Saturday, September 06, 2014

Eavesdropping on FEAR

I woke up the other night overhearing a conversation that was in progress. I got really curious about this conversation because I think the one speaking was talking about me. Since I couldn't sleep, I decided to eavesdrop and listen in on what was being said. I quickly realized that I was, in fact, the topic of conversation and that the one speaking about me was Fear.

Fear didn't speak English - not in the conversation I was listening to. It spoke its own language. It was not a spoken language at all or even a nonverbal language. Fear spoke one of the emotional languages, so it was not easy for me to interpret the meaning of what it said in any efficient or quick way. I labored heavily translating fear-speak into English. It was exhausting at times.

I write down everything I heard. Here is what Fear believes about me:

Fear believes I am weak. It says I am merely the sum of my instincts and so is everyone else. It believes that the powerful will dominate and that I am not powerful.

Fear believes I am stupid. It wants to convince me that I don't think right and everyone else knows it - and everyone else exploits it. It wants me to believe that the joke is on me, that everyone else holds in their laughter until I am gone, and then their mocking, contemptuous and gleeful laughter pours out at my expense.

Fear believes my body is ugly. It says I am undesirable. It wants me to believe that anyone who gives me attention can have me, that affirmation is enough, that affirmation is all there is. It believes that my body is not spiritual, that my body is worthless, that my body is the problem.

Fear believes that I am dying. It says death is the end and the end is near. It says we are all dying and therefore life is pointless. Fear believes life ends when the body quits.

Fear believes that I am insignificant. It says I do not matter, that my life makes no difference, that my death would not even be noticed.

Fear believes I am powerless. It wants to convince me that life happens to me and there is nothing I can do about it. It is trying to find a way to get me to believe that I cannot resist, that I cannot subvert, that I cannot be myself because an identity will be issued to me regardless of who I am.

Fear believes I am unlovable. It wants me to assume that if people really knew me they would hate me. It wants to convince me that pretending is my best chance for love, that being fake is the pathway to acceptance.

Fear believes I am unforgivable. It wants me to believe that I have done too much that is too wrong, that I am permanently stained, that I am broken beyond repair. Fear wants to convince me that I cannot be OK because of what I've done.

Fear believes I will never get home - because there is no such thing. It says I was born to be homeless, that there is no where to go, that the very deepest and purest longing of my heart is a lie. It wants to convince me that my longing for home is evidence that I am crazy.

Fear believes I am alone, completely isolated. It says people aren't worth trusting and that it's all up too me. It says that friendship with Fear is the best I can do.

Fear believes I should worry all the time. It desires for me to be consumed in anxiety. It wants to convince me that hope is for fools and that peace is a lie because it is impossible.

Fear believes gratification is the solution, that distraction solves problems. Fear says pain is the enemy and that medication, gratification, and sedation are the solution. It believe numb comfort is the highest achievement.

After listening to what Fear believes about me, I had this response:

Fear does not know me.
Fear does not understand me.
Fear underestimates me badly.
Fear does not know God.
Fear lies.
Fear has nothing better to do.
Fear is the opposite of everything I know of love.
Fear is the absence of love.
Fear is death in slow motion.
Fear is desperate to justify its existence.
Fear is the taproot of hate: hate of self, hate of other, hate of God.
Fear has many words, but nothing to say.
Fear has many ideas, but none of them life-giving.
Fear is death energy.
Fear makes many claims, but none of them are true.

None of us is what Fear believes us to be.

We are children of God, born with the DNA of our parents - God.
We are vulnerable, yet strong;
We are sensitive, but fierce;
Our lives have inherent, intrinsic, and immutable meaning;
Our collective mistakes are a single drop of water in the galaxy;
We are the answer to God's question, "what is the most loveable thing I could create?"
Inside of us are infinite capacities for beauty, compassion, love, courage;
We were meant for each other, to help tap into our infinite capacities;
We were meant to live, to love, and to long for home;

The only power Fear has is when its lies are believed as truth.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Night Visitor

It whispers to the soul,
While  asleep at night;
A lie? A warning?
Hollywood in head,
Boulder on chest, 
Naive hopes at 9,
That 11 will bring any rest

It riots between neurons, 
While asleep at night;
A disease? A disorder?
Snuff out serotonin smiles;
Gas to cortisol flames;
Microscopic wildfires,
Igniting burning shame.

