For the past six months I have researched and studied the lives of the patriarchs of our faith. I have learned an abundance about covenants, birthrights, and blessings. My eyes have been opened to the culture of middle eastern people of that time and how God’s covenant impacted those traditions. My time spent reading about the lives the families who would form the nation of Israel made me grateful to see that in all of the mess, chaos, poor decisions, and sin, God still reigns. His will is fulfilled. His covenant people prevail.
Studying and writing a study on Genesis brought me hope. Hope just happens to be my word for 2021.
As New Testament believers, why is the history of the Old Testament important? Because, since the Creation of the World and the entrance of sin, God has prepared a way for every single human to be a part of his chosen people. My faith in God and belief that Jesus died for my sins just like he died for every other nation, tribe, and tongue means that I am adopted into the family of God’s chosen people. Since I was a part of this plan, and so were you, I want to study the Old Testament, because it was written with you and me in mind.
“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1:4-5
Today is Launch Day which means all e-mail subscribers will be entered into a drawing for a free Genesis study. Anyone who comments on or shares a Facebook or Instagram post will also be entered into a drawing for a gift card.
I can’t wait to share this day with you. Thank you for your continued love and support! You can purchase the studies in the links at the top of this post as well as in the shop on this site. When you get your book, share a pic and tag me in it. I can’t wait to hear about your journey in Genesis.
To finish out Mental Health Awareness month, my daughter has bravely agreed to allow me to interview her. She is currently a few months shy of seventeen years old. She started experiencing severe anxiety at age twelve. We hope that her story informs and encourages anyone experiencing mental health challenges. She wants to share an honest and real perspective of her mental health journey.
1- When did you first start to feel overwhelming anxiety?
I’ve always felt some level of anxiety. It became more evident when we moved to Louisiana in 2016. I was about to start seventh grade. It was such a huge change, leaving my home in Virginia and all of my friends. I felt like I was mentally suffocating.
The first anxiety attack I remember was when I was sick for a week. I was well enough to return to school but refused to take my antibiotics. Mom took me to the school nurse with my meds and she had to help me take them. I was crying so much I didn’t want mom to leave me at school even though I liked my teachers and classes.
2- What was it like going to the psychologist/therapist for the first time?
I don’t remember feeling anything significant. I was ready to get help for whatever was going on. The therapist and I weren’t a good fit so it made it difficult to go.
Now it is much easier. I like my therapist and look forward to sharing what’s been going on. She helps me process my emotions.
3- What makes your current therapist a good fit for you?
She has a gentle and non-judgmental demeanor that helps me to open up and talk. She asks a lot of questions, then lets me talk. My past therapists were constantly talking and I would just zone out. She listens to me and I don’t feel judged for my feelings and problems.
4- How were you officially diagnosed with clinical depression and severe anxiety?
My first therapist labeled me with anxiety and OCD. Other therapists ruled that out. Finally, I went to get tested by a clinical psychologist to eliminate and clarify the diagnosis. I filled out a long questionnaire. So did my mom. The psychologist had me describe pictures and inkblots. He asked me a lot of questions. It was exhausting and mentally straining, but worth an official diagnosis so we knew what we were dealing with.
5- How did you know you needed to go to a psychiatrist?
We knew I needed medicine to calm my brain down to learn to cope with the anxiety. I was dealing with the physical pain of fibromyalgia, so we decided to tackle helping my body in any way we could. While a psychologist focuses on various therapies to give me tools to work through my anxious episodes and depression, the psychiatrist knows which medicines to prescribe and the science behind how the brain works with those meds. Our first psychiatrist was kind and sincere. She addressed my sleep issues that triggered anxiety and depression. At first, we tried techniques without meds like melatonin and sleep routines. Medicine wasn’t her first tactic. Eventually, we knew medicine was what I needed. I liked her a lot but still struggled with anxiety episodes and skin picking. After a while, she acknowledged that going to a psychiatrist at the children’s hospital may be more beneficial because they had more experience with teen anxiety.
Once we moved to a different psychiatrist, we changed my meds a bit and that has been helpful. They also got me connected with a new therapist who has been the best fit for me.
6- What does an anxiety attack feel like?
Everyone is different in how they experience anxiety attacks. For me, at first, everything is overwhelming. Sounds are louder. My skin is physically more sensitive. Emotionally, everything feels like it’s building up. Breathing gets harder. My chest feels tight.
I self harm like picking my skin, nails, and face. I pull my hair and eyebrows. I hit myself from time to time.
7- What helps you cope in a positive way to get through the attack?
Again, it’s different for every person. Headspace, meditation, and deep breathing do not help me.
