Posts Tagged With: mental health

Only Love Thaws a Frozen Heart

frozen_french_poster_2847     So I finally watched Disney’s Frozen, the movie that has taken the world by storm as of late, the highest grossing animated movie of all time worldwide, and one of the top ten of all time period. I loved it, but that’s not really unexpected because I admittedly am a 27 year old woman who still watches the Disney channel on a semi-regular basis, and no, I don’t have kids.

I loved the message of this movie. It is one that resonated deep within as one I know to be true because it is a story of my own life. It’s a story I’ve lived. I must say, Disney, I concur.

When asked how I recovered from an eating disorder, sometimes I fumble with my response. 3.5  years of hospitalizations, inpatient, outpatient, and individual weekly, sometimes bi-weekly therapy, or a culmination of all of the above? The heart to hearts with my therapist/surrogate best friend-mom-older sister-teacher, the picking apart of each and every semi-traumatic moment of my childhood, the educational aspects, the cognitive changes, the life skills learned…none of it feels like the right answer. Something is always missing.

Because in the end, it was love.

Yet, when you tell someone you were loved back to health, you tend to elicit odd looks and skeptical responses. When you say Jesus healed your heart and put back together your fractured soul, people aren’t quite sure what to make of that, other than maybe you overdosed one too many times and left your brain a bit addled. People want something “concrete” to hold on to, some tangible method or a “how-to” list.

I can craft a “how-to” on formulating a meal plan for a person in recovery based on if they need to gain, maintain, or lose weight. I can draft a step-by-step on utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy in order to change your thoughts or dialectical behavioral therapy to combat the general inability to deal with life, and I can even pick apart all the ways the scale does not necessarily give you an accurate representation of your weight. But these things change behaviors, and even thoughts, but it takes one step further to reach the heart.

I didn’t fully recover until I had a change of heart. That is why even after the eating disorder behaviors mostly acquiesced due to the all, but not limited to, aforementioned treatment, I continued to self-destruct through the underlying borderline personality disorder. And I continued to hide under the covers in a mental fog due to the chronic depression.

When I say I recovered, it’s more like there is another step past recovery. Recovering from something means you were at one point not recovered, or rather, afflicted and struggling. And every time you say the word “recovered” you are still attached to what got you there in the first place. So yes, I feel there is another step. Where you’re healed past the point of “recovery.” You are no longer just recovered. You are free.

Free as in freedom as in it’s as if it never happened and your memories feel like they more appropriately belong to a character in a movie you once watched a long time ago and barely remember rather than a younger version of yourself. How did this happen? How do you go from having a frozen heart to being thawed and plumb cozy?

Frozen-Quote

 

Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.

I propose, the ultimate and most sacrificial act of true love ever known to the world- the cross. Jesus died on the cross to thaw my frozen heart. The nails that pierced His flesh, were driven straight through my chains until they snapped. And this love is so true that it’s the all-consuming, life-altering, redemptive kind that once you are aware of, every part of you gravitates toward it naturally like growing flowers leaning into the direction of the sun.

Healing was a process. It started with the love I found in the hospital for the first time, a level of compassion and tenderness so foreign and strange as people saw me beneath the outer layers that hadn’t been peeled back in years and I felt safe enough to remove the “Keep Out” sign from my heart and dust the cobwebs from around the door. Then I learned to express love for animals and accept the unconditional love they offered. I learned how to care for something, how to support another living thing, as I slowly learned how to care for myself. It continued with my parents and learning each other’s different love languages and how to better express them to each other, the discovery of the love that was there all along without me ever having understood it before. And ultimately, when I was ready and in a position to recognize it, the transforming love of my Creator. Once I finally felt the full power of this grace-filled love there was no turning back. Ultimately, it was the love displayed at Calvary on that old wooden cross.

It was Jesus. It was always Jesus.

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From the start it was the Holy Spirit loving me from the inside of those placed in my life, those trying to fight for my very existence. It was His creation and His heart that shone in the eyes of my first horse that gave me one of the first reasons I had found for choosing to live. It’s His hand in my family that led us to find not only mutual ground, but a relationship grown from our love for each other so full it overflows. And it’s the Holy Spirit within me, that loved me from the inside out, that delivered me from my deepest darkest brokenness to one who has found her light.

It was Him, always Him.

Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.

 

(And now, not because it fits with the theme of this post, but purely because I am utterly obsessed with it- the primary song from Frozen, “Let it Go.” Idina Menzel’s voice is pure genius, by the way.)

