How Mental Health, Religion, and Spirituality Are Interconnected (My Story)

If you didn’t already know, May is Mental Health Awareness month in the U.S.A. Depending on the organization, you’ll find different themes. #CureStigma for NAMI, #4Mind4Body for Mental Health America etc.  So far, this year has led me to looking for lost keys, and finding them once I’ve stopped looking.  I’ve found myself religiously pursuing the wisdom of spiritual texts and practices. I have been implementing old practices on a new level, and leaning new ways to look at the wisdom and teachings of my elders that I had previously either ignored, or wasn’t yet at a level of awareness where I could understand their guidance, even on a basic level. Feelings and experiences I didn’t have words for, now have new meaning. And as I learn and struggle with growing through changes I have moments of anxiousness and of deep sadness, while also experiencing deep gratitude and joy. Honestly, it’s been a ride.

So, it made the most sense for me to introduce the theme of spirituality as it related to mental health (or perhaps mental health and how it is connected to spiritual being-ness).

I’ve invited some special guests to talk about the relationship between Mental Health, Religion, and Spirituality. I write it as three items, but I believe both mental health and religion are the human touch we bring to spirituality. I can’t wait to share the interviews with you this month!

But before I present their insights and perspectives, I wanted to share with you some of my own even as I’m still learning them…it’s a journey after all.

The first time I started doing inner-child work, I began to uncover what I believe to be the start of my anxiety and depression. Even though we didn’t have much in our single parent home, we seemed to have just enough and I remember having a happy childhood. I spent most of my time with my grandmom and her friends, I loved sitting around them and being all up in grown-folks business. Growing up, I was the only girl my age on my street, so all of my closest and dearest friends were boys. I was for all intents an purposes not a “girly girl” and was frequently called a “tomboy”. That didn’t bother me, and I didn’t take it as an insult. I was shy and quiet upon initial meeting but once I warmed up I was an active, wide eyed, “chatty Kathy” around people I considered friends and family. Knowing what an introvert was and claiming that as a label simply wasn’t a thing. I was an old soul with a close knit neighborhood, and happy go lucky.

But then something changed. 

My mom would meet a man who would become her husband, uproot us from my grandmother’s house, the house and neighborhood of my happiest memories with my childhood friends and neighbors who watched out for each other and took turns keeping an eye on us kids. She also unintentionally separated me from the base of my identity, and the foundation of my wisdom and knowledge when I moved away from the one person who understood me the most, my grandmom. I didn’t feel right about the man she would marry but I didn’t understand why, my instincts simply told me he was not a nice man and that my mom was not the mom I loved when she was with him.

It was then that I began to let go of the girl who happily played freeze tag and hide and go seek with the guys, and replaced myself with a false self to survive the dysfunction of my home and the environment around me. Depression for me formed out of suppressed anger, fear, disappointment, hatred, and powerlessness turned inward with no outlet.

I eventually made friends with a few girls, one in particular came from a very religious family and while I knew prayer, I learned a new level of prayer from her family. She introduced me to ballet and I found my outlet in dance and peace in talking to this old invisible guy that watched over me from the sky. By the time I was 10,  I would have vivid dreams I could recall and write stories about, including dreams about the end of the world. I began writing stories about my dreams and had an invisible friend to share them with.

Eventually, my mom would divorce the mean man and start taking us to church consistently. I again would meet a man who gave me creepy feelings only this time he would be the pastor. At this point I was being taught not to trust myself and my instincts because I was just a kid…what did I know? That pastor, who was a married man, ended up in scandal being found out to have been sleeping with multiple women in the church. The second husband of my mother, a minister of the Christian church, walked out one morning, happily smiling and laughing only for us to come home from school and see half of the house empty and having to call our mom at work to report a robbery that didn’t happen because the step father was gone too. So as I prayed to the invisible old man, I was also being constantly lied to, and abandoned by men of power and influence. And the women around me were always taking it, fighting each other for scraps, and suffering in silence convincing themselves that their husbands and husbands (the not really married kind) were heaven sent.

I sponged it all. 

