Saturday, December 29, 2007

A steady flame

I've become lazier than I should be about blogging. There's something about sitting at the computer that doesn't appeal to me these days. Yet there's much I want to share too, and these things keep rolling around in my head.

One thing I've thought a lot of in the last few days is how Living Room has become like a steady flame for me, never wavering, never going out. No matter how my mood is, it gives me light. No matter how down I feel, I want to go to the meetings and lead. And no matter how down I feel, I'm able to lead. I want to give hope to the people I speak to there, and I always find a source for that hope. What a blessing that is!

In the spring, while I was going through a more severe depression, I thought I'd like to do a favor for a friend. I noticed how that thought was like a spark within me, providing some light, making me feel better. And it felt like that spark lit a candle, one that kept burning for a while. And I thought of how I'd like to share that image with my Living Room members. I wanted to tell them how lighting a candle in the dark can help us feel better. Just thinking of sharing this as a devotional kept my candle burning for the rest of the week. I was able to keep my candle lit. I was able to lead a good session.

There were 15 present at yesterday's meeting - not bad for this time of year when most activities are put on hold. We had a wonderful time. I quoted from Philippians 4:6-8 which I've had my Bible lying open to a lot lately:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

After a bit of discussion, we all took turns giving thanks to God. There is truly a peace that comes from thinking of the good things in our lives and being thankful for them. Not only does it help remove anxiety, it also helps with depression.

At Living Room we all support each other. Though I'm the facilitator, I receive support myself as well. I always come away feeling better and - most of the time - feel a wonderful, peaceful kind of joy after. I can be myself there, not having to pretend I'm well when I'm not. Though I'm the leader, I don't have to come across like I've got it all together. In fact, it's better that the members realize that I struggle like they do. When I'm real, everyone is encouraged to be real. There's great beauty in that.

That steady flame that is Living Room is an amazing, mysterious thing. It's God at the center. It's made of love. It heals.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Christmas is over...except that my mom is still here and we're expecting some family to visit today. But now that the gifts have been unwrapped I can share some of the pictures I made to give to friends. I had been holding off doing that, just in case these friends were to check my blog.

This picture is drawn from a painting my dad did. He didn't draw it with India ink the way I did. His was painted with oil or acrylic (not sure which) not with watercolor they way I did. The neat thing about working on this one though was that I studied his brush strokes very carefully and, in doing so, felt a closeness with him. With this picture I also made a special effort to learn to mix the colours better - something I've found very hard.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dark - but winning

I'm still battling depression. Yesterday I had a great big list of things to do - last chance to do laundry, clean, shop, and wrap. I didn't know how I would get it all done. But my husband supported me wonderfully and helped throughout the day. There's something about trying to do too much that deepens depression, though. By the time evening arrived I felt truly down.

What has upheld me over the past while is playing. Several weeks ago it was drawing and painting pictures for friends. Sudoku puzzles have also helped me feel content. And the game my husband and I play often, Ticket to Ride, has provided a good distraction. These activities have the added advantage of developing brain power.

I've also had my Bible open to Philippians 4:6-8 a lot of the time: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. It's when I thank God for my friends and all that is good in my life that my mood goes up. This has helped me tremendously over past weeks. Knowing that I'm loved by my friends - and by God - has brought brightness and peace.

The preparations are complete. I'm into the thick of Christmas now. Today we'll celebrate with my husband's family - eleven adults and five children. Tomorrow I'll pick up my mom to stay with us for a couple of days. Christmas day my son and his wife are coming over. Boxing day we may also have a few people dropping in. Then I'll prepare for Living Room, which will have its regular meeting this Friday.

It will be good to get back to normal, won't it?

In the meantime, I do hope you will all have a happy time this Christmas. May God bless all of you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why did He come?

My mom-in-law is doing okay. She had her transfusion in the ER on the weekend - the ER, simply because - for a variety of reasons - it was the most efficient way to get her looked after. She is weak but in good spirits. On Thursday we'll take her to the specialist to see what he can do.

I'm still into a low grade depression. I can tell because I don't have much energy to do the things I would normally be doing at Christmas time. The thought of preparing Christmas dinner scares me. It seems like it will be a bigger job than I'm up to. My husband mentioned that he notices that I'm still down. He can often tell better than I do myself.

But the wonderful thing is that this is not a bad depression. Things could be much much worse. So I'm thankful. I putter at the jobs that have to be done and I find contentment now-a-days doing sudoku puzzles and playing Ticket to Ride with my husband when we have a free evening. My days are not at all black, just a pale wash of gray.

I've been eager for our Sunday church services this Advent season - eager to gather as much from them as I can. In his sermon on Sunday, Pastor Don mentioned John 3:16, the well-known verse we all learned to memorize in Sunday School: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." That verse is so common that those of us who are familiar with it hardly pay attention to exactly what those words mean. That's the danger when words become too common.

But Don then pointed out verse 17, one that doesn't get as much play: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Jesus did not come to merely point an accusing finger at the world for how bad it was. He came to help. He came to set the world right again. The story of his life shows that so well.

Oh, if Christians, as the followers of Christ we are supposed to be, would only pay attention to those words. Too often we're guilty of criticizing or judging. We need to help each other. We need to love the way Jesus taught us to. It's this kind of love we celebrate at Christmas time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In the midst of the chaos

Mother's doctor called on Friday to take her in for another try at a transfusion. Unfortunately I was at Living Room and we missed the call. So yesterday we ended up having her picked up by ambulance and taken to the ER for the transfusion. It was the only way we seemed to be able to get it done. The regular department of the hospital who handles them did not return my repeated calls to them when I tried to set up an appointment. Poor woman ended up spending the night in that hectic environment.

With Mom's unwellness to deal with, Christmas is more chaotic than usual. But I think I'm handling it okay. It's just difficult to get around to - or to get in the frame of mind to - do the baking I'd like to do. But tonight I will try to make my shortbread cookies.

At times like this I am happy for Living Room. Living Room offers a retreat from the world, a place to be with other people, a place where I can be myself and I don't have to pretend everything is fine when it isn't. Even as a facilitator, I feel this. There is a lot of love in our group - many hugs shared around. Everyone truly cares about each other.

On Friday there were 18 of us present. I talked about how, during my 36 years of photography, I learned how the focal point of a picture - no matter how messy, busy, or chaotic it is - is always on that which has life. If there is a person in a busy picture with many elements - even if the person is quite small - that is where the eye settles. You'll focus on the person.

If we were to look on Christmas as a picture, a busy, chaotic picture with many different elements - the card writing, the shopping, the decorating, the parties - there is one focal point where we can rest our eyes. This focal point is Jesus, the whole reason we are celebrating this holiday. If we can stay focused on him, we will be able to find peace. The busyness won't bother us so much. In the midst of the chaos is the One who gives life. He is the light of the world. He is love.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


We took Mom-in-law for her transfusion today. Such a struggle getting her to the hospital. It took a while for her to be well enough to put her into the wheelchair, she was feeling so faint and almost passed out.

My husband and I did some shopping, since the transfusion was going to take about six hours to do. But we received a call from the hospital long before that time was up, telling us that she had a reaction to the blood and the doctor ordered the transfusion stopped. Another one will now be scheduled.

I'm so glad there is still something that can be done. Before I heard from the doctor that another try at a transfusion was possible, I had thought we had run out of options. But there is hope still, though this is touch and go stuff. I just pray that Mom will be strong enough to withstand all this. But she is a determined woman. Though her body might be weak, her mind is strong and she has tremendous faith.

Tonight I'm relaxing with a cup of tea, a new Christmas cd and the tree. (Yes! We finally have the tree up.)

...and tomorrow we will have a Living Room Christmas party - but not without a little sermon from me first :) I will talk about staying focused on Christ in the midst of Christmas chaos.

(If you don't know about Living Room yet, check

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

...and life goes on

Christmas time. You'd think the world would stop all its problems for a while so that we could concentrate on celebrating Christ. But life goes on. ...Babies are born and people die.

