Walking On Water

I’m not going to lie, life has been challenging for me recently. Especially in the past few weeks I have noticed a major shift in myself. December of 2019, I was feeling confident. I was confident in my faith and where it was heading. I was confident in my jobs. I was confident in my health and caring for myself. Overall I felt confident in life. I was keeping my focus on Jesus and the work He was doing.

As January rolled around, however, life began to pick up pace. I ended up getting caught up in my schedule and specific struggles that God was bringing to my attention. I got hyper-focused on the struggles and lost my focus on Jesus. Satan began attacking me and doubts, fears, depression and anxieties crept in… well, flooded in. I lost all confidence in myself, my health, my work, and my faith. I began to neglect my health. I stopped reading God’s word and praying for other people as much as I had been. In reality, I stopped caring. I just wanted to escape.

It’s no surprise that when my chronic illness hit me full force, my body got wiped out. Not only that, I put myself through so much anxiety and stress from focusing on those specific struggles, that my body began to fall apart…again. My muscles were aching, weak and sore, my digestion was all out of sorts, and my energy was nonexistent. While some of those symptoms are from my chronic illness, I know they were intensified by the stress I put myself under.

While I was in the upswing of my energy returning, after taking several days off of work, the story of Jesus walking on the water came to my mind through a song I had been playing on repeat. Let’s take a look at it below in Matthew 14:

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way[b] from the land,[c] beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night[d] he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,[e] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I resonate with Peter on so many levels. I too have felt the confidence of trusting in Jesus and stepping out in faith, as I was doing at the end of 2019 and early 2020. Like Peter, I focused on the storms around me and became fearful and anxious. I too lost sight of Jesus face, His glory, His power, and His love. I began to sink. And like Peter, when everything became too much for me to handle, when I was sinking in my health conditions, anxiety and depression, I cried out to Jesus. And He reached His hand out to me and blessed me with this story of Him and Peter.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this Bible story came to mind during this time in my life. I know the Holy Spirit was trying to tell me something here.

I see very clearly now what happens when I take my eyes off of Jesus. The second we take our eyes off of Jesus and our identity as a son or daughter of God, we begin to doubt. Fear and depression rolls in, we lose hope, and we sink. For me, personally, sinking comes in the form of uncontrollable anxiety, depression and physical pain. My mind and body literally fall apart when I lose sight of my savior for even a brief moment. For others it could be a bad attitude, snarky comments to those they love, falling back into addiction or making quick decisions. These things don’t creep in over time, they can flood in the second satan is able to get our eyes off of Jesus. It can happen just that quick.

The story of Peter above gives so much hope. I think it shows a wonderful picture of the love Jesus has for us. He didn’t yell at peter for doubting. He didn’t scold him, or punish him for losing sight of Him and sinking. It says, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Jesus immediately reaches his hand out to peter and holds him. Yeah, He says “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” But He doesn’t yell at Peter, He simply poses a question to get Peter thinking. What a beautiful picture of how He rescues us when we are sinking.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to beat myself up when I lose sight of Jesus and end up going through these painful, difficult periods. I often feel as though I should be punished or am being punished for losing sight of Him. But that’s not what Jesus wants for us. He wants to grab us, hold us, and calm the storm going on around or in us. What an amazing God I serve, that when I mess up, when I leave Him, or stop pursuing Him, He doesn’t give up on me, rather He reaches out to me. I take so much comfort in that mental picture of Jesus reaching out His hand to me and holding me as I am sinking in the struggles of this broken world.

I won’t lie, I’m still struggling and working on getting better physically and mentally after this rough patch. It will take time to fully bounce back so I still appreciate your prayers. I know the consequences of losing sight of Jesus, and I don’t want that to happen again. Will I mess up again? yes. I’m human. But what a comfort to know that God loves me enough to reach out to me and He wants to calm the storms even when I rebel or allow satan to take over my mind.

I hope this gives you some sort of peace and comfort, as it has to me. When I feel my anxiety boiling up, or my body is drained and exhausted down to the bone, I can imagine Jesus reaching His hand out to me and holding me through it all. I hope that you can too when you go through a rough patch or difficult season. Jesus isn’t leaving you to drown, He’s right there reaching out His hand to hold you.

The song that spurred the Spirit to remind me of this story is called “Safe” by neon Feather.

Thank you for reading my rambles.

