Saturday, August 24, 2013

Misunderstandings - stigma

Recently I've become frustrated and angered again by a fresh reminder of stigma. Since this blog was initially started to speak out against stigma, I have to address this once again.

I was drawn to a book about fighting to have joy in our lives. So I bought it. I haven't read the whole thing yet but one small statement from the book makes me doubt that I will value what the author has to say. The author - who will remain nameless for now - said: "A Christian, no matter how dark the season of sadness, never is completely without joy in God. I mean that there remains in his heart the seed of joy in the form, perhaps of only a remembered taste of goodness and an unwillingness to let the goodness go."

It's so obvious to me that this person has no understanding of what deep depression can do to a person. For a person like that their "seed of joy" lies dormant - in effect, dead. There is no "remembered taste of goodness" for a person who wants to die.

I told my pastor how annoyed I was with this obvious lack of understanding. I told him how a person who had never experienced deep depression should not be writing about seasons of dark sadness, without at least mentioning the presence of mental illness in some people. I feel there's a huge gap in this author's knowledge and he shouldn't be writing a book like this.

Pastor told me how the author was probably talking about people suffering from bad times in their lives, and not thinking of depression. He told me how we need to treat "normal" people who don't understand with grace, as we who live with mental illness want to be treated with grace. I agree with him and yet...there's a lot of learning that absolutely must take place.

I heard another religious leader make the statement, "Depression is no excuse not to focus on God." And - as he had explained in his sermon - focusing on God will bring joy. This is another case of total lack of understanding. When we are deeply depressed, our minds are broken, unable to function normally. Often we are just not able to focus on God. It's no fault of our own.

Thing is, one in five people deal with mental illness. It's certain that many of the people who have trouble finding joy are suffering from depression. They will feel blamed for not focusing enough on God, made to feel guilty by church leaders and writers for something that is not within their ability to control. This is so very wrong and so very damaging.

I'm praying - praying big - that religious leaders will educate themselves about mental health issues. I pray that they will find ways of giving better support to those many of us who suffer in this way.

And I'm thanking God that Rick Warren, after losing his son to suicide, has started a sermon series to counteract the stigma. I haven't listened yet, but will soon. Thank you, Pastor Warren.

xxxxx

If you're dealing with a mood disorder and would like to receive a devotional every Monday, written from the point of view of a person living with bipolar disorder, you can sign up here. You may unsubscribe anytime.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Feeling unaccepted

Strange to be writing here. The only things I've posted lately are copies of my Monday morning Reflections on Scripture that I email out every week. But this afternoon there's something I feel I want to talk about that might not be as uplifting as those devotionals are intended to be. I'll write here and leave this out of my Monday mailings.

It's Sunday afternoon and I've been hurting ever since I came home from church. The pain isn't as bad as it sometimes is, nevertheless, I'm certainly not happy. I often come home feeling this way for one reason or another and I don't know whose fault it is. Although I love church, at times I don't feel loved or accepted. It seemed like no one wanted to talk to me today. I felt on the fringe...left out.

I've always said that my church is very accepting of people with mental illness, and I believe it is. So maybe the problem comes from within me. Maybe I wouldn't feel this way if I took the initiative to go up to people and make them feel comfortable talking to me. But I have trouble doing that - especially when my mood is slipping downwards, which it may be right now. I'm not a natural at making small talk.

Interestingly, I've received many emails from people with these kinds of feelings coming up in church. In most cases, they felt that there was an unfriendliness and lack of acceptance because they had mental health issues. Many people in church don't know how to approach people with such problems. There is a fear. Add to that the lack of understanding and belief that these problems are spiritual in nature, and it makes a very uncomfortable climate for people with mental illness. Often they are even shunned. It's very difficult to find a church they can come to consider home.

I wonder too if people with our disorders have social problems as a result of what we deal with. Stigma causes a lot of damage. Not only do people who don't have an understanding think ill of us, but often we think ill of ourselves. And thus we're probably more sensitive than we should be. If we could only walk up to someone with our hand outstretched, a big smile on our face, and ask how they are...totally confident about who we are as a person.

I don't know what the answer is in terms of finding a church where we'll feel at home. But we shouldn't give up looking. When I started going to my church I went prepared to educate, starting with the pastor, then my Bible study group, and gradually others. I spoke in church a few times, explaining what it was like to live with bipolar disorder. I told the congregation how God helped me cope with the symptoms and how He strengthened me.

So...what happened today? Maybe it was all my own doing. Maybe I longed for someone to talk to me but wasn't up to do the same for them. Maybe it's the result of getting less than six hours of sleep a night for over a week. Yup, I think I have a mood issue here.