My mother-in-law is sick. She's extremely weak. My focus is not so much on Christmas any more. I can see that it won't really matter if I don't get all my baking done. We need to focus on her - this lovely, precious woman of 96 who - up to a couple of weeks ago - was quilting and keeping up with her reading. The woman who - only three days ago - was so elegantly dressed in the beautiful two-piece dress (so difficult to find a dress now-a-days) I bought her for her birthday this year. The woman who I took care of like she was my own mother. The woman we kept alive a few years ago when the doctor had given up on her and had given orders not to hook up the IV again, which had accidentally fallen out of her arm. She was a mom for me who inspired me in so many ways. She taught me things that I missed learning from my own mom.

On Thursday we will be spending the day taking Mom to the hospital for a blood transfusion. Then she'll have a colonoscopy and, perhaps, surgery. Her doctor jokingly told us how the anaesthesiologist will have a heart attack, knowing he has to work on a 96-year-old. But she is so well in every way except physically, she has such a strong, good, wise mind, that we need to do all we can to help her survive this. We can't give up on her; and she doesn't want to give up.

I don't know what will happen this Christmas. I don't know whether she'll be well enough to come and celebrate with us. I would hate for her to be at the care home on Christmas day, though, remembering my time in hospital at Christmas when I was nineteen. It's the worst place to be at a time like that - a time meant for family and home.

I did get our cards done. They went in the mail today (one for you too, Desiree). I did get one kind of cookie made - a traditional favourite. Still a couple of gifts to buy. Still the tree to put up. I do so long for that tree in our living room. I long to sit in the dark with its lights shining, Christmas music softly playing. We need that kind of peace right now.

Strange, though. Focusing on Mom's needs right now helps me not to feel so overwhelmed. We'll just do what needs to be done and make the best of the rest.

A woman who used to be in my ladies' Bible study group has just given birth to a baby boy. And that's a source of joy....And so life goes on.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Need for a sabbath

First of all I want to thank all who commented on my last post: Terri, Desiree, Susan, Merelyme, and Isabella. So good to hear from all of you. And a big welcome to you, Isabella.

Today I feel a great need for a sabbath day. Although I'm doing much better mood-wise than I did last year, the pressures of the season have a way of grating on the nerves. Yesterday we went to a big family gathering and I came home feeling emotionally exhausted. I so look forward to Pastor Don's sermon today. I so long to once more reflect on what this season is all about. I so long for a day of peace.

We still don't have any decorations up at our house. I still haven't sat down to figure out whether I know what I'm going to give to all the people I want to buy for. I still have to get the Christmas cards done.

But today I'm going to have a day all for me - doing only what I feel like doing - not doing anything that truly needs to be done. Tomorrow I will carry on with the must-do's.

I don't feel truly depressed, yet there are indicators that suggest things are not the way they should be with me. There are too many messes around the house that bother me - small messes, yet messes I'm having trouble clearing away. I want to, but somehow I can't bring myself to actually do it. Ever felt that way?

I long for Living Room this Friday. We'll talk about how Christmas is affecting all of us this year. I know I won't be the only person having troubles.

This morning, before I start my official sabbath day (though please don't think I'm legalistic about this sabbath thing), I think I will make a list of all the things I'll need to do in these two weeks before Christmas. I know what will happen is that things won't look nearly as over-whelming as they seem to be. ...And I will try to keep lots of time for me in the plans - time to withdraw from the busyness - time to read and draw and play.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The awe and wonder of it all

Last year's Christmas was a stressful time for me. I truly suffered from all the negative aspects of the season: the huge number of fliers coming to the door irked me; the full parking lots at the mall overwhelmed me; the stores with the Christmas music and the pushing of goods bothered me. The materialism of it all - the having to live up to all the traditions, when I wasn't in the mood - the pressures of going to parties and having to entertain family at home were more than I could bear. I saw it as a chaotic time, one I wished I could escape.

But - blessing of all blessings - this year is different. I feel at peace. I don't feel pressured. I'm enjoying the season. And this started happening even as I was struggling with depression over the past few weeks. That's truly amazing! Thank God!

So I went to church this Sunday - the first Sunday of the Advent season - eager for Pastor Don's sermon. He didn't let me down. He talked about how Advent should be a time of quiet waiting - a time to look forward to Jesus' coming.

Unfortunately Christmas has become a time of chaos for many of us, when it should be a time of awe and wonder. Just think of it: the child Jesus who was born was God, come to earth to walk amongst us. He came to show us who God is and what he's like. He showed us God's great love and illustrated his amazing grace.

Christmas is very much a time of fantasy and nostalgia, a time when we try to recreate feelings we had in the past. But recreating those feelings can be difficult in the lives we're living today. We often end up with pain when we can't do it. But if we could remember to focus on Jesus, the whole reason we are celebrating, perhaps we could escape the pain and lighten the expectations we put on ourselves. Perhaps we could escape all the noisy stuff and the chaos.

The time leading up to Christmas should be a time for stillness, a time for peaceful reflection. Think about what a mystery God's coming into the world was! Think of the awe and wonder of it all!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A letter to "down and out in South Carolina"

Someone who is hurting very much right now left a response to my post, Somewhat califragelistic but grateful. This is a letter to her, and I hope it will help her deal with her pain somewhat. She asks for advice. I'm not sure I can give that, but if any of you can help her with the situation she's dealing with, I invite your comments.

Dear "Down and out",

When we bipolars go into a stressed mode and when our mood is affected, we often do and say things that we would otherwise not do. Bipolar disorder is a disease of the brain and will affect how we think and what we do and say. Our judgment is affected. Christmas is a time when this can happen more than normally.

I remember one Christmas a few years ago when I was worried about my mother-in-law driving. She was in her early nineties and I was really concerned about her safety and the safety of others. Because of the time of year, I was under a lot of stress. So many things to do and think about! My mood was heavily affected.

One day I talked to my mother-in-law, telling her that she needed to stop driving - that she needed to change her way of living and start relying on others more. I even suggested she go into a care facility. This was very hurtful to her. I wanted to control her so she would be safe, yet she was an independent woman who still had a lot to give. My worries put my judgement way off and I was pretty blunt. And she - in a way that was uncharacteristic for her - was very blunt with me. I could tell she was angry and in tears. (This happened over the phone.)

In the following days I realized what I had done. I apologized to her - me in tears this time. It hurt me so much to think that our good relationship might be ruined. It wasn't. But it did take a while for things to mend between us. Now we are very good friends.

All this is to say that the stress of Christmas can do things to us - especially those of us who deal with mood issues. It can make us do and say unfortunate things.

If you can try to understand that your mother-in-law is struggling with a lot right now, perhaps it will be easier for you to deal with her. It must be very hurtful to have her children not visiting her. Please try to love her and realize that she needs you to be strong. She needs your support and it sounds like she is receiving it. And you should feel good about that.

I don't know if this helped at all. I hope it did. And I hope you will soon heal so that you can enjoy the season.

Advent is upon us

This morning, over my wonderful first cups of coffee of the day, always a time to mull things over, I thought of how I would like to invite all my friends who believe in Jesus but aren't presently going to church - to think about attending church this advent season.

There's so much stuff connected to Christmas now-a-days that really doesn't have anything to do with the coming of our Lord. So much tends to drag us down instead of lifting us up: the pressures of buying gifts, the pressures to live up to traditions that might actually bring painful memories. If we could only reduce some of these pressures and remember what this season is truly about!

At church over the next few weeks I hope to be reminded why Jesus came to live amongst us. I want to be reminded of how he came to give us abundant life - how he showed us what God's love is really like. When Jesus walked the earth he performed miracles and he still does. Believing in Jesus and following his example has the power to transform lives. We can find meaning; we can find healing. I know this is what happened for me. I have been transformed and that is a miracle.

True Christmas is far removed from the glitter, the noise and the materialism attacking us right now. True Christmas should bring a sense of peace and well-being. So please go worship this season and celebrate what Christmas truly is - a story of love and grace.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Drawing vs photography

This year I gave up photography because I wanted to have more time to push for mental health awareness. Photography takes a lot of energy- energy I couldn't afford any more. And yet, now look at me, I'm spending time drawing and painting. What's the difference?

I think the difference is that the kind of photography I did involved working with people. There's a lot of stress involved in spending time with a child, trying to get the kind of expression that says something about the child and about me. I'd play with the children, spending a lot of time on the floor as I tried to capture the true child - the candid child. I always loved doing that - got on a real high doing that. And I was good at it. But it was hard work. Today I don't have the energy to spare. My energy needs to go into more important things. (You can see some of my photographs here.)

Now I feel a need to spend my recreational time doing quiet, solitary creative activities. Last night I spent the evening drawing an old Dutch street scene while listening to Christmas music by Pavorotti. What a wonderful time I had. Pure peace. I'm rediscovering my childhood love of drawing.

For this picture (can't show it, because it will be a surprise Christmas present for a friend) I drew from a painting my father did years ago. I studied his brush strokes carefully, something I had never done and came to appreciate the artist in him more than ever before. I felt a closeness with him. Later today I will paint the scene with watercolors.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Somewhat supercalifragilistic, but grateful

I've been talking a lot lately about how good can come out of bad and today I can once more see this happening in my life. I've found pleasure in a new creative activity; I'm walking closer to God; and I'm feeling secure in the love of my friends.

There have been symptoms of depression lately, as some of my recent posts have shown (or "supercalifragelisticexpialidocius" as Susan would call it - see her comment at this recent post). It has been hard to do the things I need to do, I've experienced a lot of anxiety and an undercurrent of tearfulness. Yesterday my doctor put me on prozac. He wants me to take a therapeutic dose and then carry on with a maintenance dose once I'm back to normal.

I've done a lot of things to help me deal with this episode and they have been working well. One thing that has caused me to feel ashamed is that I believe I rely too heavily on my friends. This feeling is probably as bad as it is because of depression's negative thinking. To counteract this I've tried to cling to God more. If I go to my friends because they love me and I love them, then shouldn't I go to God in the same way - because he loves me and I love him? I started making my journal entries into "Dear God" letters. As a result I have started feeling closer to him. That has given me a lot of comfort.

I have been very open with my best friend about what is going on with my feelings and my thoughts. As a result she is reaching out to me, calling me every day. What a comfort that has been! At a time when I needed to hear it spelled out, she told me she loved me. When I felt I was contacting her too much, she assured me that I could call her anytime. What a comfort this assurance was to me! This friend exemplifies what Christian support can be. She is very much a follower of Christ and through her, my own faith is encouraged to grow. She makes me feel worthy; she makes me feel loved. And that is so important for a person going through depression.

Other good things that have come out of this "supercalifra...." : I've given myself a break from pushing mental health awareness, allowing time to prepare my heart for Christmas. I'm finding comfort in playing with making pictures. My inner child, that needy part of me, is being fed with the things it needs right now: creativity, peace, and love.

...and I am grateful. And God is good.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Puttering with pictures

I've been puttering with pictures, drawing with India ink and then painting with watercolors. Making pictures to use as Christmas gifts is helping me look forward to Christmas. The picture above was made using a photograph my husband took in Dubrovnik earlier this year.

But it's time to leave play time behind for a while. Today I'm trying to focus on planning meals for the next few days (which I've done now - "yeah!!") and shopping for groceries. It has been such a long time since I've felt up to shopping. Our kitchen also needs a good tidying job. Then, tonight, perhaps I will have deserved to play my favorite game with my husband. We will play Ticket to Ride, a game involving a bit of luck and a lot of strategy.

This morning I read something in my Bible that inspired me. Jesus - at a time when he was tired and hungry - said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." (John 4:34) I think that's the best kind of food for me as well and I will soon need to leave my child behind and continue doing what I believe God made me to do: helping Christians learn to understand and support those with mental health issues. That kind of "food" is healthy for me and makes me feel strong. I think that when Jesus said this, ministering to the woman at the well, he was revived and no longer felt tired or hungry.

I'm not too sure about whether making pictures is food for my spirit. Not sure whether God made me to be an artist...though I did have a bit of fun. Drawing makes me feel like a child again and my childhood wasn't a particularly happy one. It's time to leave my child behind and be a grown-up again. I want to be strong. I want the healthy food - doing the will of God.

Have a blessed weekend everyone. May you, too, find food to make you healthy and strong.

...and don't forget to check my new article online.

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Do you want to get well?"

There's a story in the Bible about a man who has been crippled for a long time. Before Jesus heals him, he asks the man, "Do you want to get well?" Today I ask myself that question. I've so grasped onto this idea that I am now depressed that I'm not letting it go. I've so adjusted my thoughts to trying to do battle with this that I'm now focusing too much on it. I need to free myself from this and live as though it doesn't exist - as though it has no right to exist.

Susan gave a suggestion in her comment to my last post. She said, "My latest technique, brainswitching, also works for me. Whenever I think I'm feeling low, I don't use the word "depressed" and don't worry about being depressed. Rather I come up with a childhood word, for me it's Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, from the film Mary Poppins. It makes me smile and doesn't allow the brain kindling to happen."

I like your term "brain kindling", Susan. That is indeed what seems to have happened within me. And "brainswitching"... that is indeed what I need to do. I need to act as though I'm not depressed. I need to think I'm not depressed. I should not talk about being depressed. Instead I'm trying to color my world by making pictures.

I will try to accept God's healing touch and move forward.

By the way, please check out my new article on how Christians can support people with depression. It just went online yesterday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I've gone and hit a low

Well, what's been threatening for a while and what I kept trying to push away has come upon me. I have to admit that I'm into a bit of a depression. Not a bad one so far - and I pray that this will not become a bad one. I'm determined not to let that happen. Please, God, don't let that happen.

I can see now that the anxiety I've been feeling so much in recent days is just part of depression. It's just part of negative thinking.

So...I must make some plans to help me cope with this. Perhaps I can lift myself out quickly - if lifting myself out is at all possible. I have to remember, though, that I need to trust God and not think that I have to do it all by myself.

So...what can I do to stay out of the pit?
  • I'll make an appointment with my psychiatrist and get started on some prozac. I've never had trouble with this pushing me into mania, so I trust it.
  • I'll go to the gym or walk daily.
  • I'll talk to my best friends daily, explaining to them why I need to do that right now.
  • I'll give myself some manageable goals for each day.
  • I'll keep puttering with pictures as much as I can.
  • I'll write "Dear God" entries in my journal, telling God about what I'm going through and asking for his help.
  • I'll write down whatever things help me most so that I can share them later with Living Room members.
  • I'll try to bring brightness into my days by doing things that help other people.
  • I'll read and meditate on the Psalms.
  • I'll try to write Psalms, first expressing my pain, then praising God.
  • I'll remember that God loves me and that my friends love me and I will thank God for that.
Please, God, I pray, help this not become too bad. Help me to be well for Christmas.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Art for comfort

I've been having off and on days when I feel like depression is threatening and have been trying to treat it in whatever way I can with healing activities. Yesterday I felt insecure, like I used to feel as a child. Why does that happen to me? Maybe I need some counseling.

I remember well one day when I was a seven-year old at a health treatment center (where I had to stay for six traumatic weeks - away from my family). I had accidentally gotten locked up in a bathroom and was left behind when all the other children went for a walk in the forest. I panicked and yelled and screamed and cried. A nurse heard me and let me out. As I cried bitterly, she comforted me and took me to a table by a bright window. There she set me to drawing and coloring. I will never forget how I felt and how doing the creative work helped me through this time.

So now when I'm feeling a bit down - or insecure as I did yesterday - I feel like that child once more as I draw and paint. Creative work is a wonderful healer. And I have something to show for it at the end.

The drawing I posted here is partially copied from another drawing as an exercise. It's set in my native country, Holland. I'd like to post some more original work but my husband has to hook my scanner up to the computer first. Currently I most enjoy - and have the most success - drawing European street scenes with India ink and then painting them with watercolors. I can do them because they involve straight lines and I can handle those. I've been working from photographs my husband took earlier this year.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Unconditional love

In their book, New Light on Depression, David Biebel, C.Min. and Harold Koenig, M.D. wrote, "Love - unconditional love - is the ultimate long-term antidote for depression, for at its core love is connected with faith and hope." I find this a powerful statement.

I believe that when we feel loved by our friends and by God, no matter what we do or say - and when we love others in the same way - all our emotional and spiritual needs end up being met, even if indirectly.

When we love and are loved unconditionally and non-judgmentally:
  • we feel good about ourselves
  • we feel secure
  • we care enough about ourselves to want to take good care of ourselves
  • we find out that it is more gratifying to give than it is to receive
  • we want to do our best to make our life count for something - to do God's work
  • we are able to be more forgiving
  • we are encouraged in our faith in God
  • faith in God leads to having faith in what he provides, including medical treatment
  • faith in God leads to hope
No wonder Jesus said what he did: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:37-40.

