by Nicole | Oct 5, 2021 | Brokenness, Identity, Mental Health
I’ll never forget one of my counselors explaining to me that we can stop developing emotionally at or around the point of our first major trauma. I was 25 at the time of the session, but I had a 14 year-old little girl huddled up inside my heart, hiding. You see, her safe, familiar world was turned upside down when her family moved to Upstate New York when she was just finishing middle school. No longer did she feel free, loved, seen. She felt exposed, misjudged, hurt, suffocated, angry. She was spending her formative years in an environment that wasn’t accepting or forgiving. And so she froze in time and hid. She became everything everyone else wanted her to become. And as each birthday rolled around, she grew further and further away from that little girl.
I burst into tears during that counselling session because I knew exactly who that little girl was and I was ready to embrace her again. But in order to do so, I had to also embrace who I had become in the meantime, and that was hard. I didn’t like who I was. And I didn’t like why I had become that person: Because people didn’t understand the difference between acceptance and approval and made me believe that the only way I could feel loved is by doing everything right and never getting anything wrong. I was more familiar with the emotion of shame than I was of love. I hated what had been done to me disguised in the Name of Jesus. I felt so afraid of him, so suffocated by guilt and religion that more often than not, I wished I wasn’t even a Christian anymore. It was just too hard.
It took me several years to get past my anger at who I was and what had been done to me. The more healthy I got, the more I wanted to go back in time and stand up for myself. I wanted to right all the wrongs done to me and my friends. But I couldn’t. There isn’t a blasted thing I can do to fix what has been. And so I had a choice: Could I begin to see my past differently? Could I see that the Jesus I was taught is not the Jesus in the Scriptures? Could I see that all the rules I was told to follow hold no power over my self-worth? Could I see that being a Jesus Follower isn’t suffocating – its a beautiful life full of freedom, grace, love, and forgiveness? Could I see that I had done my best with what I knew and what I had to keep myself alive in an environment that was dangerous and harmful and cost more people their futures and their lives than we care to admit? Could I get into counseling and begin to unwire my brain of the legalism/fundamentalism I was taught so I could begin to think and believe and live for myself? Could I love who I was and what Jesus has called me to?
Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry over things in my past. But I don’t allow them to create regret anymore. I would have never chosen what happened – but I had to face it and I faced it the best way I could with what little tools and knowledge I had at the time. Now that I know differently, I can embrace that little girl and tell her I’m sorry, I did the best I could, and from this point forward, things will be done differently. Not because I owe anyone anything. Not because I’m out to prove anything. Not because I need to make up for lost time. But because I know better now – and I know better because that little girl hid until it was safe to say, “Enough! No more! Let’s get back to who we are and who Jesus has made us to be!” I love who I am today and I know that I couldn’t be this person without who I once was. She made me into the compassionate warrior (my counselor’s description of me) that I am. And I wouldn’t trade who I am for anything.
Please don’t allow your past to sabotage your future by keeping you locked in a prison of regret, shame, and anger. You did the best you could back then. Now, you need to move forward and honor who God has made you to be and what he’s called you to do – TODAY.
I’m in your corner! Let’s get after it together!
by Nicole | Sep 14, 2021 | Mental Health
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, it’s no secret that I love to swear. The irony is that I grew up in a very legalistic, fundamental home, complete with “Swear-Free TV” (a box that would turn on closed captioning and use a replacement word for the curse word anytime an actor swore). “Ass” was “toe”, “sex” was “hugs”, “hell” and “damn” were just omitted, and I honestly can’t remember what “fuck” was. If we are being real, the “Swear-Free TV” didn’t do what we paid good money for it to do – cause we knew and said every word it replaced in our heads. Oops.
And that’s just it…right? You may not say the cuss words out loud, but you say them quite frequently in your heads. And why is?
