Insurance works for a few but not most. The greatest barrier to mental health care is cost, or belief that insurance won't cover the cost of care. In today's episode, we discuss why insurance can't (not won't) solve the mental health crisis.
When it comes to the topic of body image and eating disorder recovery, much conversation occurs around the concept of body positivity. In recent years, a movement has erupted from beneath the rigid body image expectations perpetuated by our culture to declare that “health” should no longer be automatically synonymized with “thin,” and we have begun to see a greater celebration of the various ways that bodies take size and shape. Instead of enslaving our bodies to harsh diets and punishing workout routines, an alternative approach has been offered to tell us that we can indeed celebrate the feats our bodies are capable of and honor them with nourishing foods and movement that we enjoy.
Many of the leaders in this movement are women who have been brave enough to push back against the unreasonable body image standards to which they have long been held hostage, and often in my work in the field of eating disorder treatment, I have suggested that the rest of us must join the work our sisters have started and begin to cultivate body positivity movements for men, racial minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community, as well.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge, however, that for those of us who have spent significant amounts of time at war with our bodies, the idea of such personal body positivity can seem nearly impossible. The notion may be good in theory, but after years of wrestling with body disgust and hatred, the concept of celebrating and loving our physical selves can feel like nothing more than a pipe dream. To you, my friend, I simply say: I get it. Body positivity does not always feel good and positive, and I know well that the way we feel about our physical selves does not always consist of celebration, warmth, or acceptance. If anything, the expectation that body positivity must be defined by these experiences can lead us into deeper guilt and shame about the actual, darker emotions we sometimes feel when we look in the mirror. The truth is, for some of us, practicing body positivity will at times be the most difficult, and least positive-feeling, thing we ever do.
I recently went through a difficult season in my life, and honestly, I did not feel very positive about my body during any of it. It was a season of hardship, filled with struggle, scarcity, hurt, and grief, and in an attempt to alleviate some of the pain, I turned back to a few of my most reliable and damaging numbing techniques. My body, in turn, adjusted with them.
I am well-practiced at criticizing my body for not being good enough and for changing in ways that I deem to be undesirable and unacceptable, and during this season, it took a lot of my energy to refrain from berating my body and myself for being human and imperfect every time I got dressed in the morning. It took additional energy to then refrain from engaging in even more damaging practices to compensate for its changes. The only body positivity I could muster during that time was an acknowledgement of the ways my body had agreed to hold my pain when the rest of me could not and choose not to actively criticize it or punish it for the way it had done so.
In reality, body positivity doesn’t always, or sometimes ever, look like a celebration for all of the wonderful things our bodies allow us to do. Some days, body positivity instead looks like whispering to our physical selves through gritted teeth and tear-stained cheeks that despite the pain, the fear, or the disgust, we will choose not to do anything we know will cause them harm. Some days, it looks like nothing more than putting in the fight to ride out the wave of body distress without engaging in destructive, quick-fix ways out of the emotion, even if we know those ways will temporarily dull the pain. Some days, body positivity is desperately seeking out a glimmer of gratitude, no matter how small, that our bodies have endured our mistreatment, made space for our pain, and have kept us alive. And on those days, my friend, that is enough.
Body positivity, in its truest form, is not always pretty, and it is certainly not always connected to any actual positive feeling. For some of us, loving our physical selves may feel futile or impossible, and yet, if there is even one small act of physical kindness that can get us through the difficult days, if there is even one time we can show our bodies appreciation instead of harm, the hope that inspires body positivity remains.
My dear friend, if you are afraid that celebrating your physical self is out of reach, I feel you. However, if you are also tired of waging a constant war against your body, I am with you. Let us begin the hard work of making peace with our flesh and bones together, and in doing so, discover that in the moments when we feel like celebrating our bodies least, even the smallest acts of physical kindness are cause for celebration, too.
About the Author:
Zach Verwey, MA, LPC, NCC holds a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from a CACREP accredited program and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. In his clinical practice, Zach has worked extensively with LGBTQ+ concerns, eating disorders, holistic sexual health, values and identity, and grief and loss, and he is Prepare/Enrich certified in working with couples. He is especially passionate about addressing the ways in which body image difficulties impact the LGBTQ+ community and regularly works with clients and provides education through writing and public speaking on this topic. Zach believes deeply in the power of interpersonal and intrapersonal relationship work in the therapeutic process, and offers a holistic and integrative approach that honors the mind, body, and spirit. In his spare time, Zach enjoys reading the memoirs of comedians who also happen to be women, experimenting with new bread recipes, and exploring Denver’s latest hot spots with a friend or two.
