Friday, December 29, 2006

Me as a mother

I'm working on my book, an autobiographical account of my life with bipolar disorder and how God has been at work in me over the past 18 years. Today I'm trying to write about the topic of motherhood...trying to figure out whether my illness had any ill effects on my son's life.

My son is 33 years old now and seems to be ok. But I often wonder what it was like for him to have a mother who went through episode after episode: depression, mania, psychosis. How was it for him? Did I create hardship for him?

I know he was bullied throughout elementary school. I know that, at one time, he said that the kids had said something bad about his parents. He wouldn't tell us what it was they said.

When I asked my husband, he said I was a good mother. He says that the yelling and screaming I remember doing wasn't nearly as bad as I think it was. What a relief to hear him tell me that!

My son is out of town today, but I want to ask him when he comes home. I need to know. Things have been written about the effects of a bipolar parent on her children. Not sure exactly what they said - can't remember. Yet I know this is a topic that interests some people and I must write about it from the perspective of the life I'm living.

I know one thing, though. I did the absolute best I could. Life would not have been complete for me if I hadn't had the opportunity to raise a child of my own. Motherhood was a most important role for me, one I didn't treat lightly.

If my son's growing up years were difficult for him, I don't think they left too many wounds - none that I know of, anyways. My son is a creative man with high moral standards. He is a compassionate person. I love him and I'm proud of him.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's all over!

First of all, I want to thank everyone who sent Christmas greetings. And I did have an excellent Christmas, though a busy one. Cooked Christmas dinner on the 25th and another dinner for eight on the 26th. Had my mother and mother-in-law over for four days.

Mid-afternoon today we came back from taking Mom-in-law back home and now my husband and I are - gloriously - on our own again. Time to clean up, read, write, putter, blog. It's the days after such busy times that are the best, don't you think? ...those days when you truly appreciate what normal life is like. (Is life ever "normal", though?)

Tonight I'm going to dig into work on my book again. No time to waste. This will be my focus. I am determined to get this thing finished. Try to keep the rest of life simple. Take on no unnecessary time taker-uppers. Work as though I have a publisher chomping at the bit. Work, knowing that this book will do a lot of good. Work as though the world could not continue without it :) :)

That will be my new year's resolution. And I'm beginning to follow through on it before the new year has even started. How's that for resolve, eh? :)

Now I hope that I'm not going to embarrass myself when someone asks me a couple of weeks from now how it's going.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Just checking in to say that I probably won't be posting for a while. Tomorrow we'll pick up my mom. And Sunday we pick up my husband's mom. I'll be tied up until the 27th or so, entertaining.

But since my husband and I will be sleeping on the sofa-bed in the office, I'll try to sneak a peek at some of your blogs during that time - perhaps leave a comment or two.

Now I must clean the fridge and do all the other last-minute things.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas Day. Time to relax and enjoy. Time to count blessings and put worries aside. All the best to all of you, my blogging friends.

With love from marja.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Struggle for other-centeredness

I'm relieved. I'm doing much better than when I last posted. I do find I have to pace myself and give myself time to do my own thing though, otherwise I tire quickly.

Several days ago I noticed myself dumping all my feelings on my friends. I'm the kind of person who doesn't lie easily. When someone asks me how I am, I let them know - sometimes in great detail....not a good idea. But a day later I realized what I was doing. I also realized that analyzing my feelings only made me feel worse. I was dwelling within.

The neat thing about blogging is that it's ok to do some of that. Blogger friends can "change channels" if they get tired of us. But most of the time they understand and know what to say to help. They go through the same stuff.

Yet I know that - in the life I live away from the computer - I need to try to be more other-centered if I want to recover. It's good to hear about my friends and what they're up to. I also know that it's in giving to others and doing for others that I find my strength and happiness. I'd much rather do for someone than to be done for. I want to be a contributor, not a consumer - a conqueror, not a victim. Much of the doing I can do is to listen to and have an interest in the stuff that concerns my friends.

When I caught myself "dwelling within" a few days ago, I emailed my good friend, my major supporter from church. Explained how I wanted to be more other-centered. Would she call me when she had time to chat?

This friend is a retired teacher, a psychologist of sorts. She knew just what to do. She has called me a couple of times now and found all sorts of fun things to talk to me about: all the interesting people she has invited for a huge Christmas drop-in at her house, how she volunteered at a school to read to the children, how she dealt with the difficult children (she's the most loving person I know, but used to be known as the strictest teacher in the school she taught at). She made me laugh.

We talked about how my days were going and whether I was pacing myself enough. She encouraged me. We had fun in our phone visit, only talking a bit about how I was. When we hung up I felt good about myself. I felt good to have a friend who made a point of touching base and taking the trouble to guide the phone visit in a direction that was healthy for me. I felt good about not dwelling so much on myself.

I'm starting to feel strong enough to invite a couple of friends over if they have time. This is so good!! I'm very thankful.

I know many of you have been dealing with the same things I have and I hope that you, too, will find a way to overcome. I hope that you, too, will come to enjoy this Christmas season.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Eggnog time


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Trying to move

I wouldn't normally sit down to write another post so soon, but feel I must do something to rid me of mulling so much within my head. I got up at my usual time, 6:30, and did nothing by ruminate until 10. I know what I need to do right now is to get moving or I'll get sucked down into a depression. This writing to you is one step towards actually doing something.

I quoted Corrie ten Boom a few posts ago: "If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you'll be at rest!" But even looking at Christ can make you depressed if you do nothing about it. Yesterday I was so proud of myself - proud of how I was looking at Christ, even though I felt so close to tears. I started feeling ugly about that pride. Woke up in the middle of the night and had to tell God I felt ashamed - that it's only He who can help me through this - only He who can help my heart be where it needs to be.

And no matter where we look, or where our thoughts go - whether to the world, within, or to Christ - what good is any of it if we don't live actively? Rudyard Kipling, in his poem, If, said "If you can think but not make thoughts your aim." I have to keep reminding myself of that and move my body to do the things that need to be done. If I don't I will bring on paralysis.

So I'm going to leave this posting and get started on making the dessert I have to bring to a family dinner tomorrow. If there's anyone out there who can relate to this and who feels the same, I challenge you, too, to regain control by working on something. We can compare notes and encourage each other.

Today I will play my favorite Christmas music, work, and reward myself with brief moments of reflection - but only brief ones.

And I want to send my love to all of you who read this and can relate.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dealing with holiday stress

The Canadian Mental Health Association says that "A new study shows the holidays can be a trying time for people with mental illnesses." (We ALL know that very well. This is not news to us.) The following are tips on how to manage the stress.
  1. Set your priorities
  2. Ask for help.
  3. Beware of overindulgence
  4. Relax...Breathe...Enjoy!
  5. Stay within budget.
  6. Remember what the holiday season means to you.
  7. Learn about others.
  8. Include others.
  9. Put fun, humour, affection and "break time" into your holidays.
  10. Get into the light.
Personally, I think I'm doing almost all these things right now. I've made many changes this year, purposely trying to avoid the problems I've run into other years.

I feel that I'm doing well with the preparations. The main things left to do is to buy a couple of gifts, wrap all the gifts, and clean the house. In the next week there will be plenty of time to relax. Tonight my husband and I plan to watch a Christmas movie on TV. We hardly ever watch TV together, so this will be a special time with snacks and eggnog.

Although I still feel subdued and teary, I feel a quietness. Within this quietness I feel close to God, something I'm not able to feel in the same way when I'm busy, running all over the place and unable to slow down. I feel at peace. I feel a quiet, holy joy. And when I shed a few tears, it actually feels good. It's a getting in touch with my emotions - getting in touch with the core of my being.

It's Jesus' birthday! And I'm happy He was born. And I feel His love within me and surrounding me. I'm ready to celebrate - tears and all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Trying to maintain focus

I want to thank everyone who sent such encouraging messages to my last post. Although I don't feel too different - still close to tears - I'm receiving tremendous support, from my blogging friends, my friends from church, and my husband. And I'm trying to be good to myself and not push things.

I've decided that my main focus this Christmas has to be to create a clean happy home for our two mothers, my son and his wife, and my sister when they come. I'm only going to bake two things this year: shortbread is done and I still want to make a Dutch cookie that is traditional in our home. The rest I will buy. I will simplify things as much as I can.

I saw my pdoc today and he decided he wants to wait to give me an antidepressant. I'm on so much medication already. Besides, when he saw me I was all bubbly and enthusiastic, telling him about the things that have been happening in my life. I did not seem at all depressed. He thinks my problem might be exhaustion rather than depression. And he might be right. We're going to wait and see if I get any better after Christmas. I'm kind of glad he didn't just automatically put me on yet another pill. I want to see, too, if a combination of looking after myself, physically, mentally, and spiritually, will pull me out of this.

