Category Archives: Identity

A year of living with (chronic) fatigue

There have been a number of popular books about living a particular way for the year. AJ Jacobs’ book about living Biblically or Rachel Held Evan’s book on living biblical womanhood may be the most well known but I think my favorite title in this genre is a The Year of Living Danishly. Maybe it is all that hygge (cozy living) they enjoy. I hope to find out soon in my trip there in January. 

This post details a similar genre, though entirely involuntarily so. 

On December 31 2015 I found myself being tested, stuck, and interviewed at my local ER. I had been more tired than usual since my trip to Amman Jordan the previous month. I chalked it up to a heavy travel schedule and the end of semester fatigue. I would soon be 50. Was I slowing down? But on that day in the ER, I was having trouble moving my muscles to go up and down stairs. Standing for more than 5 minutes was out of the question. Larger muscles seemed to all want to twitch with a mind of their own. Having traveled to Brazil, DR Congo, Rwanda (twice), and Jordan, the doctors thought I must have contracted something exotic and interesting. 

I spent the month of January and February teaching from a stool and spending a lot of time in bed…or at various specialists. The results all came back negative. I didn’t have a known exotic infection. Neurology didn’t turn up anything that would explain my fatigue. I was able to keep working but exercise and basic exertion was next to impossible. I had felt tired before but didn’t know that fatigue makes things like raising your hands or even chewing food to be a chore…or that fatigue makes sleep even more difficult. 

After 6 months of seeking mainstream answers and getting nothing, I turned to integrative medicine and began a regimen of massive supplements and treatment for a possible chronic lyme infection. Certainly, my level of fatigue has dropped considerably even if I cannot walk long without fatigue. I can teach for 3 hours and only need to sit from time to time.

So, what have I learned during the last 12 months? 

  1. Fatigue colors everything. Sleep is non-existent. Eating is tiring. Even thinking is a challenge. Memory, mood, and libido are seriously disrupted. Fatigue of this level is all-encompassing and cannot be escaped. 
  2. Planning is nearly impossible. What will I be able to do next month, next week, the next day? Should I cancel that speaking engagment? Should we cancel family vacation? I wouldn’t know how I was going to feel in the afternoon even when I felt great in the morning. I realized how little ability I had to predict my energy, especially last winter. 
  3. Fatigue messes with identity. For 50 years I have done what I wanted to when I wanted to. I have been able to push (even over-extend) my body with little seeming consequence. Fatigue, on the other hand changes how you see yourself and how you relate to your loved ones. Once used to being the one to do things for others, you become the helped. When you feel 80 but you think you should feel like 50, it begins to change your sense of yourself and your place in life. At times I wondered if my career was about to be over. If you make your identity what you can do, fatigue will soon remind you that such an identity is certainly fragile and soon lost. 
  4. Unknown causes of suffering is its own form of suffering. During the months of testing, I regularly had to consider what to do have the next round of “negative” results. Should I keep digging? Even after accepting an “equivocal” chronic lyme infection diagnosis, the treatment consists of medicines/supplements that are not fully supported by mainstream medicine (i.e., double-blind study results). Is it working? (Or better, what part of it is causing the positive results?) Should I continue? 
  5. There is a secret fraternity among fell0w sufferers. Over the last year I have come to know many invisible sufferers. Individuals with chronic pain, fatigue, and/or disease states that limit capacity are quick to empathize. They offer support and help with ease but also with the knowledge that there isn’t a magic bullet to solve the problem. I have felt  loved and cared for by many but those who know are the best at understanding. 
  6. Weakness offers an opportunity to trust God anew and to see life with new eyes. When you can only trust God (and not your own strength) you see mercy and grace you might not have seen before. When you can do what you want, you are filled with gratitude. 

I would love to say that on December 31 2016 I was able to learn all I needed to learn from my year of fatigue and revert to my former physically capable self. While I am not back to where I was, I am happy to report that I am much improved over last year. I can walk further, stand for as long as I need to, and travel internationally as I have opportunity. And I hope I continue to be more prayerful as I steward what resources I have been given. 