The Bible also says, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10

So much of our ability to deal with depression hangs on how we give and receive love.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I'm seething

I've been happy lately about how I'm able to control my anger, especially towards those who don't understand mental illness. I wrote recently about how we have to be patient with and learn to be understanding of those who don't understand. But sometimes my patience wears very thin and I purely seethe. This morning is one of those times.

Once again I heard of a pastor telling a person with bipolar disorder that she doesn't need her pills if she believes in God. That is SO irresponsible. Such advice could easily have tragic results. If such pastors only knew and understood what they are dealing with. They are dealing with a potentially fatal disease. It is estimated that between 15 and 20% of people suffering from bipolar disease will commit suicide. Up to 50% will attempt suicide.

For a Christian to tell another Christian not to take psychotropic medication is the same as a Jehovah's witness telling someone not to have a blood transfusion. It's backwards. God has provided for us in the form of medication. We should be grateful that they exist and accept them if they are helpful.

I have said this before: The brain is an organ of our body and, like any other organ of our body, can have something go wrong with it. We should be thankful that scientists have developed medications that can treat our diseases.

I follow Christ and am doing what I believe God wants me to do. My life is full and joyful. With God's help I'm helping others who suffer from mental illness. Yet I would not have the life I have or be able to do these things if I were not taking medications. I'm on a mood stabilizer and two antipsychotics and they keep me stable. I need them, I trust them, and I thank God for them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Amazing how this happens...

Yesterday was another Living Room meeting. And it is truly amazing how I come away from those meetings feeling a wonderful, quiet joy - a rejuvenation. When I started facilitating Living Room I had never expected these deep feelings of peace - this holy joy - would be my reward. Something magical happens. And I have never been more stable or felt as complete as I do today. I know it's because God is truly present at Living Room. He is in this work; I am not doing it alone.

Other members of the group have similar reports. Those two session of Living Room each month help them stay well. They learn to cope. They learn to trust God. They learn not to be ashamed of their disorder. And we have a great time together, having lunch, studying scripture, and sharing from our hearts.

If you're new to this blog you may be wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Living Room is a faith-based support group for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. It's a church ministry that's in partnership with the Mood Disorders Association here in BC. There are now three groups and a fourth and fifth are in the planning stages.

If this sounds like an interesting concept to you, please check the Living Room website here. You will find the what, how, and why of it all. The manuals went online today in pdf format, ready for you to download. These will explain how to set up a group of your own and how to facilitate a group. Please feel free to email me if you'd like more information.

Monday, November 05, 2007

At the age of 42...

The last comment on my last post and my probably-far-too-long response prompts me to explain something that has been of utmost importance in my life.

At the age of 42, after spending most of my life up to that point not believing in God, I decided to give him a try. I was going through a particularly horrendous time with psychosis and thought to myself "What if there IS something to this belief in God that people have? What if God is real? Could he help me? I can't keep hanging on by myself. I'm tired of the struggle and can't do it anymore."

I began researching God in the public library, not ready yet for church. Though I had been brought up in a Christian home, it was as though I knew nothing about God. I had to start from the bottom - this time with an open heart, a heart ready to receive. I found a book by Marjorie Holmes called "Are You There, God?" It sounded like it was written especially for me. I gradually became eager to read the Bible and to spend time alone with God in prayer. Spending this quiet time gave me peace. It comforted me during difficult times. Gradually I also came to understand what Jesus had done for me on the cross and I became a Christian.

Believing in God meant that I could put my trust in him. No need to hang on in fear, using my own inadequate willpower. I had for so long had to stay strong in an effort to survive, in an effort to keep my sanity. Having God meant I could relax my grip, knowing I was no longer alone. God loved me and would take care of me. My life - still very difficult - improved because my faith helped me cope.

My faith gave me a reason for living. It gave my life meaning. It was soon after my conversion that I took up the cause to try to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. I started writing articles and my book, Riding the Roller Coaster. Being open about my disorder and writing about it was healing. It was a big step toward recovery.

Today my battles against stigma have taken on much greater proportions. I have another book, A Firm Place to Stand: Finding Meaning in a Life with Bipolar Disorder, ready for publication. And I've founded Living Room, a faith-based support organization. I'm speaking out more than ever before. This is not always an easy thing to do. Many times I feel overwhelmed and alone in the battle. But then I know I need to remember that it's not my work - it's God's work I'm doing. It's his plans I'm carrying out - plans to make the world a better place; I'm only a foot-soldier.

I trust God to keep me well and strong. God has provided me with a psychiatrist who understands meds well and knows what works best for me. God has brought people into my life who support me with a Christ-like love. God has given me a purpose to live for. He has given me people to care for. My life is in his hands.

And - by following God - good has come out of bad.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The truth about it all

Tonight I found an awful comment to my article about Finding Meaning in my Life with Bipolar Disorder. The person had lost her home and her family and had some pretty mean words about my views. And it made me think: am I being far too positive in my approach? Tonight I feel dreadful about it, knowing how much suffering there is and the great losses people suffer as a result of the illness - losing everything, and even their lives to it.

My life is turning out well, though I too went through pure hell for much of my adult life. I've been fortunate in every way. Yet I mustn't overlook the great tragedy of this disease. I shouldn't be too proud of my positive spirit. Once in a while I should think about others and grieve for the many who are experiencing hell. Perhaps I should learn to cry a bit more for all those who are in such pain, instead of flaunting my personal good fortune.

I feel for that person who was so angry with me and I can't blame her for feeling the way she does.

A promise of hope

I've been reading a new book, A Promise of Hope, by Autumn Stringam. That book has been getting a lot of press here in Vancouver. In the past week five people alerted me to her and her story.

I was concerned because the cover of the book says that the story is about a "miraculous treatment that cured her." She takes a herbal concoction and has been symptom free for ten years. What concerns me is that there are many who will hear her story and want to go off their medication, opting instead for this "miracle cure." There are already too many people refusing to take the medications their doctor prescribes.

I was happy to see that there is an afterword by Charles Popper, M.D. from the Harvard Medical School warning that there have not yet been controlled scientific studies done to prove that this treatment will be helpful to significant numbers of people or that it's safe over the long run. In the same way that not everyone responds well to a certain medication, not everyone will respond well to the treatment Stringam discovered. I just hope that whoever hears her story will heed what Dr. Popper has to say about all this.

I'm about halfway through the book and am truly impressed with how well it's written. Her description of her mother's battle with bipolar and then her own are vivid. They're so vivid that I am finding myself getting depressed just reading it. But we want people who don't yet understand to learn what kind of hell we sometimes live through, don't we? So perhaps it's a good thing.

How this brings home to me what my life would be like right now if I weren't receiving effective treatment! How this points out the serious nature of our disease!

Stringam is a fellow Christian and in the last bit I read she was ready to take her life when she happened upon a passage from Isaiah that gave her peace and a renewed will to live. For her - as for me - faith in God provided the hope she needed to keep going.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Read my book online

My publisher, Wood Lake Books told me yesterday that if you go to their website and do a search for my book, Riding the Roller Coaster, you will be able to read 20% of the book online. You won't be able to download it, but reading it online will give you a good idea of what the book is like. It's also possible to order the book there, directly from them. Hope you will take a look.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Steadfast love

Yesterday our pastor Don Dyck ended his sermon by talking about a beautiful Hebrew word for which there is no single English word. "Hesed" can be variously translated as "loving kindness", "steadfast love", "loyal devotion", "mercy." Hesed is descriptive of God's relationship with his people as well as relationships among people. God's steadfast love (hesed) towards people places them in a new relationship with each other shaped by the same love they have experienced from God. Hesed is Christ-like love.

Micah 6:8 says "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy ("hesed") and to walk humbly with your God."

God calls us to live a life that exceeds the requirements that the law, social standards - and even God - places on us. He calls us to walk humbly with God and to reflect God's character. Hesed is both and attitude and the action that grows out of that attitude. It describes God's love for his people. Out of that hesed, God says "no matter who you are or what you do, I'm going to love you anyway, I'm going to redeem you anyway." It's unconditional love.

Pastor Don's notes say that "ordinary people become part of something bigger than themselves as they live faithfully by this standard."

I have a good friend who lives a lifestyle marked by hesed. She works wonders in the lives of people she touches. She has worked wonders in my life. In treating me with God's steadfast love, she has taught me what Christ's love is truly like. She and the spirit of God within her have inspired me to try and live likewise.

God's spirit has been within me since I became a Christian, but I have not always responded to his promptings to the extent I could have. My friend has been a mentor to me, helping me live with more abundant hesed. And this has changed me.

...and my mental health has never been as stable. I have never felt as fulfilled. I'm doing the work God made me to do - and it all came from my God-given lifestyle of hesed. Thank God for what he's done for me and where he's brought me.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Living Room website now online

Just a quick post to let you know that Living Room's new website is now online. Check out

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Cornelius and Jeannette of Matchbox Creative for the superb job they did of putting this together. I did not know there was so much to think of when creating a website, but Cornelius knew just what was needed for a truly excellent site. He patiently helped me come up with all the information I needed to provide. Jeannette is responsible for making the site look attractive. It's a place where people will want to spend some time.

Tonight I rest because tomorrow is the big day when 100 Huntley Street will be interviewing me and taping a session of Living Room. Please remember me in your prayers tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why the stigma?

Why don't people within the church feel comfortable discussing mental health issues?

I think a major reason is that people don't understand mental illness enough to be able to talk about it. They need education. The problem is, they often don't want to be educated. Often it is fear. People fear what they don't understand and they can't get beyond the block that creates.

In churches and in Christian writing the reason for emotional problems has frequently - very frequently - been attributed to spiritual problems. A person attending a Living Room group recently told us of how - when she told her pastor that she was being treated for depression - he told her to "praise the Lord and you will feel better." Instead of receiving compassion, he gave her the message that all she needed to do was to turn to God. In other words, if her relationship with God was better, she would not be depressed. It was as though he was blaming her for the depression.

Illnesses like depression are too often not recognized as the diseases they are. If the problem is emotional it is believed that it is within our own power to change. If the problem is within our mind, it is believed it is our own fault. People have trouble understanding that the brain is an organ and, like any other organ of our body, something can go wrong with it. This affects our feelings, our thinking, and our behavior. This is what people - especially Christians - need to understand.

How are we going to change this faulty thinking?

I think that what would help would be for church congregations to hear testimonies from people with mental illness. They need to hear stories that illustrate the medical nature of their disease. They need to hear that people can be good Christians while, at the same time, dealing with mental health issues.

Stigma within the church is the most damaging, more so than stigma within secular society. This is because a person's faith in God comes into question. When a person is struggling with mental illness, the worst thing for him to hear is that his relationship with God is at fault or that it's the devil causing the emotional turmoil.

The church, as the body of Christ with its message of His unconditional love, is in the best position to help people with mental illness. Christians are in the best position to give Christ-like support. This is the kind of support we who suffer expect from them. This kind of support will help us keep the faith we so badly need. But Christians need to educate themselves; they need to learn to understand; they need to be compassionate and not judge.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why my better emotional health?

My husband says that - in the 42 years he has known me - he has never seen me so emotionally stable. This has been a very good year for me, with only two months of true depression. This depression was relatively mild. I continued to function and Living Room was not interrupted in any way. There were some minor glitches, but I overcame all of those in short order.

Over the past while I've been asking myself why that is. Why this increased stability? Why this normalcy for a person who is still thoroughly bipolar? I think there are a number of factors that are helping me stay so well:
  1. The medication cocktail I'm presently taking is a good one for me. How fortunate I am! I take my pills religiously.
  2. I continue to look after my physical health, exercising as much as I can and trying to eat healthy.
  3. The writing I've been doing has been very therapeutic - both my latest book and my blog. (also my numerous emails to friends) What has been especially healing is the opportunity to talk about my faith in God. There's something about sharing my testimony that makes me feel closer to God and that gives me a sense of peace and wholeness.
  4. I'm wonderfully supported by my church friends, including my pastor. I feel secure knowing that I'm loved and that they will help care for my emotional needs.
  5. Living Room has made me into a supporter, taking me out of the victim role. My current concerns are much more about how to look after others than about how to look after me. I feel fulfilled looking after other people.
  6. At each meeting of Living Room I have an opportunity to talk a bit about how our faith can help make us whole. I love this teaching - always wanted to be a teacher.
  7. Having opportunities to share God's love with people gives me a lot of joy. I wrote my books with love for the people I wrote for, but those were faceless people - people I couldn't see. Now they're sitting around the table with me, in flesh and blood. It's good to be close to them and to truly get to know them.
  8. I have found a purpose for my life: helping to support those with mental illness and helping churches learn how to support people with mental illness. I want to reduce the stigma within the church. I want to educate. This work is God-given. I know because of the joy and fulfillment it brings me. I have found meaning in my life with bipolar disorder.
  9. Through all the above, I've learned to be confident and hopeful about my ability to be well.
  10. I get up early and have at least two hours of quiet time each morning: time to meditate, journal, read my Bible, pray. It is my time with God.
  11. I've learned not to try to do everything on my own, instead allowing God to lead me. It's God's work I'm doing. I'm only doing the legwork - I'm his servant. (I often forget and try to carry it under my own power, getting stressed by it. But I try hard to remember to lean on God.)
  12. I trust God and have Jesus Christ as my Savior. I try my best to be a follower of Christ, remembering him as an example of the unconditional love I should have for others. And it's amazing how giving that kind of love brings joy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Understanding article

An article I wrote went online yesterday. I had blogged about it a while ago. I wrote it for people with mental health issues. The purpose is to build understanding, to build bridges, and to help all people reduce stigma.

Unfortunately one person must have misunderstood where I was coming from, because the editor and I received a scathing email from him. He called me unethical and unchristian. Needless to say, I feel sick about it.

Please have a look at it. Am I really off base with this article? I know this is a new way of looking at the problem of stigma. But I believe that my approach is valid. What do you think?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

TV interview coming

I'm excited, but a bit worried too, about an upcoming interview I'm doing with the national Christian TV show, 100 Huntley Street. They approached me a while back about discussing my life and my ministry with them. The reporter found me through the articles I had published on Doing this is like a dream come true. I had always thought I would like to be on that show. Such an excellent venue to talk about faith and mental illness. I had thought I would approach them once my new book is out. But amazingly they approached me.

The reason I'm a bit worried is because in recent days, when talking about Living Room, my mouth hasn't worked too well. I've found it hard to express what I want to say.

Perhaps I've been too steeped in all this work lately. My son and his wife are creating a Living Room website, a job that requires a lot of input from me. A new Living Room has started in Abbotsford and another is looking into starting up in that same city. I've been working on devotional samples as well. And then there was the book proposal I sent to an agency recently. Also I get quite a few phone calls from people needing support. Altogether, I've been doing a lot of mental health work. (So you can see why I've slowed down so much on my blogging.)

I must do some work around the house. Start trying to cook some decent meals again. Balance my life out a bit.

And I need to do a lot of praying. I need a lot of prayer from my friends - including you. Please pray that my interview on October 26th (an all-day affair) goes well. Please pray that I will be able to speak clearly and express the passion I feel for this work.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Practicing God's presence

The church ladies' group I attend is examining prayer. We want to learn how to pray better. I know there's no right or wrong way to pray - after all, it's only talking to God. Being yourself with him is the most important thing. But I do have trouble, mostly staying focused. When I pray I so easily become distracted. My thoughts always turn elsewhere.

I wish I could be like Brother Lawrence, the monk who lived in the 1600's and became famous for how he was able to practice the presence of God throughout the day. I'm studying a book about him, hoping that I, too, will learn how to do that-a bit, anyway.

One thing I came up with, though, was that being continuously thankful to God - making a habit of that - will draw us closer to God. I've experienced many feelings of closeness to God when I take the time to thank him for things. Mark Buchanan, in his book, The Rest of God, talks about this.

Buchanan refers to C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles and the wardrobe through which some children found themselves in a magical land:

"The best way I know to embody...Godward orientation is thankfulness. Thankfulness is a secret passageway into a room you can't find any other way. It is the wardrobe into Narnia. It allows us to discover the rest of God--those dimensions of God's world, God's presence, God's character that are hidden, always, from the thankless."

