Kids Don’t Need Friends, They Need Parents

Something that happens when you’re childless: parents think you know nothing about children.

I’m not a parent, but I do have nearly 20 years of childcare experience, and personal experience with this issue. There’s something we need to talk about: parents who call their children their “friends.”

I get disturbed when parents call their kids, especially small kids, their “friends” and, particularly disturbing, “best friends.” Why is this a problem?

As an adult, think about the things you do with your friends. Maybe drink, go to dinner, go for a drive, go shopping, have coffee, watch R rated movies, have a game night. Can you drink alcohol or coffee with your kids? Can you watch R rated movies, shop, or play games uninterrupted?

Think about the things you discuss with your friends, especially your best friend. You might talk about sex, about your spouse, about work, about money problems, about that jerk that cut you off in traffic, about trying to get pregnant, about how hard it is to keep the house clean; you might even complain about your kids from time to time. Would say say any of that to your child?

Of course not, because your child is not your friend. Your child is a child. And you don’t go to them with your problems, they come to you with theirs. You are the parent, the adult, which means you are responsible for them and they get to have the freedom to be innocent and not manage adult burdens. Speaking to a kid about problems they can’t understand, let alone solve, only makes them feel helpless and powerless. They see you stressed and they want to fix it but they can’t, which leads to a feeling of being out-of-control and worthless.

I know the pain and damage that occurs when these boundaries are broken. When I was a child, my mom called me her “best friend.” She spoke to me about everything that was happening in her life: my father, her depression, her history of abuse, my sister’s issues, all of her problems. She confided in me and told me wonderful it was that I was so grown up and could handle so much. Taking on her burdens and being her equal left no room for me to have my own feelings, my own identity, or to have a childhood; I was too busy being an adult.

Don’t do this to your kids. They will have many friends throughout their lives, but they will only ever have two parents (if they’re lucky). Be their parent, because God has blessed you and no one else with that role and responsibility. And if you need friends, find some other adults. I promise you, we’re around.

parent

 

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the

land the LORD your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12

 

Remember Who You Are: A Post For the New Year

christian-new-year-quotes-messages-5

Tonight is the last night of 2017. Even though it’s an arbitrary date in a calendar that humans made up, we still use this time to set new intentions, make new plans, and create new goals. At the beginning of another year, there always seems to be pressure to make yourself better, to do better than you did in the past.  However, in focusing so much on the future and how things could be better, I think we miss out on a lot.

I think we miss the chance to appreciate where we’ve been. The past contains important lessons, and a view of our journey. We need to take a moment to stop, and just honor our path to the place we are now.

To much focus on how things can get better leads us to forgetting how blessed we are in the present. This is a big one for me. For most of my life, whenever I set a goal, I didn’t do it to improve– I did it to become worthy. Losing weight (even when I didn’t need to) was to become worthy. Working was to become worthy. Going to school was to become worthy.

The problem with trying to achieve goals to make up for feeling like a defective human as opposed to wanting to achieve a goal for its own sake is that the former will always, always, set you up to fail. Because there is no accomplishment on this earth that can make you feel like enough until you accept that you are God’s creation, holy and beloved, and that nothing can take that intrinsic worth away from you. There is no amount of pounds lost or miles run or money made, no grades high enough or enough good deeds done to equal what you already have right there in your heart, if you’d only recognize it: the beauty of the light of Christ that shines through the darkest depths.

I started college when I was 17. I’m 34, and I only now graduated. Why? Because I only now accepted that I am a whole, healed human being who deserves to be happy, who deserves to graduate and accomplish my dreams. I never graduated before, not because I wasn’t smart enough or because I couldn’t handle the work but because I was afraid of being happy. I honestly didn’t believe I deserved that. So I tanked the play, for nearly twenty years.

