About jonathanhankins

Father, Friend, Dreamer, Thinker, Sojourner, Advocate, Care Coordinator

Changed People Change People

Sometimes we can hear or repeat a catch phrase and it becomes like white noise. The more we say it and hear it, the less impact they seem to have. When such phrases fade into white noise status, the words can lose their power. One of those phrases for me is “hurt people hurt people”. There is an alternate route I have come to love which is “healed people heal people”. Used in this way, however, I feel it sounds as though one has to be completely healed before they can take part in the healing of another person. Are we not all in the process of hurting and healing? Yes, it is difficult to sit with someone in distress while we are undergoing our own struggle. But what if this increases our capacity for more authentic compassion and empathy?

When I post things I write people ask me why I do this. The undertone I feel coming from the question, whether intended or not, is whether one should have an opinion when undergoing the process of their own raw vulnerability. I also wonder if we only expect professionals to write about things they have researched and learned, instead of that which they are still in the process of learning. Have we become so accustomed to divvying out duties reserved for experts that we are afraid of learning hard things and practicing them for ourselves? I’m not suggesting that if one needs a therapist or a doctor they should not go see one. But even medicine is a practice and the experts are learning new things everyday. What I am getting at is the “expert” in practicing resilience while dealing with their human condition is often the one in the eye of the storm learning what it means to be human. I feel this is part of what Theodore Roosevelt meant when he said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Brene Brown brings attention to this famous quote in her book: Daring Greatly. (Did you really think I would write something without making a Brene reference?) Yes. I quote her often. But it doesn’t make me an expert in Brownism. It makes me a human who is on the path of healing. One can say “I really like funk music and how it makes me feel”. But do you really know the essence and origin of funk? What right do you have to say anything about it if you know so little?! There are critics everywhere. Even those who are hurting the most can be some of our worst critics.

Hurt people hurt people. While this statement is not giving allowance to pain being inflicted by someone experiencing their own pain, it gives us pause to consider why they are causing pain. There’s almost always a why to the cause. We tend to merely treat the symptoms of the pain without addressing the actual origin of the pain. We numb, we medicate, we divert our attention in every other direction. While pondering this phrase with more introspection, I started changing some of the words to perhaps bring a little more perspective. Here’s a few I thought of, what are some of yours?

Broken people break people

Abused people abuse people

Rejected people reject people

Angry people anger people

Hardened people harden people

Betrayed people betray people

Weak people weaken people

To what end?

What about these ones?

Strong people strengthen people

Softened people soften people

Healed people heal people

Loved people love people

I am sure you can look at your current life or life in retrospect and come up with some which more aptly applies to your experiences.

The point is this. We are the experts of both our own pain and our healing. We are the ones who can break the cycle and do not need to perpetuate it. We don’t always need to wait for an expert to fix us, because the process of turning from negative to positive could be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. It is not always that simple. We cannot always wait for someone else to stop the hamster wheel when we are the ones giving it the power. (Read that one again). We need to seek professional help to brake these cycles at times when we are unable to successfully do so ourselves. Sometimes we just don’t have the tools or we’ve run out of steam.

Wherever you are in your process, whether hurting or healing, know these things: You are not alone in your process. You can brake the cycle. People will come and go, but you and I still have a choice of the people we bring into our circle. I don’t know if I completely agree with the “we attract what we are” motto, but it is important we recognize who or what we attract and decide if they are contributing to the improvement or destruction of our health. I sent a meme to my friend the other day which read, “The most memorable people in life will be the friends who loved you when you weren’t very lovable.” To which he replied, “You’re plenty lovable. You just need better people around you.” While I appreciate the sentiment, nobody is necessarily “better”, but if their influence is bringing me down, I need to seriously evaluate if they are good for me or if I am strong enough to be good for them. It’s good to have friends who remind you you are “plenty lovable” and don’t treat you like you are hard to love.

We must also recognize that some of the most beautiful and loving people are also hurting and broken. It’s not always so black and white. Sometimes we are in a place to help with the healing and sometimes we need to step back for our own health. This doesn’t make one or the other “good” or “bad”. It just means that often times people need to evaluate their own space and determine where on the spectrum they are and how much they can handle. If you are not in a position to remain strong while trying to help someone who is hurting and broken, you can help the other access help even if you are not the person responsible for the healing.