I eventually forgot about the peace I felt in that solitude with my invisible friend/old man of the sky, and I stopped dancing from the joy pouring out of my spirit. I thought about death a lot, and non-existence, I often wondered why did a mistake like me have to be so much a burden. I built my life trying to be useful, perfect, not needing much from others so as not to get on people’s bad side, and I wondered why I still couldn’t fix things. Why I wasn’t alright. I wondered if I was to blame for everything that went wrong. I went to Catholic school and learned that if I killed myself I would go to Hell; a fiery red flaming furnace of everlasting pain and agony, and I didn’t need any more of that. Great, now I had to stay in a world that I hated and that hated me.

By the time I got to high school I still struggled with depression, but it became a part of my life by then. I continued to have panic attacks when presented with any type of confrontation and I was a geek, without the honor roll to go with it. Youtube shows like Awkward Black Girl didn’t exist back then to help me feel like I belonged…somewhere…anywhere! My only saving grace (survival mode mask) was that I could dance and sing. I wrote short stories that classmates took a liking to, and I wrote poetry for friends to give to their crushes. Luckily, perhaps by Divine intervention, my guidance counselor took an interest in me and even though her goal was to get me to college, she became my confidant who I talked to about my depression.

I also had the mentorship of a male deacon (who sadly passed away due to lung cancer) and new church and pastor, both of whom I adored and saw as father figures. Both of whom never truly addressed mental health issues when we spoke, and likely did not recognize my mental health symptoms in how I spoke and questioned everything. Not only me, but other people in the church would be written off as “that crazy uncle” and such. Later, I would be able to recognize that people living with conditions such a schizoaffective disorders and bipolar disorders were just called crazy relatives. The rest of the members, mostly women would simply shoot my natural curiosity about the world and religion down. They were women of faith and no question, and I believe they were good intentioned and well meaning, but their rejection left scars. When I questioned things, when I spoke about my thoughts about death, when I mentioned my dreams I was written off as being disobedient, told I needed to pray more, and constantly reminded about “the enemy” aka the devil that was clearly attacking me. Of course “love” wasn’t just chastisement, but I’m sharing this aspect of how I perceived things at that time.

My depression grew deeper and deeper and I kept feeling worse and worse about myself believing that something was inherently wrong with me because even though I prayed, and did what people told me to do, nothing changed and I wondered if I was always being punished for everything that shaped who I had become. Church and religion gave me friends, and community, which helped ease the pain of my depression, but at the same time, I had no real relationship with this Jesus guy and the invisible old man of the sky he called Father. And quite frankly, I couldn’t relate to what was presented to me of either depiction.

Even though my dreams were so revealing that if I had known about psychoanalysis I would have learned so much about myself and my history, I stopped listening to my dreams, I stopped listening to the small voice inside my head that spoke from my gut. I found that could not hear from the G-d that my dreams introduced me to amongst the noise of dominating men leaders and liars and the women who made excuses for them. I couldn’t feel this Divine Presence that gave me Breath when I couldn’t see my way through my disappointment for the few good men who didn’t know how to adequately address mental illness and the women who though they probably meant well, encouraged me to just pray about it. I could not find myself, when everything about the me that kept bubbling up despite my trying to suppress myself simply did not fit nice and neat into the orthodoxy of “normal”. Even though the last Christian church I went to was a pretty good experience (heck, they even had a husband and wife team as co-pastors), the damage was done and I was tired of pretending to be a  title or affiliation just to fit in, to survive, to avoid conflict and confrontation. I began letting go of religion and eventually left the church.

My story about my relationship with contemporary Christian religion is not unique. Heck, even my fall out with religious communities and the belief systems they present as truth is not unique. People have often wondered why G-d has forsaken them in times of atrocities such as genocides, marital abuse, rape and so on. The very communities that give us peace in times of storm, also give us the most aggravation, frustration, and leave us with a deep spiritual hunger. Nevertheless, my story hasn’t ended with bitterness and anger though.

I eventually found my way into mental health recovery, and after some serious hard work I released, (and make it an ongoing and conscious practice of releasing) toxic relationships including the one I had with toxic masculinity.  Just as I began to question why I even held onto to a belief in the divine, I had a spiritual experience that I’ll have to tell you about some other time (though words would not be sufficient) and was compelled into purpose by the Higher Power of my understanding.  Based on that spiritual awakening I was moved to again seek fellowship with people who I could practice my foundational contemplative practices with, (now that I knew what they were called).

