Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can't settle down

Aw crumbs!! I've been so revved up the past few days, I can't stop working. I try to sit with a book and it works for a while, then I'm up, doing stuff again - all computer stuff. I've sent so many emails to my pastor that I feel downright embarrassed about it. He's a nice guy and he's with me in what I'm doing, but I don't want to become a pain in the neck to him. I feel so driven!!

I've been stuck in the house since Sunday. The weather is too bad to venture out without a good reason. All my activities have been cancelled. And do I need exercise!!

My Sermon proposal went over very well. My high increased when I heard from various places that they were going to send it on. It's being well broadcasted, including by NAMI. I'm so happy about that. For so long I've been feeling like the proverbial lone cry in the wilderness. But over the last couple of days that has changed. Now if I could only stop my scheming and my working!! I've been like a snowball rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger and going faster and faster.

Just needed to unload this on you all, because I know you'll understand.

I guess my next stop - sooner or later - will be a big breakup at the bottom of the hill. Just hope it won't be at Christmas time.

The devil's schemes?

Dream Writer asked some questions in response to my last post: "Why does the church feel this way about mental illness? Why do they feel it is evil or the devil? Do they feel that way with "normal depression?"

Protestant churches don’t have an organized view on mental illness. But many Christians believe that, once you’ve become a Christian, you’re going to be emotionally well. You should be joyful – together. If you’re not, they might look on you as weak and probably “not right with God.” There’s also all the stuff in the Bible about demon possession, which I don’t think anyone fully understands, but some people think they do. I need to stress, though, that not all Christians have such a strong view.

There IS evil in the world, as there is goodness. God is good. He wants what is best for us. I believe that all will turn out for good when we cling to God, even when we go through horrendous times. This will be hard to recognize at the time. (Faith is valuable here.) When we become distanced from God – as we all do at times (good Christians included) – the devil takes advantage of those opportunities.

I believe that when something bad happens in our life, the devil (or evil forces, or force of darkness, as he’s often referred to in the Bible) makes us feel discouraged and hopeless. If we stay close to God, we would be better able to find patience, perseverance, and hope. When we’re not able to do that because of the symptoms of our illness, some people consider that as the devil at work. The thing is, the devil does this to everyone – not only people with mental health problems.

Personally, when I struggle, I prefer not to look at the devil’s “schemes”. I prefer to focus (really hard) on God and ignore the evil side. I think it’s far more useful in helping me cope. Praying for the devil to leave me would not be helpful at all. What I want is prayer for God to uphold me.

The problem with many Christians is that they don't understand the medical angles of bipolar disorder, depression, and all the other mental illnesses. They end up assuming that the problem is all spiritual. It must be the devil.

Just a bit to show you what the Bible has to say on this. I like this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…but against the spiritual forces of evil… Ephesians 6:10-12 (excerpted)

Monday, November 27, 2006

A sermon proposal

This is an email I'm sending to everyone I know. I invite you, my fellow-bloggers to do the same. Please do check out the link to the article as well. It only just came out.
With a prayer for peaceful hearts this Christmas time:

Dear Friends,
A friend of mine, someone with bipolar disorder, recently said to me, "I've gone to church nearly all my life and I've just heard about mental illnesses mentioned once, and just in passing. When I was hospitalized, some people came from the church, but they just prayed for the devil to leave me."

As someone who also lives with bipolar disorder - a medical illness - I find this tragic. For a person who is already suffering to be told she's not right with God is painful. It damages a person's relationship with her Christian friends and her church. Some even come to believe that it IS the devil that is the cause of their troubles and refuse to take the medication that would help them survive.

Would a person in hospital because of a heart attack, a stroke, or Alzheimer's be prayed for in this way? Can you imagine how that can make a person feel?

I believe churches should, at least once a year, receive a message from the pulpit on the truths about mental illness. I know that pastors don't usually preach about illnesses, but in this case, congregants need to learn how to separate the spiritual from the medical. Too many are uninformed and make things worse because they don't know how to best support people who are going through emotional trauma. The kind of support such individuals need is very similar to the support people with physical illness need: practical help with things like meals and transportation, and a sympathetic ear. Church leaders can help their church family learn how to provide this.

There are two excellent opportunities each year for such a sermon. This upcoming year, May 7 - 13 is Mental Health Week. In October there is a Mental Health Awareness Week as well.

Here is a link to an article I recently wrote which will give some ideas on what good church support looks like.

