctor of THIS person I'm talking to?

If the answers are yes- by all means - carry on! If not, shhhh.

Also just a gentle and loving reminder to the pastors and religious leaders. Pastors (along with druggies and drunks and depressives) are MY PEEPS. LOVE YOU. But listen - if you are a pastor, you don't actually count as a doctor. Pastor and doctor are, like, two totally different careers. Different colleges and such. So- maybe no medical advice, please. Out of gratitude- I promise not ask my doc for communion.

Jesus loves Me This I Know, For He Gave Me Lexapro.

Love,
G"

As always, she gets right to the point and has great humor. I think she is fantastic and her book is a good dose of inspiration, humor, and is a great read for a spiritual practice. I even wrote a blog post for her Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project

I totally agree with her. Ministers should not give out unsolicited medical advice about medication. From reading the comments, it seems like what most people with mental illness get from ministers, is the belief that mental illness is not a true illness and you can just pray it away. I don't agree with that. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, belief in evil spirits as a cause of illness, medical cures through only a belief in Jesus, and prayer as a sole medical intervention, are just not things that are part of my theology. We understand the body, mind, and spirit connection, and we value the combination of science and religion. 

On the opposite side of what it seems like Glennon and some of her readers with mental illness have experienced, I more often get ministers telling me I have to take medication. I have been told it is morally wrong not to take medication. I have also been told that if I don't take medication I must not really have a chemical imbalance, not a "real mental illness." As if treating it only with medication is the thing that proves you have mental illness. (You might want to tell my many psychiatrists who diagnosed me that information, because they might need to know they, apparently, should to go back to medical school.) 

While I agree with Glennon, I want to be clear that I do not think ministers are unable to give counsel about mental illness. I don't think that was what she was saying in her post at all anyway, but many of her readers took it that way. Medical advice would be what medicines to take, shock therapy or not, and such treatment that a psychiatrist would give. However, people contact me all the time about mental illness and treatment because I talk about my mental illness publicly. I always say that each individual needs their own treatment team. That could be just a therapist and Psychiatrist, or include also a minister, spiritual advisor, nutritionist, etc... 

I do believe mental illness, like all illnesses, has physical and spiritual components to it. Please read this blog post for more explanation of what I mean.

Rev. Katie Norris. Copyright.

I don't want ministers to get the idea that we can not tell our own stories if we have mental illness. I also don't want people to think that ministers have no place in a mental health treatment plan, because they can. We just need to know boundaries. 

As a minister, I can give counsel about ideas for spiritual practice that can support treatment. I can be a pastoral ear and listen to the pain that most people in the world are unwilling to listen to. I can help families communicate better. I can advocate for a better understanding of mental illness, and help churches create a stigma-free environment. I can be the minister to officiate a funeral and walk a family through a death by suicide. I also can be a part of a person's mental health team. Many doctors and therapists suggest spiritual practices, like meditation, as part of a treatment plan. Which means that it also should not be assumed that doctors know nothing about spirituality and can not advise to bring that into a treatment plan.    

I can also tell my own story, which is not giving medical advice, but does let other people know more about different treatment options. Just like Glennon writes about her medication, I can write about my spiritual practice, sleep schedule, diet, and exercise which all help treat my mental illness. There is sadly not enough information about the varieties of types of treatment and the many, many things a good treatment plan needs. That is why we need more people with mental illness sharing their story about what manages their illness. When I read that someone else uses a mood tracking app to help manage their bipolar disorder, I might want to ask my doctors if I should add this into my treatment plan. 

Everyone needs their own mental health team, of their choosing. Unless you are on that team and have been asked for advice, don't give it. If you are someone with mental illness, don't change your treatment plan on your own based on what someone outside of your team tells you or what you read on the internet. Make decisions with your mental health team. 

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

UPDATE: Here is Glennon's Facebook response the day after the post above. See how great she is?:

"Yesterday, there were folks upset with me for telling depressives to “take their goddamn meds.” I was pissed that they were pissed. But I slept on it. And when I woke up, I had a softer heart about all of that. My friend Nadia Bolz-Weber calls this a heart transplant: when your heart of stone gets ripped out and replaced with a softer, open one. I think if we are not having heart transplants daily, we are really missing out. So anyway- I understand. It’s all confusing and murky. I know that we all want the best for each other. I believe that even more strongly in the wake of all the passion this week.

