Thinking Out Loud

February 13, 2017

My Personal Battle With PTSD

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, family — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:17 am

Originally, I never thought of it in PTSD terms, and it’s not like I did a tour of duty in the Middle East. Instead, it started our gradually, with phone calls from the seniors’ home where my mom was living. The calls always came late at night, when the staff were wrapping up paperwork once the residents were sleeping.

  • She had another fall today.
  • They’re putting on her a new medicine.
  • We’ve noticed she’s not eating so much.
  • The doctor’s concerned about her circulation.
  • She fell again today.

I realize these health care workers have a responsibility to notify families, but the calls always came at an hour when we were winding down for the evening and wanted to relax, not deal with tension. We asked for “emergencies only” notification, but we had different definitions as to what constituted an emergency.

It got to where every time the phone would ring I would tense up, and now that she’s gone, the after-effects of this stress continue.

Telephones often bring bad news. Especially now when other forms of communication happen through email or on social media or texts. Four years ago, long before the worst of this experience was to take place, I recognized that having a calming ringtone doesn’t change the fact that it’s a phone call.

ring-tone

So again, while I wasn’t in Iraq or Afghanistan, I do have little bit of empathy for people who are bound by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It’s no fun living with anxiety, stress and tension and while having a strong faith and trust in God ideally brings peace amid the chaos, it doesn’t always work that way. Rather, the disconnect between the elements of faith we profess regarding God’s sovereignty and protection, and the inner turmoil we’re experiencing in the situation; that disconnect only adds to the problem.

A person dealing with PTSD is a person in desperate need of joy.

 

January 20, 2017

A Theology of Non-Anger

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:20 am

For some time now, I’ve ended the day unwinding with a 20-minute podcast compiled from excerpts of The Brant Hansen Show. Brant‘s a long-time Christian radio guy who has served with Air-1 and WAY-FM. He’s joined daily by producer Sherri Lynn to whom God has apparently given the gift of laughter.

On the sidebar of Brant’s website I kept noticing a reference to Brant’s book, but I figured it to be some self-published project, after all, these days everybody has a book. Only a few days ago did I realize it had been released through Thomas Nelson, and decided it warranted further investigation.

unoffendableUnoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better was actually released in the spring of 2015, so we’re coming up to two years. (You’ll notice my blog hasn’t been reviewing new releases lately; I just share what I’m enjoying.) If you think that the people in Christian radio are somewhat shallow, you’re going to be pleasant surprised — perhaps amazed — at the substance in this book.

Basically, Unoffendable is a study of instances in scripture (and real life) where anger is a factor. You could call the book a treatise on the theology of anger, though I prefer to take a positive spin and emphasize non-anger. We can be so quick to assume, to lash out, and to hurt. Our knee-jerk reactions aren’t good for the people in our line of fire, and they’re not good for us.

The timing on this is significant as commentators are constantly reminding us that the hallmark of social media in particular and the internet in general seems to be our ability to be easily offended. At everything. We are an offended generation.

The book isn’t necessary a self-help title. You won’t find, for example, six steps to avoid getting angry. Rather, through personal anecdotes and lessons from scripture, proceeding through the book’s chapters instills a climate of non-offense as you read. There’s a sense in which the book has a calming effect.

In many respects, the book is an extension of and consistent with the radio show. There are sections where Brant quotes letters he received from listeners and in my head, I was hearing those as the phone calls he takes on air. Our ability with today’s technology to access spoken word content by authors means you can really allow your imagination to hear the author as you read. We found a station that streams the whole show — not the podcast — daily and listened in just to get the feel.

I encourage to get your hands on this. Read it for yourself, not just to give to so-and-so who gets mad so quickly. I think there is a sense in which we can all see ourselves within its pages; because we all have times where we’ve over-reacted.


Order Unoffendable through your favorite Christian bookseller; or get more info at Thomas Nelson.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

January 14, 2016

Spiritual Ups and Downs

Filed under: Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Spiritual ups and downs

Several days ago I was introduced to someone who is a relatively new Christian. As she told a bit of her story, I felt led to share some things with her.

This is not a new thing, I do this all the time; but in this situation, even as I was hearing myself speak, I sensed an extra measure of authority in my words which is not always there. As an added plus, although I often allude to various scriptures, I found myself quoting passages more verbatim than I normally would.