After an invite that came at the right time, and an openness to inner wisdom leadings, I began attending Meetings for worship with Friends, and I eventually came across an organization called The Mystic Soul Project where they caught my interest with a focus on people of color centeredness and pretty much had my full attention with the words “intersections of contemplation/mysticism, action/activism & healing”.  I volunteered to organize a local inclusive community fellowship where we could explore those intersections together. (Hit me up if interested to learn more!)

Through Mystic Soul Project, like other people who found it and attended their inaugural conference,  I too found missing pieces that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but felt their absence from my life. I began being introduced to concepts such as indigenous reclamation, decolonized religion, and healing intergenerational trauma, and how all of this has to do with mental health and spirituality.

There’s so much more I could get into with this topic and many pieces of my story that simply wouldn’t fit in a blog format, perhaps a memoir one day eh?

In the upcoming interviews I hope to shed some more light on this topic.

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Grab a FREE copy of my Manifesto “Because Love Is” no email sign up required

 

Building Bridges: Reflections on Loving Someone with Mental Health Concerns

loving someone with mental illness

With the car still running, he tilted his head to the side and glanced over to make sure he could look me in the eyes. “Before this goes any further…” I hadn’t considered a him and a me in any other capacity before that conversation, but as I took in his words, I realized that at that point in our budding relationship (because that’s what it was) I’d be fine if he decided to stop “seeing” me if my response wasn’t what he wanted to hear. That would be a first for me. Even if I didn’t like a person, the “people pleaser” in me would not want them to leave…or at least I wouldn’t want them to leave with unsavory thoughts about me and my ‘no thanks’. I carefully thought about what he revealed. Not because it sounded appealing, but because it was the first time I was presented with such a notion. I measured it against the values I’d finally decided to honor and concluded we could not go beyond being just friends. His view of committed relationships were a deal breaker for me as my view of family was a deal breaker for him. Our relationship continued the way it started (at least for me): no expectations, and even though I didn’t want it, still full of hope for genuine connection, acceptance, and honesty even if we didn’t agree or like what was being said. Much the same as any authentic friendship I already had. As the friendship blossomed, I began to learn things about love that I’ve never been present enough to grasp before. I began to understand more about loving someone with mental illness.

When another close friend of mine told me she was diagnosed with bipolar, I being the bookworm that I am, went into research mode. There are books out there about how to love someone with mental health conditions. As much as I fully believe that love is something to be studied, it is in practice that we fully grasp its meaning. As I considered my past, my discovery that I myself was that someone with mental health conditions began to shift how I viewed caring, compassion, and conscientiousness. I became more aware of my default “I” vs “them” I became more aware of the fact that socialization plays a huge role in the “othering” of people. Because of that I wanted to overcome social conditioning and do more “we” and “us” kind of thinking, even if it went against the grain. When I feel a bit more in touch with the “we” and “us” mindset, I think loving all boils down to the same elements whether one has a mental health condition or not. It’s simply that you love someone in a way that speaks to them, not in the way you’ve concocted in your head based off of how you want to be loved. Too often we mentally construct a fantasy version of someone molded from a shortsighted perception of the impression they left with us. Then we cling to the idea of what we should be to that person and how that person should be to us. I’ve been terribly guilty of doing that myself.

Here’s one of the hard lessons I’ve learned so far. The reason something so simple falls apart is because we don’t know how we want to be loved due to not loving ourselves first. How can you accept being loved if you can’t accept and love yourself? People love you based on what they, themselves, learned about love and care and can’t speak your love language and love you the way you want if you don’t show up for the love being given. I didn’t love myself. In fact, I didn’t even know, like, or trust myself. I was never going to be able to accept someone loving a person I couldn’t stand to be around. It only made me feel more inferior and inadequate because I saw more of what was wrong with me, and why I couldn’t measure up. This was the biggest reason my marriage failed many moons ago. And it would be the reason why any relationship I attempted would fail afterwards.

I didn’t think I was capable of love.

