Put on your strength: a step towards mental health.

Hi Hannah! 

I’ve been following you for awhile now on social media and appreciate your honesty and wisdom especially when it comes to anxiety and depression. I’ve dealt with anxiety probably most of my life but the past few years I believe it has gotten worse. I’m 29 about to be 30, in a stressful job where I am unhappy, wish I was married, and in need of a strong community of believers around me but is seriously lacking these days. I think all of these are contributing factors in why my anxiety/depression has been so much worse.  

I want to go to a doctor and explore the idea of medication but even the idea of finding a doctor, going, and explaining everything is overwhelming enough. I recently opened up a little to my mom about it but her advice is to pray more which she is probably right but it’s hard to pray more when I can’t think rationally due to overwhelming anxiety. 

I’m not even sure why I’m writing to you I NEVER do things like this but I appreciate your words on the subject and would gladly accept any advice you might have for me! 

Thanks for taking the time 🙂

S


Dear S,

There’s a passage in the book of Isaiah, chapter 52, that starts like this: Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion. I’ve been sitting with those words since Monday night and I think maybe they were meant to be passed onto you.

In the Message Translation of the Bible, they name Chapter 52 as “God is leading you out of here.”

It’s a call to the people who have been stuck in exile for quite some time. It’s a call to the people who have felt hopeless and tired, wondering to themselves, “Will this darkness never cease?”

I could say a million things to you right now but I think you need to hear this first: God is leading you out of here. Put on your strength. Like a well-loved denim jacket, put on any ounce of strength you’ve got left in your tired body. You won’t be left in this struggle alone. You’re coming out of the woods.

I feel compelled to say these things because the conversation about faith + mental illness gets really messy sometimes. The church has a long way to go when it comes to talking about mental illness but I’ve honestly seen more talking than ever before. That gives me hope.

In the midst of my severe depression, I couldn’t shield myself from the people who thought I just needed more faith. Or I just needed more prayer. Or I just needed to dig into my own well of strength and rewire the pathways in my brain manually. They made it seem easy.

And, girl, there is so much temptation to get mad at those people and the comments they make. But anger won’t do anything. They can’t help what they don’t yet know. Take the words from someone who knows depression like a sister by now: your depression isn’t a matter of “get stronger” or “have more faith.” God isn’t looking at you and saying to himself, “Man, I just wish you could hold it together a little more… could you get on my level?”

Do I think faith and prayer matter in the battle for mental health? Absolutely. But medicine is a modern-day miracle.

“Taking medicine is a wise act of faith, not unfaith,” Zack Eswine writes. “It would not be wise to live by a supposed faith, and cast off the physician and his medicines, any more than to discharge the butcher, and the tailor, and expect to be fed and clothed by faith,” Charles Spurgeon said.

If I could speak one piece of advice over my 7-year battle with mental health, I would just say this: “Don’t let fear be the thing that stops you from getting the help you need. If anyone else were drowning, you’d tell them to reach out and grab the life jacket. Don’t ignore the symptoms of drowning.”

Several years ago I tried to get “in shape” for my wedding. I already had the dress and I didn’t have to lose much weight but I wanted what most women want when they look back on wedding photos- to be able to say I looked my best on that day.

No matter what I tried to do, I could not lose weight. It was impossible. I felt hopeless. A friend of mine thought my inability to lose weight was tied up in the medication I was taking for depression. That was all it took for me, S, one person’s opinion was all I needed to stop taking my medication.

I felt triumphant. I started talking about going “au naturel” and people loved the thought of me not having to be on medication for my entire life. I thought I’ve got this. I’m treating this naturally. I don’t want something in my body that messes with my ability to drop a few pounds.

Things went downhill quickly. Within the span of a few weeks, I was feeling anxious again. I was struggling to stay focused. A thick fog of sadness settled over me. There was one day in particular where I started having a panic attack in my gym, thinking to myself, “I’m going back into the dark. Dear God, help me. I don’t want to go back into the dark place.”

