Monday, October 30, 2006

Coping with mild ups and downs

I've been going through some unstable days, never knowing what the day will bring. I think it may be because I've been busy doing some exciting things over the past few weeks. Then, when things slow down, I don't know how to handle it. I have too much time to think. And if my thoughts happen on something sad, like they did on Saturday evening, it pulls me down very easily. But today I feel quite level. I hope and pray that I will remain this way.

At times of mild moodswings like this, I tend to analyze what helps me. I try to discover the techniques that help me cope. I don't want to have to run to the doctor and mess with my meds if there are things I can do for myself to pull me down from a high or lift me up out of a depression.

Yesterday, feeling depressed, miserable, restless, and unable to focus on anything, I decided to call a friend from my support group. This was someone who I had supported when she herself was going through depression a while ago. This time I was able to give her an opportunity to do the same for me. We had a good talk and we decided that I should try doing a bit of knitting on my scarf, something I've not had a chance to do. I did, while I watched tv. It helped a bit. It also felt good to know I would have someone who I could call the next day reporting how our plan had worked.

My husband and I had leftovers for dinner, so that was easy. Afterwards, we played a game of crib and baked muffins together. It's so much better doing things together with someone when I feel like this. So much easier to focus, so much less lonely.

After all this light activity and accomplishment, I was able to focus on reading until bedtime. I just started a book called Prayer, by Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors. I'm reading it because I really need help to pray better. It's often so difficult to connect with God, though when I do, it does me a lot of good. Last night's reading proved fruitful. It inspired me to become still before God and talk to Him as I would to a friend. I was able to focus. Quite amazing, considering the way I had felt only hours before.

Then it was time for bed and I felt at peace, no longer so depressed. I slept well. This morning, I was again able to pray well, telling God everything that came into my head. And today I have felt level and happy. I really believe I have God to thank for that.

About a week ago, a lady who was obviously in emotional pain called, asking about our support group. She asked me if faith could heal her. I've been haunted by that question, knowing I had not adequately answered her. Just how much is my faith responsible for making my life as stable as it is? I'm sure it is quite a bit. I'll always have bipolar disorder, but I do receive a lot of healing because of my faith. I wish I could have told her that.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

An upward swing

Yesterday's Living Room group was wonderful! I was so pleased with how it went that today I'm riding a high - quite a difference from where I was only two days ago.

We had six new people, making a total of ten around the table. After we had a chance to have a bite to eat and go over business stuff, we opened the meeting with prayer. Then we read Psalm 139, paying special attention to verses 7 - 12. In fact, I had typed copies for everyone so they could keep them handy when they need to be reminded of God's constancy. Then everyone made a list of things they were grateful for. After a while we each discussed the things we are most grateful for. After a break, we each took turns telling what brought us to the group and how things have been going for us. We responded to each other's stories.

The reason I'm going into such detail about what we do at our meetings is because I very much hope that other churches will start such groups. I am seeing a real need for faith-based support groups for people struggling with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders. After only about a month in existence, we have a list of 25 people who have shown an interest. Eleven people, plus myself and my co-facilitator have attended. Our pastor also likes to sit in on the devotional part of the meetings.

There are a lot of secular support groups. But there is a real difference when the spiritual aspect is part of it. Yesterday, the atmosphere was warm and comfortable. Everyone shared freely, feeling the supportive atmosphere. The co-facilitator closed the meeting with an uplifting piece of scripture and prayer for each individual there.

When I was ready for bed last night I did something I seldom do when I pray. I got down on my knees and thanked God. I didn't know what else to say to Him. I just thanked Him over and over. I feel blessed to have this work to do and I'm learning to love my new acquaintances.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I could cry

I've been so stable lately, so cool, calm, and collected. But right now I feel like I could cry.