I went to tell my pastor that I did not think I should do anything at the Christmas Eve service. He was fine with it. We had a great talk. I'm glad I made that decision. I would have had to do a lot of preparation for that - not good right now.

A good friend of mine recommended I read Day 25 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. That by itself encouraged me about the state I'm in. Warren says that "Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days...We learn things about God in suffering that we can't learn any other way." He quotes the apostle Paul, who said, "We know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character."(Romans 5:3-4) He goes on to say, "Your circumstances are temporary, but your character will last forever... The Bible often compares trials to a metal refiner's fire that burns away the impurities. "

I've been through much over the past forty years and I know God has changed me because of the suffering I've undergone. If my life had been easy, I would not be who I am now. I think I'd be a pretty bland person. My life is rich because I've clung to God. I've trusted Him since I found Him twenty years ago.

I'll try to be good to myself, be patient, do what I can without pushing myself too much, and be secure in my belief that God knows what's best for me.

Rick Warren quotes Corrie ten Boom, who suffered in a Nazi death camp. She explained the power of focus: "If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. But if you look at Christ you'll be at rest."

This Christmas time I will try to look at Christ, not all the "stuff" that comes with Christmas. I'll remember the baby Jesus and try to place myself back there in Bethlehem, 2000 years ago. I'll take time out now and then, within my mind, re-enter the peace of the stable where He was born. In the quiet of my bedroom, I'll shut out the glitter and noise and pressures of the Christmas we're forced to live today. Then I'll be able to truly worship Him.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Not myself

I almost hate to post this. Worried someone from life in my touchable world will read and consider me unreliable. Before anyone knows, I would really like a chance to pull out of this state of irritability and this being so close to tears all the time.

It hit three days ago and I just can't shake it. Arguing with my husband, impatient with my mom. I know it's emotional exhaustion, but no matter how much I rest, it stays with me. Now you know why I could never handle having a job. And this is probably why I have so much trouble at Christmas time. There's just too much going on. Not enough time for my own stuff. Too many must do's. Even when I try to relax, I'm haunted by all that needs to be done.

I know what you're saying: What about that last post? The one about "Stuff". My good attitude is not helping at all now. Problems seem to be inescapable.

My pastor has asked me to speak at the Christmas Eve candlelight service. I would just love this opportunity, but now? I want to see whether I improve, but he needs to be able to count on me. This is the part I hate SO much about this illness. It's so difficult to commit to anything because you never know how you're going to be - especially at Christmas.

I was so eager to do this Christmas Eve stuff, I spent most of the evening mapping out what I wanted to say - I was so eager - still am. But can I count on myself?

Would an ativan help me get through something like this? But isn't that for anxiety? I'm not anxious. I'll try and see my pdoc this week if I can get in. There must be SOME kind of pill to erase these feelings.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stuff vs relationships at Christmas

I mentioned a few posts ago the stress I was feeling connected to Christmas. I honestly didn't look forward to it. Felt like crawling into a hole and staying there until the season was all over with. But I've changed my tune and am now enjoying myself. I had to change my attitude, which I did, though it wasn't of my own volition this happened - it just did. And I'm thankful for that.

One thing that has helped me is connecting with my blogging buddies. It has been great to read your posts and make comments. And it's been fulfilling to me to be able to talk with you about things that I find interesting and things that matter a lot to me. My Living Room group has been another source of fulfillment, as have my other friendships.

I know that, if I only have some time every couple of days to sit here at the computer and see how all of you are doing and talk to you in my own posts and in my comments to you, I feel filled up - blessed. It's relationships, after all, that matter most in life - not stuff.

I will devote myself to relationships and, if there's room for stuff like baking, decorating, shopping, I'll fit in the most important of these. If I don't get everything done, who cares?

I used to do the reverse: tending to the stuff and fitting in relationships when there was room. The stress I felt a while ago was mostly, I think, because I was just thinking too much about stuff.

The love I give and receive feeds me more than anything. Aside from medications, love is what keeps me well and strong. I don't know what I would do without it. I'd probably be like a cup with nothing inside. I'd be hungry with nothing to fill me up. I'd be cold and not be able to feel warmth.

The relationship that is of utmost importance to me, is my relationship with God. Without Him I could not have the kind of love I give or receive. Knowing how very much He loves me, helps me to love others better. And to keep my relationship with God strong, I need to take lots of quiet time in prayer, reading, and writing.

So I spend some time with God. I spend some time with friends (like all of you). And, the least important thing I do is spend time on stuff. My stress is reduced. And I feel happy.

The question I'm waiting to see answered is whether I can keep this up. Am I going to be able to sidestep the depression I've had the last couple of years at Christmas time? I don't know. But somehow I think I'm on the right track.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

An up recipe for down times

...or for way-too-up times.

I've baked one thing so far - my shortbread cookies. This is always the first Christmas baking I do, because my recipe makes lots, and they keep well. I store them in the coolness of our enclosed garage in a big tin, nestled amongst the empty pop cans, my husband's tools, and the general mess that collects because we're too lazy - or always too busy - to keep things tidy.

The reason I say this shortbread is an up recipe, good for down times, is because it's the simplest cookie possible to make. But it's neat how the simplest recipes are often the best. And I'm sure this must be the most delicious shortbread possible. Unlike a cookie baking friend I have who won't share her recipes with anyone, I WILL share this recipe with you.

There are only 3 ingredients:
  • 1 pound butter (at room temperature),
  • 1 3/4 cups sifted icing sugar (sift before measuring)
  • 4 cups flour
Accompanied by your favorite music, cream butter and icing sugar together. Beat in flour, a portion at a time.

The cookies can be formed in different ways, depending on how much energy you have:
  1. Roll out portions of dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into small cookies, using a cookie cutter of your choice. (Small is best, because these cookies are sinfully rich.) Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes until very slightly golden around the edges. Or:
  2. Roll dough into a narrow snake, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Cut into 1/4 inch thick cookies. Bake same as above. Or if you're really into a down time:
  3. Press dough into a jelly-roll pan. Cut into small squares and bake at 300 degrees. (I'm not sure how long) You can make the squares more interesting by placing half an almond in the center of each before baking. (To split almonds, place in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Then use a paring knife to separated the two halves.)

One more thing to share:

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come. - Chinese proverb

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Amazing grace

Over the last couple of days I've been trying to decide on what I most wanted to write about next: shortbread (I've got the best recipe) or grace. But since there seemed to be so much interest in my last post, I felt I really needed to carry on a bit on the theme of forgiveness and grace. The topic is not ready to put down just yet.

In my previous post I talked about Jesus being an extreme forgiver. The point that didn't come through, I think, was that when Jesus was on the cross and said to God, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," the "they" he talked about was everyone, you and I included. It is out of unconditional love for us.

God loves us, no matter what we do or what we say. I remember a time when I was really down when a friend helped me grasp how deep this love for me is. I don't think I've been the same since.

Chalexa mentioned a good book on the topic, What's so Amazing about Grace? by Philip Yancey. I looked through my copy and want to share what he quotes Henri Nouwen as saying:

"I have often said, 'I forgive you,' but even as I said these words my heart remained angry or resentful. I still wanted to hear the story that tells me that I was right after all; I still wanted to hear apologies and excuses; I still wanted the satisfaction of receiving some praise in return - if only the praise for being so forgiving!

But God's forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life. It calls me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one whom I am asked to forgive."

Something neat that Yancey says: "Forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker that I am."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Extreme forgiveness

I was just reading something - and it's interesting how this is happening at this time - only a day after Dream Writer's post on human evil. She wrote that she did not think there was such a thing as human evil. I didn't know what to think, but Lewis Smedes agrees with you, Dream Writer.

This book I'm reading discusses Nelson Mandela and Jesus as individuals who forgave people who mistreated, tortured, humiliated, mocked, and rejected them. Smedes, in his book, Forgive and Forget argues that we should forgive even those monstrous people who commit atrocities.

"The truth of the matter is: very ordinary people do extraordinary evil. We need to judge them, surely, and forgive them, if we can, because they are responsible. And because we need to be healed."

In this book that quotes Smedes, In the Company of Jesus, Bill Donahue writes, "To equate even the most despicable person with evil embodied - with Satan - is to dehumanize that person. Only Satan, argues Smedes, is unforgivable because he is pure, nonhuman evil. If we treat humans in this way, it removes responsibility from their actions, for now they are nonhuman and thus not accountable. To for give is to acknowledge their humanity."