We are in this together and doing the best we can. We don’t need to hangout in the hurt zone for too long, but we need to sit with it and be mindful our behaviors aren’t causing unnecessary harm as we lean towards healthier living. Yes, hurt people hurt people. But loved people love people and healed people heal people.

Put On Your Own Mask First

I’m not the best at making decisions for myself and setting healthy boundaries with people. Let me restate that. I haven’t been the best at making decisions for myself and setting healthy boundaries with people. I continue to find myself resorting to codependent traits. It takes a lot to be this vulnerable and acknowledge personal flaws. (DISCLAIMER: If you are bothered by raw vulnerability, or are quick to put a label on someone as being a “martyr”, or having a “victim complex”, you may not want to read any further. This post is neither about portraying myself as such, nor how comfortable you are with pain and vulnerability. If you are brave enough, I invite you to read further. This is a glimpse into my story which I hope can encourage others. And isn’t that really the stuff great stories are made of?)

Having codependent traits has resulted in me not loving myself enough to walk away from unhealthy relationships with people who would only manipulate and hurt me. They only do this because I let them! This is almost as much on me as them. How low of a self esteem I must’ve had to think this was how I should be treated by anyone! Yet I remain empathetic towards those who have caused me harm, because they didn’t know any better. Sometimes people unknowingly and unintentionally take advantage of codependents because they have a subconscious belief that we are strong enough to handle them and their pain. But often their pain gets projected onto us. In “Codependent No More”, there is this quote from an anonymous Al-Anon Member: “We’re so careful to see that no one gets hurt. No one, that is, but ourselves.” I agree with part of this statement. Yet, I have come to believe that even when we think we are being careful to see that nobody gets hurt, if we don’t set healthier boundaries sooner, both myself and the other party are at risk of being hurt in the process. So even when we work so hard to protect another person, we still risk hurting them and ourselves at the same time.

As I have been studying the Enneagram Personality traits, I have also learned that I identify quite a bit with the 2. The 2 is the “Helper” who often forgets to take care of themselves while trying to take care of others. Case in point, I have often been irritated by the instruction on the airplane to “put our own mask before helping others with theirs”. It is only after years of understanding and essentially losing my own oxygen (mentally and emotionally) for the sake of others that I have come to understand the importance of this. We have got to put our own mask on first in order to save both lives. This is not an easy concept for me. Another thing I have learned about the Enneagram is that this amazing world is full of beautiful people and I find great joy in our differences. The world is full of 7’s, 8’s, and 3’s. 1-9, to be exact. And even within each of these personality traits, there are varying layers which impact how one views the world and interacts with others. To think that everyone should just see things my way and would is quite a selfish thought. While we might believe the world would just be easier if things went my way or your way, it is just not reality, and we are not robots. We are humans who are capable of thinking and feeling. Sometimes the way different personality types intersect with other personality types, combined with fear, mental health, and trauma, can cultivate some incredibly turbulent waters. Some relationships make it, and others don’t. But I have come to believe that it is still a value to understand as much as we can about a person’s perspective and personality, before deciding if the intersection of relationship is healthy enough to continue.

As an Enneagram 2 with codependent traits, setting boundaries is not as easy as it is for others. We like to think we carry the world on our shoulders and giving up is not an option. So when we do finally come to the end of our rope, what many don’t understand is how much we’ve had to go through to finally let go. For outsiders or bystanders who do not know the internal personal struggle or are unable to see the toxic energy between two unhealthy people, it can be easy to misunderstand the intentions of the codependent. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you have no idea what we put ourselves through or allow ourselves to put up with. Often times, when it comes to either setting boundaries or letting go of an unhealthy relationship, the other person comes out looking like the “good guy”. This is because both codependents and Enneagram 2’s work hard to lift the other up and make them look good and feel better about themselves. We tend to dim our light so the other can shine.

The other night I learned something new about myself. I need to stop telling myself I am “bad” at making good decisions. Because the other night, in spite of the opinion of others, I was able to make a very positive decision for myself. And you know what else? Another healthy decision I made for myself a couple weeks ago, had a huge impact on the outcome and my ability to execute this other really great decision. I learned that it’s sometimes just one small decision followed by another which either causes us to spiral or to overcome. I have also since learned that making the right decision for myself can have some incredibly negative backlash. There are even people in my circle who find it easier to see what they want to see or prefer believing the misrepresentation of others over hearing my truth. Yet I still have love and compassion for each who struggle to know the best way to show empathy when they see two hurting and misunderstood individuals. Sometimes it is easier to sacrifice potentially good friendships to rush to the aid of one over the other. I am learning this is all part of life, and we are all doing the best we can. (Thanks Brene’ Brown) I am sure there have been times I have adopted a perspective based on only a small part of a situation and based judgement on my limited understanding. I’m sure I will probably do it again, even though I continue to strive to consider a variety of perspectives with an open heart and mind. But we all have filters and are only capable of seeing what we can and responding accordingly. Even though it is our responsibility to seek understanding if we wish to form a strong opinion about something. And often times, it’s really none of our business what we think of the matter, but how we respond to the individuals who are impacted is often more important. Regardless, I like the idea of assuming people are doing the best they can.

Back to the other night: So badly I wanted to cave for another person’s desires, because I truly love and care about them. So much so that setting this boundary hurt and nearly landed me in the hospital. I am learning that not setting boundaries is neither loving nor caring for myself or others, no matter if I have the best of intentions. In a short glimpse of reflection before making my decision, I saw an image of what the long term impact could look like had I caved in this moment. The long term impacts could’ve been damaging to both me and the other individual. For the first time I can remember, I was able to see and feel the immediate relief of setting this boundary. By the next day, I was also able to see the ripple affect of speaking my truth. Albeit, in the moment, I could’ve been more careful about how I celebrated my small victory. I was so proud of myself for the first time in a while, that I rushed to write a post about it on social media. I even tried using privacy settings to filter who could see it. A private post I intended to notify a handful of friends of my small victory was able to be seen by the wrong people who interpreted it as an attempt to blast the other person. What’s worse, is they sent it to the other person. While I did not name the other person, the few who saw it were able to read between the lines. So it became our in the open and it was my word against theirs. While the aftermath of my careless communication has been grueling and alienating, I stand by my decision to set the initial boundary and still celebrate the fact I made a healthy decision. Again, this decision was both for the benefit of myself and the other party. Caving for the other person would not have been an emotionally or mentally safe decision for me or for them. And in that moment, I just happened to be the one in the position to do so. In another time and circumstance, they may be the one to do so. I am willing to embrace my humanity enough to admit that there are moments I have not been in the position to set the boundary, and others have had to do it for me. This is how relationships work. I do not see this as a competition, nor view the other party as all bad or all good. They were just not in the physical or mental state to be the one to make the decision at this particular time. Again, I don’t see the circumstance as a competition as others might perceive. Life is not that black and white, and I am grateful to know that there is so much room for perspective and grace. Even though my efforts to protect each of us backfired, it was still completely necessary. This is the risk of setting boundaries with ourselves and others.

I read this quote recently: “When people set boundaries with you, it’s their attempt to continue the relationship with you. It’s not an attempt to hurt you.” (Elizabeth Earnshaw)

In a world which is very quick to react, I often worry about the increase of misunderstandings and unresolved conflict when people don’t slow down to actually listen to one another. Not everyone is out to attack each other and some of us actually want to work for peace. Yet even passivists are often misunderstood and seen as threatening.

When the door of my Lyft closed and I was being driven home alone, I felt a certain euphoric relief. I was alone, but I was free. Not free from the other person as much as free from my need to put their desires in front of my needs. I fear I failed to make that clearer in my post which caused the ripple effect. On my ride home, I was thanking God my conscience was no longer swallowed up by pain and loss that I hadn’t completely forgotten who I was and who I am.

I’ve been setting more boundaries for myself lately which I know has been uncomfortable for others, but it has been necessary for me to live and to breathe. I know it has been at the cost of bruising and possibly losing what I believed to be good relationships, and I trust the ones that are meant to be will come back around. This is often the case when people who are so forgiving and find boundary setting challenging start setting them. What is left is fewer but more solid relationships with people who show me what it is to love unconditionally, in spite of my flaws. This is how I try to show love to others, and often to a fault. But I am grateful for those who respect me and value our relationship enough, to give me room to learn and grow. It is regretfully sad to me to watch the differences in reaction between people when you are no longer able to give them what they want. Those who respect you will stay.

So I conclude with this declaration: This world of people pleasing and codependency no longer serves me. It never really did. So I am shedding that skin like Eustice’s painful struggle to separate himself from the dragon skin. This world is not done with me people! I am an overcomer!

Through this experience, I think I finally realized the fascination of the Phoenix. Because tomorrow, baby, I’m rising from these ashes. And not merely rising for someone else’s benefit, but for me. If you can identify with any of this, I hope you too can be encouraged in your journey. Feel free to comment and/or share.

Perspective Shifting

Perspective shifting can be hard work. Too often we fight to uphold our position for fear our worldview could be flawed. It is not so simple as being right or being wrong. We are complex individuals in a complex world. The more we welcome people into our lives and the more diverse we become as a population, we must understand the ways in which we view ourselves and the world will be challenged. We all have different ways in which we see ourselves and the world through lenses of our own experiences and limited understanding. It can be beautiful and it can also be messy. If we want to somehow find peace within ourselves and others, it will take some work in shifting our perception on things and be willing to be wrong. it is nearly impossible for anyone to be entirely right or entirely wrong. When we get the need for power out of our conversation, we creat space for greater understanding.

This morning my friend called me out about a situation where I tried to use a bunch of words to somehow change the narrative of a situation so I didn’t look bad. This is my defense mechanism and my flaw. Nobody really wants to be wrong or misunderstood, and I am no exception. We all seem to squirm when something or someone challenges the story we tell ourselves. Perhaps we find ourselves working harder to not be perceived as being wrong than the work it would take to listen to differing viewpoints. Part of this work is acknowledging that we have a story we are telling ourselves about ourselves, relationships, and every given situation and it is not possible for this narrative to be flawless. You and I are not flawless, and we need to remind ourselves it is okay not to be flawless. In some ways, it could seem as if our narrative is merely black and white and we become disregulated when someone comes along with color to add to our story.

Friends, we are in a time when being human, navigating relationships, communication, and the world at large can seem overwhelmingly chaotic. The rise in mental illness should not be a surprise to anyone. No matter how we work to improve our communication skills, the broader conversations will always be complicated because we are complex people with differing realities. We should not be afraid of this, but rather be more gracious with ourselves and one another in the process. We should work hard to listen to each other to understand and not only to respond. We are only hurting ourselves and denying our own opportunity for personal growth when we insist on holding tightly to our own narratives and strike down anyone else who sees things from a different perspective. It is easy to sit back and say “some people just want to watch the world burn”, but it takes deeper work to trust the best of intentions and gain the understanding that some may have the sincerest of motives, yet continue throwing gas on the fire out of fear of being wrong. I may be a bit too much of an optimist, but I really don’t believe people actually want to watch the world burn. I remember a phrase we would use from my days working in the evangelical field: “Good Intention Dragons”. I’m not certain of the origin of this phrase, but it helps me to understand how, even with the best of intentions, we are capable of setting things ablaze with a simple word.

Several months ago, an acquaintance once told me in reference to a mutual friend, “he doesn’t intend to hurt.” For the longest time I thought she only meant he didn’t mean to hurt others, when I recently realized this statement had a double meaning. People in general have no real intentions of hurting and the hurt which lashes out onto others is only coming from a place of hurt. Whether the hurt is self-inflicted or from an outside source, nobody wants it. Even with the best of intentions, hurting is inevitable because our world is broken. Some hurt more than others, but our intentions are rarely to cause harm.

So if you have read this far, may I encourage you with this: make room for others to bring more color to your narrative, be willing to do the work to shift your perspective, and be gracious with yourself and others through the process. Because life is beautiful, and messy, and most certainly worth it.

When Joy is at a Loss of Words

 The world could use more pink fluffy elephants. I know I, for one, could use an imaginary friend like Bing Bong in my life. This is not the first time I have referenced this film and I am sure it will not be the last. It has been far too long since I have used this medium to let readers into my head and heart, but here goes…

I think my favorite scene in Pixar‘s Inside Out is when Bing Bong is grieving the loss of his rocket and he thinks it is gone forever. Joy does what many of us do when we try to cheer someone up and try to change the mood. The fact is we can’t be happy all the time. Sadness steps in when Joy is at a loss for words. She sits with him and gives space for feelings to process. Joy tries to interfere while Sadness shows us she has some magic of her own. Bing Bong embraces Sadness, cries candy tears, and feels ready to move forward with their quest. Throughout the film,  Joy is increasingly irritated by Sadness and quite uncomfortable when a situation presents itself as less than joyful. Like many of us in real life, sometimes the discomfort of grief can cause us to try to rush into any action which would manufacture a smile or break the ice. Negative feelings are often times too difficult for many to process. So Sadness embraces Bing Bong as he cries and Joy looks on to watch this uncomfortable situation unfold. The viewer watches Joy‘s expression soften as Bing Bong wipes his tears, saying “thank you. I feel better now.” Fast forward to one of the final scenes, when Joy and Sadness discover how they can influence a hybrid of memories which are both sad (blue) and happy (gold) memorable moments. Every feeling works hard to ensure that Riley is happy, and looks to Joy as the primary feeling. The more they try to avoid negative emotions, life for Riley continues down a scary path which breaks down the way she thinks and feels about core beliefs.

I remember when my son and I watched this creative masterpiece the same year as his mother’s and my divorce. He was five and I think I got more from the movie than he did. The other day I was able to tell his birth story with actual joy, without getting choked up by pain or resentment. Had this conversation taken place a couple years ago, I don;t know that I could’ve made it through without a negative emotion. Sadness is still there, but joy opted to take the driver seat for me in that moment. This isn’t always the case, and sometimes fear, anger, or sadness are controlling the dials. Some feelings are difficult to process in general and some of us feel things stronger than others while others try to run interference on feeling anything at all.

Today is one of those days I am reminded of fond and silly memories held together with both sadness and joy – one of those gold and blue hybrid core memories. Sometimes experiencing momentary pain helps me appreciate joy all the more. Life cannot always be happy and I’m grateful it doesn’t always need to be sad.

Dear friends, may you allow yourself space to hold the sadness together with joy. Be compassionate with yourselves by allowing yourself to feel whatever you are feeling in the moment, and do not feel pressured to rush into a more pleasant feeling, unless of course, it is causing harm to yourself or others. Allow sadness to work together with joy and fear and anger. There is a reason we are equipped with these emotions. Be gracious with yourself and others while trying not to cause harm or destruction.

joyI recently ended a relationship before feelings had a moment to settle. While I am convinced it was the right decision in the bigger scheme of things, I fear my timing could have been better. It is evident there is work to be done individually should this relationship ever circle back around and healthier boundaries would need to be established.

What is frustrating to me about this is I work with parents who are doing their best to support their youth through moments of crisis and escalated emotions. I am continually having conversations with parents encouraging them to try and avoid logical reasoning or making permanent decisions while in the “Red Zone”. Borrowing behavioral intervention concepts from Zones of Regulation, my colleagues and I are becoming better versed in this tool for helping adolescents develop skills for emotional regulation. It is a model which is also being utilized in more and more school settings. The premise is based on four colors. Green is baseline, yellow is the trigger zone, red is anger or crisis, and blue is more for recovery. I also use this in creating safety plans for  youth with high needs and difficulty regulating emotions.

Why does this matter?

mom-riley-dad-inside-outBecause, in spite of the fact that I work in this kind of environment on a daily basis, I am also presented with situations which remind me of the humanity of myself and others, and my own regulation skills are put to the test.  I have the tools and forgot to use them. I could’ve benefited from my own advice. I became frustrated and tried to tighten a bolt by enforcing the hammer. This all happened last week when I was provoked by someone I love to meet them in the Red Zone and none of the tools in my toolbox came to the rescue. Like Riley’s internal reaction when dad threatened no dessert. While being verbally attacked and emotionally spewed upon are not acceptable behaviors, I panicked and made a decision to cut-off the relationship in the heat of the moment. I felt there was no other choice. I was feeling pushed to my limit and I didn’t feel as though my boundaries were being respected. While it is important to set healthy boundaries, my timing could have been better. Had I waited until we were both out of the Red Zone, there would have been a better opportunity to listen to respond and not just to react. A friendship could still exist, and a process of healing could potentially have been reconciled. Even if I had made the appropriate decision, neither logical reasoning or concrete decisions need to be made in haste. For this I am truly sorry. There are those moments when communication receptors are malfunctioning, all the feelings are fighting for control, and anger takes a lead at the control booth. I regret this is not the moment for making permanent decisions, not to those we love.