It hovers and stares, 
While asleep at night;
A devil? A demon? 
Blood chums waters,
Circling soul-shark;
Swallowing whole the light;
With its lust for the dark;

Awakened by the whisper, 
Awash in panic -
So far from the sun,
In the company of a ghost,
In the company of none;
In the company of no one;
In the company of know One;
In the company of Known One.



Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Joy of Confession

No one likes to confess. Confessing means there was some wrong, some violation - perhaps a sin of some sort. It also means that there is some reason to take ownership of that wrong. It also means that the ownership of that wrong is communicated to some other. Confession is difficult because it makes vulnerable the confessor.

Sometimes confession is repugnant to people because sometimes confession is forced. It is the outcome of oppressive acts perpetrated by the powerful. Even if there is some genuine desire to draw out some genuine sense of contriteness, such an outcome cannot be forced. Forced confession, even if it is a true telling of the wrongs, is contrived contriteness.

Some people view confession like self-harm, like spiritual cutting. Why in the world would a person do that to themselves? Others view confession as some sort of exhibitionism - a desperate move for attention. And to be sure, there are some people who share their darkest secrets for these purposes, but these people are not actually confessing. There are a variety of things they may be doing, but confession, in these cases, is not one of them.

So, where is this "joy" in confession?

The joy in confession comes in the relief felt in taking a secret from inside and setting it on the outside, into a social context of you and another who loves you no matter what. Two can bear the weight of the sin more than one. When confession is a discipline, a common thing, the practice of the day or week, it loses its fearful anticipation of what bad thing might happen in confession and turns into the desired process that provides so much relief of holding in anything for too long.

When confession is a frequent discipline, it functions like other normal part of the day - exhaling, going to sleep, going to the bathroom, perhaps sneezing. In the discipline of confession, there is no sense to be made of waiting for some big infraction or for the minor infractions to accumulate to a critical mass. Daily confession is spiritual health like exercise is the body.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Ache

The Ache,
When it intrudes,
Is watermelon-sized,
Like a third lung in the chest,
Pressing everything else out of place;
Heart pushed back,
Tears pushed up,
Soul pushed down.

The Ache,
When it intrudes,
Makes announcements, at strange times,
Like television commercials,
Drowning out meaningful conversation,
Tarantino of dreams
Shyamalan of visions
Steven King of memories.

The Ache,
When it intrudes,
Weighs in at twice bodyweight,
Like instant obesity,
With a sweat-sheen of shame,
Knees buckling,
Lungs laboring,
Back hunching.

Oh unwelcomed intruder,
You are invited,
To leave,
And relocate,
Into the sea,
Into space,
Into Hell where you belong

This space is reserved for the One,
Who lived pre-Ache
And outlives all Aches
And redeems the mess you made
With soothing mercy balm
To the soresoul
To the worrysoul
To the hopesoul

Monday, August 25, 2014

Psalm For Home

We are all tender inside;
Wounds so slow to heal;
Places so easy to wound;
We can get so afraid,
Because it can hurt so bad
Just to be touched

We wonder why flesh covers bone,
And not the other way around;
We fight like warriors,
But we are built to play and dance -
Like children

Don't touch:
Too hot,
Too cold,
Too strong,
Too - This place is just too

Shaken from:
The storm,
The quake,
The war,
The abuse,
The dismissal,
The neglect,
The forgottenness,
The sting after sting after sting after sting - they just keep stinging,

To stop the shock - get stuck one more time.

Were we even meant for this place?
A parody of home,
A caricature of home -
This is bizarro home!
With cracked mirrors that lie,
And full of things that die,
How are ever going to get some rest?