Some of you may not know this, but I am an English major. I literally studied words in college and then taught high school English after that. I love words, spoken and written. Words enable us to communicate. And communication allows us to express ourselves. Authentic expression requires access to the entire English vernacular. Here’s what I mean…
When my brother committed suicide two years ago, I swore like a sailor for about three weeks straight. I wasn’t trying to be cool. I wasn’t trying to make a point. I wasn’t trying to get attention. I was trying to express myself and at that point, I really didn’t care what people thought of me. I experienced a pain I legit didn’t have words for. When people asked how I was, I honestly didn’t know how to communicate my ache. So, I swore and the swearing released my anger, fear, sadness, angst, brokenness, and pain in a way no other words could. Swearing allowed me to accentuate the few words I could actually put together. And those closest to me gave me the freedom of expression because they knew it revealed the deepest and most vulnerable spaces in my heart.
I realize for some of you this seems absurd. But I couldn’t answer the question, “How are you really doing?” with “Golly gosh, thanks for asking. This is the darndest pain I’ve ever felt and gee willerkers I am so angry and flipping sad.” How inauthentic does that sound? No. The only way I could describe how I felt was to say, “This is the fuckiest fuck I have ever experienced.” I wasn’t trying to make a point. I wasn’t trying to shock and awe. I wasn’t trying to be cool or hip. I was trying to express myself when words were literally failing me.
Cuss words (I live in the South) are simply just that – they are words. And words morph and change over the centuries. What was once considered “inappropriate language” is now common vernacular (insert “screwed”, “butthole”, “freakin”, “gosh”, “gees”, “crap” etc). I agree that there is a time and place for using “swear words”, but we have to remember that they are just words. Our reaction and interaction to them give them meaning.
I don’t cuss constantly. I am aware of my surroundings. I’m careful not to needlessly offend. But I also appreciate the injection of a timely word or words. When I read the verse “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift” (Ephesians 4:29), I take that at face value. I do not want to say things that are foul or dirty (this is not referring to cuss words – mind you) and I want to be helpful – using my words as gifts. I want to love people well – with my words, actions, and thoughts. Sometimes, an appropriately placed swear word is a gift because it allows someone to express their pain, anger, frustration in a healthy way – through words and not through actions. Swear words give us the opportunity to peak behind the curtain of someone’s heart and to see how they are processing. They can also be funny – and humor is a gift! Can swear words be a distraction? Oh one hundred percent. So can poor use of grammar. But if I know that my swearing will be offensive to someone I am face-to-face with, I don’t do it. I want this person to feel safe and seen by me. So I refrain. When it comes to my social media, I realize that people don’t have to follow me. I am strategic with the audience I am attempting to reach. That’s why I’m not censored. Not because I don’t care about the people who don’t like my cussing, but because I know that they can easily unfollow me (as many have) and follow people that are uplifting to them. Most of my followers aren’t being seen and heard by many other people – and they are my target audience.
Listen, I realize so many of you will poke holes in my blog today. And I’m fine with that. I didn’t write this as a way to talk you into or out of swearing. I am not defending myself. I am simply answering a question I get asked a lot, “How can you love Jesus and swear?” I guess the answer is pretty easy for me to answer: Jesus was a wordsmith. He was the most talented teacher, speaker there ever was. He understands the importance of words. And He knows words are simply words. And so I know I have the grace and freedom to express myself – and I’m going to live in that freedom…both to swear for those who need to hear it, and not to swear for those who don’t.
Love and peace.
by Nicole | Aug 24, 2021 | Mental Health
Guys, I am so tired of being angry. Frustrated. Wound up. On edge.
I feel like we are in a time and space where we can’t even have conversations anymore. We can’t share differing opinions, ways of life, thoughts, decisions, etc. We can’t sit and listen and learn because we feel like we can’t trust anyone. We feel like we have to respond to every post, tweet, and video. We walk around ready to fight.
What happened to us? Ya’ll, we are mentally and emotionally exhausted. We’ve been on edge for over a year. We’ve been living in a constant state of unknown. We’ve used all of our emotional and mental energy just to function so we don’t have much left for conversation. More than that, because we don’t feel safe and because we are doing our best to protect ourselves, families, and loved ones, if we interact with someone who has a different perspective or worldview, we immediately go on the defensive. We feel personally attacked. We struggle focusing on the things we do have in common. We walk away from time with friends and family overanalyzing every conversation and continuing to have imaginary conversations in our heads. This only puts us on edge for the next time we are with the people we care about.