It was a good discussion and I didn’t mind at all that it left me ten minutes late for our next appointment.

Flash forward about six hours…

I was alone in the house, and it was like I was having some type of gigantic spiritual breakdown. Overwhelmed with a variety of circumstances; frustrated, stressed out and discouraged; I found myself saying, “God, I can’t pray; I just can’t pray anymore.” (Yes, I realize the irony. By crying out to God I was praying. I was conscious of it at the time, too.)

It was just one of those moments — call it a spiritual warfare attack — where the burden of everything going on just seemed too much.

And that’s the end of the story…

…Okay, I realize this isn’t very redemptive, and it runs the opposite of most the Psalms you’ve read. If you read the Psalmist, you know that there is a lot of raw transparency there. But there is always resolution, a moment of ‘Then the Lord heard my cry’ (6:9; 18:6) or ‘Then the Lord answered me’ (34:4; 118:5).

Hey, I’m a writer. I like to tie up the end of the story with a bow. I want to end each blog post with, ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

So it looks like I’ve got the parts in the wrong order, right?

Well, no. Life is after all, a series of ups and downs, not just downs and ups. Each chapter of our lives is connected to the previous and to the next, and so our lives are more like a sine wave. (If you’re spiritually up all the time, I look forward to reading your book. Most people’s lives aren’t like that.)

And God and I were never that far away from each other. I was just at a low point. And alone at home. And probably especially vulnerable to attack after the spiritual high of my earlier conversation. And things did even out after I was through with my spiritual rant.

Can you relate?

 

Here’s a classic from Maranatha Music which came to mind as I wrote this:

July 12, 2014

Mental Illness or the Pressure of Everyday Life?

Filed under: health, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

The pile of newspapers and magazines next to our bed is not something I am particularly proud of, but it does yield some interesting treasures on a daily basis. Recently, I unearthed a copy of a Fall 2011 edition of U. of T. Magazine, the alumni magazine of my school, the University of Toronto.

The cover story was written in anticipation of what was then the upcoming revision to the DSM, which is a kind of Bible for people in the fields of psychiatric medicine and psychology, that has actually been revised several times before.  All I want to do here is isolate six paragraphs that struck me for a variety of reasons.

Mind Games cover story…[Edward] Shorter’s critique is more general. He thinks that the DSM is both an example and a cause of psychiatry’s wrong turn beginning sometime after the mid-20th century. He says the profession moved from a relatively small, relatively valid list of mental diseases – many of which could be treated effectively by tranquilizers, lithium and first-generation antidepressants – toward a vast list of disorders with no scientific validity. Some of the disorders overlap so much that they are almost impossible to distinguish from one another. Worse, he says, some of the disorders are really descriptions of normal, if difficult, human experience…

…The current American Psychiatric Association task force, comprising 29 psychiatrists and other mental health specialists, wants to recognize that many conditions often overlap – for instance, anxiety and depression – so that a diagnosis of only one or the other doesn’t always make sense…

…“There isn’t any other discipline in medicine that depends on consensus for its scientific truths,” says Shorter. “Consensus really means horse-trading – I’ll give you this diagnosis if you’ll give me that diagnosis. That’s the way they do business in politics. That’s not the way you do business in science. The speed of light wasn’t determined by consensus.” …

…“One of the disadvantages is instilling in people the idea that normal life includes chronic medication. This has been a terrible development in the last 30 years, the idea that you cannot have a normal life unless you’re on pills.” …

…Dr. David S. Goldbloom, a University of Toronto professor of psychiatry, says that Shorter has identified a real issue in psychiatry − the underlying cause of a disorder is often not known. No blood test or X-ray can confirm a diagnosis. That means psychiatrists are left to make diagnoses strictly according to symptoms. But that doesn’t mean the diagnoses are without value. …

… The problem of “diagnostic creep,” in which normal human emotions are classified as pathology is also a valid concern, he says. “Being sad, angry, afraid or joyous − that is part of the normal fabric of human experience. How do we draw a line when sadness becomes depression, when joy becomes mania, when fear becomes paranoia?” he asks. …

[…You can read Kurt Kliener’s whole article here …]

Mental illness is a fact of life for many families. I thought that this article helps to raise some issues that non-academics need to be more aware of.