I used to do grounding techniques like “Name 5 things that you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you Can smell, 1 thing you can taste.”
Currently, having my mom nearby helps the most. My anxiety is the worst at night and she will sit in my room, not talking, just nearby until I feel calm again. Listening to different types of music is also helpful.
8- What does depression feel like?
Again everyone is different. You may be surrounded by people but you feel lonely. I have experienced constant intrusive thoughts: voices in my head telling me to do harmful things, putting disturbing and graphic images in my head out of nowhere. Questioning “what’s the point of life?” There is nothing I want to do, no motivation. I can’t enjoy anything and tend to have bad hygiene.
People with depression can be all smiles and appear happy. I may look depressed with my mom because she is safe for me to be depressed around. With other people, I would force a smile and a happier attitude.
When I was deep in my depression, the song “Migraine” and “Car Radio” by Twenty-one Pilots describe all of my feelings perfectly.
9- What are things you dislike when people say about anxiety and depression?
“What do you have to be sad/anxious about?”
“Why are you lonely, you have plenty of friends/people around you?”
“Anxiety and depression are made up.”
“You’re being lazy.”
“Why don’t you try harder?”
“Have you tried yoga? Meditating? Supplements? Vitamins? Exercising?”
“Stop being sad/depressed! Be happy!”
“Go outside more.”
Also, on social media, people use words like: “wrist reveal” “thigh reveal”. These are used to imply that if you are depressed then show how you are cutting yourself. The words are for trolling on social media or trying to be funny.
10- What are helpful responses for those who struggle with anxiety and depression?
Check on your depressed friend. Not intruding but express that you want to be there for them/hang out with them.
Say: “Is there anything I can do to help you feel better? Do you need to leave? Sit down? What do you need at this moment?”
Be open, let them know you are safe and can be trusted.
Be flexible with your plans. You don’t always have to cater to their needs, but be compassionate and flexible if plans need to change.
Don’t point out self-harm scars, pulled hair spots, etc. This is private and embarrassing.
Don’t react negatively. Trust is built when you can be relaxed about the situation.
Help distract them: music, a movie, crafts, memories, self-care, etc.
Sit with them and listen. My
11- Do you have any advice for anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression?
Depression and anxiety are not who you are. You are separate from that. You experience depression and anxiety, but it is not you.
Intrusive thoughts are not who you are either. Don’t let anyone sugarcoat them. They are real and scary, but they are not who you are.
You can find freedom from your mental health struggles. It takes time, the right counseling, and sometimes medication is necessary. It does not mean you lack faith. If you need help, reach out to someone who can help you.
While none of my daughter’s comments specifically discussed her faith, her healing reflects her faith. We are plugged into our local church. She hears God’s truth prayed over her regularly. She knows she is loved by her Creator. This lifestyle we have maintained since birth has given her a healthy foundation and sense of identity. I didn’t preach to her or make her feel less than because she didn’t trust God, read the Bible, or pray enough. She stopped attending church because the people and noise were too much for her. I didn’t get upset with her or make her feel guilty. Eventually, as her anxiety calmed a bit, she began attending youth group again. She has found a way to serve to help her focus her anxious energy.
Parents, don’t stop praying. Don’t stop speaking God’s truth over your child so they will never doubt who they are in Christ. Take care of yourself as you take care of your child. If you need therapy to help you process your child’s journey, do that. If you need a self-care day, do that. Listen to your needs as a parent.
Parents, don’t stop fighting for your child’s physical and mental health. Trust your gut. If you are not at peace with a diagnosis, keep searching and finding doctors to be on your team and help you. For a while, our first psychiatrist was the only doctor that listened and tried to help us find solutions. Keep trying. Keep checking off boxes. Get second opinions, don’t settle. Even if doctors look at you like you don’t know what you are talking about. You know your child better than anyone. Move on and find a doctor who hears you and wants to help you find answers.
I hope this series has been helpful. I can not tell you how proud I am of my daughter for allowing me to share her story. While we kept many private details to ourselves, sharing the journey with you has made us more thankful as we see how far God has brought us. We hope our story brings light and hope to your struggles.
Currently, my daughter’s treatment consists of a pediatric psychiatrist through our local hospital and regular visits with a psychologist. She is on medicine to help calm her brain while she learns the tools to cope with her anxiety. Without the medicine, she would be trying to learn tools with a brain on fire. When her brain is on fire, her body is on fire. Eventually, our goal is for her to be able to cope without her meds, but for now, she needs them and I have to be okay with that.