Buchanan goes on to say that the first orientation to finding God's rest " to practice, mostly through thankfulness, the presence of God until you are utterly convinced of his goodness and sovereignty, until he's bigger, and you find your rest in him alone."

The Bible says: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Through thanksgiving-in all circumstances-we can find peace, rest, joy.

We talked about all this at Living Room yesterday. Then we took time to pray together, each of praying prayers of thanks. It was powerful. I came away from that meeting not feeling my usual tired joy; I felt a rested, peaceful joy.

Trouble is: now I just want to sit around and keep feeling that wonderful sense of peace. But I have work to do. Will I be able to keep praying as I work? That will be a challenge.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Back at last

I feel badly. I've been ignoring my blogging for so long - trapped in so many must-do's - mind like a mass of webs, not able to break loose and focus here. Don't get me wrong - I am well - just scattered into too many directions - not feeling free to slow down and spend some time with my blogging friends. And I'm feeling somewhat ashamed of it, because the blogging has always been important to me and the connections I've made here have always been important to me.

I don't have any great words of wisdom to share today. But I am happy to report that I've sent a proposal for my book to a Christian literary agency, hopeful that they might consider representing me. This getting up and doing something with my book is a big thing for me. It's been on the shelf for such a long time. For so long I felt too busy with stuff to even think about it.

Yeah, life is busy. Too many things I want to do. Do any of you bipolars ever feel like an octopus? I guess that's where I've been for a while. Though I need to stress, I am well - thankfully not too high and not too low.

I hope to give myself some time soon to catch up on everyone's blogs. If not today, tomorrow. And I hope to write more over the next while as well.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Rest with less caffeine

First of all, I want to thank Desiree and Terri for your very encouraging comments on my last post. They were so good to receive.

I feel bad that I haven't posted much lately. Nor have I visited others' sites. The reason is that I've been feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I've been into a space where I've been doubting myself, not able to see how I could possibly manage all the work I've taken on. I've felt like I might be on the brink of another depression.

My friends have comforted me with extra attention and support. They have been praying for me and with me. This has helped me not to be fearful, but hopeful, trusting that God will help me turn this around.

But a couple of days ago I discovered the source of my fatigue and slight depression. I'm quite sure that it's mostly due to sleep deprivation. The many cups of coffee I drink throughout the day, combined with the stimulant medication I take, has meant that I've only been getting six hours of sleep per night. For over three months I've been getting up by 5 am every morning. I never complained because I enjoy the early rising - such a wonderful opportunity for a long quiet time before I need to start the day. But maybe I need a lot more rest than I've been getting.

I took a friend's advice and started drinking mostly decaf coffee. After only one day of this, I'm already feeling a difference. I feel less tired and more able to do my work. I'm more relaxed - more calm. Amazing!

I think my prayers and the prayers of my friends have been answered.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A "Living Room" testimony

I was delighted today to receive an email from one of our Living Room support group members which she had sent to a bunch of her friends. I'll share a portion of it here:

"When I told her (a friend) about my support group for mood disorders and what a blessing it was, she asked ('and don't be offended,' she added) 'isn't that depressing to be around a bunch of crazy people?' I said, 'No way, it's a safe place to support each other in our common brokenness and to realize you're not the only one to feel this way. In that setting, I've learned that it's an invisible disease but not any different than diabetes is and to dispel the stigma and shame that's associated with mental illness. I'm learning that my condition is not a curse but could be a blessing. In my lows I get a sense of what emotional pain people can go through (especially my dad). When I'm manic I get so much accomplished and feel so inspired and creative.'

"Interesting to know that our facilitator marja bergen wrote on the same subject on her blog that I read the day before: learning to empathize with people who are so in the dark about the subject and to try to understand where they're coming from - not to be easily offended as we're trying to get them to understand us - basically having grace towards them, as others have extended grace to us.

"I encouraged (my friend) to google bp to find out more and to check out marja's blog. I think that marja's desire to dispel the stigma of our disease is rubbing off on me. In my small way I'm trying to educate others that I come across and it's amazing how when you share your vulnerabilities people often open up about themselves and about the people that are close to them that suffer from mental illness."

I am grateful to this person for sharing this with her friends, and now with my blogging pals. You have encouraged me, J.

A reminder: If you are interested in learning how to set up a faith-based Living Room support group in your church, I have manuals available to help you do this. Cost for US residents is $9.75 and for those in Canada it's $8.25. This includes postage and handling. Contact me at

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Understanding people who do not understand

First of all I need to answer Syd's questions in her comment to my last post. (Doing it here to make sure she sees it.) I belong to a small congregation of about 150 members. It belongs to the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada (Alliance for short). The two distinctives of our denomination are that of leading people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and sending people out around the world to tell others about the good news of God's love for them.

In the last post I talked about how my congregation learned to understand and support people with mental illness. I think one important thing that helps me when I try to educate and help people understand mental health issues - whether it's in my writing or meeting with them - is that I try hard to understand the people who don't yet understand.

I believe we need to go further than just believing that people need to understand US. We need to understand THEM as well. Understanding works best when it goes two ways. We should understand EACH OTHER. That means that we who live with mental illness should also have some empathy for people who are well but need encouragement to grow in their understanding of what mental illness is and isn't. We need to have some patience with them and educate them gradually. Their learning will be a process - a step-by-step cutting through the stigma that is so heavily ingrained.

We want healthy people to be able to put themselves in our place and have empathy; but we who live with mental illness also need to try to put ourselves in their place and understand why they have trouble having that empathy. We need to understand how to build empathy where it doesn't presently exist. And we need to have patience for the process, not getting angry or frustrated, having enough self-esteem to believe that we can change things.

When we have empathy for the people who are in the dark about mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, when we understand why they don't have compassion, and when we can love them nevertheless, we can start changing things.

It's a matter of believing in ourselves enough so that we feel no shame or guilt. People will then not be able to hurt us as much by their misunderstanding attitudes. We can learn to ignore snubs and not return them with the same. When people have trouble reaching out to us, we can reach out to them. We need to introduce people gently and gradually to the knowledge of what it means to have an illness like we have. We must not internalize the stigma. We must not accept the stigma, but live as though it doesn't exist.

I don't know if this is possible for everyone. From what I've heard from others, it appears not. Perhaps it's been possible for me because of my decision ten years ago to start educating the public by writing about my illness, trying to build empathy and compassion. Reducing the stigma of mental illness has been my main objective in life ever since. Perhaps that's why I've been able to help build compassion in my church. I have learned not to be hurt by people who don't understand me.

I believe that most people want to have compassion. They only need to understand our illnesses better. For that to happen, the stigma that produces fear in people and makes them avoid learning about it needs to be reduced. And the only way to reduce stigma is for people to talk openly about it. When we make mental illness a natural thing to talk about, it's amazing how many people with such problems will come out of the woodwork. It's amazing how much more support can be built.

I thank God that in my church mental health issues have become an okay thing to talk about - something for which we don't need to feel shame. And how freeing that is!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Helping a church become supportive

Susan Bernard's last post prompts me to talk a bit about how my church became as supportive as it has towards people with mental health problems. In the comments Susan and Sydney say how they wish they could find a place of worship like mine. I'm hoping that this post will help you understand that this support has only grown gradually, over time. I had to educate members of the congregation and they needed to have time to get to know me and come to understand what my illness does to me.

When I first started going to this church, I too felt lonely. It took time to get to know people and start feeling comfortable. But there was one woman who took it on herself to talk to me Sunday mornings. She invited me to a ladies' group she led and I came to know people there. Because of the heart-felt discussions we had, I ended up telling them about my mental health problems.

Soon after I started attending, I decided to visit the pastor. I wanted him to know of my problems. If anything were to go wrong with me I wanted him to be aware. I wanted him to understand. I gave him a copy of Riding the Roller Coaster, telling him how I wanted to help reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. Several months later I had a meeting with him and his wife and gave them a gift of a photograph I made, together with a story I wrote describing how I found God. We talked a little more about my disorder and the three of us prayed together. My pastor always asked God to help him learn more about mental illness through me. (pretty neat, eh?)