If you know someone who is a pastor, could you please forward this message on to him or her? You would be doing a big service for the many who suffer from mental illness and need to be understood.

Many thanks,
marja bergen
Author of Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness
and the world's deep hunger meet." - Frederick Buechner

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I believe

I was going to tell you about how amazing Living Room was yesterday. I was going to tell you about how at peace I felt when I came home and how I felt God so close. He is really at work in this group. There were 12 of us and we connected so well. It was hard getting everyone to go home so I could lock the church.

I was going to write a whole bunch about this until I read Misha's post tonight. It got me all riled up - though not in a bad way. The fiery determination welled up again, to continue working at what I believe so strongly in: better support by the church for people with mental disorders.

The Living Room group is an example of how the church can provide tangible support for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. I believe our group is a germ of something, something I hope will spread to other churches (even many?).

A snapshot of our meeting: At our group we start out by helping ourselves to lunch - all finger foods - and we sit around a big table, covered with a tablecloth with a sunflower pattern. Usually we have a flower arrangement in the center. Yesterday we had candles. For extra nibbling, there were cookies, grapes and, as always, a couple of dishes of chocolates on the table. We gradually get into the meeting. The atmosphere is so good.

But I'm describing. And that wasn't my intention. I wanted to talk about how I believe that the body of Christ, the church, will eventually learn how to help those of us who struggle with mental health issues. God is so much at work in Living Room. I know this is the kind of thing God wants us - and all Christians - to be doing. Calls are trickling in every week from people who are interested in receiving faith-based support. There have been others showing an interest in starting groups at their own churches.

This would be such a wonderful way to reduce stigma.

Guidelines for a group: The groups need to be facilitated by someone who has a mood disorder himself. When the group leader shows his vulnerability, talking briefly about his own struggles and how God works in his life, others are encouraged to open up. This kind of facilitator is the key to a good group. Churches need people with these problems to work with the pastor in organizing such a group.

And there should be a connection with a secular mental health agency which would make sure the medical angles are appreciated. This is to discourage totally spiritualizing the problems members face. There has to be an appreciation of the medical AND spiritual. This is of UTMOST importance.

I believe we're onto something. And I pray for God's continued guidance. It's He who helps me want to persevere. I know it's Christ who taught us to love each other unconditionally and I believe that Christians want to do that. They only need to learn HOW to give the support we so desperately need.

So...I've ended up describing Living Room after all. I'm glad I did, because I feel good about my group...and maybe this will inspire others.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Clothed with joy

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. (Psalm 30:11)

Well...I'm not exactly that happy, but I am - for the moment at least - feeling much better than I sounded on my last post. I hope this picture will make you smile and make you happy too.

Yesterday and today I was truly able to focus and work on my book. It feels good to be accomplishing something on it. And if I keep this up, I'll be able to focus on Christmas, without any sense of guilt for abandoning my book for a while. In the past, I've always found that the best way to defeat stress is not by sitting around, but by just carrying on with the work at hand. Sitting around makes me more stressed because I wallow in my worries, not getting anywhere. When I do something, I begin to feel in control again. It's good to feel in control.

I'm grateful for all of you who commented. Thank you to both Amateur Dancer and Bipolar Girl for pointing out that it's probably memories of what happened last year that made me worry about it happening again. And I know that what Dream Writer says is absolutely true, I need to take one day, one moment at a time. I know that, once I get going on the preparations, I'll be ok. I DO love the carols. And I DO love to bake. And I DO love getting together with friends.

This year we're going to try limiting our gift giving a lot more. We'll spend the money we would normally spend and buy World Vision gifts for families in third world countries. Perhaps buy a couple of hens and rooster for my mother; and maybe a goat for my son and his wife. I'd feel a lot better about that than wrapping dozens of gifts that we don't really need. The materialism of Christmas truly sickens me.

I'm looking forward once more to our Living Room meeting on Friday. When I began this group I never realized how much I would look forward to meetings. I love preparing the devotionals and planning topics for discussion. That group really DOES give me joy - a quiet joy - a grateful joy. It's a mystery how a group where people talk about their problems and where Kleenex has to be passed around, can make me feel that way. It's good to know that I'm providing a place where people can open up and be real. I'm thankful to God for having given me this work to do.

So, I send you all a big smile and hope that you're smiling back.

