12 May 2012

Free hugs from a pet goldfish

In a post titled Trivial(ization) Pursuit, I mentioned that I spent a year at Teen Mania Ministries' Honor Academy, a year-long post-high school program labeled as a "Ministry/leadership Christian internship". It's far from being something I would recommend people go to, quite the opposite in fact. The blog Recovering Alumni has many true stories posted from Alumni who have come forwards with stories of how they were abused, manipulated, mistreated, and generally subjected to a number of disturbing things, from emotional/spiritual abuse to sexual assault and everything in between. Teen Mania and the Honor Academy are not something I can recommend except to recommend "Stay away, stay far away", and Ron Luce is not someone I can consider to be a good role model.

Yesterday, I learned that the plane that Ron's oldest daughter was in crashed on the way to the Acquire The Fire youth conference in Council Bluffs, IA. There were a total of 5 people on board: pilot Luke Sheets, Garrett Coble, Stephen Luth, Austin Anderson, and Hannah Luce. Austin Anderson and Hannah Luce were the only two who walked away from the crash and were both hospitalized. Austin died at 5:30 this morning in the hospital. Hannah is the only survivor and, according to Heath Stoner's post on the HA Director's Blog, has burns covering 28% of her body. Heath reports that she is in "serious but stable condition". You know, no matter how I feel about Ron Luce and Teen Mania/the Honor Academy, I would never wish something like this on anyone. My thoughts and prayers go out to Hannah, the Luce family, and the families and friends of all those who just lost a loved one in this tragic accident and I truly hope that Hannah has a complete and rapid recovery.

The whole event has brought back unexpected memories and emotions for me. You see,at the end of my year at the Honor Academy, one of my very dear friends and coworkers was in a car accident. Michael Tackett was in the hospital in a coma for a couple of days before he finally passed away. It really shook me up (as is to be expected). I felt guilt, anger, sadness, and every other emotion you could possibly imagine being associated with a sudden and unexpected loss like that. There's actually a chunk of several hours the night he died that is totally missing from my memory. To this day, it freaks me out that I can't even remember time passing and have no idea where I was, who I was with, or anything else. Teen Mania had one counselor on staff, Jose Cano. They didn't bring in any outside grief counselors or push for us to talk to a professional. I never went and talked to anyone about it and I regret it to this day. Internalizing the grief really messed me up an in some ways, I'm still dealing with the emotional aftermath.

Ever since I heard about the plane crash, my heart has been especially heavy for the current interns and staff at Teen Mania who have had an incredibly stressful and traumatic situation thrown at them. They are constantly on my mind and in my prayers, that they would know peace and be able to heal normally. Today, someone started a Facebook event called "Praying for Hannah Luce". I had the following exchange on the event page:
Me: My thoughts and prayers are with Hannah for total physical and emotional healing, her family and friends, the families and friends of the 4 young men who died, and all the interns, GI's, and staff at TMM who are going through an incredibly difficult situation.
For everyone who is hurting and feeling the wide range of emotions that comes with a tragic event of this type, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not hesitate to seek help from a professional grief counselor.
Like · · Unfollow Post · 21 minutes ago
3 people like this. 
Other dude:  Or even better then talking to someone who only listens to you cause you paid them, try talking to people who actually care about you and who's smile doesn't $50 an hr. 
Talk to your mother, father, brother, sister, crazy aunt and/or uncle, or their even crazier kids.
A local pastor, your local preacher, your co-worker, your boss, that fella standing in line with you at the grocery store.
Your dog(free kisses!), cat(soothing purring!), bird(sympathetic cooing!), fish(hugs!) or steal the neighbor animal for 24hrs.
Of course you can always chat it up with God, or simply curl up in bed and cry till your tear ducts dry up, drink a gallon of water, and do it again. 
All better options then paying someone $50 an hr to pretend to care about you.
5 minutes ago via mobile · Like
Me:  How about if we DON'T discount that professional counselors actually do some good, and how about if we don't insult the Alumni who have gone on to get their licenses and degrees in counseling, etc.? I am speaking from personal experience here. Sometimes, only talking to "people who actually care about you and don't get paid" doesn't cut it and leaves you with a lot of problems down the road.
Other Dude then went on to say that he doesn't discount them, just that he considers them to be a step lower than "free hugs from pet goldfish". Unfortunately, I lost this in my copy-and-paste and am not particularly inclined to unblock him.

I wish I had a screen shot to post; unfortunately, my immediate response was to tell him that I wasn't going to allow him to turn this into a forum for arguing etc., and then to hit my lovely little "Block" button. I love that thing...

