Friday, November 30, 2007

Drawing vs photography

This year I gave up photography because I wanted to have more time to push for mental health awareness. Photography takes a lot of energy- energy I couldn't afford any more. And yet, now look at me, I'm spending time drawing and painting. What's the difference?

I think the difference is that the kind of photography I did involved working with people. There's a lot of stress involved in spending time with a child, trying to get the kind of expression that says something about the child and about me. I'd play with the children, spending a lot of time on the floor as I tried to capture the true child - the candid child. I always loved doing that - got on a real high doing that. And I was good at it. But it was hard work. Today I don't have the energy to spare. My energy needs to go into more important things. (You can see some of my photographs here.)

Now I feel a need to spend my recreational time doing quiet, solitary creative activities. Last night I spent the evening drawing an old Dutch street scene while listening to Christmas music by Pavorotti. What a wonderful time I had. Pure peace. I'm rediscovering my childhood love of drawing.

For this picture (can't show it, because it will be a surprise Christmas present for a friend) I drew from a painting my father did years ago. I studied his brush strokes carefully, something I had never done and came to appreciate the artist in him more than ever before. I felt a closeness with him. Later today I will paint the scene with watercolors.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Somewhat supercalifragilistic, but grateful

I've been talking a lot lately about how good can come out of bad and today I can once more see this happening in my life. I've found pleasure in a new creative activity; I'm walking closer to God; and I'm feeling secure in the love of my friends.

There have been symptoms of depression lately, as some of my recent posts have shown (or "supercalifragelisticexpialidocius" as Susan would call it - see her comment at this recent post). It has been hard to do the things I need to do, I've experienced a lot of anxiety and an undercurrent of tearfulness. Yesterday my doctor put me on prozac. He wants me to take a therapeutic dose and then carry on with a maintenance dose once I'm back to normal.

I've done a lot of things to help me deal with this episode and they have been working well. One thing that has caused me to feel ashamed is that I believe I rely too heavily on my friends. This feeling is probably as bad as it is because of depression's negative thinking. To counteract this I've tried to cling to God more. If I go to my friends because they love me and I love them, then shouldn't I go to God in the same way - because he loves me and I love him? I started making my journal entries into "Dear God" letters. As a result I have started feeling closer to him. That has given me a lot of comfort.

I have been very open with my best friend about what is going on with my feelings and my thoughts. As a result she is reaching out to me, calling me every day. What a comfort that has been! At a time when I needed to hear it spelled out, she told me she loved me. When I felt I was contacting her too much, she assured me that I could call her anytime. What a comfort this assurance was to me! This friend exemplifies what Christian support can be. She is very much a follower of Christ and through her, my own faith is encouraged to grow. She makes me feel worthy; she makes me feel loved. And that is so important for a person going through depression.

Other good things that have come out of this "supercalifra...." : I've given myself a break from pushing mental health awareness, allowing time to prepare my heart for Christmas. I'm finding comfort in playing with making pictures. My inner child, that needy part of me, is being fed with the things it needs right now: creativity, peace, and love.

...and I am grateful. And God is good.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Puttering with pictures

I've been puttering with pictures, drawing with India ink and then painting with watercolors. Making pictures to use as Christmas gifts is helping me look forward to Christmas. The picture above was made using a photograph my husband took in Dubrovnik earlier this year.

But it's time to leave play time behind for a while. Today I'm trying to focus on planning meals for the next few days (which I've done now - "yeah!!") and shopping for groceries. It has been such a long time since I've felt up to shopping. Our kitchen also needs a good tidying job. Then, tonight, perhaps I will have deserved to play my favorite game with my husband. We will play Ticket to Ride, a game involving a bit of luck and a lot of strategy.

This morning I read something in my Bible that inspired me. Jesus - at a time when he was tired and hungry - said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." (John 4:34) I think that's the best kind of food for me as well and I will soon need to leave my child behind and continue doing what I believe God made me to do: helping Christians learn to understand and support those with mental health issues. That kind of "food" is healthy for me and makes me feel strong. I think that when Jesus said this, ministering to the woman at the well, he was revived and no longer felt tired or hungry.