With love - marja

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I'm afraid I'm going to ruin my reputation for being a positive thinker with this, but I don't think I've ever dreaded the Christmas season as I do this year. Usually I love the baking, the shopping, the decorating, the entertaining. But last year turned our very stressful, in spite of my enthusiasm. It threw me into a left me with bad memories.

I'm truly doing fine right now. My last post sounded like I was in a bad way, but I don't think things were as bad as they sounded - at least not outwardly. My new medication dosage is working out well. I think it's helping me stay calmer inside.

Yet now I'm starting to worry about the inevitable Christmas time. I wish I could hide in a hole with my computer and books and just pretend it weren't there. I've so much wanted the time to just work on my writing and reading. I just want more quiet time, with no cooking, laundry or grocery shopping to do. No parents to worry about. No meetings to go to. No exercising to do.

Yet I love all that stuff! I don't want to/I can't give anything up.

But Christmas is a bit TOO much this year. Most years I've put everything aside and focused completely on the preparations. How can I possibly do that this year? I want to have a book proposal prepared by the beginning of December. Then I want to finish the book and have it edited by the beginning of May. Those are my goals. That book is the most important thing in my life right now. It's the most important key I have to - in my own way - try and build understanding about bipolar disorder within the Christian community.

Tonight I will sit down and make plans. I want to see where I can cut the time I will need to spend. I absolutely HAVE to simplify the Holidays this year. I will have to try to make new, less stressful traditions, traditions I can look forward to. I want to be happy about Christmas. And I know that - with careful planning - that can happen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Meds: What a pain!!

Sarah asked about what kind of a cocktail I'm taking. And it appears my cocktail is changing - with me not happy and arguing with the doctor. He's increasing both my mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic.

I don't usually like talking about meds for three reasons: I don't understand them, I'm not really interested (as long as they work, I'm happy), and I know they work differently for everyone. I would be worried that - if I 'm taking something that works, others would want to ask their doctors for the same thing.

But I'll talk about it now, since it came up. My mood stabilizer is tegretol (or carbamazepine) and I take two anti-psychotics: fluanxol (flupenthixol) and loxapine. I know the fluanxol is a weird one that hardly anyone takes, but I like it because it helps me get up early and I've come to love the long quiet time I can have before the day gets started. Loxapine takes the edge off the fluanxol, which causes a bit of hyper-ness.

BUT now my pdoc wants to increase the tegretol and loxapine. I increased the tegretol several days ago and have been feeling very tired. It's difficult to tell the difference between this tiredness and depression. I don't like this.

AND he wants to increase the loxapine from 10mg to 25mg. I start that today. I'm not happy. How will this affect my functioning? Will this mean less quiet time in the morning?

The REASON for him doing this?
  1. My anger (all reasonable and something that's been around for a long time. It's what has been making me write - for years.)
  2. My frustration (isn't it normal to feel that about things that are not right?)
  3. My impatience (when you see so much pain, isn't that understandable?)
  4. My sense of being overwhelmed (normal when one is small and trying to do a big job)
  5. Brief periods of depression.
  6. Two car accidents within 6 weeks (my fault) and another close one.
I think he's over-reacting. I know it's because he cares, but I don't think I need all this. And is the extra medication that makes me feel so tired going to help me drive better? Don't think so.
How much of what I've been going through has simply been because I care about social justice? And wouldn't anyone who cares about such things or who works on the kind of stuff I've been working on get passionate about it once in a while? I'm a passionate person, no matter where my mood is at.

Is my doctor increasing my meds simply because I've expressed passion?

But I respect the guy and will have to comply - at least give it a try. But I'm not happy.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I'm sorry if...

I know I've offended some of you with my last post and for that I'm truly sorry. My husband calls me a "shit-disturber" and I guess I am. Amazing how, as a younger person, I was afraid to say anything - hardly said anything at school.

I want you to know I respect all of your feelings and know you have good reasons for having them.

Please understand that I did not become a Christian to be what a Christian is. I did simply because I needed to have God in my life. I could no longer do life on my own - and I still can't.

Am rather down today. My mom has come to stay with us for a while. She's having trouble with her arthritis and can hardly walk. She's not the easiest person to be around. My privacy and ability to do what I want to do are like zilch.

So, today my dear friends, I feel bad about a lot of things.