Time and time again, hurt people hurt people, despite the best of intentions. While there are lessons to be learned through love and loss, and patterns to pay attention to, I sincerely wish this did not result in a lost friendship or miss the opportunity to walk with them in pursuing their own personal health. I am saddened Bing Bong wasn’t around to change the mood and that my tools and learned skills didn’t come to the rescue in a moment of feeling pushed to my limit. Perhaps taking personal space would have been a better route to take.

I know I am not alone when I wish there were certain things which cease to exist in this world. Trauma depression, personality disorders, and the entire slew of mental illnesses would not be allowed in my Utopia. This would just be the beginning, I can go on and on about equality, justice and pink fluffy elephants. Nonetheless, as you and I are living in this world of pain, we can always do our best to start again and shine a light to move forward. We don’t need to fight against feelings as they surface or try to by joyful all of the time. We can allow feelings to be processed and hold space for one another. We can allow joy to embrace sadness and inspire healing and growth from here.

Good night, my loves.

Happy Ever After

hydrangea

To the woman I once loved,

Happy Anniv.…[ahem] …Happy ever after.

I want you to know that today was more than just another day.

Today would be thirteen years from the moment we made a commitment to each other in front of hundreds of family and friends. As tradition goes, we stood with the minister exchanging vows and knelt before the table taking our first communion together. Today was a Sunday and this time I came to the table alone. I took the bread and drank the wine, alone. And you better believe I did not pick from the gluten free plate. ; )

I am still standing here, but a changed and better man. I did not choose the breaking of our vows. Lord, knows how hard I tried to hang on. But I am a new person, for the better, with growing confidence which reminds me daily I AM worthy of love and companionship. While the healing process has been long and painful, I honestly cannot remember the last time I shed a tear over losing you. It is incredible how a heart can heal in such a way where the love still exists, but the feeling has passed. Through the severing of the relationship, the feelings of desire and emotional connection to you have died along with the feeling there was still a ring on my finger years after I finally took it off. In the same moment I can look at you with gratitude as the mother of our son, I see a stranger or someone I thought I knew once upon a time. Is this what it feels like to heal?

Now we are living our ever after, and today was much more than just another day.

Today I stood with a healed and stronger heart, praying I might have the chance to experience that feeling once again. I only hope to share it with someone who is able to love and be loved by someone like me. I do not know if entering into another marriage covenant is in the cards for me, nor how I even feel about matrimony for me. But I do know I have a lot to give and I am a better man than the one you married and more whole than the one you left.

To me, today was much more than just another day.

As I reflect on what this day was and what it now is, I consider how wonderfully grateful I am for the gift of our son. Without this day in history, and without whatever what once was, he would not be. And I cannot imagine this life without him. He is a constant reminder I am not destined to be alone. Today we went fishing and got our haircuts together. We brought home what we caught and made dinner with a good friend. From a distance (i.e. social media) I celebrated the anniversaries of other friends and along with the marriage of my cousin and his new bride.  This day could have been another painful reminder of what once was, or it could have just been another day, but it was so much more.

Today is still a magnificent and glorious day.

On a day I would otherwise be wishing you a happy anniversary, I simply wish you a different kind of love fused with gratitude, forgiveness, and a new life to a better you

– from a better me.

Today was more than just another day.

Happy moving forward.

Happy ever after.

You Are Not Alone In This {part two}

For the past few years, and largely to do with personal experiences, I have been thinking more and more about the influence of loneliness on mental health, and recent research is confirming my assumptions. According to an NPR article dated May 1, 2018:

“A nationwide survey by the health insurer Cigna underscores that. It finds that loneliness is widespread in America, with nearly 50 percent of respondents reporting that they feel alone or left out always or sometimes.”

While I was not at all surprised to read this, I also find it ironic. We live in a digital age where we can literally communicate with anyone across the globe. Not to mention that this planet is more increasingly populated by humans than ever before. And many of us feel more alone than ever in history.

According to this study, “More than half of survey respondents — 54 percent — said they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. Fifty-six percent reported they sometimes or always felt like the people around them “are not necessarily with them.” And 2 in 5 felt like “they lack companionship,” that their “relationships aren’t meaningful” and that they “are isolated from others.”

ALONE

Two years ago, I moved to a larger city in hopes to not only experience a broader worldview, but also to increase my friend base, my community, and my tribe. I immediately joined a faith community, and began working with an incredible team where some of my closest friendships have been cultivated. In the fall of 2016, I joined a support group to process my grief and loss of my marriage, relationship and death of a dream. I currently live where I have more people within one square mile of me than I have had my entire life living in a small town and rural communities. Even here in this place there are times I feel completely alone, and yet I know I am not alone in this.

