Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The deep

I'm feeling not too bad at all this morning. I pray that this upturn will continue and that the depression won't pull me under to too much extent.

It's interesting to see how depression grabs hold. Increasingly I've been grabbed by pensive moods. My husband will catch me repeatedly, head in my hands, just sitting there, thinking - in the deep. At church I go deeply into worship, pulled into prayer. Gradually I'm pulled under until it becomes hard to actually do something. I'd rather just sit and wallow in my inner life.

Being aware of this helps. And - again - my friend's question yesterday helped: "What are you going to do for yourself, Marja?" Her suggestion was kind, encouraging me to "do" something that would benefit me and make me feel better. I know that what I need right now is to "do," instead of wallowing in thought.

It helps to write down my thoughts - to have a beginning and end to them instead of allowing them to roam around endlessly within. To bring them out onto paper, perhaps share with a friend.

I've also alerted some friends and they are encouraging me, letting me know they care. That comforts me.

Sometimes I think I'm making a lot out of nothing. Yet the onset of depression has been a real one, and sharing my fears with others and taking "action" is encouraging me to escape the deep before it totally pulls me under. I need to stay on the surface and be in the world if I'm to do the work I've taken on.

I have a list of things I'd like to do today. Nothing too difficult. Some pleasurable things and some things that are chores. I think I'll be alright. I'm not afraid. And I know God is with me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Never invincible

When you've been doing well for a long time, it's hard to believe that you could ever be depressed again. But with bipolar disorder you're never totally in the clear. It's bound to come back. Here I am with two books published on how to live with bipolar disorder - how to cope - how to be strong - and here I am with depression looming again.

I feel down, teary, tired, not up to doing very much. I've also been overly worried about some things - overly negative. This is discouraging.

What makes it harder is that my 94-year-old mom isn't doing well. She's terribly confused and did something to the phone so that she can't use speed dial anymore. Last week she got over-wrought, not able to call anyone, feeling isolated and anxious. I think she has forgotten to go down to meals a few times, which means she doesn't get fed. This is not a care facility. The only people looking after her are those who give her a bath twice a week and those who do a bit of cleaning once a week.

So, on top of feeling depressed I feel stressed, wondering what we will do about Mom.

I'm going to have to simplify my life as much as I can. Re-prioritize a few things. Allow lots of room to try and get some care for Mom. Allow for extra time with her.

When I told my friend that I was into a downward spiral she asked me, "What are you going to do for yourself?" That's a very good question for a supporter to ask. It made me think - made me think I need to strategize a bit instead of just complaining and feeling sorry for myself. I need to reach outside myself instead of staying caught within.

I will try to do some chores and reward myself with lots of pleasurable things. I will:

  • arrange for better care for Mom.
  • find someone to go for a walk with me.
  • go to Curves more regularly.
  • spend some time ironing, while listening to my favourite music.
  • read my new book, The Shack.
  • spend more time blogging.
  • plan some really easy but tasty meals from my Up Recipes for Down Times recipe booklet.
  • play Ticket to Ride with my husband.
  • shop for things we'll be donating to homeless people in town. (things that will make life on the street more bearable)
  • journal my thoughts.
  • email notes to my friends.
  • read my Bible.
  • pray and ask God to see me through, asking him to stay close and to help me remember that he loves me no matter what.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I will not be put to shame

This morning I read something in Isaiah 50:5-7 that was perfect for me to read at this time. Isn't it something how God will give you words like that when you most need it? Words that you might at any other time overlook? I've copied this into my journal and plan to look at it often:

"I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame."

Fighting stigma takes that, doesn't it? You have to be willing to take a stand, let them at you, and not run away - ever. And we can do that because "the Sovereign Lord helps [us]." And God has taught me that I need to fight with love, not with bitterness. That's what keeps me feeling at peace, in spite of that rather vicious comment yesterday. "The Sovereign Lord helps me."

