Category: Stories

Breakups, The Greatest Love, & Healthy vs. Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Painful Emotions

Heartbreak: It’s a killer. If you’ve experienced a breakup before, you’re familiar with the emotional, mental, and physical toll it takes on us. Whether it’s the end of a friendship, a dating relationship, or a marriage, the breakup and grieving process can come with intense pain.

A few months ago, I went through a breakup.

Feelings of loss and insecurity especially bothered me at first. These are some of my specifically “triggering” emotions, causing me to think thoughts that made me vulnerable to my struggles. To be honest with you, in my initial moments of weakness, I didn’t choose to use healthy coping tools. I wanted to isolate myself at home, I didn’t reach out to many people, and I even found myself returning to old eating disorder behaviors…

The one healthy thing that I did choose to do was pray for guidance and healing. But even though I was asking God to help me, I still turned inward and turned to my body for security. 

At the gym I tried to make myself feel better. But rather than inflate my self-esteem, I  ended up with the same deflated heart. 

I was trying to console myself on my own – trying to feel “good enough” and “lovable” without leaning on any other person. Despite my rebellion, God swooped in and reminded me that I already am worthy; and that he loves me enough to pursue me.

God pursued me. 

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 121:2 “He heals the brokenhearted.”

The day after the breakup, I felt this gentle nudge on my heart that I should go to an event at church. Surprisingly, I decided to emerge from my cave of grief that evening. I didn’t try to hide my melancholy mood at church, but I didn’t go seeking sympathy, attention, or connection.

However, while I was there, three people came to me and initiated some very special and unexpected conversations. They were people who I wouldn’t necessarily go to for help; yet I received love, validation, hugs, and words of encouragement from them. When I went to bed that night, my heart was full; and I remembered that I’m worthy of love. 

I really felt like God was using his people – the church family – to speak truth and show his love to me when I needed it most. 

The next day, I turned to some of my not-so-helpful “coping tools” again. But God’s love proved stronger than my rebellion. Again, he pursued me through his people. While I was at home, three different people sent me texts saying things like, “Hey Jess, I was just thinking about you,” “How are you?”, “Can we talk soon?”, and “Let’s set up a time to hang out!” 

As much as I wanted to isolate myself during my time of insecurity, people were coming to me, pulling me out of my pity, showing me that I was worth their time and connection, and loving me at the right time.

Those connections, and the words of encouragement that followed, quickly began to build me up. People supported me. They inadvertently made me realize that I didn’t need to be so insecure or question my value. It’s cool to me that those friends reached out to me, not knowing what I had been feeling. I truly think this was an act of God.

Psalm 94:18-19 “Your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

What’s even cooler is that this pattern continued for the next few days: I would turn to my Eating Disorder, but then I would connect with someone; they would encourage me; and I would momentarily snap out of my mental turmoil. 

To end that week, God reminded me of my value in an even more unique and powerful way. I attended my friend’s baptism service. Seeing my friend joyfully and publicly display how Jesus had transformed his life filled my heart with happiness. But what made the moment even sweeter was remembering that I was the one who introduced him to Jesus Christ. 

As I sat there, I could hear God saying to me, “Jessica, not only are you worthy and loved by me and by others, but you have the ability to change people’s lives! The most important thing about you is not your body or what others think about you – it’s that you can draw people into my Kingdom. 

Right then I started to tear up, and I felt the weight of all my insecurities fall off my shoulders. 

There’s two things I’d love for you to take away from this story:

1.) God loves us enough to pursue us! His love is stronger than our rebellion. He can draw near to us in our heartbreak, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy, and remind us that we’re made whole and complete in him. And I think sometimes he specifically uses his people to clearly and audibly speak the truths that we need to hear.

I love that when God chases after us, we get to remember that we’re cared for and seen by our heavenly Father; and we learn that it’s okay to rely on him when we feel weak. Like these verses say:

2 Corinthians 1:4-5, 9 “[God] comforts us in all our troubles. . .our comfort abounds through Christ. . .that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.”

2.)  The other point that I want to stress is this:

The coping tools that I turned to (my eating disorder and isolation) did not cure my insecurities.