I’ve got some mental illness issues and chronic Lyme disease, and so my relationship with meds/no meds is windy and twisty and hurty. I haven’t been on any meds for a year now. I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful that I had the meds when I needed them- they felt like a lifeboat for me. I’m insanely grateful to know that they are available if and when I’m in desperate need for a lifeboat again. And I just want other drowning people to feel less shame for climbing in whatever life boat is available. The fact is that I don’t write about all of this because I love meds. I write about all of this because I love people. And I love the lifeboats that save them. But I don’t have any freaking clue what you should do. I just want you to be okay. I just don’t want any of us to drown.

It’s been a tough freaking week. Just a TOUGH one all around. I feel rubbed raw. Do you? When I turned on the news before bed and saw the Ferguson crisis I just thought: the whole world needs a lifeboat. I guess we do, and I guess that lifeboat is love and forgiveness and grace- in all of its million forms. I don’t want to put anything out into the world today except for love and forgiveness and grace. I really love this ragamuffin crew. You are my lifeboat, too. Thanks for floating and bumping along with me.

Love, G"

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mental Illness as a Spiritual Issue: A Reflection on Matt Walsh's post about Robin Williams

I read Matt Walsh's blog post "Robin Williams didn't die from a disease, he died from his own choice," and I wanted to hate it. Ok, well, I hated most of it. I vehemently disagree with most of what he wrote, and find parts of it far too shaming of people who die by suicide. In fact, I don't particularly like most of what he writes on his blog in general. We just don't line up politically, and that is fine.

I don't think arguing with him is the best course of action, but I do want my own readers to know where I stand on the basics of some of what Walsh said.

I disagree with Walsh where he says:
"First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will. No matter how depressed you are, you never have to make that choice. That choice. Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide “died from depression.” No, he died from his choice. He died by his own hand. Depression will not appear on the autopsy report, because it can’t kill you on its own. It needs you to pull the trigger, take the pills, or hang the rope. To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless. We are giving him a way out, an excuse. Sometimes that’s all he needs — the last straw."

I think this is too simplistic a look at the disease of mental illness. I do believe mental illness is very much like cancer, and that the disease has the ability to take over our mind enough that we do not have a choice. Just like cancer can progress so far that no amount of radiation or treatment will save a person, the mind can be so compromised that people can no longer save themselves. I have seen people get at that threshold. The mind can break, just like any part of the body can.

Our mind is what controls everything. Our mind controls our ability to choose, and if the mind is ill enough, then it makes sense that such a choice may at some point become unavailable to us. From Williams' recent stay in rehab, we can tell that he was reaching out. He was trying to intervene with his illness early enough and trying not to get to that threshold where suicide would claim him against his will. We don't understand mental illness enough to know if a person is safe being left alone for five minutes, or not. We don't have a test to show how broken the brain is at any point, and if a person is at risk of death by suicide. Death by suicide is not an "excuse." Talking with compassion, rather than shame as Walsh's post does, about people who have died by suicide does not increase the incidence of it. Having a compassionate stance on death by suicide, just like we have with death from other illnesses, gets us talking about it. This allows people to know that it is safe to reach out before their mind has completely shut down so that they have more of a chance of recovery.

I could go into more details of the other parts of Walsh's post I disagree with, but I think this gives a basic overview: I fundamentally do see mental illness in the same way as other illnesses, and I take a hard, shame-free stance, when talking about death by suicide. (Here is a great post on how mental illness is not selfish.)

Rock balancing, spiritual practice taught to me by my therapist. Photo Copyright Katie Norris.

The one point Walsh brings up that I do think is worth taking a deeper look at is this:
"I can understand atheists who insist that depression must only be a disease of the brain, as they believe that our entire being is contained by, and comprised of, our physical bodies. But I don’t understand how theists, who acknowledge the existence of the soul, think they can draw some clear line of distinction between the body and the soul, and declare unequivocally that depression is rooted in one but not the other. This is a radically materialist view now shared by millions of spiritualist people."

First of all, I know a lot of atheists, and I have ministerial colleagues who are atheists, so I won't even argue how Walsh's definition of atheism that supposes atheists have nothing to do with spirituality is inaccurate. Theist or not, I do think there is a point here that mental illness is also a spiritual issue. I define the spiritual or divine as that which you feel is greater than yourself. For some people the spirit is a personal soul, for others it is God, for others it is the energy of the Universe that created us and holds us all together, and yet for others it is the connection between humans or even our own connection to our deep inner selves. All things are connected, and I would say that all disease is spiritual as well as physical. Most of the world's religions understand there is a connection between mind, body, and spirit. We need to treat all illnesses from a spiritual perspective, as well as a physical one, and that is why I think Walsh does bring up a good point about mental illness being a spiritual issue.