Life has been moving hard and fast. I'll be getting lots of opportunities I think to do some stigma busting....but perhaps I should just call it "educating." Yesterday, that comment on canadianchristianity.com. Then an invitation to speak at a mental health awareness workshop for churches. And this morning I had a call at 5:15 asking me to do a pre-interview for a syndicated radio show. I also had a conference call with four people from a church in Victoria, wanting to know more about Living Room. They're considering having a group at their church. I've had about forty requests for review copies of the book, mostly from the U.S. Almost feel like I should have an office somewhere.

But you know what? I'm staying stable through all this excitement. Quite amazing I would say. Thank God, eh?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Christian condemnation

This morning someone going by the name Warrior Princess left a comment on an article I have online right now at canadianchristianity.com. The piece tries to show how mental illnesses are illnesses like any other - diabetes, heart disease, etc. etc. I was trying to educate, to eradicate the stigma.

I think that most Christians are starting to realize that being mentally ill does not mean that there is something spiritually wrong with you. Yet there are still many who totally misunderstand and believe that to be mentally ill is to be possessed by Satan.

There are varying degrees of this kind of thinking. Warrior Princess's views are at the extreme end. Her attack of people with mental illness is a scathing one. It shocked me and I'm trying to find the best way to reply, praying that I'll be able to speak to her in love, and not with the kind of fighting attitude she has.

Eradicating stigma is a fight, but as Christians we need to use love as our weapon of choice, not attacking with cutting words that will hurt. Even when people hurt us, we should try not to hurt back. After all, as followers of Christ we should treat others with love, even our enemies. And this person I'm talking about is, after all, a fellow Christian - a sister-in-Christ.

A couple of days ago someone who has for a long time been suffering from depression and anxiety wrote to me, saying
"I feel so condemned by the Christian community because everything I am is what you are not supposed to be as a Christian."

This person is hurting terribly from the symptoms of her disease. Yet the condemnation she feels from fellow Christians hurts almost more than those symptoms. We need to educate Christians so that they will more fully understand the medical nature of mental illnesses. This is so very important if we want to lovingly encourage hurting people in their faith.

I needed to share this you, in preparation for my reply. Please pray that understanding will grow. Please pray that people will open their minds enough so that we can educate them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I don't believe in "If" anymore

This excerpt from my book A Firm Place to Stand has been on my mind lately and I felt I really wanted to share it with you. It is a reflection on how I used to try to survive with my symptoms and the difference believing God has made to me:

With the greatest determination, I used to cling to what was left of my mind’s composure. I felt as though I were hanging from the edge of a high rooftop, white-knuckled, panicky with fear. How long can I hold on like this? Can I maintain my strength? What will happen if I let go? Exhaustion overwhelmed me. Far below was the hard ground and no one to catch me if I fell.

But I did fall – quite often. These experiences were devastating and difficult to recover from. The support I received from family, friends and my doctor was helpful, but I was alone in the battle.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem If was like a bible to me during many years of my illness. I described in Riding the Roller Coaster how meaningful this poem became, how I patterned my life after its good counsel, how I carried it with me for many years. It encouraged me to become a productive and responsible person. I still think highly of the poem and try to go along with most of its advice. I follow through on my dreams, don’t worry about what others say and try as much as possible to “…fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” But I no longer listen to the challenge Kipling leaves us with these words:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will, which says to them, “Hold on!”

For twenty-three years, I tried to live out those lines when I was in crisis. I tried with my best willpower to survive the mental turmoil that overtook me. I was determined to be strong, hanging on to whatever I could, but not finding much of substance. Those were times of anxiety and fear.

Coping with crisis finally changed for the better when I could no longer deny that God is real. I realized I didn’t have to depend on myself alone. I could relax my grip and trust in someone much stronger than me.

The faith I learned to have in a God who loves me too much to let me go helps me cope better with stress. Extreme difficulties no longer develop as often. Sometimes I still have a fear of falling, and for good reason. But today I have a Bible that tells me, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT) Remembering this gives me comfort when I need it. I am not as afraid anymore.

Challenging periods will always be part of my life. There will be times when I’ll have trouble. I may even fall. But I know that when I do, there will be someone there to catch me and stay with me as I recover. I’ll never be alone again.