I think that a lot of us turn to self-destructive or unhelpful things when we’re insecure, lonely, heartbroken, etc. And those with eating disordered or introverted tendencies especially turn to our bodies or isolation when we feel insecure. But I found that what really made me feel better was connecting with people. Connection paired with a little bit of vulnerability created the opportunity for so much encouragement and healing! 

In Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 13, he urged the Christians not to “think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” I won’t go into full Bible student mode to explain what this means; but I know that turning to my body for feelings of control and security would qualify as a fleshly desire. Paul advised them instead to “clothe” themselves with Jesus and to fight their battles with “the armor of light.” I love this! To me it reaffirms that Jesus is the key to getting through external pressures and trials and to overcoming internal conflicts as well.

So my friend, I want to remind you that you are valuable and loved. If God would pursue me, I know he would easily come after you too! He wants to be the source of your security and for you to feel whole and complete, because you’re his child. the Bible says clearly that nothing can separate us from his love, and that he’s close to the brokenhearted. He wants to hold our hand through the trials of life and for us to depend on his fatherly affection rather than trying to do everything and feel good enough on our own strength.

Comments and questions are welcomed! Have a nice week!

 

Tales of Recovering in College Pt. 1 – “Oh My Gosh, She’s Eating!”

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on December 7, 2017. 

As you may or may not know, I committed to the process of mental and physical healing from my eating disorder and trauma the same week I began college. “Recovering” while simultaneously being a full-time college student has been the most difficult, rewarding, and eye-opening time of my life.

I’ve always been an observant girl, but recovery – and education gained from therapy – has granted me with such a unique perspective on the things that happen around me. In addition, recovery has provided me with some special opportunities for learning, growth, and outreach. I would love to share with you some random, personal stories from this season of my life.

  1. “Oh my gosh, she’s eating!”

Something I’ve grappled with and struggled through is watching how other college students and teachers treat food at school. When I started my first few months of school, I was quite sick, and it was crucial for me to stick to a meal plan of 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. Now, at that point, it was a struggle for me to follow the meal plan, because I was not far in my recovery. Food felt like an obstacle for me to overcome every day. I was severely uncomfortable with my body and with the idea of eating around people. To make things more challenging, most of my classes were around lunch time.

In one of my classes – during my first year – I had a stern teacher who made it an actual rule that we couldn’t eat in her classroom. This was really bad for me and my sensitive blood sugar, and I often left her class feeling dizzy or faint. I don’t understand why she was so against the idea of eating, because her class was from 11:30-1:20.

In the classes where I was allowed to eat, it was almost equally challenging. In two other lunch time classes, I knew that I needed to eat my lunch. However, I can promise you that I was the only one who ever ate in those classes…It perplexes me. As a girl who was (at the time) fighting against personal urges to skip meals, it certainly didn’t help to feel like the odd one out. Yet, I chose to take care of myself. I’ll probably never forget the boy who sat next to me and made comments about my food choices every single day. He always drew attention to my lunch, making me feel like I was weird for eating.

(Pause: You’re probably thinking, “Jeez girl, just stop scheduling classes at lunch time.” But it’s not that simple. I had to take specific classes, and most often, the ones I needed were at that time.)

My therapist always encouraged me, saying, “I bet if you continue to eat in class, others will get the courage to do the same.” Yet, our hope never came to be.

I remember walking into a new class one day and seeing that we were going to sit in a circle instead of rows of desks. I knew that if I were to eat, people would certainly be able to watch me. Time went by, and again, nobody else ate in that class during the lunch time hours.

One day I had a sandwich and some veggies, and it was probably the most agonizing lunch I’ve had at school. The boy next to me commented on it, and I was sure the crunching of the sliced bell peppers could be heard by several people. So, I got creative and started making smoothies for that class. I felt like pulling a cup out of my backpack and drinking out of a straw would be less distracting to others, and would keep their eyes off of me.

But hold on! Why should I have to feel alienated? Why should I care or change because of what people might be thinking about my food choices and my decision to eat at school? Sure, crunching can be slightly distracting, but I don’t think it’ll ruin anyone’s day. It’s not like I’m chomping away during a test.