Traditional school is not an option for my daughter, currently. Our schooling involves life skills and diving into her interests. We have had to let go of formal education restraints and do what best meets her needs. Her mental and physical health are our top priorities. Eliminating the stress of completing a curriculum, homework, and tests have been a huge asset to her healing.
Her siblings have handled the challenges well. We have lots of conversations about what their sister is feeling and what her needs are. There are times when my daughter has to handle the chaos of three siblings the best she can, as long as no one is being unreasonably loud and out of control. “Tiptoeing around” is not a way for anyone to live. We all deserve to feel comfortable in our home. I try to help my younger kids have consideration for my daughter’s feelings, but also allow them some freedom to be within their age and maturity. For example, my daughter’s bedroom is in the basement. She shares the area with our video game system. From time to time, the others want to play a video game. I communicate with her and give her a heads up that they will be coming downstairs in thirty minutes. That way, she doesn’t feel like her siblings are bursting into her space whenever they want.
I hope this gives you some insight into our journey and helps you with any mental health challenges you may be experiencing or with a loved one. Overall, the one thing that has made the difference is simply believing my child,especially when I don’t fully understand what she feels. She questions herself and her mental state constantly. She needs the security of a parent and advocate who believes her 100%. Are there times where I have to push her and make her move out of her level of comfort? Absolutely, but I have also learned when to pull back and know when she has reached her threshold.
We take life day by day, thankful for each milestone. While the details of her future remain uncertain, God has been with us every step of her journey. God promises that He knows the plans he has for her. Plans to prosper her and not harm her. Plans to give her a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I must trust that God knows what he is doing on the dark days and the bright days. In the meantime, she is learning perseverance and growing in her faith. God is growing her character to handle whatever life throws at her in her future.
Next week, I will share some words from my daughter about her journey. Let me know if you have any questions for her.
This is the third in a series of posts for Mental Health Awareness Month. To check out the previous posts, see below:
I am so excited to show you the cover of my new study. Newsletter recipients got a sneak peek on May 1.
Truthfully, there are actually two new 30-day studies to be released in June. Last year after releasing Acts, God was nudging me toward writing the next study on the book of Genesis. Since Genesis is 50 chapters, I knew there was no way to study the entire book thoroughly in 30 days. That is why I have written Genesis Part One and Part Two!
“30 Days in Genesis, Part One, A Journey: from Creation to Covenant” begins with Creation and ends in Genesis 28 before Jacob travels to meet Rachel.
“30 Days in Genesis, Part Two, A Journey: from Patriarchs to Providence” begins with Jacob, Leah, and Rachel and ending with Joseph and his family in Egypt.
I hope you will consider one or both studies for your summer Bible study. They would make a great addition to your church’s small groups, Sunday School, or Bible studies. As always, the studies are gender-neutral meaning they are not written specifically for women. I will be selling them from my website if you are interested in a bulk discount. They will also be available on Amazon.
My first two studies are appropriate for teens and adults however, Genesis has some sensitive topics (i.e. Dinah in Genesis 34-35 and Tamar in Genesis 38), so you may want to be aware of those stories before studying with your teen.
Look for more information coming out soon! I can’t wait to study Genesis with you.
It is an indescribable feeling, sitting in a psychiatrist’s office with your child for the first time. It is a place I never imagined myself. Standing on the precipice of hope and despair, I knew we needed to be here but wanted to run. I wanted to pretend everything was okay and my daughter’s struggles were a result of teen years and puberty. But deep down, that gut feeling I gained when I birthed her knew everything was not okay. Everything has not been okay for a while.
My firstborn has always been responsible, but beyond that, carried the need to be responsible for the actions of everyone else. An avid rule follower, she follows every rule to the letter and makes sure everyone around her is obeying as well. When the world around her feels out of her control, she reacts in anger, anxiety, and resentment. As she grew, she and I often rammed heads. There were times I would make her sit outside until she was ready to come inside and treat her family respectfully. I had no idea the level of anxiety she felt below the surface was what caused the anger to boil over. She has never been violent. Her anger was self-directed.
While some characteristics are common in firstborn children, one event that made an alarm go off in my head about the depth of her anxiety happened during our short time in Louisiana. If you don’t know my story, in 2016 our family of six moved 15 hours south to only live there for 10 months. My daughter, a rising 7th grader at the time, had the most difficulty with the move. However, she had the quickest transition to her new school. She met amazing friends and teachers and had the time of her life in the middle school band. In Louisiana, the middle school band was at a high school band performance level. Her band played at the middle school football games and she was living her best life.
