Friday, December 29, 2006

Me as a mother

I'm working on my book, an autobiographical account of my life with bipolar disorder and how God has been at work in me over the past 18 years. Today I'm trying to write about the topic of motherhood...trying to figure out whether my illness had any ill effects on my son's life.

My son is 33 years old now and seems to be ok. But I often wonder what it was like for him to have a mother who went through episode after episode: depression, mania, psychosis. How was it for him? Did I create hardship for him?

I know he was bullied throughout elementary school. I know that, at one time, he said that the kids had said something bad about his parents. He wouldn't tell us what it was they said.

When I asked my husband, he said I was a good mother. He says that the yelling and screaming I remember doing wasn't nearly as bad as I think it was. What a relief to hear him tell me that!

My son is out of town today, but I want to ask him when he comes home. I need to know. Things have been written about the effects of a bipolar parent on her children. Not sure exactly what they said - can't remember. Yet I know this is a topic that interests some people and I must write about it from the perspective of the life I'm living.

I know one thing, though. I did the absolute best I could. Life would not have been complete for me if I hadn't had the opportunity to raise a child of my own. Motherhood was a most important role for me, one I didn't treat lightly.

If my son's growing up years were difficult for him, I don't think they left too many wounds - none that I know of, anyways. My son is a creative man with high moral standards. He is a compassionate person. I love him and I'm proud of him.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's all over!

First of all, I want to thank everyone who sent Christmas greetings. And I did have an excellent Christmas, though a busy one. Cooked Christmas dinner on the 25th and another dinner for eight on the 26th. Had my mother and mother-in-law over for four days.

Mid-afternoon today we came back from taking Mom-in-law back home and now my husband and I are - gloriously - on our own again. Time to clean up, read, write, putter, blog. It's the days after such busy times that are the best, don't you think? ...those days when you truly appreciate what normal life is like. (Is life ever "normal", though?)

Tonight I'm going to dig into work on my book again. No time to waste. This will be my focus. I am determined to get this thing finished. Try to keep the rest of life simple. Take on no unnecessary time taker-uppers. Work as though I have a publisher chomping at the bit. Work, knowing that this book will do a lot of good. Work as though the world could not continue without it :) :)

That will be my new year's resolution. And I'm beginning to follow through on it before the new year has even started. How's that for resolve, eh? :)

Now I hope that I'm not going to embarrass myself when someone asks me a couple of weeks from now how it's going.

Friday, December 22, 2006


Just checking in to say that I probably won't be posting for a while. Tomorrow we'll pick up my mom. And Sunday we pick up my husband's mom. I'll be tied up until the 27th or so, entertaining.

But since my husband and I will be sleeping on the sofa-bed in the office, I'll try to sneak a peek at some of your blogs during that time - perhaps leave a comment or two.

Now I must clean the fridge and do all the other last-minute things.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas Day. Time to relax and enjoy. Time to count blessings and put worries aside. All the best to all of you, my blogging friends.

With love from marja.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Struggle for other-centeredness

I'm relieved. I'm doing much better than when I last posted. I do find I have to pace myself and give myself time to do my own thing though, otherwise I tire quickly.

Several days ago I noticed myself dumping all my feelings on my friends. I'm the kind of person who doesn't lie easily. When someone asks me how I am, I let them know - sometimes in great detail....not a good idea. But a day later I realized what I was doing. I also realized that analyzing my feelings only made me feel worse. I was dwelling within.

The neat thing about blogging is that it's ok to do some of that. Blogger friends can "change channels" if they get tired of us. But most of the time they understand and know what to say to help. They go through the same stuff.

Yet I know that - in the life I live away from the computer - I need to try to be more other-centered if I want to recover. It's good to hear about my friends and what they're up to. I also know that it's in giving to others and doing for others that I find my strength and happiness. I'd much rather do for someone than to be done for. I want to be a contributor, not a consumer - a conqueror, not a victim. Much of the doing I can do is to listen to and have an interest in the stuff that concerns my friends.

When I caught myself "dwelling within" a few days ago, I emailed my good friend, my major supporter from church. Explained how I wanted to be more other-centered. Would she call me when she had time to chat?

This friend is a retired teacher, a psychologist of sorts. She knew just what to do. She has called me a couple of times now and found all sorts of fun things to talk to me about: all the interesting people she has invited for a huge Christmas drop-in at her house, how she volunteered at a school to read to the children, how she dealt with the difficult children (she's the most loving person I know, but used to be known as the strictest teacher in the school she taught at). She made me laugh.