Forgiving a person is allowing him or her to be human.

Hope this topic doesn't weigh too heavy on everyone. But it IS interesting stuff, don't ya think?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Peace to you

Just sharing: a prayer for peace, love and hope.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can't settle down

Aw crumbs!! I've been so revved up the past few days, I can't stop working. I try to sit with a book and it works for a while, then I'm up, doing stuff again - all computer stuff. I've sent so many emails to my pastor that I feel downright embarrassed about it. He's a nice guy and he's with me in what I'm doing, but I don't want to become a pain in the neck to him. I feel so driven!!

I've been stuck in the house since Sunday. The weather is too bad to venture out without a good reason. All my activities have been cancelled. And do I need exercise!!

My Sermon proposal went over very well. My high increased when I heard from various places that they were going to send it on. It's being well broadcasted, including by NAMI. I'm so happy about that. For so long I've been feeling like the proverbial lone cry in the wilderness. But over the last couple of days that has changed. Now if I could only stop my scheming and my working!! I've been like a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger and going faster and faster.

Just needed to unload this on you all, because I know you'll understand.

I guess my next stop - sooner or later - will be a big breakup at the bottom of the hill. Just hope it won't be at Christmas time.

The devil's schemes?

Dream Writer asked some questions in response to my last post: "Why does the church feel this way about mental illness? Why do they feel it is evil or the devil? Do they feel that way with "normal depression?"

Protestant churches don’t have an organized view on mental illness. But many Christians believe that, once you’ve become a Christian, you’re going to be emotionally well. You should be joyful – together. If you’re not, they might look on you as weak and probably “not right with God.” There’s also all the stuff in the Bible about demon possession, which I don’t think anyone fully understands, but some people think they do. I need to stress, though, that not all Christians have such a strong view.

There IS evil in the world, as there is goodness. God is good. He wants what is best for us. I believe that all will turn out for good when we cling to God, even when we go through horrendous times. This will be hard to recognize at the time. (Faith is valuable here.) When we become distanced from God – as we all do at times (good Christians included) – the devil takes advantage of those opportunities.

I believe that when something bad happens in our life, the devil (or evil forces, or force of darkness, as he’s often referred to in the Bible) makes us feel discouraged and hopeless. If we stay close to God, we would be better able to find patience, perseverance, and hope. When we’re not able to do that because of the symptoms of our illness, some people consider that as the devil at work. The thing is, the devil does this to everyone – not only people with mental health problems.

Personally, when I struggle, I prefer not to look at the devil’s “schemes”. I prefer to focus (really hard) on God and ignore the evil side. I think it’s far more useful in helping me cope. Praying for the devil to leave me would not be helpful at all. What I want is prayer for God to uphold me.

The problem with many Christians is that they don't understand the medical angles of bipolar disorder, depression, and all the other mental illnesses. They end up assuming that the problem is all spiritual. It must be the devil.

Just a bit to show you what the Bible has to say on this. I like this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…but against the spiritual forces of evil… Ephesians 6:10-12 (excerpted)

Monday, November 27, 2006

A sermon proposal

This is an email I'm sending to everyone I know. I invite you, my fellow-bloggers to do the same. Please do check out the link to the article as well. It only just came out.
With a prayer for peaceful hearts this Christmas time:

Dear Friends,
A friend of mine, someone with bipolar disorder, recently said to me, "I've gone to church nearly all my life and I've just heard about mental illnesses mentioned once, and just in passing. When I was hospitalized, some people came from the church, but they just prayed for the devil to leave me."

As someone who also lives with bipolar disorder - a medical illness - I find this tragic. For a person who is already suffering to be told she's not right with God is painful. It damages a person's relationship with her Christian friends and her church. Some even come to believe that it IS the devil that is the cause of their troubles and refuse to take the medication that would help them survive.

Would a person in hospital because of a heart attack, a stroke, or Alzheimer's be prayed for in this way? Can you imagine how that can make a person feel?

I believe churches should, at least once a year, receive a message from the pulpit on the truths about mental illness. I know that pastors don't usually preach about illnesses, but in this case, congregants need to learn how to separate the spiritual from the medical. Too many are uninformed and make things worse because they don't know how to best support people who are going through emotional trauma. The kind of support such individuals need is very similar to the support people with physical illness need: practical help with things like meals and transportation, and a sympathetic ear. Church leaders can help their church family learn how to provide this.

There are two excellent opportunities each year for such a sermon. This upcoming year, May 7 - 13 is Mental Health Week. In October there is a Mental Health Awareness Week as well.

Here is a link to an article I recently wrote which will give some ideas on what good church support looks like.

If you know someone who is a pastor, could you please forward this message on to him or her? You would be doing a big service for the many who suffer from mental illness and need to be understood.

Many thanks,
marja bergen
Author of Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness
and the world's deep hunger meet." - Frederick Buechner

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I believe

I was going to tell you about how amazing Living Room was yesterday. I was going to tell you about how at peace I felt when I came home and how I felt God so close. He is really at work in this group. There were 12 of us and we connected so well. It was hard getting everyone to go home so I could lock the church.

I was going to write a whole bunch about this until I read Misha's post tonight. It got me all riled up - though not in a bad way. The fiery determination welled up again, to continue working at what I believe so strongly in: better support by the church for people with mental disorders.

The Living Room group is an example of how the church can provide tangible support for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. I believe our group is a germ of something, something I hope will spread to other churches (even many?).

A snapshot of our meeting: At our group we start out by helping ourselves to lunch - all finger foods - and we sit around a big table, covered with a tablecloth with a sunflower pattern. Usually we have a flower arrangement in the center. Yesterday we had candles. For extra nibbling, there were cookies, grapes and, as always, a couple of dishes of chocolates on the table. We gradually get into the meeting. The atmosphere is so good.

But I'm describing. And that wasn't my intention. I wanted to talk about how I believe that the body of Christ, the church, will eventually learn how to help those of us who struggle with mental health issues. God is so much at work in Living Room. I know this is the kind of thing God wants us - and all Christians - to be doing. Calls are trickling in every week from people who are interested in receiving faith-based support. There have been others showing an interest in starting groups at their own churches.

This would be such a wonderful way to reduce stigma.

Guidelines for a group: The groups need to be facilitated by someone who has a mood disorder himself. When the group leader shows his vulnerability, talking briefly about his own struggles and how God works in his life, others are encouraged to open up. This kind of facilitator is the key to a good group. Churches need people with these problems to work with the pastor in organizing such a group.

And there should be a connection with a secular mental health agency which would make sure the medical angles are appreciated. This is to discourage totally spiritualizing the problems members face. There has to be an appreciation of the medical AND spiritual. This is of UTMOST importance.

I believe we're onto something. And I pray for God's continued guidance. It's He who helps me want to persevere. I know it's Christ who taught us to love each other unconditionally and I believe that Christians want to do that. They only need to learn HOW to give the support we so desperately need.

So...I've ended up describing Living Room after all. I'm glad I did, because I feel good about my group...and maybe this will inspire others.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Clothed with joy

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. (Psalm 30:11)

Well...I'm not exactly that happy, but I am - for the moment at least - feeling much better than I sounded on my last post. I hope this picture will make you smile and make you happy too.

Yesterday and today I was truly able to focus and work on my book. It feels good to be accomplishing something on it. And if I keep this up, I'll be able to focus on Christmas, without any sense of guilt for abandoning my book for a while. In the past, I've always found that the best way to defeat stress is not by sitting around, but by just carrying on with the work at hand. Sitting around makes me more stressed because I wallow in my worries, not getting anywhere. When I do something, I begin to feel in control again. It's good to feel in control.

I'm grateful for all of you who commented. Thank you to both Amateur Dancer and Bipolar Girl for pointing out that it's probably memories of what happened last year that made me worry about it happening again. And I know that what Dream Writer says is absolutely true, I need to take one day, one moment at a time. I know that, once I get going on the preparations, I'll be ok. I DO love the carols. And I DO love to bake. And I DO love getting together with friends.

This year we're going to try limiting our gift giving a lot more. We'll spend the money we would normally spend and buy World Vision gifts for families in third world countries. Perhaps buy a couple of hens and rooster for my mother; and maybe a goat for my son and his wife. I'd feel a lot better about that than wrapping dozens of gifts that we don't really need. The materialism of Christmas truly sickens me.