You may remember I had two accidents recently, all within a month. In the last one, my car was severely smashed - almost totalled. Today I was close to getting into another accident, and it was my fault. Ever since my last accident, my driving has felt sloppy. I have trouble focusing. I don't know if I should be driving any more. I could kill someone or be killed.

And I'm thinking about how my life would change if I were without a car. It's depressing to consider that. I know I have a husband who drives, but our lives are so separate from each other. He would not want to have to drive me around to all the things I do. I can't imagine a life without the independence my car gives me. Wow!!

I could cry.

And tomorrow is a meeting of our Living Room support group. I was so looking forward to it - still am. There are quite a few people who have called and I'm eager to meet them - eager to lead a good meeting. I need to pray. I need to strengthen up and put these worries aside - at least for a while.

Next week I will visit my GP and describe what has been happening to my thinking lately - the narrowness of my focus - losing track of time because I can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Is this a sign of a mind growing old? But I'm only 60!!! My husband says that I've just been preoccupied lately. But that's no excuse.

A good cry would be good right around now.

Please pray for Living Room tomorrow. Pray that I will get over the shock of this near-accident and place my attention on what I so love to do - to support people with mood disorders and help them grasp how great God's love for them is.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More on creativity

I need to say a little more on creativity before I can let this topic go:

Arthur J. Cropley disagrees with Kay R. Jamison, saying that creativity may not actually be caused by mania. He said, "It is possible that wide mood swings, on the one hand, and rich imagination and high motivation to create, on the other hand, both result from a common cause, without actually influencing one another directly. Such a common cause could be 'emotional reactivity' (Holden) or possession of a particularly labile or 'fine tuned' nervous system (Andreasen) - a tendency to react unusually strongly to external stimuli and internal mood signals."*

That may explain why I'm creative ALL the time, even when I'm not high. And I know that sometimes my highs seem to come about BECAUSE I'm being overly creative. That is, the creativity comes first, joined by a high mood. You should have seen me when I used to work in the darkroom. I would play loud music, and if I were particularly happy with a print, I'd come out of the room dancing exuberantly to the music. The work made me high.

It is our strong moods that make us sensitive enough to bring on this kind of "emotional reactivity."

In any case, all you bipolars out there: We are a beautiful, sensitive bunch of individuals.

Personally, I now willingly accept the way God made me, knowing that, though life is extremely difficult, I can make my moods work to my advantage. "O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter;" I honestly believe God made me the way He did for a reason.

*From 'Creativity and Mental Health in Everyday Life,'
by A. J. Cropley, 1990,
Creativity Research Journal (1995)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Our passions, high and low

In an effort to answer Dream Writer's question as to why we bipolars tend to be such a creative lot, I thought I would reprint something here that I wrote for the chapter on Creativity in my book, Riding the Roller Coaster. (Pages 144-145) I don't think anyone has all the answer to this question, but this was my attempt to partially answer it. (Please note that this is copyrighted material, but if you wish to quote and use my name and Riding the Roller Coaster as the source, that would be ok.)

The passionate moods that result from our illness and cause us so much suffering can actually be beneficial if we use what we learn from them to express ourselves creatively. Throughout history artists have used the feelings they have as a source of inspiration for their work. The feelings we experience are extreme: the depths of depression for those with a unipolar disorder and the alternating lows and highs for those with bipolar disorder.

The frequent presence of these moods makes us a very sensitive group of people. When depressed we sense the depths of the world's sorrows more keenly - feelings most people filter out. Although the sun is shining, the world seems dark and without meaning. Those of us who experience highs know what it is to be transported to what seems like heavenly flights of joy - even if the source of this joy may be as simple as poppies blowing in the wind. We cry in mourning for the realities of injustice, poverty, and sickness we see around us; and we dance to celebrate the truths of love and beauty.