Hanging on the wall across from my bed is a photograph of a child’s small hand resting comfortably on her father’s big hand. Underneath are the words from Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” During tough times, I look at that photograph and feel a sense of peace. No longer is there a need for white-knuckled fists, no longer a need to rely on my own inadequate strength.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Praise God!

I heard from someone in Victoria last night, wanting to set up a conference call with me because people in her church are planning to start a Living Room. And one of the co-facilitators from my own group is planning to start a group of her own in Vancouver. I've been praying for a group there. My prayer is being answered.

There are now five Living Rooms and another four in the planning stages. Thank God! The movement of this much needed ministry is spreading.

Between Living Room and promoting my book it's beginning to look like I have almost a full-time job. And that's a lot for me, someone who was never able to have a career, not able to work because of the severity of her disorder. I pray that all will go well and that I'll be able to meet all the demands on me.

I'm thankful that I wake up early and have a couple of hours of quiet time to spend with God and reflect before I start the day. That really helps a lot. And I have learned to focus on only one job at a time, not worrying about the big picture but only looking at the portion I'm working on.

Yesterday was a big day. I partnered with the Mood Disorder Association of BC in presenting a workshop for a group of new support group facilitators. So good to have this partnership. Vikki Rogers did a wonderful job of teaching and guiding us through role playing exercises. In the afternoon I had time with the facilitators of the Christian groups (seven people) and we discussed the spiritual aspects of facilitating Living Room.

My own group in Burnaby is starting a Bible study which will meet every Friday that we don't have a regular Living Room meeting. For some of our people Living Room is like their church, because they have had bad experiences - feeling judged in regular churches. Every church needs to have an opportunity for Bible Study. Someone in our church has volunteered to teach the class, so we are able to meet this need.

Please understand if I don't blog as much as I used to or if I don't always visit your blog. My work load seems to be increasing all the time, and sometimes it's wisest for me to spend my free time with my husband, with a friend, or with a sudoku puzzle. We have to keep things balanced, don't we?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


At Living Room on Friday we're going to talk about trust. Being able to trust in God - to trust our ability to be well - to trust our doctor, etc. etc. It's so important to a life of peace. It's so important to our health.

When I start getting symptoms that indicate a depression might be coming on, it's important that I can trust that it won't happen. When I trust and rely on God to help me avert it, I have a much greater chance of staying well. Someone - and I'm too lazy right now to check the source - once said that when we fear God we need fear nothing else. Of course he did not mean to "be afraid" of God; he meant to believe in God and his power - to be in awe of God.

To have bipolar disorder can bring on a lot of fears because we have had so many bad experiences of depression, mania and psychosis. The slightest indication that something is going wrong can bring on anxiety, making it even more likely that it will.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus speaks poetically: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear....Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"...(I won't type out the entire piece.) But then Jesus says, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Jesus is not saying that we will have immunity to the problems of life, but by trusting God instead of ourselves, we will have confidence in spite of them. When we seek the kingdom of God we will find purpose, power and direction. We forget about being anxious. We trust where God is taking us. It's through faith, hope and extending God's love to others - as God loves us - that we will experience this kingdom of God - this kingdom where God's rule prevails.

I've spent a fair amount of time reading various authors' thoughts and explanations of what Jesus meant by "the kingdom of God" and "the kingdom of heaven." Jesus mentions these phrases over 80 times in the gospels. It's something we should try to understand. Too often we overlook these phrases, assuming that Jesus is talking about what we'll experience after we die. But Jesus did say, "The kingdom of God is upon us." We can start experiencing the kingdom of heaven today by submitting to God's rule and being the kind of people he intended us to be.

I got kind of side-tracked here, moving from trust and anxiety to the kingdom of God. But that's just how my thoughts travelled today.

Did I make sense? What do you understand about the kingdom of God?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Can God accept me?

I had a comment on my last post from B. I want to address the questions she poses here, realizing that there may be other people with similar problems. You sound like you're in deep pain, B., and I hope this post will help.