Filed under "phil monroe", health, Identity, personal

You are what you tell yourself

That little narrative in your head, the one that thinks about self in the world, has more power over your perception of reality than you might care to admit. Some of us repeat shame stories, some repeat failure stories, some repeat fantasies, and still others repeat memories of being misunderstood or not treated as special. But whatever the narrative, it influences how you see yourself and how you choose to relate to the world–even when you are not aware of its presence.

Let me illustrate this point with two recent pieces run on National Public Radio

1. The Science of Self-Talk.  What you repeat to yourself about yourself can influence how you see yourself. This item explored how slight changes in talking about body image (from “My stomach is fat and disgusting” to “My stomach is round and bigger than I would like”) change the way individuals feel about themselves.

2. The voice in your head.  Radiolab has a couple of stories about voices in our head. The first was the voices heard in those who have Schizophrenia. While that story is very interesting, about 11 minutes in there is a second story that is more interesting to this topic: The second story is about minorities and females who do less well on standardized math testing than Caucasian males. It appears that accepting stories (e.g., girls or African Americans won’t do as well in academic settings) influence both populations to do less well on tests. When calling an IQ test a set of puzzles, African Americans will perform as well as others. Given the same set of puzzles an IQ test, they do less well. While there are many factors involved in the production and maintenance of these stereotypes, it appears that if we accept these stories, they will work on us and we will become them. What is interesting in this piece is that you don’t have to cognitively believe the story to be knocked off your game.

Preach what you want to practice

So, what stories do you repeat in your head? What stories come whether you want them to or not? What new narrative would you like to practice as a better sense of the truth. Choose a narrative that avoids all/nothing since you won’t find it believable. Ask the Lord what narrative he would like you to have for this issue. Consider these two.

1. Body image. What part of your body bothers you? Work out a more reasonable, less pejorative view of that part. Practice saying it.

2. Hurt feelings. Is there someone whose neglect has hurt you? Someone who hasn’t given you the attention you would like? Try softening the narrative in your head.

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Filed under Identity

Identify yourself by your desires?

Before you go any further in this post, think about this….which of your  longings/desires have the most shaping effect on your identity?

Most of us identify by birth order, by career, by gender, by education, by ethnicity, by geographical home or some other objective trait. But I want to suggest to you that we have a tendency to identify by what we long for. Someone who longs to be married may identify as a single-longing-for-marriage (NOTE: not every single feels this way!). Or, someone struggling with infertility may identify as infertile-longing-for-children. Or a former alcoholic may identify as an alcoholic to signal longing that he or she is very much fighting.

We are frustrated writers (desiring publication status), skeptics (longing for tangible truth but not quite believing in it), and more.

Imagine if you identified by a strong but seemingly unreachable desire. What impact would that have on your sense of self; your relationship with others–especially those who appear to get their heart’s desire?


Filed under Identity

Identified by your betrayals?

This past Sunday one of our pastors, Erik Larsen, asked this question:

Are you too identified by your betrayals?

He was asking whether we form our identity around the script of being betrayed and use our experiences of being betrayed as shaping our sense of all of life. I think we could also consider whether we shape our identity around our betrayals of others?

What forms your sense of self and the world? A serious violation of your trust?A major failure? How might you begin to reconstruct your sense of self around the whole picture of who you are?


Filed under biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, Identity, personality

Do you see your body as good?

At church on Sunday I attended a class discussing Lauren Winner’s “Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity” (Brazos, 2005). Her thesis (in the second chapter anyway) is that the church tends to have one of two responses to singles about sex: either be honest and loving (e.g., go ahead) or just don’t do it. She suggests that we look at the larger context of the “say no” passages in order to see God’s larger view of sex as good in the right settings. I won’t go any further here with that thesis but all that to say:

Winner wants us to think about the body as being good. And since the body is a sexual entity, that sex is also good. Got me thinking that most of us don’t see our bodies as something that is good. We focus on the fall and the brokenness we see. We see our lack of health. We see insatiable desire. We see danger. We see something that doesn’t measure up to the image we most want to see.

But here is the challenge. Did God make your body? Is it good? If you only focus on what is not good about your body, what are you missing? How are you marring the true story about your body?