One Month Off of Social Media

Well, we are officially one month into 2020 and it is already shaping up to be a wild ride. If you read my post at the beginning of January, you may remember that one of my biggest challenges I have given myself for this year, is to stay off of all social media, including: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I’ve had several people ask me how this is going and if I really intend to stick it out the entire year. Before I get into my update with how I am doing with this challenge, I want to give a little context as to how and why this goal came to be.

Ever since I first got my facebook account back in 2009 at the age of 14, facebook has been an escape for me. When I was feeling sad, I’d scroll on facebook. When I was bored, I’d scroll on facebook. When I was tired, facebook. You get the picture. As I got older and more social media platforms came to be, that sense of escape only grew. I now had even more places online that could take up my time and help me to escape what was happening in my own world and within my mind.

I’ve been aware of how dangerous these apps can be for me since high school when I bought myself my very own laptop. Before this purchase, the only way I was able to waste my time on these sites was via the family desktop computer (what a time to be alive). Now that I had my own device, I could get on them basically as much as I desired. And so I did…

As I was growing in my faith in high school, I began to become aware of how toxic social media can be and how much time I was wasting on it. But, my world was also crashing in around me, repeatedly during that season. So even though I knew it was not a great place to turn, I continued to turn to it as my escape. Social media didn’t become my only form of escape that would grip hold of me, but it definitely has made rank as one of the strongest.

As people my age began to have smart phones, in which these social media sites could now be easily viewed anywhere, I knew in my heart that I shouldn’t have one. So I refrained and stuck with my old slide out keyboard cell phone all the way until I was a freshman in college. My reasoning for giving in was that I needed the navigation feature as I was going to school away from home.

Social media already had a hold on me, but once I introduced the smart phone into the mix, it only held on tighter. Life didn’t seem to slow down or ever get any easier and so I continued to use social media to escape. I continued to feel convicted time and time again about the foothold this had in my life, but I also continued to ignore it. It was, after-all, my security blanket.

It wasn’t until I took an addictions class for my degree, that I began to realize that this grip that social media had on me was actually an addiction. I still hesitate to use that word, but when I actually analyze the vice that it had (and still has), I can’t classify it any other way. According to Webster dictionary, an addiction is “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence the state of being addicted.”

In this class we were required to give something up that we use on a daily basis for a week’s time. We had to note anytime we felt the urge to engage in the thing we gave up, and then write a paper about how it went. This project was for us to get a tiny glimpse of what addiction is like for those who are addicted to substances, and it was so powerful. But as powerful as it was, I continued on with my social media use once the project was over.

As God continued to lay it on my heart over the next few years, I would make small changes to help ease that tension I felt. I’d go through periods of not allowing myself to have any of the apps on my phone, or I’d even take some time off here and there. But none of that did anything for me. Sure, I read more books and had less screen time, but I never allowed it to draw me closer to the one calling me to give it up in the first place. And in all reality, it wasn’t much of a challenge or sacrifice when I knew that I’d be able to get on in a week or month, whatever I had chosen to do.

Which leads me to my decision to take the entire year of 2020 off of all social media. This was purely by the work of God. As I mentioned, this is an issue that God has been trying to reveal to me for years now. It wasn’t until I began to fervently seek after Him towards the end of 2019, that I knew the reason He was calling me to give it up. Because the reality is that God doesn’t want just the leftover moments at the end of our day. He wants ALL of the moments of our day. He doesn’t want us to use other things as an escape from this troubling life because as is stated in Isaiah, He wants to help us in the midst of those troubles. Isaiah 41:10 states, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God didn’t and doesn’t want me to have or use a “security blanket”. He wants to BE my “security blanket”.

So as I began to process the year of 2019 and started to look forward to what I wanted 2020 to look like, I knew I wanted this new year to be full of Jesus in my life. I knew that if I wanted my life to be full of Jesus, I’d have to make some sacrifices. The Holy Spirit kept prompting me to take the year off of social media. It typically came in the form of the thought running across my mind every now and again. The more I tried to brush it off the more it would appear. So I had some conversations with God that typically went like this: “I hear you, but do I really have to take the WHOLE year off?”

I didn’t want to. My best friends just had their first child, friends are getting married or engaged, and let’s be honest, the best way to stay up to date with people we care about is by social media. I didn’t want to risk missing out on those things, and ultimately becoming a forgotten friend whose relationships vanished because I wasn’t kept in the loop of their lives. But the more I pushed back, the more He persisted.