I'm not too sure about whether making pictures is food for my spirit. Not sure whether God made me to be an artist...though I did have a bit of fun. Drawing makes me feel like a child again and my childhood wasn't a particularly happy one. It's time to leave my child behind and be a grown-up again. I want to be strong. I want the healthy food - doing the will of God.

Have a blessed weekend everyone. May you, too, find food to make you healthy and strong.

...and don't forget to check my new article online.

Friday, November 23, 2007

"Do you want to get well?"

There's a story in the Bible about a man who has been crippled for a long time. Before Jesus heals him, he asks the man, "Do you want to get well?" Today I ask myself that question. I've so grasped onto this idea that I am now depressed that I'm not letting it go. I've so adjusted my thoughts to trying to do battle with this that I'm now focusing too much on it. I need to free myself from this and live as though it doesn't exist - as though it has no right to exist.

Susan gave a suggestion in her comment to my last post. She said, "My latest technique, brainswitching, also works for me. Whenever I think I'm feeling low, I don't use the word "depressed" and don't worry about being depressed. Rather I come up with a childhood word, for me it's Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, from the film Mary Poppins. It makes me smile and doesn't allow the brain kindling to happen."

I like your term "brain kindling", Susan. That is indeed what seems to have happened within me. And "brainswitching"... that is indeed what I need to do. I need to act as though I'm not depressed. I need to think I'm not depressed. I should not talk about being depressed. Instead I'm trying to color my world by making pictures.

I will try to accept God's healing touch and move forward.

By the way, please check out my new article on how Christians can support people with depression. It just went online yesterday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I've gone and hit a low

Well, what's been threatening for a while and what I kept trying to push away has come upon me. I have to admit that I'm into a bit of a depression. Not a bad one so far - and I pray that this will not become a bad one. I'm determined not to let that happen. Please, God, don't let that happen.

I can see now that the anxiety I've been feeling so much in recent days is just part of depression. It's just part of negative thinking.

So...I must make some plans to help me cope with this. Perhaps I can lift myself out quickly - if lifting myself out is at all possible. I have to remember, though, that I need to trust God and not think that I have to do it all by myself.

So...what can I do to stay out of the pit?
  • I'll make an appointment with my psychiatrist and get started on some prozac. I've never had trouble with this pushing me into mania, so I trust it.
  • I'll go to the gym or walk daily.
  • I'll talk to my best friends daily, explaining to them why I need to do that right now.
  • I'll give myself some manageable goals for each day.
  • I'll keep puttering with pictures as much as I can.
  • I'll write "Dear God" entries in my journal, telling God about what I'm going through and asking for his help.
  • I'll write down whatever things help me most so that I can share them later with Living Room members.
  • I'll try to bring brightness into my days by doing things that help other people.
  • I'll read and meditate on the Psalms.
  • I'll try to write Psalms, first expressing my pain, then praising God.
  • I'll remember that God loves me and that my friends love me and I will thank God for that.
Please, God, I pray, help this not become too bad. Help me to be well for Christmas.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Art for comfort

I've been having off and on days when I feel like depression is threatening and have been trying to treat it in whatever way I can with healing activities. Yesterday I felt insecure, like I used to feel as a child. Why does that happen to me? Maybe I need some counseling.

I remember well one day when I was a seven-year old at a health treatment center (where I had to stay for six traumatic weeks - away from my family). I had accidentally gotten locked up in a bathroom and was left behind when all the other children went for a walk in the forest. I panicked and yelled and screamed and cried. A nurse heard me and let me out. As I cried bitterly, she comforted me and took me to a table by a bright window. There she set me to drawing and coloring. I will never forget how I felt and how doing the creative work helped me through this time.

So now when I'm feeling a bit down - or insecure as I did yesterday - I feel like that child once more as I draw and paint. Creative work is a wonderful healer. And I have something to show for it at the end.

