Monday, July 28, 2008

Marathon blogger

My friend Isabella Mori just completed a gruelling 24-hour blogging marathon, posting every 30 minutes during that time. She did this to raise funds for the Canadian Mental Health Association (Burnaby-Vancouver Branch). In the process she ended up talking about my new book A Firm Place to Stand as well as other topics on the church and mental health.

If you're interested in how Isabella and her commenters dealt with the topic of the Christian faith and its response to mental illness check out these posts. They make for interesting reading:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Being yourself

I happened upon a little quote tonight that a lot of you have probably heard before. But I can see so much truth in it, I thought I would share it here:

"Be who you are and say what you feel...
Because those that matter... don't mind...
And those that mind... don't matter."

I'm glad I have lots of people in my life with whom I can be who I am and to whom I can say what I feel and they don't mind. Such freedom to be able to be like that with people!

I used to have social phobia and worried about everything I said and what people thought of me. But no more. Today I feel free to be who I am. I'm so very grateful about that.

...just a little tidbit of a thought.

A life of significance

At Living Room yesterday we talked about a topic that was prompted by Erwin Raphael McManus's new book Wide Awake. We talked about what God made us to do. What happened to the dreams we had when we were young?

I was a bit worried about bringing up such a topic, knowing that for some of our members just trying to survive is an achievement. I had to be sensitive to where they were at. So I apologetically introduced this, telling the group I realized that it might be hard to think in these terms.

And indeed, as we started the session the eighteen or so people seated around the table just stared at me when I asked them if they had ever wondered why they're here - why God gave them this life. My heart sank.

But as I carried on the topic - about how the world needs us and how we are all called to serve the greater good - the group gradually started to come to life. We explored the many different ways in which we can contribute.

In McManus's words: "We need to live wide awake [and not just dream] because there are diseases killing millions and we need to find a cure, famines leaving multitudes starving and we need to provide food, economies leaving families homeless and we need to create opportunities for work and wealth, genocide that must be stopped, slavery that must be ended, water wells that must be dug, children who need to be loved, relationships that need to be healed, elderly who need to be cared for, beauty that needs to be created, futures that need to be saved, and dreams that we must not let die or go unfulfilled."

And when you think of those times when you're not well - depressed perhaps - you should realize that "there is never a point in your life where you lack value or significance. There's always something for you to contribute."

In the end the meeting turned out well. Many contributed to the discussion, talking about how they have benefited from doing volunteer work, from helping others. We talked about how good it is to wake up in the morning with a purpose in mind. We talked about how living for this purpose is healing to us, especially when the focus is on others.

What do you love to get up to do? How do the activities you do for the greater good contribute to your wellness?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Such happiness!

What do you do when you're so happy that, waking up at 3:30 in the morning, you can't get back to sleep again? This happened Sunday morning. I was too happy to sleep. I felt like there was something I should do with such happiness. Dance or something. But I mostly just sat around...feeling that flood of good feelings - not able to do a thing with it.

The reason for this great joy was the party on Saturday. It turned out beautifully. Seventy of my friends and acquaintance gathered in our yard to celebrate the launch of my new book, A Firm Place to Stand. The weather was beautiful, the food was great, the garden was full of flowers, and everyone was happy.

There were people who I had supported through hard times. And it was so neat to have them here for this occasion. So good to see them doing better. People from my church came, from my writer's group, from Living Room, family members, neighbors and old friends. A couple of people from the Mood Disorders Association of BC came as well.

I was so fortunate to have friends helping me with this big event. My daughter-in-law Jeannette, a cook who loves to experiment made some very interesting appetizers, including dates stuffed with goat cheese. My friend Cita made a variety of hot appetizers and sold books for me. And I don't know what I would have done without my friend Helen. She made sure the food tables were always well stocked and was on her feet through the entire event. Cita's and Helen's husbands and my husband worked hard the day before putting up seven canopies. What a lot of support I received!

Now - in the words of my friend Helen - a new chapter of my life will begin. I will need to promote the book, using it to encourage Christians who have mental illness and to get the word out about the importance of faith-based support. It's time to get to work trying to make a further dent in the stigma that exists - my focus the Christian church.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

For Jena

A couple of days ago I visited Jena in hospital. I had for a long time been wanting her to play the piano for me - because I love piano music and because I heard her play one of her songs before and it was beautiful - original - soulful.

She couldn't imagine why I would want her to play for me - doesn't think her music is that good. But I wanted to hear what would come out of her, knowing the creative mood she's in, knowing that she plays from the heart - not music written by others, but her very own music.

Jena is self-conscious about playing, so we turned the lights off and she played in the dark. She played - not anything she had spent time composing - simply whatever came to her. And it was truly beautiful. She is an excellent pianist and a very creative composer. Her playing did something for me. It made me feel like I needed to do something creative too. Haven't done that for so long!

One advantage to being bipolar is that this disorder and the strong moods that come with it often make us very creative people. This is particularly true for Jena right now. She's trying her hand at painting, eager to learn about mixing colors. She's keeping a collage journal. And she's writing. Such a lot to get out right now - such a lot of feelings to give expression to!

Those of us who know Jena - in real life and from her blog - need to pray that she will find stability so her life won't be so difficult. We need to pray that her doctor will find an answer for her.

Jena asked me to post one of the watercolors I've done. I think I posted this before, but it was a long time ago. I don't think any of you will remember. This is a Dutch street scene, taken from a painting my dad did years ago. Different from his in that I drew it first with India ink, but the same composition.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New website

Last night my new website went live. I hope you'll have a look at It's only a single page, however it was amazing how much went into it. I'm very grateful to my son Cornelius and his wife Jeannette of Matchbox Creative for designing it. They make a talented team. Jeannette is a great designer and Cornie is a clever programmer.

Thing about creating such a thing is all the information that you need to make sure it's perfect. The research into what I needed to charge for shipping alone took half a day to do. Trying to find the best way to ship something is not as straight forward as one would think. And the costs are much more than one would think they should be.

Cornie was wonderful helping me figure out what was most important to put on the site. And Jeannette had the great idea to create an eblast to send to everyone I know. This announces the new book and alerts people to the website.

How fortunate I am to have such talented children who care so much about what I'm doing!

The launch of A Firm Place to Stand is only three days away. I'm excited but holding together. If you remember, could you offer up a prayer for me now and then?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Big party coming

It has been so long since I wrote here. I'm afraid my lazy blogging habits are starting to become a regular thing. Wish it weren't so, because blogging has always been so important to me. But life has been very complex...yet isn't it for everyone?

In a week from today I'll be having my book launch for A Firm Place to Stand. We're planning a big party in the garden, hoping the weather will co-operate. I've lost track of the number of people I've invited but sixty have confirmed so far. Many yet to hear from. Weather had better be good, eh? Fitting sixty or more people into my house would be an impossibility, unless we put some in the bedrooms and others in the laundry room :) (just kidding)

I've had some stress to deal with, though, and the stress still continues somewhat. There is a slight possibility the books won't get here in time. Though they're due to arrive on the 17th, they have to cross the border and there's always a possibility they'll get held up there. Another 50 have been sent as a rush, the publisher spending a lot to send them that way. Hopefully they will at least arrive.

I do have one copy in hand and it's beautiful. I'm very happy with how it turned out. Now I can't wait to have people read it.

I did get a huge kick showing the book to my 94-year-old mother and watching as she read what I had written about her. Her eyesight is failing, yet the typesetting is so clear and easy to read that she had no trouble with it. I'll always remember how her eyes traveled across the page, her face intent. Should have taken a picture.

My son Cornelius and his wife Jeannette, the talents behind Matchbox Creative, have done a wonderful job designing an eblast which I will send out next week to those of you I have email addresses for. It will announce the book and link you to my new website, where you'll see how you can order your copy.

Now I have much to get ready for the big day. Today I wrote down the things I wanted to say. No doubt I'll want to edit over the next few days.

There will be a great mix of people at the party, a very exciting thing to look forward to: my psychiatrist, a few other mental health workers, members from my writing group, people from my church, many members of Living Room, neighbors, family and friends. Children are welcome and will be supervised in painting a mural. Someone might even be making balloon animals for them. What a happy day it will be!

Now all we need is a sunny day. Please pray for us.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Hard to believe

It's hard to believe how my mental health has improved over the years. Amazing how far I have come!