Before you set a new goal, make a new plan, or dream a new dream this year, do yourself a favor: stop. Take a few minutes. Look back on 2017 and appreciate how far you’ve come, how hard you had to work to get here. Honor your journey and all the lessons contained therein. Think about your goal and why you chose it. Are you trying to better something in your life for the sake of making it better? Or are you trying to make up for a lack of self-worth? Check in with God, and pray on your goal. You’re going to need His help to accomplish it anyway. Ask Him to be with you as you walk this this new path. Ask Him to heal any places in you that still feel unworthy; to remind you of His promises, His love.

Setting goals and making plans are good things. Keep your heart centered in the right place, and may God lead you to where you’re meant to be in this coming year.

 

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: 

The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17

 

Ripping Down the Walls: Our Stories Are What Heal Us (Part 3)

The walls we build around us to keep out sadness, also keeps out joy

In my final post, I’d like to address my fellow sufferers of mental illness and chronic physical illness.

So to begin with, it sucks being a patient, and knowing that you have to be one for the foreseeable future– and let’s be real, for most of us it will be the rest of our lives– that just. Plain. Sucks.

It is, however, what it is. So I decided to accept the reality of my life– the fact that there are certain things I will not be able to do, and certain things I will need have help to do, and certain things I will have to do to maintain stability that other people don’t– and not be bitter about it. That doesn’t mean I don’t get pissed off and frustrated at times with the limitations my mental and physical illnesses place on my life. It just means I don’t live there.

Also, it’s not all limitations. My illnesses grant me certain skills and abilities other people do not have, too. I have a depth of compassion for people that I would not if I didn’t deal with these issues. I have an extraordinary level of creativity and intelligence, and when I write I have a deep well of emotional experience to draw from. I will be a better nurse because I’ve been a patient and a better priest because of the deep spiritual work I’ve done to heal and the faith that sustains me through these trials. I will be able to spot mental illness in my patients that come in for physical problems before other nurses. These are all useful and valuable things.

I inherited bipolar from my father, who inherited it from his mother. It’s a family legacy. It became a crisis when I was fourteen. At that point I had my first major depressive episode. By fifteen I was cutting myself every day, my anorexia, which had begun at age nine, and my bulimia, which had just started, were in full bloom, and I was abusing prescription drugs (that I got from my father, actually. He was a surgeon.) The day I had planned to commit suicide a teacher found my sliced up arms, informed my mother, and I was admitted to my first psychiatric unit. It was the first of many. My bipolar was not correctly diagnosed until I was twenty-one, which is typical; it takes on average six years for bipolar to be correctly identified and treated. Due to other co-morbid issues– the complex PTSD, dissociative disorder, eating disorders, etc– it took another six years before I was stable on medication.

I have been on some type of psychiatric medication non-stop since I was fourteen. Times when I have tried to go off of it have resulted in suicidal depression, panic, mania, and even psychosis. Going off of medication is simply not an option for me; my brain needs it to function. I am absolutely willing to put up with taking twenty pills a day, dealing with side effects, and seeing a psychiatrist 2-4 times a year if it means I stay functional and sane. Without question and without hesitation. Even though this is one reason that I can never be pregnant. I value my sanity that much.

It’s a terrible thing to be afraid of your own mind, but I have been, and I don’t want to be again. So I will do whatever I have to to remain stable.

Medication alone is not a cure. It is a tool that works in combination with therapy, good nutrition, enough sleep, healthy social interaction, and other forms of self-care; it’s an individual process depending on your illness and your needs. Do not let anyone tell you that “medication is toxic” or it will hurt you or convince you to get off of it because it makes them uncomfortable. Fuck that noise. This is your life and if it works for you, then use it. At the same time, don’t let anyone force meds on you if you feel they don’t work for you. They’re not for everyone. Again, it depends on your diagnosis. Don’t let your diagnostic labels become who you are. You are not bipolar or depression. You have bipolar or depression. You are a person separate from your illness. Don’t get too comfortable in inpatient treatment, ever. It too, is just a tool. If you take meds, I suggest you get a medication organizer and fill it once a week to keep you on track. It may also be helpful to keep a journal to track your symptoms. When you see your doctor, go over it with him/her. Have a list of people to call when you need help for specific things; I have a list that’s like, “when I need a pep talk,” “when I need a listening ear,” “when I need unconditional love,” “when I needs spiritual support,” “when I need immediate help.” I have those people and their phone numbers in my cell phone in a special file. And for God’s sake: if you are feeling suicidal, do not mess around. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Counselors are available there twenty-four hours a day to help you if you are in crisis. (Also available at National Suicide Prevention Lifeline where you can chat online with counselors.)

