The war on Thanksgiving, and Cannabidiol (CBD) as possible treatment for anxiety and depression

Sometime in December, probably multiple times, I expect to hear about the “war on Christmas,” because someone said Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Has anyone noticed there has been an ongoing war on Thanksgiving?

I remember when stores would wait until after Thanksgiving to play Christmas music, put up Christmas decorations, and Black Friday marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Now it’s the day after Halloween. This year, on November 1, I was in a discount grocery store, it was sunny and almost eighty degrees outside, not even a hint of snowflakes, and I heard “Sleigh Bells” through the store speakers. I wanted to shout, “This is just wrong, people! It’s still more than three weeks until Thanksgiving!”

Good or bad for business?

A USA Today article showed the state of the debate from the business side. On one hand, there is question about whether it makes business sense. Instead of resulting in more sales and profits, the numbers suggest Thanksgiving sales dilute the sales and purchases of Black Friday. So you’re open on this holiday, but overall you’re not making any more money. On the other hand, some believe being closed on Thanksgiving will soon be outdated. Most stores used to be closed on Sunday. Now shopping and running errands on Sunday is normal. Will the same thing happen with Thanksgiving?

As long as shoppers want to make purchases on Thanksgiving, stores will continue to accommodate them, [Professor Tom] Arnold said, either in person or online.

Either way, however, it comes down to a business decision. I don’t blame them for that. Retailers need to maximize the Christmas shopping season any way they can. If you don’t make it at Christmas, you don’t make it, I remember hearing years ago. But do you have to make your employees sacrifice a major holiday and the last chance to spend meaningful time with their families before the Christmas rush?

Why am I talking about this on a blog about faith and depression?

Because giving thanks and gratitude are powerful antidotes to depression and perhaps the most important (and underrated) acts of faith. Think about a time when you were truly grateful, from the bottom of your heart. When gratitude overwhelmed you. Were you depressed then? Did it even occur to you that you could possibly be depressed at that moment? That’s what I mean about it being a powerful antidote. You can’t be depressed when you are truly thankful.

We have a day set aside to give thanks for our own blessings and the blessings of this nation. The fourth Thursday of every November. And every year we ignore it, trivialize it, and treat it as a speed bump in our rush to get started shopping for Christmas. Black Friday is threatening to take over Thanksgiving altogether. Taking even one day out of shopping season to stop, remember our blessings, share them with our families, and be thankful is treated as a waste of time, and even worse, a waste of money. Isn’t that a perfect metaphor for our lives? We rush and rush to acquire more stuff and buy the love of our families and never stop to be grateful for what we already have. Sounds like the perfect recipe for depression.

So this year I am going to support Thanksgiving by doing my Christmas shopping only at stores that closed on Thanksgiving Day. And I will wait until after Christmas before I shop any stores that were open on Thanksgiving. The only way this will change is if consumers prove to these companies that it really makes no business sense to try to make people shop when we should be giving thanks.


Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil Good for Anxiety?

The Early Show ran a story on its possible use to help NFL players deal with pain and might even help with brain injuries. It comes from the cannabis plant, but it does not have the psychoactive properties of THC. Doctors are saying it has many medicinal uses including anti-seizure, cancer treatment, and anti-anxiety. It is even said to be a superfood.

Could it be an effective treatment for anxiety and depression? It works through the same mechanisms as AD medication, but it appears to have fewer side effects. If you are taking AD medication, going off it can be rough, even if it’s to replace it with something else. Natural and prescription AD medication usually do not work well when taken together. You should consult your physician before taking on this or any new treatment.

I’m not sure if the research is complete yet, so for me the jury is still out. However, it looks like it could be promising not only for depression and anxiety but for many other serious health issues.


Democrats, you blew it! So next time…

I was going to write this to the Democratic Party leadership no matter who won. Their campaigning was atrocious, and I have to say something about it.

Please, will somebody in the party leadership listen to some common sense?

Whether they won or lost, the Democrats made some horrible blunders. I have realized for years the Democrats have a much better agenda, but they are terrible at selling their brand. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama helped break that rule in recent years, but overall they still haven’t learned their lesson. Two terrible mistakes from the campaigns for Hillary Clinton and The DCCC made the unthinkable possible.

Hillary Clinton: Your slogan was, “I’m with her,” but you ran as if it was “I’m against him.”

You might want to say I’m wrong or I’m exaggerating. I will give you that it was not true of the whole campaign. The Democratic Convention of July 24-28 was conducted brilliantly. You had Michelle Obama saying, “When they go low, we go high.” (Again, you should have followed that advice). You had Barack Obama reminding us why we were so inspired to vote for him (and not just against the other guy) in 2008 and 2012, even if less so the second time. And your candidate, Hillary Clinton, actually gave us reasons to vote for her, not just against him. And it was the perfect antidote to the toxicity of the GOP convention. What a disaster that was. It was like the Republican Party had gone from Reagan’s “Morning in America,” to Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare.” That was why she got such a big post-convention bounce. And then in all three debates, she did great and kept the lead she had in the polls.