That was a turning point for me. By the end of my first year, I was really tired of feeling like I had to hide or feel like I was “wrong” for eating. It was really inhibiting me from being able to relax and focus on academics as much as I wanted to.

I decided that I didn’t want food to feel like an obstacle at school anymore. Year two rolled around, and I was ready for things to be different.

Of course, then, on the first day of Biology, my teacher said “You can’t eat in this class, because there could be chemicals in the lab. Only drinks are acceptable.” While I understood the safety hazard, I was not sure how I’d get through 12:30-3:20 without eating. (And I had a class that ended at 12:20, so eating lunch before that class wasn’t an option.) But, I care too much about my health to neglect to nourish my body anymore. So, even though I don’t prefer substituting lunch with a smoothie, I had to make lunch fit in a cup. But let me tell you: I have become the best darn smoothie maker there is; and I had fun finding creative ways to pack enough calories and density into my cup.

In that class, I would unashamedly pull out my clear smoothie cup, and others could see it. Sadly, most classmates were often dozing off, having difficulty focussing, complaining of hunger, and running on coffee for three hours. There were a few instances where my classmates would say, “I’m so hungry! This class is so long, and right during lunch time!” In response, I would always say, “Yeah, that’s why I bring big smoothies every day!” But none of them ever did the same. So, yet again, I was the only one who fueled myself each day. I’m guessing some people were able to eat before that class began; but judging on so many people’s comments and tiredness, I think many of them did not.

All of this has made me so curious, and I’ve been trying to broaden my perspective to figure it out. A friend and I were trying to solve this mystery of why people don’t eat in classes at our school, and she pointed out: “For a lot of people, I think eating is like sleeping. It’s a normal thing to do, but we prefer to only do it in front of people we’re comfortable with.” I think this is a good point. It seems like there’s a general stigma or discomfort about the idea of eating in classes. Though, I’m not sure where this discomfort is stemming from. While my personal discomfort stemmed from an eating disorder, I don’t suspect everyone else has the same issues I had. Why aren’t the average, healthy students bringing food to classes?

Possible reasons are that some people eat beforehand; others say they don’t have enough time to make food; and in some classes, engaging activities could prohibit one from eating. Now, I can’t get inside everyone’s heads, but it looks like a lot of people don’t feel comfortable eating in front of others; and some people do not prioritize it. This is something I’d love to see change.

You see, eating is a natural, survival instinct and action. I really think is should be treated as a normalized thing to do at school. I don’t want to feel alienated for being the only person eating lunch. I shouldn’t have to look forward to the days when I getto eat lunch at home, because I won’t feel people’s eyes glide over to me and silently judge (or envy) my food.

Food is necessary. Eating to fuel for success in school is necessary. Eating is normal. Let’s all treat it as normal. Let’s feel comfortable taking care of ourselves.

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Fear, Breakthroughs, & Rewards (Part 2)

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on September 30, 2017. 

This is part 2 of my 2-part blog post. If you did not read the first post, you may want to go back and read it first.

A wise and wonderful friend of mine once said something so true and so powerful to me. It was right after I decided to get help for my eating disorder and right before I actually started the hard work of therapy and treatment. In this season of intense conviction and anxiety, it was a difficult yet encouraging statement to hear. She said:  “The moments before my biggest breakthroughs and blessings always involved a battle of anxiety and fear; But it was worth it every time.”

At the time, I could only imagine blurry images of these so-called “blessings” that she said would come to me; and I could not comprehend what sort of “breakthroughs” I would have. I was too focused on my fears and on the obstacles I would have to overcome first. Anxiety kept my mind on the negatives instead of the potential positives.

However, now that I have submitted to the process of recovery for over a year, I’ve discovered that she was right. The battles that I fought were indeed worth it. Now I’ve been able to believe and apply this concept in other areas, as well.

But let’s rewind a bit. . .What happened after I pushed past my fear and started therapy and recovery?

Well, life certainly did not get easier for a while. I walked around with worry and anticipation during the weeks leading up to my first appointment.  I constantly questioned whether I had made the right choice in pursuing “recovery.” I was so fearful.