I love the line from the musical, Next to Normal, (about a woman, Diana, with bipolar disorder) where Diana sings "What if the cut, the burn, the break, was never in my brain, or in my blood, but in my soul?" This was referring to the fact that, while she had a lot of medical intervention, part of her illness was triggered by the death of her son, This was a spiritual loss, which her husband refused to address, and which was not a main part of her treatment.

www.owningpink.com
I do think that one of the things missing in mental health treatment is the spiritual aspect, and that is one reason why we have such low success rates for treatment.

I would encourage people to read Lissa Rankin, MD's book "Mind Over Medicine" for a great resource on the current research on how the mind, body, and spirit are connected. It is the perfect mix of how a medical and spiritual model can meld together. I love her "Whole Health Cairn," which depicts stones balancing on top of each other that show what you need for whole health. The stones are housed within a bubble of service, love, pleasure, and gratitude. Many of the "stones" we need to balance for whole health are spiritual, such as the biggest base stone being our "inner pilot light." Rankin says: "Your Inner Pilot Light is that ever-radiant, always-sparkly, 100% authentic, totally effervescent spark that lies at the core of you. Call it your essential self, your divine spark, your Christ consciousness, your Buddha nature, your higher self, your soul, your wise self, your intuition, or your inner healer. The minute sperm met egg, this part of you ignited, and it’s been glowing away ever since."

So yes, I see mental illness as a physical and spiritual issue, and in order to have a good treatment plan, one must work on the spiritual side as well. For each of us that is different. For some it will be a deep belief and connection to God or Jesus, for others of us it will be a focus on spending time in nature. I strongly believe though that all of us need to have a connection with our own inner pilot light in order to heal. You will notice this being important even in Walsh's post, where he says, in struggling with his own depression,: "When we are depressed, we have trouble seeing joy, or feeling it, or feeling worthy of it. I know that in my worst times, at my lowest points, it’s not that I don’t see the joy in creation, it’s just that I think myself too awful and sinful a man to share in it."

If we do not have a connection to our soul, our inner pilot light, our deepest selves, then yes we see ourselves as awful, sinful, or bad. I would say, we feel shameful, as Brene Brown, PhD defines shame as the belief of: "I am bad." In all the people I work with who have mental illness, this is the sticking point, the core belief, that few people seem to understand, and medications have a very hard time treating. I believe this is the extra work, the spiritual work, that we need to do in order to decrease the rates of death by suicide. I also believe this is why we can not talk about death by suicide as a "choice," "excuse," or "selfish." Such shaming talk reinforces the core belief that we are bad, which worsens mental illness. Plus, shame is the opposite of empathy, and as Dr. Brene Brown says, shame cannot survive empathy." So what we really need is an empathetic response to suicide, suicidality, and mental illness if we are ever to help people heal. That is the spiritual work we need to do as a community.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

P.S. If you or someone you know is suicidal, please reach out. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. I have called, I know many like me who have called, and they help. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Why Is This Happening To Me?": Helping Kids Navigate Chronic Illness

Today my beautiful, smart, strong, and loving ten year old son asked me, with tears in his eyes, "Why can't I be normal? Why is this happening to me?"

Ever since he was a baby, my son has dealt with pretty severe stomach issues. When he was nursing, all I could eat for months at one point was baked chicken, rice, and broccoli. Then when he started on solid food, he was still always sick. At one point he was diagnosed with a fructose allergy, and we were told he could not eat fruit or anything with fructose in it. That seemed to get a bit better somehow, and we went for a time when his symptoms were mild, but then he ended up with a rectal prolapse which was super scary, but after some treatment, it resolved. He still went on and on with general stomach issues until we started eating a Paleo diet for my own health, and a lot of his issues improved, but not all. We were always more lenient with him because it was unclear what was wrong with his stomach and all allergy testing and other tests came back fine so doctors told us changing his diet could not make a difference.

However, changing his diet made a big difference, not only in improving many of his stomach issues but also other things, such as sensory processing disorder. That is another story for another post though.

Even with so many diet changes and improving, he still has episodes of stomach distress because we are still working on figuring out exactly what is triggering his symptoms. Actually, he was really doing well with barely any symptoms even on a 90% Paleo diet until three or four months ago when he got what we think was a stomach virus that just completely messed up the balance in his gut. He was vomiting on and off for four weeks. Now, if we stay strict Paleo plus removing some extra things, he does pretty well. But, there are still flare ups. It seems like we can not deviate from a very strict list of foods at all, which is hard. We travel often and we try to make sure when we eat out that the food is safe, but he still gets sick anyway.

Today, all he wanted to do was go to his CrossFit class, which he loves. But he was doubled over in pain. That's when he asked me, "Why can't I just be normal? Why is this happening to me?" All I could do was say, "I know how you feel."