But you have to realize after the debates, there are only three ways people hear your message: (1) News media coverage, (2) personal appearances, and (3) campaign ads.

(1) The news media is only going to play sound bites that may or may not accurately represent you and your agenda. You have little to no control over that.

(2) In the homestretch from the last debate to the election, the candidate is going to focus all their personal appearances in the battleground states, and only people who support you are going to those.

(3) For the vast majority of people, especially those who are undecided and still could be convinced, the only chance you have to reach them personally is in your campaign ads. All I heard from her campaign in the homestretch was replays of all the disgusting things Donald Trump said. Well, not all of them. That would have taken way too long. And of course, in those final weeks, whatever ads you run are playing over and over again.

As Election Day drew near, I noticed the ads were having a psychological effect on me. They not only reminded me of my disgust toward him, but they also killed my enthusiasm for her. They were creating a negative association with the act of voting in this election. I felt strongly enough that I could put up with this and still vote for her. However, people who are undecided or who are not excited about voting do not want to participate in an activity they associate with disgust and/or killing their enthusiasm. I know it was tempting to use all the material he gave you against him, but you fell into the trap of sinking to his level.

So next time, remember: A campaign is like a battery. It runs on BOTH negative and positive. I’m not saying forget the negative. I’m saying DON’T forget the positive.

image of two AA batteries

DCCC: Do you really think hopelessness, panic, and giving up is an effective fundraising strategy?

I received regular emails from various Democratic fundraising arms: the National Committee (DNC), the one focusing on the campaigning for Congress (DCCC), the Senate (DSCC), and the Leadership Council (DLC). The DCCC was the worst, not only of that group but of any campaign fundraising I’ve ever seen. Here are a few Subject lines, and these were the rule, not the exception:

  • We’re panicked.
  • All hope is lost.
  • Kiss all hope good bye.
  • We’re going to lose.
  • We give up.
  • Throwing in the towel.

Seriously folks? If the other party is raising more money than you, maybe it’s because no one wants to donate to a panicky party that says it’s giving up weeks or even months before the election. Leaders at any level cannot panic. When we are anxious, you need to calm us down. When we’re panicked, you need to be the voice of reason. That’s why we elect leaders. You need to create a strategy. You need to steady the ship. You need to give us hope. You need to remind us the game is not over, and we need to keep fighting until the final bell. You need to tell us you’re NOT giving up. This is too important to give up before the end. But when we look to you, you’re declaring defeat and running for the locker room.

I don’t know if this would have changed the outcome. You had hoped that Trump would be a drag on down-ticket candidates, and he proved to be the exact opposite. I know the GOP raised more money than you. And I know how important it is to get back a majority in Congress. But the next time you say you’re giving up before the election is over, you are not getting a penny from me.

So next time: Fire the person who wrote your fundraising emails. Find someone who knows how to communicate your vision, connect with voters, and show confidence. Don’t try to guilt us into donating. Inspire us to donate by talking about what a Democratic Congress will mean for us and for America.

What I fear from a Trump Presidency

Game over for the climate. We have just elected a president who says climate change a hoax, just like Pharaoh called the Ten Plagues a hoax. He started out in denial and ended up in de-Nile. The glaciers keep melting, and our coastal cities will be under water. We won’t see it in four years, but we will see more and more extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, days and weeks of record high temperatures. What do you think that will do to the world’s food when more and more farm land is in drought or flood?

Gap between the rich and the poor getting even worse. His policy for growing the economy is cutting taxes on the wealthy and cutting back on public services. You’ve seen this movie before. Did you forget how it ends? It works spectacularly for the wealthiest 1%, but it’s a disaster for the other 99%. Which side are you on?

Losing my health insurance. I am one of over 20 million people who got insurance for the first time in years through the Affordable Care Act. I couldn’t get it any other way because of a long list of preconditions. I understand there are problems with it, but they could all be fixed. They could already have been fixed, but Republicans in Congress had over 40 votes to repeal it. Not one of them involved any plan to replace it. So he wants to repeal and replace Obamacare? I only believe the repeal part. Instead of repealing it and starting over from the ground up, wouldn’t it be easier to just fix what’s already in place?

The end of freedom of the press. During his rallies, he whined that the news media was unfair to him for basically reporting what he said and did. Especially toward the end of the campaign he started saying, “There’s those horrible people in the media,” and the hostility of the crowds focused on them. People who sold subscriptions to The Arizona Republic were threatened and attacked. Reporters received death threats.

Thomas Jefferson considered Freedom of the Press to be even more important to the flourishing of democracy than government itself. If the press is bullied and intimidated for reporting unflattering news about our leaders, that is the quickest path to dictatorship.

