Be Excellent To Yourself: By Rene

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 4.18.02 PM

Be Excellent To Yourself: By Rene

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Rene” is a pseudonym.

I’ve been reading Homeschoolers Anonymous since the very beginning and really love this community.  Perhaps now I can give a little back!  I want to tackle the writing prompt number five:  “Practices, techniques, etc. that you have found helpful for managing your mental illness.”

My background in mental illness involves a family riddled with various mental health challenges, all exacerbated by the isolation of homeschooling, poverty, and living in another country.  

My personal “mental health profile” includes OCD, Tourette Syndrome, general and social anxiety, recurrent episodes of depression that at one point led to several months of being suicidal, and many years of disordered eating.  I’ve never had access to therapy, but the last few years have seen steady progress toward greater and greater quality of life for me.  There are so many variables and things you can try and I love the way the internet gives access to so much support and knowledge and research, though it can be overwhelming at times!

The things that have been most helpful for me personally have been:

*****

1. I realized that a lot of the problems I was having were normal reactions to extreme stress and trauma.  

It was okay for me to be in pain and not functioning well, just like it would be okay for me not to be capable of running with a broken leg.

2. I started learning to celebrate small, even minuscule, victories. 

It might seem ridiculous in the grip of depression-fueled cynicism, but keeping a daily gratitude journal or literally patting yourself on the back for, say, going outside on a one-minute walk, can over time add up to big improvements in self-care habits.  As a former fundamentalist, I had to get over the habit of bashing myself for my deficiencies and weaknesses.  Instead, I just recognize that if I am struggling and still manage to do something beneficial, then that is awesome and time to celebrate!

3. I learned some things about diet and what my body needed.

Vitamin D3 supplementation is what I credit with getting me out of the suicidal hole I was in.  Since then I have learned a lot more about what my body needs, including that I can’t do gluten and that as long as I eat a balanced, no-grain diet I no longer struggle with binge eating.  It turned out that most of my eating disorder was physiologically-based and getting over that has had many ripple effects on my happiness.

4. Living simply but in a consciously hedonistic way, that is, simple living in order to promote pleasure, not deprivation, has been and continues to be one of the ways I care for my mental and physical health.  

It has helped a lot with my OCD and Tourette Syndrome, though leaving my parents’ house several years ago and no longer being constantly on edge from emotional abuse also helped erase most of my symptoms.

5. I consciously try to treat myself well.

If I would not yell at a stranger or child or friend for doing something, then why yell at myself for doing it?  This helps a lot with my social anxiety and the guilt I tend to feel when I make faux pas, which has in turn helped me gain more and more confidence and make a lot more and better relationships.

*****

These are the main things that have helped me.

It’s been four years now since I hit rock bottom and thought life would never get any better, four years since everything looked black and despairing, and now I’m pretty damn happy.  I never knew it was possible to be so consistently happy and resilient — and I purposely am not using the Christianese “joyful” here — I mean happy, not gritting-my-teeth-determined-to-be thankful.

I hope that if you are struggling my story gives you a little bit of hope.

Be excellent to yourself.

A Call for Stories for HA’s Upcoming Mental Health Awareness Series

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 4.18.02 PM

A Call for Stories for HA’s Upcoming Mental Health Awareness Series

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Mental health is a fundamentally important part of our daily lives. It is as important — and as natural — as any other type of health like dental or physical health.

But when we are mentally unhealthy, we are often afraid to talk about it.

We can feel ashamed. Embarrassed. Terrified of what others might think. Alienated. “Crazy.”

Mental illnesses are real, live medical conditions that mess with a person’s feelings, mood, thoughts, ability to relate to other people, and other aspects of daily functioning that everyone else takes for granted. They can be very serious conditions: ranging from major depression to bipolar disorder, from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to panic attacks; from severe anxiety to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Here are some facts about mental illness and recovery from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): 

  • Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.
  • 1 in 17 Americans live with a serious mental illness.
  • One in four adults experience a mental health disorder in a given year.
  • 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school and with peers.
  • The World Health Organization has reported that four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the US and other developed countries are mental disorders.
  • By 2020, Major Depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.
  • Mental illness usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood.
  • Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives.
  • The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.
  • With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence.
  • Early identification and treatment is of vital importance.
  • Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions.

