Saturday, April 28, 2007


At Living Room yesterday we talked about stigma and how it affects our lives with mood disorders. The discussion time was good. Many of the people around the table had thoughts to contribute. But when I tried to find something hopeful to bring out of the discussion, something upbeat for people to take away with them, I was at a loss for words. I could not express myself in any which way. It was a bit embarrassing.

Gearing up for this Living Room session had been different from the usual as well. Normally I have things I very much want to share, thoughts and feelings that just plunk themselves down in my head about a week before the meeting. Then I can hardly wait for Friday when I have an opportunity to share.

This week was different. And, looking back, I can see that this was an issue I wanted to force into focus. The topic was not God-given. Our pastor has been talking about the Holy Spirit. The spirit was not with me yesterday.

I wish now that I had spent more time focusing on good stuff - positive stuff - the many things we have to be thankful for.

Syd put up a list of 15 things she has to be grateful for. Just reading her list elevated my mood. I found it healing. Susan, on her blog, always talks about the importance of focusing on our wellness rather than our illness. That, too, is far more helpful than focusing on negative issues - especially at a place like Living Room. I want people to go home, having experienced a degree of healing.

Syd's list has inspired me to put up my own list of things I am thankful for. I challenge everyone who reads this to do likewise. It is good medicine.

I am thankful for:
  1. My Living Room support group. I'm so happy with its success and the fact that participants are finding it an important part of their wellness plan. Facilitating it is fulfilling and gives me great joy.
  2. My husband who has stuck with me through thick and thin, from the beginning of my illness over forty years ago. We love each other dearly and are best friends.
  3. The freedom to live without the need to work, something that would be difficult for me.
  4. The freedom to be creative - to play at my heart's content.
  5. The ability, time, and strength to look after the needs of my mother and mother-in-law, both in their nineties.
  6. My physical health. I'm 61 years old and, as far as I know, there is nothing wrong with me physically. (knock on wood)
  7. The love of my friends. (This should probably have gone at the top of the list, but it's early in the morning and I'm not too organized.) I have some truly wonderful friends who I love very much. And love - as the Bible says - is the most important thing of all.
  8. I can't think of any material thing I want...right now.
  9. Although I cycle through many ups and downs, my depressions lately have been mostly mild.
  10. Medication that works most of the time.
  11. Having a book out that is helping people and that the publisher wants to keep in print. I thank God for having given me the ability to write it.
  12. Having another book finished, edited and polished, ready for publication. I thank God for inspiring me and keeping my focus strong.
  13. My life having come so far since I first became sick and spent nine months in a mental hospital. My medical records show that the staff there did not hold out much hope for me. But I showed them!!
  14. The blessings photography have been to me. Photography has given me a form of self-expression and a feeling of accomplishment, leading to good self esteem. It has given me a way to share the joy I find in children.
  15. My faith in a God who loves me immeasurably, no matter what.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Feeling no shame, in spite of...

At Living Room tomorrow I'm going to open a discussion on stigma and how it has - or has not - affected us. I'm sure everyone will have stories: times they've been hurt or misunderstood.

I've said it before here: stigma is the greatest enemy of those who live with mental illness. I believe that it often causes us greater suffering than the symptoms of our disease. If we were understood and given love and support, our illness would be easier to bear. And if society did not harbor such a stigma, many more would accept the medical care they need. There would be no need hide their suffering.

I came to terms with the stigma element years ago when I decided to come out and write about my bipolar disorder. I don't internalize the stigma; I don't feel shame. At times I notice I'm shunned a bit by others, but it doesn't bother me (I don't think). I accept that this is the way things are...for now. But I won't accept that this is the way it should always be. We have to fight for a change in attitude towards mental illness. Only then will the lives of those who have to live with it improve.

I lost a dear friend when I came out. He thought my illness should remain hidden. It shouldn't be talked about. He now won't speak to me when I see him. He is a wise and loving man otherwise. I guess that's what hurts most. But I'm not sorry for speaking out. He is in the wrong. I know that what I'm doing is helping many.

Neat thing about coming out is that I have nothing to hide. After I started writing about it, my life became - quite literally - an open book. This is very freeing. I've never been sorry about doing that. And I'm grateful that my life situation is such that I can afford to be open. Since I don't have to work I don't have to worry about employers finding out.

Most of the people at my church know that I have bipolar disorder. In spite of that, I have many friends there and receive much love and support. It's good to know I can tell them when I'm not well and ask for prayer. My pastor has done all he can to learn about mood disorders and attends our Living Room group meetings. On May 6th he will give a sermon about mental illness, something he has never done before. If only all church goers who suffer from mental health problems could get this kind of support!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Feeling like doing

I've been trying to focus on doing rather than focusing on my mood but I'm finding the two are so linked it's almost impossible to separate the two.

Today I have a fairly long to-do list. Actually, it's not really that long, but it feels long because I'm rather down. I know I need to whittle it down a bit if I'm going to encourage myself to feel better. And I need to build in some time for things I really enjoy. That would make me feel better too. I need to spend some time with people. That would also make me feel better.

I feel like doing something creative. I have a need for that right now. Yet my chores are getting in the way. That makes me feel a bit frustrated - trapped. When I accomplish something creative I feel better.

I emailed a couple of friends yesterday, telling them about some of my feelings - focusing on feelings. It made me feel better. They are good friends. I know they love me. I am grateful for their love. Being grateful makes me feel better.

I'm constantly aware of my feelings as I work and play. Can't escape it.

Bipolar Wellness Writer says she focuses on wellness. I think I do too. We need to have a positive outlook. But wellness is also a state of mind for a person with a mental disorder. And when you look for wellness and don't find it you feel bad.

Perhaps focusing on hope is the important thing - hope that the feelings you experience will ultimately be good for something - hope that they will help make a better person out of you - hope that you can learn from your struggles and help others somehow.

I don't know whether all this makes sense. I must sound like a nut case here.

But I AM doing. And I AM feeling better. And I AM grateful.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Doing before feeling

It occurred to me this morning that perhaps I spend too much time trying to assess how I feel. I might feel a lot better if I just went about my work and play without thinking about my mood. As I get active my mood will fall into place wherever it will.

I think I've spent too much time over the past couple of years in a relatively high mood. Now all appears gray, because I have a hard time feeling the happiness I've grown accustomed to. And this lack of happiness is making me feel down. I'm not satisfied with this -what might very well be - normal state. And I'm focussing on the mood, rather than just living.

But this seems to become so much a part of our bipolar existence - this thinking about how we're feeling. Surely this isn't a "normal" way to live. Do "normal" people wake up in the morning and think to themselves, Now how do I feel? Am I up or am I down? Don't "normal" people just get up and start thinking of their plans for the day?

Is it healthy to always be so introspective and focus on our feelings?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Living Room recommended

My second post in one day. First time I've done that, but this is less personal in nature.

Yesterday I had a call from a therapist who wanted to know about Living Room, the faith-based support group I facilitate. He wants to send his Christian clients to us because so often they feel that being depressed means that they're bad Christians. They also don't want to take medication. Living Room is a Christian group that draws from the Bible and recognizes the medical nature of mood disorders.

This points out once more how important faith-based support is. I'm delighted that a health professional is recommending our group. Delighted and - the more this sinks in - enthused. I have much to be grateful for. And Living Room has given me nothing but joy.

Every day is new

You may think this a rather trite thing to say, but we can't take for granted the gift each new day is for us. It's amazing how much difference a day can make in my mood. Each morning I wake up and wonder, 'What will this day bring? Will this be the day that my mood will shift?'

I begin the morning hopefully, often starting my journal entry with: "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." I write this even when I don't feel like rejoicing, hoping that writing those words will somehow help me feel joy - remembering the days when those words used to automatically come to my lips - days when I was hypomanic. I long for that enthusiasm and am sure this positive approach is helpful.

I've been trying to plan my days a little more, putting more things on my to-do list. Not too many, but enough so that I have some activities to look forward to - some chores and some fun things. That takes away some of the aimless feelings that create a sense of hopelessness. I look forward to the day.

Friends have been praying for me, knowing that I've been having a bit of a roller coaster struggle. I know it's helping. Their prayers are encouraging me to trust God as I pass through this gray time, patiently awaiting the time when my enthusiasm will return. I myself am encouraged to pray. And with prayer comes a feeling of peace of hopefulness.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Time to play

A few days ago - in one of my negative moods - I questioned whether it was worthwhile spending time on photography. I didn't think my work had much benefit for others. It seemed like such an insignificant thing to do when my whole focus had been to change the way society thinks about mental illness. My husband calls me a bore. I've had a one track mind too long I guess. Yet it was hard to get up the desire to play with photography again.