In the months to come, I had to do a lot of very uncomfortable things. Recovery is an ongoing process of, “Okay Jessica, now we need to talk about this___,  and work on this ___. You’re going to have to stop doing this ___, and cope with life without this ___.” An eating disorder is, in many ways, like an addiction. It’s not easy or glamorous to give up. I’ve had to change my behavior, my coping skills, my thoughts, and go against my instincts so many times. It was miserable some days.

But something cool happened over time. For every hard day that I got through, I realized I had the power to do something I deemed impossible, before. I think this is a good example of the kind of “breakthrough” my friend was talking about. It’s a positive, uplifting, and eye-opening experience. It’s an “Aha!” moment where we learn something new about ourself, and we let it really sink into our brain.

Every time I got through a day without using one of my eating disordered “behaviors” or unhealthy coping tools, I regained some of my dignity and sense of inner-strength. Even when I had a bad day, I realized that a lot of my fears were coming from made-up scenarios in my mind, and that the pains of recovery were not as unbearable as I had expected. My anxiety and fear have significantly decreased around the things I used to have panic attacks over. By enduring hardships and functioning through them, I learned more about life and about my capabilities; and this has allowed me to fundamentally change in positive ways. The changes in my life and thoughts have been the breakthrough that my friend predicted.

The blessings I have received from this difficult process of recovery are numerous: Resilience, true joy, more peace, self-care skills, incredible energy, new passions, empathy, connections with some of the best people I’ve ever met, a more genuine heart, a deeper understanding of my self-worth, and an understanding of what it means to rely on God in times of desperation.

But remember:  before I gained the blessing and breakthroughs, I had intense anxiety and fear to push through.

Now that I’ve told you my experience, let me give you another example.  My story is just one example of what can happen when we choose to fight through the anxiety and fears we have about something.

Let’s say someone is about to start a new job. They’re intimidated by everything they have to learn, and they’re anxious about making mistakes. They feel inadequate to fill their position. But after a while, they start to get the hang of things. Over many months, they make mistakes, get embarrassed, have to prove their skills to their own self, their boss, their co-wokers, and their clients. They’re exhausted, but they haven’t given up. Eventually, they learn that they are not only capable of doing this job, but they’re also getting really good at it. Through the years of determination, they get promoted and are highly respected by everyone who knows them in this job. They now have confidence in them self, new passion for their job, new skills, and maybe even better opportunities.

If that person had not fought through the anxiety, fear, and initial hardships, they wouldn’t have gained the blessings and breakthroughs.

Here’s another example: New moms often feel terrified before their first child is born. And many often feel doubtful, anxious, and inadequate during those first few months and years of mothering. But they also often endure those hard days, become better mothers, gain the blessings of being a mom, and realize they can handle more than they thought.

I can think of more examples, but I think you get the point. Now, I want to encourage  you to dig deep, and do some reflecting. What kind of blessings and breakthroughs could possibly await you on the other side of your own fear and anxiety? My guess is that if you choose to struggle through something that isn’t easy for you right now, you will eventually be rewarded with feelings of accomplishment and strength; you’ll gain insight; you’ll become more resilient to life’s trials; and you’ll possibly even find joy from other blessings that you can’t imagine yet.

(Also, because of who I am, I can’t leave out the impact that the scriptures have had on me. My motivation to do hard things often truly comes from knowing that God promises to strengthen me, sustain me, provide a better future, and lead me on the best paths. Here are some of my favorite verses for times of anxiety.)

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” – Galatians 6:9

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” – 2 Corinthians 4:16

“”For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11

“apart from me you can do nothing. . .If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  – John 15:5,7

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

Fear, Breakthroughs, & Rewards (Part 1)

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on August 29, 2017.

This will be a two part post: Part 1 is mainly a personal account and background story. Part 2 will be more of a practical application, encouragement, and some insight for others.

There is a part of my story that I’ve only shared it with a handful of people. Now that I’m ready to talk about it openly, what better day to post about it than the anniversary of when it happened?

One year ago from the day I’m posting this – August 29th of 2016 – was one of the most pivotal days of my life. But I need to rewind the story a bit to explain why.