Children of Christian homeschool families are not immune to mental illnesses or disorders. Just like any other human beings, we can struggle with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and any other number of issues. In fact, the highly controlling and toxic environments that some of us grew up in can exacerbate or even create mental illness. Experiencing abuse as a child can actually prime one’s brain for future mental illness, prompting a writer for TIME Magazine to observe the following:

Child maltreatment has been called the tobacco industry of mental health. Much the way smoking directly causes or triggers predispositions for physical disease, early abuse may contribute to virtually all types of mental illness.

While there is a stigma around taking about mental health in our larger culture, that stigma is even more pronounced within the Christian homeschool movement. There can even be scientifically invalid information being propagated, labeling mental illness as something strictly spiritual (or worse, “demonic”) that does not necessitate medical or therapeutic treatments.

We need to break this stigma around mental illness. We need to speak out, both as adult graduates of the Christian homeschool movement and as human beings.

If you are interested in contributing, here are some ideas for what you could write about:

1) Your personal story of struggling with mental illness

2) Your personal story of being a friend to someone struggling

3) Your thoughts on the relationship between your homeschooling experience and mental health and/or illness

4) Your advice, as someone who personally struggles with mental illness, to other homeschool kids who are currently struggling

5) Practices, techniques, etc. that you have found helpful for managing your mental illness

6) Your advice, as a parent to a kid who personally struggles with self-injury, to other parents who have a kid currently struggling

You do not have to pick just one topic. You could combine several of these ideas, or bring your own ideas to the table, or — if you have a lot to say — contribute several pieces on a variety of these topics. The deadline for submission is Sunday, October 13.

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly.

If you interested in participating in this, please email us at homeschoolersanonymous@gmail.com.

Call For Help: Sarah’s Story

SONY DSC

HA note: The following call for help is shared by Hännah Ettinger, who blogs at Wine & Marble. It includes the personal story of Sarah.

Note from Hännah: I’ve used my blog to share the story of a friend’s sister after she got kicked out of her QF family home for being vegan, and you wonderful people chipped in to raise $10,000 for her to replace her clothes, art supplies, and go toward her college tuition in the fall. 

This time, a 24 year old QF daughter, Sarah, reached out to me to share her story with you — she’s a beautiful person with a knack for words, and she wrote up her story here for you to read. Sarah just started blogging at The Pathway Maker, and will be doing a series of posts on her story in longer form. We set up a PayPal account specifically for donations to her tuition fund, and she made an Amazon wishlist for her school and apartment supplies that you can help her out with, too. 

*****

Sarah’s Story

My world spun inside my head, each thought more terrifying than the last. I would lose my soul. The demons would get in if I ate that food. They would get in.

Then my father was there, forcing the spout of the water bottle between my clenched teeth, jamming it into my mouth. I struggled and fell. My father bent over me, forcing the water down my throat as I choked and cried out in panic. Over a decade of my internal tortures had come and gone, but now things were worse than ever.

I hadn’t always been like this. My early childhood had been reasonably happy, despite the anger and the yelling and the spanking. But these had never crushed my spirit, and I had been a carefree child in many respects. But then things changed.

I began struggling with scrupulosity as a young child. My labored confessions were the first signs of the mental illness which would destroy me for years. As if this growing inner torment were not enough, I began to struggle to see the physical world around me and learned, at the age of 8, that I would one day be legally blind because of an incurable retinal disease.

I lost my sight gradually over a period of several years, and at the same time, struggled increasingly with my mental illness, later diagnosed as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.*

When I began exhibiting signs of OCD, it manifested in the form of terrifying, uncontrollable thoughts (obsessions) that prompted ritualistic action responses (compulsions). Because my OCD was religious in nature, it was only exacerbated by my fundamentalist, Christian Patriarchal, Quiverfull, homeschooled upbringing. My fear of hell and demonic possession drove me to pray for hours, forego food and sleep and pace for hours in the middle of the night.

My family treated my OCD like silliness or sin that could be rationalized or prayed away. Worse, while they disregarded my obvious need for mental health assistance, they treated me as though I was already possessed by demons

*****

For the rest of Sarah’s story, or for more information on how you can help her, please see Hännah’s original post at Wine & Marble.