Fam, these are people WE CARE ABOUT.
Bryant and I have been talking about how exhausted and drained we feel – mainly from the emotional toll these past few weeks and months have taken on us. We feel like we are constantly on edge in every conversation – and we are just over it. We’ve decided we are going to make the best decisions we can for our family. It’s not on us to convince anyone to do anything. It’s on us to love people well. That’s it. So that’s what we are going to do. We are going to love people well by avoiding certain conversations or interactions. We are going to love people well by being completely ourselves and creating the space and freedom for others to be completely themselves. We are going to love people well by focusing on those things we have in common and creating safe places for people to feel seen and heard.
I want to challenge you to love people well. If we all started loving people well, maybe, just maybe, we could all take a deep breath and begin to feel safe again. I’m not going to tell you what or how to love people well. That’s on you. Maybe you need to take some time to think through what loving well looks like for you and why you are struggling so much. Why are you so angry? Why are you so scared? Why do you feel like your way is the only way? Why can’t you be approachable, humble and vulnerable?
I’ve been in fight or flight mode for too long. I’m exhausted and it’s just not worth it. I’m going to make the decisions I feel is best for my family. Then I’m going to love well and trust that you are working hard to love well too. Maybe, just maybe, that will be enough.
by Nicole | Aug 17, 2021 | Mental Health
I’ve been getting a lot of desperate messages and texts over the past few days about how to process the re-emergence of the pandemic, the crisis overseas…it’s just been too much for us.
Most of us had experienced some form of trauma before 2020. However, we had the emotional margin to ignore and/or self-medicate those emotional wounds. As we walked through 2020, our emotional margin was spent on processing the news, protecting our families, understanding our surroundings, and accepting our circumstances. That coupled with the political and racial turmoil our country walked through over the past year and the fact that we thought we were nearing the end of this Pandemic, and it’s no wonder we are experiencing an universal mental health crisis and suicide epidemic.
Not only that, but we are a few weeks away from the twenty year anniversary of 9/11 and now it feels as though the work and sacrifice so many of made overseas is all undone. The promises, the hope – all erased in a few short days.
So what on earth do we even do now? How do we continue to live and cope in a world that seems to be disintegrating right in front of us? Sure, the world was never perfect. But we were always the observers – safe and untouched. Now it seems like the blows just keep coming and won’t ever stop.
I don’t have all the answers – but I can tell you what we’ve been doing as a family and hope that it brings you some encouragement and relief.
We need to accept what is and not bemoan what could be. We have to accept that this reality is all we have – we only have these moments – we can’t get any of them back. If we keep fighting our present circumstances, we will miss our lives and loved ones. I realize our world and all of these terrible circumstances suck. We need to process and mourn what was so we can accept what is: This moment. This moment is all that matters. This moment is all you have control over. This moment offers you a choice: Will you live to thrive or will you live to just survive?
We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We live in an unsafe world…and the ironic thing is, we always have! We just got comfortable feeling comfortable. But change, growth, and transformation happens when we are uncomfortable. We are forced to confront ourselves and ask the tough questions: Why am I so miserable? What trauma have I been ignoring/self-medicating? What can I do to change my perspective? Why do I feel the need to buck authority? Why am I struggling to love? How do I care for myself and others during this season? How can I process my anger, frustration, and disappointment healthily?
Jesus set us up for this. He told us that “in this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world!” Our world is broken. We are broken. It’s no wonder we are all feeling the enormous weight of the past few years. But us feeling weighed down is a sign that we are not surrendering our fears, anger, bitterness, frustration, hurt, and pain to Jesus. He said that even in this hard world, his “yoke is easy and his burden is light”. What is his yoke? His burden? They are his teachings, the greatest of which he said is to love God, love others, and love ourselves.
Honestly, I think my mental health is at its best not when things are going well for me and there’s peace on earth. My mental health is at its best when I am loving God, loving others, and loving myself. A simple way to figure out if you are doing this is to ask yourself, “What does love demand of me?” This question originated with Andy Stanley.