I share this for a few reasons:

  1. Our friends and family mean well but they might not always be right. You’ve got to test everything. People talk out of what they know and understand to be true. Turns out, my medication didn’t stand in the way of me losing weight (I learned this a year later while completing a Whole30). Your mother, if she has never dealt with depression, may think the remedy is prayer. More prayer. Do I think prayer is a part of the journey? Yes, of course. Do I think “more prayer” is enough to get you out of a depression when there is a real chemical imbalance in your brain or a situation you can’t leave right now? In my own experience, no.
  2. I quickly became intoxicated by this idea of what it would look like to battle my depression “naturally.” I felt like Gwenyth-freaking-Paltrow for about five minutes. But I’m not Gwenyth and it turns out my body was all sorts of shell-shocked by my decision to go cold-turkey off the medicine. I had to spend so much mental energy just trying to tread water while off the medication. I was going to impress people, I thought. I became enamored by a reality that wasn’t my own, by a story of “girl goes off medication and deals with it naturally” that wasn’t my story to hold. Maybe one day I will be able to be off of my medication but you know what, S? That’s not my goal. My goal is to be as healthy and happy as I can be and I am thankful medication helps me do that.
  3. Never go off your medication, cold-turkey, in the middle of planning a wedding. Just don’t.

Would I go back and do this string of events differently? Maybe. For a few seconds, I think maybe I would. But then I remember what came out of that mistake of mine:

My therapist, who’d formed a relationship with me, phoned a doctor friend. The doctor, who normally had a wait list 6-months out, was able to get me in for a visit 6 weeks later. In the meantime, I went back on my medication. It was an act of faith for me. It was a step towards getting better. And in those 6 weeks of waiting, God did something in my heart which made me ready to talk about medication and the possibility that I might be on it forever. We don’t know, S. We just can’t know.

All in all, it came down to a step in the right direction. One step and then another step. That’s the only advice I feel compelled to give you today: just take the first, scary step.

You hit a wall. You wrote it out to me. You’re sad. You’re unhappy. You might be disappointed in God. You hit the point where sadness has become your default and you need to see what could be waiting on the other side.

It takes a Google search or asking around within your community. After that, it takes scheduling the appointment.

On the day of that appointment, you show up. You breathe in and out. You ask questions. You answer questions. You begin a journey towards mental health and there’s no shame in that.

You going to see a doctor isn’t a scratch on you. That’s not a defect or a disqualification. Depression doesn’t discount you. When condemnation comes rapping on your door, speak firmly to it, “You can’t come here anymore.”

Health is beautiful but health looks different for all of us. My journey won’t mirror yours. Yours won’t be the same as your people’s journies. But we all have a journey and it matters that we take it seriously.

It’s that one small step, S. It’s that picking up of the strength you’ve got left and cloaking it over you. Wake up, babe. Wake up. Put on your strength.

tying you closer than most,

hb.


No doubt that S will be reading the comments below. This is a hard yet necessary conversation to have. I would love for you to post an encouraging message below or a piece of your own story. Every little word counts in this space. Remind the others: you’re not alone.

I will walk with you through the woods.

January is a month that hoards memories for me. I can hardly look at the word “January” scrawled thick across the banner of a new calendar and not remember all that happened in this month three years ago. It’s all still with me.

I remember the plane rides back and forth between Atlanta and Connecticut. I remember the multiple doctors, all with their differing opinions about treatment moving forward. I remember the hotel rooms, sitting on the phone for hours with friends because I didn’t want to be alone. I remember the drowsiness of sleeping pills and the feel of the carpet against my cheek as I got down on the floor once again and begged God for a shred of hope, one small poke of light through the thick fog of depression.

Depression is never an easy topic to write about but I know it’s necessary. Today, as I was reading in Isaiah, I noticed the words: I have been anointed to bring good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners of darkness. 

There are prisoners of darkness. This is an accurate description of how depression feels. Sometimes you feel like you are in this small, stone box. You’re stuck at the bottom of it. There’s no light pouring through the cracks. You can’t find a window or a door and you’re gasping for breath, pounding on the sides of that box in the hopes that someone would just hear you and let you go free. You’re stuck. It’s scary.

I get emails all the time from people asking me to write about how, just how, to walk with someone through the woods. Through the pain of depression. Through a dark valley of an unseen illness that steals sleep and daily ambition.

I’m writing now but with great hesitancy. Mental illness is such a tender topic and it’s important to just come out and say it: there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Each individual is different. Each experience with mental illness is unique. I don’t possess all the answers. Not even close. I am simply one person who deals with depression and it would be wise to gather the stories of others to make this narrative more complete. So here’s the little prayer I said beneath my breath as I wrote this: God, help me to be wise when writing about such a tough topic. Give me grace in the areas where I get it wrong. Highlight & amplify the places where I speak your truth the loudest. 