We talked about how my days were going and whether I was pacing myself enough. She encouraged me. We had fun in our phone visit, only talking a bit about how I was. When we hung up I felt good about myself. I felt good to have a friend who made a point of touching base and taking the trouble to guide the phone visit in a direction that was healthy for me. I felt good about not dwelling so much on myself.

I'm starting to feel strong enough to invite a couple of friends over if they have time. This is so good!! I'm very thankful.

I know many of you have been dealing with the same things I have and I hope that you, too, will find a way to overcome. I hope that you, too, will come to enjoy this Christmas season.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Eggnog time


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Trying to move

I wouldn't normally sit down to write another post so soon, but feel I must do something to rid me of mulling so much within my head. I got up at my usual time, 6:30, and did nothing by ruminate until 10. I know what I need to do right now is to get moving or I'll get sucked down into a depression. This writing to you is one step towards actually doing something.

I quoted Corrie ten Boom a few posts ago: "If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you'll be at rest!" But even looking at Christ can make you depressed if you do nothing about it. Yesterday I was so proud of myself - proud of how I was looking at Christ, even though I felt so close to tears. I started feeling ugly about that pride. Woke up in the middle of the night and had to tell God I felt ashamed - that it's only He who can help me through this - only He who can help my heart be where it needs to be.

And no matter where we look, or where our thoughts go - whether to the world, within, or to Christ - what good is any of it if we don't live actively? Rudyard Kipling, in his poem, If, said "If you can think but not make thoughts your aim." I have to keep reminding myself of that and move my body to do the things that need to be done. If I don't I will bring on paralysis.

So I'm going to leave this posting and get started on making the dessert I have to bring to a family dinner tomorrow. If there's anyone out there who can relate to this and who feels the same, I challenge you, too, to regain control by working on something. We can compare notes and encourage each other.

Today I will play my favorite Christmas music, work, and reward myself with brief moments of reflection - but only brief ones.

And I want to send my love to all of you who read this and can relate.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dealing with holiday stress

The Canadian Mental Health Association says that "A new study shows the holidays can be a trying time for people with mental illnesses." (We ALL know that very well. This is not news to us.) The following are tips on how to manage the stress.
  1. Set your priorities
  2. Ask for help.
  3. Beware of overindulgence
  4. Relax...Breathe...Enjoy!
  5. Stay within budget.
  6. Remember what the holiday season means to you.
  7. Learn about others.
  8. Include others.
  9. Put fun, humour, affection and "break time" into your holidays.
  10. Get into the light.
Personally, I think I'm doing almost all these things right now. I've made many changes this year, purposely trying to avoid the problems I've run into other years.

I feel that I'm doing well with the preparations. The main things left to do is to buy a couple of gifts, wrap all the gifts, and clean the house. In the next week there will be plenty of time to relax. Tonight my husband and I plan to watch a Christmas movie on TV. We hardly ever watch TV together, so this will be a special time with snacks and eggnog.

Although I still feel subdued and teary, I feel a quietness. Within this quietness I feel close to God, something I'm not able to feel in the same way when I'm busy, running all over the place and unable to slow down. I feel at peace. I feel a quiet, holy joy. And when I shed a few tears, it actually feels good. It's a getting in touch with my emotions - getting in touch with the core of my being.

It's Jesus' birthday! And I'm happy He was born. And I feel His love within me and surrounding me. I'm ready to celebrate - tears and all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Trying to maintain focus

I want to thank everyone who sent such encouraging messages to my last post. Although I don't feel too different - still close to tears - I'm receiving tremendous support, from my blogging friends, my friends from church, and my husband. And I'm trying to be good to myself and not push things.

I've decided that my main focus this Christmas has to be to create a clean happy home for our two mothers, my son and his wife, and my sister when they come. I'm only going to bake two things this year: shortbread is done and I still want to make a Dutch cookie that is traditional in our home. The rest I will buy. I will simplify things as much as I can.

I saw my pdoc today and he decided he wants to wait to give me an antidepressant. I'm on so much medication already. Besides, when he saw me I was all bubbly and enthusiastic, telling him about the things that have been happening in my life. I did not seem at all depressed. He thinks my problem might be exhaustion rather than depression. And he might be right. We're going to wait and see if I get any better after Christmas. I'm kind of glad he didn't just automatically put me on yet another pill. I want to see, too, if a combination of looking after myself, physically, mentally, and spiritually, will pull me out of this.