I’ve been aware of my struggle with disordered eating and body dysmorphia for a few years. At some point along the way, I heard about this process of “recovery.” Through social media, I discovered that thousands of girls (and boys)  like me were working towards freedom from disorders. At that point, I did not really want to give in to the process myself, but I was afraid for my life…So I began self-motivated recovery.

For many months before last August, I had been trying to improve my suffering health. I tried to eat more, set healthy boundaries with exercise, and focus on my spiritual growth. I was reading books about recovery and talking to the few people who knew what I was struggling with. However, since I had minimal accountability, my efforts would often fail. It was a roller coaster of small victories and major setbacks.

Last summer, I became increasingly aware that my energy levels were abnormally low; my mood was often unstable; and my mental “space” was often occupied with thoughts about my body and insecurities.

For several weeks, I had this nagging feeling that something had to change. I could not continue living this way, especially as a new college student. When I though about college, I became petrified…How could I focus on lectures and take good notes if I was tired, foggy-headed, and anxious most of the time? How could I be a good student if 80% of my thoughts were focussed on my body and my self? How could I walk around from class to class if my muscles felt weak?

I finally admitted to myself that my suffering surpassed the “benefits” I felt I was getting from my disorder. I was exhausted; I was tired; and my anxiety was intense. However, I felt stuck. I did not know how to move past the point I was at, because clearly my efforts were not enough. My disordered thought patterns were deeply ingrained and creating a prison in my mind.

Full recovery seemed impossible. When I felt like giving up, though, God would remind me of verses like Philippians 4:13, which says:

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Or Jeremiah 29:11:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

And especially Galatians 6:9:

“So do not get tired of doing what is good. For at just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up.”

So, I did not lose full hope; But I knew I still needed something to change.

The idea of finding a therapist popped into my mind. I wrestled with the idea silently for a while. I would waiver between, “No, I can power through on my own,” and “I definitely need professional help.”

Out of embarrassment, I really did not want to see a professional. I also wondered, “Am I skinny enough to be sick? Will the therapist turn me away?” Among other things, I thought going to therapy would mean I was admitting that I was “troubled” and weak. It would mean I would have to take time out of my schedule to sit in an office and have uncomfortable conversations. It would affect my family’s finances. It would mean surrendering control, giving up my behaviors, revealing my secrets, and probably gaining weight. There seemed to be way more cons than pros!

Yet, I still felt that nagging feeling that I needed to get help; and this feeling increased until I finally gave in.

On August 29th,  I sat on my bed, full of fear. I remember being wrapped in a blanket and shaking with anxiety. In one hand, I held a piece of paper with my doctor clinic’s mental health line phone number; and in the other hand, I held my cell phone.

IMG_3554I was scared, lonely, and filled with regret that I had allowed myself to get the point that I was at. I felt like a failure and a fraud. I thought about all of those cons that I associated with therapy. But because I have hope in the promises and forgiveness of my savior Jesus Christ, I made the best decision I have ever made: I ignored the screaming voices of my perfectionism, the stigmas of therapy, and everything in me that wanted me to remain silent and sick; and I called that phone number.

A man from the clinic gave me an “assessment” over the phone and directed me to a therapist, who I started seeing a few weeks later.

August 29th is important to me, because it was the day I overcame the overwhelming fear, anxiety, stigmas, pride, and vanity that were holding me back from living an abundant life, pursuing a better future, and trusting God. I walked into something that I knew would be painful, but I trusted that it would eventually pay off. That day was the day I said yes to recovery and yes to God’s plans for my future. It was the day that the course of my life fundamentally changed. It was pivotal

One reason I’m sharing this is because I’m proud of myself for doing what was so incredibly difficult; and I know I would be suffering so hard today if I hadn’t taken that step of faith. Just as importantly, I also believe and hope my story can encourage you to overcome hard things, too.

If you’re not sure you can really get past the fear in your life, I will hopefully persuade you in Part 2 of this post…Stay tuned.

 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17

” So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed every day.  For this light momentary trouble is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

An Unexpected Part of the Process

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on August 11, 2017. It is my most popular, viewed, and shared post to date. 

I recently experienced something unfamiliar. I lost control for a moment. It was scary. It was ugly. It was uncomfortable; and it was more important than I realized in the moment.