As the new year approaches many are thinking about their health and fitness goals for 2018. Our guest blogger Deb Ruka who is a personal trainer in Lone Tree writes about the link between physical wellness and mental wellness. We hope this helps to kick off your new year in a holistically healthy way.
Exercise...everyone knows they should be doing it, but most people don’t realize just how beneficial it is. Here are just a few of the advantages to regular exercise: weight control, improved body image, reduced stress, and decreased risk of disease. These benefits are just tip of the iceberg. Hopefully this article will convince and motivate you to prioritize physical fitness.
Exercise is a great way to manage your weight. Think of calories as a savings account: you always want to have some in reserve. Calories in moderation are not a bad thing, just the opposite, calories are in essence heat energy, which means calories increase your energy levels. And burning calories will boost your metabolism, increasing your body's overall efficiency. Exercise and good nutrition are a great recipe for increased energy and weight control.
While weight loss is usually the prime motivator to get people started on a workout regime, don't underestimate the added benefit of improved body image that will result. This can be challenging and frustrating because it usually takes time to notice changes. You will probably notice physical changes, like your clothes fitting differently, before changes on the scale. Don’t be alarmed, this is a good thing because it means you are losing body fat and gaining muscle. Focus on exercising consistently and good nutrition, then the weight loss will come. With the confidence you'll feel from from your improved self-image, you'll notice that feeling will trickle into other aspects of your everyday life improving your mood and your overall mental health!
If that doesn’t inspire you how about the effect exercise has on your stress levels? Exercising prompts your body to excrete endorphins. In layman's terms, these are feel good hormones, so exercise results in the reduction of stress and mood improvements. Exercise: it's the most underutilized antidepressant!
Still not convinced to exercise? Does a decreased risk of disease peak your interest? Regular exercise can improve your cardiovascular health and lessen the possibility of type 2 Diabetes. It can also reduce your prospects of getting some cancers, strengthens your bones, and mitigates your chances of having osteoporosis. When you aren't worried about your physical health, you'll have more time to focus on your mental well-being.
Is it work? Of course, that’s why it’s called working out, but anything worth having is worth working for. Your physical health is directly correlated to your mental health; so go out there and do something, anything, to stay active! There are so many options out there: play a sport, hire a trainer, download workouts on line, go for a brisk walk, jog, bike, join a group fitness class, join a gym, buddy up with a friend, or rent free workout DVDs from a library. So who’s motivated?!
Disclaimer from Khesed Wellness:
The following blog post contains a real depiction of one woman's suicide attempt and recovery. This essay may cause some people to feel uncomfortable or triggered. We encourage you to remain mindful of your feelings and reactions and practice self care if you choose to continue reading. The narrative is filled with wisdom that the writer gained from her real life experiences as she recovered from her suicide attempt and sought help. As a team, we at Khesed are dedicated to breaking down the walls of stigma and are grateful to this writer for joining us in this important work by sharing her story. Whether you battle with thoughts of suicide or your experience of mental health is quite different from the experience reflected in this story, we encourage you to take heart in knowing that there is support available for those that are suffering. We are here to talk and listen, whatever your story might be. Contact Us.
From Hell to Happiness. One girl's Guide to Surviving Suicide.
By Elizabeth Heckmann
The struggle to treat mental illness can be a lifelong battle and it requires a fully committed team of friends, family, and doctors. When a childhood friend, who works for Khesed Wellness, approached me about writing a blog post for Suicide Prevention month, I was honored. I have become familiar with Khesed and their purpose and practices and have found their mission to be truly altruistic. Khesed, which means reciprocated kindness, provides mental health support in an easily accessible and affordable way.
Mental health can be swept under the rug as taboo; as a symbol of weakness; as fake. Or played off as a joke. It is this kind of behavior that emboldens the depression and anxiety. This only stokes the flames of the voices inside your head. But with gentle care, truth, empathy, and kindness, you can begin chiseling through the walls of mental illness until finally, the light of day begins seeping through the cracks, driving out the madness. Khesed Wellness provides patients with the guidance to strive for peace of mind and the chisel to work your way there.
I was broken. I was unstable, teetering on the fault line as it widened with my anxiety, devastation, and total loss of control. I had been tricked by what I thought was a new true love; a physical love, emotional love, intellectual love, pure love. Broken by an old love who couldn’t put down the hooch, I decided to drive to Wyoming to follow this new passionate love. But I was spurned mid heartbeat. I thought he loved me enough to choose me instead of the other girl. I chose him; he turned his back on me, shredding my heart as he disappeared from my life. And then I was triggered. My finger had been waiting restlessly on the trigger for months just waiting for an excuse and this boy was it. The fall into the suicidal cavern of my mind was quick; no effort to cling to the here and now. I switched, flipped, fell, broke, and disappeared in a matter of minutes.