So here I am, one month in to this year long social media fast. I’ll be honest, it has been way more challenging than I ever anticipated. I knew that going off of social media for the entire year would be hard, but I thought “I’ve gone a month off here and there and it wasn’t that bad, so I’ll be fine.” I was so wrong. You know how I gave the definition of addiction previously? Yeah, I never truly knew just how much power social media has had over my life until this past month. I truly am addicted to social media.

You might be wondering, “So, if you’re addicted, then you’re telling me you went through withdrawals?” And to that I would say, “Yes!” The first week was relatively okay. I took it day by day and that helped tremendously. But as the second week began, I started to become more negative, irritable, on edge, anxious, and even started to feel the negative lies of depression flooding my mind. You see, I had given up social media, but had done it reluctantly and the enemy had started planting bitterness, doubt and fear into my heart.

So I knew that I had to make a conscious effort to pursue God and to let this fast be used for His glory. I let my accountability partners know that I was struggling with these thoughts and attitudes and asked for prayer. And I began to ask God to move in me again. Things “clicked” at the second week mark, and I found my joy for life outside of social media.

I’m not saying I don’t struggle. I’ve definitely caved and given in to temptation more times than I care to admit. I’ve logged into facebook, scrolled a bit on my newsfeed and then quickly felt the guilt of not trusting God to meet my needs for connection. But that goes to show that this fast is doing it’s job so far in that it is drawing me closer to God and teaching me more about myself.

Through my journey so far, I have learned that I have FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I hate not being in the loop of peoples lives that I care about so deeply. I fear that I will be forgotten or that my relationships will fade. It’s teaching me to be even more intentional about community and investing in the people I love so deeply. It’s also teaching me that I have a deep seated desire for attention and love from others that I tried to fill via likes, comments and follows (that one was a punch to the gut).

Most importantly, I’m learning, that even if those very fears do become reality amongst this process and season of fasting, it is in God’s perfect plan for my life. It would just mean that He would use it as a way to weed through the relationships that are hindering my growth rather than encouraging it. And even though that would be very painful, it would be worth it. So far this fast is teaching me to lean more on my savior, and THAT is the reason I’m going through with this challenge for the entire year of 2020.

I will update you all again on this topic when we hit the 3 month, 6 month and 12 month marks. Thank you for reading my rambles.

If You are Praying For a Good Year…

As we are in the start of a new year, I often hear people hoping and even praying that this new year would “be good to them”. It’s completely understandable. Who wouldn’t want to ask God for a good year? If you didn’t want that, I would probably be a bit concerned at your lack of optimism. But this brings an important question that I haven’t heard very many people discuss. What are we really asking God for when we pray for things to be good?

I’ll be honest with you, I used to pray these prayers almost daily, until about six to eight months ago when I had a lightbulb go off in my mind as I was going through my usual prayer routine. Around this time I was being awakened to the goodness of my Heavenly Father and His love for me. My eyes were beginning to open to the many ways He shows His love. I began questioning myself on why I would pray for my day to be good, when I knew in my heart that God is good and whether or not a day is “good” is solely contingent on how I choose to view the day and the day’s events.

When we ask God to bless us with a “good” day, week, month or even year, are we really asking for it to be good or are we asking for it to be easy? I know for me personally when I was praying those types of prayers, it wasn’t me praying to God that I would see His goodness around me, but that I wanted things to be easy for me. To me easy equaled good. But that isn’t the message we get from scripture about life here on earth. When diving deeper into this very topic I had three truths jump out at me…

1. God is Good

Let’s first look at what scripture says is “good”. In Genesis we see that after each day and thing God created He called it good. So God’s creation is good, or at least it was before sin took over. Even greater than creation being good, we see in scriptures time and time again that God is good. God the creator of all things is good.

Nahum 1:7 (ESV)
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 145:9
The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

The topic of God’s goodness is seen regularly throughout scripture, and is often followed up with a quality about Him that helps show His goodness. Sometimes the phrase is also followed up with a quality that believers should have to glorify our good God. Both of these qualities are seen in these verses.

2. Christians are Called to Suffering

We are also told in scripture that those who follow Christ will endure suffering. It’s inevitable that we will struggle and suffer because we live in a broken, sinful world. Whether or not we look back on our day, week, month or even year and the hardships we endure, and see it as good, is our own choice.

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

I love this verse because it blatantly tells us that God’s plans are not evil or bad, but that His plans are good and full of hope. Evil things may happen in this world, but God’s plans are NOT evil or ill-willed for us. He can turn every “bad” or evil situation into good.

James 1:2-4 (ESV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

This passage always left me slightly confused. I had heard many people preach this passage, or share it with others who are going through something hard in life; however, I never fully understood what “steadfastness” meant. According to my study ESV Bible, steadfastness is “a life of faithful endurance amid troubles and afflictions”. The oxford dictionary definition of steadfastness is “The quality of being resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.” Thus, when we face trials, it may be hard, but it produces a faith in us that grows stronger and can’t be broken and that is good.

Romans 5:3-5
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

This passage always shook me to my core. Rejoicing in our sufferings? Are they kidding? But then In a book I’ve been reading here and there over the past few months (yes I said months, don’t judge me for my ADD), the author, Lysa Terkeurst talks about this very subject of suffering and God’s goodness. In reference to John 9 in which Jesus heals the blind man who has been blind since birth, she writes:

“This man’s blindness-his own form of hardship and long-suffering – wasn’t because of choices he made or ones his parents made. This suffering was placed on him. But it was for a reason. He was handpicked to display the works of God. Through his story Jesus would shine the light of truth and hope for others lives to not be so dark. And then Jesus brought healing out of the man’s brokenness”(TerKeurst, 2018, pg. 133).

The reality is that we all suffer and struggle on this earth, and suffering sucks. But if we can get to a place in the midst of our suffering or even when we finally get out of our suffering, to see the goodness in it, that is glorious. Sometimes it might take us asking God why we are having to endure what we are enduring, and sometimes we may not get an answer for years. Please don’t grow hard or cold to the possibility of goodness coming from your pain though. This quote from TerKeurst left a profound impact in the way I view the hardships and challenges in my life, my day and my year. God can use anything in our lives for the goodness of His glory, to help others, and to shine His light in a dark world. I used to think God had left me to suffer on my own, when in reality my suffering could very well be the thing used to draw me closer to Him.

3. God is in Control

God created everything that is good. We learned that God is good. We know that life on this earth comes with suffering. And we also see over and over in scripture that God is in control. So If God is good, and God is in control, then the sufferings we endure can and will be used for good.

Romans 8:28 (ESV)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

“All things work together for good”, this implies that everything, even the hard and painful things are a part of something that is good. It may not be easy, but it is still good.

Romans 11:36 (ESV)
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Again, this shows that God has His hand in all things, and He has a good plan.

So this all brings me back to my original question. When we are praying for our day, week, month, or year to be “good”, what is it that we are really asking for? We’ve seen in scripture that God is good and goodness comes from God. We see that we are called to suffering and it is inevitable. And we also see that God is in control. By praying for our day, week, month or year to be good, we are essentially missing out on the opportunity and responsibility as believers to look for God’s goodness around us.

For my own personal journey, I switched my prayers for things to be good to asking God to show me His goodness all around me. I began to pray for God to give me His eyes to see His love, beauty and goodness in all situations and people I come in contact with. Once I started praying those prayers instead, I began to see and feel the work of the Holy Spirit all around me in ways I never had before. I began to see God’s love for not only myself but everyone I came in contact with. By praying to have eyes like our Father’s, I am able to see the hard things around me in a new light, full of hope. This realization and hope helps me to look ahead to this new year with excitement for ALL that it will bring, the fun and exciting, and the scary and challenging. For I know that no matter what this year brings me, it will be used to glorify God who is good. I hope and pray that for all of you too.

I encourage you to reflect on your own prayer life. Let me know what you are praying for this new year! This is just something I have been realizing in my own personal journey, so I would love to hear your input.

Thank you for reading my rambles.

Resources
TerKeurst, Lysa. Its Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered. Nelson Books, an Imprint of Thomas Nelson, 2018.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j25JqWgjDF4

Hello 2020,

It’s so nice to see you; however, I’ll be honest with you in that I’m a little nervous for what could be in store in this new year. No matter how much I plan, hope and dream for things to work out, the reality is that I’m never really in control. It’s definitely a scary and anxiety inducing thought. I’ve actually had to catch myself from thinking worst possible scenarios you could bring and turn my eyes to Jesus and the hope He brings.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not only feeling anxious about you. I feel a lot of excitement, hope, passion and motivation. I’m reminding myself that whatever comes along with you, will be used for God’s glory and that excites me!

I’m not putting myself through my typical New Years torture of setting unlikely and unattainable expectations of you and of myself. I have some goals and hopes for things I’d love to accomplish during my time with you, but if 2019 taught me anything it’s that it is not healthy to hold myself to such high, strict expectations. I’ve learned that my worth isn’t based on what goals I accomplish or even how quickly they are accomplished. My worth is in Christ alone, so yes, goals are great, but putting unnecessary pressure on myself is not. If I don’t achieve my hopes/goals for 2020, that’s okay. As long as I can face the end of 2020 knowing that I grew as a person and follower of Christ, that is all that matters.

That being said, I will lay out a few of my attainable hopes and goals for the year. Perhaps if I write about them now, I will get more accountability from my community of supporters to motivate me to achieve them. My top 6 hopes for 2020 are:

  1. To grow closer to God.
  2. To write and share my life testimony and struggles with others in my circle.
  3. To stay off of social media for the entire year (using my time more wisely to pursue God).
  4. To plan and stick to a budget.
  5. To treat my body, mind and soul with love.
  6. To write more blog posts.

2020, whatever you bring me and my life story, I know God will use for His glory. You may seem daunting, scary and doubtful, but I know that if my eyes look to Jesus every day, nothing can stand in my way. I’m buckled up and as ready for this ride as I can be. Oh, and Welcome to my story!

Sincerely,
Sarah

P.S. I definitely did not mean to rhyme there at the end, but it works 😀

Goodbye 2019…

Dear 2019,

Yes, this is my break up letter with you.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Our relationship just didn’t go the way I had hoped or envisioned it. You brought me a lot more heartache, exhaustion and disappointment than I would care to admit. You also brought terrible panic attacks, ER visits, physical and mental exhaustion, depression, physical and emotional pain, financial hardship, and fractured relationships. So you can see why I am breaking up with you…

I guess you weren’t completely horrible though. You did bring me a lot of blessings such as: new friendships, a new job, vulnerability and acceptance, a closer relationship with God, self love, new diagnoses, repaired relationships, forgiveness, better physical health and so much love.

You also taught me many lessons in our time together. You taught me to love myself. Something I have needed to learn my entire life. You helped me develop my voice. Something that I felt I never had or deserved. You put me in my place and taught me to rest. You taught me that it’s not about how much money you make by the end of the year, but its about how you grew, how you were blessed and how much love you received and gave. You taught me that my God is good no matter what is happening around me. You taught me that I am loved and I am lovable. You taught me to care for myself and others in ways I never have before.

Thank you 2019. You tried to break me, and you almost succeeded; however, you only showed me how strong I am and how faithful my God is. Thank you for breaking my pride, my self hatred and my negative outlook. Thank you for the heartbreak and the pain, for it helped me to see the good and the light.

Goodbye 2019… I’ll be sure to remember you for all of the good that you brought to my life.

with love,

Sarah

Intensive Outpatient Program (I. O. P.) Pt. 3: What IOP Taught me

If you have not read part one or part two of this blog series, I highly encourage you to check those out before continuing on through this post. Those two posts give a lot of context to what I’ll be talking about here.

My time in IOP was not only very much needed, but it taught me so much about myself and the world around me. Below I have explained eleven lessons I learned in IOP.

#11 My Emotions are There to Help Me

One of the main exercises we did in IOP were “emotional sculpts.” This is where you assign one of the “Inside Out” emotion characters to each member in the group, you stand in the center of the room and you place the emotions in proximity to you based on how you feel them. The emotions act out or say whatever it is they have been saying to you in your mind, and then you get to rearrange them to how you need them to be. You change their actions and words to become positive so they are now on your side.

This exercise changed the way I view my emotions of fear, anger, disgust, joy, sadness and even my distraction methods. By seeing them as a team, there to help me, it makes it easier to ride the waves of these feelings when they arise. It taught me to sit back and process each emotion and what they could be helping me with. It taught me not to fear my emotions anymore, but to lean into them.

#10: Rest is Essential

While going through my Intensive Outpatient Program, I was also on a leave from work. I was intentional about using my time off to rest my body and my mind. I got into a healthier sleep routine. I got on medicine to help me get restful sleep because prior to my time off I was waking up every hour in the night. I allowed myself to nap when needed and to have days of staying in bed a little longer. I began to understand how rest can impact not only my mental health but my physical health too. I learned how much rest my body needs to thrive. Giving my body rest taught me how to listen to my body and to better care for myself.

#9: It’s okay to Reach out for Help

I am a type A personality. I have rigid expectations for myself, and I often feel as though I need to push myself to reach those. Asking for help has always been a huge struggle for me. Asking for help involves taking a risk, making yourself vulnerable, and it often feels defeating. When I was offered the chance to do IOP my pride and ego screamed, “NO!” My mind kept telling me that if I were to take this step it would mean that my mental health was unfixable, I was hopeless, and I must be “crazy”. I knew in my heart it was what I needed, but my pride got in the way for far too long.

By being humbled into the position of having to do IOP, I learned that not only is it OKAY to reach out for help, but when I do reach out for help, I will be able to see how much people love and care about me. I learned and finally realized that it takes strength and courage to reach out for help.

I’m living proof that reaching out for help very well could be the best thing you ever do. Reaching out for help could be God’s way of blessing you with relationships and things you never even knew you needed. Reaching out for help could be a way for God to show you how much He loves you.

#8: It’s Okay to Take Care of Myself

Nobody can care for you the way you can care for yourself.

Let that sink in for a moment. Nobody can take care of you the way you can care for yourself because they are not you. This was a huge revelation for me. Again, this wasn’t something I had never heard before, but it was something that I never allowed to take hold within me.

Prior to my time off, I had already begun to care for myself in the food I ate and getting more exercise; however, I wasn’t actually listening to my body. When I would go on diets and exercise in the past it was because I wanted to look better or I thought others would like me more if I lost weight. Unhealthy, right?

By taking time off of work, resting, going through IOP, and learning to love myself, I began to WANT to take care of myself. When you love yourself as you are, you begin to want the best for yourself. I began to learn how to listen to my body. Thus, I learned not only that it is OKAY to take care of myself and put myself first in certain situations, but I learned that I feel better when I do and can give more of myself to others. Now, I am more in tune with my body and I know what my body needs. I love and care about myself now, thus I desire to be healthy and care for myself. It’s amazing what self-love and compassion can do for all areas of your life.

#7: Vulnerability opens doors

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”
M. Scott Peck

Like many people, vulnerability is a scary thing for me. It’s scary to risk your reputation, your heart and your relationships. I kept so many things bottled up inside for so many years. I feared that I would no longer be loved if I shared the dark parts of me with those I love so dearly. I was so very wrong. By sharing those very things with those around me, it allowed me to be loved more deeply than I could have ever imagined. It allowed me to have true community with those around me. To be fully seen and to be loved despite my faults, my sins, and the things I thought made me unlovable, is so powerful.

#6: Acceptance

The activities and experiences I did in IOP helped me to learn to accept where I am at in life, the things that have happened in my life, and who I am. It gave me such an appreciation and different perspective on the experiences I have had and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. I learned to accept myself as I am, so that I can love myself, but also so that I can move forward and continue to grow. If we do not accept who we are and where we are at in life, we get stuck. Accepting where you are in life is the first step in moving forward because you know you’re starting point. By accepting yourself, you learn to also accept others.

Not only that, but I saw first hand that by being vulnerable about my struggles, it opened the doors for others to feel comfortable enough to share in their own struggles with me. It created bonds and connections with others who were experiencing the very same thing that I was. It encouraged trust and community. I now know that vulnerability is the only way to have true community because it allows others to see and love all parts of you.

#5: It’s Okay to Let Go

One of the most memorable experiences in IOP was the experience of letting go. We had to make a collage using words and pictures from magazines that represented things we were holding onto that we needed to let go of. Once we all finished our collages, we sat in a circle and shared what each thing in our collage represented.

We all stood around a trash can. One at a time we would hold our collage out over the trash can, share with the group the negative impacts that holding onto those things had in our lives. Each time we shared a negative impact, a member in the group would place a hand on top of our hand. This was to represent the weight we feel when we hold on to things we shouldn’t. Finally, when everyone’s hands were pressing down, we had to answer the dreaded question… “Are you ready to let these things go?”. When we were ready, the weights came off of the hand as we dropped the collage into the trash.

This experience will forever stay in my heart. It taught me that it is not only okay to let go of things in our lives, but that it is necessary in order to move on and make progress. When I am weighed down by things, I get stuck. By giving up control to God and letting go of those things, I am lighter and free to move forward.

#4: Self Forgiveness

Forgiveness is such a challenging thing to do for many people, myself included; however, in IOP I learned that it is much easier for me to forgive others when they hurt me or do not meet my expectations. The person I rarely offer forgiveness and compassion to is myself. I learned that in order to be able to offer true forgiveness and compassion to others, we have to first be able to offer compassion and forgiveness to ourselves. How can we love others deeply if we cannot first love the person we spend the most amount of time with?

I learned that self forgiveness is something I have to continually practice. As a type A personality, I hold myself to such high, unobtainable expectations and when I don’t meet them, I beat myself to a pulp. My self talk used to be awful, and it’s definitely something I still struggle with; however, I’m more aware of the way it impacts me and am able to reframe my thinking. Just take a moment and think about what message you tell yourself when you make a mistake? Is it, “that’s okay, you’re human.” or do you say something like, “you’re so stupid, why did you do that?”.

Reframing the way I talk to and treat myself, has made a way for me to be able to not only love myself but it has opened the door for me to see myself the way God sees me. It has shown me a small glimpse of the kind of love He has for me.

#3: I Am Not Alone

IOP taught me that I am not alone in my struggles. No matter how many forums, facebook groups, or chats you have online with those who are struggling with similar issues, it cannot replace the connection of face to face interaction. I knew I wasn’t alone in my struggles with anxiety and depression before going into IOP, but connecting with people face to face who were in similar circumstances as me, was invaluable. Being surrounded and embraced by people who get it, have been there, and thus have nothing but love and acceptance for you is something you can never replace with online communication. I am not alone, and YOU are not alone in whatever it is you are facing.

#2: I Can Love Myself

Like most people, I have gone my entire life being my own worst critic. I offer so much compassion, empathy, and forgiveness to others, but I beat myself up.

I learned to forgive myself for not meeting my own unrealistic expectations, my part in things that have happened in life, and most importantly I learned that it is okay to have compassion for myself. In order for us to love others, we first have to learn to love ourselves. I now know to listen to my body, care for my body and mind, and to treat myself with the compassion and respect I give to others. When I view myself the way God sees me and I look back on how far I have come, I can’t help but appreciate who I am and who He made me to be.

#1: I Am Loved and Accepted

This wasn’t the first time I had ever heard or felt that I am loved and can be accepted, but it was the first time in a long time that I truly felt it within my soul. My IOP group became a little family. Everyone was there for similar reasons, so there was no judgement, just pure acceptance. It was the first time in a long time that I felt like I wasn’t alone and felt like other people truly understood what I was experiencing. I was able to be vulnerable with them and I got nothing but love and acceptance in return.

Even though it wasn’t the first time I had heard these lessons, it was the first time in a long time that I felt God reaching His arms around me and loving me via strangers. After finishing my last IOP session, I was filled with so many emotions. I wept the entire 45 minute drive home because I was filled with so much gratitude that God chose to love me in such a tangible way. I just kept thanking Him for using IOP to show me a glimpse of how loved I am. It’s a moment and feeling I hope to never forget. It’s a feeling I hope every person can experience.

Conclusion

If there is anything I want my readers to take away from this three part series, it is this: reaching out for help does not mean you are weak, it means you are strong and courageous. Taking time to process life, who you are, and what God is trying to show you is worth more than you can imagine. This life is but a glimpse in terms of eternity. Don’t get so caught up in work and life that you cannot take time to process and acknowledge the work of God in your life. Don’t keep pushing yourself until you are forced to stop and rest from illness or injury, begin resting and being present now.

If IOP is something you think you need, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for it. If you think community and vulnerability is something you need, share that with a trusted person in your life. I don’t think God wants us to just be busy bodies, He wants us to be present and in deep community with Him and others. Please take care of yourself. You are the only you in this world, and you have one life. Live it well and know you are loved more than you could ever imagine.

Thank you so much for reading my rambles and supporting my work. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

As always, I am not a licensed therapist and these thoughts are all my own. If you are in crisis or feel hopeless, please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Edited by Morgan Rice

Intensive Outpatient Program (I.O.P.) Part 2: What led me to I.O.P?