If you deal with a mood disorder and would like to receive my Reflection on Scripture that I send out every Monday, you can sign up at www.livingroomsupport.org.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Waiting expectantly

I waited patiently and expectantly for the Lord; and he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up out of a horrible pit [a pit of tumult and of destruction], out of the miry    clay (froth and slime),
and set my feet upon a rock, steadying my steps and establishing my goings.
                                                                                           Psalm 41:1-2 (Amplified Version)
It's Saturday morning as I write this. I haven't been doing well - overwhelmed with the many things I need to do. As a result I've had feelings of wanting to disappear - to just bail out of life for a while. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a death wish. I just wish for peace and not so many commitments. Tomorrow we are hosting a family barbecue for thirty to forty people. And just over a week later, we are off on a three week trip to Greece. We will travel for about 17 hours to get there. Even my holiday to Greece seems like a commitment. I would just as soon stay home and hibernate on our patio with a good book. I would just as soon stay home and write letters to you. I'm feeling on the verge of depression - unable to do the things I need to do.
But I know I need to climb out of this. I know I need to try and do what I can. Though I would just like to rest and spend quiet time, close to God, I can't escape the world. To withdraw will only sink me deeper into the "pit" that David talks about.
This morning I searched my Bible, looking for Scripture I could hang onto. I looked at verses talking about strength and trust. But they did not speak to me as they usually do; they were like cardboard - not alive.
I wrote to a couple of friends, just to express what was going on. To cry out to them, as I had been crying out to God. One of them asked what I would say to another friend who I often support when she is depressed. And I realize that what I would suggest is that she make a list - even if it's only two or three items long. Things she could try to accomplish that day. I've done that myself now. I will clean up the kitchen and, though it's not urgent, put away some laundry that's been sitting for a while. For fun, my husband and I are going out for dinner with some old friends tonight. I don't have to cook!! Some chores and some fun. That's the way to organize when life becomes a challenge. I will also putter, working on some things for tomorrow. Little things - tear up the lettuce, wash the tomatoes, put the long table outside.
...and writing to you - sharing with you is always a joy. By helping you I help myself. I hope hearing my story and how I'm learning to cope does help you somehow.
I turned back to my Bible and thought of an old stand-by for me - Psalm 40. I've always known that the tough thing is to be "patient" while waiting for God to lift us out of the "miry clay." But if we wait "expectantly" that makes all the difference, doesn't it? It makes the patience a little easier to bear. Waiting expectantly means that we're trusting that He is there as we go through our stuff. Crying out to Him as we need to, knowing that He is hearing us.
God has spoken through my friend who reminded me of some of the things I could do. He is - little by little - "steadying my steps" and helping me with what I should be doing. He is setting my feet upon a rock. I pray that God will continue to remind me to wait "expectantly" while puttering at what I can, trusting that He's in charge.
I pray, that if you're suffering from depression right now, this message would have been a source of encouragement for you. God always does lift us out of the "horrible pit." And He is always there, even though you may at times have to wait to feel His presence.
Now I'm going to have a sandwich, then clean up the kitchen.
I just looked outside. It's a beautiful, sunny day.

(If you would like to receive Reflections on Scripture from Marja, go to the Living Room Homepage and sign up to receive them every Monday morning. You can unsubscribe at any time.)

Monday, June 03, 2013

He loves us...as we are


Hi everyone,
I've got to explain. The last post, published a few days ago, left a lot to be desired. With the help of my Port Moody Creative writing group, I've changed it to this. I will delete the original. 
Mephibosheth ate at David's table like one of the king's sons.
...and he was crippled in both feet.
Mephibosheth bowed down and said,
"What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?"
                                                                            2 Samuel 9:11,13,8
I see such beauty in this portrayal of King David's acceptance and caring for his friend Jonathan's son, though he was badly disabled. Such beauty, knowing that God does that for us as well. Aren't we all like Mephibosheth? We're all broken to some degree. Everyone, whether we're dealing with physical illness or mental health issues. And as God's children, we are treated royally. In spite of any shame we might feel, God invites us to eat with Him at His table. What a wonderful thing!
Many years ago, during a time when I was seeking God, I took this candid picture of a girl talking to her friend seated in a wheelchair. Although the boy could only make guttural sounds in an effort to talk, she met him where he was and answered him with similar sounds. She was connecting with him in a very loving way.
The photos I managed to get of the interchange moved me deeply. Two publications wanted to publish the photos, but I was in tears as I tried to sort out who I should sell them to. I wanted whoever published the story to regard it as precious, as I did.
But what was it in that picture that brought forth such emotion in me?
As I continued my search for God, the answer became clear. I'm the child in the wheelchair, and In the loving expression of the girl, I saw the face of Jesus.
He loves us...as we are.


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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Christians speak out

I'm so delighted about what happened on Sunday May 12th. Two churches featured people speaking about their mental health problems. 