What does love demand of me…in the pandemic? With the crisis in Afghanistan? With my friend who is suicidal? With my kids who are scared? With my spouse who is discouraged? With my family who is disunified? With my neighbors who are on the other side? With my government? With the authorities God has allowed to rule? With my friends who are angry? With my co-workers who are frustrated? With my boss who is unreasonable? What does love demand of me?
In order to give love, I have to receive love. I have to remember to preach the Gospel (that Jesus died and rose again for me) to myself everyday. I have to recall those verses from Scripture that “perfect love casts out all fear”, that “God has not given us a spirit of fear”, that “we are more than conquerors”, and that “nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus.”
I am not belittling the enormity of what is happening in our world and/or how you are feeling. I am just giving you a starting place for how to process. I also know so many counselors and therapists are unable to accept new clients right now…but get on a waiting list and then reach out to a few friends and talk about how you can accept what is, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and choose to love even when it’s hard.
Here for you.
by Nicole | Jul 27, 2021 | Brokenness, Counseling, Mental Health
The world is experiencing a mental health crisis.
We all had trauma pre-2020, but we got really good at ignoring and coping with that trauma. Then the Pandemic, politics, racial tension, and global panic piled on top of that trauma and we attempted to carry all of it without breaking…cause we really didn’t have a choice.
Our minds and bodies can only take so much before they give out. And I believe 2021 is the year of “Giving Out”. I’ve had so many people reach out to ask about counselling and medication because the way they are feeling is scaring them and their loved ones. They’ve always known something wasn’t right, but now, things are VERY dark and they aren’t sure what to do.
So, if you find yourself there, you are in VERY good company.
And…you are going to be okay.
When should I get into counselling?
Yesterday. But seriously. Getting into therapy/counselling is not a question of if, but of when. EVERYONE SHOULD BE IN COUNSELLING, whether you’ve experienced trauma or not. We are all human. We are all broken. And too often, we are responding to triggers in ways we just don’t need to. We are being hurtful or distant or are unable to be vulnerable when we could be kind, close, and authentic. We can learn to be comfortable in our own skin, in the quiet, and have healthy, full relationships with others. We can do these things! But we have to learn them. “Oh, it’s just my anxiety,” can’t be the excuse anymore.
Anxiety has become the catch-all for our bad habits and responses. Because we are minimizing the stigma, it’s now an acceptable excuse for just about everything…and I’m kinda over it. Why do we insist on living and acting this way? We don’t need to!
Others are so sad because their closest friends aren’t aware that they are hurting so badly. We have to ask the question: Why aren’t we letting people in? We are we not living in community, which is essentially what counselling is? Are we afraid of appearing weak? Are we afraid of what we may discover? Are we afraid of the emotional task?
I really want to encourage you to do the hard thing and get into therapy/counselling. Here’s how:
- Ask a friend for a referral. You don’t need to find a counselor on your own. Ask someone you trust for a recommendation. Counselors are booking up like crazy right now, so you may need to ask a counselor for a referral as well. But just because you don’t know where to start doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
- You can research good counselors. Hop on Google and research “Licensed Mental Health Counselors”. Then, read the reviews. Most counselors will offer a free 15-20 minute phone call for you to get a sense of who they are. I recommend you attend at least 2-3 sessions before you decide how you feel about the therapist. And if you don’t like him/her, find another one! Don’t quit because you haven’t found the right fit. Finding a counselor is like dating: It may take a few bad experiences to find “The One”. But you will be so happy you put in the time and effort once you do.
- Don’t be afraid of Tele-Health. A lot of therapists are offering services via Zoom, Facetime, and other apps. I actually am a HUGE fan! All of my appointments with my counselor are now done via my phone or computer. It keeps me from having to drive an hour and find a babysitter (in other words: I cancel less frequently because I have no excuses as to why I can’t make my appointment!). It is so convenient! I realize face-to-face is more ideal, but I also know that right now, we’ve got to appreciate and use the technology that we have. Tele-Health also opens the door for you to find a therapist that you trust from just about anywhere. So don’t let this intimidate you or limit you.