I do know how he feels. I have had Irritable Bowl Syndrome my whole life and lactose intolerance (which got a bit better after my pregnancy actually,) and colitis more recently due to a bad setback with my binge eating disorder. Like him, all of the tests from doctors have been completely unhelpful and everything comes back negative for any allergies. I have lived in that place of not knowing why something is happening to me. I also have all of the mental illnesses on top of that, so I know what it's like to just want to be normal. Normal enough just to be able to function half way decently in the world, and not miss out on everything you love. Something "next to normal," as the musical says.

My son asked me "What if everything makes me sick? What if I can't eat anything except what you make, and I can't do that forever. What if I never get better? What if there are only three things I am not allergic to. What do we do then?" I told him we would do whatever we have to do. We will keep working hard with health professionals to find out what is wrong with his stomach, and if he has the most limiting diet ever, then we will do it.

My son, helping make almond milk since he can't have dairy.
I could have given him the pep-talk about how no one is normal and normal is just a setting on a washing machine. I do not think that would have helped though. Really what he was asking me was, "Why can't I just not be sick all the time?" and "What does this mean for the rest of my life?" At ten years old he is questioning if he will have to always be sick, and always put his life on hold for his illness.

So I was honest and told him I have no idea why bad stuff happens, but I do know that the most powerful thing we have is each other. We can be "not normal" together. I also let him know that if if there is anything I have learned from being wildly outside the norm and missing out on a ton of life due to my illnesses, it's this:

It sucks, it's hard, and it takes a ton of work. But... you learn to be a fighter even when you don't want to be and you think you can't go on, you learn to have compassion for others and their struggle in life, you become a more empathetic and loving person, you want to help other people suffer less, and you find hope even when you are convinced there isn't any. 

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Friday, August 1, 2014

Body Shame Triggers Mental Illness, Body Love Heals

I have a great TEDx talk to share with you all today: "Change Your World, Not Your Body," given by Jes Baker at TEXx Tucson. It is a fantastic talk about how embracing body love is not just good for us personally, but it can have a global positive social impact. One thing I love about the talk is that Jes addresses something that few people talk about in relation to body love- how our culture of body hatred contributes to mental illness.

Mental illness is a two part illness having both chemical and environmental factors that can cause, trigger, and/or exacerbate it. All of the body hatred we learn in our society contributes to the increasing rates of mental illness, and not just of eating disorders. Depression is hugely effected by the relationship we have with our bodies. If you are prone to depression, you do not need the body hatred messages that say you are not good enough, no one loves you because of what you look like, and you do not deserve to have relationships with other people. That increases the depression, loneliness, and isolation.

My cocktail of mental illnesses are highly tied in to my view of my body. In the beginning, I thought that I was depressed and unable to do anything because I was disgusting and lazy, because I was taught by our society that overweight people are lazy and unsuccessful. That contributed to me spending more time trying to loose weight, and less time actually finding the right professional help for my mental illness. My treatment was put on hold due to my body hatred. Jes talks about this in her TED talk, that "We put our life on hold, we stunt it, because of our bodies." This is a huge problem for everyone, but a serious problem for people with mental illness who forgo focusing on mental health treatment because we are taught that the real problem is just that we are fat or ugly. If we just lost the weight or got rid of our acne, we would be happy and successful. In fact, our whole beauty industry revolves around this message, that a happy and balanced life can be obtained by being beautiful.

My husband can tell you that when I have a "bad body" day, a day when I hate my body, my rapid cycling bipolar disorder cycles even faster. Body shame, which teaches us "I am bad, because of my body," is a very dysfunctional message to send to your mind. If we walk around in a state of shame, of believing we are bad, then we are reinforcing negative pathways in our brain. If we keep those pathways going, neuroplasticity says that we will make shameful beliefs about ourselves a pattern, and a reality for us.

If we believe we are bad, our mental health is harmed in many ways.

If we are bad, there is no hope for recovery. If we are bad, there is no hope for a better life. If we are bad, we have no choice and no agency in our lives. If we are bad, neuroplasticity is a lie, treatment is a lie, and we will be sick forever. If we are bad, we deserve to be punished, which leads to body harm for many of us, as it did for me.

Jes Baker and me at her Readers Dinner in San Francisco.
Body shame and hatred also significantly contribute to, or can cause anxiety. If we believe that our bodies are disgusting, need to be hidden, and we do not deserve to be in the world, we will become anxious. Some people become obsessive over choosing what to wear to leave the house in order to be sure that they encounter the least amount of name calling or shaming from others as possible. Many people live in a state of fear of physical violence when they are out in public, because of what they look like. People have been abused to do being thin, fat, for the color of their skin, their acne, rosacea, hair, clothes, and more.