The drawing I posted here is partially copied from another drawing as an exercise. It's set in my native country, Holland. I'd like to post some more original work but my husband has to hook my scanner up to the computer first. Currently I most enjoy - and have the most success - drawing European street scenes with India ink and then painting them with watercolors. I can do them because they involve straight lines and I can handle those. I've been working from photographs my husband took earlier this year.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Unconditional love

In their book, New Light on Depression, David Biebel, C.Min. and Harold Koenig, M.D. wrote, "Love - unconditional love - is the ultimate long-term antidote for depression, for at its core love is connected with faith and hope." I find this a powerful statement.

I believe that when we feel loved by our friends and by God, no matter what we do or say - and when we love others in the same way - all our emotional and spiritual needs end up being met, even if indirectly.

When we love and are loved unconditionally and non-judgmentally:
  • we feel good about ourselves
  • we feel secure
  • we care enough about ourselves to want to take good care of ourselves
  • we find out that it is more gratifying to give than it is to receive
  • we want to do our best to make our life count for something - to do God's work
  • we are able to be more forgiving
  • we are encouraged in our faith in God
  • faith in God leads to having faith in what he provides, including medical treatment
  • faith in God leads to hope
No wonder Jesus said what he did: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:37-40.

The Bible also says, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10

So much of our ability to deal with depression hangs on how we give and receive love.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I'm seething

I've been happy lately about how I'm able to control my anger, especially towards those who don't understand mental illness. I wrote recently about how we have to be patient with and learn to be understanding of those who don't understand. But sometimes my patience wears very thin and I purely seethe. This morning is one of those times.

Once again I heard of a pastor telling a person with bipolar disorder that she doesn't need her pills if she believes in God. That is SO irresponsible. Such advice could easily have tragic results. If such pastors only knew and understood what they are dealing with. They are dealing with a potentially fatal disease. It is estimated that between 15 and 20% of people suffering from bipolar disease will commit suicide. Up to 50% will attempt suicide.

For a Christian to tell another Christian not to take psychotropic medication is the same as a Jehovah's witness telling someone not to have a blood transfusion. It's backwards. God has provided for us in the form of medication. We should be grateful that they exist and accept them if they are helpful.

I have said this before: The brain is an organ of our body and, like any other organ of our body, can have something go wrong with it. We should be thankful that scientists have developed medications that can treat our diseases.

I follow Christ and am doing what I believe God wants me to do. My life is full and joyful. With God's help I'm helping others who suffer from mental illness. Yet I would not have the life I have or be able to do these things if I were not taking medications. I'm on a mood stabilizer and two antipsychotics and they keep me stable. I need them, I trust them, and I thank God for them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Amazing how this happens...

Yesterday was another Living Room meeting. And it is truly amazing how I come away from those meetings feeling a wonderful, quiet joy - a rejuvenation. When I started facilitating Living Room I had never expected these deep feelings of peace - this holy joy - would be my reward. Something magical happens. And I have never been more stable or felt as complete as I do today. I know it's because God is truly present at Living Room. He is in this work; I am not doing it alone.

Other members of the group have similar reports. Those two session of Living Room each month help them stay well. They learn to cope. They learn to trust God. They learn not to be ashamed of their disorder. And we have a great time together, having lunch, studying scripture, and sharing from our hearts.

If you're new to this blog you may be wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Living Room is a faith-based support group for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. It's a church ministry that's in partnership with the Mood Disorders Association here in BC. There are now three groups and a fourth and fifth are in the planning stages.

If this sounds like an interesting concept to you, please check the Living Room website here. You will find the what, how, and why of it all. The manuals went online today in pdf format, ready for you to download. These will explain how to set up a group of your own and how to facilitate a group. Please feel free to email me if you'd like more information.

Monday, November 05, 2007

At the age of 42...

The last comment on my last post and my probably-far-too-long response prompts me to explain something that has been of utmost importance in my life.

At the age of 42, after spending most of my life up to that point not believing in God, I decided to give him a try. I was going through a particularly horrendous time with psychosis and thought to myself "What if there IS something to this belief in God that people have? What if God is real? Could he help me? I can't keep hanging on by myself. I'm tired of the struggle and can't do it anymore."

