Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I haven't been feeling my usual stable self the last three days. Each afternoon, somewhat stressful things happened. Each afternoon a fragile mood came upon me. You know, like it would be good to have a cry but you can't. Nerves on edge - feeling like a glass of beer would be a good idea to settle me down. (Though I have no addictions except coffee, I have come to appreciate why so many with bipolar disorder become addicted to drugs or alcohol.)

I now know the things that happened these past three days are not at fault. If all was well with me, they wouldn't have bothered me.

So - what to do? I have decided the best thing to do is to play. I need to have some creative fun. This afternoon I played around, making photo-cards as hand-outs for the next Living Room meeting. Tonight I'm writing this post - blogging being a very creative outlet - and sharing one of the paintings I recently did. Amateur Dancer commented on my last post, about the painting I told her I've been doing. She's the one who inspired me to get into it. Such an encourager! Thank you, Jessica.

This is a very small painting - notecard size. I can't bring myself to make anything much bigger. I used a photograph of a Havana street scene that my husband took, using bits and pieces of the scene for the composition. I think street scenes are one of my favorite subjects and I like to include people in the picture. So far, I most like to draw the scene with ink and then paint it.

Watercolor is a much more complicated medium than I realized. There are so many different techniques and so many surprises come along as you work. That part is kind of exciting. I have an awful lot to learn.

So, tonight perhaps I will sit down and try to make another little painting. Play takes my mind off uncomfortable moods. It keeps me from becoming introspective. It focuses my mind on something positive and colorful.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A good time

Yesterday's Living Room support group was good and left me feeling happy, as all those meetings do. I spent the rest of the day savoring it. After having twenty out to our previous meeting, I decided to make a huge table, pushing five long tables together. That made room for twenty-two chairs to fit around. But only thirteen showed up - still a good turn-out though.

You won't believe this, Susan, but our topic, "Uncovering the Good in the Bad", was very much like your post about being grateful. We discussed how gratitude can affect how we feel about life and God, and how it affects our mood. Even situations that seem bad at first can eventually give us something to be thankful for if we're in the thanking habit.

In Romans 8:28 Paul said, "...we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good."

I told the story about how I'd recently accessed my medical records from when I was in a mental hospital forty years ago. I'd suspected I had been over-medicated but wanted to be assured of all the facts, since I was writing about it in my latest book. And sure enough, the records show that I had been given excessive amounts of chlorpromazine. My mouth hung open most of the time and I could not communicate with others. There was just nothing happening in my brain. It was as though it had stalled.

The part that truly made me bitter was uncovering a letter written by my private pdoc's partner, a person who had interviewed me shortly after I was admitted. He recommended that I be discharged. My previous employer had offered to let me to try and work, in spite of my psychotic condition. This doctor suggested that I would do better in such a normal environment, rather that this mental institution.

But apparently, this letter was either ignored or not agreed with. I stayed in the hospital for another six interminable months - miserable months. I was only nineteen years old, the youngest on my ward. It was only when I read these records that I realized this letter existed and that an opportunity had been lost.

I felt stunned and bitter.

But, after a few days my thinking changed. I began to appreciate how far I had come, more than ever before. I had even more to be thankful for than I realized. God has truly done a lot for me. My records showed that the staff did not hold out much hope for me. My (incorrect) diagnosis was schizophrenia and, in those days, medications were not as effective as they are today. But did I ever show them!!

I'm a very fortunate person. And I'm sure that living in the institution in the way I did has benefited me by helping me have compassion and respect for others. I believe what Paul said. If we're in line with God's plan, "...everything that happens fits into a pattern for good." I believe my hospital experiences help me find joy in the work I do with Living Room. I like being a supporter. I'm no longer a victim.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Do you want to get well?"

I've almost finished reading a great book by Mark Buchanan called The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. Something he said hit me very hard and made me look at something I've never considered before. He said, "It's the most natural thing to befriend your sickness, even, after long association, to depend upon it." Buchanan carries on by talking about some of the people Jesus healed, "Their entire lives...have taken shape around their injuries or diseases."