B. wrote, "I did things as a result of my impulses and emotions and feelings from my mania that I was so ashamed of, but I didn't feel I could tell anyone at my church." When we're manic we often do things we're later ashamed of, things we would not do if we were stable. But because we do it as a result of our disorder, doesn't make it right. It's true that we need to fight our impulses and get medical help to prevent us from this. And when we stabilize, we have to try, in whatever way we can, make things right. This would include asking God for forgiveness. But God will continue to love you. You are His child, and he will forgive.

B. ends her comment with "My relationship with God has been very distant since last summer, and things have changed a lot in my life (for the better). I still wonder though; can I assume that God would still accept me? Am I even sure I believe in God or that He's worth my heart again, after such a deep feeling of abandonment?"

I need to tell you, B., that God will always accept you and love you. He may not accept what we do, but he never stops loving us. He will forgive if we, with all sincerity, ask for his forgiveness. God realizes that you did not do the things you did because you wanted to sin. He realizes that you have an illness that made you do them. He will forgive.

B., you said something that I think is completely the wrong way to look at things. You said, "I still believed that Christian attitudes had to be a reflection of God's attitudes, and if they would judge me for sinning because of something I couldn't control, God would too; if they couldn't accept me, how could God?"

God does not follow people's examples. It is not people's place to judge. We have all sinned. How can we judge others?

Remember the Pharisees who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery? Check out this story in John 8:1-11. I think it will do you good.

Jesus said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone." One by one the men left. Then Jesus said to the woman, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

God does not follow people. If people are not accepting of you, that does not at all mean that God won't accept you. God does not listen to people's judgement. He is in charge, not people. We can trust God to always be there for us, to always love us, to always want the best for us, to always help us when we want to do better. God can transform you if you will trust him and seek him each day with all your heart.

I hope this has helped, B. I hope you don't give up on God, because He will never give up on you. His love is unconditional.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Misconceptions - UGGH!!!

Canadian Christianity has another excerpt from A Firm Place to Stand up. The title is Misconceptions and in it I outline the problem many Christians have, spiritualizing mental health problems like depression. I spell it out really well.

But, lo and behold, someone comments - compassionately enough - but totally NOT getting it. She writes, "
Surely, it is spiritual if you break it down to the very root cause....Perhaps a multi action plan would be of use. Spiritual instruction, positive confession, meds and human support."

This is the kind of stigma that exists amongst many Christians. This is the reason many people with mental illness feel judged when they go to church. This is the reason many stop going to church and end up receiving no encouragement in their faith.

I feel so frustrated. Here I spell it out so carefully and it has done no good. I feel I need to return a comment of my own and will eventually do that. First I need to cool down and talk with my two close friends. And - wouldn't you know it - they're not home. And I need them.

I'm just glad I have you out there, my blogging pals. And please, if you feel as I do about this, please write your own comment on that article. I would very much appreciate it. A lot of people read that website and many of them truly don't understand. They need to be educated. Can you help do that?

I feel angry at the stigma, not at the lady who shows the lack of understanding. And I feel even more determined to bust that stigma. Will you help me?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

An illness like any other

Michelle's difficulty with accepting her diagnosis of bipolar disorder prompts me to share an excerpt from my first book, Riding the Roller Coaster. Throughout the writing of this book I held in mind the people who were newly diagnosed and how hard it is to come to terms with it and how hard it is to learn to cope.

An Illness Like Any Other

"What consoles me is that I am beginning to consider madness
as an illness like any other, and that I accept is as such."
- Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother, 1889