I have a panic disorder that actually was triggered due to body shaming. I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Lactose Intolerance. When I was just a child, six years old, people used to make fun of me for not being able to go out because I was sick. They mocked my lactose intolerance and said I was making it up. People were relentless in saying that what my body was doing was not real and that I was only trying to get attention. That is body shame of another kind- shaming someone for how their body works. Some professionals have told me that the way to "get over" my anxiety was to learn that no one will make fun of me and most people are genuinely nice. That is not really a world that we live in, when we have a culture that constantly makes fun of bodies that do not work "correctly." I have talked to many people with Celiac Disease who are constantly made fun of. I don't trust that people will be kind if I get sick in public, so I live every day, every moment when I am with others and often even when I am alone, deathly afraid of getting sick.

Embracing body love is essential to good mental health. Body love does not mean only accepting your weight, but everything about your body- how it ages, what it looks like, and how it works. Embracing body love and using that philosophy with the treatments my therapist provides, like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), has been very important in the treatment of my mental illnesses and my ability to get well. Plus, I had to accept that my body works differently than most peoples in order to accept my mental illness. I also had to accept my body in my treatment plan, because I was very upset that medications kept making me sick and I could not take them. I was very upset that I had to change the way I ate, slept, and functioned every day because my body (which includes my mind), is "different." If I don't love my whole body the way it is, then I don't follow through on treatment and I get worse.

This is definitely something we need to be talking about more and we need to start changing our world.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Friday, July 25, 2014

There Are No "Demons Inside"

Joan Raymond wrote an article for NBC News about how teens with mental illness often hide their illness. The article raises the issues of why teens hide their illness, such as how during the teen years, anyone who is "different" is often bullied. It discusses how mental illness is seen in society as scary or weird, and so teens feel unsafe talking about how they are doing. The article also talks about how hard it is to actually even get mental health care for teens. Overall, it's a decent article that raises important issues. (I disagree with putting in the parts about the school shootings, and a quote from a teen accused of plotting violence who self-diagnoses and says "I think I am just really mentally-ill." The research does not support violence being linked to mental illness, and I have written about that previously.) It's an article that is meant to raise awareness so that we can do something, help teens feel safe to speak about their illness and get them proper treatment.

However, the title negates the whole message:

"Demons Inside: Teens at Risk Can Hide Mental Illness"

What teen or parent of a teen with mental illness would ever read this article and feel safe talking about mental illness when the title equates mental illness with "demons inside?" The title is emblazoned across a photo of Kenny Baker and his parents. Kenny died by suicide at 19 years old due to depression and anxiety. I feel for his parents. How it must hurt to see a beautiful photo of them with their child, and have the words "Demons Inside" splashed across it.

Mental illness has nothing to do with demons or inherent evil. Using a title like this promotes stigma and fear- the very things the article was attempting to combat. This "demon" idea is an old, outdated belief that stems from fear, in a time when we had no medical and scientific understanding of the brain. We no longer live in the middle ages. And yet, many people still believe people with mental illness are inherently evil, have let the devil into their soul, or are possessed by demons. Consistently since I started this blog a few years ago, the number one search term that brings people to my blog is "bipolar caused by evil spirits." If you read the comments on the NBC article, you will see quite a few people who think that mental illness is caused by the devil. We can not be promoting those ideas.

I have had mental illness since I was six years old. I remember news stories about murders or violent crime and hearing the terms mental illness, demons, evil, and possession being used all the time as reasons for the violence. I knew something was wrong with my brain, and there was no way I was going to tell anyone. What kid wants to be told they are inherently evil? What child or teen would ever feel safe in that environment?

Equating mental illness with demons and inherent evil that you have no control over also gives children and teens the message that no matter what they do, they will always be evil. They will never get better. They have no future, no chance in life.

There are no words to describe the immense self-fear and loathing this message creates. To be taught that even if you try to be good and kind, you never can be. To be told that at some point, because you are evil or possessed, you will hurt other people. This means there is no hope for you. You have no worth, no dignity, and no soul. And if there is no hope for you, then seeking out treatment is not an option. It's a terrible life sentence, and I am extremely disappointed to see this message in 2014 promoted by NBC News because they chose to sensationalize the title to get more readers.

I emailed Joan Raymond about my concerns with the title, but have not heard anything back yet. Who knows if she or her editors chose the title. Whoever it was, they were being very irresponsible.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie