No Apology Apologetic

Yesterday a Facebook memory pop-up showed a quote I’d posted several years ago by world renowned Christian Apologetic, Ravi Zacharias. He was one that encouraged and challenged me in my faith and the many natural (and also the not-so-natural-OCD-induced) doubts that arise. To hear the news of his exposed dark secrets was startling and heavy. It felt so disappointing and not so much because I expected perfection as a leader, but because I feel betrayed by someone that I thought was living a challenging life while holding tightly to the grace of God. He never gave me a sneaky, prosperity gospel feel. He seemed humble. Little did many people know, he was covered in darkness and temptation. Did he feel remorse, guilt, shame? Who knows. He died before making any sort of confession or repentance. You may not be one that believes in this sort of thing, but I feel that evil is permeating through this world and this is a prime example. Evil oozes and creeps about much like a broken jar of molasses.

When a public failure occurs from a Christian, it tends to give doubtful people more ammo to disregard any inkling of curiosity about the faith in Christ. I certainly don’t blame that tendency. It’s often how I feel when heartache occurs through cancer, accidents, etc. When a well-known, often mocked leader of the faith fails in tacky ways, I feel such an annoyance that they’re damaging the reputation of the core of the Gospel; the truth that we are all failing on a daily basis in some way or another, that we are hopeless without grace, and that Jesus Christ provides that love and mercy at the start of every day for those that faithfully trust in Him. That trust may look like a drunk donkey or a toddler just learning to walk, but He loves us no matter what. When Ravi’s reputation crashed and burned, it felt different, like a punch in the gut; similar to how I felt when our beloved Cliff Huxtable, AKA Bill Cosby, fell from his lovable spot in America’s hearts.

Why am I even writing about this disappointment? I don’t know. I don’t do it in defense of anyone or the faith to which I’m clinging. I reckon it’s just a way to remind us that pain, failure, temptations, bad habits, and sadness are inevitable on this side of heaven. It’s a fact. It’s a reminder of the benefit of honest friendships, accountability from our trusted relationships, and hopefully, a opportunity to remember that we can share our failures and temptations in those safe, loving spaces. I’m praying right now that you, dear reader, find such a space.

“While it is fair to call out Christians for hypocrisy, the hypocrisy in no way negates Christianity, but rather establishes it. In the same way that it would make zero sense to call Beethoven a substandard composer because a six-year-old plays a Beethoven piece sloppily and out of tune at a piano recital, it makes zero sense to call Jesus a substandard Savior because his followers imitate him poorly.” – Scott Sauls, A Gentle Answer

Failure During Advent

I’ve failed a lot during this Advent season. I think it feels different than failure on a Tuesday in June, but I think I’m seeing it’s been mostly in a good way. Call it depression or my “natural” perfectionistic tendencies (and the OCD part of my brain is dying to give it a label), but Emily is generally not Emily’s #1 fan. So, when I set a goal, particularly one that is based in my faith, failure feels yuckier. With this Advent, I chose to pause my social media activity to try and quiet things, had a book that I hoped to consistently read with the kids, and other lovely goals. Failure happens all the time though and my fears and internal critic tells me I’m not going to get the hang of this, I’m no good at self-control or focus, comparing myself to other moms, etc. 

In the midst of one of my brain’s sucker punching sessions, I saw the benefit of failing during Advent. It gives a clear chance to see the greatness of God’s character in why He came in human form and was wrapped in swaddling clothes being laid in a manger. God is Love. Perfect Love. Compassionate and Never-Ending Love. Not only did I see the opportunity of giving up something during Advent, as most do during Lent, in order to pause and think on Him, but it also happened as I stumbled and failed; when my self-control and self-discipline were majorly lacking. I’m not good enough, at least in my own eyes, but I GET TO rest in Him. You and I can choose to believe that He sees us differently than we see ourselves. I want to do better and still find myself desiring a magical (AKA perfect) holiday season filled with cozy, reflective moments (cue the scene of me gazing out the window at the snow falling as I cradle a steaming mug of warmth in my hands), but yet again, I’m ever aware of the crummy parts of reality that greatly hinder my dramatics and wish for perfection. 

So, as my failures led to my perspective changing a bit, I was appreciative of and more apt to welcome the combination of joy and disappointments over the last couple of weeks. Christmas this year was met with lots of green snot, dog poo tracked in the house, and crispy, brown evergreen trees, but also with fun movie nights, ping pong championships, and cold weather in Florida that actually required sweaters! As I’ve written about before and likely will each year as this form of blogging expression continues, life is hard and rotten at times, but we can practice making space for the disappointment, but also choose to look for the beauty peaking about in this life. 

Peace to you, dear reader. You are loved. You are not forgotten. 

Warning: May Be Habit Forming

I have an ongoing list of habits I’d like to change in my life, but the list has been sitting stagnant for a while. I give it a go and then often very quickly it fades away and I’m back to my old ways. I’m sure you’ve heard a million times like I have that a habit needs at least 21 days to develop or stick. I’ve mastered a 3-5 day window pretty well! What are the habits you have that you’ve tried to change or positive habits you’d love to develop? I’m consistently reminded of healthy habits that I strongly believe would make a big difference in my physical and mental health, but doggone if they are tough to corral and keep going. 

My list likely looks similar to yours in that I’d really love to keep a regular habit of physical exercise; for me that is yoga. I absolutely love yoga. It challenges me; I sweat buckets and with the focus on breathing and toning, I feel great at the end. My word of 2020 was INTENTIONAL. I want to be wiser with how I spend my time. I spend entirely too much time on social media or other well-intended apps. I’ve found that although not really obvious, I pick up my phone to skim Pinterest or slide through Instagram or Facebook as avoidance. There’s certainly nothing wrong with social media and even using it as an escape or break. It’s all about the balance! That’s the tricky part for me. I’ve written on this a few years ago, which proves my point that it’s an ongoing irritation for me. 

One thing I am very thankful for is that I’ve been working with an ACT therapist over the last few months and it’s been very helpful to address this issue. ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. As I’ve written before, I was thankfully diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder after over a decade of traditional therapy and not knowing what was wrong with me. I was able to receive ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) Therapy, which is the gold-standard for OCD. After my ERP therapist and I felt I was at a solid place and could easily recognize where OCD plays and how to respond, she recommended ACT therapy as an encouraging place to spend some time. It’s been excellent and quite helpful. 

Similarly to ERP therapy for OCD, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy focuses on accepting thoughts and feelings as they come rather than tensing up to them or doing our darnedest to make them go away; unfortunately that never works and ends up feeding the “monster”. I tried that for years. One of the buzz words for ACT is VALUES. Here’s what I’ve been learning that has begun a shift with those pesky habits I want to kick and the ones I’d like to stick. 

There are a few ways to apply this idea of values, but I’ll stick with the habit forming goal. I’ve done a little experiment by tracking how I spend my time over a week. Not only have I jotted down a word or brief phrase to describe what I did during that hour or chunk of time, but I gave a 1-10 score on A. The importance of it B. The enjoyment of it and C. The difficulty of it. I already knew what time-sucking habits I disliked, but this gave me a visual of what that actually looks like and FEELS like in a typical day. After even a couple days of recording, I could more clearly see that I was able to recognize that I felt blah or yuck during an activity and it made me consider whether I wanted to keep doing that, I.e. skimming Facebook Marketplace. 

I believe I’m naturally bent toward procrastination, so setting a goal of being intentional about the things I value means I have to apply major self-control and discipline. This takes practice and lots of it. Some of my personal values focus on self-care, availability and quality time with my children and husband, arts and creativity, rest and faith focus. With those as my goals, I need less time spent on nonsense or non-productive time. 

Does it work to berate myself because I “can’t get my act together” and become “practically perfect in every way” like Mary Poppins? No. I’ve tried that, too. Another piece I’ve grabbed onto from therapy is how easy it is to beat myself up. I’m getting better at paying attention to that ugly, negative self-talk and shifting to self-compassion. Let’s go with an example: I’m currently sitting on my couch finishing up this post that I began a few weeks ago. If I reflect back on my Saturday so far, I tend to gravitate to the negative. I didn’t sleep well last night, had about 2 minutes of prayer/reflection time before quickly getting distracted by an idea I had for our new home and going to the computer. I haven’t exercised yet. I did have good intentions of starting a furniture painting project, but they didn’t have the right wax at the store so I gave up. I’ve been sitting after lunch skimming Facebook and eating chocolate covered almonds from the Costco-sized bag that keeps luring me in even though I have regretted eating them afterwards almost every time I do so because I’m trying to lose weight. Sigh. Stank. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

ACT would encourage me to notice the stinky thoughts floating on down my metaphoric creek and then think, “what would be something I can do right now that would line up with one of my values?”, “what was something on my list of projects that I wanted to start this weekend?”, or “Let’s look at the clock and figure out how to better balance my afternoon.” Weave those into some self-compassion statements like, “I gave into the sweet treats, but I did a good job choosing a healthy lunch and I’ll be exercising later today”, “I didn’t get a great night’s sleep with all of that dreaming, but I was able to sleep in a bit and rest.”, or “I know I feel frustration over not making changes as quickly as I’d like, but I do notice that I’m catching myself quicker and I’ll keep at it to make progress.” 

Be kind and keep going, dear reader.

You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. -John C. Maxwell

Would Ya Look at That View!

Right now I’m sitting in a cozy chair with one of the most beautiful views in my hometown. My in-laws live in a stunning home on the river with spacious windows that allow you to see the river out back (does that sound like a real estate listing description, or what?) 

I feel almost completely content and generally hopeful. Because of its rarity and because my brain is usually busier, I do not take this for granted. I’ve sat here many times before and this morning, I’m reflecting on just how terribly awful I’ve felt during those times. As you know, often and disappointingly so, the yucky times tend to nab a more prominent part in our memory bank. 

We are here this morning because our home has just been put on the market and we’re staying out of the way this weekend to keep it tidy. Ironically, the emotional and mental breakdown I had sixteen years ago occurred in this beautiful home. While my in-laws were living in their seasonal home, we briefly moved in here while our home was being built. Upon moving in, I wrote a joyful journal entry expressing all I hoped to accomplish and in which creative outlets I planned to dabble. Quite drastically the next entry spoke of complete confusion and misery. Just like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “my life got flipped, turned upside down” and constant, intense anxiety ruled every hour. 

I feel uneasy as I type because of how sensitive I am to those memories. My OCD wants me to stop typing it for fear that “it’ll come back”. So, I type some more! The heavy tears, shivering as though I had a fever, drastic weight loss, the fears over taking Zanax to get to sleep, a dear friend encouraging me and watching to be sure I a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, waking at 5:00am to immediate nerves…it was such an awful time. 

Over the years, I recall sitting in this chair at times to hide away during social gatherings, as I did my best to put on a smile and hide the heaviness or strong anxiety I had coursing through my insides. I remember sitting here crying on a beautiful Easter Sunday, but I was not able to see the beauty. 

Even though it feels heavy to recall all of these memories and I somewhat regret bringing it back as it puts a damper on my initial cozy contentedness I referred to at the beginning, I think it’s vitally important to do so because I want to possibly bring HOPE to someone that may read this. I don’t feel that way today. Yes, there is always the possibility of doing a crash and burn tomorrow and my OCD takes a liking to that idea, but I am not in misery. I’ve had great difficulty and pain over the last sixteen years, but it’s also been a time of up and down learning and growing. Life is hard. If you struggle with a mental illness of any kind, it may be something you have to manage for life, but it is not a death sentence. There is help. With practice and consistency, there are tools and habits that can help us learn to make space for discomfort so that we don’t make those feelings worse. There is always HOPE, dear reader. 

OCD is Not an Adjective

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 26th Annual OCD Conference in Austin, Texas. If you read my first post about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you’ll know that I painfully struggled for over a decade before being correctly diagnosed two years ago with OCD. This disorder is greatly misunderstood and this isn’t helped with media’s portrayal of being “so OCD” about organizing and germs.

Throughout the weekend’s events, I met people from all walks of life and from different parts of the globe that are affected by OCD; sufferers, parents and siblings of sufferers, and the therapists and doctors that serve in that field. I met several doctors and therapists that have been extremely influential in my journey with books they’ve written or podcast/Instagram postings. The sessions covered a variety of topics with panels of both experts and sufferers that shared their experiences. Because OCD can reveal itself through many different themes (contamination, intrusive taboo thoughts, relationship, etc.), there were specific support groups scheduled for the evenings. This quickly became my favorite part because I was sitting amongst men and women of different generations and from all over the country and world that knew exactly what it was like to think with a “sticky” OCD brain. There were laughs and tears and conversations that went late into the night. Without getting too dramatic, it was beautiful.

OCD is not an adjectiveI think I have always known that there is relief and hope found when you know someone else understands a similar struggle, but that became magnified through my experience at the OCD Conference. I’ve made friends and will keep in contact between different time zones so that we will know and be reminded that we are not alone. I plan to attend each year so I can learn about new advances in treatment, ideas and encouragement on learning to live with OCD, join forces to advocate for mental health awareness, but most importantly, to gather with others that understand.

If you or someone you know struggles with intrusive thoughts and/or obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors, inward rumination, seeking reassurance or avoidance, look further into OCD as a possibility. The International OCD Foundation’s website can give you more information and help you find the support you need.

Dear Discouraged Brain,

Dear Discouraged Brain,

I know you feel heavy and uneasy. Upon waking up you were probably reminded that you “have this problem” and are apprehensive about the day. The basics feel more like a chore and that scattered feeling in your brain makes it seem like not much is getting accomplished in an organized or timely manner. That irritable button gets pushed a lot at the smallest things. Forcing a smile is almost painful when your sweet children engage in a story or tell you something silly. I know it’s really hard and you hear the thoughts streaming that are saying, “It’s not getting any better”, “I shouldn’t feel like this”, “Why do I have to struggle with this?”

Here’s the honest truth. You do feel the way you do and it is all valid. You are allowed to feel sad and angry that this “thorn” seems to get the better of you some days. BUT, you do not always feel like this! I’m writing this letter from the other side of the hill. It’s not too bad over here. The weather fluctuates with a few rain showers here and there, but overall, life is worth the living! I just did a belly laugh not too long ago and giggled at a meme on social media. I woke up this morning and started thinking right away about something I wanted to accomplish with work and around the house. I feel tired right now and do wish my brain acted a bit more like my neighbor, but all in all, I am doing ok.

Each “setback” on this ebb and flow style of mental illness is an opportunity. That isn’t just a line (even though it sounds like one). When you get practice time, it’s a good thing. Because it’s so easy to forget when it feels heavy, here are a few reminders: When the flood of yuck comes, slow that breath and make room for the discomfort. Practice the “radical acceptance” of every previous step and where you are right now. It is important to make a to-do list to help you feel productive, but leave some room in there for rest and self-care (even if you don’t feel like it). This will pass through and the light will peek in, but only in its own timing. Every circumstance is allowed and purposeful. I am really proud of you and I love you.

Love, On the Brighter Side Brain