Through the tsunami of tears streaking my face and my shrieks of despair, I managed to pull over to the side of the road. Logic was silenced and that evil presence eternally weighing on my back took over every bit of my being. Right before I began frantically prying lids off of my three psychiatric med bottles as well as a bottle of Aleve and pouring the pills down my throat, I opened the glove compartment and grabbed a brown paper napkin and a pen. “I’m f---ing over it!” I scrawled on the napkin I left on the seat.
Then, I opened the door and popped the trunk. Consciousness was quickly dissolving but I managed to stumble to the trunk and open a quart of motor oil. I gulped the thick, black, foul oil down and then chased it with huge swallows of bright blue antifreeze. As I was disappearing into the poisons, I made one last ditch effort at eternally ending the humiliation and forsakenness that had been triggered from deep down, by attempting to slit my left wrist with the saw in my Swiss Army Knife. Slicing deeper and deeper into my flesh and muscle, my blood dripped onto my jeans.
My head loosely rolled down so that my chin rested against my chest, my mouth falling open, vomit trailing down the corners of my mouth. Someone had opened the door and reached into my car, wrapping their arms around my torso and legs. As the arms started to pull me out of the driver’s seat, my feet limply followed.
Through the growing haze of death, I saw small blades of green grass mixed in with gravel on the pavement of the side of the interstate. I noticed the tips of my cowgirl boots were covered in vomit. The arms lifted me with power. They were attached to a police officer. My head rolled back on my limp neck as the sheriff carried my dead weight as if I were a fresh corpse.
It was the sheriff of Converse County, Sheriff Clint Becker, who found me and pulled me out of the car as I was dying. Sheriff Becker only found me because I had answered my best friend, Nicole’s phone call and after her hearing me losing the fight for life as my speech became increasingly slurred, she got in her car and charged northward to Wyoming. In between calling me every 5 minutes, Nicole called 911 until an operator was able to dispatch a cop to look for me. They tracked my cell phone and found me.
I was then handed off to EMS and rushed to Wyoming Medical Center where I was stabilized in the ER and then admitted to the PCU. If it hadn’t been for Nicole’s perseverance and persistence in finding me and Clint’s quick response, I would have died on that wretched stretch of road.
When I finally regained consciousness, I found myself in a hospital bed with IVs placed in both of my forearms and a peripherally inserted central catheter in my neck used for dialysis. I was put on dialysis for one week. My urine was streaked with a rainbow residue leftover from the oil, which made me laugh. Despite my tormented state only days before, I was alive and happy.
After I was medically cleared, I was then admitted to Centennial Peaks psych hospital for one week. I enraged a fellow patient because after she did her laundry in the same washer that I had just used to wash the motor oil infused vomit out of my favorite Colorado State University hoodie, her clothes were tainted by the lingering film of motor oil.
While at CP, I participated in Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on four sets of behavior skills: emotional regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. The DBT helped me to withstand the emotional trauma long enough until I went home and continued therapy with my psychologist and psychiatrist.
A key component to surviving the hell of mental illness is having a guide. As I have grown with my diagnosis, I have come to find a sense of self in the archetype of the Greek goddess Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld. Taken captive by Hades, the god of the Underworld, as his unwilling bride, she fought her new life. Upon Persephone’s rescue by her mother Demeter, the goddess of the earth, Hades offered Persephone a pomegranate and before she left with her mother, Persephone ate six seeds, which sentenced her to spend six weeks out of every year in the Underworld, serving as the queen. Every year, Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter and mythology tells us that this is where winter comes from. Eventually, Persephone learns to love her role as Queen of the Underworld and becomes a guide for those lost in the darkness.
I see myself as a modern-day Persephone. I have been to the darkest corners of hell; I have spent time in the blackness, enough time to know exactly how to help those also suffering from a mental illness, also trapped in the depths of the Underworld. Everyone fighting their way through the Underworld for their sanity, for the strength to last just one more day, for the ability to find their beauty and worth needs a guide; that’s where people such as the trained, compassionate, and empathetic team of practitioners at Khesed prove to be vital in helping the mentally ill to manage their illness and live the best life they can. This in turn greatly benefits the community.
September is National Suicide Prevention month, but for some, fighting suicide is a battle they will face for years. That’s why suicide prevention deserves more serious and respectful attention by the masses. As someone who has faced what could be the moment of no return and who has clawed my way back from that place, I can say it would never have been possible without professional therapy and it brings me such relief to know that Khesed Wellness serves as a safe place for healing and exploration.
