My worst nightmare. What it taught me.

Life is pain, hardship, agony, frustration and many other words that we all could insert into the equation. All of the major world religions agree that life is suffering. Yes, it may seem very bleak. But I can assure you, it isn’t. Life is all of those things for me too. I was born at an extremely low birth weight, had brain damage to the center ventricle of my brain and thus was born with a condition called Cerebral Palsy (CP). To add to all of that, I have endured a handful of surgeries, all of which have taken me a year or more to heal and recover from. Oh, and add mental health issues to the list. I’m sure most would shake their heads and think Wow, I don’t know how you do it!
That’s the thing though, apart from divine intervention, I don’t know how I do it either! Being completely honest, there are days where I want to throw in the towel of my life and not continue the fight any longer. I’ve been to the point in my life, where I in fact have tried to take my own life. But what stops me from doing it? Fear of the hereafter. No, I am not here to debate religion or anything of the sort. The other night though, I had the worst night mare that I’ve ever had in my 34 years of life. I dreamt that I had written an email of all things, to my family, saying that I loved them all very much. But I just couldn’t do life anymore. The nightmare then switched to me being alive in a black hole, doing everything I could to get out knowing that I had made the wrong choice.
I jolted out of my sleep, which woke my girlfriend from her sleep. She instantly put her arms around me and I began to sob violently. I knew that in that moment, that suicide is never the answer. I wept bitterly, because of the deep revelation that if I had gone through with it. I would never know what the rest of my life held for me. I clinched my girlfriend tighter and told her how much I loved her, and that no matter how hard life got, that life isn’t something that we should quit at. I strongly believe that it is my mission, to speak hope to you, the reader.
I want you, to maybe for the first time in your life, tap into the dreams that exist inside you. Whatever that may be. It can be a simple as wanting to be a healthier and fitter person. Work towards it, drink more water, say no to sugar and processed foods. It could be starting the company you always wanted to start, but didn’t because you listened more to the fear and doubt that pounds inside your soul. It could even be the desire to be a better person, what are the steps that you are going to take in order to do that? While our hearts still beat, we still have time to sharpen the ax. But it takes time, dedication and discipline. Life is but a vapor, so at the risk of sounding utterly cliché. I implore you to not hide from the pain that you may have inside you, feel it. Embrace it and let it out. Deal with it, give it a voice, because if you don’t, things are going to get way worse. Suffering in silence is something that no one should have to do. Once you let all the pain out, allow the dreams and desires that you have held down to come to the surface and live from that. Live with hope and purpose. Learn to love more deeply, and let go of the things that no longer serve you. Let go of anger, regret, let go of self- hatred, let go of the endless cycle of doubt that keeps you from moving forward to the person that you see yourself becoming. Rather, allow compassion, self-love and forgiveness to enter your life. Allow a new journey to unfold in your life, discover things about yourself you never knew. Find strength and wisdom you never knew you had, allow empathy and understanding to take place in your life, allow yourself, the opportunity to armor up against the lies your mind tells you every day. And allow yourself the time to develop good boundaries with people who might have your best interest in mind.
No, none of this easy, in fact much of this is very difficult, but life is such a beautiful blessing. One that is to short not to pour out all we are every single day. Speak your pain into reality, heal and recover, but then go fourth forging a new fire and zeal for your life. You owe it to yourself and others to do so!

Mental Illness and Church Leadership- Responding to Dale Partridge

Recently, a pastor by the name of Jarrid Wilson committed suicide. Admittedly I knew of his name until I saw a post on social media that spoke of this tragic event. As a phycology major, a lover of the mind and as one of has a soft spot in his heart for people who suffer with the beast of depression. My heart ached. It ached even more, when I saw a blog from the Christian post that had as a headline:

People struggling With Mental Illness Shouldn’t Be In Church Leadership https://www.christianpost.com/news/people-struggling-with-mental-illness-shouldnt-be-in-church-leadership-jarrid-wilsons-friend-says.html?fbclid=IwAR3cW6bcPkMpaFWqxE1q6AypIFoYXPI2SUkROzOxx1_thJgcORpCuD0o_po

Now to be fair, I can see the authors intent, pastors are very often over worked, hardly ever get any time off and tend to be everyone’s go to when they have a problem. However, it is extremely troubling to me to say  that it is “reckless” and “unbiblical” for churches to put someone in a position of leadership, if they are having struggles with mental illness or doubt.