One night, after a football game, we climbed into our van with her three younger siblings and headed to grab dinner. It was late, we were all tired, but we needed food. Suddenly, a switch flipped. My daughter who had just had the best few hours, playing her trumpet and laughing with her friends, turned into a different child. She exploded so severely that she scared me and her siblings beyond words. She began screaming “I don’t want to get food, I just want to go home. Take me home, take me home!” Little did I know, we were experiencing her first anxiety attack. At the time, we were adjusting to our move and so much change. I thought, “surely her behavior was a result of the move.”
We moved back to Virginia and she began to manifest increased physical pain. School became a struggle and she begged me daily to pick her up early. Her band class was at the end of the day and she no longer enjoyed the band as she did in Louisiana. The structure was different and the teacher was less enthusiastic. In December of her 8th-grade year, she had a band concert and I had a clear view of her on stage. I have a vivid memory of watching her have an anxiety attack while trying to keep herself together to perform.
I knew we had crossed a threshold when anxiety made her favorite activity of playing trumpet in the band become something that triggered her. She loved playing the trumpet and being a part of the band family. She worked hard to excel and improve. I knew we needed help when she could not make it through a day of school without messaging me, begging me to come to get her. My child who is incredibly responsible and independent was pleading for help. I had to choose to believe her.
Shortly after that anxiety attack, we began meeting with doctors and determined a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. While we believe this is genetic, chronic pain often increases with anxiety. Since her initial diagnosis, we have been to countless doctors to uncover and rule out many other conditions. Her confirmed mental diagnosis is clinical depression and severe anxiety. While she is receiving treatment for her mental health, we are still visiting doctors and doing lab work to rule out other health concerns that can contribute to her mental struggles.
The anxiety attacks come in waves, although now they are less frequent. She has hit herself, picked her skin, pulled her eyebrows, and done other things to cope. Never did I feel like her life or anyone else’s was in danger, but I did everything in my power to help her through her attacks. Sometimes listening to her favorite music helped. Sometimes just sitting with her and believing her was what she needed. I prayed over her brain, for peace and calm. I cried out to God for relief. I tried not to allow my daughter to feel my fear, grief, or pain as I watched her endure the attack. An anxiety attack is scary. You feel like you might be dying. Recently, we learned that anxiety attacks will only last about 20 minutes. Your brain can only stay in that state for that amount of time. Knowing there is a physiological end in sight has helped her calm down quicker.
Next week, I will share more about where we are with her mental health currently. I will also share how we manage her schooling as well as how her siblings cope with her challenges. I hope this has helped give you insight into our mental health journey. While you may not be experiencing this personally or with a loved one, I hope it will open your eyes to the struggles others face and develop compassion for those who experience invisible mental health illnesses. On the outside, someone may appear perfectly fine. You may look at their life and think “what do they have to be anxious or depressed about?” Choose to believe them anyway.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This month I will have a series on mental health based on my experiences through walking this path with my children, especially my teenager. The series of posts are based on conversations with my sixteen-year-old daughter who has been struggling with depression and anxiety for most of her life. In trying to make the right decisions for her, I have had many wrong thoughts and said many wrong things. As a parent, I have needed guidance and a place to ask for advice in this journey. Your experiences may be different than mine. You may not agree with what I have said or done, but until are in the same place with the same circumstances, you may not understand my position. These are our experiences and I hope they are helpful to those in a similar place.
Myth 1: Everyone has anxiety/feels sad sometimes.It’s not that serious, I can handle it on my own.
We each have some levels of anxiety or sadness, but when it takes over your life to the point you can not be a productive employee, wife, husband, parent, student, etc., you can not handle it on your own. You have to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor, pastor, anyone close to you who can help connect you with a counselor. When your mental health is controlling your life, you will need help to get to the root of your anxiety/depression. Even if you are a professional at pushing your anxiety down and covering your depression with working harder, fake smiles, or binging on tv, that is not healthy. At some point, you will explode.
In the case of your child, children handle anxiety and depression in different ways. Some talk openly, some shut down. Some cry, some get mad. Some hide in their bedrooms for hours, some don’t want to be alone. When something seems off, trust your gut. Start reading, researching, and gathering tools to help your child open up. There are links to resources here for kids to verbalize their emotions. When your child’s mental health gets to the point they can not maintain a positive school life, positive relationships with their peers and siblings or they refuse to talk to you, you may need to find some professional help. Also, if you see some polar opposite behaviors that make you wonder, “who is this child?” that’s a red flag that your child may be crying out for help. We may joke about extreme behaviors in the toddler years or puberty, but when the behavior goes beyond typical to almost scary, you may need to seek help.
Myth 2: I need to pray more, study more scripture on anxiety, and be a better Christian so I can get rid of my anxiety/depression.