I’d so appreciate your grace on this topic too!

You are not a lifeboat. The signs of depression may be pretty straightforward. However, figuring out how to respond to those signs is a different beast. You love this person. You naturally want to make it better for the one who is stuck in a thick fog. The first thing to remember: your presence is appreciated and essential but you can’t heal a person of their illness. That’s not your role.

Don’t get frustrated by this. You have many other roles you can take on. You can make the tea. You can let them crumble into your arms and hold them why they cry. You can listen. You can learn.

More importantly, depression is a heavy thing. It can feel burdensome. Depression, itself, is the burden. The person who is suffering is just the host of the burden. Burdens, however, are not meant to be shouldered alone. Be mindful of your limits. Don’t try to hold this all on your shoulders. It is possible to be crushed under the weight of trying to show up for someone you love. 

Be mindful of your limits. Don’t try to hold this all on your shoulders. It is possible to be crushed under the weight of trying to show up for someone you love. 

Stay surrounded by a support system if you can. Be plugged in and be in communication with the other friends or family members who are walking alongside this person. Sometimes it takes a small village and hey, sometimes you may need to pull over on the side of the road and take a pit stop. That’s okay. I say this because it’s easy to start a journey with people but it’s harder to finish it. Take care of your health. Lean hard into your people as someone with depression leans into you. Exercise boundaries. Be aware of how you’re feeling as you offer another support.

 

Be a truth-teller. Much of depression is like hearing a soundtrack of lies blasting loudly in the background of everything you try to do yet being helpless to find the knob that turns the volume down. We need people to reach in and say, “Hey, I see you. I know the things you are believing right now but here’s some truth to sustain you.”

Remind that person of who they are. Remind them that they are not an illness or a failure. Depression is not a weakness. Remind the person you love that they are a fighter and that they, too, will come out of the woods. 

It might be tempting to say, “Snap out of it. Get yourself together and just move forward.” You have to remember that the person battling this mental illness wants to believe the same things as you. They’ve tried to snap out of it. They are likely trying as hard as they possibly can so coercion to “get over it” won’t work. Be kind and graceful.

Sometimes it won’t seem to make any sense. And that’s okay, too. Depression is a hard thing to understand and the best thing you can say sometimes is, “Hey, we both don’t fully get this but what is more important is getting through this.”

 

You’re okay. These are my two favorite words in the English language. I use them constantly to remind others of how strong and brave they are. This is a big one: help is sometimes necessary and there doesn’t need to be a glowing orb of stigma around getting it. Doctors exist for a reason. Medicine exists with a purpose. Not everyone needs medicine but it’s okay if the door gets flung open.

It’s one of the most powerful things in the world to remind a person who is fighting through the dark: you’re okay. You’re okay and if you need me to, I will go to the doctor’s office with you. I will hold your hand. I will help you pick up the medicine and take that first pill.

Again, treatment is not a one-size-fits-all thing. I reached a point in my own journey where medicine was the only option to recovery and I still remember the friend who dropped me off at the doctor’s office. I remember her bringing me back to her place, tucking me in on the couch, and going to Target to pick up that first prescription for me.

It’s tempting to want to think you are crazy for having to take pills to make your brain better but that’s the last thing you are. You are not crazy. You are not a lost cause. I had to remind myself that each small pill was a step towards recovery. It didn’t mean I would take the pills forever. It simply meant that, in this moment, there was a little extra assistance and that was perfectly okay.

Another thing you might have to say: you’re okay. And it’s okay if you need to go somewhere like a hospital. It’s okay if you need more help.

It was two weeks into my medicine that my community and I made the decision to go to the emergency room. I wouldn’t have gone if people hadn’t surrounded me and said, “It’s perfectly okay to go where there is help. Don’t be afraid. Don’t believe the lie that you are broken beyond repair.”

“It’s perfectly okay to go where there is help. Don’t be afraid. Don’t believe the lie that you are broken beyond repair.”

Thoughts of suicide are a reality for some of those battling mental illness. It is imperative that we ask the hard questions and we follow-up with help options: Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about hurting other people? These are not silly questions and they need to be asked sometimes even if it feels uncomfortable.

