Wednesday, August 30, 2006

If only...

If only we did not feel such shame. If only it were safer for us to speak and tell others. If only there were no stigma...

I can't let this topic go. Especially after reading the ongoing series: The Stigma Factor by Dream Writer.

I first decided to come out in the open when I read the following by Dr. John Varsamis, M.D.:

"Mental illness is so common that if even a small proportion of the patients made a special effort to learn as much as they could about their illness, and if they proceeded to educate their families and friends, there would not be too many uninformed people left and the stigma associated with mental illness would be virtually eradicated."

I realized that if I wanted things to be different, it would have to start with me. I began writing articles about living with bipolar disorder. Later came my book, Riding the Roller Coaster. Everyone in my world knew. But coming out did not hurt me very much. I don't care if there are some people that think I might be weird. For the most part, I don't think they do. I have many friends and feel I have their respect, even if they do know I have a serious mental illness. I feel good about myself and have learned to walk with confidence in all areas of my life.

It's not going to be as easy for everyone to do. People need their jobs and not all employers are understanding. Sometimes we can only afford to tell a few trustworthy friends.

I think the most important thing is to come to terms ourselves with the fact that our disorder does not define who we are as people. We are as worthy as any other segment of society. We need to learn to feel good about who we are.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Support group starting soon

I'm excited, deep into preparations for the first meeting of our faith-based support group. I'm publicizing it to the best of my ability (such as it is) and it will be interesting to see how many show an interest. It's wonderful to have such good backing from my church. My pastor and others there are truly excited about this new venture. It would be so neat if other churches would pick up on this idea.

I'm publishing the poster I made, just in case there's anyone out there from this area of British Columbia...and also because I'm a wee bit proud of the prettiness of it. Think it will help people want to come?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Stigma: our worst enemy

I want to talk about the topic I'm probably most passionate about/angry about/disgusted with. Although I can speak quite rationally about this, it makes me "mad".

The greatest culprit that stands in the way of the welfare of people living with mental disorders is stigma. Think of how things would be if there were no stigma attached to our disorders:
  • we would not have to feel shame
  • we would be more willing to accept our illness
  • people would be less afraid of giving us support
  • our self-esteem would be better
  • we'd be more confident
  • we'd be more able to take a significant role in our community
  • if our disorders were more popular, there would be more $ allocated for research
  • we'd be much more likely to accept medical treatment
  • people would be more willing to study the causes of our disorders and learn how to help us
  • none of us would have to feel like outcasts
  • there would be less homeless people on the streets
  • we would feel better loved
  • we would not feel as much pain
The world stigmatizes us. But one of the worst things is that we who live with such disorders accept that stigma. We take it on ourselves. We feel the shame when we shouldn't.

If only we could think of our illness as "just another disease", one that happens to affect our brain. It does not mean we're stupid or that we have bad character. In fact, I believe that people with bipolar disorder are some of the most beautifully sensitive people around. Some of the greatest artists, musicians, and writers were bipolar, and look at what they left the world. Hans Christian Andersen, Frederic Chopin, Lord Byron, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, are just a handful of numerous great people who are believed to have had some kind of mood disorder. Even the psalmist, David, had strong moods. Some people, me included, believe that he too could very well have been bipolar.

I could go on and on. But I feel a little better now, for having aired this. And if this post can make even a tiny bit of difference by making people realize how damaging and unfair stigma is, I'll be happy.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

We're a creative bunch

One neat thing about being bipolar is that we tend to be creative - a great number of us, anyways. I receive great pleasure and release from photography and writing, as well as all kinds of other types of projects. There's an advantage to the dramatic moods we experience. We tend to be ultra-sensitive. When we find an outlet for these sensitivities, especially in the arts, we can accomplish things that more stable people would find more difficult.

I know, for myself, I simply have to express the many feelings I have. There are so many things I want to say.

I took this picture yesterday. I call it "Spent". It looks like a very sad picture and one might assume I was depressed when I took it. But I'm really quite up now-a-days. The thing is that all the feelings I've experienced are in my memory bank. I see things around me that I can relate to, because of my moods in the past. I find this is particularly valuable when I photograph children. I capture ALL their moods, not just the happy faces.

So, I hope this picture doesn't put a damper on your day, but that it will show you that someone else can relate to feelings you might have had.

Have a HAPPY day.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Walking a tightrope

Life certainly is a tightrope. I have to walk with such care, trying to keep my balance. Just one or two wrong moves can push me into hypomania or make me fall into a depression. I'm tempted at every turn to take on more than is healthy for me. There's just so much stuff I love to do. Yet when I lazy about too much and have no goals, I get depressed.