The crushing of dissent. “Knock the hell out of him,” he said about a protester at his rally. He’s talked about revamping libel laws to allow him to sue news channels who report things about him he doesn’t like. And his lashing out encourages his supporters to lash out in kind. That is how dictatorships work, not democracies.

Net neutrality. This means equal access to information. Internet Service Providers should not interfere or regulate information you want to slow lanes. That’s what network neutrality means, but he has threatened to undo protections that are in place now.

Women’s healthcare. Defund Planned Parenthood, the GOP says. Why? Because they perform abortions. Yes, but that is actually 3% of what they do. The other 97% is gynecological exams, prescription assistance, cancer screenings, mammograms, pre-natal care, basically comprehensive health care for women who couldn’t afford it anywhere else. And for that, the GOP has declared war on them. They even pressured John Boehner to step down as Speaker of the House because he refused to shut down the government (again) in order to stop funding for Planned Parenthood.

Trump is a Johnny-Come-Lately to the pro life movement. He used to be, in his own words, “Very pro-choice.” Somehow he has done a 180 and is now pro life, though he never told us his story of how and why he changed his mind. That’s true of just about every conservative issue where he used to be liberal. He certainly has the right to change his mind. But you’d think someone would have asked him to give his testimony. How did you see the light? Why did you change your mind?

At any rate, the new pro-life Trump has given every indication it’s open season on Planned Parenthood, and consequently women’s health. For people who are pro life, I understand why you want to stop public funding for the 3%. But do you really have to do away with the other 97% because of that? If you get rid of Planned Parenthood, what are you going to replace it with?

Wall Street reform gone. Wall Street, big banks, and insurance companies caused the economic crash of 2008. You’d think regulating these folks so they couldn’t do it again would be a priority for the American people, if not the government. Nope. They have the money. They control Washington.
That’s the real reason the system is rigged, by the way. Now, no chance of any meaningful reform. In fact, what reform we have managed, like Dodd-Frank, is now on the chopping block.

Russian tampering. Trump supporters, I know you were happy to get Hillary’s emails. But does it bother anyone that they came from Russian hackers? That Putin supported Julian Assange in putting them on Wikileaks? Not all at once but drip, drip, drip, to keep it front and center on the American campaign scene? That Russia is celebrating Trump’s election? Any other election, Russia’s endorsement would guarantee NOT getting elected. Yet Trump cozies up to Putin and it doesn’t seem to hurt him one bit. And he wants to pull out of NATO, which is exactly what Putin wants from us. It will remove a major obstacle to restoring the Soviet Union, which ultimately is his goal.

ISIS growing. ISIS has said they are going to use Trump’s election as a recruiting point. He said he was going to ban Muslims from coming into the country, and the American people elected him, not in spite of that but because of it. If you are a Muslim outside America and you want to know what America thinks of you, what does this tell you?

Right-wing extremists emboldened. The GOP has been ruled by and catering to its most extreme elements at least since Obama was elected the first time. They can’t get anything done because compromise is a dirty word to them. They shut down the government when they didn’t get everything they wanted. Recently, though, I’ve seen signs that they might be looking for ways to work with Democrats. Now, forget that. The extremists got exactly the candidate they wanted as president, and they are going to push their agenda down our throats.

Finger on the button. A man who can’t let any insult from anyone just go, a man who attacks a former employee on Twitter at 3:00 AM, a man who doesn’t know what it means to rise above petty insults, a man who said “Bomb the s%*! out of them,” even though that’s a war crime, now has his finger on the nuclear button. Sleep soundly, world.

The Supreme Court. We know he will appoint at least one Supreme Court justice, maybe one or two others, so all of this will become codified into legal precedent in the next four years. The disastrous Citizens United decision will not be overturned. Corporations are people. Money is speech. SuperPacs will become even further entrenched in the campaign process. No chance now of fixing the real reason why Washington doesn’t work, big money contributors and lobbyists. You wanted to change Washington? Congratulations, you just made it worse.

So what now?

Okay, I’m starting to sound like a DCCC email now. I’ve given a lot of negative, but to follow my own advice, I will close with some positive. A group of Liberty University students had the courage to say that Trump “does not represent our values as Christians and does not deserve our support as president.”

To the counter-argument if Hillary is elected, she will almost certainly make the Supreme Court more liberal with her appointments, they said,

“Since the birth of Christ, Christians have withstood far more serious trials and tribulations than we face today. First-century Christians faced coliseums filled with lions; today, American Christians face the possibility of a liberal Supreme Court. The Christian message of salvation through faith in Christ has prevailed despite actual threats, from actual tyrants, and it will continue to thrive no matter who is elected president in 2016,” they wrote in the editorial.