I'm looking forward once more to our Living Room meeting on Friday. When I began this group I never realized how much I would look forward to meetings. I love preparing the devotionals and planning topics for discussion. That group really DOES give me joy - a quiet joy - a grateful joy. It's a mystery how a group where people talk about their problems and where Kleenex has to be passed around, can make me feel that way. It's good to know that I'm providing a place where people can open up and be real. I'm thankful to God for having given me this work to do.

So, I send you all a big smile and hope that you're smiling back.

With love - marja

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I'm afraid I'm going to ruin my reputation for being a positive thinker with this, but I don't think I've ever dreaded the Christmas season as I do this year. Usually I love the baking, the shopping, the decorating, the entertaining. But last year turned our very stressful, in spite of my enthusiasm. It threw me into a left me with bad memories.

I'm truly doing fine right now. My last post sounded like I was in a bad way, but I don't think things were as bad as they sounded - at least not outwardly. My new medication dosage is working out well. I think it's helping me stay calmer inside.

Yet now I'm starting to worry about the inevitable Christmas time. I wish I could hide in a hole with my computer and books and just pretend it weren't there. I've so much wanted the time to just work on my writing and reading. I just want more quiet time, with no cooking, laundry or grocery shopping to do. No parents to worry about. No meetings to go to. No exercising to do.

Yet I love all that stuff! I don't want to/I can't give anything up.

But Christmas is a bit TOO much this year. Most years I've put everything aside and focused completely on the preparations. How can I possibly do that this year? I want to have a book proposal prepared by the beginning of December. Then I want to finish the book and have it edited by the beginning of May. Those are my goals. That book is the most important thing in my life right now. It's the most important key I have to - in my own way - try and build understanding about bipolar disorder within the Christian community.

Tonight I will sit down and make plans. I want to see where I can cut the time I will need to spend. I absolutely HAVE to simplify the Holidays this year. I will have to try to make new, less stressful traditions, traditions I can look forward to. I want to be happy about Christmas. And I know that - with careful planning - that can happen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Meds: What a pain!!

Sarah asked about what kind of a cocktail I'm taking. And it appears my cocktail is changing - with me not happy and arguing with the doctor. He's increasing both my mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic.

I don't usually like talking about meds for three reasons: I don't understand them, I'm not really interested (as long as they work, I'm happy), and I know they work differently for everyone. I would be worried that - if I 'm taking something that works, others would want to ask their doctors for the same thing.

But I'll talk about it now, since it came up. My mood stabilizer is tegretol (or carbamazepine) and I take two anti-psychotics: fluanxol (flupenthixol) and loxapine. I know the fluanxol is a weird one that hardly anyone takes, but I like it because it helps me get up early and I've come to love the long quiet time I can have before the day gets started. Loxapine takes the edge off the fluanxol, which causes a bit of hyper-ness.

BUT now my pdoc wants to increase the tegretol and loxapine. I increased the tegretol several days ago and have been feeling very tired. It's difficult to tell the difference between this tiredness and depression. I don't like this.

AND he wants to increase the loxapine from 10mg to 25mg. I start that today. I'm not happy. How will this affect my functioning? Will this mean less quiet time in the morning?

The REASON for him doing this?
  1. My anger (all reasonable and something that's been around for a long time. It's what has been making me write - for years.)
  2. My frustration (isn't it normal to feel that about things that are not right?)
  3. My impatience (when you see so much pain, isn't that understandable?)
  4. My sense of being overwhelmed (normal when one is small and trying to do a big job)
  5. Brief periods of depression.
  6. Two car accidents within 6 weeks (my fault) and another close one.
I think he's over-reacting. I know it's because he cares, but I don't think I need all this. And is the extra medication that makes me feel so tired going to help me drive better? Don't think so.
How much of what I've been going through has simply been because I care about social justice? And wouldn't anyone who cares about such things or who works on the kind of stuff I've been working on get passionate about it once in a while? I'm a passionate person, no matter where my mood is at.

Is my doctor increasing my meds simply because I've expressed passion?

But I respect the guy and will have to comply - at least give it a try. But I'm not happy.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I'm sorry if...

I know I've offended some of you with my last post and for that I'm truly sorry. My husband calls me a "shit-disturber" and I guess I am. Amazing how, as a younger person, I was afraid to say anything - hardly said anything at school.

I want you to know I respect all of your feelings and know you have good reasons for having them.

Please understand that I did not become a Christian to be what a Christian is. I did simply because I needed to have God in my life. I could no longer do life on my own - and I still can't.

Am rather down today. My mom has come to stay with us for a while. She's having trouble with her arthritis and can hardly walk. She's not the easiest person to be around. My privacy and ability to do what I want to do are like zilch.

So, today my dear friends, I feel bad about a lot of things.

Hope all of you are ok.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Let's not judge Christians

I know my post a few days ago brought up a lot of anger within people. I'm angry too, as you well know. I'm angry at the ignorance. I'm angry at the unwillingness in people to learn to understand. But I think there is a great danger when we become angry at what people are, rather than what they do (or do not do). We have to be careful not to return others' judgemental attitudes with judgemental attitudes of our own. We still have to try to love.

I have a couple of close family members who are Christian and are judgmental. They are especially judgmental of things they don't understand - things they have not bothered to learn about. They go to church, hear sermons, read their Bibles, and pray. Yet they seem to miss the point of a lot they're taking in. I love them, yet am frustrated by them. I try to overlook where they fall short, hard as it is. But all I can do is try - little by little - to educate them. They seem to be able to take things in by only very small portions. Most of all, I know the best I can do is to teach by example.

I love these members of my family, but I don't love what they do or the way they think. It happens that they're not as educated as they should have been. Much of what they've become is because of the lack of opportunities they've had. They haven't learned to think more broadly. So I just try to understand where they're coming from.

When a person doesn't understand the truth about mood disorders, we have to make it our job to teach them, little by little. It's hard for those who've never experienced it to understand. We need to be sensitive to the needs of others who want to - but find it hard to - learn what goes on within us.

So yeah, I get hugely angry - enough to be devoting a good part of my life to educate people. But I've learned that it's the injustice of stigma and the hurt the stigma causes that I'm angry at - not the individuals who are causing it. (If they knew what they were doing, I don't think they'd be doing it.) If I'm going to help make changes, I have to continue to love those who I want to change. If they're going to listen to me they need to know that I'm not speaking out of hatred.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Church support can be the best

I hope that my last post didn't make people think that Christians in general are judgmental and unloving. Followers of Christ can be the most beautiful, the most loving of all. I've often told the story about a church friend of mine who came to me one day when I didn't want to go on living. She told me what a loss my life would be. She fixed her eyes on mine and said, "No matter what you do or what you say, I'll always love you." She told me that, as she drove to my place, she had prayed that God would let her be His hands for Him. And He did.

It was through this godly woman that I fully came to understand how deep God's love is for me. Although I had become a Christian many years earlier, I had not fully grasped that until my friend showed me. This friend, also my Bible study leader, has become my mentor.

Both this friend and another one keep close tab on me, especially when my moods are not stable. They made it their business to learn what being bipolar means to me. And I gradually educated them, answering their many questions. They have seen me in many different states, and they keep loving me, no matter what - unconditionally. These are true followers of Christ. They mother me - and they let me mother them as well when they need it. They encourage me in all I do.

My pastor is also a wonderful, compassionate support to me. I've sent countless long emails to him - when I've been high and low. When I first told him I was bipolar, he told me he wanted to learn about this disorder. He went to a mental health seminar for pastors, especially to learn how to help me better. We've become good friends. And he is so very excited about Living Room, our support group. He is my shepherd in this work. With him there, I know I'm not alone. He represents God's tangible presence for me when I have problems dealing with the work I've taken on.

These three people aren't my only support at this church. I have many dear friends - lots of people to hug every Sunday morning. I have spoken in front of the congregation about these things a few times. My disorder is no secret to anyone. They all know about Living Room and they all support it. They ask about it. They pray about it.

How did this all come about? These people are being led by a pastor who keeps reminding them who Jesus really is, someone who loved everyone - even the stigmatized lepers. I was willing to teach them, little by little what my life with bipolar disorder means to me. And they were willing to listen and learn - with love in their hearts.

It is because of this kind of support that I am as strong as I am. It is because of this kind of support that I am able to follow my dream, trying to make the lives of others who live with mental disorders better. I thank God for all He has given me and pray that He will be with me as I do His work - step by step. I'm an optimist. I believe a better understanding IS possible.

Jesus Himself said, "...all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Church support

Misha, in the blog she wrote a couple of days ago, talked about her wish for church support for her battles with bipolar. This, once more, made me feel the great need for spiritual support for people with this disorder. When we believe in God, we need to be able to talk with others who share our faith - without the threat of being blamed for harboring Satan, having unconfessed sins (suggested to be worse than the sins of "normal" people), being separated from God. Some even believe there is no such thing as mental illness.