Okay, I can kind of see the doubt part. But to say that people who struggle with mental illness shouldn’t be in church leadership, is in its self a very stupid and ignorant thing to say. That would eliminate a huge majority of the Christian community serving the body of Christ.

            Moreover the passages used to support the authors position are 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, The author focuses on the concept of being “sober minded” as its states in 1 Timothy 3, along with self- controlled. There in a huge danger, I believe in applying these passages to people who suffer with mental illness. Because we first have to have a clear understanding of what “sober minded” actually is in this context. If we are talking about someone that is still on the recovery road due to recovery, okay I can deal with that. If we are talking about someone who isn’t very rooted in their faith, and is easily influenced by others, I can see that too.

Sober minded and dealing with a chemical imbalance is something utterly different, yes, depression can sometimes can get very dark, and we can lose our way. But to say that a person is not sober minded is a grave insult. I think that a person can depressed, and be sober minded in that they cling to Christ like a weighted blanket rests on the body. Those of us who suffer, might need a gentle reminder of who we are in Christ. But to suggest that it is automatically removes us from church leadership is dangerous and unrealistic. Think about the amount of people that have anxiety, or having a rough day and their thoughts are not the best. OOPS! I guess there goes their ability to serve Gods people!

            …. And for the record, have we ever thought about how Jesus himself might respond to this? Have we even considered all the problems his own disciples had? Let me tell you, they were many. I don’t ever recall Jesus saying “Hey Peter, you got too many problems, you can’t be my disciple anymore!” Nor, did he ever say to Thomas “Gee Thomas, I can’t accept you for your doubts, good bye!”

So what gives some Christians today, the right to act differently? Jesus didn’t give his disciples the boot right away, why should we? Now, I firmly believe that there is reason, as to why a fellow believer wouldn’t be inclined to a position of leadership within the church. And I don’t think that mental illness is one of them. We very well need  to institute better care for our pastors, but simply disqualifying then is utter nonsense. If you’re a Christian and struggle with mental illness in any form. It’s okay to talk about it, you are not weak or less then because your battle is different than the next person. Having this struggle does not in any way negate how the Father see’s you in his son Jesus.          

Why I Quit Leaning on Anxiety Meds

If you know anything about my personal history, you would know that anxiety and depression have been present in my life, since the age of seventeen. I have cycled through various medications, seen different counselors. And hell, I’ve even spent a few days in a psych ward. For the simple fact that I hated my life and simply wanted things to be over.

To this day, I hold in high regard and esteem, anyone who goes to a doctor, knowing full well that they need help. That is the single bravest thing a human can do. It takes a lot of guts to say “I’m not well right now, and the thoughts in my mind are far too much to cope with on my own.”

Again, thats a beautiful and brave thing to admit. Within my own journey in learning to cope with anxiety and depression have almost always been a part of it. I have tried several times to slowly get off of whatever drug I was on. But the side effects were too great for me. So I’d hop back on the given medication.

To be clear, I have always wanted to be off them, because I have always hated how they made me feel. Tired, slow, and sometimes more hopeless than I was at the start. To be blunt, most of the counselors I saw sucked, they were filled with pat answers and didn’t grasp the pain that was inside me.

The more depressed and anxiety ridden I felt, the healthier I ate and focused more on trying to fight back against the anxiety and depression on the Jiujitsu mats or with the weights. Eating cleaning, saying no to a lot of carbs and sugar and saying yes to more protein and water worked. Making my workouts more challenging and taxing worked.

Yet, this lingering depression and random panic attacks through out the week would hit me still. I didn’t know what to do, I was tired of feeling this way, and I wanted it to stop. Fast forward to seeing my girlfriend for to weeks (she lives in NY) I was so happy to see her, that thinking about taking my medication was the furthest thing from my mind.

I even told her a few days into my trip “Babe, I haven’t taken my anxiety meds in a few days.” And you know what, I felt fairly good. Apart from the slumps that I would have mid day, when the depression would come slamming into reality again. I would have moments, where I would sit on my girlfriends bed and cry. Being the amazing woman that she is, she held me and waited until I was done crying. She also would gently remind me that everything would be okay, because God loved me and she loved me too.