A shell of a person, I’ve been that girl before. I didn’t feel worthy of being loved, and I didn’t feel loving. I understood caring enough because I didn’t want “bad” things to happen to anyone, but I thought that was all I could do. I understood possessiveness, I have both been accepting of being a possession and wanting to possess. I understood abandonment and clinging due to fear of abandonment. I understood isolation and avoidance, and even abuse. It would often be accompanied with the words “I love you” but I knew even then that this was not love. My actions, however, didn’t want to cooperate with my knowledge. Even though I’d been hurt (was the “victim”) so many times before, it wasn’t until I became the “villain” that I was finally ready to acknowledge just how empty and dead I was on the inside. You see it’s easy to play victim, you don’t have to change because everyone else is to blame for your life. You can keep on being miserable, complaining about your circumstances, and how they make you feel so low…you don’t have to worry about growth because there’s nothing wrong with you. They are to blame not you. You’re just trying to help.

Love isn’t manipulation so that the outcome is always in your favor even if at the expense of you.

People say that love hurts. I think that love is simply hard work. It’s hard work not to get attached to someone and get wrapped up in fantasies of what you think your life should be with them by your side. It’s hard work to hear someone say ‘no’ and not take it as a personal assault on your character and self-worth. It’s hard work to believe someone the first time when they tell you and show you just who they are- that they are simply not that into you. Understand that their rejection has nothing to do with you. It’s hard work to walk away from someone who says they love you but are not loving when they can’t honor the commitment of your togetherness by respecting your body, mind and soul. It’s hard work to stay with someone who accepts you when you see yourself as worthless and not contributing due to lack of finances, mental unhealthiness, not being socially acceptable enough, beautiful enough, smart enough or strong enough, feminine or masculine enough. It’s hard work. It’s hard work to have loved and lost due to illness, or a life well lived, to cherish memories and not sink to a place of “I can’t go on without you.” It’s hard work to learn to love again.

I wondered if I could love “him” if given that opportunity again. I wondered if I could love them, the men I called brothers, the men I called friends. One day not too long after our car conversation, I glanced over at his smiling face. I saw him. This man who dealt with meds, and days of despair, and pain, and loss, and shame, and feelings of unworthiness. Who shut me out, perhaps thinking to protect himself, maybe even to protect me. When we 1st met I’d become love avoidant, careful not to make the same mistake of being so desperate to escape myself that I allowed someone undeserving access to my body without my heart and soul. I figured that if I only had mere friendships and casual acquaintances I could easily let them go and I wouldn’t hurt anymore. With him, with the love I’ve received from those I’ve called friends. I throw down the gauntlet. The glass casing surrounding my heart shatters into a thousand pieces. Yeah, the scars are there, but I’m still here, unbroken. Shedding shame, reclaiming my freedom.

Hope is an interesting thing. For as my heart swells with hope, I hope for true belonging, I hope I can accept as is, I hope for the experience of happiness even though it’s fleeting, I hope for the strength to endure the times we don’t agree and that even if angry we can still come back and get along, I hope for the best in you, I hope that we see the best in each other and think “how wonderful” “wow you’re pretty awesome even if you’re a dork” I hope that my worst doesn’t scare you and even if it does that your hope for the best still lingers and you decide to be forgiving and compassionate. I hope that we both have the courage to have boundaries and honor them. I hope that we can encourage each other without trying to control each other. I hope that we can be kind and understanding, that we can tell each other that we believe in the other and that we hope the other believes in themselves too. I hope that I will honor what I’ve learned about filling my own cup 1st by being responsible for my own emotional well-being so that I don’t unrealistically demand that of you. I hope I remember what I’ve learned about impermanence, and nonattachment, and still show up to love fully and from a place of wholeness with openness and trust.

I’ve come to realize that I had friends who gave those kind of gifts to me, and I wish I treasured them more back then. I can honor the friendships and relationships I once had now by how I treat myself and others. I’m thankful for reflective friends who remind me of that powerful lesson in life today.

I’ve come to realize that love has the capacity to grow in places you forget exists.

If love is truly energy and energy cannot be destroyed, then love has no limitations. It is only our limited ideals of what love looks like to us that confines it. I’ve wanted to run from love and loving, and even being loved because I thought that would mean a sense of control, security, and protection. I wanted to believe that love didn’t call out to someone like me, someone who took relationships for granted, someone who stayed in relationships long past their expiration date, someone who didn’t know how to even be a friend. To be presented with people, beautiful souls who fear the things I’ve feared, and hurt the way I’ve hurt, who hope despite it all the way I still hoped despite it all is no coincidence. As they learn from me, I learn from them. We all learn from one another.

