The Holidays and Mental Health

2019 has flown by and Thanksgiving is approaching quickly. In the United States, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. While it’s easy to get caught up in shopping, gift giving, holiday parties,and decorations, the holidays may not be festive for everyone.

For those who struggle mental illness and/or grief, the holidays can be a stressful time.

When I was married, Christmas was difficult for me because of the infertility my ex-wife and I experienced. Though I love my nieces, nephews, and little cousins, it grew increasingly difficult to watch them open presents year after year while there were no children at our home Christmas morning.

The holidays can also serve of reminders of grief and loss. Maybe you lost a loved one around the holidays as you remember past family gatherings. I personally have lost three grandparents around the holidays. Going to the homes of my grandparents was always what made the holidays special, as the entire family would gather together. However, loved ones pass away and family dynamics can change due to divorce or other circumstances, leaving us with grief and loss.

The 2018 holidays were tough for me. My Grandma passed away the day after Thanksgiving. My Grandma’s funeral was on Tuesday and I received notification on Friday the same week that my divorce was finalized- a holiday double whammy.

In the coming weeks, I hope to share tips for dealing with mental health during the holidays. I just wanted to bring awareness that the holidays aren’t fun for everyone. Before you accuse your spouse, family member, friend, or co-worker of being a “Scrooge” or a “Grinch,” be mindful the holidays may be a difficult time of year for them.

Also, another aspect of holiday stress for some is the costs of gift giving. If someone bought you a gift that wasn’t as extravagant or costly as what you gave them, don’t belittle them, show appreciation. Maybe that gift is all they could afford. Maybe your gift giver didn’t have as good of a year as you. I personally dislike the commercial and financial aspects of the holidays as it becomes more about comparing checkbooks than celebrating the precious few moments we have to share together in this life.

I know this is a Christian blog, but I believe the words of the Dalai Lama ring true:  “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

 

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I Found Peace

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I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.

I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.

I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.

I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.

When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.

At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.

 

Only Me

By Michael W. Raley

I live in community,

Yet I feel so lonely.

I can connect to people around the globe,

But I end each day alone.

I work to keep my thoughts and emotions steady;

Deep down I’m still not ready

To face the challenge of a new day.

I give myself the encouragement talk,

Only to fail following through on walking the walk.

The realization that I am truly alone

Makes my heart sink like a stone

Into an aimless sea-

No lighthouse, no flares, no ships, only me.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proverbs and the Connection of our Spiritual, Physical, and Mental Health

If you or someone you know suffers from inflammation, whether it’s from a type of arthritis or another chronic health condition, the pain is always an issue. I know from my experience, the pain varies from day to day. However, I do my best to keep moving and stay active.

Physical sickness can also intertwine with our mental health and our spirituality. If you deal with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, chronic physical pain can exacerbate the problem. Chronic pain, whether we want to admit it or not, affects our way of thinking and how we view the world. In our pain, we may seek God and doctors for answers, but we can become spiritually discouraged when the pain continues.

I live in Indiana, where the summers are very humid to go along with the heat. In the past, my joints seemed to be affected by rainy patterns and cold fronts, but this was the first summer I noticed the inflammation being off the charts. I have sought medical advice for the inflammation, taken up a new regimen of self-care, and I have also studied a little Scripture about it.

Proverbs, an Old Testament wisdom book, gives practical and spiritual advice on many life matters, the link between our spiritual,mental, and physical health being no exception. I just want to share some of what I came across to encourage you today.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”                   (Proverbs 17:22, NASB).

“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” (Proverbs 15:13, NASB).

“The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but as for a broken spirit who can bear it?” (Proverbs 18:14, NASB).

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.”                 (Proverbs 12:25, NASB).

“A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones.”          (Proverbs 14:30, NASB).

“Bright eyes gladden the heart; good news puts fat on the bones.”                           (Proverbs 15:30, NASB).

As you go through your day, I want you to be encouraged. I also want you to make sure to work on every aspect of your health- spiritual,mental, and physical. God bless.

Depression is a Storm Cloud

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By Michael W. Raley

Depression is a storm cloud lingering over you,

Waiting to ruin a beautiful sunny day.

Depression is a predator stalking its prey.

You see the predator coming, but you are too paralyzed to move.

Before you know it, you are in the grips of depression,

Struggling to fight,

Struggling to breathe,

Struggling to live.

Depression goes beyond feeling sad,

As it is a battle for the mind, body, and soul.

I have become adept at hiding depression,

But I cannot snap out of it,

I just adapt my day and work around it.

Depression becomes a natural part of the landscape,

Like a tree with deep roots that are intertwined and difficult to remove.

Depression also serves as a highway marker,

Letting you know where you’re at and how far you have come,

While also reminding you that you have many more miles to travel

And many more battles to fight.

We must continue to fight, even on our darkest days,

For we must fight for ourselves, our loved ones, and for our suffering brethren.

 

 

Drained and Fatigued

By Michael W. Raley

I was going to be productive today,

But my body made other plans.

After a night of rest,

I awoke drained and fatigued,

Only to realize an entire day lies ahead.

Every time I begin to emerge from the pit,

I am thrown back down into the darkness.

I try to stay active and move,

But my joints do not want to cooperate.

I get one of life’s wildfires under control

Only to notice two more are starting.

My deepest, most inner spiritual man cries for help,

Only to be silenced by the oppression of my mind.

I try to remain hopeful and move forward,

Only to have my progress stifled.

However, I will saddle up like a hardened cowboy

And get through this day,

Riding toward the horizon,

Hoping tomorrow will be better.