Having worked with many patients struggling with their own mental illness, throughout my seven years a Certified Nurse Aid, I have seen people at their lowest, but with the surge of kindness and attention they received from friends, family, beef burritos from Taco Bell supplied by doting mothers, and a team of healthcare givers, patients found reasons to smile. It was like the peace and beauty of a frosted forest after a wicked blizzard. The storm is unfathomably unforgiving, but as light and love manifest, the storm weans.
The more we understand mental illness, the more effectively we can fight it. Reciprocated kindness can be taught and even applied to the self. Being kind to oneself is the first step in the battle for mental health. It can be a long, arduous fight, but with this enveloping kindness there is light, love, trust, strength, camaraderie, and healing. A lyric from the Third Eye Blind song Jumper always sparks inspiration for me: “I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend/you could cut ties with all the lies that you’ve been living in…” Let go of the lies people tell you, let go of the lies you tell yourself and fight for yourself. Use your resources, use Khesed, use your heart. You’re worth the fight. Believe me.
Tyler, my youngest nephew, and me.
I studied art in college. The art history professor at our little liberal arts school had enough personality to fill the redesigned 1950’s gym that was our art building. He was loud, proud, and British. He was also endearing.
When I built enough rapport to playfully slug his shoulder while at the Chicago Art Institute my senior, because he deserved it for some playfully arrogant statement he made, I felt on top of the world. He smiled, received my slug, and continued on with some brilliant description of the painting in front of us.
I loved his class. Except it was right after lunch. We called it “art in the dark,” because rarely did anyone make it through class without snoozing from the dim lights and a full belly.
I remember the day we talked about Michelangelo--the maverick, the genius, the renaissance man. In his eloquent and blunt way, with his British accent of course, he told us about how Michelangelo would sit and stare at a block of stone for hours. Literally a whole work day.
Can you imagine that today? He would have projects funded by the Pope and what did Michelangelo do? He stared. One day he was asked about this bizarre practice and his response was: “I’m looking forward David.” Then slowly but surely he found him.
And boy, did he find David in all his lusciously carved glory.
I got to the “how” of Khesed by staring at the mental health canvas in my mind, looking for Khesed. The biggest roadblock to people seeking mental health and wellness support? Accessibility and affordability of services. The is true for most everyone, not just the poor.
Every human deserves quality healthcare and that includes behavioral health. By eliminating the greatest roadblock, accessibility which includes affordability, kindness can spread.
The curves and nuances of our business model slowly took form:
Generosity from those who believe in our mission.
The Khesed Subsidy Program™ considering the whole person, not just rapport of finances. This program we are supporting with research and accountability.
Partnerships with business, churches, organizations, and clinicians who believe in social impact. They believe in it so much that they want to use to transform their community with Khesed.
Our free initial consultation focused on getting clients directly connected to help within one business week, even if they do not work with us.
Staff support and collaboration structured to help us live out Khesed in how we relate to each other…
Each example above was like an additional paint stroke, texture, and hue that eventually created Khesed.
Yvon Chouinard, the Founder of Patagonia, who I deeply respect as a literary mentor, wrote about delinquents as truth-tellers in his business memoir, Let My People Go Surfing. He wrote, “If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing."
I found solace in this quote when forming Khesed.
I often hear from people, when I tell them the two-sentence synopsis of Khesed, “I never heard of a model like this. I have heard of benevolence funds, sliding scales, but not a whole package like this to eliminate inaccessibility to care, and the way you spread because of generous organizations within the community...and it’s a wellness center?! I love the integration of care.”
“Me too,” I say with a smile.
“How does it work?!” They ask, intrigued but their eyes also often speak to their skepticism. “Surely it’s too good to be true,” they say.
So, I tell them about different strokes I made on the Khesed canvas.
Of course it sounds more eloquent that the grind of time, frustration, drafts, standing back, getting lost in the forest of reflection, conversations, sketches, more annoyance with need for accessibility of care, watching how people still seek refuge in their communities. Seeing empty parking lots at churches during the week, and all the other life-giving and difficult experiences that influenced each stroke.
Each stroke slowly but surely built the living and breathing organism of Khesed Wellness. And! We just celebrated celebrated our first year as an organization. How great is that?!
Everything we do is about spreading kindness. That includes kindness internally and externally. We have a stellar Board of Directors leading our organization. Our unbelievable clinical and wellness team have hearts of kindness, not-to-mention amazing skill-sets as therapists and practitioners.
Our nation is overdue for a solution based in kindness, reciprocity, and longevity. We’re here, that’s our how.