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27 October 2014

Mental Illness, Part 2: The Red Flags I Ignored

As I mentioned before,I didn't want to admit that I might have depression. So when the symptoms began showing up, at least as early as my teen years, I ignored them.  I pretended they were normal.  I don't know, maybe some of them were...my depression is largely tied to my hormones, so a lot of those same symptoms were probably typical of the hormone fluctuation in teenagers--I just didn't outgrow them when I should have.

I had low self-esteem...I thought it was because there wasn't much to like about myself.  And I know that is a problem for a lot of teenage girls.

I had horrible mood swings.  My parents could tell you that my teenage temper could take a scary turn.

Many times I would prefer to sleep, daydream, read a book or watch TV than to interact with real people in the real world.  Some of that is just natural introversion, but a lot of it was escapism.  I didn't like myself, I didn't feel confident, I couldn't control the real world.

Maybe those things don't seem like a huge deal alone, but they took control of my life far too often.  However, there were some HUGE red flags that I ignored.  There were a few instances when I should have sought immediate professional help (probably should have been hospitalized), and I hid it for fear of being judged.

One that comes to mind in particular was the first time I dropped out of college (yes, you read that right...sad that I have to say that...).  I was having some major health issues, and fighting with my roommate a lot.  I stopped sleeping, largely due to the health, but the depression probably played a part.  I spent most of my nights in the bathroom I shared with 11 other girls, partially to avoid waking my roommate and starting another argument. I started missing or being late to classes because I waited until my roommate was up to try to sleep.  Or I would have to leave in the middle of class due to my health problems flaring up.  Eventually it became clear that I wasn't going to get the good grades that I was accustomed to, or the medical testing that I needed, unless I dropped out of school and came back after I got a diagnosis.  We did the necessary paperwork, and home I went.  Where I spent 2 weeks locked in my bedroom, eating only when my parents brought me food, leaving only to use the bathroom.  Refusing to see my friends.  Contemplating suicide.  Yes, you read that right.  I was contemplating suicide, yet I continued to deny that I might have a problem with depression.

I was eventually coaxed out of my room to go on a trip to the local apple orchard with a good friend.  That was the beginning of some healing for me.  But I never admitted the darkness with which I had wrestled, and I never got the help that I needed.  It would take several years, a tragedy, and dropping out of college AGAIN before I was forced to look at my depression honestly.

Please, please, PLEASE, if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself or others, seek help immediately!  Don't wait until it is almost too late, like I did.


22 October 2014

Why I Choose to Celebrate Halloween with My Kids (and Why I Totally Respect You if You Don't)

I know I promised more posts about mental illness, and they are coming, but this is a timely subject on which I feel led to share my thoughts.

Halloween is such a controversial topic in Christian circles.  Many choose not to celebrate, some celebrate with alternatives such as "Harvest Festivals", some celebrate traditionally (with or without feeling some measure of guilt).  My extended family has fallen into all of these categories at different points in time, and it is only recently that my husband and I have chosen where we want our nuclear family to land.

I have chosen (and Hubby has been reluctantly supportive) to celebrate Halloween in a semi-traditional-but-slightly-unique manner.  We made this decision for 2 reasons:  1) Halloween is a popular holiday in our neck of the woods, and the neighborhood is out in full force.  Participating affords us the opportunity to get to know our neighbors, and let them get to know us.  This in turn has led to open doors for witnessing to at least one family, and we hope more in the future (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 3:15). 2) We don't want our kids to live in fear of any day, or to see anything as beyond the redemptive work of the God who created every day/thing and is going to redeem them all (Romans 8:19-23).

So how do we celebrate something with so many evil associations in a God-honoring way?  We must be careful not to fall into blindly going along with all of the world's traditions. (Colossians 3:17; Romans 12:2).  This is a difficult line to walk, and I have great respect for those families who choose to "run to the other side of the street" as it were.  Here are the guidelines that rule our family Halloween celebrations at this time.  We are open to changing them, or giving up Halloween altogether, if in the future we find that these guidelines no longer meet our goals for raising godly kids.

Decorations
We do decorate our house for Halloween, mostly the front porch area which will be seen by trick-or-treaters.  We want our home to look festive and welcoming to our neighbors, so that they will know we are "open for business" on Halloween, and so they will want to come interact with us.  We don't do anything scary, undead, or occult, though.  Mostly we use jack-o'-lanterns, with a few kittens, bats,  leaves, and scarecrows thrown in.  More on jack-o'-lanterns...

Jack O' Lanterns
We have lots of cardboard jack-o'-lanterns for the windows, as well as real and faux lighted ones.  One specific faux lighted pumpkin (Funkin) is painted teal (more on that later), and now that Buddy Bear is old enough to help, we are starting to carve real ones each year.  Before or during carving, we read The Parable of the Pumpkin Patch by Liz Curtis Higgs--which I encourage you to read no matter what you choose to do about Halloween!  As we decorate with jack-o'-lanterns, we remind each other that Jesus cleans out our gook (Psalm 51:10, among others), and makes us a Light for Him (Matthew 5:14).

Costumes
I'll be honest, there is no deep spiritual significance to our use of costumes at Halloween.  We just like cosplay for fun.  We wear Halloween-style costumes for birthday parties and our annual church New Year party as well.  We like to play dress-up.  But we have very strict rules about the nature of our costumes.  Nothing undead.  Nothing occult.  No serial killers or anything bloody like that. Nothing too sexual/revealing.  Weather appropriate.  We mostly choose cartoon characters, literary characters, superheroes.  I like to do group costumes.  Sometimes it is a struggle to get Hubby to participate, but he's coming around to it (this applies to other times of year as well, so I see it more as him being a fuddy dud that is learning to have fun).

Trick-or-Treating
I'm kinda not a big fan of trick-or-treating, for various reasons, but we do it as long as we are going with other families with whom we are trying to build relationships...sometimes the walk on Halloween is the only time I get to chat with the other busy neighborhood moms, and the kids bond as well.  If there is ever a time that we don't have friends to go with, we will stay home.  And there is never going to be a time when I let my kids go without me--it is a witnessing opportunity for me as well, plus a safety issue.  If they are too old to take their Mommy trick-or-treating with them, they are too old to go.  Period.

Treats That We Hand Out
Some kids have allergies.  But even kids who don't get waaaaaay too much unhealthy candy on Halloween.  So we give out allergy-friendly, non-candy items.  This year, we've added a teal pumpkin and a sign to our decoration, so that families with dietary restrictions know that it's safe to come to our house (check out this link and this link to learn more about the #TealPumpkinProject).  In striving to be a witness to our neighbors, we also make sure that these items have some sort of Christian message, or at least Christian symbolism on them.  It might be as simple as slapping a cross sticker on a cheap bottle of soap bubbles, but it lets our neighbors know that there are Christians in our home.  Especially because we make sure that what we hand out is safe for everyone, it shows that we as Christians care about our neighbors.

There are lots of good, Biblical reasons NOT to celebrate Halloween.  We have close family and dear friends who are adamantly against it, and we would never try to force our choices on them.  I consider this one of what the Apostle Paul referred to as "disputable matters" that should never be divisive within the Body.
Romans 14:5-6
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 
(NLT)
Colossians 2:16-17
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
(NIV)

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