 

 

—–EDIT 5/22/14: This post was published in the May 2014 issue of The Kingdom Life Now, an online Christian women’s magazine! http://thekingdomlifenow.com/love-thaws-frozen-heart/

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Categories: Mental Health and Recovery, Spirituality and Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Body, My Instrument

This was a guest post I wrote for a long-time friend, former teammate and fitness coach, Rachel Ngom, posted on her website on February 13, 2014. I wanted to share it with all of you as well!

“Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Do not be afraid of it, or what other peo­ple think of it. It is the great­est instru­ment you will ever own.”

–Baz Luhrmann

Jana and Rachel- 2005

Jana and Rachel- 2005

I met Rachel a decade ago (whew, time flies!) on a court of blood, sweat and tears. Ok, maybe not the blood so much, but lots of sweat, and occasional tears, plus the scent of dreams in the making. Method of choice: volleyball. We became friends at a point that was pivotal for Rachel in her pursuit of health and wellness and I was able to watch her grow and learn how to take good care of her body.

It was a pivotal time for me as well, but I was on a completely different path where my health was concerned. Rachel was one of the first people I told that I was struggling with an eating disorder. She was the first to know outside of a couple close friends from school. Despite my urging for her to keep quiet, her decision to speak up and get adults involved led to the treatment journey that eventually gave me my life back. She fought for my health back then, and now she’s still fighting for health, this time with all of you.

Today, so many messages we hear tell us we need to lose weight AT ALL COSTS. We hurt our bodies and minds in the pursuit of thin and lose the point along the way. Sometimes we even lose ourselves. The point isn’t thin, the point is health and a full life.

Rachel always emphasizes, “You must eat, even to lose weight!” And I’m  here to reinforce that today, especially with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week approaching February 23rd to March 1st. I didn’t eat enough for years, and I NEVER got skinny. I maintained a normal weight throughout a decade of fighting anorexia and bulimia. But on the inside, it was a different story. In my quest for thin at all costs, my internal body screamed for help. At times my kidneys showed beginning signs of failure, my cells started breaking down and releasing CO2 into my body, poisoning me from the inside as if I were sitting in a closed garage with the car engine running. Heart palpitations became normal and a random blood test showed my blood sugar level so low, I should’ve been in a coma or dead. Somehow my amazing body remained resilient and kept me alive so I can be here today to warn you of where that path leads.

For the body, depending on gender and weight, we need a minimum of 1200 calories per day just to have enough fuel to sit and do nothing! When we eat too little, our metabolism slows down to hang on to every bit of fuel it can. If you aren’t eating enough, your body doesn’t know there are fast food establishments on every corner and a fridge stocked full of food. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it voluntarily, your body will go into starvation mode. This is the nature of self-preservation.

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What happens if you don’t eat enough?

  • -increased depression

  • -increased anxiety

  • -increased irritability

  • -social withdrawal

  • -problems with memory (not enough fat in the diet)

  • -decreased libido

  • -decreased concentration

  • -decreased judgment

  • -increased food preoccupation

  • -increased binging

  • -muscle loss (muscle cells break down to feed protein to the body)

The human body is truly amazing in how it heals itself and fights for self-preservation. After years of not adequately feeding myself, my body took over and fought for itself. I started sleep-eating. I would sleepwalk and eat in my sleep, with no memory of doing so. My evidence was missing food, empty containers on the counter in the morning, and sometimes remnants smeared over my face, pillow and/or clothes. Of course I’d want to compensate the following day for all the calories I ate during the night, so I’d undereat more, and the next night the cycle would start all over again. This went on for many months, sometimes several nights in a row. It drove my roommates crazy as their food disappeared and I was terrified of keeping food in the house. I was disgusted with myself and felt completely out of control. My quest for control over food and my body rendered me powerless.

In the midst of an eating disorder, I didn’t care what smoke signals my body sent me. I still thought nothing truly bad would ever happen, and even if it did, once I got “thin enough” I’d be able to stop. That’s not true at all, I wouldn’t have been able to stop. And life doesn’t magically get better because you reached your goal weight. If there are underlying mental issues, no “magic number” will cure them.

Once I healed enough in my heart and mind to be able to see things rationally I learned to see my body in a whole new light. My body is a machine. It is an instrument. It is an instrument, rather than an ornament. It’s amazing and it’s a gift and I only get one. Just like a car needs fuel and an instrument needs tuning, my body will perform when I take care of it. The more fine tuned, the more beautiful the music.

My body allows me to run, jump, play with my dogs, ride my horses, hug my parents, kiss my boyfriend, sing horribly to myself in the car, taste delicious food, remember my best friend’s birthday, and laugh. I laugh a LOT now.