It was in these moments, when I realized that, I’d rather feel the weight of my depression and anxiety. Knowing that I was mentally stronger than I gave myself credit for. I’d rather face the pain and darkness head on, knowing with a hundred percent fact that this darkness couldn’t beat me.

I did as David Goggins talks about in his book “Can’t Hurt Me” and started to harden my mind, not in the sense of being angry or bitter. I started hardening my mind to be strong in battle, I would speak to the negative thoughts in my mind.

“Is that the best you got!?”

“Your wasting your time, because you have no authority or power over me”

I would ask myself, “do you know who you are? You are warrior, a child of God and one bad mother F’er.”

The more I began to allow, embrace and feel the mental and emotional pain, the more I allowed myself to accept it, and started using it as more of driving force, to push forward. I often would use anxiety meds to cope with sadness, despair, shame and my perceived failures in life.

At this moment in my life, I have a deeper understanding that, allowing the darkness to swallow me up is never the answer. Wanting to not wake up anymore is not the answer. Being able to go to the root of your pain is the answer.

Once again, if you are in counseling and on medication, I’m not telling you to get off them cold turkey as I did. And as of now in my life I feel fine. But I am telling you, that you are loved, by God and people in your life. I am telling you that you are warrior and a bad mother f’er and I am telling you that the darkness has no authority over your life.

Remembering Chester Bennington

I’ll never forget being a teenager, lying there in my bed watching MTV, when MTV was actually MTV. Meaning that they actually played good music videos. It must have been early morning I remember seeing Linkin’s Parks video for the song One Step Closer.  I was hooked from the first sound of the guitar, the break down and the perfect hybrid rap Rock vocals. The lyrics hooked me as an angsty teen. The lyrics were speaking to me in a way nothing else could.

I was a fan and will always will be. There was not a LP album that I was not a fan of. To be quite honest though, it was the lyrical depth that drew me in. The fact that the band was armed with a great live show was even better. I had never gotten the chance to see the band live, but I remember seeing them live on a show called Reverb Nation. There was so much emotional connectivity with the crowd, it was all so intriguing and inspiring to me.

To think that someone like Chester, or any member of the band could command such attention. When ever I was sad, depressed or angry it would be linkin park that I went to the most. The interesting thing is though, even through Chesters heavy, dark and even hopeful lyrics. I never truly connected that fact that he struggled with depression or mental illness. In my young mind at the time, I thought he was only telling stories of people that he knew.

There was no way he could be depressed right? I mean he was a world wide celebrity and had everything it seemed. That the was the younger, less wise part of myself. Now that I am bit older, I realize that it is truly possible to have everything and feel like you have nothing at the same time.

In my own journey with depression and anxiety, it was the lyrics of Chester B that gave me the room I needed to give voice to what I was feeling on the inside. I was never blessed with the chance to meet Chester, and tell him thank you for his words. And that I in some ways considered him a friend.

On a personal level, I often feel so up and down. Happy one moment and either want to scream or cry the next. I have had a handful of psych professors tell me that life, for most is very up and down or much like scribbling on a piece of paper. But thats never been a soothing or satisfying response for me.

The more I listen to the lyrics of Chester, the more I sense that he was truly crying out. Duh right? As a psychology major though, I have learned to pay more attention and see more deeply into a person. Are they truly happy when they smile or is there more going on below the surface?

Better yet, are we happy in a public setting and then fall apart behind closed doors? It’s almost been a year since his passing, and I honestly cannot believe that he is gone. I keep waiting for some FB article to pop up saying that he is alive and well, much like 2 pac. ..

But I guess that a big part of me is still in denial, that he is truly gone. All I know is that, we cannot afford to keep losing people this way. Regardless of what we believe about life. We must be willing to ask and have uncomfortable conversations, about how and where we are at in life.

We have to be willing to say **** the stigma behind talking about depression and suicide, for it is the only way to break free. We have to be willing to say enough is enough.