I began researching God in the public library, not ready yet for church. Though I had been brought up in a Christian home, it was as though I knew nothing about God. I had to start from the bottom - this time with an open heart, a heart ready to receive. I found a book by Marjorie Holmes called "Are You There, God?" It sounded like it was written especially for me. I gradually became eager to read the Bible and to spend time alone with God in prayer. Spending this quiet time gave me peace. It comforted me during difficult times. Gradually I also came to understand what Jesus had done for me on the cross and I became a Christian.

Believing in God meant that I could put my trust in him. No need to hang on in fear, using my own inadequate willpower. I had for so long had to stay strong in an effort to survive, in an effort to keep my sanity. Having God meant I could relax my grip, knowing I was no longer alone. God loved me and would take care of me. My life - still very difficult - improved because my faith helped me cope.

My faith gave me a reason for living. It gave my life meaning. It was soon after my conversion that I took up the cause to try to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. I started writing articles and my book, Riding the Roller Coaster. Being open about my disorder and writing about it was healing. It was a big step toward recovery.

Today my battles against stigma have taken on much greater proportions. I have another book, A Firm Place to Stand: Finding Meaning in a Life with Bipolar Disorder, ready for publication. And I've founded Living Room, a faith-based support organization. I'm speaking out more than ever before. This is not always an easy thing to do. Many times I feel overwhelmed and alone in the battle. But then I know I need to remember that it's not my work - it's God's work I'm doing. It's his plans I'm carrying out - plans to make the world a better place; I'm only a foot-soldier.

I trust God to keep me well and strong. God has provided me with a psychiatrist who understands meds well and knows what works best for me. God has brought people into my life who support me with a Christ-like love. God has given me a purpose to live for. He has given me people to care for. My life is in his hands.

And - by following God - good has come out of bad.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The truth about it all

Tonight I found an awful comment to my article about Finding Meaning in my Life with Bipolar Disorder. The person had lost her home and her family and had some pretty mean words about my views. And it made me think: am I being far too positive in my approach? Tonight I feel dreadful about it, knowing how much suffering there is and the great losses people suffer as a result of the illness - losing everything, and even their lives to it.

My life is turning out well, though I too went through pure hell for much of my adult life. I've been fortunate in every way. Yet I mustn't overlook the great tragedy of this disease. I shouldn't be too proud of my positive spirit. Once in a while I should think about others and grieve for the many who are experiencing hell. Perhaps I should learn to cry a bit more for all those who are in such pain, instead of flaunting my personal good fortune.

I feel for that person who was so angry with me and I can't blame her for feeling the way she does.

A promise of hope

I've been reading a new book, A Promise of Hope, by Autumn Stringam. That book has been getting a lot of press here in Vancouver. In the past week five people alerted me to her and her story.

I was concerned because the cover of the book says that the story is about a "miraculous treatment that cured her." She takes a herbal concoction and has been symptom free for ten years. What concerns me is that there are many who will hear her story and want to go off their medication, opting instead for this "miracle cure." There are already too many people refusing to take the medications their doctor prescribes.

I was happy to see that there is an afterword by Charles Popper, M.D. from the Harvard Medical School warning that there have not yet been controlled scientific studies done to prove that this treatment will be helpful to significant numbers of people or that it's safe over the long run. In the same way that not everyone responds well to a certain medication, not everyone will respond well to the treatment Stringam discovered. I just hope that whoever hears her story will heed what Dr. Popper has to say about all this.

I'm about halfway through the book and am truly impressed with how well it's written. Her description of her mother's battle with bipolar and then her own are vivid. They're so vivid that I am finding myself getting depressed just reading it. But we want people who don't yet understand to learn what kind of hell we sometimes live through, don't we? So perhaps it's a good thing.

How this brings home to me what my life would be like right now if I weren't receiving effective treatment! How this points out the serious nature of our disease!

Stringam is a fellow Christian and in the last bit I read she was ready to take her life when she happened upon a passage from Isaiah that gave her peace and a renewed will to live. For her - as for me - faith in God provided the hope she needed to keep going.