 

Little victories. I owe so much of my recovery to a small band of women who surrounded me and refused to let me be alone. There were days where I just wanted to be left alone. They would invite me over. They would call and ask me to join them for errands. This is huge. Really huge. It would be easy enough to sit with a person experiencing depression and let them talk all day about their worries and fears. This won’t always be helpful though. Instead, plan something active. Propose going for a walk or doing a yoga class together. Ask them to join you on a trip to Target. These activities help a person get out of their own head and enter into the world. The depression will likely scream, “No! Just stay home. Just stay alone!” but it’s okay to be a little insistent. Even if you don’t feel it, your presence is a breath of fresh air to someone who is worn down by the prison in their brain.

There were days where all I wanted to do was run myself in circles around lies I couldn’t piece together. I wanted answers but that’s the thing about depression: it wants you to obsess over things you cannot change and it wants you to be helpless to move forward.

I wanted answers but that’s the thing about depression: it wants you to obsess over things you cannot change and it wants you to be helpless to move forward.

One of my girlfriends, Chrisy, stopped me in the middle of obsessing one morning. She said, “Okay, we are not going to wallow in this anymore. I want you to get up and I want you to do something.” She instructed me to go to Target and buy a pack of thank-you notes. She told me to write a thank-you note to any person who’d been with me in this dark pit. She asked me to write down every tiny thing I did from now until the end of the day, in monotonous fashion: Went to Target. Wrote thank-you notes. Took a shower. Met with Heather. 

Little victories are one of the best things you can point a person towards when they are in a pit. Little victories, stacking upon one another, help a person climb out of themselves and see the world once again. Depression is an illness that wants you to focus inward but action steps propel you forward. This is also a great chance to encourage self-care. It’s easy to neglect things like bathing, working out, or eating right when you are depressed. Just the thought of a shower can seem so overwhelming but breaking the self-care into baby steps, little victories to be met, helps a person feel empowered and capable of trying again the next day.

Help the person in your life count the little victories, no matter how small. Write them down or track them in a phone. Rejoice with them. Celebrate the smallness. Grab their hand and assure them, “Little victory upon little victory, I will walk with you through the woods.”

 

I would love to read your words and thoughts on this topic in the comment section below. The comments section is often a bright light for others, all on its own. I invite you to contribute- your words are appreciated in this space. 

Daily vitamins made simple & personal.

(pssttt… there’s a treat for my readers at the end of this post. Don’t miss out!)

Sometimes I like to write about the things I care about— faith, relationships, love, necessity. Other times, I like to write about the things and products in my life that are changing my life. This is one of those other times. .

I deal with depression and anxiety. I see a therapist every three weeks and a psychiatrist every 6 months. The therapist and psychiatrist talk to one another. They collaborate to figure out how to walk me into the best life possible. With depression, it is sometimes hard to believe in that “best life possible.”
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They talk to me separately about the importance of whole foods, exercise, routines. I’m like a parrot- rattling off all the right answers until we get to the part about vitamins.
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“Do you take vitamins?”
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I answer, “Yes, of course, I take vitamins.”
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They ask, “Which ones?”
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I get nervous and I say a bunch of things.
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“Well, I dabble in fish oil. I occasionally take a multivitamin but it truly makes me nauseous. Sometimes I take sketchy pills I see on Doctor Oz but that’s always pretty short-lived.”
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Let’s be honest: The whole process of vitamins overwhelms me. I know I need to be taking them but which ones? And what brands? Can I just have the gummies? Why does health feel so hard sometimes?
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My friend Lindsey posted about this company Care/of two months ago. It was an image of a packet of vitamins with her name on it. I was instantly intrigued. I checked out the company and the love affair really began.
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Instead of spending an hour staring at the rows of vitamins in Target, I took a quiz. The quiz asked me about my lifestyle, my goals, my values, and all the things. Sleep patterns. Activity. Skin issues. Illnesses. The quiz took about 5 minutes. I personally loved it because it made me feel seen and known as an individual. If I have learned one thing through my health journey it’s this: there is no one size fits all solution. Each person is different. My needs are different than your needs. I am thankful for companies who call out our differences instead of trying to remedy us all with sameness.
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My quiz tells me I need the following:

  • Rhodiola- The Cosmonaut: Supports stress and mood. I’m down for anything that chills out my brain.
  • Multivitamin- The One: I added this one to my packet after the quiz because my doctors are constantly saying, “MULTIVITAMIN! MULTIVITAMIN! MULTIVITAMIN!”
  • Probiotic Blend- The Harmonious Gut: My mama talks endlessly about probiotics and that I need them. Hey mom- I am doing okay now!
  • Astaxanthin- The Coral King : This is a biggie for me because this little pill helps me with my psoriasis. Skin problems, see you later!