If conservative Christians could say this when faced with the possibility of a Clinton presidency, then liberal Christians like me can say the same thing now.

I know there is so much wrong with this, and I’ve only scratched the surface. But look over our 2000 year history as the Body of Christ. We have lived through bad, narcissistic, self-serving, bullying leaders, and much much worse. We will continue to thrive if we remember God is still sovereign. Christ is our savior, not Caesar. We should advocate for good government and just, competent rulers. But if our faith is truly in Christ, we may still grieve, but we will never despair over an election that did not go our way.

The Kingdom of God is not in our elected leaders. It is in and among us. A congressional election is for two years. A presidential election is for four years, maybe eight if they get re-elected. A Supreme Court appointment is for the rest of the justice’s life, so on average, say, forty years. God’s Kingdom is forever. So if you have a call from God on your life, that doesn’t change because of an election. My calling is to write, and I will keep on writing. And there are some things we are all called to do, for example, Do justice, Love mercy, and Walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Interestingly, Trump and I belong to the same church. He says he loves God and loves his church, so that is one thing we have in common. I will offer then a letter from a Presbyterian minister that is great advice for Presbyterians, but I think it is also great for the president-elect and the country in general. Here are the main points.

  • Presbyterians treat all God’s children with dignity and respect.
  • Presbyterians work for justice and peace.
  • Presbyterians work for racial justice and economic justice.
  • Presbyterians advocate for the vulnerable.
  • Presbyterians are a reconciling people.
  • Presbyterians are called to act with courage, grace, and love.

My fellow Americans, whether you’re Presbyterian or not, let’s commit to doing that. And maybe next election, we won’t have to choose between two candidates who have more people with negative than positive opinions. May God bless you and God bless America, and crown thy good with justice and brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

3 Reasons Why Faith Matters in Recovery

#faithanddepression #12steps

A couple of months ago, I got a notice that someone liked one of my posts. It happens sometimes. (Why do you look skeptical?)

Because we’re both on WordPress, the email gave links to a few of his posts. I clicked one where he talked about reading his official diagnosis from his therapist, and it got him down. I knew what he meant. When I got tested for depression, the therapist was very helpful after the fact. But when I read the report, it was probably the most depressing thing I had ever read.

If you are considering getting tested for depression, I do want to encourage you to do it. It was very enlightening for me. But I’ll give you the same advice I gave this person: Do not read the report unless you absolutely have to. (This is if you are having a therapist test you rather than taking an online screening). Keep a copy of it in your file cabinet, in case one day someone needs to see it, but DO NOT READ IT YOURSELF. In his case it was too late, though. So I whatever it said that got you down, ignore it. It was not meant for you. Only two parts of the report will help you: The diagnosis (clinical depression, bipolar, whatever), and the recommended treatment. Nothing else in the report will be helpful to you. In fact, it may do more harm than good.

He said, “Amen to this. Focusing on the treatment is much more productive. Of course, being depressed, my mind enjoys wandering to the negative. Fighting it, one day at a time. Thanks for your perspective!”

That might have been the end of our exchange, but it sounded like he needed a little more encouragement, so I responded…

“That’s how it is with the depressed brain. Our vision tends to be dark, so we need to find light wherever we can. One thing I like about my religious tradition is it says our purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. God is for our joy and our recovery. So keep turning toward the light.”

I didn’t think I was forcing my religion on him. First I acknowledged a depressed brain does gravitate toward darkness. I know the same way he does, from experience. So I was just offering a bit of light I’ve found. I didn’t say this, but when I share with you something that’s helped me, I’m not trying to convert you. All I’m saying is this helped me. If it helps you, great. If it doesn’t, find something that does.

This was his response, and I’ll warn you there is some rough language in it.

“I’m glad you find strength in your religion. However, we are all a product of our circumstances. There is no god. And I think a part of us knows that this is true. There are about two billion Christians who believe to be blessed to the have true faith. Now replace ‘Christians’ with ‘Muslims.’ The truth is, none of us know what the fuck we are doing. All of us are just desperate for meaning.”

Apparently, it was not received the way I intended. Of course I wanted to smooth things over, so I said,

“Whatever you believe or don’t believe is fine. I don’t subscribe to any idea of one and only one way or one and only one truth. Even with my faith, I have felt lost at times. As you say, we are all desperate for meaning, so I just want to encourage you to find your source (or sources) of light and meaning.”

I think he simply expressed something a lot of people are thinking. Even if they don’t believe with assurance that there is no god, like a genuine atheist, they do sometimes wonder, “Is there a God? I mean really? How do I know?” So to address this, I want to break down what he said.

  1. There is no god.
  2. A part of us knows this is true.
  3. All Christians believe they have the true faith. So do Muslims. [Implied: which one is right?]
  4. None of us knows what we are doing.
  5. We are all just desperate for meaning.