It was during one of my weekly support group sessions. (Yes, I go to group therapy.) As usual, everyone was going around the circle to “check-in,” and share their thoughts and struggles. It just so happened that my turn would be last.

Some parts of the heavy discussion were just really resonating with me that night. The others’ vulnerability was giving me tons of insight into my own self; and I was mentally “connecting the dots.” As we neared the end of the night, I had come to some pretty  significant realizations about why my eating disorder developed in the first place, and how it has deeply impacted my life. (But those may be shared in a separate blog post).

I felt an extreme emotional wave. My face went somber. My stomach tensed up. My pulse rose. Tears welled up in my eyes.

“NO! DON’T CRY. NOT HERE. NOT IN FRONT OF A GROUP OF PEOPLE,” I thought to myself. The song from Frozen may as well have been playing: “CONCEAL, DON’T FEEL. DON’T LET THEM KNOW!”

You see, I don’t typically cry in front of others. I don’t like it; I don’t like people to see my weakness; I don’t even like the way it feels. However, as soon as my therapist looked at me and said a word to me, I lost itThe flood gates opened; the tears came; and all eyes were on me.

My therapist later explained to me – and I further processed – that I had truly connected to my emotions in that moment at therapy. I felt my feelings, and I let myself express them. Normally, I shove those strong feelings down, and they sit in my stomach in the form of anxiety, until the “wave” of emotions passes. Or in the past, I would use my eating disorder behaviors as coping tools. I know these aren’t the best means of dealing with my emotions, but for the longest time I have feared the vulnerability of  crying in front of people, feeling weak, or pondering painful memories.

In fact, two days prior, I had a strong emotional experience in church. As I was listening to the sermon, I reflected, felt convicted, and felt tears form behind my eyes. But what did I do about it? I shoved the feelings down and let anxiety build up instead. Despite the fact that I did connect to my emotions that night, I chose to hide them.

I don’t know what caused me to give in to the tears and reveal my true feelings that night at therapy; but it seems to have been a turning point for me. My therapist actually informed me that my healthy emotional release was something that happens to anyone who is in the process of healing and recovering from an eating disorder! I had no idea!

It turns out that most people with eating disorders have a hard time recognizing, regulating, coping with, and healthfully expressing painful emotions. An article I found explains that most of us turn to “restriction, binging, purging, or exercise” as a way to numb the pain. I think the following paragraph explains it perfectly:

“Eating Disorder behaviors are often ‘used’ to serve the one suffering. . .He or she turns to eating disordered behavior to keep from pulling up the deeper emotional ‘roots,’ and deal with those face to face. Instead, they may binge to escape from feeling painful things or avoid feeling at all. They may restrict to pursue numbness, suppress difficult memories or decisions before they even reach consciousness. All of these behaviors serve to unhealthfully suppress the proper recognition, regulation and expression of emotional states.”

I may have thought I had dealt with the hardest parts of my recovery already; but it turns out that I still have some over-due emotional healing to do. Thankfully, I know that this process is in full effect. Just three days ago I was talking to a good friend about some serious stuff. We were processing something difficult, mourning together, and supporting each-other. As I was affirming her, I instantly felt tears well up again. It caught me so off guard. But this time, I let them come. And ya know what? She cried with me! It was beautiful.

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It was absolutely liberating! To be able to finally cry in front of someone – without fear of judgement – was new and amazing. To share an intimate moment with a friend – and feel a strong connection with her – was beautiful! To be completely vulnerable – and still accepted – was healing for me.

It seems that I’m flourishing into a more emotionally healthy girl; and I’m so excited about what this means for my future. Not only will I gain a healthier mental state, but also deeper bonds with people, more genuine conversations, and a softened heart.

Our Minds & Medication (Personal Stories)

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on March 10, 2017. 

Luke 10:27: “love the Lord your God. . .with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Today I’m focussing on the idea of serving God and others with our whole mind. I wonder: How can we do this if we aren’t having positive thoughts? If we are depressed, anxious, and struggling to find peace, joy, or confidence?

