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.”

 

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.

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.

Change is Coming

“Change is the only constant in life.” -Heraclitus

The time has come for me to make a change in my life. After seventeen-and-a-half years, it’s time to move. I don’t like moving. The only thing I dislike just as much as moving is looking for a job. My dislike of moving might be the reason I stayed here so long.  However, as I write this, the house will be on the market within the next day.

I have good memories of living in this house, but it has become a painful reminder of loss and struggle. This is the house I built with my ex-wife. I have to make a change for my mental health’s sake. Now begins the transition process. The upcoming weeks are going to be filled with looking at new places, deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, planning a new budget, you know, all the fun adulting stuff.

Believe it or not, I welcome the change. This is the start of a new adventure. I am writing a new chapter in my  life. The decision to sell was an easy one. I’ve overstayed my welcome in a bad situation, but I finally realize that I have the power to change it. I was so bound up with depression and grief that I could not see my way out of the situation.

Change is going to come in life, no doubt about it. When change comes, we have to ability to embrace it, and “go with the flow,” or we can be dragged kicking and screaming. I’m tired from the kicking and screaming. I’m ready to follow the stream to see where it goes.

 

This House

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By Michael W. Raley

This house was once a symbol of love,

A sanctuary from the problems of the outside world.

This house was a home where faith ruled,

Where challenges were met and conquered.

Love has now been replaced by brokenness

And faith has been met with thunderous silence.

The sanctuary has become a prison,

For I am bound up with chains of failure.

This symbol of hope has become a monument to folly.

As I live alone in my thoughts,

I find myself in the throes of misery and depression,

Still trying to make sense of this new normal.

I seek to be freed from this burden of wood and concrete,

So that I may begin life anew.

The Ever Encroaching Reality

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By Michael W. Raley

Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way.

Yet, I find myself dealing with the fallout

Of my life to this point.

I am fighting for sanity and survival,

While God remains silent.

My prayers bounce off the walls and ceiling.

I face another day without help from on high.

My spirit is laid low and my mind is clouded

To the point I can’t think straight.

I am hesitant to trust my decision making process

Because a few of my choices led me to this place.

There are positives, but I must remain focused

On the ever encroaching reality of today.

 

The Two-Headed Dragon

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https://www.unsealed.org/2018/06/in-moment.html

By Michael W. Raley

I am a modern day knight on a quest

To eradicate this two-headed dragon of depression and anxiety.

This dragon at times seems formidable,

As I have been unable to vanquish it completely.

My armor and my mind have been pierced;

I feel exposed every time I go out to battle.

When my heart sinks before the dawn,

I know that day’s battle has been lost.

However, I will rise again tomorrow,

Armor on, sword by my side, and shield in my hand,

Determined to slay this beast.

The Wave of Depression

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By Michael W. Raley

The wave of depression overwhelms me,

Casting me down to the ground.

I know today’s not going to be my day.

I’ll put on the brave face

And go through the day

Like an ox plowing a field,

Except I won’t break any new ground.

This wave is not an everyday occurrence,

But it has tendency to stick around

Longer than it needs to stay.

I know deep down that I choose my response,

Yet, snapping out of it is not easy.

As I live my life day to day,

I learn the lessons of defeat

Along side the sweet savor of the victories.

The wave may be at high tide today,

But even the strongest forces of nature subside in time.

My Struggles with Anxiety and Depression

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18.1

I am one of those 40 million people. As far back as I can remember, anxiety has dominated my life. Being anxious is part of the human condition- it’s the nerves before a presentation or a big game, a first date, or a job interview. However, anxiety becomes an issue when it hinders decision making and holds you back from living the life you want to live. I can’t tell you the number of times my anxiety has talked me out of potential opportunities because deep down, I didn’t feel worthy of said opportunities or the imagined potential disaster. As the saying goes, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Anxiety is a bully, taunting and mocking you constantly. If anxiety brings along his buddy, depression, then you’re in for a really bad, no good, awful day. In my experience with anxiety, I for many years did not label it as anxiety. I and others thought of me as “quiet,” or “shy,” or my personal favorite, “socially awkward.” Though great strides have been made in the medical and psychiatric fields concerning the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. For those with anxiety, depression, or any other illness, having to fight our inner battle with the outside perceptions of others can delay our healing process as it did with mine. Mental illness is a serious issue, it should never be joked about or dismissed. Just because someone doesn’t “look sick” doesn’t mean their issues should be swept aside with flippant comments such as “What do you have to be depressed about?” “It’s all in your head.” “You need to do more of this (pray, give it to God, etc),or “Get over it.” If a friend or family member had cancer would you tell them, “Turn that frown upside down and suck it up”? I would hope not. People with mental illness are not weak or lazy, as they are some of the strongest people out there because they fight every day to get up and try to live a “normal” and highly functional life. Compound a mental illness with any number of autoimmune diseases, and life becomes even more difficult.