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Reflection on Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month

 

March is cerebral palsy awareness month, I’ve made a few posts on FB but I thought that a full-length post would be  good as well. I have lived with cerebral palsy (cp) for 30 years now. Yes, I’m 30 years of age, but I don’t feel it or look it. For that, I can thank the genetics that is in me. Cerebral Palsy is a condition that I have, not who I am.

Cerebral Palsy may be an extension of myself, but it is not who I am. First and foremost I am a child of God, who is loved from the earth to the heavens. This is where my identity lies. God knew my small frame long before time began, he wonderfully made me and gave me worth and dignity.

Having cerebral palsy then is a way that he has gifted me to reach out to others. It has allowed me to empathise with those who feel lonely, hurt and rejected by society. I can honestly say that if I didn’t have cerebral palsy, I probably wouldn’t have as big as a heart for people as I do now.

If anything, I probably would be more selfish and self-focused than I already am. That being said, there are many dark days that come with having this condition. There are many days that I wish I was different or like everybody else. Meaning that I wish I could run, walk and sprint. There are days when I cry out to God wishing things were different.

In these moments of self-pity and feeling of  helplessness, I ask the “what if?” and “why me?” questions. We all ask these questions, so to an extent its okay, God can handle these questions. Cerebral palsy is in no way easy to live with, it has taken me quite a long time to be at peace with myself, God and others.

The biggest truth that I can leave you with is that God loves you and created you with passion and purpose and no one can take that from you. People may not understand what we go through, they may even make fun of how we are. But I fearlessly proclaim that you’re loved beyond anything you could ever long for. Even in the times when you feel most alone, the most rejected the most misunderstood you’re loved.

I’ll be honest, there have been times where I have wanted to die. Just to be free from this body full of scars, but some how God keeps this smile on my face. But I say again, you are loved . Never give up the fight. Chase your dreams. Don’t be afraid to wear your heart on your sleeve, be who you are.

Another truth I submit to you is this, you are not a burden. If people do not make time for you, if they do not take the time to get to know you. That is merely a reflection of them and has nothing to do with you. Futher more, do not be afraid to love, do not be afraid to speak hope and encouragement. I truly believe that we can be the change we want to be in the world.

It may seem like you get nothing back in return, but as it is quoted in the movie Gladiator: “What we do in life echoes in eternity”. Do not shy away from pushing yourself physichally, I have been doing Brazillian Jiujitsu for almost 6 years and CrossFit for almost 2-3 years. With both of these elements in my life, my body has never been stronger. Even when doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to do much on my own, even when teachers told me I wouldn’t amount to much. It is by Gods grace I am who I am.

The same reality can be present in your or own life, you just have to take that small step forward. That might require asking for help, swallowing your pride and letting others be your teacher. It might require you sitting down and discovering your dreams and who you are as a person. Regardless, you can rest assured that there is no glass ceiling over our heads precerebral_palsy_awarenessventing us from conquering the obstacles that stand in our way.

Be well my friends.

-Brandon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confronting The Double Standard

 

I can’t pin point the exact time anxiety came into my life; all I can tell you is that it has been in my life for quite some time. From little to severe. Little, as in the nagging feeling inside you that every one is upset with you and it would be better for you not to be apart of human existence. Or on the extreme side of things when your chest becomes tight, your breath becomes short and have a hard time controlling the speed your mind races at. Living with anxiety has seemed like an impossible puzzle in my life. Things seem hopeless when nothing seems to work, right? Even sitting in front of a professional counselor can see like a waste of time. Worse yet, when living with anxiety we can throw depression into the mix. And the both seem to work off each other in strange ways.

At this rate, it seems easier to start digging your grave and laying in it, right? I’m not so sure, you see as much as I am flooded with suicidal thoughts, I don’t actually want to die. I’m actually just scared and don’t feel like there are any solutions to the problems at hand. I think others are like that too, were all scared and afraid to admit that life is spinning out of control. I’ll admit that here and now, I’ll admit that the future scares me and that I want nothing more then to hide from society. But maybe it’s those of us that want to hide that the world needs most. After all the most amazing lessons in life can come from those who we least expect.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think what we need are more suicides, or people living in silence because they live with anxiety, depression or any other form of mental illness. What we first need is the courage to confess that these forms of suffering have had their ways with us for long enough. What we need is for people to actually listen, what we need is for people to jump to conclusions but to seek understanding. I believe were all looking for answers as to why mental illness in any capacity exists and how we can eradicate it from our lives. Some on the endless pages of the internet claimed that they have, whether that is true or not is beyond my knowledge. There’re even those in Christian communities that claim that God healed them of whatever mental illness they were faced with in their lives, whether that is true or not is not for me to know. As a Christian, devoted to following Christ. I do believe that Jesus healed on the pages of the new testament. I even believe that he still heals today, it might just not look the same as it does in various media outlets or conferences. Being a Christian and living with anxiety can sometimes seem counter productive, aren’t Christian’s meant to be the most joyful people alive? Well, that really depends one how one looks at joy. If you presume, that joy is always someone smiling and jumping for joy, I don’t believe that is the fullest reality.