Mental illness, clinical depression, anxiety, and other disorders and mental struggles are so common and running rampant among us. Because of this, for a lot of people, it can be very hard to think in a way that is pure and beneficial all the time.

This has been especially true for me in the past few weeks. After having gone an entire year without an anxiety attack, I was reminded (shortly after that one year mark) that my anxiety disorder is still very much a part of me. Sitting in church a few weeks ago, my mind was a mess. I was stressed with school, relationships, and worrying about literally like 6 other things, all at once. My mind spiraled so far out of control that I became restless. I got up from my seat, went out into the lobby, and broke into tears and short breathes. This panic attack reminded me of who I am, though. I am anxiety prone.

Following that experience, I started to realize that my anxiety and depression are becoming worse. For a while now, I haven’t been able to focus well, sleep good, or feel joy as easily. I feel like a little grey cloud is hovering over me, taking enjoyment and energy out of my life. It’s making me an irritable girl who snaps at her parents and can’t love her friends well. It’s making me feel tired and like I can’t even open my Bible. But that isn’t normal for me! After some prayer and advice, I decided to ask for an increased prescription of my medication. Some might argue that medication isn’t the way to solve the problem; but I think that there’s only so much self-care we can do for our minds until it’s okay to seek medicine.

How can I serve God with my mind if I don’t take care of my mind?

I’m not saying, “Hey everyone, go get some meds to solve your problems!” I’m reminding us all that it’s okay to think of them as a helpful option. More importantly, though, we should be aware of our mental state! We should try to realize when we aren’t thinking good thoughts; notice when we’re slipping into a darker place; and evaluate how our attitude might be impacting relationships.

Another instance that got me thinking about this is that my brother recently decided to get onto medication. (And he gave me permission to talk about it). He’s in a crazy season of life and has a lot of responsibilities: he’s a senior in college, an intern at a production studio, he has a girlfriend, he’s trying to figure out his future, and he’s currently directing a film at his school! He’s got a lot on his mind; and lately he’s been feeling the way I was describing my own self. I’m so glad that he decided to try medication to improve his mood and calm his anxious mind. He realized that in order to best serve all of the people around him and focus on God and his responsibilities, he needs to be in a better mental state. He evaluated where his mind was; and there is no shame in that.

So, I hope this encourages you to pay attention to your thoughts in each season of life. We are called to serve God and others with our whole minds, so it is important to be aware of them! For some of us, medication might be helpful. For others, simply being aware of the fact that we’re not thinking positive, healthy, or true thoughts can allow us to  fix them. Maybe for some, reading scripture more often will be enough to moderate our thinking patterns! Whatever you need to do, it’s always good to take care of your mind.

Labels, Pressure, Danger, and…Pigs?

This post was originally published on wakingupjess@wordpress.com on December 10, 2016. 

Let me tell you a short (fictional) story that I find to be very powerful. It’s called Eye of the Beholder, and It’s taken from an episode of The Twilight Zone.

There’s a woman: a patient in some sort of holding facility. She’s been lying in a bed for a long time, receiving injections into her face. We’re told that she’s been removed from society, and the purpose of the injections is to make her “less ugly.” You see, she can’t be with everyone else, because she’s so ugly, compared to “normal” people, that anyone who sees her runs away.

She begs her nurse to take her outside. She wants so badly to get out of there, but her nurses and doctor refuse; telling her she’s just too ugly. She tries to escape, but the doctor holds her back.

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She negotiates with him, and he agrees to take the bandages off and see if her face has changed yet. IF her face looks normal, he’ll allow her to join society; but if she hasn’t changed, she’ll be exiled to a place with people of “her kind.” Ugly people.

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We wait in anticipation as the nurses and doctor strip away each bandage, one by one…And when her face is revealed, we notice that she is not what OUR modern society would label as ugly.

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But as the doctor yells, “No change!” Ms. Tyler gasps. The nurses and doctor pin her back, and we finally see what the “normal” folk look like:

She escapes their grasp, and they chase her through the hospital. At one point, as she’s running away, a projector screen literally pops out right in front of her. A newscast is playing of what seems to be the ruler of this vile race of people.fullsizeoutput_704

He’s passionately yelling, “We know that there must be a single entity of people; a single norm; a single virtue; a single morality; a single frame of reference! We must cut out all that is different, like a cancerous cell! We must conform to the norm! We must destroy those who do not fit in!”…Conform to what is normal

In the end, Ms. Tyler can’t escape. A man of “her kind” takes her away to the place where ugly people live.