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In 24 hours my heart beats 103,689 times, my blood travels 168,000 miles, I breathe 23,040 times, move 750 major muscles, and exercise 7,000,000 brain cells.

How amazing. How stunning. How beautiful.

As you read this, may you remember: your body is the greatest instrument you will ever own. There is only one you, in all of history. You have talents and purpose all your own. You are not just some body, you are somebody. You are not a number, and you have a heart and mind and no scale can measure their size. Take care of your instrument. Treat it kindly. Exercise. Eat well. But don’t deprive it. It’s not a slave to be chained and controlled, it is a partner and friend to be loved and listened to. You deserve to be loved and listened to.

How do you see your body? Do you think of it as an instrument to be tuned, a partner to be loved? Or do you see it as clay to be molded and conquered?

Today I have been fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia for over 4 years. I love myself and I love my life! I never thought I’d find such freedom and joy regarding my body or life in general as I experience today.

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Original Post:  http://www.fitwithrachel.com/body-instrument-guest-post-jana-wojcik

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In Loving Memory of both the Sinner and the Saint

   I believe lessons present themselves everywhere, all around us. In life, in other people’s lives, and in death. Maybe especially in death.

When someone in a family meets an untimely demise, often it’s the youngest and best of all of us. I wonder why we don’t gain more perspective in the midst of this. I feel like a whole new outlook on life should be automatically revealed to us. How can it not be?

I wonder how old sibling rivalries and hurt feelings survive a death in the family, how they aren’t magically resolved as the physical remains of one of their own is laid to rest below the ground. As we look down into the void of fresh dirt how do we not gain a glimpse into a bigger picture where possessions, money or disagreements no longer separate us and instead we find the compassion that unites us all?

I don’t suggest we have to be best friends with every relative, or every person we ever meet, but at the very least we can wish each other well and engage in positive communication. We can speak life to each other and break down walls, rather than look from the cracks in the bricks and hide behind the armed guards we have stationed at every door, guns loaded.

Then I remember we are all human. And try as we might sometimes we just won’t see each other’s side of things, sometimes we just will never agree.

But why then, if we are all imperfectly human, do we treat the deceased as if they somehow found the secret for escaping their humanity? We don’t ever want to paint the dead in what anyone could consider a negative light once they are gone as if it would be an insult to their memory.

Isn’t the opposite true?

Isn’t the insult to NOT acknowledge the hardship, the humanity?

Darkness perpetuates darkness. Secrets are followed by more secrets. Silence creates bondage. But one little light can break through them all.

Recently I saw a video of four average women who were given a celebrity style photo shoot and photoshopped into cover models. One girl said something along the lines that when you take away the imperfections, there’s nothing really of you left.

I lost an uncle last week. My dad lost a brother. I haven’t seen or spoken with my uncle in years and I couldn’t make it personally to the funeral. Living across the country, working two jobs, and limited finances sets limits on last minute travel. But I’ve thought a lot about him this week, about all of this, about all the unanswered questions and how they affect us all.

My uncle was an alcoholic. It’s unclear how heavily that affected his death, as he slipped and fell…having some problems falling lately.. but I would find it hard to believe it wasn’t a domino effect leading up to the instability of his footing. He also was a heavy smoker. But any talk of this and how it affected his health was shushed by some this week. Why? Everyone smokes. Okay not everyone, but you get my point. A lot of people drink too. So why is it so taboo? Because it claimed control over him? Because he crossed over that line from pleasure to addiction? Because he was losing?

The ones doing the shushing this week meant well. I don’t doubt that. They just wanted everyone to remain in very positive thoughts and make it easier on my cousins grieving their father, and embrace only good memories during this time. I understand.

But ultimately, I think that points to a deeper, more fundamental problem in our society- how we must fragment a person and section out their flaws in order to keep smiles all around.

This isn’t anything new… I had a great-uncle whom I never met, died before I was born. He was an alcoholic and found himself in the hospital. On the fifth floor he opened the window and was found dead on the sidewalk below. It’s unclear whether he intentionally jumped or was just smoking a cigarette into the night air and fell accidentally. My dad still doesn’t know what happened because no one wanted to talk about it. If suicide was even a possibility, we sweep it under the rug. We don’t want to believe that could be true or let anyone else believe it.

Recently I read a blog on Philip Seymour Hoffman and addiction. One point said  that fighting addiction once it takes you is like learning how to fight a mountain lion with your hands tied behind your back. If you haven’t faced this battle it doesn’t mean you are superior to those that have, it doesn’t make you better or stronger. We all have different battles, different temptations, different weaknesses. And those that have never faced this may find it easy to be condescending to those that have, without having ever walked a mile in their shoes.