I am honored and humbled to say that I had the privilege to be a part of a mental health I.O.P. group for eight weeks. During those eight weeks, I was also off of work. It was some of the hardest, but best weeks of my life. If you haven’t read my previous blog post, part one titled, What is IOP? You can read it here.

What Led Me To I.O.P.

This post is going to be a bit vulnerable. Please bear with me.

For those who don’t know me or my journey with mental health, I want to give just a little backstory before jumping right into this year. I have I struggled with anxiety since as far back as I can remember, but we never knew that what I was experiencing was a diagnosable illness. I didn’t get treatment until I was a sophomore in high school, but didn’t officially get diagnosed until going into my sophomore year of college. The anxiety also brought its trusty sidekick, depression.

Before I began I.O.P I was in a very tough place mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually. 2019 has been a very challenging year. I ended 2018 feeling on top of the world. I thought things were going great, and thus I hoped and expected 2019 to be great too; However, I was in for quite the wake up call.

Towards the end of January 2019, while at work, I experienced one of the worst panic attacks of my life that landed me an ambulance ride to the ER. Many hours and tests later, I left the hospital with a diagnoses of palpitations due to panic attack. In other words, they couldn’t find a single thing wrong with me. I felt completely and utterly defeated. This incident began a long strand of panic attacks, obsessions and compulsions, and ultimately depression.

Despite my attempts to try to convince myself I was doing okay, I ended up completely breaking down by the time August rolled around. I spent six months of the year pushing myself, ignoring my mind and body, and desperately trying to convince myself and those around me that everything was okay.

By the end of summer, my body was beyond exhausted to the point that I now had physical health concerns. I would lay in bed and cry some mornings because I didn’t know how I was going to be able to make it through another day. Because of commitments, I continued to push through until I couldn’t push myself any longer.

I had pushed myself so much and for so long that my nerves and immune system were shot. I got sick with the typical back to school cold, but because my mind and body were so worn down, it wiped me out. Not only was my anxiety through the roof and I was sick with a cold, but I was in physical pain as well. This landed me back in the ER for the second time this year.

I was released again with nothing to show for the symptoms that I was experiencing. I found myself feeling defeated and frustrated all over again. This was ultimately my breaking point. By this time I had planned two weeks off of work after my commitments were done. One week for vacation, and another week to rest and focus on myself. Much to my surprise, God had other plans for me.

Just a little over a week before my vacation, everything caught up to me and I had an emotional breakdown. I was struggling with intrusive thoughts that would send me into downward spirals. I had so much anxiety, adrenaline, cortisol running through my body 24/7 that I couldn’t sleep, I could barely eat, and even just breathing was a struggle. I was exhausted down to my bones and I ended up feeling hopeless.

It was a different kind of hopeless than I had felt before. It was anxiety based as opposed to depression based. It was the fear of, “what if I am like this forever, there is no way I can keep going for years feeling like this”. I cried to God for healing, peace and rest, and to my surprise, He answered that prayer through I.O.P.

Upon having my emotional breakdown, I made an appointment to see my doctor. I told her I felt like I just needed a break, whether that be going on partial disability or something else. I just felt like I needed a break from work and life obligations. I was desperate for rest. Her suggestion was I.O.P.

She briefly explained that I.O.P was group therapy, 3 days a week for 3 hours a day. She explained that I would have to drive 45 minutes to get there from where I live. She also broke the news to me that this was the only option for taking an extended amount of time off of work. Terrified, I turned to my dad, who encouraged me to go for it, and I hesitantly agreed. Little did I know I would become apart of something that would change my life for the better.

I can’t wait to share with you the lessons I learned from I.O.P and my time away of rest. I’m eager to share them, as I know that this type of treatment could greatly help others. With little information out there about the benefits and experiences of I.O.P, it is my hope that by writing my experience I can help others who are desperately longing for more in their treatment. I also hope that by sharing my experiences, providers and mental health professionals can get a sense of what it is like from the client’s perspective. Of course nothing confidential will be shared, simply just my own experience and things I learned.

If you like my content, feel free to click the follow button to get notified when I make new posts! Thanks for taking time out of your day to hear my thoughts. If you’ve had any experience with an Intensive Outpatient Program, I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment below! Thank you for reading my rambles.

As always, I am not a licensed therapist and these thoughts are all my own. If you are in crisis or feel hopeless, please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.