The symptoms of this disorder are bad enough. But to be blamed for having the illness, to be told that there's something between me and God, is almost worse than having the symptoms. To have to suffer with this stuff, AND be made to feel shame as well, is horrendously inhumane. And to have people who are supposedly following Christ, cause this shame is more hurtful to Christians than almost anything else imaginable. Christ did not teach us to be that way!! He taught us to love unconditionally. He loved the outcasts and the stigmatized of His day. THIS is how He teaches US to live as well. Christians have lost touch with what Christ taught us.

God has so much to offer us. The Bible has so much to encourage us and give us peace, even with our great struggles. Besides the medicine the doctor gives me, there is nothing like my belief in a loving God to keep me well. There is nothing like a church family to help us keep this faith alive. The church needs to find ways to HELP us with faith, instead of blaming us for not having it.

As you can probably see, I'm angry. Church people need to repent their faulty way of thinking. They need to be educated about the truth of this illness.

In a few days the Canadian Mental Health Association will be publishing an online article I wrote, The Church as Supporter. Unfortunately, it's much tamer than what I have said here (we need to be politically correct, don't we?). I will publish the link to it here when it comes out.

In the meantime, this anger is doing one good thing. It is motivating me to not waste any more time, but to get on with finishing my book, one that is designed to educate Christians about this disorder. It tells my story and how God has worked in my life. I do hope it will help build a better understanding.

Having a faith is important to our mental well-being. We need people who share our faith to give us their unconditional love, as Christ does.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Getting sucked down

I am; I'm not; I am; I'm not...I guess I am getting depressed.

In my last post I talked of how I'd stabilized. I guess I spoke a bit too soon. I do indeed feel I'm getting sucked down into a depression. I've made an appointment to see my pdoc early - on Tuesday. That will give me a few more days to assess whether it's really happening and not just a glitch.

I spent my quiet time this morning just sitting, not able to read or pray. I did write in my journal a bit, which was good. From 6am to 8am, doing pretty well nothing. Neat thing is, though, that I did feel God's presence. Although I was very much within myself, I felt Him there with me, keeping me company. No feeling of hopelessness or despair. I am having some difficulty doing the things I need to do, though.

My ladies' small group from church met at my house this morning, and that was a true uplifter. We connect so well. We can be totally honest with each other. Everyone is compassionate and loving. It's this spiritual support that has, in large part, encouraged me over the past two years. Without this kind of support I would not be where I am today, relatively healthy - spiritually and emotionally. Without this I would not have had the ability to start my support group.

What I most want/need to do over the next little while, is to focus better on my book. It's so close to being finished, yet the job still seems big. I may get my husband to take the motorhome to a campground nearby, so I can spend a few days in it as a retreat - no choice then but to get writing. I did this last year and got a lot done. We'll see how my mood pans out first. I'm going to have to stay in touch with my friends for now.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thank you!

I thank everyone who commented on my last post. It's so good to have people out there who care and who understand the roller coaster existence we are forced to live out. I'm very encouraged.

I think I've now stabilized and won't have to push forward the doctor's appointment I have in a couple of weeks. I feel good when I can go through a busy time - a bit of a destabilizing time - and yet stay on top - even though it IS a struggle. It feels good to know that I'll be able to see my doctor and fill him in on the many things I've been doing and experiencing and to be able to tell him I survived in spite of it.

What really helps is that I lead a varied life. I don't get much chance to get bored. Being busy really helps. On Monday my husband and I spent most of the day looking after his 95-year-old mom. She needed to go to the eye doctor and do some shopping. Then we took her out for lunch. Today we went to my 92-year-old mom to take HER to the doctor, take her shopping and out for lunch. Tomorrow I'll go for a walk with a friend who is going through a bit of a rough time. The talking we do will do both of us good. I'll also get ready for the ladies' Bible study meeting at my house Friday morning.

I work on photographs and I work on my latest book (though I think I should focus a lot more on that than I'm doing right now). I go to Curves, camera club, a writer's workshop, church and Bible study.

So, my life is: A bit of time at home, at bit of time out. A bit of time doing things for others, a bit of time doing things for myself. A bit of time doing chores, and a bit of time doing creative things. A bit of active time, and a bit of quiet time. Reading and writing. Eating and feeding. Thinking and speaking. Giving and receiving.

It's all about balance isn't it? Especially for us bipolars! How much can we actually do for ourselves to keep ourselves well? To what extent is how we live our life and the attitudes we bring to it, responsible for how well we do?

I know one thing, though. I could not even begin to live as normal a life as I do without medication. I have not always been as well as I am now-a-days. This wellness is something I will never take for granted. It is the most valuable thing I have. I thank God for it and pray that I will use it well.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Coping with mild ups and downs

I've been going through some unstable days, never knowing what the day will bring. I think it may be because I've been busy doing some exciting things over the past few weeks. Then, when things slow down, I don't know how to handle it. I have too much time to think. And if my thoughts happen on something sad, like they did on Saturday evening, it pulls me down very easily. But today I feel quite level. I hope and pray that I will remain this way.

At times of mild moodswings like this, I tend to analyze what helps me. I try to discover the techniques that help me cope. I don't want to have to run to the doctor and mess with my meds if there are things I can do for myself to pull me down from a high or lift me up out of a depression.

Yesterday, feeling depressed, miserable, restless, and unable to focus on anything, I decided to call a friend from my support group. This was someone who I had supported when she herself was going through depression a while ago. This time I was able to give her an opportunity to do the same for me. We had a good talk and we decided that I should try doing a bit of knitting on my scarf, something I've not had a chance to do. I did, while I watched tv. It helped a bit. It also felt good to know I would have someone who I could call the next day reporting how our plan had worked.

My husband and I had leftovers for dinner, so that was easy. Afterwards, we played a game of crib and baked muffins together. It's so much better doing things together with someone when I feel like this. So much easier to focus, so much less lonely.

After all this light activity and accomplishment, I was able to focus on reading until bedtime. I just started a book called Prayer, by Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors. I'm reading it because I really need help to pray better. It's often so difficult to connect with God, though when I do, it does me a lot of good. Last night's reading proved fruitful. It inspired me to become still before God and talk to Him as I would to a friend. I was able to focus. Quite amazing, considering the way I had felt only hours before.

Then it was time for bed and I felt at peace, no longer so depressed. I slept well. This morning, I was again able to pray well, telling God everything that came into my head. And today I have felt level and happy. I really believe I have God to thank for that.

About a week ago, a lady who was obviously in emotional pain called, asking about our support group. She asked me if faith could heal her. I've been haunted by that question, knowing I had not adequately answered her. Just how much is my faith responsible for making my life as stable as it is? I'm sure it is quite a bit. I'll always have bipolar disorder, but I do receive a lot of healing because of my faith. I wish I could have told her that.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

An upward swing

Yesterday's Living Room group was wonderful! I was so pleased with how it went that today I'm riding a high - quite a difference from where I was only two days ago.

We had six new people, making a total of ten around the table. After we had a chance to have a bite to eat and go over business stuff, we opened the meeting with prayer. Then we read Psalm 139, paying special attention to verses 7 - 12. In fact, I had typed copies for everyone so they could keep them handy when they need to be reminded of God's constancy. Then everyone made a list of things they were grateful for. After a while we each discussed the things we are most grateful for. After a break, we each took turns telling what brought us to the group and how things have been going for us. We responded to each other's stories.

The reason I'm going into such detail about what we do at our meetings is because I very much hope that other churches will start such groups. I am seeing a real need for faith-based support groups for people struggling with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders. After only about a month in existence, we have a list of 25 people who have shown an interest. Eleven people, plus myself and my co-facilitator have attended. Our pastor also likes to sit in on the devotional part of the meetings.

There are a lot of secular support groups. But there is a real difference when the spiritual aspect is part of it. Yesterday, the atmosphere was warm and comfortable. Everyone shared freely, feeling the supportive atmosphere. The co-facilitator closed the meeting with an uplifting piece of scripture and prayer for each individual there.

When I was ready for bed last night I did something I seldom do when I pray. I got down on my knees and thanked God. I didn't know what else to say to Him. I just thanked Him over and over. I feel blessed to have this work to do and I'm learning to love my new acquaintances.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I could cry

I've been so stable lately, so cool, calm, and collected. But right now I feel like I could cry.