I was an anorexic, bulimic, and borderline. I recovered. My uncle was an alcoholic and smoker. He still struggled.

Let me rephrase, I HAD an eating disorder and borderline personality disorder. My uncle HAD an addiction to alcohol and cigarettes. These things do not define us. We are so much more. I’m also a daughter, a friend, an animal lover, a hard worker. My uncle was also a dad, a grandpa, he loved fishing and golfing.

Why do we not see this? That these things do not define us? We still speak in hushed voices and sweep certain topics under the rug and don’t talk about it, while the next generation sits in the corner with wide watching, absorbing eyes learning that suffering is better off done in silence.

At times in the past when my uncle was in rehab, he didn’t want anyone to know where he was, not even some of his own siblings. I wonder if he could do it all over again if he’d choose differently. On Super Bowl Sunday he had fallen and was in the hospital. The few that knew were told not to tell anyone else. My dad never knew. My dad would’ve gone and seen him, it would have been the last time he’d see his youngest brother before he died.

But unfortunately these are things we discover when it’s too late, when we’ve run out of “tomorrows” or “laters.” I wonder what could have been done differently, if anything could have been done? I wonder why it wasn’t enough, why my uncle couldn’t save himself? Because as I’ve learned through personal experience, no one else can save you. Others can assist of course, but rescue must come from within oneself to beat any addiction. It’s the only way. Why some do this and so many are unable to, I guess that is no easy answer…

I’m reminded, in the midst of dirty dishes and bills and long work days, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. It’s easy to let friends become acquaintances and family become strangers. Maybe we get our priorities a little screwed up. Maybe giving a smile is worth the extra effort, maybe helping an elderly neighbor with groceries is worth the inconvenience, and maybe buying a few extra Christmas cards is worth the investment. We can always find people to send them out to. In our busy lives, people get crowded out and contacts narrowed down, but we’re narrowing down things that can’t be eliminated- God’s people.

When people die, we worry about protecting their memory in the minds of the living. But underneath that veil, knowing the good, the bad, and the worse… what I remember is being a little kid at my uncle’s house playing with my cousins in the pool. He was happy and joyful and entertaining. Yeah, he wasn’t perfect and sometimes he screwed up or did things that frustrated his family. Yeah, addiction plagued him every day of his life, and he was fighting a war every day of his life that most couldn’t imagine. But the grinning host, happy among his family? That’s how I remember him.

That’s who he was. He was more. More than addiction, more than loss, more than defeat. And I imagine he is finally home now, free with his Father, and grinning from ear to ear.

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In honor of: Suicide Prevention Week

Image       July 2007 there was a young woman, 20 years old, sitting at a desk in her studio apartment, writing a goodbye letter in an attempt to explain to the world what she was going to do next, though she knew no one could understand. No one ever understood. She knew what people say about suicide, that it’s “selfish.” The problem was, in her situation, staying was selfish. She was a waste of time, space, energy, a waste of her parents’ money… their life savings wasted on eating disorder treatment that wasn’t working. Nothing was working. She was a burden on everyone she ever came into contact with. Even if they wouldn’t admit it, this would improve life for everyone. And as for this girl, life was so unbearable, the pain was unbearable. It consumed her and wouldn’t stop, she had to make the pain go away. 

She wasn’t thinking about the future because she couldn’t see one. Couldn’t see anything past the pain. She didn’t feel loved, because she had this understanding deep down that she was unloveable. Somewhere along the line, those lies had taken root inside and consumed her, and her self-worth was stolen.

76 pills of Xanax later, as she began to reach for more pills, one thought prevailed, pushing through the pain. Her horse. Chance, the love of her life. What would happen to Chance when she was gone? She quickly grabbed the pen to add to her letter, fighting the brick wall of unconsciousness closing in, but she didn’t know what to add, how to possibly ensure Chance is taken care of. Not even a full minute later, she was asleep.

depression

from scientificamerican.com

That girl was me. I am incredibly blessed to have woken up from that experience a couple days later with nothing wrong with me, at least not physically. It wasn’t my first overdose, and it wouldn’t be the last. But I think it was the only one where I really wanted to die, as opposed to wanting a “break” with a blanket of indifference toward life, not that that’s much better.

There is a huge stigma in our world surrounding mental illness, depression, suicide. It’s uncomfortable. We don’t really understand it and we don’t want to. To healthy people, these things are so foreign, and we have no desire to bridge the chasm between “healthy” and “sick.” Unless we know someone personally struggling, or we are struggling ourselves, this issue is out of sight and out of mind. Well today I’m calling out the elephant in the room, and suggesting that if we stop looking away, and instead turn to look at each other, that maybe less people will feel alone, feel like they don’t belong.