The friends from my current church who have known me for four or five years think I've made great strides since they got to know me. But they didn't know me in the years before that. They have no idea how much improvement I've made!

I recall the time I became angry at my husband at a park. I yelled and screamed at him, making a huge scene. And I wouldn't let up. I used to yell and scream a lot.

I recall months in a mental hospital, not able to speak - delusional, paranoid, (more than I can talk about here). Going through a series of electro-convulsive shock treatments. Twenty years of living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia when it was later found that I had type 1 bipolar disorder.

I recall weeks and months spent in my bedroom, either in deep depression or psychotic.

I recall going to the church every day for some little thing or just to hang out. At one point the secretary even lost her temper with me, letting me know that they had work to do and I was in the way.

I recall doing odd things, behaving oddly, saying odd things, being awkward socially, getting into embarrassing situations.

Today I can honestly say I have been a high degree anyway. I feel like a normal person - stable, content and at peace. There are a lot of exciting things happening in my life right now: A Firm Place to Stand ready for release with a big book launch planned, my Living Room doing well with three new groups being established in the fall (one of them all the way in New Zealand). Yet I feel calm - not high in the slightest degree - at peace with it all.

Yes I've found healing. I still have bipolar disorder and I'm sure I'll have more mood disturbances, yet to a large degree I've found wellness and normality.

What's making me so well?
  • a good concoction of medications,
  • the support of loving friends,
  • my faith in a God who I can trust and who I know loves me,
  • spending a couple of hours in the early morning, meditating, journaling, reading, praying,
  • living to my best ability the kind of life Jesus modelled - which mostly consists of simply loving others,
  • finding a purpose worth living for - ie, supporting others who suffer as I have in the past and dispelling the stigma towards mental illness in the church,
  • helping others learn about God's love for them.
Totally amazing, isn't it? All things are possible with God.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Giving support

Earlier this week Susan of Bipolar Wellness wrote about the importance of wanting wellness if we want to be well. "As far as I am concerned, the most critical component of achieving wellness is wanting it....Wellness doesn't occur in a vacuum. Whether you believe that bipolarity and/or clinical depression is a biochemical condition--or not--the only way to achieve wellness is to be willing to ask the difficult questions, and live a life that matters."

I wrote a comment expressing my frustrations with someone I'm giving support to who doesn't seem to want that wellness. At least she doesn't pursue it as I wish she would. I wondered at what point I should back off. Susan followed her initial post with one she titles When to Let Go. Susan talks about her feelings on the issue: "So, I guess my answer is that I believe the woman you're talking about needs to find professional help. And she needs to "step up to the plate" so to speak. If you continue to allow her to "take" from you, you'll have nothing left. And if she decides that life isn't living, ultimately that's her decision."

But, when I think back to what I felt like when I was depressed, and how difficult it was to be well, and how important it was for me to have the people I loved not give up on me, I can't see myself giving up on others. Perhaps backing off a bit and not staying too close is good for my own health, but I feel I need to stay available.

In his book, New Light on Depression, Harold Koenig wrote some things that I have taken to heart. He wrote: "Love - unconditional love - is the ultimate long-term antidote for depression, for at its core love is connected with faith and hope."

I feel that we need to always remind people they are loved and not withdraw that love from people when they're going through hard times. One of the most important things a person with depression needs is to know that there's someone always available. Knowing that someone is available who understands - because she's been there herself - is invaluable.

Since starting Living Room, I've given support to quite a few people. While it isn't easy, it can be rewarding too. Though I walk with them through their valleys, I also experience with them the relief when they climb out again. When they call me and spend some time expressing their feelings to me and I have no answers, we can always turn to God at the end of the call. When I feel helpless and don't know what to say, we pray together. And those prayers are powerful. I feel the presence of God's Spirit. We call on God to give the person strength and patience. We ask him to embrace her and to help her feel his love. We turn everything over to God. When we hang up I feel I can leave it all behind because it's in God's hands, not mine. This is how I can usually manage to support people without it getting myself down.

As a Christian I need to be a conduit of Christ's love. And I've found that it's a joy to be that. It's rewarding to be that. And to walk with someone through their depression - to talk with them and to help them go to God with it - is a privilege.

I don't expect that everyone should be able to do this. I don't judge people who are not able to do this. We all have gifts that make us unique. This just happens to be mine.