Filed under Biblical Reflection, christian counseling, Christianity, Cultural Anthropology, Doctrine/Theology, Identity, Psychology

Phillies win and mob psychology

Congratulations to the Phillies. They stayed focused after 46 hours of delay to win the World Series. It was fun that the game last night lasted only 3 more innings. I let my boys stay up to watch it and so the weird rain-delay suspension worked in their favor. I’ve thought that MLB was doing a disservice to their future fans by having the games so late here in the East.

This morning I heard reports of hooliganism: cars overturned, windows smashed, and other destructive behavior. Likely the number of violent and criminal actors were small and similar to other cities that win national championships. Normal maybe, but it does raise the question as to WHY do individuals engage in violence as a means to celebrate their team?

So, I got on my PsychInfo database to see what I could find on the topic.

Not surprisingly, most of the literature is about European and South American soccer matches. It seems that English hooligans are seen as the worst. But, I found little in the way of helpful information to get to the psychology of mob violence after sporting wins. But I did find these little tidbits:

1. Intergroup relationships that increase a common identity serve to establish group power and a sense of legitimacy. Hence why most of Broad Street was impassable. Individuals by the thousands hung out on the street with no sense to make room for cars. They felt they had a legitimate right to be in the street and the power to be there even when cars might need to get through.

2. The higher the profile of policing, the higher risk of disorder. Hmmm. Seems the more police appear in para-military or riot-gear the more fans feel aggressive. The flip side was found true in 2004 in Europe. Lower profile policing seems to build the sense that the police and the fans share the same goal: celebration. Hmmm again. Maybe this is why when I become more authoritarian in the home, I get less cooperation.

3. The pathway to violence may be this: winning plus alcohol = increased aggression. Apparently, losing does not increase violent behaviors. Winning doesn’t dramatically increase happiness (so the study found) but does increase aggressiveness.

By in large, this is an understudied phenomenon. Someone developed an incomprehensible “Elaborated Social Identity Model of Crowd Behavior” but it wasn’t particularly helpful to my questions.

I guess one of my problems is that I am not attracted to crowds of any kind and so mob celebrations whether at an official parade or after a game make me want to run. Just watching the crowd last night on TV made me feel a bit claustrophobic.


Filed under Identity, Psychology

Defining Multiculturalism

Jennis Brandon-Watson has a short pieceon her experience of whiteness. She is southern-raised, white, (possibly married to a black man?), progeny of a slave owner, schooled in both racialization and Christianity and a member of Theta Nu Xi sorority. She concludes her thoughts with this question,

“Who defines what multiculturalism is? Is it defined according to the dictates of those in power–whites–or is it defined by minorities? These are interesting questions to ponder, but we must reach beyond settling for an answer and we must consider why it is important to answer the question. The answer will determine who we are as a multicultural sorority. I will further direct this examination by posing another question to you, reader. Is multiculturalism the support of our present social arrangement with all of its institutional manifestations by merely declaring peaceful coexistence and railing against the concept of racial categorization, but without engaging in potentially self-sacrificial action? Oris multiculturalism the act of tackling fundamental issues of justice and perpetuating, in word and deed, the spirit of the Civil Rights era?” (p. 14)

All isms have a dream attached to them. What is the best dream of multiculturalism?  (note, not the downside or the unintended consequences, the best dream). Peaceful coexistence? Demurring racial categories (color-blindness)? Mutual submission and/or cross pollination? Justice for all?


Filed under Black and White, Christianity, Identity, Race, Racial Reconciliation

Third party to the sexual identity debate?

[Note: please keep comments civil and on point with my questions at the end. We seek constructive and instructive dialog, not debate or lecture]

David Benkof has a stimulating opinion piece in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer on a third way in responding to the gay/straight debate between Judeo-Christians. On one side, folks argue that their gay identity should be embraced (and their same-sex relationships). On the other side, folks argue that the Bible speaks against homosexuality at every turn, thus only heterosexual identity is possible.

Benkof, a man of Jewish faith, suggests a third way in his piece against Soulforce (a group traveling around to Christian colleges to raise awareness of homosexuality as a legitimate part of humanity and the Christian community). He suggests it is possible to have a gay identity but believe that the Bible must be taken seriously and not brushed aside. In his study he does not believe the bible supports gay activity. He is asking that debates about sexual identity include folks similar to himself.