Early in our anxiety journey, I wrote scripture on index cards and gave them to my daughter. I thought, “more scripture would surely help her feel better.” While scripture, prayer, and improving your spiritual life are essential, they won’t solve the problem. When you are dealing with an illness, physical or mental, you have to get to the root of the illness or anything you try to do will be just a band-aid. Medicine to treat the symptoms may be necessary but unless you work to get to the root of the illness the medicine will be a band-aid for whatever unresolved fear, trauma, grief, or hurt you may be experiencing. Prayer, scripture, and walking with God are essential for working through anxiety and/or depression, but you can not allow it to be the band-aid to cover up whatever the real issues are. A professional counselor can help you dig and find the root of the struggle.
At the beginning of my daughter’s mental health illness, she was in an active youth group at church, but pushing more scripture and “religion” on her caused her to feel worse. She was struggling with her mental health and then became more depressed because she was “failing” in her faith. Helping your child know she is heard, believed, and fully loved by her parents and by God no matter what is going on in her life is exactly what she needs. She will know she has advocates walking along with her as she gets the professional help she needs on her mental health journey.
3. Admitting my child needs help makes me look like a bad parent.
There have been plenty of moments where I feel guilt and shame over my child’s mental health. In a perfect world, we would all be perfect parents, parenting perfect children. In reality, we live in a broken world and we are broken parents, parenting broken children. Yes, God makes us whole, but without Him, we are all walking in brokenness. If your child has diabetes, you get the insulin and all of the tools to help him through his illness. If your child has asthma, you would get an inhaler and nebulizer to help him breathe better. When children have so many emotions to navigate in a society that is turning up the volume on all their fears, sometimes their brains can not handle the weight of the emotions. Their brains do not fully develop until their twenties. As their parent, getting them the help they need to navigate their mental health shows courage and the deepest sense of love that you will do whatever it takes to help your child, including owning up to your fears and failures. Confess them and release the to God. Do not let those feelings linger. By believing and helping your child, you are proving what a loving and compassionate parent you truly are.
4. Everyone has negative voices in their heads, just ignore them.
Intrusive thoughts are still a road we are navigating. Some intrusive thoughts are minor, but some get quite serious and scary. Hearing what thoughts my daughter has going on in her head is quite shocking. She has never acted on her intrusive thoughts, but she is aware enough when she needs to be more cautious in certain situations. Her thoughts are not easily ignored. They get so strong and loud that she needs medicine to help turn down the volume. As she works through counseling, we hope to get to a place where she won’t need the medicine anymore, but as of right now, I am allowing her to have the help she needs to feel better and function.
5. Counseling doesn’t work.
I used to believe this because I had never experienced it working. Then I realized there are several factors at play. First, a counselor is not a magician able to “fix” a person within a few sessions. You are way more complicated than that. Second, all counselors have different methods of counseling. There are different therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) but counselors have their method for how they approach therapy. My current counselor is the best counselor I have ever had. Her approach is what I need in this season of my life. My daughter is on her fourth counselor in three years. This one has been her best so far. She has been the most comfortable with her approach and is more willing to open up and talk. If one counselor doesn’t seem like the right fit after several visits, move on. A good counselor will be understanding and want you to get the help you need no matter where you find it. Third, the faster you open up, the more progress you will make. You have to go each appointment committed to getting better. Opening up with no “off-limits” topics will put you on a quicker path to healing. Fourth, when it comes to teens, when they are ready to feel better they will have to come to that decision on their own and utilize the tools the counselor teaches. As I said, my daughter is finally making progress in her mental health after seeing four different counselors. Let me add, I do not believe that a Christian counselor is always the best route to take. It depends on your child and how she connects with the counselor. The therapist should respect your family’s faith and not go against that no matter what. We have been to two Christian counselors and two secular counselors. Currently, she is making the most progress with a non-faith-based counselor, but it is with much prayer that God is helping her break free from things that have contributed to her anxiety and depression.
I hope this list helps you lay aside any myths or misconceptions you may have about mental health or counseling. Next week I will talk more about our story and navigating mental health challenges with my sixteen year old. I have updated my Resources page with links to mental health websites.
If you have any questions you would like to ask regarding this topic, feel free. I will anonymously incorporate the answers into my blog posts. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Mental Health
My May newsletter is coming out tomorrow. Head over to the home page sign up if you are not already on my mailing list! There are details on my new Bible study as well at the graphic for the chronological Bible reading plan.
Need a unique idea for Mother’s Day? Grab one (or both) of my Bible studies from my website or Amazon. In depth study of the book of John or Acts in 30 days. These studies are made up of concise questions to help you think about what you read without all of the “fluff”.