Mental illness does not have to run your life. As long as you take care of yourself, it can be manageable.

Physical chronic illness is similar. It takes diligent self-care to manage. I’m doing so much better in this area thanks to being on Plexus. My pain levels have gone dramatically down and my energy has gone dramatically up. I’m able to focus to get things done. A lot of the side effects I had from my psychiatric medication– bloating, constipation, brain fog, etc– have been completely resolved by the Plexus products I take. It’s really remarkable and like nothing else I’ve ever found. So if you have an autoimmune disease, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or are trying to manage the side effects of psychiatric medication, I highly recommend you give Plexus a try or at least check it out. (You can do so here.)

This isn’t a Plexus ad, however, so let me say that managing chronic illness also involves making sure, like with everything else, that you are well-nourished, well-hydrated, well-rested, and taking all prescribed medications. Taking care of your stress is a huge factor for managing chronic physical illness as well. Get therapy or pastoral counseling. Have a spiritual practice that you do regularly. Have distractions available for when you have bad pain days; for me that means cuddling with my cat and watching netflix, cuddling with my cat and reading a novel, cuddling with my cat and doing a crossword, and maybe cuddling with my cat. If you need to and it’s possible to, take a day to stay home and rest. Never feel guilty about saying “no.” You only have this one body, and your body has some special needs. It has limits that you needs to respect, or you’ll end up paying for it by getting sick or being in extra pain. It’s easier to prevent pain/illness than to treat it later so keep that in mind, and really weigh what the cost is to your health before you make a commitment to a certain activity. I have often over-committed myself and then needed to scale back. It’s a learning process. But no one will respect your health boundaries if you don’t respect them yourself first. So make sure you do.

I hope this series has been helpful to some of you. I hope I’ve been able to impart some wisdom from my experiences and give some hope to people dealing with the same issues I have. Have compassion for yourselves and each other. Healing is possible.

 

The Lord protects and preserves them—
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed
    and restores them from their bed of illness.

 I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord;
    heal me!”

Psalm 41:2-4

 

Ripping Down the Walls: Our Stories Are What Heal Us (Part 2)

The walls we build around us to keep out sadness, also keeps out joy

 

With this post I’d like to speak to my friends who are suffering with eating disorders and self-harm.

I personally believe eating disorders are fundamentally one disease with different manifestations. Whether you binge, binge-purge, restrict, or some other combination of eating disordered behaviors, to my mind it all comes down to a core belief that you don’t deserve to live. It’s a distortion of self, a lack of self-worth so profound that you literally do not believe you deserve to exist. It’s an inversion of the survival instinct, the one that wants to preserve your life; instead, it tells you that the way to psychologically survive is to physically die. And whatever method your brain chooses to go about that, the instinct is the same: destroy the body to save the mind.

There is only one way that I have found to heal from an eating disorder, and that is to reverse this instinct. To do that, you have to discover why you don’t feel you deserve to exist, what drives that belief, and tell that belief to go fuck itself. Because it’s just wrong. You have to recognize your fundamental worth as a human being, and really get that you deserve every good thing that every other human deserves, simply because you exist.

This is basic stuff that most people are born with, but a lot of people with eating disorders just aren’t. I wasn’t. And my trauma reinforced those ideas that I shouldn’t exist and I was unworthy. A great deal of people with eating disorders have trauma in their pasts.