A few days after I ordered the vitamins, a little box showed up with 30 individual packs for each day of the month. I must have shown Lane the packaging at least thirty times because I was just so tickled with the presentation. As crazy as it might seem, I love having my name on all the little packets. It feels personalized and custom-made for me. It’s the little things, guys.
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I’m one month into the experience and I can proudly scream about how much I love the following:

1) It helps with creating healthy habits.
I keep the little box at my desk in a place where I can see it every day. There are no excuses, really. I grab a pack from the box and take it with a meal. No fuss, no excuses. I’ve only missed a few days and that’s because I am still getting used to the process.
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2) It’s trustworthy.
I like honest companies. I don’t know how to figure out who is honest in the industry of vitamins. I am always wondering if I need a different brand of multi vitamins or if I should be trying a different probiotic. In this case, the vitamins are all coming from one place. The tough decisions (the ones I was never good at making anyway) have left the building. I am free to trust the experts and go with my gut (dumb probiotic joke).
3) It’s perfect for traveling. I give it an A+!
I can’t tell you the number of pill boxes I’ve bought in the last few years. I think each one is going to be the solution. I imagine myself refilling it and taking my little pill box on all my travels with me. It has yet to happen. When I went to New York City and Tampa the other week, I simply grabbed 5 packets from the bag and threw them into my carry-on. Again— no fuss, no excuses.
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4) It simply inspires me.
I love innovative companies. I love people who see an everyday occurrence like taking vitamins and try to make it simpler. This sort of stuff fires me up. Overall, subscribing to Care/of feels like an experience more than anything else. I love the branding and the simplicity of the packaging. It’s taken the stress out of vitamins for me. For that, I am pretty stinkin’ grateful.

 


.This isn’t a sponsored post. I am passionate about sharing the things that matter to me with all of you.  I reached out to Care/of and I asked if there was something I could offer to you guys. They were kind (and really speedy), giving me a coupon code for 50% off your first subscription of vitamins. Just use “BRENCHER50” as your promo code at checkout and enjoy half off your first month of vitamins! 
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13 thoughts on mental health.

1.

I didn’t want to work out this morning but I pushed myself out into the sunlight anyway.

I’m confused by the weather as I walk the streets of my neighborhood. November in Atlanta is like a puberty-stricken teenager square in the middle of an identity crisis. Some days she is hot. Some days she is cold. She dresses up like winter on a Monday and then slips back into the nylon of spring by Wednesday. I wish November would make up its mind.

I pull out my phone and set the time for 45 minutes. I only need to walk and get my blood pumping for 45 minutes today. That’s all it will take.

The fight to keep your “normal.”

I’ve told this story a few times before. It happened in November 2014. It was the week of Thanksgiving and I was on the verge of a 4-month battle with severe depression. I say “verge” because, even though the depression had technically set in, those first few weeks were nothing compared to the rock-bottom I would encounter throughout the months of December, January and February.

Talking with my good friend Clifton, I balled my fists up and huffed at him with frustration, “I just want to go back to normal.”

Hungry love.

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1.

I’ve been writing a lot about anxiety recently for my book chapters. Without knowing it, anxiety is a bigger character in the story I am telling than I anticipated to be. 

I am writing this story with Lane’s permission. There aren’t many parts of Lane and my’s growing relationship that I’ve shared on the internet. I’ve been a blogger for 5 years now and so I have learned how important it is to separate your life from what is happening on the screen and what is taking place off of it. Relationships can easily be muddied up when two people are invested in the image of their relationship rather than the character of it.

My heart for every reader– as I write my truth– is that you will invest your life in a person who is more of a map to you than a story. Stories are beautiful but maps take you places. Remember to go, and see, and do. Put down your phone and live love out loud, not just through captions and tags. 

Fear’s last love song.

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Hannah- 

So…I was really hoping I could come back to you a month later with some huge spiritual experience and an “I’m out of the woods” story.  I don’t have one.

Instead it has been baby steps forward, only to stumble back again.  Some days I’m fine, some days all I want to do is lay down and cry because it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Darkness has been so evident lately and I’m so scared of falling into it instead of God.  I know it’s really not my battle because I’m not strong enough to fight against it…but I don’t really know how to surrender it to God, either. I’m not really sure how to trust someone I can’t see, feel or hear but I want to.