I’m not sure if numbers 4 and 5 are supposed to prove there is no god. To me, they just sound like a description of the human condition and point out the need for a good recovery program. So what about 1-3?

There is no God, and everyone really knows it. They’re just afraid to admit it. He might really believe this. If someone honestly believes there is no god, I have no quarrel with that. However, I know these are the kind of thoughts a depressed brain will tell you. The depressed brain will speak with the authority of ultimate truth, and it will be easy to believe. It’s like Poe’s Raven. Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

The narrator in the poem is depressed. A raven flies into his house. The raven can speak, but only one word: Nevermore. The narrator asks questions that need positive answers, and he’s asking a bird that can only say, “Nevermore.” You see the problem there? No matter what he asks, the bird’s answer will always be, “Nevermore.”

The love of my life has died. Will I ever be happy again? Nevermore.

Will the Cubs win the World Series? Nevermore.

On that second question, what if an overzealous Cubs fan who lived to see his team win the World Series asked the Raven that question two weeks ago, and because of the bird’s answer, killed himself? That’s crazy, you say. No one would kill themselves over their sports team. Have you seen sports fans? But you see the irony. Three weeks ago, it could have appeared to be true. But the bird isn’t speaking “the truth.” It does not even know how to give positive answers. It’s the same with the depressed brain. It says things like, “You’re worthless. No one loves you. There is no god and everyone knows it. You screw up everything. God hates you. God has abandoned you,” because like the Raven, that’s all it knows how to say. So never take your depressed brain to be the ultimate truth. You are just as likely to get “the truth” from a Magic 8-Ball.

Image of Magic 8-Ball, Don't ask me. I'm a ball.
My sources say, “Nevermore.”

One of the most important things I heard someone say when I was at a low point in my life was, Don’t believe your feelings [or thoughts] when you’re depressed. Your feelings will tell you God does not love you. God has abandoned you. You are all alone in this world. But God’s word says I will never leave you nor forsake you. God so loved you that He gave His only Begotten Son. While we were yet sinners [i.e., worthless], Christ died for us. That is true no matter what you feel. Feelings will change according to circumstances, but God’s word is always true in any circumstance.

But when the depressed thoughts come, it’s so easy to believe them. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because it comes from our own mind, so we automatically assume it’s the truth. Our own mind wouldn’t lie to us, right? WRONG! It lies to us all the time. And when it assaults you with dark thoughts like these, you are in a battle like what Paul described in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.

(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (KJV).

I’m not saying this to promote my own religion. I’m just saying in order to stop the dark imaginations from taking over your mind and your life, you need to have the tools and weapons to fight against them. When De-elevator attacks you (I’ve started calling the depressed voice in my head De-elevator, as in Prince’s song, “Let’s Go Crazy”), you need to fight back. Ephesians 6:10-18 is the famous passage about the Whole Armor of God: Faith, Salvation, Truth, Peace, the Word of God – these are powerful armor and weapons in the fight.

If you’re not a Christian, you don’t read the Bible, that’s fine, but you’ve got to find something, some power and authority and truth that is greater than your own thoughts and feelings. And whatever your greater truth is, it must affirm that God is love, or it will fail. That is the only saying of my religion I hold to be absolute truth. God is love (1Jn 4:8).

But you say, “Which God? The Christian God? The Muslim God? The Jewish God? Some pagan God?” When it comes to recovery, that is the wrong question to ask.

As a Christian, Presbyterian to be specific, I would love it if everyone believed in the same God I do. But that’s not going to happen. History has shown over and over that you cannot force everyone in any society to believe the same way. Any religion can resonate with some people, but there has never been any religion that resonates with everyone. In order to live together, we all have to make room for people who come from a belief system or culture that’s different from our own. This is one reason I’ve found Alcohlics Anonymous’s 12 Steps to be helpful. I can’t name off all the 12 Steps, but I always remember the first three.

  1. Admit that you are an alcoholic (or addict, depressed, or whatever you seek to recover from).
  2. Believe in a higher power.
  3. Submit your life to your higher power.

Notice in those second and third steps, they don’t say believe in the Christian god or Muslim god or any particular god. They don’t even say, Believe in God. They say, Believe in a higher power, i.e., some power greater than yourself that you can trust to help you on your journey of recovery. Your higher power does not have to come from any particular religion. It doesn’t even have to be a god in the traditional sense. Most forms of Buddhism, for example, have no formal belief in God, but any Buddhist I’ve met still believes in a power greater than him or herself.

The reason for the higher power is if you could recover under your own power, you would have done it by now. But your own thinking and your own power got you where you are. It’s like you found yourself in a pit, and someone handed you a shovel and said, “Dig your way out.” You dug and dug and instead of getting out, you got further and further down the hole. Now you realize no amount of digging is going to get you out of this pit. You look up and see you are in too deep to climb out. Your only way out is to find a higher power, i.e., someone at the top of the pit to throw you a rope so you can climb, and maybe to help pull you up if you are too weak to climb all the way. For me, that person at the top is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and the rope is the way of all-inclusive love that Jesus taught.

