Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Purpose Made Clear

It is one of the most heartbreaking thoughts confronting a parent when a young adult child develops a disabling mental illness:  What will her life be?  Will he ever have a family or a career?  Is this the best she can hope for?

As a Christian, we all go before the Lord repeatedly begging for healing in His own words:  Father, if it is possible, take this cup away from Him.  But your will, not my will, be done. And we can't help but wonder why.  I've often joked that, when I get to Heaven, I plan to have a Come to Jesus meeting with Jesus ASAP.

The Lord did touch my heart in prayer the other day with a question of His own:  What if your child's purpose in life is to be loved?

I needed a moment to let that soak in, but it does seem to be true.  What if the purpose is to bring out the best in others?  That's a good thing.  So I cling to that, and I promise myself that my child will never have a moment when he does not feel loved.  It is what God would have.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Holiday Survival Guide

Is it too dark and cold for you?  Imagine how it feels to a person dealing with a mental illness.  The holidays can be some of the worst days of the year for your family.  It seems like every other family is perfectly perfect, while yours is isolated.

This isn't true.  But it doesn't help to know the statistics, especially if the Seasonal Affective Disorder and the expectations of Comfort and Joy are causing stress for your loved one.  That can easily cause more symptoms and substance abuse issues. Here's some help we've release before.  They still work.

  1. Accept this ain't gonna be pretty.  If you can get rid of your unrealistic expectations and be honest with your loved one and all the other family members, it will go better.
  2. Help your loved one to keep her dignity. Provide a gift fund or another way to allow her to give gifts, so she won't feel left out if she has no money. Scan every situation that's coming up to make sure that your loved one won't get unwelcomed attention.
  3. Hey, it's a good excuse to keep the unofficially crazy family members away.  You want a small gathering of your own family.  Period. Otherwise it's too stressful for your loved one.
  4. Keep it short. Keep it informal.  If you have to do the Big Family Thing, let your loved one stay home. Big groups are too much for your loved one, especially when you have to Put On a Happy Face. And do your own celebration. 
  5. If any of your extended family members really want to see your loved one, they know your phone number and where you live. Something private is better.  And try not to be bitter if no one asks. (There's a reason God chose you to be this person's lifeline. Not everyone can deal with this.)
  6. The best answer I've found to the question ... How is he? ... is "About the same." That's tough enough for you to answer.  So please don't put your loved one in a situation where he or she has to answer the question.
  7. If you are having an event at your house, discuss it in advance with your loved one so he or she knows what to expect. Accept his limits.  Accept her choices. Acknowledge his feelings. 
  8. If the person wants to be more visible during the holiday, brainstorm some things in advance.  What will he say when asked how he is? What will she do during the gathering? Is there a quiet place to retreat if needed?
  9. Tell the person whose home you are visiting what you may need in advance.  Please don't put yourself in a position ... helping cook at someone else's home, for example ... where you can't leave with little notice. If you are stuck, have someone ... a sibling or spouse ... available to get the person home if needed. 
  10. All your great preparation may result in your loved one refusing to participate at the last minute. And that's OK. 
  11. If someone offers to help you with any holiday preparation, ACCEPT. 
  12. When you make out your own Christmas wish list, see if you can ask for things that will reduce stress, whether it's a massage, a day trip, a cleaning service or a gym membership. 
  13. Eat right. Avoid the alcohol. Sleep. And write out a list of things that you are grateful for this year.
  14. A nice thank you card to people who have been helpful to your loved one personally or professionally is always good.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Step One in Crisis Communications: Validating Emotion

As I have been teaching crisis communications around the country, I've seen some blank looks when I mention that validating emotion is the first step when dealing with a person who is very emotional.  This becomes even more important when you are dealing with a person who is very emotional most of the time.

Many of our loved ones struggling with mental illness have strong emotional reactions to just about everything at times.  They vent, they rage, they cry. This can become overwhelming to us who are around them.  When we try to stop the emotional outburst, to come up with reasons that show them that they are overacting, to suggest changes ... it can set off a fiasco.  We react, and our loved ones react to our reactions, and round and round.  This is why so many people feel spent and helpless.  Some people even fantasize about running away from home ... and they are the healthy folks.  This is not unusual.

Validation is an important way to break the cycle. It's a technique that can be used with any emotional expression.  It tends to reduce the emotional outburst rather than to amplify it.  I've used it often, and I've found it good in every situations from everyday business drama to dealing with a manic person.

When anyone vents, it tends to up the emotion.  A simple response of "I can understand why you feel that way ... it's normal to be upset about this,"  can reduce the emotion.  In doing this, you are validating some part of the person's emotional experience. And the emotional experiences of our loved ones with mental illness are quite real.  How many things have they been told that they are overreacting, out of control, being ridiculous?

So the key to getting an emotional person to listen to you ... regardless of whether they have a diagnosis or not ... is to find emotions and thoughts to validate in their words.  Do not agree with anything that is truly false.  But you can often find some piece of what they are saying to agree with.  Validate that.  Your sincerity will ring through.

If the person is in the midst of trashing themselves, they are actually showing you what they think about themselves.  I find it easy to get into an endless argument at these times.
"I'm a terrible person."
"No, you're not."
"Yes, I am. You are just saying that because you have to."

How about this?
"I'm a terrible person."
"We all think that we are terrible people sometimes. I know that you are seeing yourself that way now. And you've made some mistakes.  We all have.  Those mistakes may be making you feel bad about yourself right now.  But here's the good that I see in you: ..." 

Validation can open the path to getting your loved one to listen to you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Today's Mental Health System Is Insane

Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist with a track record proving that he cares for the least, the last and the lost, wrote an important piece that my home paper titled "Care for the Mentally Ill Is Moving in the Wrong Direction."  