In John 5:6 Jesus asks a crippled man, "Do you want to get well?" That seems to be an odd thing to ask a person and, to think that a person doesn't really want to get well, might make us think ill of him. We might think of him as feeling sorry for himself or wanting pity. But, when you think of it, this man had been crippled all of his life - 38 years. No one had ever expected anything from him. He had never had responsibilities. To suddenly be well would mean a drastic new way of living, a way of living that would be hard to adjust to.

And this made me think that perhaps I'm a bit like that. To be perfectly honest, having lived with bipolar disorder for my entire 40 years of adult life, my illness does - in large part - define me, even though I do a wide variety of things. The major part of my current life involves raising awareness about mental health issues and supporting others who live with mood disorders. My BP is responsible for the kind of person I've become. When I become hypomanic, which often happens, I become super creative. I value that in myself. My moods are what makes me who I am. ...though I would love to get rid of those depressions.

If Jesus asked me, "Do you want to get well?" would I say yes?

I'm sure that if he had offered to make me well when I was twenty or thirty, or forty, I would have gladly said yes. I would then have been able to go back to school perhaps and start a career. My illness has kept me from that, the stress being too great. I've tried. I might have been able to make photography a full-time career. But now, at sixty-one, I have learned to turn the bipolar - the bad - into something good. I've learned how to help others cope with their illness. I've learned to build awareness. That has become my life. I could not do these things the way I do, without experiencing the disorder myself.

But you know, although I still have bipolar disorder, I think Jesus has made me well. In helping others, I am helping myself. The work I do gives me great joy. I love the life I live.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Taking a break

I will be taking a break from blogging until Tuesday. Time to sit by a lake, read, write, and paint. Wish I could do that longer than the three days I have, but I'll take them and be happy for them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Up recipes for down times

In 1994 I put together a little booklet with the title, Up Recipes for Down Times: Great Taste With Little Effort, a collection of recipes specifically designed for people in the midst of depression. I prepared this on behalf of the Mood Disorder Association of BC (MDA). It's a great tool for times when there is little energy to cook. Often the most difficult part of cooking is thinking up ideas of what to have for dinner. This is especially true when we're depressed. For those who periodically have that problem, having such a collection of meal ideas handy helps out a lot. I myself find it a tool I wouldn't want to do without during those difficult times.

I've been thinking lately that I should start putting together another one, especially since MDA yesterday told me they wished they had some left. Perhaps I'll start work on this and see if they're interested in printing it. Since 1994 I've come up with more good, simple recipes - recipes that are tasty, have few ingredients, and are quick to prepare.

It occurred to me that, now that I'm a blogger, I could solicit recipes from those of you who share the struggle with mood disorders. Since Dream Writer has been sharing recipes on her site, so can I. So - I'll post one of my recipes here. And if you have any that I could test and consider for a new Up Recipes for Down Times booklet - very possibly in the making - I would appreciate it. And if the new booklet doesn't happen, it would be fun to share Up Recipes anyway.

As fillers, this booklet has upbeat quotes, recipes for positive thinking: another thing I'd love your help with. is my recipe: an almost effortless, healthy quiche - a complete meal in one fell swoop:

Vegetable Quiche

10 oz pkg frozen vegetables (defrosted)
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups (200g) grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp basil or oregano
9-inch frozen pie crust

Place pie crust on cookie sheet and allow to defrost for 10 minutes.
In bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients.
Pour into pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Makes 6 servings.

Friday, May 11, 2007

An amazing meeting

Living Room met today and the afternoon had a party atmosphere. So many of us were there. We had set up four tables joined to each other to make one huge table that will seat 18 people. My co-facilitator thought that perhaps I was overdoing it - and I kind of wondered that as well. Usually we put up three tables which will seat 16. But we ended up with 20 in attendance, an all-time record for us. We had to squeeze a couple of people in on the corners, uncomfortable for them and not something I like to do.

The two ladies who spoke at the service last Sunday told us how they had felt when they shared their story with the congregation. One told us that she had found the experience freeing. Both speakers had received a lot of affirmation after. I know that they were popular after the service ended, with many wanting to speak with them. We celebrated by bringing out a cake with sparklers on it.

Although I'm happy about the success of our support group, I also feel overwhelmed. How long can we continue doing this before it becomes unwieldy? We usually like to have some discussion based on the devotional, but had to forego that today because of lack of time. With ten people in each sharing group, there isn't a lot of time to spare.

I very much want to encourage the formation of more faith-based groups like this and will now have to do some serious work on this. The need is greater than my church and I can respond to adequately. I've decided to write a manual/guide as a tool for churches who wish to do what we have done. But to do a proper job of this I will have to try and get some funding from an organization that shares my vision. I'm working on that.

Please help me pray that I will find a way to spread the Living Room concept to other areas. People who suffer from mood disorders need to have a place where they can get support from others who share their faith in God. It is important to have a place where they discuss both: their mental health issues as well as how God works in their life.

Monday, May 07, 2007

It was wonderful!!

The mental health service at church surpassed my expectations. It was so wonderful that I spent the rest of yesterday in a bit of a daze, trying to process it all, listening to the CD that was made.

The speakers from the Living Room group spoke so openly, so from the heart. And the congregation was warm and welcoming to them. They received a hearty applause. Our pastor presented the sermon part - which was more like a friendly talk - in a compassionate way. He spoke of how we need to look at Jesus in how we live and how we treat others. It wasn't a sad or painful morning at all. All that was discussed was straight forward and honest and natural. There was a wonderful touch of humor here and there. Actually, I felt uplifted by it all and I know others did too. Many stayed behind to talk with the speakers.

The icing on the cake was the performance of Chalexa's song, Redeemed. Chalexa played the piano and Shebee sang. Some of you reading this will remember this song, published on Chalexa's blog a short time ago. I wished then that I could hear it sung and yesterday I got my wish. And the music truly does the words justice. And Shebee is a gifted singer. I wish I could share it here so you could all hear. I do hope Chalexa will write more songs like this, though I know it was born out of pain and I don't wish that for her.

One neat thing: Our pastor Don mentioned how Living Room isn't complete without chocolate. And it's true. Without fail, we have dishes of chocolate on the table at the meetings. We consider it good "medicine." So as people left the sanctuary the pastors' wives served chocolates to them.

As a result of yesterday, a couple of people in the church have indicated they would like to come to the next Living Room meeting. This is the great thing about talking so openly about mental health problems: By making it an ok thing to talk about, those who are suffering feel more free to come out into the open and share with others what they are going through. There is no longer a need to keep their pain to themselves. They no longer need to be alone in their struggles, but can find support from people who care.

This is what reducing stigma can do for people. And reducing stigma is possible. Little by little we can do it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mental health week at church

This Sunday's church service is one I very much look forward to. In honor of Mental Health Week (May 7 - 13) our pastor will present a sermon with the title "Out of the Shadows." He will talk about being a caring community for those who are dealing with mental health problems. Three of the members of our Living Room group will talk about their experience with depression and bipolar disorder.

I am so very grateful to have this pastor who has been enthusiastic to learn about mental health problems. He is eager to help in any way he can to provide a church that will give a Christ-like response to those dealing with such problems. Because of his encouragement, and the encouragement of others in the church, Living Room came about and has become a thriving support program, one that is now benefitting over 25 individuals. This support provided me with the courage to facilitate the group.

It is the love and support of this church community, as well as the inspiration provided by Pastor Don's weekly sermons, that encouraged me to write my book, A Firm Place to Stand.

What my pastor and my church, Brentwood Park Alliance Church, is doing to be supportive of people with mental health issues is an example of how well followers of Christ can be of help. For a Christian who struggles with such problems there is nothing as important (next to medication, that is). When I struggle with depression I know there are friends who will be there for me and pray for me. I know they won't be judgmental or say that I'm not right with God. That is great comfort.

If you are reading this and would like to attend our mental health service this Sunday (May 6th) you would be very welcome. The address is 1410 Delta Avenue, Burnaby (close to Brentwood Mall). Service starts at 10:30. And there is no need to dress up.