You may remember I had two accidents recently, all within a month. In the last one, my car was severely smashed - almost totalled. Today I was close to getting into another accident, and it was my fault. Ever since my last accident, my driving has felt sloppy. I have trouble focusing. I don't know if I should be driving any more. I could kill someone or be killed.

And I'm thinking about how my life would change if I were without a car. It's depressing to consider that. I know I have a husband who drives, but our lives are so separate from each other. He would not want to have to drive me around to all the things I do. I can't imagine a life without the independence my car gives me. Wow!!

I could cry.

And tomorrow is a meeting of our Living Room support group. I was so looking forward to it - still am. There are quite a few people who have called and I'm eager to meet them - eager to lead a good meeting. I need to pray. I need to strengthen up and put these worries aside - at least for a while.

Next week I will visit my GP and describe what has been happening to my thinking lately - the narrowness of my focus - losing track of time because I can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Is this a sign of a mind growing old? But I'm only 60!!! My husband says that I've just been preoccupied lately. But that's no excuse.

A good cry would be good right around now.

Please pray for Living Room tomorrow. Pray that I will get over the shock of this near-accident and place my attention on what I so love to do - to support people with mood disorders and help them grasp how great God's love for them is.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More on creativity

I need to say a little more on creativity before I can let this topic go:

Arthur J. Cropley disagrees with Kay R. Jamison, saying that creativity may not actually be caused by mania. He said, "It is possible that wide mood swings, on the one hand, and rich imagination and high motivation to create, on the other hand, both result from a common cause, without actually influencing one another directly. Such a common cause could be 'emotional reactivity' (Holden) or possession of a particularly labile or 'fine tuned' nervous system (Andreasen) - a tendency to react unusually strongly to external stimuli and internal mood signals."*

That may explain why I'm creative ALL the time, even when I'm not high. And I know that sometimes my highs seem to come about BECAUSE I'm being overly creative. That is, the creativity comes first, joined by a high mood. You should have seen me when I used to work in the darkroom. I would play loud music, and if I were particularly happy with a print, I'd come out of the room dancing exuberantly to the music. The work made me high.

It is our strong moods that make us sensitive enough to bring on this kind of "emotional reactivity."

In any case, all you bipolars out there: We are a beautiful, sensitive bunch of individuals.

Personally, I now willingly accept the way God made me, knowing that, though life is extremely difficult, I can make my moods work to my advantage. "O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter;" I honestly believe God made me the way He did for a reason.

*From 'Creativity and Mental Health in Everyday Life,'
by A. J. Cropley, 1990,
Creativity Research Journal (1995)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Our passions, high and low

In an effort to answer Dream Writer's question as to why we bipolars tend to be such a creative lot, I thought I would reprint something here that I wrote for the chapter on Creativity in my book, Riding the Roller Coaster. (Pages 144-145) I don't think anyone has all the answer to this question, but this was my attempt to partially answer it. (Please note that this is copyrighted material, but if you wish to quote and use my name and Riding the Roller Coaster as the source, that would be ok.)

The passionate moods that result from our illness and cause us so much suffering can actually be beneficial if we use what we learn from them to express ourselves creatively. Throughout history artists have used the feelings they have as a source of inspiration for their work. The feelings we experience are extreme: the depths of depression for those with a unipolar disorder and the alternating lows and highs for those with bipolar disorder.

The frequent presence of these moods makes us a very sensitive group of people. When depressed we sense the depths of the world's sorrows more keenly - feelings most people filter out. Although the sun is shining, the world seems dark and without meaning. Those of us who experience highs know what it is to be transported to what seems like heavenly flights of joy - even if the source of this joy may be as simple as poppies blowing in the wind. We cry in mourning for the realities of injustice, poverty, and sickness we see around us; and we dance to celebrate the truths of love and beauty.

The strong emotions we experience make life more difficult; but they can also make life richer for us. In a way it is good to feel strongly; sensitivity is an aspect of humanity that sets us apart from much of the animal kingdom. Our expansive capacity for passion gives us the inspiration which makes artists out of many of us. We have a need to express and share our feelings with others. Creative activity is our way of venting the contents of our hearts; there's too much to keep shut up inside. By mastering the techniques of our chosen medium, we learn to apply the discipline needed to harness our emotions and steer them into workable pieces of art. The result is an abundance of satisfaction and sense of fulfilllment for the artist - and often a healing of the soul.

But what about those of us who don't feel we are creative?
There may be more of the artist in us than we think. We can let go of our emotions through song and dance, through laughter and the healing of tears, and even through simply talking with others about our feelings. To reveal to others how we experience life is to share the rich tapestry of our inner self in all its colors. This kind of sharing by others, not unlike us, has left us a great legacy of paintings, sculpture, music, and literature. If we can use our passions effectively they will be a rich source of joy, not just for us, but also for those around us.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The creative life

Mom,interrupted's site, has been dealing with mania, heightened sensitivity, and creativity - something I find a fascinating topic. It is truly amazing how so many of us are highly creative people. So many artists, musicians, and especially writers, have had bipolar disorder or depression.

Personally, I thrive on creative projects. I'm a photographer, writer, cookbook author, knitter, crosstitch embroiderer, inspirational booklet publisher. I've initiated innovative projects. As I've matured, I've learned to take on leadership roles. Living Room, our church's faith-based support group, is my latest project. It's something that excites me and gives me lots of opportunities for creative planning.

I'm sure all this has something to do with my disorder. It's largely because of this that I'm not unhappy about having bipolar disorder. The meds contain my moods so that they don't overwhelm me too too much. I stay on the page.

Heightened sensitivity has influenced my spiritual life as well. When I've been high, the words of the Bible speak powerfully to me, in a way that would not be possible if I were stable. Not that the way I read it is an "insane" response, I actually absorb the meaning in a much more intensive way than I would if my mood were more flat. The scripture becomes more understandable to me. The meaning I get out of it goes deeper.

I've accomplished much with my life, things I would never have been inspired to do if it were not for my frequent highs. It's been costly as well. All too often, these highs are followed by periods of depression. Yet, when I look back, I can say I am grateful for all God has given me. Life has been difficult, but it's also been an exciting adventure...and it continues to be that.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Stupid me!!!

I want to address this post to Jane, and everyone else who is familiar with my blog, and how I always talk about how I'm not much affected with stigma - as though I've risen above it or something. Well I haven't risen above it, and I guess no one with a mental disorder will, for many years. I got careless today and told someone - at the wrong time and in the wrong way - before she had gotten to know me first.

I could kick myself. Someone called to ask about my support group. After I told her where it is and when, I mentioned that I have bipolar disorder. This lady, who was so friendly to begin with, went noticeably quiet.

Why did I do that? I didn't have to do that! It had nothing to do with anything. Couldn't I just have waited and mentioned it - in passing - when I introduce myself at the group meeting? That was so dumb!!

I have talked about how free I've become at church, that I don't have to keep my disorder a secret. But that took a long time in coming.(and I still don't talk about it with people who I don't know well, not unless they ask.) I had to let them get to know me first. I had to find appropriate times and places to let them know. When I first started coming to this church, I had a meeting with the pastor and let him know. He was wonderful. Said that he would like to learn about this disorder from me. He and his wife prayed with me when I was going through a difficult time. Others came to know very gradually.

This will be a bit of a stressful week. I go to visit my sister in the Gulf Islands off the mainland for Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, on Thursday night and Saturday, I will be giving a one-hour presentation on candid child photography. Every time I think of it, I get a flutter of butterflies in my stomach. The talk on Saturday, especially, scares me a bit. It will be at a photo conference and I may have quite a large audience. If you pray, please think of me.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

To hold on or to let go

For many years I coped with my moods and psychotic episodes by working like crazy to hang on, trying not to lose my sanity, trying to survive. I clung as a young child might cling with her hands onto high horizontal bars in a playground, knowing that letting go might mean falling to the ground and hurting herself. This hanging on caused a lot of fear. And this fear only made me sicker. I tried to do it all on my own. But often I broke...and I fell...and I hurt myself.

There came a time when I did not feel I could hold on any longer. The struggle was just too difficult. "What about this God I learned about in Sunday School?" I thought. "Wouldn't it be something if what I was taught about him was actually true? What about if the faith I had turned away from as a teen could actually help me? Wouldn't it be wonderful if I didn't need to bear this suffering on my own anymore? What if God could help make my life easier?"

I decided to explore the Christian faith I was brought up with but had rejected. I began to look for God.

Amazingly, though, I had to learn everything my teachers and parents had taught me about Jesus from scratch. It was as though I didn't know anything at all. For the first time in my life - at the age of 42 - I was open to hearing, and open to understanding, the truth about following Christ. I was still stubborn, though. It still took a while for me to swallow my pride and go to church. Instead, I went to the public library to find books about God.