Joy does not always have to have outward expressions; joy can sometimes be a quiet radiance. A knowing that a king knows your pain, that you are loved, forgiven and that the greatest reality is yet to come. As a Christian living with anxiety, I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter how I feel about myself on any given day, it doesn’t change the fact that I am loved and that nothing can separate me from the father’s love (verse here). It’s also tempting as a Christian living with anxiety, to try harder and do more. In order for God to love me. It’s interesting to me how the most well meaning pastors say “if you just made Jesus the center of your life, then you wouldn’t be anxious.” That sounds well and good, but we don’t say that to people who are diagnosed with cancer. In fact that would be a slap in the face, because there are many devout believers that have faced the grim reality of cancer, only to be swallowed up by it. Yet they did not seize in living a life of prayer and various spiritual disciplines.

See the double standard here? We cannot allow it to exist any longer without calling it for what it is. Bullshit.

Dealing With Cerebral Palsy and Suicial Thoughts

Going off my last blog, which discussed the idea of living with cerebral palsy and feeling like a burden. One comment in particular really stood out to me, one gentlemen wrote about how feeling like a burden can often lead toward suicidal thoughts and various other elements like extended bouts of depression.

Suicide first and foremost does not care about the color of ones skin, whether one is skinny or fat or whether on is living with something like cerebral palsy or is paralyzed. It spares no one and never well. So as humans, it’s almost as though we have something that can cause us to relate or open up to one another (if we were so willing). In a sense, it can be easier to say the powerful words of “me too”.

As a person living with cerebral palsy, I have battled depression for over the past ten or more years of my life. And yes, suicidal thoughts have been a part of that. I have even spent days in a hospital, in an attempt to try and balance out the disconnection of my thoughts and brain chemistry. I’m not ashamed or afraid to admit these things, and I certainly do not care if that causes people to think that I’m crazy or weird.

We are all broken people, the simple fact is that we have a choice to confess it, seek help and live in community and transparency. Dealing with both cerebral palsy and suicidal thoughts, can be different in the sense that if you don’t have methods to simply escape for awhile or friends that can care and help. It can be all the more taxing. For people to simply state that depression and suicidal thoughts are selfish, is simply them missing the fuller picture.

People simply aren’t physical beings, or emotional beings and even chemicals. We are all of them at the same time, and we must learn that if one suffers, the rest suffer as well. Having cerebral palsy and not having healthy social structure, can lead to intense loneliness and even despair. Having no one around you that tries to understand can make it all the more taxing.

A pastor once told me that, despite how you feel, you have to step out first and ask for help and community. While that can be extremely difficult, I do believe that he was right. That does not mean then, that a friend, loved one or doctor cannot step into your darkness first. It simply means that most times, it require us to rely not on our own strength, wisdom and courage. But that of the divine, the creator of the universe, for guidance and healing.

In fact, in terms of recovery the very first step is to admit you in yourself are powerless.This is not a popular perspective, but I truly believe that this is where healing and recovery truly begins. Suicidal thoughts do not have to have victory over your life, you are not your cerebral palsy, you are not your thoughts. You are a person with a immense value and purpose.

So I implore you today, whether you have cerebral palsy, or some other condition and have been quiet about the thoughts that fill your mind, please talk to someone, call someone, even a crisis hotline if you have to. Corner someone until they actually listen to you. But do not give your thoughts another ounce of power, for you are far more valuable then all the gold in the world. Then to be constantly haunted by this ugly demon.

Please call this number if you need help: http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=619

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