Here’s some practical stuff for early recovery: Set reasonable goals. Don’t worry about it when you fail to reach them sometimes, when you fuck up, because fucking up is part of recovery. Do not let anyone tell you that one slip is the same thing as a relapse because it is not. If you throw up once, or skip one meal, or over eat, that is not the same thing as a relapse. A relapse is losing twenty pounds because you’re spending five hours a day at the gym or bingeing and purging ten times a day for a month. There is a difference. Slips are part of recovery. Relapse can be part of recovery too. Never give up hope. Never give up. Don’t worry about some of the little stuff they nag you about in residential treatment. For instance, I was always getting nagged about eating the vegetables in my soup in a certain order. Who cares? I ate it, right? I still do this. I do not have an eating disorder anymore, so let’s just file that one under “eccentricity” not “disordered.” The important thing is that you’re doing what you’re supposed to. Don’t worry about the knuckle-headed stuff. It’s picking your battles. If you’re one to isolate, be sure you see people once a day. If you’re a workaholic, be sure to take time for yourself. Remember that self-care comes first during the early stages of recovery, that you have to protect your recovery at all costs, and that is not selfish. It is survival. Find a spiritual practice that sustains you and do it once a day. Pray, meditate, talk to the trees, whatever. Just connect with something greater than yourself. Always be in contact with your team. Go to therapy, see your dietitian, see your doctor. And of course, when you feel lost, go back to the basics: make sure that you are drinking enough, eating enough, taking your meds, getting enough sleep, breathing deeply. Basic, life-sustaining activity. Those things come naturally to most people, but not necessarily to us. So it’s good to check in.

For my friends suffering from self-harm. So many of the same issues with eating disorders cross over into self-harm. I began hurting myself because I had bipolar that was undiagnosed and untreated, and I was so indescribably depressed that I literally couldn’t feel anymore. It was like living in a mass of black plasma that oozed around me, choking off my access to life and light. So I cut myself. A lot. I burned myself a few times, but I preferred cutting because, I don’t know…it just made sense to me. Later on I would also hit myself with blunt objects, to the point of breaking bones. This is very similar to the instinct I mentioned with eating disorders: destroy the body to save the mind. A great deal of people who self-harm have trauma. For me, self-harm served many purposes: recognizing that I was still alive when I felt dead in depression; punishing myself when I felt shame and guilt for bingeing and purging; soothing emotional pain; grounding and calming myself when I was panicking; forcing myself back to the present when I was in a flashback of being raped/tortured. So you can imagine, something that was so useful was extremely hard to give up. Self-harm also has an addictive quality, a physical high that comes from the endorphins that rush to your brain when you’re injured. It can be as difficult to give up as drugs for some people. I harmed myself off and on from the age of 14 until I was 29.

The only way you can give up self-harm is if you find something to replace it. You have to find a way to soothe yourself that does not involve hurting yourself. Doing that is similar to the process with eating disorder recovery; you have to reverse that part of your brain that says pain is pleasurable and preferable to what most people consider actual pleasure. It takes literally rewiring your brain, which is actually not as hard as it sounds. There is a technique or therapy model called ACT- acceptance and commitment therapy- that helped me a great deal. Just google it. You’ll go long periods of time without harming and then lapse, and that’s ok. It happens. Never be ashamed of your scars. Scars are not just reminders of wounds they are symbols of the healing of those wounds. Wear shorts and tank tops, go to the pool, live your life. If people don’t get it, educate them. If people ask, be honest. Say yeah, I used to cut myself but I’m better now. Every time you do, you’re taking away some of the stigma.

If you remember nothing else, the most important factor in healing from an eating disorder and/or self-harm is compassion. You must have endless amounts of compassion for yourself. This is the hardest thing you may ever do, and when you fall down, give yourself grace. Get up, move on, no grudges. Learn from it and do better. Have as much compassion for yourself as you would if your best friend were trying to heal from a deadly illness. Treat yourself with the same level of love and respect. You deserve nothing less.

Part 3 will address my friends who manage mental health issues and chronic health issues.

 

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10