Please do take some time to listen:

At Emmanuel Baptist Church in Victoria, some members of Living Room shared their journeys of faith and mental illness. Pastor Joan Dosso brought a meditation on transformation from woundedness and stigmatization to finding our identity as God’s Beloved. To listen to the podcast, go here.

On that same day, Anessa Simpson from Brentwood Park Alliance Church in Burnaby shared the story about her journey with depression and anxiety. You can listen to her story as well, at this link

So good to know that churches are gradually becoming safe places to talk openly about our mental health problems.
I hope this news makes you as happy as it made me. I hope you will be inspired by these courageous individuals.

 A reminder: If you'd like to receive the Reflections on Scripture that I send out every Monday, please go to the Homepage of the Living Room website and sign up. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Beyond imagination


God can do anything, you know - far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!
He does it not by pushing us around but working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
                                                                                                                                                                             Ephesians 3:20-21 (MSG)
That is so very true!
When I was young I was afraid to speak up in class or to other people. Being a leader of Living Room support ministries was the furthest thing from my mind, but that's what God made me.
When I think of what my life used to be like, I marvel at how it has changed. As a teen I had social anxiety disorder and depression. At the age of nineteen I spent nine months at Riverview, a major mental hospital in British Columbia. This was followed by a  lifetime of struggles with psychosis, depression and mania.

At the age of forty I decided I could no longer live on my own strength but needed God! I gave up my need for control and surrendered my life to Him. I soon learned what it was to receive divine love. My life became more meaningful. Although I wasn't cured of my disorder, I found a measure of healing. I grew.
I never dreamed that I would become an activist, trying to erase the stigma attached to mental illness. God's spirit worked within me, giving me the courage to respond to His invitation to join Him in the work He was - and still is - doing in the world. He led me from project to project, one step at a time. I never knew where He was taking me or how long the journey would be. That's how God operates. He doesn't let you see the big picture ahead of time. The important thing is to trust and follow. 
God helped me create church-based Living Room support groups, places where people with mood disorders can talk openly about their faith and their mental health problems. Before Living Room it was seldom possible for people to safely talk about these two things together - not in the secular world nor in the Christian  world.
I've struggled with bipolar disorder for 48 years now, unable to hold a paying job. In spite of that, I have been able to work for God - not doing anything wonderful on my own, but simply being His foot soldier. I went where He led, speaking and writing the words He gave me. Amazing what can be accomplished when we decide that the work is not our own, but God's. Such a wonderful world He opens up for us - a life that's beyond what we could ask for or imagine.
It's a privilege to be doing this work, including sending you these emails. I feel blessed to be able to serve God in this way.
May God bless you too as you follow Him on your journey - step by step, day by day. 
PS: This is a recent email I sent to the people on my list - one of my Reflections on Scripture. If you would like to start receiving these, mailed out every Monday, go to the Homepage of the Living Room website to sign up. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Brokenhearted


My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.
                           Psalm 51:17

 
Have you ever felt really bad about something you've done or the way you've behaved? It happens to everyone at times. But when our moods aren't stable, we are especially susceptible to feelings of guilt. Sometimes well-founded; sometimes - when we're thinking irrationally - not so. We are often "brokenhearted." 
 
I've found that praying Psalm 51 offers great comfort when I'm hurting. David wrote it after he realized how wrong he'd been to have committed adultery with Bathsheba and to have her husband killed. David tells God that he has a "contrite [or repentant] heart," having a desire for forgiveness, a desire to change and become the kind of person God wants him to be. When I read David's words over and over, I too am able to express my deep regret and pain. I draw closer to God as well.
 
Good things come from humbly going to God with a broken and repentant heart. Scripture has shown how it can help make us into people God is able to use. There's David, for example, as portrayed in Psalm 51: Although great sin had led David to write this prayer, he became a person the Bible referred to as "a man after God's own heart." And then there's the apostle Peter in the New Testament: After he denied knowing Jesus three times before His crucifixion, Luke 22:61-62 reports how he "went outside and wept bitterly." The agony he must have suffered, realizing how he had turned his back on his Lord! He, too, had a broken heart. It was a heart that was ready to change, ready to obey God. The rest of Peter's story shows him to be a transformed man - a humble, but bold and dynamic speaker. He became a man who gave his all to Jesus.
 
If David and Peter were brought closer to God in their brokenness, able to be used by Him, could we not as well?  
 
marja
 
 
PS: Glenda de Vries, the co-facilitator of the Living Room group at Rouge Valley Mennonite Church in Markham, Ontario, had an article published in the Christian Courier last week. The title of the piece: GOD LOVES THE BROKENHEARTED. You can access it by going to http://www.christiancourier.ca/features.php. Congratulations Glenda, and thank you for helping raise much-needed awareness. We're proud of you.
 
 
(If you would like to receive reflections on Scripture like this one - written with people with mental health problems in mind - go to the Living Room website and subscribe on the homepage.)