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The End. Yep, that’s it. It’s really sad, but it’s an eye opening perspective on how we humans have created beauty standards. It’s also painfully relevant and parallel to the way we are in 2016. Why do I say this?

Well, first of all, this fictional story proves that beauty and ugliness really are in the eye of the beholder. In other words, WE (individual societies/cultures/large groups of people) determine what “beauty” is. Beauty is not a tangible thing that we can actually define one way. It’s ever-changing, and it varies from person to person. But each large group of people, in this modern day, typically holds to our own definitions of what beautiful is.  I bet when you saw that woman with the curly light hair, glittery eyes, perfect completion, and nice eyebrows, you thought she was beautiful. And I’m guessing you didn’t think the same about the pig-like people. You probably think they’re unattractive (or dare I say, ugly?). In that fictional story, however, they labelled Ms. Tyler as ugly, because she didn’t fit their standard for outer appearance.

Now, it’s obvious that we don’t send people to hospitals, put them on bedrest, or exile them to an island when they’re “ugly.” (Praise God). BUT, there’s some sad reality in that we (people of the western culture/Americans) DO have our own extremes:

(Let me take a moment here to say that the reason I feel so strongly about this is because I recently wrote a research paper about media’s effects on people. It was very enlightening. I also recently watched 3 documentaries about America’s beauty standards.)

1.We do have our own idea of what the ideal body types are. For girls, there is a pressure to be “thin, curvy, or physically appealing,” says Professor Richard Perloff, an expert dedicated to the studies of the effects of mass media. Boys have the “muscular, tall, lean, and ripped” shape to try to obtain (Perloff, 364-366). Some of these ideas about the body ideal come from media: distorted images, ads for health products, manipulative messages, and our natural tendency to compare. Other times, people (or models) can make us feel insecure. Either way, these ideas can pressure us to look a certain way or conform.

2. We use labels. We are really doing ourselves a disservice by playing with labels like beautiful, ugly, skinny, healthy, and handsome. All of these terms are relative, and they can make people arrogant or insecure. ESPECIALLY CHILDREN. In a survey reported on by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA),

“of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. . . 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight” (Martin, qtd. in NEDA “Facts”1). And one expert researcher who partners with the NEDA says, “more than half of 6-12 year-oldsare concerned about becoming fat” (Smolak, qtd. in “Facts”1). Also, Perloff says that children as young as three are already ascribing positive characteristics to being thin (363)!

These facts always make me feel sick. Kids are too young to be so concerned with their appearance! They’re more vulnerable and susceptible to believing what the media throws at them, though. And when they see us body shaming ourselves or hear us using labels, they’re going to catch on. (Young moms, PLEASE do what you can to prevent this).

3. We have plastic surgery. I just want to mention this for a second, because it’s similar to the story. I personally think it’s sad that we have surgeries for the purpose of changing our faces. It’s dangerous (deaths have occurred); and it shows to what extreme some are willing to go to, in order to look “better.”

SO, what’s the major point I want you to take away from this post? If anything, I hope the story I re-told opened your eyes like it did for me. I hope it helps you understand that beauty is a made up term, defined and viewed differently by everyone’s own mind. It’s also very dangerous when we assume that “beautiful and ugly ” equal “good and bad,” and that we should try to change our appearance to be more physically acceptable. I hope you will join with me in being careful with labels, and do your best to teach the younger generations that media is distorted.

Thank you for reading this. Let’s embrace what’s on the inside. Let’s embrace the unique beauty that each of us has!

References:

Perloff, Richard.Social Media Effects on Young Women’s Body Image Concerns: Theoretical Perspectives and an Agenda for Research”. Sex Roles, vol. 71, no. 11, pp. 363-366.

The National Eating Disorders Association. “Get the Facts on Eating Disorders” National Eating Disorders association.org. 2012, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating- disorders. Accessed 20 Nov. 2016.