The strong emotions we experience make life more difficult; but they can also make life richer for us. In a way it is good to feel strongly; sensitivity is an aspect of humanity that sets us apart from much of the animal kingdom. Our expansive capacity for passion gives us the inspiration which makes artists out of many of us. We have a need to express and share our feelings with others. Creative activity is our way of venting the contents of our hearts; there's too much to keep shut up inside. By mastering the techniques of our chosen medium, we learn to apply the discipline needed to harness our emotions and steer them into workable pieces of art. The result is an abundance of satisfaction and sense of fulfilllment for the artist - and often a healing of the soul.

But what about those of us who don't feel we are creative?
There may be more of the artist in us than we think. We can let go of our emotions through song and dance, through laughter and the healing of tears, and even through simply talking with others about our feelings. To reveal to others how we experience life is to share the rich tapestry of our inner self in all its colors. This kind of sharing by others, not unlike us, has left us a great legacy of paintings, sculpture, music, and literature. If we can use our passions effectively they will be a rich source of joy, not just for us, but also for those around us.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The creative life

Mom,interrupted's site, has been dealing with mania, heightened sensitivity, and creativity - something I find a fascinating topic. It is truly amazing how so many of us are highly creative people. So many artists, musicians, and especially writers, have had bipolar disorder or depression.

Personally, I thrive on creative projects. I'm a photographer, writer, cookbook author, knitter, crosstitch embroiderer, inspirational booklet publisher. I've initiated innovative projects. As I've matured, I've learned to take on leadership roles. Living Room, our church's faith-based support group, is my latest project. It's something that excites me and gives me lots of opportunities for creative planning.

I'm sure all this has something to do with my disorder. It's largely because of this that I'm not unhappy about having bipolar disorder. The meds contain my moods so that they don't overwhelm me too too much. I stay on the page.

Heightened sensitivity has influenced my spiritual life as well. When I've been high, the words of the Bible speak powerfully to me, in a way that would not be possible if I were stable. Not that the way I read it is an "insane" response, I actually absorb the meaning in a much more intensive way than I would if my mood were more flat. The scripture becomes more understandable to me. The meaning I get out of it goes deeper.

I've accomplished much with my life, things I would never have been inspired to do if it were not for my frequent highs. It's been costly as well. All too often, these highs are followed by periods of depression. Yet, when I look back, I can say I am grateful for all God has given me. Life has been difficult, but it's also been an exciting adventure...and it continues to be that.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Stupid me!!!

I want to address this post to Jane, and everyone else who is familiar with my blog, and how I always talk about how I'm not much affected with stigma - as though I've risen above it or something. Well I haven't risen above it, and I guess no one with a mental disorder will, for many years. I got careless today and told someone - at the wrong time and in the wrong way - before she had gotten to know me first.

I could kick myself. Someone called to ask about my support group. After I told her where it is and when, I mentioned that I have bipolar disorder. This lady, who was so friendly to begin with, went noticeably quiet.

Why did I do that? I didn't have to do that! It had nothing to do with anything. Couldn't I just have waited and mentioned it - in passing - when I introduce myself at the group meeting? That was so dumb!!

I have talked about how free I've become at church, that I don't have to keep my disorder a secret. But that took a long time in coming.(and I still don't talk about it with people who I don't know well, not unless they ask.) I had to let them get to know me first. I had to find appropriate times and places to let them know. When I first started coming to this church, I had a meeting with the pastor and let him know. He was wonderful. Said that he would like to learn about this disorder from me. He and his wife prayed with me when I was going through a difficult time. Others came to know very gradually.

This will be a bit of a stressful week. I go to visit my sister in the Gulf Islands off the mainland for Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, on Thursday night and Saturday, I will be giving a one-hour presentation on candid child photography. Every time I think of it, I get a flutter of butterflies in my stomach. The talk on Saturday, especially, scares me a bit. It will be at a photo conference and I may have quite a large audience. If you pray, please think of me.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

To hold on or to let go

For many years I coped with my moods and psychotic episodes by working like crazy to hang on, trying not to lose my sanity, trying to survive. I clung as a young child might cling with her hands onto high horizontal bars in a playground, knowing that letting go might mean falling to the ground and hurting herself. This hanging on caused a lot of fear. And this fear only made me sicker. I tried to do it all on my own. But often I broke...and I fell...and I hurt myself.

There came a time when I did not feel I could hold on any longer. The struggle was just too difficult. "What about this God I learned about in Sunday School?" I thought. "Wouldn't it be something if what I was taught about him was actually true? What about if the faith I had turned away from as a teen could actually help me? Wouldn't it be wonderful if I didn't need to bear this suffering on my own anymore? What if God could help make my life easier?"

I decided to explore the Christian faith I was brought up with but had rejected. I began to look for God.

Amazingly, though, I had to learn everything my teachers and parents had taught me about Jesus from scratch. It was as though I didn't know anything at all. For the first time in my life - at the age of 42 - I was open to hearing, and open to understanding, the truth about following Christ. I was still stubborn, though. It still took a while for me to swallow my pride and go to church. Instead, I went to the public library to find books about God.

But what the Bible says is true: Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)

I asked, and sought, and knocked, and I found out what I had been missing. Gradually, I learned what it meant to have faith. I've learned to trust him to catch me when I fall. Now when I go through bad times, I can let go and trust God to take care of me. I've learned how great his love is. I now know he loves me, no matter what. I have found a Source of comfort and peace. (I have to confess, though, that there are still terribly difficult times. But I have a faith I cling to, knowing God will always be there.)

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The ultimate long-term antidote for depression

Harold G. Koenig, M.D., in New Light on Depression, the book he co-wrote with David B. Biebel, states that "Love - unconditional love - is the ultimate long-term antidote for depression, for at its core love is connected with faith and hope."

It's too bad that so many Christians have forgotten the example Jesus set for us. He loved everyone, but especially the outcasts, the stigmatized: the prostitutes, tax collectors, people with leprosy. Followers of Christ are called to do the same thing. It is this kind of love that needs to be shown to individuals who suffer from mental illness. Yet, even in churches, we are all too often snubbed, kept at a distance, and judged.

I have been fortunate in being part of a congregation that has been open to learning about mental illness. They have done their best in supporting me and people like me. I know from experience what it means to have the love of godly people. My church friends pray for me, check up on me, mother me when I need mothering. This has encouraged my faith in God, because I see him revealed to me through these friends. Non-judgmental love like this has been hugely helpful for me. I can relax better; I know I'm not alone; I know someone cares.

But not only do they give their love to me. I am not simply a "victim". They've learned that I am someone who can support others as well, when they go through rough times. This may be how I've gained my strength more than anything. When I am well, there are many things I can do to be helpful in the church. So, not only do I receive love, I have many opportunities to give love as well. Support should always go two ways. We give and we accept.

I have talked about Living Room, the faith-based mood disorders support group I've headed up at my church. Tomorrow we have another meeting. This is a place where we can remind each other of God's love and share our God-given love with each other. We'll have a place to talk about how our lives are going. We'll find out that we're not alone in our struggles. I'm looking forward to it. We have no idea who will be coming or how many will be coming, but we'll be ready.

With this church's support and encouragement, my faith has become stronger than it ever has been in the past. I have learned to pray better and to walk closer to God. Through God's love I have become more courageous, more hopeful, and more healthy, mentally.

Unconditional, non-judgmental love - Christian love - is indeed the best medicine of all. And I've found that, the more I give it to others, the more I receive it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Giving thanks

I've been away from here for several days, and much has happened in my world. One TERRIBLE thing is that I had another car accident. My second within a month! (My first, you may recall, was when I was broadsided by a bus - on the driver's side.) This time I rear-ended someone, hit her hard! It looked like my car was a write-off, but I heard from the body shop that it may be saveable. The other car was not damaged at all. One of these days I'm going to get killed ... or kill someone else. What's wrong with me? I'm going to be very nervous to drive in the next little while.