His lede: The largest mental-health center in America, packed with thousands of people who have manias and psychoes, is a jail in Chicago. 

"Psychiatric disorders are the only kind of sickness that we as a society regularly respond to not with sympathy but with handcuffs and incarceration,"  he wrote.  And, it's true.  About half of our prisoners have diagnosable mental illnesses, and that includes roughly 75 percent of the female prisoners.

Some do commit serious crimes;  others are picked up in the justice system for petty offenses that stem from their illnesses.  Their behavior when paranoid or delusional is a ticket to arrest. About 40 percent of people with mental illnesses have been arrested at some point.  An African American friend who is a mother of a young man with schizophrenia is even more frightened of this, as she feels her son would be more likely to be shot by an officer.

Kristof raises a point:  Is it kinder to lock people up in a psych ward or a prison cell?  As Ohio, my home state, is considering laws that would make it easier for a mentally ill person to be hospitalized, I have to say that I believe hospitalization is better.  Putting them in jail is certainly closer to the vision of the past-centuries insane asylums.  We thought we were more civilized now, but evidently not.

To put people in treatment, we have to have places to treat them. If Ohio allows more forced treatment, I would hope we would build places and fund treatment.  The mental health system is beyond broken. It is insane.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Just Say Thanks

Note: I am pursuing A Year of Christian Mindfulness on  But this is so true for all caregivers that I wanted to share it here as well. 

Ever prayed for the same thing over and over again?  Since the '80s?

I have.  Sometimes you feel that you are supposed to.  You are praying persistently like the nagging widow that Jesus said.  But it can become a faith issue over the decades.

Today's "Jesus Calling" app meditation by the wonderful Sarah Young gave me some new perspective.   Yes, we are supposed to speak our hearts clearly to the Lord.  And then thank Him for handling it.   But:  "When your requests come to mind again, continue to thank Me for the answers that are on the way.  If you keep on stating your concerns to Me, you will live in a state of tension. When you thank Me for how I am answering your prayers, your mindset becomes much more positive. Thankful prayers keep your focus on My Presence and My promises."

I love this.  It's much better than praying:  "Lord, in case I haven't mentioned this in the last hour, so-and-so still needs healing"   I am hoping that focusing on trust and gratitude will make me be less like my friend below:

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What a Positive Dog Can Teach You

This is a post from my new blog "A Year of Christian Mindfulness" that I used as a teaching for our Loving Someone with Mental Illness support group.  Enjoy!

One of the books that's helped me to put on a happy face during some tough times is "The Positive Dog" by Jon Gordon.  It's all about a dog in a kennel who has the right to be miserable, is miserable and scares off potential owners because of it.  One of the other dogs in the kennel promised God that if he lived through a house fire, we would be positive and happy.  Here's some of the things I got from the book:

  • Positive people live longer.  One study of nuns found that the cheerful nuns lived 10 years longer than the grumpy nuns. 
  • Marriages are most likely to succeed when the couple has a 5-to-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. 
Jon's best tips really are related to mindfulness.
  • Smile.  A real smile produces serotonin in the brain.
  • Laugh.  My rule is:  If I haven't laughed hard by 9 p.m., I watch or read something funny.
  • Choose to feel "blessed" rather than "stressed." Think of three things you are grateful for whenever you feel stressed. 
  • Adopt the No Complaining rule. No complaining until you have two possible solutions to the problem.
  • Focus on the present moment. My tip:  If you get really upset or anxious, do a walking meditation ... walk around and focus on the feel of your feet on the ground and your lower legs moving through space.  Or do a nature meditation ... go outside and focus on what you see and hear around you, praising God for each individual thing you notice.
  • Look for opportunity in challenges. Life is hard. What can you learn from this?
  • Practice peace and kindness.  Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi famously said. Be nice. Encourage others. 
  • Pray and meditate on Scripture. This reduces stress, boosts positivity, and enhances health, vitality and longevity.
  • Choose faith instead of fear. All negativity is rooted in fear.  Fear believes in a negative future. Faith believes that your ultimate future will be good.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Freaking Out? There's an App for That

A iPhone or iPad is a great aid to stress reduction and mindfulness practice. Being a caregiver with a hectic job means I never know when a bad day will pop up. You can respond to this one of two ways: 
  1. Waiting for another shoe to drop
  2. Working proactively to stay calm, centered and abiding in God.
No. 2 works a lot better than No. 1.

In my Relaxation folder on my iPhone, I rotate, doing one app at day at least, with a timer set to remind me to stop, pray and de-stress at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

I call it my "Jesus Calling" alarm, and it's a harp sound. I stop and read "Jesus Calling," a great app based on a great devotional book.  The second time, I read a Bible verse on the iMissal blog or the "Girlfriends in God" email.  My Faith app folder on my iPhone includes a Bible, "iTalk to God" app, my church's app, and iMissal/Daily Office (because I still love a lot about the Catholic church even though I'm in the Vineyard movement now.)

The apps for mindfulness and stress reduction were mostly free, although I did do some add-ons to music and guided meditations. My favorites include:
  • "Stress Meditations" from the Cleveland Clinic
  • "Relax Free" from Andrew Johnson  (We liked that so much we bought his Relax + app as well.)
  • "Calm" from
  • "The Mindfulness App" from Catherine Polan Orzech, who teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia
  • "Office Harmony"
  • Any of the apps from the Meditation Oasis team featuring Mary Maddux, especially "Simply Being"
It's just a few minutes, but I can make a big difference.  If I'm caught in crisis communications or meetings, I just try to breathe deeply about six times.  It really gets you more centered in less than 60 seconds.