But what the Bible says is true: Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)

I asked, and sought, and knocked, and I found out what I had been missing. Gradually, I learned what it meant to have faith. I've learned to trust him to catch me when I fall. Now when I go through bad times, I can let go and trust God to take care of me. I've learned how great his love is. I now know he loves me, no matter what. I have found a Source of comfort and peace. (I have to confess, though, that there are still terribly difficult times. But I have a faith I cling to, knowing God will always be there.)

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The ultimate long-term antidote for depression

Harold G. Koenig, M.D., in New Light on Depression, the book he co-wrote with David B. Biebel, states that "Love - unconditional love - is the ultimate long-term antidote for depression, for at its core love is connected with faith and hope."

It's too bad that so many Christians have forgotten the example Jesus set for us. He loved everyone, but especially the outcasts, the stigmatized: the prostitutes, tax collectors, people with leprosy. Followers of Christ are called to do the same thing. It is this kind of love that needs to be shown to individuals who suffer from mental illness. Yet, even in churches, we are all too often snubbed, kept at a distance, and judged.

I have been fortunate in being part of a congregation that has been open to learning about mental illness. They have done their best in supporting me and people like me. I know from experience what it means to have the love of godly people. My church friends pray for me, check up on me, mother me when I need mothering. This has encouraged my faith in God, because I see him revealed to me through these friends. Non-judgmental love like this has been hugely helpful for me. I can relax better; I know I'm not alone; I know someone cares.

But not only do they give their love to me. I am not simply a "victim". They've learned that I am someone who can support others as well, when they go through rough times. This may be how I've gained my strength more than anything. When I am well, there are many things I can do to be helpful in the church. So, not only do I receive love, I have many opportunities to give love as well. Support should always go two ways. We give and we accept.

I have talked about Living Room, the faith-based mood disorders support group I've headed up at my church. Tomorrow we have another meeting. This is a place where we can remind each other of God's love and share our God-given love with each other. We'll have a place to talk about how our lives are going. We'll find out that we're not alone in our struggles. I'm looking forward to it. We have no idea who will be coming or how many will be coming, but we'll be ready.

With this church's support and encouragement, my faith has become stronger than it ever has been in the past. I have learned to pray better and to walk closer to God. Through God's love I have become more courageous, more hopeful, and more healthy, mentally.

Unconditional, non-judgmental love - Christian love - is indeed the best medicine of all. And I've found that, the more I give it to others, the more I receive it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Giving thanks

I've been away from here for several days, and much has happened in my world. One TERRIBLE thing is that I had another car accident. My second within a month! (My first, you may recall, was when I was broadsided by a bus - on the driver's side.) This time I rear-ended someone, hit her hard! It looked like my car was a write-off, but I heard from the body shop that it may be saveable. The other car was not damaged at all. One of these days I'm going to get killed ... or kill someone else. What's wrong with me? I'm going to be very nervous to drive in the next little while.

Funny thing is, the person I hit saw my Brentwood Park church bulletin in the car and told me that she goes to New Life Community Church, the church we're working in tandem with, providing faith-based mood disorders support. I told her that I'm a friend of Esther, one of the pastors there. And she told me that she had just come back from seeing Esther. A coincidence? ...or God being there again for me. He seems to be in everything I do now-a-days. So many amazing things have been happening. You may call me a crazy religious nutcase if you want to, but really, there have been so many "coincidences" like this lately. Anyway, this lady was so wonderfully calm and helpful. It made the accident easier to bear.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in Canada. And although I smashed my car for the second time in a month, and although there are severe problems in some of my friends' lives, there ARE a lot of things to be thankful about as well. God IS good.

We just came back from a camera club outing - several days in the interior. While my husband photographed, I read and wrote. I loved the solitude. And I got a lot of work done on my book. I'm pretty well ready to begin looking for a publisher. All this makes me very thankful.

Yesterday evening we had a traditional turkey dinner with our friends at an old inn. They did up the evening as though all the guests in the inn are family. We all sat down and ate at the same time. The turkey was the best I've ever tasted. Wish I'd asked for more. All the food was delicious. I'm getting hungry again just remembering. I was grateful for my time with my friends in this wonderful place.

This morning I found frost on the flowers in the campground garden. It was beautiful how the white crystals rimmed the petals. I spent a happy half hour photographing them. The aspen trees were beginning to change colour. And all day long the sun shone brilliantly. Yes, we have much to be thankful about.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Our need for hugs

I visited a friend today, one who is very dear to me. When I got ready to leave she gave me a hug, and I simply did not want to let go. It felt so good. And I love her so very much.

When we were children, especially if we're from a truly loving home, hugs were probably not too hard to come by. When we were hurt or upset, Mom's arms enfolded us and we were comforted.

But sometimes I think of the countless older people who live in care facilities. How often do they get the hugs they need? Many do not get visitors and they are lonely. Yet inside them there still lives a child. We all carry a bit of who we were as children with us, don't we? Getting older is tough, in fact, one could call it cruel. I hope I'll never have to experience the kind of loneliness some of these people have to deal with.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Life is too interesting

I've been away from the computer for a few days and out of touch with how everyone is doing, but will take some time tonight to visit all my friends' blogs.

Life has been getting entirely too interesting lately, and I know I will have to slow down and try to do something boring, like knit on my scarf, or watch tv. But it's hard. My mind is revving continuously, wanting to keep pushing the work that is so important to me. It's hard to focus on dishes when there are such grand things I could be accomplishing. But I know it's time. I need to slow down.

I don't want to list all the stuff I'm doing. I know within myself that I'm going a bit too far. But it's Mental Health Awareness Week this week, and I've become a bit caught up in that. On Wednesday morning I'm going to a mental health awareness breakfast. (Have to be downtown and in my seat by 7:30!!) And on Thursday night I'm speaking as a panelist at a forum on depression in the elderly. I'm not sure if they asked me simply because I know what depression is, or whether they think that I'm elderly. Heck, I'm just a girl!!! I have trouble even thinking of myself as a woman. I'll always be a kid.

But I'm also flying high because I've seen God do some amazing things in some of the people in my life. That, too, I won't be able to go into details on. Just believe me, we have an awesome God!

The writing on my book has been going well. That's one reason you haven't heard much from me. If I can keep the momentum going, I'll soon be ready to go back to the beginning and start some serious editing. I'm looking forward to the polishing process.

BTW: Another wonderful thing that has happened is that my mother-in-law is 85% recovered from her pneumonia.(don't ask me how the doctor figured out that percentage) For a person who is 95, bouncing back so well is something we have to be very grateful for. She will have some more years of quilting ahead of her, I know.

So that's me tonight: grateful and just a bit too full of joy. I think I'll do some dishes. That might slow me down.

Friday, September 29, 2006

To be a child forever

The young aren't worried about what people think; the old have learned to stop worrying.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The beauty of aging

I know my last post on living with confidence sounds like I've got it all together or something. I hope I didn't sound like I was expressing pride in my ability to be open about myself. I'm only trying to encourage others, to help others realize that living unashamedly with bipolar disorder is possible. (though I realize not for everyone - but maybe down the road somewhere?)

Having reached the wonderful age of 60 has an advantage. I've had lots of experience. I very much want to pass on what I've learned.

When I look back on my younger years, I see a shy woman, very unsure of herself. I became part of a camera club, became good at photography, won prizes, and came to be loved and respected for who I was. The focus there was photography. Personal stuff was not discussed much. There were times when I got sick, obviously so. I'm sure I was talked about. But I was there as a photographer and, as such, respected. My self-esteem grew.

There were few people with whom I openly shared my mental health problems, though I very much wanted to, even then. I had to hide it. And because I had to keep this part of me a secret, I felt a certain amount of shame. But I felt loved and that helped.

Years later I became part of a writers' workshop. That is where I began work on Riding the Roller Coaster. This group encouraged my honesty and helped my writing improve. They were with me through the entire process. My confidence grew. In spite of their knowing my most intimate secrets, they respected what I was doing. I felt loved and accepted.

I don't have time to write an entire book here, though I'm tempted, so I will cut this short:

At church the same thing. Once people came to know me, once I became an active part of their community, I felt loved for who I was. They looked on me as someone special - and not in a bad way at all. They only had to learn to know me. And I had to learn to be myself.

Most importantly: I repeatedly prayed to God to fill me with His love and to help me share His love with others. When I showed my love to others, they loved me back. Ultimately, this love is the most important thing for a meaningful life. It's the love of God and the loving support from others that helps me be well. Love has strengthened me and given me courage.