My first thought (after the "zOMG $%#&@^@$#^ I can't believe he just said that!!!!!1!!!1!" reaction passed) was "Wow, I really hope nobody decides not to ask for help because of what he said". Then I realized that this attitude is not just specific to grief counseling or to this particular situation/type of situation. It definitely ties in with mental health and PostPartum Depression in general.
"You don't need professional help". "
"Why can't you just talk to your family and friends?"
"Just talk your way out of it."
"Just pray more."
"That stuff is for idiots."
"Counseling doesn't actually help anything/anyone."
"You're just wasting your time/money."
The fact of the matter is, sometimes prayer or talking to your family/friends is all you need. Sometimes that helps. But sometimes, you need the help of someone who is specifically trained in how to deal with specific situations, whether it's grief, PTSD, PPD, or any other issue. I've addressed before how I feel about the attitudes of "Just decide to be happy" and "Just pray more". Sometimes, a positive attitude, happy thoughts, and having faith don't cut it.

When I had PPD, I tried just being happy and praying more, I tried to "have more faith". After I was hospitalized, my treatment team first tried a "talk therapy" approach to see if we could avoid having to start me on medication. I talked to the other patients and to family and friends. Talking wasn't enough. I started on medication. Medication alone wasn't enough. Medication plus talking to my Bishop wasn't enough. For me, as for many others, the successful treatment approach to keep my PPD from being overwhelming, to keep it managed, was to take medication AND talk to a professional therapist, someone who was trained in how to deal with my specific type of situation.

There is no "one size fits all" approach to dealing with any type of health issue, whether it's PPD or an ear infection. Some people respond well to Penicillin while others take Penicillin and have a life-threatening allergic reaction. Some people do great just talking to their pastor and others need to take Celexa to manage their depression. There is nothing wrong with any of these approaches to treating a health problem. The important thing is that you do what works for you. 

The danger that I see in Other Dude's response and attitude (one that far too many people both have and are happy to share indiscriminately with no consideration for how it could affect someone else) is multi-faceted.

1. This attitude potentially causes people who do seek help to feel that they are weak, dumb, uneducated, have just been duped, or any other number of incorrect assumptions. If you feel that you need to seek professional help, you DO IT, and don't you dare feel bad about it.
2. This attitude potentially causes people to feel guilty for being so weak that they need to seek help. If you need to seek help, you are not weak. You are strong. It takes a lot of guts and courage to go to someone and say "Hey, I can't do this on my own.". When it comes to PPD, it's hard enough to admit that you're not "mom enough" to do it on your own without worrying that you're just being taken in by a charlatan who's only interested in your money, much less heaping on guilt for not being able to deal with it without "resorting" to "free hugs from a pet goldfish".
3. This attitude potentially causes people to feel that professional help is useless, unnecessary, and a waste of time/money. I don't know about you but I certainly am not one to insult and discount (which is exactly what this attitude does) professional help that saves lives. It saved mine.

The thing is, not all therapists/counselors are created equal. Some of them really are jerks. Some of them just won't be the right fit for everyone. I once had a therapist who made me feel like I really had wasted my time because I knew more about PPD than she did. However, if you need professional help, you can't just assume that because there are some bad apples, the whole crop is rotten. Just as not all moms with a PostPartum Mood Disorder kill their babies (not even close), not all professional counselors suck (again, not even close to it), and not everyone who seeks help will come out of it totally messed up.

If you need help, ask for it. You do whatever you have to to take care of you and to heck with the critics who spout off ignorant stereotypes. Don't ever feel like less than someone else for asking for help. Instead, recognize that you are just as good, smart, and strong, Recognize that it takes an incredible amount of strength to recognize that you can't do it on your own and to be able to follow through on seeking whatever help you do need.


  1. I would just like to add, that often the friends and family members of people with grief, mental illness, etc. have not had to deal with the problem affecting their loved one. If only from misunderstanding, going to these people can sometimes make the situation worse. It seems that "the other dude" is an example of said type, and I can only hope that his family and friends seek help elsewhere. I used to think that I had the answer to any question I could come across in life at the tips of my fingertips, that I could find it through my own means or by simply asking for revelation. It was an extremely self righteous perspective. Thank goodness I had people there that knew better.

  2. I'm still surprised that people have such low appreciation for people counselors.
    Most of the people with such strong opinions haven't even been to a counselor and don't even really know what they are talking about. But what bothers me the most, is that people who have no idea what you're going through, are experts on telling
    you how to fix it.