Last week my good friend and I were discussing this feeling of loneliness. She is in the best dating relationship she has ever experienced, and she feels so alone. I can identify because even in my ten year marriage, I felt severely alone and isolated. That is one of the most interesting and scary factors of this phenomenon is that we can be in the best of relationships, surrounded by other people, having the time of our lives and still experience this feeling of complete isolation.

It is possible that my personal experience with loneliness may be primarily situational as I begin my journey of facing, accepting and treating my own attention deficit disorder or the fact that I am divorced and still learning how to be content in my singleness. But I would like to suggest that the problem is much larger and has more to do with societal influences and environmental stressors. When I walk through my city, scroll through social media, turn on the news or sit in a pew, I can see I am not alone in this.

I have heard many theories and ideas about the causes. Social media may be a common denominator, but I suggest it might be more complicated than this. Some suggest it is our independent society and our lack of physical touch or hugging. Some from my faith background may argue a lack of faith as being a cause. While I have found some comfort in my faith through difficult times, I cannot deny the fact that some of my loneliest seasons were while serving faithfully in a growing church community and much of my time was spent praying, reading scripture and “fellowshipping” with others on a daily basis. There were even Sunday mornings I distinctly recall from my memory giving a message to a congregation of 500 plus and walking to my car to return to my home feeling completely defeated and alone.

In my personal journey, I am learning that it matters less about a relationship, religious affiliation, a city’s population, or how many “friends” and followers you have on social media – loneliness knows no boundaries.

I do not intend to share this heavy topic as a doom and gloom observation, but more of an acknowledgement that we have a problem and the solution resides in each of us. While there may be larger societal contributing factors which need to change, change starts with you and me. Yes, the problem is bigger than you or I, but the solution can start with us. I am on a personal mission to address this epidemic by discovering helpful solutions and by doing all that I can to make sure others around me feel less alone. It is important that each person feels cared about and no amount of care is too much. We are never too much and always enough. I hope you find as much encouragement in this as I am feeling writing these words.

You may be reading this and some of what I have shared is resonating with you and your experience. I hope you can find comfort in knowing you are not alone in this. We may find it helpful to turn off social media for a while. We might consider picking up the phone and calling family or a close friend. Perhaps hugging more might be helpful. The other day, when dropping my son off at school, I asked him if he would like a 10 or 20 second hug. I was so delighted he chose the latter. There we stood in full embrace for 20 solid seconds when interrupted by another parent who had been holding the door for us. As embarrassing as that moment, the parent remarked he would hold the door for a hug any day. Check in with your loved ones on a regular basis.

Just know, dear friend, that you are truly not alone. There is hope and we must believe there is more than this.

You Are Not Alone In This {part one}

DEPRESSIONLast week millions mourned at the sudden loss of a prime time icon. Known for his sense of adventure and connecting his viewers to unknown places around the world. Not only did he gain followers by his boldness in trying all kinds of foods which may disqualify a fear factor competitor, but he was known by his ability to engage strangers from all cultures and become their friend. He was charismatic. He was talented. He had friends literally across the globe. And he died alone by suicide. How could such a loving and well respected human take his own life when he had the world at his fingertips?

I remember in 2014 hearing about the loss of another Hollywood icon who always presented confident and over the top hilarious.  I grew up watching Mork and Mindy and one of my favorite movies was Hook. Robin Williams remains one of my favorite comedians to this day and my heart breaks for what pain was lurking beneath the boisterous surface.

Tomorrow will be seven weeks from the morning I woke to the most painful call I have ever remember receiving. “Are you okay?” The person on the other end asked? “Are you in a good place?” “Do you have people around you today?” Chills ran through my body. I was home alone, and, no, I was not in a very good place, and I just wanted the person to say the inevitable.  I replied with something to the nature of, “Please just tell me what is going on.” ……………………………….