But over the past few days my feelings about this have been changing. A friend has asked me to hang some photos in her coffee shop, Pegster's on Lonsdale in North Vancouver. Today a friend and I went there for lunch and to check out the wall space. Although I'd been in the shop before, I hadn't been there during business hours. What a thriving place it is! And what a warm and friendly ambience! It occurred to me that by hanging my pictures there I would have an opportunity to contribute to that. My photography would be very worthwhile. I don't care if they don't sell or if I don't get business out of it. I'm not interested in that right now. I just want people to get enjoyment from my work.

I've decided to work on the theme of "We All Are Children." It would include mostly pictures of children, but also a few of older people. The wall space is small, only room for about five prints. But I plan to hang six large ones in one of the windows: three facing out and three facing in. The ones facing out could include pictures of children engaged in eating or drinking - fun shots, pictures that make you want to take a second look. I'll attach a couple here. The large ones facing inside could be of a more serious nature. The wall will include small but happy pictures.

So tonight I will play my music loud (thank goodness my husband is out) and I will play with pictures. Photography has the power to heal, as writing does. And I can always use some healing.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What joy!

Yesterday we had a meeting of our Living Room support group. And once more, as always, I had such a wonderful feeling after - a quietly joyful feeling (I like to call it "holy joy"). And that feeling is still somewhat with me, though of course, gradually fading. But I'm happy and positive and I value that, especially after some of the hard times I've had recently.

Twelve of us were in attendance. I don't know if I've ever described our setting here so will do it here: We try to make things as warm and cozy as we can, though we meet in a big church hall. We place three long tables together to make a square table, cover it with a table cloth and place a candelabra with four candles in the center. Everyone helps themselves to lunch as they arrive then sit at the table and visit until the meeting is ready to begin. There are always dishes of chocolates handy. Yesterday we munched on Kisses: milk chocolate and "healthy" dark chocolate ones.

We start out with prayer, then discuss something that arises from Scripture - some topic that has a bearing on what we experience with our moods - often the Psalms (because I believe David was one of us). Yesterday we discussed love and whether we're able to give and receive love when we're depressed. I was pleased because almost everyone contributed to the discussion - even our pastor, Don, someone who usually tries to keep a low profile.

Then, after a break and helping ourselves to more food, we split into two groups where members have an opportunity to talk about what is happening in their lives and any struggles they might be having. At the end we pray for each individual present.

Living Room is a safe, loving, Christian place for people to receive encouragement and find out they're not alone. I'm very happy with how my dream is turning out and want to encourage other churches to offer this kind of self-help group. It's a great way for churches to do something to support those with mood disorders.

This weekend I will work on an article about Living Room for BC Christian News, a paper that goes to all the churches in this area.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Love: the bread of life...and health

Psychiatrist Harold Koenig, in his book, New Light on Depression, wrote: "Love - unconditional love - is the ultimate long-term antidote for depression, for at its core love is connected with faith and hope."

I've liked that statement ever since I first read it. I have found out how important it is to have the love and support of my friends when I go through hard times. What I haven't always thought of is that giving love is just as important. It's when we give that we stop being victims. When we give we gather strength and renewed hope.

Love means everything to our well-being. It is the very food of life. We can withstand a lot if we know we are loved and prayed for. And if receiving love helps us survive, then giving love helps us thrive. The Bible says that God does not simply love us, he IS love. No wonder love is so important to us.

In his book, Soul Cravings, Erwin McManus writes: "Love is ever expanding. Love always grows, not just deeper, but wider. Love always loves people more and always loves more people. Love calls us to community; love calls us to humanity; love calls us to each other...It was no one less than Jesus who said the proof of God is found in our love for one another."

Monday, April 09, 2007

The power of moods

Going through the endless ups and downs I've been experiencing lately I have come to, once more, realize what a powerful effect our moods have on our lives. I've only had several black days but many rather downish days. My current life is painting quite a clear picture of what happens to my ability to function as a result of my moods.

Over the past while I haven't felt motivated to be as active as I normally am. I've also spent much time ruminating, thinking endlessly, yet doing little. I've kept up with what I absolutely have to do though, making simple meals, cleaning the kitchen when the mess becomes unbearable. I've thankfully met my commitments.

But today I went to the gym and my workout had a wonderful effect on me. I came home energized, my more normal self. What a wonderful feeling! I wonder if that's here to stay a while? I must get busy and make the most of it.

I don't know what I'm trying to get at here, except that I can see my life as a painting with many different colors: some are dark and dreary, some boring, some passionate and exciting.

The control these moods have on me continues to amaze me. I can't will myself out of the dark or the gray. And try as I may to hang on to the light, it eventually escapes me.

