Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Good things about depression

I've had Susan Bernard's post on depression open for days, intending to add some thoughts it stirred up in me. But I've been too lazy to use my head for a while and have - I'm sorry - had to put off blogging for a while. But today is the day I will try to address it.

Susan quotes from a book by Jonathan Zeuss, M.D.:

"Depression is a quest for vision; its essence is transformation. Depression wells up and encompasses us for a time in a state of painful, dream-saturated formlessness, but its true purpose is to provide the opportunity for healing insight, renewal, and reintegration..."

One of my favorite books on depression is New Light on Depression by Harold G. Koenig, M.D. and David B. Biebel, D. Min. Much of the book deals with depression from a Christian perspective. I think it's Biebel who said, "...depression's saving grace is not that it can be conquered but that it puts depressed persons of faith in touch with deeper truths about reality, spirituality, and themselves than might otherwise be known." (Yes, I think I understand more about life than those for whom life has been easier.)

He goes on to say - and this is a little bit of a different positive angle I can really relate to:

"Having one's capacity for serenity and joy restored is little compensation for the agony of despair, much less the 'despair beyond despair.' The only true compensation for depression has to do with the sense of purpose and fulfillment that comes from redemptive involvement with others in distress, sharing the comfort we've experienced. This is the true route to joy."

In my own way, I've found a purpose that I probably would not have had, were it not for my bouts with the effects of bipolar disorder - especially the depression. I've come to think of depression as fodder, something bad out of which good can come. Though I suffer as much as anyone while I'm going through it, I know it will help me to help others. And helping others IS "the true route to joy." It truly is.

4:15 am - ever earlier

Good morning. It's 5:10 am and I've been up for almost an hour. Every day I seem to be getting up earlier - no need for more sleep. I've been getting about six hours sleep a night yet don't seem to need more, except for one or two brief naps during the day.

This is kind of nice. It makes for long, fruitful days. Yet I worry a bit about it as well. This is not normal, is it? Good thing is that I do feel tired at the end of the day - ready for sleep by ten o'clock. Though I'm very busy and active, I don't feel like I'm high.

The long mornings are wonderful though. Those early hours are the best part of my day. Lots of time to sit in my comfortable leather chair with a cup of coffee, just mulling things over. Time to journal, read my Bible - though I don't do enough of that, and pray - though I don't do enough of that either.

But, to tell the truth, I am a bit worried about these early risings - these short nights. It's not normal, is it? I'll try and get in to see my pdoc next week and go over this with him. About time to see him anyways.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Creating living room (part two)

This cover is really much more clear and sharp in reality. I think I must have done something wrong technically to make it look so bad.

I want to share with you a bit about how neat a thing Living Room is - some of the things I cover in my new manual.

Living Room is a Christian self-help group for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. Ideally facilitators should have one of these problems; they will be better able to identify - better able to support. The group is in partnership with a mood disorder association. This helps avoid the danger of trying to spiritualize the problems too much - something Christian groups need to watch out for.

Neat thing is: "You get help, you give help, and - in the process - help yourself."

It's obvious how participants can benefit from this place where they can share with others their troubles, at the same time discussing their faith. Finding out they're not alone helps them gather encouragement and strength.

But how does the church benefit?
  1. The church responds to Christ's call to love and help people in need.
  2. It helps people who are often shunned in the community.
  3. It helps break down the stigma of mental illness by promoting prayer and support for the participants.
  4. It helps make mental illness an acceptable topic of conversation, encouraging others to be open about their struggles and search out treatment and support.
  5. It gives members of the congregation opportunities to gain a better understanding about mental health issues.
I'm frequently encouraged to hear how important Living Room is when I hear the stories from members of the group. At the last meeting there was a man his wife who were strong members of his church but never felt free to talk about about his bipolar disorder there. They kept his disease a dark secret - a burden for which they received no spiritual support. Being able to talk about his problems in the Christian setting we provided gave him a tremendous relief. It was a release he very much needed.

There are many stories - too many to share here. But I feel a passion for this program and think it needs to extend to communities everywhere. Yet I know it will take time. People have to feel free to share their problems with the disorder with their church family.

Once again, I offer this manual to you. Even if you're not ready to start up, I believe it will be an inspiration that will help you see what is possible when there is a place where people can freely talk about their mental health difficulties in the light of their faith.

To order a copy - at my cost - email me at

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Creating living room

Those of you who have been coming to this site for a while will remember that I've been writing manuals to help people who want to set up a faith-based support group. Manual number one, which describes the Living Room support group concept, is pretty well ready to go to press. I "only" have to sort out some funding issues.