Funny thing is, the person I hit saw my Brentwood Park church bulletin in the car and told me that she goes to New Life Community Church, the church we're working in tandem with, providing faith-based mood disorders support. I told her that I'm a friend of Esther, one of the pastors there. And she told me that she had just come back from seeing Esther. A coincidence? ...or God being there again for me. He seems to be in everything I do now-a-days. So many amazing things have been happening. You may call me a crazy religious nutcase if you want to, but really, there have been so many "coincidences" like this lately. Anyway, this lady was so wonderfully calm and helpful. It made the accident easier to bear.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in Canada. And although I smashed my car for the second time in a month, and although there are severe problems in some of my friends' lives, there ARE a lot of things to be thankful about as well. God IS good.

We just came back from a camera club outing - several days in the interior. While my husband photographed, I read and wrote. I loved the solitude. And I got a lot of work done on my book. I'm pretty well ready to begin looking for a publisher. All this makes me very thankful.

Yesterday evening we had a traditional turkey dinner with our friends at an old inn. They did up the evening as though all the guests in the inn are family. We all sat down and ate at the same time. The turkey was the best I've ever tasted. Wish I'd asked for more. All the food was delicious. I'm getting hungry again just remembering. I was grateful for my time with my friends in this wonderful place.

This morning I found frost on the flowers in the campground garden. It was beautiful how the white crystals rimmed the petals. I spent a happy half hour photographing them. The aspen trees were beginning to change colour. And all day long the sun shone brilliantly. Yes, we have much to be thankful about.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Our need for hugs

I visited a friend today, one who is very dear to me. When I got ready to leave she gave me a hug, and I simply did not want to let go. It felt so good. And I love her so very much.

When we were children, especially if we're from a truly loving home, hugs were probably not too hard to come by. When we were hurt or upset, Mom's arms enfolded us and we were comforted.

But sometimes I think of the countless older people who live in care facilities. How often do they get the hugs they need? Many do not get visitors and they are lonely. Yet inside them there still lives a child. We all carry a bit of who we were as children with us, don't we? Getting older is tough, in fact, one could call it cruel. I hope I'll never have to experience the kind of loneliness some of these people have to deal with.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Life is too interesting

I've been away from the computer for a few days and out of touch with how everyone is doing, but will take some time tonight to visit all my friends' blogs.

Life has been getting entirely too interesting lately, and I know I will have to slow down and try to do something boring, like knit on my scarf, or watch tv. But it's hard. My mind is revving continuously, wanting to keep pushing the work that is so important to me. It's hard to focus on dishes when there are such grand things I could be accomplishing. But I know it's time. I need to slow down.

I don't want to list all the stuff I'm doing. I know within myself that I'm going a bit too far. But it's Mental Health Awareness Week this week, and I've become a bit caught up in that. On Wednesday morning I'm going to a mental health awareness breakfast. (Have to be downtown and in my seat by 7:30!!) And on Thursday night I'm speaking as a panelist at a forum on depression in the elderly. I'm not sure if they asked me simply because I know what depression is, or whether they think that I'm elderly. Heck, I'm just a girl!!! I have trouble even thinking of myself as a woman. I'll always be a kid.

But I'm also flying high because I've seen God do some amazing things in some of the people in my life. That, too, I won't be able to go into details on. Just believe me, we have an awesome God!

The writing on my book has been going well. That's one reason you haven't heard much from me. If I can keep the momentum going, I'll soon be ready to go back to the beginning and start some serious editing. I'm looking forward to the polishing process.

BTW: Another wonderful thing that has happened is that my mother-in-law is 85% recovered from her pneumonia.(don't ask me how the doctor figured out that percentage) For a person who is 95, bouncing back so well is something we have to be very grateful for. She will have some more years of quilting ahead of her, I know.

So that's me tonight: grateful and just a bit too full of joy. I think I'll do some dishes. That might slow me down.