I want to sing a song
And walk through the melody
That opens the door home
Close my eyes
And harmonize
With a song I know from home

I'll just sing til I'm there
Let's just sing our way there
We'll join a song already going
And it will carry us home
The Spiritsong in our voice
And we are home

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Blue Thief Walks

Hung jury -
The Blue Thief free -  
To kill, to steal, and to destroy,
Creative souls, 
Delicate hearts, 
Lives saturated in potential.

"Blame the dead!"
They chant at the intersection of
Ignorance and Pomposity, 
Like billionaires comment on slums,
Like Iowans speak of the ocean,
Like the history of Winter in Maui

Compelled to debate, 
While the Blue Thief walks
Into more lives, 
Like fog rolls in obscuring sight,
Like mildew creeps in souring the soul,
Like allergens debilitate with so much sneezing - 
As life is slowly extracted,
From the body,
Such that the body alone remains, 
Compelled to debate;
Missing the point.

"Who killed the clown?"
Says the Blue Thief, 
"The search for the real killer continues,"
Says the Blue Thief, 
As though his murders are not staged. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Community Engagement: Marriage and Family Therapy Has Left The Office

Marriage and Family Therapists are trained as systems thinkers. What this means is that when an individual presents with symptoms of depression or anxiety, the family and social context of the individual is considered to be at least as important as the thoughts, feelings or biological factors at play. In short, MFTs view the individual through the context in which they are situated.

To push the idea of systems even further, the MFT views the social system as the client, not a collection of clients. MFTs treat families in which someone bears the symptom of depression as opposed to an individual with depressive symptom that also happens to have a family. Context is everything for MFTs.

But what would happen if MFTs engaged on a level one step up from the family system? What if MFTs entered the system at the community level? What does MFT work look like at the community level?

Well, the good news is that it is happening already and it is happening more and more frequently. Here is what I mean: Traditionally when a family comes in with a child with school problems, MFTs think of the family taking their position relative to the school system. That is excellent. But now MFTs are engaging at the school level seeking to help develop systemic processes in the school to help families. When a family comes to therapy because their child is not complying with his diabetes regime we consider the medical community - and that is awesome. But now MFTs are developing ways to collaborate with medical professionals to help families to work in the context of other families with the similar challenges to build supportive communities of families. Healing happens better in community.

As mental health professionals trained in systems thinking, MFTs are taking lead in creative ways to engage at the community level for the benefit of individuals, couples, families, and the overall health of the community.

It is now more common than ever for an MFTs to engage with:

  • Hospitals, medical centers, and clinics
  • Public and privates schools, homeschool co-ops, and school districts
  • Non-profits, service organizations, and agencies that serve specific populations or needs
  • International NGOs, mission groups, and relief organizations
  • Religious congregations, parachurch organizations, and faith-based agencies
  • Neighborhoods and community associations
I am so eager to see the creative collaborations that the new MFTs will develop in the next decade. I believe that the MFTs being trained today are going to be the most creative and innovative MFTs since Minuchin and Whitacker. 

I am excited about the MFT students in the Lipscomb University masters program and the community engagement projects they will develop this Fall. It is going to be a joy to see what they invent and an even greater joy to see them get out in the community and deliver. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kenya: Safari

One of the cool things we did while we were in Kenya was to go on a safari with the whole group. It was amazing. We saw some of the most beautiful and majestic creatures that roam the earth. Seeing this giraffe so close was a  treat. So tall, it felt like Jurassic Park. 
We saw this cheetah eating a wildebeest. Just missed the kill. It was kind of incredible and kind of nasty. 

This elephant was the first of the creature we saw. It charged a little bit at us and the van driver's hit reverse faster than I have ever seen someone put a vehicle into reverse. 

This zebra and wildebeest represent the, oh, million or so of them during the migration. Wildebeest and zebra as far as the eye can see. 

 We imagined that God was looking down on us - right through the clouds.

This giraffe pair was so beautiful

 There were crocs down by the river. Made me think of Steve Irwin.
 And then there was this guy, a secretary bird - I think
Hippos are so big. There were probably 100 of them down in the river and the shore. And how can you not say, "put a bird on it?"
 And seeing over a dozen lions was pretty cool. Seeing this one walking about and not sleeping was great.