But things are looking good. In fact a Christian organization that supports people with disabilities and mental illness has expressed an interest in sending copies to a large number of pastors, with a letter promoting the idea. I am happy about this.

When you are doing work God truly wants you to do - with a positive and prayerful spirit - things do come together. ...and what a joy it is to see that happen!

Manual number two, the facilitator's guide, is also ready to go. I just haven't decided yet how to produce it. The first manual will be an attractive booklet with a glossy cover (see above). We can afford that since we will probably need to print a lot to cover the order we will get from the organization I described above. The facilitator's manual may end up in a report cover, but still with an attractive color cover.

This first manual, Creating Living Room, is for church leaders and people with mood disorders who want to know how they could set up an outreach group like this in their church. If you would like me to mail you a copy, please email me at I will let you know when it's ready and the cost. (I will only charge my cost for printing and mailing.) You may want to get the facilitator's manual at the same time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bitter or better?

Thank you Anonymous Mom, Susan, and Tery for your comments on my last post.

You're right, Tery, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are not fun. In fact they can be unbearable at times. But the question is - what kind of person do you become as a result? If you don't become bitter, you become better. (I'm quoting someone here, but not sure who.) I truly believe that. If we can survive the storms and fires of life we end up becoming stronger people. We end up with a lot to offer. We end up joyful and at peace, in spite of it.

I'm 61 years old and have lived with bipolar disorder for over forty years. Since I began relying on God at the age of 42 (as the result of a bipolar crisis), I have gradually become stronger. Many things came into play as part of this life of faith:
  • my belief that God loves me the way I am. I did not suffer from feelings of guilt or shame. My illness isn't my fault, so why feel guilty?
  • the courage to be open about my disorder (I was fortunate - I didn't have to work - so was relatively safe in letting the world know)
  • the purpose I found in trying to reduce the stigma through writing about mental health issues. This sense of purpose - God-given - makes me feel strong and well.
  • the Christ-like love and support I received from church friends
  • the compassion I feel for others who suffer as I do. Another purpose - I want to help in some way - to love, as God loves me.
Having bipolar disorder isn't what makes me happy. But I'm happy with the way this disorder has challenged me and made my faith in God important to me. It's my ability to become a better person as a result that I'm thankful for. God has helped give me this positive way of looking at it.

Eugene Peterson's paraphrased version of the Bible says this: "...every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." (Romans 8:28)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Finding meaning

My most recent article about finding meaning in my life with bipolar disorder was published today. I hope you'll take a look. There has been one comment, one I've responded to. The person vehemently disagrees with my efforts to take a positive spin on things. And perhaps you might agree with her. I think there's lots of room for discussion here.

But I have found meaning in life, meaning that I'm not sure I would have found without my disorder.

I was talking to a friend this afternoon who feels similarly about the renal failure she suffered a few years ago. She received a kidney transplant. It didn't take. Then she had another one. Today this tiny lady lives with four kidneys inside her (doctors did not remove the non-functioning ones). Physically she is not strong, but she is happy and has never felt as much at peace.

The thing is, in the midst of these transplants she found God. Her life has changed in an amazing way. This might not have happened if she had not suffered such a crisis.

Something similar happened to me. I began searching for God at a time I felt I could no longer cope on my own with the unbearable feelings my disorder brought on. I needed someone I could lean on to help me through those rough times. This is how I found God. And my life has also changed in an amazing way.

In the article that was published today I missed mentioning this important spiritual life that I have found in my life with bipolar. I wish I'd remembered to do that. But this more complete story, No Longer Alone, is also online. It was published in May. I would love if you would read it.

I would be interested to hear your comments on this positive look at living with bipolar disorder. Am I being far too positive (in your opinion)?

Monday, August 13, 2007

I need your help

Frustrating! I had saved a couple of quotes from people on the blogs about how it feels to not have anyone understanding they can really talk to when they need support for their depression. They expressed the loneliness they felt and the lack of understanding they received from their friends.

I needed these to help me write an article about the need we who suffer from depression have for good support. And now they've vanished.

Could you help me?

How does it feel when you have no one to talk to who will show compassion?

I'm truly hoping you can put on your thinking caps, remember what it feels like or how it feels today, and write a line or two. This article is for a Christian website that wants to educate Christians about mental illness.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Church response to the mentally ill

All of you who are interested in issues of faith and mental health would find this article by Peter Andres of Mennonite Central Committee Supportive Care Services in BC a worthwhile read...and it's not only because he quotes me.