Since I have done my own research into my anxiety, I can truly see how much it has controlled my life. When my anxiety was triggered, physical symptoms would follow: deep breathing, shaking hands, a racing heartbeat, the “fight or flight” response, becoming agitated, stuttering and stammering over my words, all of which made want to dig a hole and hide. These attacks would come on during social situations such as job interviews, leaving the house to go to work, or simply going to family gatherings. However, people often comment about how calm I am and never appear to be rattled, which in all honesty is my learned ability not to show the outside world what’s going on inside of my mind. The next time you watch ducks swimming on a lake or pond, just remember those calm, peaceful birds are peddling their legs in the water as fast as they can; I believe that is a fitting analogy for how I have managed to hide my anxiety.

I tried different techniques over the years to deal with my anxiety and depression. The first is that sheer will power “put your nose to the grindstone” mentality. That only wore me out and wore down my nose. I came to faith in Jesus Christ back in 1999, which I hoped my faith, studying the Bible, praying, and “Let go and let God” would free me from this darkness. After all, Jesus said not to worry (Matthew 6:25) and the Apostle Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing,”(Philippians 4:6), plus there are 365 verses in the entire Bible that tell us to “fear not,” so why be anxious? However, I began to learn that my depression and anxiety were not going to go away by saying prayers or shouting out Scripture. I came to the rational, logical, conclusion that my battle was not with demons or doubt, nor was it because a talking snake convinced two people in a garden to eat a piece of fruit, but there was something wrong with me mentally, biologically, and chemically, which could be treated.

I tried to deal first with the depression and made the decision in 2008 to talk to my family doctor and he prescribed me Prozac, which I took until 2010, when I felt good enough to try to conquer depression on my own. Things were good for a couple of years, then life began to pile up on me: my health declined, my wife had problems with her health, grief and loss, family issues, infertility, a crisis of faith, and being laid off from my middle management job and starting over at the bottom, to changing careers at mid-life. I could not cope and went back on the Prozac from 2016 until mid-2018, when the Prozac stopped being effective. My doctor then prescribed me Celexa, which is also used to treat anxiety. I do feel better mentally, though I am not completely free from depression and anxiety, I do have more good days than bad ones.

Though my faith is not what it used to be, I have found comfort in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, listening to classical/instrumental music, and trying to implement Stoic philosophy into my life. Stoicism is a practical philosophy, which in a nutshell is managing your responses to what happens to you and determining if the event is within or without of your control. Stoicism is incidentally one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Though I know that my war with anxiety and depression are far from over, I have won many recent battles and that gives me hope. My hope for you is that if you are struggling with your mental health, please seek treatment and determine what is best for you. You don’t have to live life as a prisoner of your mind. The keys are within reach, grab them and work on freeing yourself. Stay encouraged, there is hope, there is healing. You can’t erase what has been written,but you can change the narrative. Be the hero of your own story.

I Never Knew My Own Strength

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By Michael W. Raley

I never knew my own strength

Until I came across my greatest foe.

Not a person or cosmic entity,

But my own body.

I live with the chronic sickness and pain

While I strive to live a full life.

I do my best not to complain

And I don’t want to be a burden,

But there are times when it’s too much,

Yet I persevere.

The prayers have stopped

And God remains silent.

I guess it up to me

To gear up and face this enemy,

Which I will, no matter the obstacle,

No matter how I feel.

“Vivere est militare.”

To live is to fight

And fight on I will.