When I began this post, I didn't know that I would end up talking about love. But I'm glad that's where I ended up. Faith, hope, and love are all great things, "But the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13 That's a fact....Take it from an oldie.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Living with confidence

It takes great effort trying to live with good self-esteem when the disorder we have is so stigmatized. It's so utterly unfair that we, who, through no fault of our own, have a disease and have to hide it and live in shame. If you've read some of my earlier posts you will know how angry I am about this.

But what if we were to not feel so ashamed about it? What if we were to recognize how wrong society is about us and say to ourselves, "to hell with them". We know we're ok people.

The tough thing is that, when a person needs to keep something like this secret, it breeds a feeling of shame within himself. How can we possibly win?

I pray that there will be a day when society will be better educated and understanding of what mental illnesses truly are, diseases that happens to affect one of the organs of our body. And it just happens that this organ controls thinking and feelings.

I found a quote recently - don't know who wrote it but thought someone might be inspired by it:

"If anyone speaks badly of you, live so that none will believe it."

In my own life, I began speaking out about my bipolar disorder ten years ago. I think that writing about it and having a book out helped people respect me. If there are any who think I'm strange because of it, I don't notice it. This has put me at an advantage in many ways. I feel absolutely no shame. I only talk about my disorder when there's a reason for doing so. But it has become more and more my life's work to raise awareness. It is my passion.

I don't know and don't care if people are speaking badly of me. Maybe some do. But I stubbornly live, being the person God made me to be - myself.

How I wish this would be possible for everyone who has to live with bipolar disorder!

Monday, September 25, 2006

A crummy day

This has NOT been a good day. The only good thing is that it's almost over and I can start all over again tomorrow, hopefully in a more positive vein.

Yesterday someone I've been giving support to hurt himself quite badly. It was a shock. I've never been so close to someone who has gone that far. I wondered if I could have done more for him than I did.

So this morning I woke up at 5:30 - way too early - feeling bummed out about everything. Then, as I washed my face, I noticed that I had forgotten to take my evening meds last night. That was bad news. It was too late to do anything about it. I knew the day would be difficult. This was not a good time to be forgetting.

Then we had to go to my mom-in-law's, one hour away, to take her to the doctor. She probably has pneumonia. This is a worry because she almost died from that last year. And she's 95 years old. We had contacted doctors on Friday and Saturday. The one we talked to on Saturday said he would drop in and visit her. But he didn't. Our requests for help were ignored.

I get the feeling that doctors don't treat elderly people with as much dedication as they do the younger ones. Somehow I get the feeling that they think their time is almost up anyway and they don't work as hard to help them. I know this sounds like harsh criticism, but I'm seeing it time and again. (I have a 92-year old mother as well that I look after, so I have a lot of experience.)

I've been eating junk food most of the day. No appetite or desire to make a proper meal. My husband says he suspects a depression coming on.

But maybe it's all the bad news, combined with missing my meds, that are the problems. I must try to move out of this rut I'm finding myself in tonight.

Talking to a close friend tonight made me feel better. She's a dear and truly cares about me. She mothers me at times and other times I mother her. I promised her that I'd try to do some baking tonight. It would be a nice surprise for my poor husband when he gets home tonight. I hadn't even cooked him dinner, even though he had to go out and work for four hours tonight. My body and mind just went on strike.

But this is just one day. It doesn't mean that this is the beginning of anything. I just need to push myself a little. Making some muffins or squares should do the trick. Sounds like I'm trying to convince myself, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 23, 2006


My pastor gave a wonderful sermon on rest a few weeks ago. Today I'm trying to follow his/His advice. I've been very busy lately, overwhelmed a bit by all that's going on in my life. Today I need to let go a bit and not feel like I need to be accomplishing something every minute of the day.

I'm listening to one of my favorite singers, Roger Whittaker. I love his fatherly voice and the messages that so many of his songs carry. It's comforting to listen. And I will write here today, just emptying myself a bit, not trying to say anything terribly wise, not trying to play teacher, preacher, or mother, something I tend to do.

The sun is shining in and the house is warm. I have been puttering, trying to tidy things a bit. A person can clean up and be resting at the same time, can't she? Sometimes it's more stressful looking at the mess around you than it is to take action and clean it up.

Yesterday we had the second meeting of the group. Another small attendance, but that's ok. The time was valuable to those of us who were there. I'm finding that some people who attend really yearn to have a place where they can talk about their faith and how it relates to their mood disorder. I know we are needed and I have faith that, with time, our attendance will go up. How many we have is not really important. Simply serving the people who ARE there is important enough. And where two are gathered together... When I got home, there was a message from someone else who wanted to know how to get to our church. He may come next time.

This afternoon I will go for a walk with a friend, a dear person with whom I've never had a chance to connect one on one. I'm looking forward to it. She is a follower of Christ too, though we've never had an opportunity to talk about our faith together. She also struggles with things in life, though her problems are not related to moods.

My mom-in-law is sick and I'm concerned about her. She's 95 and coughing badly. Last year we almost lost her when she got pneumonia. Everyone was expecting her to die, but miraculously she recovered. It was amazing to watch her recover. It was a joyous experience when she began to be able to eat the thickened juice and thickened soups that we fed her slowly, spoon by spoon. She had to learn to swallow all over again. Over the last few months she has been working on quilts with a quilter's guild she belongs to. She is still a vibrant person, an amazing individual. A doctor will go and see today her at the home she lives in. I pray that God will be with her as she struggles once again.

Well, that's enough for now. I'm finding this blogging wonderful, but addictive too. And I must begin spending more time on my book. If there are days I don't write here, you will know that I'm writing somewhere else.

BTW, My book is inspired by Psalm 40. Can you relate?

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Light in dark places

I've been reading Corrie ten Boom's "Hiding Place" for the second time. It's a wonderful story about how Corrie and her sister, Betsie, ended up in a concentration camp during the second world war. They had been hiding Jews in their homes. With great ingenuity Corrie smuggled a Bible into the camp. I know it sounds like a horrid story, but believe me, it's inspiring.

Betsie was the ultimate optimist, thanking God for everything under the sun, asking God to help their guards, cruel as they were. When she thanked God for the fleas that infested their barracks, Corrie thought she'd gone too far.

In the evening they began to have worship services under the one bare lightbulb in the huge barracks. After singing in the different languages of the women there, they read the Bible. It was a Dutch Bible, but Betsie and Corrie translated it to German which was understood better. Then they would hear the "life-giving" words passed on around the room in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back to Dutch again.

This was an amazingly beautiful thing to be happening in such a terrible place, where people were suffering so much. In Corrie's words, " darkness God's truth shines most clear."

I remember the numerous times I've been in darkness, misery that in some ways paralleled the concentration camp experience. Often God has then seemed distant - unreachable. But there have also been times like that when He seemed more real than ever. It's at times like that when I found out what Betsie said in the book: "...there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still."

Corrie and Betsie always wondered why the guards, who controlled their every move, never checked up on what they were doing. Why were they allowed this freedom? Why was their Bible not taken away from them? One day they found out. It was because of the flea infestation that the guards would not set foot in the barracks.

Neat story, eh?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When is much, too much?

It's happening again. Something that happens to me over and over it seems.

I take on one little thing. It's little - can't hurt, can it? Then I take on another little thing. And the little things lead to other things. I find it so hard to say no when I'm asked to do something. I love doing so many things. But, unasked for, the little things turn into big things.

And I begin to feel tired, even when I don't seem to be doing very much. And the things that are little begin to seem big, even though they aren't.

I think this is what's called "stress". And the funny thing about stress is that it doesn't go away by resting. I have to just carry on, one little item at a time, and find activities to relax me in between.

I know that this feeling is a wake-up call. Maybe I'm not organizing my life the way I should. Maybe it's not balanced enough. I'll have to watch that I don't fall off this tightrope I'm walking.

So what can I do that might help? Take a nap? Go for a walk? Visit a friend? Read a book? What kind of a book? Do some cooking? Clean up the bedroom? I know that any one of things "might" help. But none of those would help get rid of the work I have to do - the stuff that is pressing on my brain, making my entire body feel weary.

The best thing of all that I know of is to make a list. When I make a list and check things off as I accomplish them, my responsibilities don't seem nearly as heavy as they are in my mind. As I work I can tick off my accomplishments. And as I tick them off, my burdens become lighter.

When my head seems crowded with stuff, causing me stress, quite often things are not nearly as bad as they seem. Putting things on paper clears my stressed brain. I have found that out in the past. I'll just have to remember that today.