We always think of mental illness as something that happens to other people, not to us. To be diagnosed with depression or manic depression is a scary thing. But how we cope with our mood disorder is largely determined by how we look at it. If we can accept it as the illness it is - an illness like any other - we will be ready to move ahead with our lives in a positive way.
The negative view much of society has of mental disorders is partly due to the fact that people do not understand there is usually a physical basis for these illnesses, often in the form of a chemical imbalance. This imbalance is treatable with medication. With effective treatment most of us can live close-to-normal lives. Mental illness is an illness like any other.
In fact, mood disorders are comparable to other illnesses, such as diabetes. A diabetic is not to blame for his or her illness. Neither is a person with a mood disorder. Just as diabetes can cause serious disability and even death, so can mood disorders. Diabetics often require the use of medication to maintain stable blood sugar levels. People with mood disorders also require medication, in their case, to maintain emotional balance. Finally, as is the case with those who have diabetes, if people with mood disorders take their medications regularly, chances are they will live a close-to-normal life.
Nevertheless, because of the fear of having a "shameful" condition, or of being labeled by society, many don't search out the help they so desperately need. What results is much unnecessary suffering by people who could otherwise have been helped.
In recent years much research has been done and doctors, mental health associations, societies and libraries can provide much information. Mood disorder self-support groups are an especially good source of information. Here we can find pertinent literature and discuss affective illnesses with others who have problems similar to our own.
As we come to terms with our disease we learn to understand how imperative medications and other treatments are - how they form the basis for our well-being. Once we have the physical aspects of our illness under control, we can prepare to take charge of our lives and make the most of the strengths we all have.
As we walk with our friends and acquaintances, we should walk with self-assurance. In that great family of individuals who suffer from personal problems, sicknesses, and handicaps, each of us is a unique yet ordinary member.

Note: I wrote the above ten years ago. It was utterly unthinkable to me that a person with bipolar disorder could manage without medication. I know it has never been possible for me. I also know that the majority of people with bipolar disorder that I come across - and I meet many in the work I do - medication is necessary if they are to function normally. However, I also know that in the blogs I've read there are a number of people who are making it without or with very little medication. I would not recommend trying to persevere without medical care at the cost of being unstable. Bipolar disorder can cause a lot of damage - to our finances, our relationships, our safety, and even the safety of those around us. It needs to be adequately managed. Medications can make a good, productive life possible.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dear Michelle...

Yesterday I received an email from Michelle, someone who is suffering feelings that are very common to people with mood disorders. I'm not sure whether her diagnosis is unipolar or bipolar disorder. I just know that she has been depressed for the past five months. I'd like to share with you what she wrote so that the many of you who I know probably feel similarly can benefit from this as well.

Michelle wrote:

"I was diagnosed with a mood disorder years ago and was on meds with no real luck. I guess I seem to always think I'm just weak and a moral failure. Was this true for you at one point too? I know I need to be on meds now, but I'm breastfeeding my 6 month old, but I'm a wreck! I try to hold things all together and can manage but things are crazy.

Anyway, I just wanted to write b/c I found your website and I don't know anyone with a mood disorder and it is lonely and isolating to feel so different than everyone else i know who are consistent people."

Dear Michelle,

I'm sorry you haven't had any luck with medications. That can indeed make things tough. I hope though that you don't give up. There are new meds coming out all the time. Eventually you may find something that will help you. You say that you need to be on meds but are breastfeeding. If that means that you're not taking meds so that you can breastfeed, I wonder if you shouldn't reconsider. When I had my baby I stopped breastfeeding so that I could go back on medication. There was no way I could emotionally have been the kind of mother I needed to be without the medication. If you're not doing well right now, I would suggest you discuss this with your doctor.

You asked if I ever felt weak and a moral failure. I think I feel that way every time I get depressed as well. That's one of the worst things about depression. If you're feeling that way, I hope it will make you feel better to know that this feeling is simply your depression talking. Being depressed does not mean you are weak. It simply means that you have an illness - an illness that affects your thinking, making the usually optimistic you feel pessimistic.

I'm sorry you're feeling so lonely and isolated. That too is a symptom of depression. But please realize that there are many many people who suffer like you do. You are not alone. Why not check and see if there is a support group in your area? There's nothing like having a place to share time with others who suffer as you do. One of the best benefits is the realization that you are not alone. That in itself is a relief to know and will be a comfort to you.

I wish you well Michelle and pray that you will soon recover and be able to thoroughly enjoy your baby.

Take care,