What deeply impassioned me once again was the comment by a person named Daniel from South Africa. Is there ever a lot of work to do to educate the Christian church! I pray that God will help us do that. I pray that God will help Christians listen.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


First of all, thanks to everyone who commented on my last post. I hope you'll check out the comments I made on your comments :-)

A couple of days ago I felt so awful, even thinking I might be on the edge of depression again - all because I felt I had been leaning too heavily on my friends - bothering them too much with my phone calls and emails. Today I feel much better. It didn't take long to get over. Makes me wonder whether I wasn't a bit too quick to start complaining publicly about my insecure feelings.

Through helping a friend who was in some trouble I forgot all about my own. I find repeatedly that when I start to think about others rather than myself I feel better. When I do a little thing for someone else, or call to see how someone who hasn't been well is feeling, or when I work on a piece of writing that might help others, I don't have as much of a problem. When I forget about myself I don't worry about how I look to others. I stop looking inside myself and look outside.

Yet it's the nature of depression - and mania as well - to focus on self. We become self-centered. I've learned that by practising other-centeredness I can perhaps even ward off a depression when it threatens. It doesn't always work, but I'm sure it has helped many times.

Facilitating my Living Room support group has helped my emotional well-being in a big way. I feel stronger, more together. Today there are 37 members in the group. Of course, not everyone shows up at the same time. I receive frequent phone calls from people who want to start coming and phone calls from people who want to talk. There are always two or three that need some special attention. Serving the needs of these people has given me great joy. I feel I'm doing what God designed me for. Living Room has helped me stop thinking of myself overly much. I've prayed for a long time to be more other-centered and Living Room has been one of the answers to this prayer.

If you are interested in the Living Room faith-based support group concept for people with mood disorders, let me know. I have created manuals to help you set one up as an outreach project for your church. It's thorough and will give you all the tools you need. Just email me at

Sunday, August 05, 2007

My river

“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)

I’m a letter writer, at times far too much so. When I have an idea, I need to share it. When a Bible verse speaks strongly to me or puzzles me, I need to discuss it. When something exciting happens in my life, I can’t keep it to myself. I write when I’m happy, when I’m excited, when I’m hurt. The river inside me must flow. What’s in my heart must come out.

I’m a communicator by nature. This is what has helped me as a photographer and writer.

But lately I've been feeling very badly about myself, having the distinct feeling that I've been burdening friends too much with emails and phone calls. This tendency to over-communicate is difficult to control; it's like an obsession. Every once in a while I feel this way - like I'm a nuisance and a burden. It's an ugly feeling; it's a depressing feeling.

Fortunately, since I started blogging things have improved a bit. I have one more place to express myself. But there's nothing like talking to a special friend who understands me and has become important to me. I just wish I could find it in myself to give my friends more space. I sincerely hope and pray that God will help me change.

This problem is with me whether I'm high or low. It is not affected too much by mood. Is this a bipolar thing? Does anyone else have problems with over-communicating?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sleeping: an act of trust

It's a coincidence - or is it? - that Susan of Bipolarwellness just finished talking about sleeping problems, searching for solutions that might help Kira out. I had been planning on doing a post about the problems of getting rest. It was the topic for our last Living Room meeting.

Some of the practical solutions to getting to sleep are well covered in Susan's post. But there is a spiritual angle to this - one I haven't seen discussed too much anywhere. I read a wonderful book by Mark Buchanan and loved it so much that I am in the process of reading it again. The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring the Sabbath deals with rediscovering what it means to truly rest. One of the things Buchanan writes about is sleep.

I want to share with you what he has to say on this topic:

Sleep is "...a relinquishment. It is a self-abandonment: of control, of power, of consciousness, of identity. We direct nothing in our sleep. We master nothing. We lose ourselves and are carried like children or prisoners into a netherworld alternately grotesque and idyllic, carnivalesque and elysian. In sleep we become infants again: utterly vulnerable, completely defenseless, totally dependent. Out of control.

"...So sleep, besides being a necessity, is also an act of faith.

"...we give ourselves, regardless of our unfinished business, into God's care. We sleep simply because we believe God will look after us."

A good trip

Thank you Di, Marie, Tery, and Mel for your good wishes for the road trip with my husband's mother.

The trip actually did feel like a holiday. Though we did a lot of driving within a short time, we enjoyed ourselves. We had rented a larger car so there was plenty of room for our luggage and mother's walker. And the traveling was smoother and much more comfortable than it would have been with our smaller car. It was a good investment.

I think I enjoyed myself more with Mom along than I would have if it were only my husband and I. She was so appreciative of everything - had such delight in all she saw. I felt true joy knowing that we were giving her a trip that she had long ago thought was no longer possible for her.

I got a kick out of her frequent remarks on how good the roads were. She remembered the way the roads were when she travelled them as a much younger person.

Taking a trip with Mother is something I would not mind repeating sometime. But next time we won't need to rush so much.