Being a big letter writer, I ended up emailing my pastor often when I was going through my moods. I tend to be a very spiritual person and have a great need to express my feelings about God and how I experience him (as you have seen on this blog). My pastor came to know me quite well. Many emails went to my ladies' group leader as well. She ended up becoming my best friend, my best supporter, my sister, my mother, my mentor - all rolled into one. These two individuals have helped me grow in a huge way.

At church, occasional readings about my life followed. My struggles were now common knowledge. Yet I had lots of friends. I loved them and I felt loved in return. After one of my readings, a number of church members came up to me and shared some of their own problems with me. It felt good to connect in that way. I wanted people like these to have a place where they could freely share more of their pain with others who would understand. And so the plan for a Living Room support group was born.

Today, when someone in the church is known to have an emotional problem, they are introduced to me because it is believed that I will understand and be able to give support. (It happens very frequently.) I'm not sure how I feel about that. I do like supporting people, but somehow I wish that some of the healthier people would not be afraid to do the supporting as well.

The wonderful thing is this: with Living Room as an important part of our ministry, people in our church are less worried about being open about their mental health struggles. Living Room is often talked about. I don't think people feel too much shame being connected with it. I know I don't. And I think in turn, others don't either. This is what true church support should look like.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder

A while ago I had an article published on with the above title. The first person to comment did not like my view at all, arguing that: "It's bad. It's a defect in our brain functioning. There is no gift from God about it. Mental illness is bad"

I wondered whether I had gone too far with finding good in it. But today I once more looked into Harold Koenig's Faith and Mental Health and found that this doctor and author whom I respect, says some very similar things:

"A religious perspective on mental illness can lighten the burden by emphasizing that even these dreaded conditions have the possibility of good. Pain, suffering and fear associated with mental illness are not experiences that anyone would seek after. However, what does a person do if he or she has such a condition?"

"In order to survive and maximize quality of life, it may help to adopt a religious view that sees mental illness as having a special meaning or purpose-that something good may someday result from the illness. Religious faith makes it possible for people to see their illnesses as serving a higher purpose.

"Religious faith may help to transform a person's view of his or her illness. Although not easy, it is possible to view mental illness as a gift that not only helps to deepen and sensitize the person who has it, but also can serve a key role in the 'formation' of our faith communities.

"From this perspective, mental illness can have at least three purposes. It can
  1. sensitize the emotionally or mentally ill person to the pain and suffering of others, uniquely equipping them with the insight and ability to help;
  2. draw the sufferer closer to God or deepen their spirituality; and
  3. challenge those in the faith community to support and include him or her as an integral part of the congregation."
I'm not crazy after all!!! I'm not alone in feeling this way - in believing in the importance of developing this kind of attitude.

And for you who have doubts, I can tell you that your mental illness CAN be like a gift, though not one you would ask for or one you would just love to receive. Yet if you believe in God's love and trust him, you will find out that " all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

And...standing on my evangelical preaching stool...I will tell you that this can happen for you too. TRUST God, BELIEVE what the Bible tells you (it really makes a lot of sense), hold up Jesus as your example to LOVE OTHERS and to LOVE GOD, and believe that Jesus took all the bad stuff we have done - sacrificing his life for us. WE ARE FORGIVEN and free to live the kind of life God means for us to live. And living that kind life is not a burden - it is actually very freeing and brings great joy.

Honest!! I promise.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The manuals are here!

After a lot of work, checking and re-checking, having checked by others, having them professionally edited and then beautifully printed, the two manuals are finally finished. They're sitting in open boxes in our hallway, where I can look at them as I pass and feel good about it all. I've received a lot of interest from people who want to have copies. How gratifying! And when I think of how much good this could end up doing...!

I promised to let you know the cost of these books (though they're only 20 and 24 pages, they're more than just booklets).

Creating Living Room helps people with mood disorders and church leaders learn the Living Room concept and how to set up a group. Cost: $2.50

Facilitating Living Room gives facilitators guidance and encouragement. Cost: $3.25.

Cost of postage and handling for one book or the two together is the same. Within Canada: $2.50. To the US: $4.00. That's under $10 for the two. We're only covering our costs.

If you would like to receive one or both copies, please email your name and address to me. An invoice will be included with your mailing. I'm Marja at

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Spiritual influence on our mental well-being

First of all, I want to very much thank Mel, David, Sarah (an ever so big welcome back to you) and Princess Heidi for your comments on my last post. Princess Heidi, I will come and visit your new blog soon. You're so lucky to have a dad who will help you with that.

I've been meaning for a while to draw from Harold Koenig's book, Faith & Mental Health, and share with you some of the treasures of thinking and understanding I have found there.

Koenig tells of nearly 500 studies during the twentieth century that reported statistically significant associations between religion and mental health. (478 out of 724 studies) (page 133)

He lists and explains ten ways in which religion could improve mental health. Religion:
  1. Promotes a positive worldview
  2. Helps to make sense of difficult situations
  3. Gives purpose and meaning
  4. Discourages maladaptive coping
  5. Enhances social support
  6. Promotes other-directedness
  7. Helps to release the need for control
  8. Provides and encourages forgiveness
  9. Encourages thankfulness
  10. Provides hope.
I wish I had the room here and the time to go into each of these points in detail. What will have to suffice is my testimony that I have found all these important in my Christian walk and important in my ability to be well. Not that I'm always perfectly well. Those who have come to know me will remember many times I have struggled. Yet my faith has grown and my mental health has improved since I began following Christ. I love my life. God has given me much to be grateful for.

Good, non-judgmental Christian support is very important for those who suffer from mental illness. People with such illnesses need Christ-like love, so they will be encouraged in their faith - so they will benefit from their faith as described in the ten points listed above.

And I'm going to, once more, mention Living Room, the support group I facilitate. I am fortunate to have the support of my entire church. The church considers this one of its most important ministries. Many people are finding support - the kind of support only a faith-based group can offer. We are helping people put their trust in God. We are helping people have hope. Knowing this gives me joy and helps keep my own mental health strong. If this were only possible for more of those who suffer!

Christians CAN help people with mental illness. I believe they want to; they only have to know how. They need the tools. They need the understanding.

Now you're probably getting tired of hearing about this, but now that my Living Room manuals are coming out, I am on a quest to see more groups start up. If you are interested in learning how to set up a Living Room group in your church, email me at When the manuals come out, I can send you copies of a manual that explains the concept (good for pastors to see) as well as a guide for facilitators. When I get them back from the printer I will be able to let you know the cost.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Anger at Living Room

No, we didn't get angry at our Living Room group yesterday. We only discussed anger - anger with God in particular.

The discussion started with the question, "Do you ever feel angry or frustrated with God for your suffering with mood disorder?" Some people did feel that way and we talked a bit about how such frustration, if we hang on to it for too long, will lead to bitterness and separation from God.

We talked about Job and how he riled against God and asked God to explain why he allowed such terrible things to happen to him. But God answered him "...out of the storm...I will question you, and you shall answer me." Job 38:1-3. In other words, it's not our place to question God; it's the other way around. In Job 38:4 - 41:34 the most beautiful poetry follows with God expressing how awesome he truly is. God does so in a long series of powerful rhetorical questions: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?...Who marked off its dimensions?..." And in 42:5-6, Job replies, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. (so vivid is the picture God paints) Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

Looking at the Psalms we saw how David was frequently frustrated with God. But in almost all cases, he doesn't stay there. At the end of his lamentations, he turns to expressions of hope and praise. We played a song by Brian Doerksen based on Psalm 13 - a beautifully sensitive prayer that I think touched us all deeply.

Our conclusion? It's often difficult to trust God when we're in the midst of depression. Sometimes the best thing to do is to turn to a Christian friend who we trust, a friend who will have faith for us until we recover.

(A reminder: If you think you might like to set up a Living Room group at your church, I can send you manuals - tools to get you started. email me at to order. The manuals are at the printer.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Good things about depression

I've had Susan Bernard's post on depression open for days, intending to add some thoughts it stirred up in me. But I've been too lazy to use my head for a while and have - I'm sorry - had to put off blogging for a while. But today is the day I will try to address it.

Susan quotes from a book by Jonathan Zeuss, M.D.:

"Depression is a quest for vision; its essence is transformation. Depression wells up and encompasses us for a time in a state of painful, dream-saturated formlessness, but its true purpose is to provide the opportunity for healing insight, renewal, and reintegration..."