I don’t want to minimize what is a real challenge for so many, perhaps even people reading this right now. But the line that struck me was, “some of the disorders are really descriptions of normal, if difficult, human experience.”

Life is hard.

 

 

 

January 29, 2010

Leaving Room in Your Schedule versus Just Saying No

The title of this post really highlights the difference in approach between two very popular books of the last decade, Margin by Richard Swenson and Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.    The former’s premise was that you needed to leave some ‘headroom’ or margin in your life, you can’t over commit or over schedule or overtax your energies.    The latter took the more bottom line “just say ‘no'” approach.

Boundaries totally outstripped Margin in sales, but this month, Richard Swenson is back with In Search of Balance:  Keys to a Stable Life (Navpress).    Since Nav doesn’t exactly do the book review thing with bloggers, here’s what their own marketing states about the title:

Most of us live lives of “quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreau put it, except we’re no longer so quiet about it. When exactly did “all stress, all the time” replace the “green pastures and still waters”? And what can we do about it? We try to manage all the details thrown our way, but we lack a sense of calm and steadiness at the center. Richard A. Swenson, MD, author of the best-selling book Margin, helps us understand the dangers of living in a post-balance world and gives us hope for recovering a foundational sense of equilibrium.

Dr. Swenson offers not only important organizing principles for making sense of our priorities but also scores of practical tips for finding rest and contentment in a world that emphasizes materialism and busyness. His advice is grounded in the daily realities we all experience, but his wisdom has been honed by the big-picture perspective of an exhaustive study of the stresses of modern life.

February 1, 2009

You’ve Got Mad Church Disease

“Blessed are the burned-out, for things can only improve from here…”

Okay, that’s a quote from nowhere, because when you’re burned out in ministry, “blessed” isn’t usually the first word that comes to mind.   But help is on the way, in the form of Anne Jackson’s new book Mad Church Disease.

mad-church-diseaseWhen I reviewed the book the first time, I mentioned that I don’t live in a country where advance ordering is as widespread as elsewhere, and I’d come back to a more formal review when the book hit the stores, which is right now!

So here’s the deal:  Eleven chapters that are partially subjective biography but largely objective self-help for clergy, church staff and laity who feel that ministry is killing them in one form or another.   It’s usually called burnout, but there aren’t many books on the topic, especially among Christian publishers.   The overall genre here is ‘self-help,’ since the book is big on action steps you can take if you feel this book is playing your song.

The title is an obvious play on ‘mad cow disease,’ which, it turns out, provides a rather appropriate motif.    The format — including generous use of color, charts, and fill-in-the-blanks — continues the metaphor with a pseudo-medical treatment of the disease, including checking symptoms and getting the proverbial second opinion, in this case from Bill Hybels, Perry Noble, Wayne Cordeiro, Mike Foster, Matt Carter, Shawn Wood, Gary Kinnaman and Brandi Wilson.

The book also provides one of the best clarifications you will ever read on the distinction between everyday stress and true burnout.   If your work life isn’t a church, but in general commerce and industry, you might want to buy the book anyway, just for those three chapters.    Finally, if life is going pretty good right now, you might want to examine the risk factors just the same.

But ‘self-help’ aside, even if you don’t have the disease, although it’s not its purpose, the book is a powerful call to prayer for Christian leaders and pastors.   If you want a better understanding of the reality of life for pastors and many paid church staffers — especially those who are essentially ‘on call’ 24 hours a day — this book will give you that window into their world.

Anne Jackson is not trained in psychology.   Instead she has the real-world experience of the disease on her side and brings an analytic and compassionate approach to helping readers diagnose and be cured of Mad Church Disease in all its forms.    I’ve enjoyed reading Anne’s blog, FlowerDust, over the past year and am impressed enough with her first book for Zondervan that I’m giving it this rare second review and my heartiest endorsement.

Buy it for yourself, or a pastor, church leader or church volunteer you love; or for someone at the point of entering into ministry to know the risks and to have the book on hand when they need it.

Download a  FREE sample chapter HERE.

Read another writer’s in depth review of the book.

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( Thanks to Mark H. at Zondervan Canada for the collector’s-item proof copy! )


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