“She’s gone”, said the broken voice.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation very clearly as I tried keeping my voice calm and attempted being collected for the other person. Yet upon hanging up the call I nearly dropped my phone and fell to my knees in the middle of my living room floor as though the wind had been kicked out of me completely. When I finally caught my breath, I began wailing and sobbing so loudly, I am surprised I didn’t concern the neighbors. My young, talented, outgoing, tenacious friend lost her battle the morning following her senior prom. I would have attended my young friend’s graduation last week. But instead, I attended their funeral just a few weeks prior. “This is not how it is supposed to be”, I shuttered to another young friend who accompanied me to the graveside. “Not. It isn’t” she stated in a quiet and reserved voice. Hope reminds me, I am not alone in this. I cannot help but wish my dear friend was able to just hang on to this hope a little longer. Sometimes we all need a little hope to get us through the darkest of storms.

How does this happen? We are often left with more questions than answers in these moments. As a trainer in Mental Health First Aid, I am instructed to teach trainees that there are always signs and symptoms. Similar to CPR, we practice assessing for risks and how to provide support for someone in distress until professional help arrives. We attempt to educate parents, teachers, clergy, law enforcement, and the general public on discerning signs and symptoms. We provide opportunity for individuals to increase their confidence by rehearsing asking the big question. We provide information and resources available to help prevent such situations. And finally, we strongly emphasize that in some cases, in spite of all our efforts, there may be some who will still die by suicide.  It is important we not shame ourselves in the process. This is easier said than done when there is no limit to our desire to care for those who are hurting.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States is estimated there are 25 attempts for every completion.

It is time we pay attention.

Instantly woven into the news release of Anthony Bourdain’s death, on all the major networks, were the words, “If you are struggling, please reach out.” Reaching out is not as easy as it sounds for those who struggle and depression is not as easy to detect when some have developed the ability to appear strong or utilize humor to mask or deflect the pain. I can tell you this from personal experience.

Within this past year, I had a bout where I could not fall asleep and all I felt was alone, hopeless and empty. Though it was situational, I honestly have no memory of what triggered this episode. There wasn’t even a prayer or hopeful thought which I could grab onto to get me out of this funk. All I remember is my thoughts were racing between calling a friend or checking myself into a hospital. These thoughts were accompanied by not wanting to bother my friend in the middle of the night and feeling completely paralyzed by my anxiety that I could not move to even pick up the phone. (I have since learned that there are seemingly basic over the counter allergy medications which can increase these feelings and I caution anyone who takes any medication to pay attention to the potential side effects.) While my moments have been momentary and situational, I cannot imagine the pain of those who live with this on a daily basis.

Growing up in the evangelical church, I was somehow taught to believe mental illness had more to do with a spiritual problem or not having enough faith. I have since learned to view the validity of various mental illnesses as any other illness. Would we tell a cancer patient that their lack of faith is the reason for their illness? Or someone who lives with diabetes or an amputee? While I do not intend to question anyone’s beliefs about faith and healing, I do propose we approach mental illness like any other. If you are one who prays, we can still offer prayers while encouraging a loved one to get help in the same way we might encourage one to see a doctor if they are experiencing adverse physical conditions. We pray for the wisdom of doctors and for the “Lord’s will be done”, and we can do the same for those pursuing treatment thus helping to reduce the negative stigma.

I have a theory about a cause of depression and other mental health diagnosis which I will share in the second part of this post tomorrow. For now, I do not want to leave you with a heavy ending, but rather speak up for those who are struggling. Reaching out for help is an up hill battle. For those who are struggling, please know you are not alone and recovery IS possible. Cultivate hope where you can. Find the silver linings. Know your coping skills. Take deep breaths. Write. Read. Exercise. Drink more water. Do whatever you need to do to be safe. The other day I pulled a good friend aside at work and told him I would have a significant stretch of days where my son would not be with me in a few weeks. I expressed that I needed him to check in with me periodically on those days because those days are the most difficult for me. Reaching out can be really hard, but it can feel easier.

For those on the other end who might have concerns, but are not sure what to say, please do not worry about jeopardizing a relationship or not knowing the right words. If a loved one crosses your mind and you feel compelled to reach out, I can only imagine it is not an accident. There is nothing wrong with “Hi. For some reason you have been on my mind and heart and I thought I would give you a call. How are you doing?” I believe strongly in intuition and serendipitous experiences. If someone comes to your mind and you think for a half second about reconnecting, please, without any reservation, dial that number or send the text. You may never know the power of letting someone know you are thinking of them. I look forward to sharing more ideas around a contributing factor of mental illness in my blog tomorrow. But for now, good night, and may you find rest in knowing you are more than enough.