I went to tell my pastor that I did not think I should do anything at the Christmas Eve service. He was fine with it. We had a great talk. I'm glad I made that decision. I would have had to do a lot of preparation for that - not good right now.

A good friend of mine recommended I read Day 25 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. That by itself encouraged me about the state I'm in. Warren says that "Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days...We learn things about God in suffering that we can't learn any other way." He quotes the apostle Paul, who said, "We know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character."(Romans 5:3-4) He goes on to say, "Your circumstances are temporary, but your character will last forever... The Bible often compares trials to a metal refiner's fire that burns away the impurities. "

I've been through much over the past forty years and I know God has changed me because of the suffering I've undergone. If my life had been easy, I would not be who I am now. I think I'd be a pretty bland person. My life is rich because I've clung to God. I've trusted Him since I found Him twenty years ago.

I'll try to be good to myself, be patient, do what I can without pushing myself too much, and be secure in my belief that God knows what's best for me.

Rick Warren quotes Corrie ten Boom, who suffered in a Nazi death camp. She explained the power of focus: "If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. But if you look at Christ you'll be at rest."

This Christmas time I will try to look at Christ, not all the "stuff" that comes with Christmas. I'll remember the baby Jesus and try to place myself back there in Bethlehem, 2000 years ago. I'll take time out now and then, within my mind, re-enter the peace of the stable where He was born. In the quiet of my bedroom, I'll shut out the glitter and noise and pressures of the Christmas we're forced to live today. Then I'll be able to truly worship Him.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Not myself

I almost hate to post this. Worried someone from life in my touchable world will read and consider me unreliable. Before anyone knows, I would really like a chance to pull out of this state of irritability and this being so close to tears all the time.

It hit three days ago and I just can't shake it. Arguing with my husband, impatient with my mom. I know it's emotional exhaustion, but no matter how much I rest, it stays with me. Now you know why I could never handle having a job. And this is probably why I have so much trouble at Christmas time. There's just too much going on. Not enough time for my own stuff. Too many must do's. Even when I try to relax, I'm haunted by all that needs to be done.

I know what you're saying: What about that last post? The one about "Stuff". My good attitude is not helping at all now. Problems seem to be inescapable.

My pastor has asked me to speak at the Christmas Eve candlelight service. I would just love this opportunity, but now? I want to see whether I improve, but he needs to be able to count on me. This is the part I hate SO much about this illness. It's so difficult to commit to anything because you never know how you're going to be - especially at Christmas.

I was so eager to do this Christmas Eve stuff, I spent most of the evening mapping out what I wanted to say - I was so eager - still am. But can I count on myself?

Would an ativan help me get through something like this? But isn't that for anxiety? I'm not anxious. I'll try and see my pdoc this week if I can get in. There must be SOME kind of pill to erase these feelings.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Stuff vs relationships at Christmas

I mentioned a few posts ago the stress I was feeling connected to Christmas. I honestly didn't look forward to it. Felt like crawling into a hole and staying there until the season was all over with. But I've changed my tune and am now enjoying myself. I had to change my attitude, which I did, though it wasn't of my own volition this happened - it just did. And I'm thankful for that.

One thing that has helped me is connecting with my blogging buddies. It has been great to read your posts and make comments. And it's been fulfilling to me to be able to talk with you about things that I find interesting and things that matter a lot to me. My Living Room group has been another source of fulfillment, as have my other friendships.

I know that, if I only have some time every couple of days to sit here at the computer and see how all of you are doing and talk to you in my own posts and in my comments to you, I feel filled up - blessed. It's relationships, after all, that matter most in life - not stuff.

I will devote myself to relationships and, if there's room for stuff like baking, decorating, shopping, I'll fit in the most important of these. If I don't get everything done, who cares?

I used to do the reverse: tending to the stuff and fitting in relationships when there was room. The stress I felt a while ago was mostly, I think, because I was just thinking too much about stuff.

The love I give and receive feeds me more than anything. Aside from medications, love is what keeps me well and strong. I don't know what I would do without it. I'd probably be like a cup with nothing inside. I'd be hungry with nothing to fill me up. I'd be cold and not be able to feel warmth.

The relationship that is of utmost importance to me, is my relationship with God. Without Him I could not have the kind of love I give or receive. Knowing how very much He loves me, helps me to love others better. And to keep my relationship with God strong, I need to take lots of quiet time in prayer, reading, and writing.