So who or what is that higher power for you? Once you’ve identified that, you’ll be able to see the rope He/She/It/They have thrown down to you and start to climb out.

The Voice…that no one wants to hear

To my Tools for Depression, I want to add Nature (Ecotherapy) and TMS. I posted about TMS, a new therapy that involves strategic use of magnets.

Ecotherapy – exposure to nature is good for mental health. An article on Vice.com gives some easy to understand info on the research in this area. A recent study at Harvard University, published in April, is only among the latest of many to confirm this. Peter James, a member of the research team, summed up the findings up this way. “[T]here’s a direct cognitive benefit and restorative quality of being in nature, that we’ve evolved in nature to enjoy being in nature.”

This doesn’t mean you have to move out to the backwoods and reject civilization, a la Thoreau. Simply incorporate time with nature into your routine.

  • Go to a park
  • Notice what’s in your backyard
  • Plant a tree
  • Enjoy a local greenspace
  • Take a break at your favorite lake, river, arbor, or any natural attraction

If you none of this is available in or near your city, maybe you need to petition the authorities to add some. Any locality should at least be able to plant trees along a street or open a park.

image of double rainbow by road

Medication

Taking medication for depression is still controversial for some people of faith. When a psychiatrist first recommended it for me, I had some reservations. However, he had just told me I tested high for depression in every possible way, so I took his advice. There is no doubt it has helped me. Sometimes I have wondered if it’s really working, especially at times when I have been sad, moody, anxious, just fill in the blank with any negative emotion.

I can still say, though, that medication does make a difference for me. I don’t care what Tom Cruise said. I know because a couple of times, I have changed medications. When you change from one anti-depressant (AD) med to another, you first have to wean yourself off of your current med. That usually takes 2 – 4 weeks. Then you can start taking the new. It can take up to two weeks for the new medication to start taking effect. During that transition, those depressed thoughts you had forgotten about can come back.

The first time, I had suicidal thoughts. I can’t say it was the first time, but it was more frequent and intense than ever. Is the new med not working? My doctor said it was a low dose and suggested trying a “medium”dose. Within a few days, the suicidal thoughts stopped. That medium dose worked for me. But without that doctor helping me, I might have thought it was the wrong medication.

The second time was more recent. Bad thoughts came but in a different way. Instead of feeling depressed in the way we usually think of (deep and persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, etc.), it came in a way I had forgotten: Anger. I was angry much of the day. Angry at family and friends over past slights that my balanced brain had forgiven long ago. Angry at the world for the state it’s in and the downward spiral we seem to be in. Unreasonably angry. But when the new medicine kicked in, I was back to being happy. And I am proud to say I did not take my anger out on anyone, even the ones I felt angry towards.

Now some of that anger might not have been unreasonable, especially about the sorry state of the world. I mean, have you seen the election campaign since June, 2015? I think anger toward a certain candidate in particular is very reasonable. Not to name names, but he’s the unhinged one who seems hell-bent on finding just how low you can go and still be elected president. Though he may have finally crossed that line by talking about what he likes to grab. Admittedly, there were a few times the other one made me say, “What the hell were you thinking!” But at this point, I think it should be clear that one may have a gaffe here or there, the other is a nonstop gaffe machine. And that’s putting it as nicely as I can.

But through it all, I did not unleash that anger on my blog. Maybe that’s why I had to let out a little here. Why did I not act out my anger or my suicidal thoughts during those times? Before I started transitioning medications, I made a crucial decision. Until I know if the new med is good for me and until I get my brain normalized again with either the new or return to the old, I WILL NOT BELIEVE THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD.

I got the idea from the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize winning Mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., who was found to be paranoid schizophrenic. He had more than just a voice in his head. He had full on hallucinations of three people telling him all these conspiracies around him. When he was diagnosed and got medication, the hallucinations disappeared. However, he was having difficulty with the side effects. He decided to go off the medication. But those imaginary people will come back. Yes, but this time he will know they are not real, and he will absolutely refuse to believe them. It was not easy. Those hallucinations had a life of their own. They tried really hard to convince him to listen to them. But he remained resolute. You are not real. I won’t listen to you. I won’t believe anything you say.

Because of past experience with Depression, I knew I needed to reject, ignore, and otherwise neutralize those thoughts TEMPORARILY. Let’s review what happened in these two instances.

  1. I stopped taking AD medication.
  2. The Voice in my head that fuels my Depression went from being a surly kitten to a roaring tiger.
  3. When the new AD medication kicked in, the Voice calmed down and the bad thoughts sunk back to a normal level.