So how can I use these colors and make a beautiful picture out of the whole? How can I use the combination of moods God gives me to create something good?

I just know that I need to be thankful for all I'm given, because everything - the dark AND the light make me what I am. I will be a painting with a full tonal range - a rainbow of many different colors. And there's a richness in that.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In a spring garden

My husband and I took my mom-in-law to Minter Gardens, a large garden about 1 1/2 hours outside Vancouver. It's a bit early for tulips here, but there were a few. I found this one growing all by itself. I liked it because of its interesting colors. I liked it because its petals grow open, like wings. I never used to like tulips too much. Found their stems too formal - too straight up and down. But this one is different. It's more natural - more child-like perhaps?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Waiting game

What Amateur Dancer said in her comment on my last post is true. I AM having to play a bit of a waiting game right now.
I saw my counselor yesterday and she told me that a big part of my problem right now is the fact that I have lost my clear focus, my big purpose - the book. It's presently on the shelf, waiting for a publisher to show interest. I feel disconnected from it. It is no longer a breathing entity in my life. It has been sewn up. I can no longer feed it or make it grow. It is a loss, she told me, that I will have to take some time to grieve over. She instructed me not to start on anything new for now, but just to come to terms with my feelings about all this.

Yet ideas are simmering on the back of the stove. I can't help feeling creative. I appreciated Dancer's and Dream Writer's suggestions to create a book of photographs. It is something I've worked toward in the past but not something I think I'd be able to find a publisher for. But perhaps I could self-publish, using a print-on-demand publisher. I'll see.

In the meantime, I would like to play with some of my photos by putting them online here. I've been away from photography for so long and it would be good to rekindle my interest in it.

Today there are so many things I would love to share here. I'm reading a good book by Erwin McManus called Soul Cravings: wonderful stuff about love and destiny. Some very insightful thinking on big topics. Today I could sit here and write post after post. I do need to work on another book or booklet, don't I? I've got to do something with all this stuff.

I'm not good at waiting.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Up and down I go

It seems as if every experience with episodes is unique. I don't think I've ever had the kinds of ups and downs I have had recently. I go from a normal state one day to being stuck in a dark pit the next. Don't know what to make of it but know I need to remember that every day is a new one. Yesterday I was ready to throw in the towel; this morning I was making plans for a new creative project. I've learned that I must take advantage of motivation when it comes to me - do when I can do and value that time. I long ago learned not to take my well times for granted.

Part of my problem, I'm sure, has been that I no longer have a book to pour all this into. For over two years the book allowed me to make something good come out of the bad. As I went through whatever mood was upon me I wrote about it and about what helped me cope - in an inspirational way, in hopes of encouraging bipolar readers. My suffering had a purpose and that made it bearable.

But this morning I thought more about an idea that has been a glimmer in the back of my mind. I'm thinking of producing inspirational booklets for people with depression. Don't know exactly how I'm going to do it or what will go into it. I do know I'd like to include black and white photographs - black and white being my favorite medium. This would be a way of combining the two loves of my life, photography and writing. The ideas are happily simmering in my mind. They give me a hopeful feeling, a bright feeling.

This is how my creativity comes about - out of the black times. Guess depression IS good for something, isn't it? After the winter, new fresh growth for the spring. How beautiful!

Happy Easter time everyone!!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Good support

I've been feeling very subdued - spiritual - looking for something good, something creative to bring forth from the unbalanced times I'm going through. I want to learn from what I'm experiencing, something of value that I can share with others. This is all I feel up to right now. I don't feel I can or want to rush around and be busy as I normally am. I am afraid of getting busy, afraid I won't be able to handle it. So I putter, reading and writing.

I was looking through a wonderful book by David B. Biebel and Harold Koenig: New Light on Depression. In it the authors describe the best kind of ally a person with depression could have. This person would say in words and action:

"I love you, and there's nothing you could do or say that would change that. I am with you now, and I'll be with you as long as you need me. I believe in you. I know that your depression has placed a great chasm between the person you really are and the person you feel you are. But I will try to help you bridge that gap with love--mine and God's--for he loves you and believes in you too. We three are in this together--you, me, and God. And when this is over, together we'll find a way to use the pain to help others."

I am so fortunate to have an ally like that, a godly woman, a loving woman. She will be away for a long time, but we are keeping in touch - somewhat. And I thank God for her. And when I am stronger I hope I will be able to offer this kind of love to others.

Koenig and Biebel go on to say: "Love--unconditional love--is the ultimate long-term antidote for depression, for at its core love is connected with faith and hope."