Mork, Mr. Keating, Patch and Me

I was 8 years when Robin Williams first made me laugh. His appearance on Happy Days as Mork from Ork spoke deeply to my third grade sense of humor and gave me a whole lot of joy. Since then, he has delivered the gift of laughter to me and millions of others in consistent and generous portions. What is more is that he punctuated the stream of hilarity with poignant and compelling roles in such films Dead Poets’ Society and Good Will Hunting. Every age I have been since my introduction to Mork, Robin Williams has provided meaningful and life-giving experiences. There is a part of who I am now that would never have been given space to develop without this man. His life’s work was replete with messages that opened up parts of me.  

His final message breaks my heart. The heart of the 8 year old boy in me breaks because that little boy still wants to hear about the zany culture on the planet Ork.
The teenage young man in my still wants the courage to stand up and say, “Oh captain! My captain!” The 20 something man in me, who is sorting out his past, still wants to cry and be held and be told that it’s not my fault. There is a health professional in me that needs Patch Adams to remind me that we treat patients more than we treat diseases and disorders and of how laughter is so healing.

As a mental health professional and educator, I also see the death of Robin Williams through the lens of depression. Williams, like millions of others, did not sit down one day and make a choice that he would like to wrestle with depression, but rather it rolled in like dense fog obscuring his psychological clarity or perhaps slowly crept in like black mold infecting him and his ability to psychologically breathe. Depression is an insidious experience that no one chooses. Sometimes it goes away all on its own like a common cold, but sometimes it is psychological Ebola that requires immediate, intense, and sustained intervention or else it is fatal. The problem is that there is no way to know on the front end whether it will heal on its own or will progress toward death.

Depression is always a serious situation. It always deserves meaningful and professional attention. The death of Robin Williams has further reinforced within me how important it is for people with symptoms of depression to go and get those symptoms checked out with a mental health professional. Getting symptoms of depression checked out by a mental health professional is no different than getting an x-ray on your arm to check for a break after an injury. It is just a smart thing to do. 

“I Am Depressed”

“I am depressed.” I have heard it so many times. You probably have heard it too. It is possible that you have even said it yourself. I know that I have. When someone is feeling down, having a bad day, has experienced a serious loss, or is having significant symptoms of depression, “I am depressed,” is often the way their emotional state is described.

I don’t like it – the language that is. The language that has become the most common way to talk about the problem called depression is also a personal identity statement. This is not good.

Think about it – people fighting cancer do not say, “I am cancer.” People who have the flu do not say, “I am flu.” And yet, the most common way to communicate a struggle with depression is to make an identity statement – “I am depressed.”

So, what’s the big deal? Who cares how a person articulates their experience? Isn’t this just a nit-picky thing for academics to argue about as they try to sound important enough to justify their position?
Well, as it turns out,  it matters quite a bit. Here is why:

Objectification. When a person says, “I am depressed,” they are making a self-objectifying statement. Objectification is treating a person like a thing, and it is corrosive to the soul. No person is the problem that they are dealing with, and yet that is what “I am depressed” is communicating and reinforcing. Furthermore, When the rest of us allow depression and identity to be synonymous, we participate in the objectification. People deal with problems, but people are not problems.

Dangerous. When people say, “I am depressed,” they are making no distinction between the problem they are dealing with and who they are. When there is no distinction between a person and the problem the only way to get rid of the problem is to get rid of the person. WHOA! This just got real. When the problem is as insidious as depression and people identify themselves as the problem, it can seem logically impossible to get rid of the problem without harming the self. With depression increasing the risk of suicide, this is no small matter.

Externalizing is healing. When we are able use language that makes a distinction between depression and the person, the problem can be externalized. When depression can be understood as something other than the self and instead something that happens to us, that ambushes us, that pays us unwelcomed visits, the problem can be resisted without damaging oneself. Many people experience some relief with the simple distinction that they are not the problem.

Just changing the way we communicate about depression, and mental health issues of all kinds, can help bring some relief. Changing how we communicate about mental health is a way that all of us can be part of a supportive social system for people struggling with depression. It is certainly not the cure, but it can contribute to a cure, it can be a first step to a cure.