Interesting fellow. You might want to read his wiki entry to get some background. Obviously a controversial fellow for some.

It raises this question: What would healthy, Bible-honoring, dialog look like between those who feel they best identify as gay and those who do not regarding? How would they approach the interpretive act? (Assume for the moment that biblical interpretation is important) How might conservative theologians change their dialogical stance?

I do think one question might be really important. If Benkof believes same sex activity is wrong (and it seems he does) then why does he self-identify by something broken? Is it a parallel when some former alcoholics self-identify as an alcoholic even though they haven’t taken a drink in 20 years? What is the benefit of this self-identification? The drawback?


Filed under Christianity, Identity, sexual identity, sexuality

Identity: Purveying fine ideas

Sabbaticals create a crisis of identity for me. As you may already know, the halls of academia are filled with individuals who secretly believe they are frauds–that all others in the hall (teachers and students alike) should be there but we have somehow gotten in by faking our intelligence. For me: will I, have I produced enough to be a legitimate professor? Where are my many books? Why isn’t my vita longer? Where is my empirical research?

Truth is I’m not a researcher and at this point do not need to be one. My school seeks quality teachers who make important additions to the field (vs. primarily researchers who happen to teach). 

But recently I had an aha about who I’m made to be. I had been struggling with writing a book proposal (which I hope will still succeed) and trying to evaluate whether I was making any discernible progress. I needed a coffee (okay, didn’t need but wanted) so walked out through the parking lot on my way to a local shop. In the parking lot was a friend on her way to help out some families in crisis. She stopped me and asked me if I could help her consider how to respond. Within minutes I gave her several ideas and steps on how to think about the issues and some direction as to where to lead the individuals involved. She was grateful and after scribbling on a napkin some ideas we parted ways.

As I walked to the shop I got the “aha.” I’m a purveyor of fine ideas–like the purveyor of fine coffees I was on my way to vist. I doubt I’m ever going to write that revolutionary text, develop a unique model of care, provide the statistical data to back up a theory, etc. But I’m relatively decent at collecting fine ideas that may not be so well-known to the community and giving them to people in useful bits. I think the Lord has given me the gift of discerning which biblical or psychological information might be useful and how the person in need might be able to use it.

So, I don’t make good things, I find good things and try to get them into the hands of folks who need it. Maybe that makes me less of a professor but I’m coming to terms with this.

And so with this aha I go back to my computer, flush with caffeine and some comfort that my life isn’t evaluated solely on this proposal I’m working on. Of course it doesn’t you say. But we humans need to be reminded of the truth every so often.


Filed under Identity, Insight, Meditations, teaching counseling, writing

What makes you feel like a ______ (man/woman)?

In a weak moment last week when I couldn’t take NPR or news radio I surfed the local radio stations in my car. Here are two phrases I heard in the span of 5 minutes. I have no idea who the artists are nor am I all that interested…

“Man, I feel like a woman.”
“I’m yo man…” (but something about needing to get down at her place because he had a girl at home)”

Suffice it to say I’m not going back anytime soon to the music on the radio. But, I will admit it got me thinking about how we know what feelings are quintessentially male or female. In the first song the woman feels like a woman because she has the power of attraction but does her own thing. In the second song, I assume the male singer feels like a man because he can sexually please a woman all night long.

What makes us male or female? (No, I’m not talking genetics here.) Sometimes we look at behaviors and interests. Sometimes we look at attitudes or attraction to the opposite sex. But most of the time I think we look at how others perceive us. If they treat us the way we think our gender should be treated (or, is commonly treated even if we don’t like it), then we feel like our gender. When we are invisible to others, treated differently (or so we perceive) based on our interests, behaviors, body type, etc. then we may feel that we are not like most of our gender.

Why is this important to consider? I have clients who have wondered about their orientation due to their feeling different than most of their friends of the same gender.

The simple answer is to assume that God makes a diverse group of males and females and that we ought not interpret our differences as having that much meaning. Of course, we rarely find the simple answer helpful. So what are we to do when we do not feel like others of our gender? Is this a big issue out there or just something we counselors see?


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Cultural Anthropology, Identity, Psychology, sexual identity, sexuality