Hope all of you are ok.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Let's not judge Christians

I know my post a few days ago brought up a lot of anger within people. I'm angry too, as you well know. I'm angry at the ignorance. I'm angry at the unwillingness in people to learn to understand. But I think there is a great danger when we become angry at what people are, rather than what they do (or do not do). We have to be careful not to return others' judgemental attitudes with judgemental attitudes of our own. We still have to try to love.

I have a couple of close family members who are Christian and are judgmental. They are especially judgmental of things they don't understand - things they have not bothered to learn about. They go to church, hear sermons, read their Bibles, and pray. Yet they seem to miss the point of a lot they're taking in. I love them, yet am frustrated by them. I try to overlook where they fall short, hard as it is. But all I can do is try - little by little - to educate them. They seem to be able to take things in by only very small portions. Most of all, I know the best I can do is to teach by example.

I love these members of my family, but I don't love what they do or the way they think. It happens that they're not as educated as they should have been. Much of what they've become is because of the lack of opportunities they've had. They haven't learned to think more broadly. So I just try to understand where they're coming from.

When a person doesn't understand the truth about mood disorders, we have to make it our job to teach them, little by little. It's hard for those who've never experienced it to understand. We need to be sensitive to the needs of others who want to - but find it hard to - learn what goes on within us.

So yeah, I get hugely angry - enough to be devoting a good part of my life to educate people. But I've learned that it's the injustice of stigma and the hurt the stigma causes that I'm angry at - not the individuals who are causing it. (If they knew what they were doing, I don't think they'd be doing it.) If I'm going to help make changes, I have to continue to love those who I want to change. If they're going to listen to me they need to know that I'm not speaking out of hatred.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Church support can be the best

I hope that my last post didn't make people think that Christians in general are judgmental and unloving. Followers of Christ can be the most beautiful, the most loving of all. I've often told the story about a church friend of mine who came to me one day when I didn't want to go on living. She told me what a loss my life would be. She fixed her eyes on mine and said, "No matter what you do or what you say, I'll always love you." She told me that, as she drove to my place, she had prayed that God would let her be His hands for Him. And He did.

It was through this godly woman that I fully came to understand how deep God's love is for me. Although I had become a Christian many years earlier, I had not fully grasped that until my friend showed me. This friend, also my Bible study leader, has become my mentor.

Both this friend and another one keep close tab on me, especially when my moods are not stable. They made it their business to learn what being bipolar means to me. And I gradually educated them, answering their many questions. They have seen me in many different states, and they keep loving me, no matter what - unconditionally. These are true followers of Christ. They mother me - and they let me mother them as well when they need it. They encourage me in all I do.

My pastor is also a wonderful, compassionate support to me. I've sent countless long emails to him - when I've been high and low. When I first told him I was bipolar, he told me he wanted to learn about this disorder. He went to a mental health seminar for pastors, especially to learn how to help me better. We've become good friends. And he is so very excited about Living Room, our support group. He is my shepherd in this work. With him there, I know I'm not alone. He represents God's tangible presence for me when I have problems dealing with the work I've taken on.

These three people aren't my only support at this church. I have many dear friends - lots of people to hug every Sunday morning. I have spoken in front of the congregation about these things a few times. My disorder is no secret to anyone. They all know about Living Room and they all support it. They ask about it. They pray about it.

How did this all come about? These people are being led by a pastor who keeps reminding them who Jesus really is, someone who loved everyone - even the stigmatized lepers. I was willing to teach them, little by little what my life with bipolar disorder means to me. And they were willing to listen and learn - with love in their hearts.

It is because of this kind of support that I am as strong as I am. It is because of this kind of support that I am able to follow my dream, trying to make the lives of others who live with mental disorders better. I thank God for all He has given me and pray that He will be with me as I do His work - step by step. I'm an optimist. I believe a better understanding IS possible.

Jesus Himself said, "...all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Church support

Misha, in the blog she wrote a couple of days ago, talked about her wish for church support for her battles with bipolar. This, once more, made me feel the great need for spiritual support for people with this disorder. When we believe in God, we need to be able to talk with others who share our faith - without the threat of being blamed for harboring Satan, having unconfessed sins (suggested to be worse than the sins of "normal" people), being separated from God. Some even believe there is no such thing as mental illness.

The symptoms of this disorder are bad enough. But to be blamed for having the illness, to be told that there's something between me and God, is almost worse than having the symptoms. To have to suffer with this stuff, AND be made to feel shame as well, is horrendously inhumane. And to have people who are supposedly following Christ, cause this shame is more hurtful to Christians than almost anything else imaginable. Christ did not teach us to be that way!! He taught us to love unconditionally. He loved the outcasts and the stigmatized of His day. THIS is how He teaches US to live as well. Christians have lost touch with what Christ taught us.