So I spend some time with God. I spend some time with friends (like all of you). And, the least important thing I do is spend time on stuff. My stress is reduced. And I feel happy.

The question I'm waiting to see answered is whether I can keep this up. Am I going to be able to sidestep the depression I've had the last couple of years at Christmas time? I don't know. But somehow I think I'm on the right track.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

An up recipe for down times

...or for way-too-up times.

I've baked one thing so far - my shortbread cookies. This is always the first Christmas baking I do, because my recipe makes lots, and they keep well. I store them in the coolness of our enclosed garage in a big tin, nestled amongst the empty pop cans, my husband's tools, and the general mess that collects because we're too lazy - or always too busy - to keep things tidy.

The reason I say this shortbread is an up recipe, good for down times, is because it's the simplest cookie possible to make. But it's neat how the simplest recipes are often the best. And I'm sure this must be the most delicious shortbread possible. Unlike a cookie baking friend I have who won't share her recipes with anyone, I WILL share this recipe with you.

There are only 3 ingredients:
  • 1 pound butter (at room temperature),
  • 1 3/4 cups sifted icing sugar (sift before measuring)
  • 4 cups flour
Accompanied by your favorite music, cream butter and icing sugar together. Beat in flour, a portion at a time.

The cookies can be formed in different ways, depending on how much energy you have:
  1. Roll out portions of dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into small cookies, using a cookie cutter of your choice. (Small is best, because these cookies are sinfully rich.) Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes until very slightly golden around the edges. Or:
  2. Roll dough into a narrow snake, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Cut into 1/4 inch thick cookies. Bake same as above. Or if you're really into a down time:
  3. Press dough into a jelly-roll pan. Cut into small squares and bake at 300 degrees. (I'm not sure how long) You can make the squares more interesting by placing half an almond in the center of each before baking. (To split almonds, place in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Then use a paring knife to separated the two halves.)

One more thing to share:

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come. - Chinese proverb

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Amazing grace

Over the last couple of days I've been trying to decide on what I most wanted to write about next: shortbread (I've got the best recipe) or grace. But since there seemed to be so much interest in my last post, I felt I really needed to carry on a bit on the theme of forgiveness and grace. The topic is not ready to put down just yet.

In my previous post I talked about Jesus being an extreme forgiver. The point that didn't come through, I think, was that when Jesus was on the cross and said to God, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," the "they" he talked about was everyone, you and I included. It is out of unconditional love for us.

God loves us, no matter what we do or what we say. I remember a time when I was really down when a friend helped me grasp how deep this love for me is. I don't think I've been the same since.

Chalexa mentioned a good book on the topic, What's so Amazing about Grace? by Philip Yancey. I looked through my copy and want to share what he quotes Henri Nouwen as saying:

"I have often said, 'I forgive you,' but even as I said these words my heart remained angry or resentful. I still wanted to hear the story that tells me that I was right after all; I still wanted to hear apologies and excuses; I still wanted the satisfaction of receiving some praise in return - if only the praise for being so forgiving!

But God's forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life. It calls me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one whom I am asked to forgive."

Something neat that Yancey says: "Forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker that I am."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Extreme forgiveness

I was just reading something - and it's interesting how this is happening at this time - only a day after Dream Writer's post on human evil. She wrote that she did not think there was such a thing as human evil. I didn't know what to think, but Lewis Smedes agrees with you, Dream Writer.

This book I'm reading discusses Nelson Mandela and Jesus as individuals who forgave people who mistreated, tortured, humiliated, mocked, and rejected them. Smedes, in his book, Forgive and Forget argues that we should forgive even those monstrous people who commit atrocities.

"The truth of the matter is: very ordinary people do extraordinary evil. We need to judge them, surely, and forgive them, if we can, because they are responsible. And because we need to be healed."

In this book that quotes Smedes, In the Company of Jesus, Bill Donahue writes, "To equate even the most despicable person with evil embodied - with Satan - is to dehumanize that person. Only Satan, argues Smedes, is unforgivable because he is pure, nonhuman evil. If we treat humans in this way, it removes responsibility from their actions, for now they are nonhuman and thus not accountable. To for give is to acknowledge their humanity."

Forgiving a person is allowing him or her to be human.

Hope this topic doesn't weigh too heavy on everyone. But it IS interesting stuff, don't ya think?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Peace to you

Just sharing: a prayer for peace, love and hope.