What is going on? In earlier posts, I’ve talked about the chemical imbalances that exist in a Clinically Depressed brain. It is a medical condition where your brain can’t produce normal levels of “happy chemicals,” and so the “stress chemicals” overwhelm it. Medication helps your brain produce more happy chemicals so it gets balanced. When your brain chemistry is balanced, your emotional state can get back to normal – in a good way.

That last experience changing meds really drove that home for me. The Voice in my head didn’t bother me when I was on meds. But when I was in that transition phase, the Voice came back with a vengeance. Now that I’m on meds again, the Voice is gone. And that’s when it hit me like a revelation of Biblical proportions. THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

If you have that Voice too, let that last sentence sink in. That Voice in your head that tells you “I’m no good. I’ll never get anything right. I’m a burden to everyone who loves me,” or even worse, “No one loves me.” Or if you pray or try to live by faith, the Voice will tell you, “There is no God. God hates me. God has given up on me, and I don’t blame Him. I’m like the tree that bore no fruit, so God has cut me off. I’m cursed.” Or maybe you have that angry voice, like I just experienced. And you believe it, don’t you? IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And the problem isn’t so much the voice itself, but that we believe it so readily. At some point, in thinking about this, I was amazed at how anything we hear inside our head, we just believe it. We don’t question it, we don’t evaluate it, we just accept whatever it says, even when it has no basis in reality.

“Everyone hates you.” Oh really? 7.5 billion people in the world, and every single one of them hates you? Oh you just meant everyone in your school or in your town. But still, how many people is that, a few hundred? A few thousand? A few hundred thousand if it’s a major city? How could every one of them hate you? Simple logic should tell you that’s not even possible. But you believe it. Because it comes from your head, so it must be true, right? Are you telling me my head is lying to me? That’s exactly what I’m telling you. THAT VOICE IN YOUR HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

Or if it’s that angry voice, it might be saying, “They’re disrespecting me. They think I’m an idiot. They never listen to me. They’re idiots. They don’t care about me, so screw ’em all.” (Again, that’s as politely as I can say it). And again, IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And bottom line, don’t believe a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it’s your own. You’re just as likely to get the truth from a Magic 8-Ball. Yes, it might tell the truth occasionally, but you’d better ask some questions before you accept that it’s right this time.

I suppose this begs the question, If you can’t believe your own mind, what can you believe? How do you know what the truth is? There is no simple answer to that, and anyone who tells you there is is setting you up for failure. But I will reiterate something I said in a previous post.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3-5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2-3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically – you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop Depression from sabotaging it.

image of Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind (2001)

 

Why would anyone curse a tree to death? – Mark 11:12-14, 20-26

I have two fig trees in my back yard, so I’ve been learning all I can about them. Last year, the trees produced enough fruit to share with bugs, butterflies, and birds and still have way more than I could eat,

image of blue butterfly on fig leaf
Caption: Butterfly on fig tree

 

so I did what my grandmother did – made preserves.

Here is part of one peck I picked. No picture of preserves available yet.

image of figs on table

Early in the summer, I could see the figs forming, but they were green. I started looking around the middle of June for ripe figs, maybe even earlier. I couldn’t remember when the season started. Day after day, the figs were still green.

image of green figs
Caption: Should I kill the tree?

And each time, I couldn’t help remembering the story of Jesus cursing a fig tree.

It would never occur to me – or anyone I could imagine – to curse a tree for not bearing fruit out of season. Yet the Gospels preserve a story of Jesus doing just that (Cf. Matthew 21:18-22).

The season is about over now. The leaves are starting to fall. That’s what fig trees do. They go through the same seasons each year. Jesus knows this.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near” (Mark 13:28, ESV).

The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear (Mark 4:28).

To everything there is a season

He knows the cycles grain and trees go through. He knows about seed time and harvest. You can’t pick fresh figs any time of year. It happens in its own time and in its own season. So how can he get mad at a fig tree when it’s not the season for figs (Mark 11:13)? It’s idiotic to get mad at a tree for any reason, and especially for following the same seasons it does every year. If I got mad at my trees because it’s September and the leaves are starting to fall, you’d think I was insane. And you’d be right.

Maybe a little disappointment is understandable. Maybe he just had a hankering for figs at the moment, saw the leaves on the tree, and thought he’d check just in case a few ripened a little early. No figs. Oh well. He should keep moving before anyone sees he doesn’t know the season of figs in this territory like every other Jew who has ever been to Jerusalem for the three major festivals, right?

No, he curses the fig tree so that it withers and dies, dried up at the root (Mark 11:14, 20). It looks not only stupid but mean-spirited in narcissistic fashion. I don’t care what season it is. You’re a fig tree, and I want figs now.

This is another example of why you can’t read everything in the Bible literally. It is a story that is obviously meant to be read symbolically.