God has so much to offer us. The Bible has so much to encourage us and give us peace, even with our great struggles. Besides the medicine the doctor gives me, there is nothing like my belief in a loving God to keep me well. There is nothing like a church family to help us keep this faith alive. The church needs to find ways to HELP us with faith, instead of blaming us for not having it.

As you can probably see, I'm angry. Church people need to repent their faulty way of thinking. They need to be educated about the truth of this illness.

In a few days the Canadian Mental Health Association will be publishing an online article I wrote, The Church as Supporter. Unfortunately, it's much tamer than what I have said here (we need to be politically correct, don't we?). I will publish the link to it here when it comes out.

In the meantime, this anger is doing one good thing. It is motivating me to not waste any more time, but to get on with finishing my book, one that is designed to educate Christians about this disorder. It tells my story and how God has worked in my life. I do hope it will help build a better understanding.

Having a faith is important to our mental well-being. We need people who share our faith to give us their unconditional love, as Christ does.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Getting sucked down

I am; I'm not; I am; I'm not...I guess I am getting depressed.

In my last post I talked of how I'd stabilized. I guess I spoke a bit too soon. I do indeed feel I'm getting sucked down into a depression. I've made an appointment to see my pdoc early - on Tuesday. That will give me a few more days to assess whether it's really happening and not just a glitch.

I spent my quiet time this morning just sitting, not able to read or pray. I did write in my journal a bit, which was good. From 6am to 8am, doing pretty well nothing. Neat thing is, though, that I did feel God's presence. Although I was very much within myself, I felt Him there with me, keeping me company. No feeling of hopelessness or despair. I am having some difficulty doing the things I need to do, though.

My ladies' small group from church met at my house this morning, and that was a true uplifter. We connect so well. We can be totally honest with each other. Everyone is compassionate and loving. It's this spiritual support that has, in large part, encouraged me over the past two years. Without this kind of support I would not be where I am today, relatively healthy - spiritually and emotionally. Without this I would not have had the ability to start my support group.

What I most want/need to do over the next little while, is to focus better on my book. It's so close to being finished, yet the job still seems big. I may get my husband to take the motorhome to a campground nearby, so I can spend a few days in it as a retreat - no choice then but to get writing. I did this last year and got a lot done. We'll see how my mood pans out first. I'm going to have to stay in touch with my friends for now.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thank you!

I thank everyone who commented on my last post. It's so good to have people out there who care and who understand the roller coaster existence we are forced to live out. I'm very encouraged.

I think I've now stabilized and won't have to push forward the doctor's appointment I have in a couple of weeks. I feel good when I can go through a busy time - a bit of a destabilizing time - and yet stay on top - even though it IS a struggle. It feels good to know that I'll be able to see my doctor and fill him in on the many things I've been doing and experiencing and to be able to tell him I survived in spite of it.

What really helps is that I lead a varied life. I don't get much chance to get bored. Being busy really helps. On Monday my husband and I spent most of the day looking after his 95-year-old mom. She needed to go to the eye doctor and do some shopping. Then we took her out for lunch. Today we went to my 92-year-old mom to take HER to the doctor, take her shopping and out for lunch. Tomorrow I'll go for a walk with a friend who is going through a bit of a rough time. The talking we do will do both of us good. I'll also get ready for the ladies' Bible study meeting at my house Friday morning.

I work on photographs and I work on my latest book (though I think I should focus a lot more on that than I'm doing right now). I go to Curves, camera club, a writer's workshop, church and Bible study.

So, my life is: A bit of time at home, at bit of time out. A bit of time doing things for others, a bit of time doing things for myself. A bit of time doing chores, and a bit of time doing creative things. A bit of active time, and a bit of quiet time. Reading and writing. Eating and feeding. Thinking and speaking. Giving and receiving.

It's all about balance isn't it? Especially for us bipolars! How much can we actually do for ourselves to keep ourselves well? To what extent is how we live our life and the attitudes we bring to it, responsible for how well we do?

I know one thing, though. I could not even begin to live as normal a life as I do without medication. I have not always been as well as I am now-a-days. This wellness is something I will never take for granted. It is the most valuable thing I have. I thank God for it and pray that I will use it well.