And with this I am learning that I can learn to love again, and again, and again and again. And I think…no, I know that we’re all going to be okay.

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Kelly Master

The 2017 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 4 – Featuring: Kelly Master, Nonprofit Founder and Speaker

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/9Hf1DGxs7Ik

About
Kelly Master is Founder and Director of “For Dignity” a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen our communities against sexual exploitation and empower victims and survivors with hope and dignity.

She is a dynamic, tenacious Leader who is fiercely committed to advocating for the sexually exploited and to educate others.

She wrote her first published book SHINE, Uplifting Words for Girls in Stilettos as a sacrifice of love, and gave thousands of copies away for free to women working in strip clubs, adult book stores, or prostituting on the streets. She also sent copies to women in prisons across the country which ignited speaking invitations from Chaplains and Wardens in many places.

The City of Camden, NJ, S.Jersey Psychological Association, and A Woman’s Business have separately honored and commemorated her passion and dedication to help victims and survivors.

She is passionate, sought out the speaker who has a beautiful gift of translating life’s trials into opportunities. Kelly is a champion of hope and ignites crowds everywhere she speaks.

To book Kelly for your conference or speaking event, please email info@fordignity1.org.

How You Can Help

Donate to For Dignity at: https://www.fordignity1.org/donate/

Receive updates to get more involved: email your contact information to info@fordignity1.org

Resources mentioned

Polaris Project

National Human Trafficking Hotline 1 (888) 373-7888

Kelly talked about her presentations during our interview. Check her out in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B48hlobKdQ

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

 

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Emily Wu Truong

The 2017 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 3 – Featuring: Emily Wu Truong, Motivational Speaker and Mental Health Advocate

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/-yfTJoGvX8M

About

Emily Wu Truong is an award-winning motivational speaker in Los Angeles, who works tirelessly to address the misconceptions of individuals who struggle with mental illness. As a suicide-attempt survivor diagnosed with depression and anxiety, she transformed her adversities into wisdom, inspiring others to face their fears and find value in their own life struggles. As a mental advocate, she uses her voice to advocate for children in communities of color whose voices are often under-represented. She also collaborates with other organizations to create safe spaces to encourage informative discussions on equipping community advocates with the resources they need to improve the quality of life in their communities. In recognition of Emily’s efforts, Senator Ed Hernandez honored Emily with the 2015 Woman of Achievement Award, and the following year, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano invited her to be a guest speaker before an audience of leaders in school administration and mental health care. Most recently, Emily spearheaded the establishment of May 10th being recognized as “Asian Pacific American Mental Health Day” in Los Angeles County. In honor of this day, Supervisors Hilda Solis & Janice Hahn recognized Emily for her grassroots efforts in highlighting the struggles & resilience of the Asian Pacific American communities. Emily has become a role model for many, delivering her message that with help, there IS hope, and that helplessness is NOT hopelessness.

Connect with her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/MLEWu

How You Can Help

Support Each Mind Matters http://bit.ly/1JCYkC2

Contact Emily regarding a speaking engagement at emily.wu.truong@gmail.com.

Resources mentioned

NAMI https://www.nami.org/

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

 

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Vernetta R. Freeney

The 2017 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 2 – Featuring: Vernetta R. Freeney, Podcaster, Instructor, and Organizer

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/cotZK6rjZbM

About

Vernetta R. Freeney is the Creator/Producer of the podcast, ‘A Toast To Truths.’ She teaches stressed individuals how to claim their peace using journaling as a tool. She was one of the Top 100 Young Professionals in Houston 2015 and featured on cnbc.com and EOFire podcast.

When she’s not teaching you how to prevent stress, she’s reading a really good book, binge watching Netflix or cheering on her beloved Dallas Mavericks. Vernetta is a regular guest on blogs, podcasts and other media. She speaks at conferences, workshops, trainings and more across the country with her je ne sais quoi introverted speaking style.

If all this isn’t enough, Vernetta is an ESL Instructor for 10 years and founding Organizer of the Houston African American Bloggers Association.

How You Can Help

Support the Houston African-American Bloggers Association by working with the association’s influencers to leverage your brand message. http://houstonafricanamericanbloggers.com/

Resources mentioned

The Truth Confidant™ Journal 

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.