One of my favorite books on depression is New Light on Depression by Harold G. Koenig, M.D. and David B. Biebel, D. Min. Much of the book deals with depression from a Christian perspective. I think it's Biebel who said, "...depression's saving grace is not that it can be conquered but that it puts depressed persons of faith in touch with deeper truths about reality, spirituality, and themselves than might otherwise be known." (Yes, I think I understand more about life than those for whom life has been easier.)

He goes on to say - and this is a little bit of a different positive angle I can really relate to:

"Having one's capacity for serenity and joy restored is little compensation for the agony of despair, much less the 'despair beyond despair.' The only true compensation for depression has to do with the sense of purpose and fulfillment that comes from redemptive involvement with others in distress, sharing the comfort we've experienced. This is the true route to joy."

In my own way, I've found a purpose that I probably would not have had, were it not for my bouts with the effects of bipolar disorder - especially the depression. I've come to think of depression as fodder, something bad out of which good can come. Though I suffer as much as anyone while I'm going through it, I know it will help me to help others. And helping others IS "the true route to joy." It truly is.

4:15 am - ever earlier

Good morning. It's 5:10 am and I've been up for almost an hour. Every day I seem to be getting up earlier - no need for more sleep. I've been getting about six hours sleep a night yet don't seem to need more, except for one or two brief naps during the day.

This is kind of nice. It makes for long, fruitful days. Yet I worry a bit about it as well. This is not normal, is it? Good thing is that I do feel tired at the end of the day - ready for sleep by ten o'clock. Though I'm very busy and active, I don't feel like I'm high.

The long mornings are wonderful though. Those early hours are the best part of my day. Lots of time to sit in my comfortable leather chair with a cup of coffee, just mulling things over. Time to journal, read my Bible - though I don't do enough of that, and pray - though I don't do enough of that either.

But, to tell the truth, I am a bit worried about these early risings - these short nights. It's not normal, is it? I'll try and get in to see my pdoc next week and go over this with him. About time to see him anyways.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Creating living room (part two)

This cover is really much more clear and sharp in reality. I think I must have done something wrong technically to make it look so bad.

I want to share with you a bit about how neat a thing Living Room is - some of the things I cover in my new manual.

Living Room is a Christian self-help group for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. Ideally facilitators should have one of these problems; they will be better able to identify - better able to support. The group is in partnership with a mood disorder association. This helps avoid the danger of trying to spiritualize the problems too much - something Christian groups need to watch out for.

Neat thing is: "You get help, you give help, and - in the process - help yourself."

It's obvious how participants can benefit from this place where they can share with others their troubles, at the same time discussing their faith. Finding out they're not alone helps them gather encouragement and strength.

But how does the church benefit?
  1. The church responds to Christ's call to love and help people in need.
  2. It helps people who are often shunned in the community.
  3. It helps break down the stigma of mental illness by promoting prayer and support for the participants.
  4. It helps make mental illness an acceptable topic of conversation, encouraging others to be open about their struggles and search out treatment and support.
  5. It gives members of the congregation opportunities to gain a better understanding about mental health issues.
I'm frequently encouraged to hear how important Living Room is when I hear the stories from members of the group. At the last meeting there was a man his wife who were strong members of his church but never felt free to talk about about his bipolar disorder there. They kept his disease a dark secret - a burden for which they received no spiritual support. Being able to talk about his problems in the Christian setting we provided gave him a tremendous relief. It was a release he very much needed.

There are many stories - too many to share here. But I feel a passion for this program and think it needs to extend to communities everywhere. Yet I know it will take time. People have to feel free to share their problems with the disorder with their church family.

Once again, I offer this manual to you. Even if you're not ready to start up, I believe it will be an inspiration that will help you see what is possible when there is a place where people can freely talk about their mental health difficulties in the light of their faith.

To order a copy - at my cost - email me at

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Creating living room

Those of you who have been coming to this site for a while will remember that I've been writing manuals to help people who want to set up a faith-based support group. Manual number one, which describes the Living Room support group concept, is pretty well ready to go to press. I "only" have to sort out some funding issues.

But things are looking good. In fact a Christian organization that supports people with disabilities and mental illness has expressed an interest in sending copies to a large number of pastors, with a letter promoting the idea. I am happy about this.

When you are doing work God truly wants you to do - with a positive and prayerful spirit - things do come together. ...and what a joy it is to see that happen!

Manual number two, the facilitator's guide, is also ready to go. I just haven't decided yet how to produce it. The first manual will be an attractive booklet with a glossy cover (see above). We can afford that since we will probably need to print a lot to cover the order we will get from the organization I described above. The facilitator's manual may end up in a report cover, but still with an attractive color cover.

This first manual, Creating Living Room, is for church leaders and people with mood disorders who want to know how they could set up an outreach group like this in their church. If you would like me to mail you a copy, please email me at I will let you know when it's ready and the cost. (I will only charge my cost for printing and mailing.) You may want to get the facilitator's manual at the same time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bitter or better?

Thank you Anonymous Mom, Susan, and Tery for your comments on my last post.

You're right, Tery, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are not fun. In fact they can be unbearable at times. But the question is - what kind of person do you become as a result? If you don't become bitter, you become better. (I'm quoting someone here, but not sure who.) I truly believe that. If we can survive the storms and fires of life we end up becoming stronger people. We end up with a lot to offer. We end up joyful and at peace, in spite of it.

I'm 61 years old and have lived with bipolar disorder for over forty years. Since I began relying on God at the age of 42 (as the result of a bipolar crisis), I have gradually become stronger. Many things came into play as part of this life of faith:
  • my belief that God loves me the way I am. I did not suffer from feelings of guilt or shame. My illness isn't my fault, so why feel guilty?
  • the courage to be open about my disorder (I was fortunate - I didn't have to work - so was relatively safe in letting the world know)
  • the purpose I found in trying to reduce the stigma through writing about mental health issues. This sense of purpose - God-given - makes me feel strong and well.
  • the Christ-like love and support I received from church friends
  • the compassion I feel for others who suffer as I do. Another purpose - I want to help in some way - to love, as God loves me.
Having bipolar disorder isn't what makes me happy. But I'm happy with the way this disorder has challenged me and made my faith in God important to me. It's my ability to become a better person as a result that I'm thankful for. God has helped give me this positive way of looking at it.

Eugene Peterson's paraphrased version of the Bible says this: "...every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." (Romans 8:28)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Finding meaning

My most recent article about finding meaning in my life with bipolar disorder was published today. I hope you'll take a look. There has been one comment, one I've responded to. The person vehemently disagrees with my efforts to take a positive spin on things. And perhaps you might agree with her. I think there's lots of room for discussion here.

But I have found meaning in life, meaning that I'm not sure I would have found without my disorder.

I was talking to a friend this afternoon who feels similarly about the renal failure she suffered a few years ago. She received a kidney transplant. It didn't take. Then she had another one. Today this tiny lady lives with four kidneys inside her (doctors did not remove the non-functioning ones). Physically she is not strong, but she is happy and has never felt as much at peace.

The thing is, in the midst of these transplants she found God. Her life has changed in an amazing way. This might not have happened if she had not suffered such a crisis.

Something similar happened to me. I began searching for God at a time I felt I could no longer cope on my own with the unbearable feelings my disorder brought on. I needed someone I could lean on to help me through those rough times. This is how I found God. And my life has also changed in an amazing way.

In the article that was published today I missed mentioning this important spiritual life that I have found in my life with bipolar. I wish I'd remembered to do that. But this more complete story, No Longer Alone, is also online. It was published in May. I would love if you would read it.

I would be interested to hear your comments on this positive look at living with bipolar disorder. Am I being far too positive (in your opinion)?

Monday, August 13, 2007

I need your help

Frustrating! I had saved a couple of quotes from people on the blogs about how it feels to not have anyone understanding they can really talk to when they need support for their depression. They expressed the loneliness they felt and the lack of understanding they received from their friends.

I needed these to help me write an article about the need we who suffer from depression have for good support. And now they've vanished.

Could you help me?

How does it feel when you have no one to talk to who will show compassion?

I'm truly hoping you can put on your thinking caps, remember what it feels like or how it feels today, and write a line or two. This article is for a Christian website that wants to educate Christians about mental illness.