Unfortunately even with community, even with relationships, a lot of times those in pain can’t see the love they are offered, as if it’s on the other side of an impermeable glass wall, out of reach.  There is sickness there, for someone to be in so dark a place they are ready to take their own life. But being sick, doesn’t make them weak, or crazy, it’s just part of the human condition, part of a fallen world.

In this fallen world, like Donald MIller acknowledges in Blue Like Jazz, we are called to hold our palms against the cracks of this broken world to stop the bleeding.

Instead of avoiding pain, we need to face it. Instead of writing off the “crazy,” we must empathize with their humanity. Instead of indulging the tunnel vision of our own lives, we must take our blinders off and follow the footsteps we were created to walk out: to love and be loved, to live in community and relationships, and to offer hope and healing to the broken.

Jesus came for the brokenhearted, for the sick, for the hurting.

Approx. 38,000 people die each year from suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death.

Someone dies from suicide approx. every 13 minutes. 

It is believed that there are 25 attempts for every successful suicide.

Every day there are over 5,400 attempts by teenagers.

I found my way out of the darkness, to the light. I found healing and redemption through developing a personal relationship with God and fought by speaking truth and His promises over my life. Even when I felt the weight of the cloud around me, and I didn’t believe a word I was saying, I spoke outloud:

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.   Psalm 139:14

He who is in me, is greater than he who is in the world.    1 John 4:4

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

No weapon formed against me shall prosper.  Isaiah 54:17

She is more precious than rubies and pearls. Proverbs 3:15

I declared the armor of God over me; Ephesians 6:10-18:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I felt that Satan’s hold on me and his demons whispering lies in my ear, were weakened by speaking God’s word out loud and by demanding them to leave in Jesus’ name.

Some tools for fighting the dark:

Well, for one, a lot of therapy, over a handful of hospitalizations, anti-depressants and other psychotropic medications….. but those things wouldn’t sustain me forever. Eventually I’d need to learn how to find the light on my own.

Opposite to Emotion is a DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) tool that suggests you do the exact opposite of what you are feeling. If I wanted to lay in bed and wallow in my misery all day, I had to force myself to get up and get dressed and find something to do. In order for this to work I had to find hobbies and things I enjoyed. For years I had no idea what I enjoyed, so this took some investigating, but I found I enjoyed doing art and crafts, and creating things. I enjoyed writing and reading. I enjoyed being with animals, my dogs and my horses, and riding. Even filling in the pages of a coloring book was a way to do something, anything other than sleep all day.

I found when I forced myself to go outside, let the sun and vitamin D soak in my skin, and get some fresh air, I would feel better. It may just be taking a walk by myself, walking my dogs, riding one of my horses, or just driving somewhere to get myself out of the house. I even moved halfway across the country to get away from the cold winters of the Midwest that triggered depression and wanting to stay inside curled under blankets all day.

A CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) idea is challenging your thoughts. Thoughts lead to feelings lead to actions, all are connected. If you can change one, you change them all. Changing my thoughts was hard, and didn’t come easy. But I learned to identify negative thoughts, and false lies about myself and my life, and stop them in their tracks, challenge them, change them. Changing a negative thought to a positive thought led to positive feelings which led to positive behaviors.

I learned that the act of smiling reduces stress and releases endorphins. So I started forcing myself to smile, even when I felt like hell on the inside. And guess what? Eventually I wasn’t just faking it, it became real.

I learned to make peace with my past and forgive. Forgive others, but mostly myself. I learned to let go and stop worrying so much and surrender to God and let him take the wheel in my life. I learned to accept that I’m human and make mistakes but it’s all part of life and can learn from them and move on rather than beating myself up and berating myself for them. I learned that if I would just get out of my own way, nothing could stop me. And most of all, I learned that I was a child of God. I was precious. I was worthy. I was not alone. I was loved.

Today, 6 years later, I am happy. I am free. And I look forward to my future with a joy that cannot be contained. I’m genuinely excited to find out what comes next. I am still human, and that means I still have moments, or days, where I feel down or sad, where I have doubts. But now, that’s just normal, and I am very aware of the enemy’s attacks and when Satan is trying to drag me down. I can feel that weight sort of cloud around me. But the difference is, it doesn’t latch on. It has no claim over me anymore. And I have people in my life who love me and anchor me if I feel overwhelmed. I still get overwhelmed, I don’t handle stress or confrontation well. But this is all part of learning, part of living, part of my journey.

You are not alone. You are loved. You are irreplaceable. You are worthy. You are enough. There is hope. There is always hope. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

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