- Put in the work. Let the counselor know why you are there – even if you can’t explain your dark feelings, let him/her know you have them. Let the counselor know what your goals are: I don’t want to be angry, I don’t want to be addicted, I want a strong marriage, I want to learn to open up, I don’t want to be sad anymore, etc. And then lean into what the counselor says and asks. Counselors aren’t there to coddle you…they are there to break the chains of generational baggage and it can be painful. So, put on your big boy or girl panties and get to work. The next generation will thank you.
- You may need medication. I ALWAYS couple medication with counseling. I am also in communication with my general physician and my counselor when I am on medication. If you are juggling multiple medications, a psychiatrist is a great idea. They are familiar with all medications and side-effects and they can help you monitor your meds. You therapist can help you find one.
Btw…I use “counselor” and “therapist” interchangeably. They are basically the same thing.
I have been in counseling for over tens years and have been on medication for seven years. Yes, at first it was hard to admit that I needed BOTH therapy and meds. But now I realize this makes me courageous: I am strong enough to admit I need help and I am brave enough to seek it…not just for myself, but for my husband, kids, and friends.
Not only that, but I work to put into practice what my counselor says. It took me twenty-five plus years to get to where I was. It was going to take awhile to unlearn coping mechanisms and to apply healthy outlooks. But gosh, the hard work has been so worth it and paid off in dividends.
So please…do what you need to do to get healthy.
For more information on counseling, check out my Scar Stories Podcasts with Megan Richardson and Mike Brannen. You can also leave some questions in the comments and I will answer them!
by Nicole | Jul 6, 2021 | Brokenness, Mental Health, Parenting
I’ve had multiple conversations with parents recently who are really concerned for their kids’ mental health. If you are currently afraid your child may be battling a mental illness, you are NOT alone. I repeat: You are in really good company. This past year took a toll on our children and if they were already pre-disposed to trauma or some other kind of mental illness/disorder, then Covid and quarantine only amplified their pain.
Here’s what I am hoping you hear: You do NOT need to be afraid. Gosh, I know that seems so counter-intuitive and almost impossible to digest. But you have the tools to be able to get your child some help. You just have to be willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how much it costs, and regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Some of you have compounded your fear with your guilt. You also suffer from mental illness and now you are blaming yourself for your child’s affliction.
Please try to remember that our world is broken – and so we are broken emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Your child wasn’t going to be exempt from the brokenness, even if you didn’t have a mental illness. But, you do have the upper hand…here’s why…
So many of us didn’t get help until we were much older and had trainwrecked our lives. Our parents didn’t have the mental health information and resources that we have now. They didn’t know mental illness was a thing that could be diagnosed and treated. And so we had to white-knuckle our lives for years until we got into therapy and began to heal.
BUT NOW WE KNOW.
And that right there is powerful. We know the signs and symptoms and we can watch for them in our children and then get them the help that they need – The help we didn’t get at that age but were desperate for.
Our children are going to be okay…but only if…
- We can own our own brokenness. Maybe we need to apologize, quit (you insert what), implement some boundaries, or get into therapy…again.
- We take drastic measures. Maybe your child needs to be homeschooled, quit the extra-curricular activities, or go to a facility, go to therapy, or get on medication.
- We get into community. You and your child need to be surrounded by people who love you and who can be a positive, strong voice of encouragement as you all walk through this season. Let your child talk to other adults who have walked through similar situations. Make sure you have people in your corner who you can trust for prayer, guidance, and reason.
Watching our children suffer is so hard. Watching them suffer when we know we may have had a hand in their suffering is even worse. But we can own our part and then vulnerably and honestly talk with them and seek to get help with them. What if you did this together? What if your child saw you fighting for your own health? Sometimes our kids need to know we are going to be okay before they try to be okay.
I’d love for you to listen to my Scar Stories podcast that I did with Dena Yohe (click here). You can also purchase her book You are Not Alone from Amazon. It is specifically for parents who are trying to figure out how to care of a child with mental illness. Her daughter Renee is the backstory behind the organization To Write Love On Her Arms.
Then, I’d love for you to also listen to the podcast I did with licensed counselor Mike Brannen (click here). We talk about when and how to get our children into counseling.