Yesterday it happened again: I was asked to do some volunteer work, something right up my alley, something I know I'm good at, something I'm passionate about. But I have a couple of wonderful friends who helped walk me through the wisdom of taking it on. Talking to them helped me make the difficult decision to say no to this job I would so very much have liked to do. In the end it felt good to do so. I felt I was in control of my life, and life wasn't controlling me.

I've been so well lately. So stable. So relaxed. So content. Yet every day I have to consider that I don't start overdoing things. I know that if I get over involved and high on my activities, the next step will be a big fall and I could lose the things I'd worked so hard for. At least I never overspend, lucky for my husband.

Today I started promoting our support group. We're starting up on September 22nd. I'm doing my - as usual manic - best to cover all the bases: newspapers of all sorts. I do get carried away whenever I'm doing publicity work. Don't know when to stop. Even when I'm not manic I seem to have a personality that makes me always try to do the very best I can. I go to great ends, bordering on madness.

Does anyone out there find that? That even when your mood is stable, your personality seems to have a manic component that always comes to the surface?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Not a survivor, but a conqueror

One of my favorite authors is Erwin Raphael McManus. In his book "Seizing Your Divine Moment" he wrote something that has had a great impact on me: "You are called not to be a survivor, but to be a conqueror." Survivors bend backwards, allowing problems, allowing life to happen to them. But conquerors bend forward, attacking life and attacking their problems. We need to make a life, not to let life make us.

Last week I was facilitating a support group and had thought I would be really smart and end the meeting on that note. I thought it would encourage and inspire them. But a few of the people there were hurting so badly, they were so depressed, I decided it would be almost cruel to tell them that. Sometimes there is no energy for conquering, is there? Sometimes we need to be taken care of.

I guess the above statement holds true for day-to-day life when functioning is relatively good. But when we're really suffering, all we can do is to try and survive.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


When I go through difficult times, I look at this picture, hanging across from my bed. It reminds me to trust in God. There's something very calming in seeing that little hand (mine) rest on God's. I feel at peace.

On coping...and then not coping

It's funny. So much of the time I think I've got it all together, that I know how to cope with this awful disease. I almost begin to feel invincible. But it's amazing how many times over the past year I've been in trouble.

I spent months in a hypomanic state, waking up each morning thanking God for the day - the very moment my eyes opened. I would eagerly jump out of bed - couldn't wait to get going on all I had planned. When I called friends, I would greet them quoting the Bible (half-jokingly) "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." I felt like this for so long that I began to think this was a normal way to be. I had to ask my doctor whether it was normal. I honestly no longer knew.

When I did normalize, all I could do when I awoke in the morning was to think of how it had been when I was high. I thought it was abnormal not to utter "This is the day..." I thought there was something wrong with me because I no longer felt that happiness I had become accustomed to.

Sometimes I really don't know who I truly am.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Something New for Someone Old(ish)

Well, after some time of considering it, my son Cornelius has persuaded me to start my own blog. A year ago I hadn't even heard of blogs or blogging. I considered it something very mysterious. But I love to talk. I love to express my views. I have a lot I want to say. That's what happens as a person ages. And I've recently reached the age of 60, something I'm actually quite proud of and not ashamed to let everyone know.

As my profile shows, I have bipolar disorder - have had since I was 19 years old. Life has been difficult, as it is for anyone with such a disease. But all in all I consider myself fortunate. God has been good to me. My life is full and, except for times when my medications need adjusting, I'm happy. I have a husband who loves me, a 33-year-old son and daughter-in-law. I also have many friends. My church is very supportive of me and has encouraged me in my desire to start a faith-based support group for individuals with mood disorders. We're starting this in September and I'm very excited about this.

So many Christians don't understand psychiatric problems and tend to think of them as indications of not being right with God. I know this is not the case. As long as I take my medications, and as long as they are working, I function well. It's only when I stop taking them that I run into severe problems. Medications correct the chemical imbalance in my brain; they do not alter my personality in any way. I walk close to the Lord and work for Him by helping those who suffer from mental illness as I do.

One of my favourite Bible passages is in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. "...the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." The suffering I've experienced with my disorder has taught me how to be compassionate towards others. I value that.

Although life has been difficult, I can honestly say that I don't regret anything I've gone through. I wouldn't be the person I am today, without the experiences I've had. They have all given me fodder for the writing I do. They have helped me understand thoroughly what people go through - people who are stigmatized unfairly. With those experiences and with the writing skills God has given me I can try to make a difference.

God has given me comfort and strength when I needed them. He has given me friends at church who care about me and support me when I'm not well. I am so grateful for His abundant love.

Well, there it is. My first post. I don't know where this blog will take me, but look forward to this new adventure.