It’s a very common theme in the Old Testament. A gardener plants a tree (or vine) in a garden, cares for it, removes weeds, protects it from wild animals, basically does everything you can to keep the tree healthy so that it will bear fruit. When it’s time for the harvest, there is either no fruit or the fruit is rotten. This is a metaphor the Bible uses repeatedly to say the religious and national institutions have become corrupt, and God is about to pass judgment on them .

The Markan Sandwich

Mark connects this story with another in one of his “sandwiches.” This is when he starts one story, interrupts it with another narrative, and then finishes the first story. The story that interrupts this one is The Cleansing of the Temple (11:15-19), when Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers and calls out the corruption of the priests. Matthew presents these stories as separate events (21:12-13, 18-22), but Mark deliberately links them together to show the meaning of both these actions is one and the same.

Jesus sees a tree with no fruit and causes it to wither and die from the inside out, indicating God’s judgment on the Temple as an institution. Even though this is not the explanation Jesus gives (11:21-26), no Jew in Jerusalem could have missed the symbolism. Here are a few more examples.

The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10).

Beware of the false prophets…Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:15a, 18-19).

In these two passages, both Jesus and John the Baptist draw upon on Old Testament symbol of good figs representing the good people and bad figs representing the bad people (Jeremiah 24:1-8; Hosea 9:10).

Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree

Figs were often named with other crops, especially grapes, as a symbol of security and abundance, of the entire promised land being blessed and no one lacking anything. When the fig tree and the grapevine bore good fruit, all the people lived in shalom.

And He will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war. Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken (Micah 4:3-4).

So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon (1 Kings 4:25).

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)

Shaken and Rotten figs

So when fig tree and the vine bore no fruit, or the figs fell because the tree was shaken, troubled times were ahead.

…thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, I am sending upon them the sword, famine and pestilence, and I will make them like split-open figs that cannot be eaten due to rottenness” (Jeremiah 29:17).

The vine dries up and the fig tree fails; The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree, all the trees of the field dry up indeed, rejoicing dries up from the sons of men (Joel 1:12).

“I will surely snatch them away,” declares the LORD; “There will be no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, and the leaf will wither; And what I have given them will pass away” (Jeremiah 8:13)

They will devour your harvest and your food; They will devour your sons and your daughters; They will devour your flocks and your herds; They will devour your vines and your fig trees; They will demolish with the sword your fortified cities in which you trust (Jeremiah 5:17).

All your fortifications are fig trees ripe with ripe fruit – When [the trees are] shaken, the [figs] fall into the eater’s mouth (Nahum 3:12).

The author of Revelation draws upon this as well.

And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind (Revelation 6:13, KJV).

The Temple is a house built on sand

So this is not about vindictiveness toward a tree. Just as he did when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers, Jesus is taking on the role of a prophet pronouncing God’s judgment on the religious institutions. And troubled times were coming. They are within a generation of a rebellion against Rome that would end with the complete destruction of the Temple. The rebels were not yet born, but the social and political forces were already at work, the same forces exposed in the trial of Jesus. And this fact was uncovered recently: The Emperor Vespasian used the gold, silver, and bronze from the Temple to pay for the construction of the Colosseum.

What was happening in the Temple, in the priesthood, and in the religious life of Judea that made Jesus so angry? Usually when the prophets pronounce God’s judgment in the most dire terms, they are condemning some kind of systemic injustice. Corruption has become so entrenched in the system that the only remedy left is to destroy the institution completely and hope that in the ashes the institutions can be recreated. Hopefully this time, if we start again from scratch, these institutions that are supposed to uphold justice and righteousness for everyone will get it right.

As I write this, I feel afraid. When some people read in the Bible about God’s harshest judgments, they feel justified in dehumanizing certain people. They think God hates all the same people they hate. I know because I used to be one of them. Still a recovering Fundamentalist. I don’t want to stir up those kind of misguided feelings, but in order to get at the meaning of this passage, we need to understand this kind of prophetic tradition Jesus was part of. I have a few ideas that I will discuss in a later post.

What Does Autism Feel Like?

If you’re trying to understand Autism, this is a good place to start.

Anonymously Autistic

I was having a deep conversation (via Google Hangouts instant messenger) with a close friend about my Autism. He made a comment that he did not see Autism as a disability, but more as an alternate way of thinking that is not serviced very wall by the modern education system. I agree – partially. . .

Quickly I realized that no matter how hard I tried, there was no way I could accurately explain or convey the parts of my Autism that truly “disable” me. Searching the internet, I quickly found a few articles with other Aspie who had attempted to explain what I currently could not – the negative things that NT’s have a hard time comprehending.

“What does Autism feel like?” In that moment I was completely unable to explain.

The most disabling part of Autism (for me) may be its invisibility and my status as “high functioning”…

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