Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Doing rather than thinking

I woke up feeling crummy again this morning. And I realize how I need to shorten my quiet time in the morning and get moving earlier - like the writing here I'm doing now. Too much time sitting is not a good thing.

I have a lot of little things on my to-do list for today. Just little - all manageable - things. And I look forward to ticking them off. Such a good feeling that is! Just thinking about it makes me feel better.

One bigger thing I need to work on is my devotional for Friday's Living Room meeting. We will talk about how Christmas was, why it was that way, and looking to the future - the new year. Leaving the old behind.

Yesterday went well. My Curves workout did me such a lot of good. And I enjoyed my visit with Mom. I'm so happy with how she's doing. She's not lonely at the home anymore. Has made some good friends. Is happy. She's responding so well to the care she's receiving now.

Life is good. God is good.

Please, God, help me remember that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fund raising for mental health

The Globe and Mail newspaper had a wonderful article about how Michael Kirby, the first chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, would like to start an organization for mental health similar to the Canadian Cancer Society. Volunteers would raise moneys for research in the same way they do for cancer. There could be mental health walks. This would not only raise money, it would raise awareness.

I'm so happy about this. It's exciting. I've felt something like this has been needed for a long time. We are fortunate to have someone of Michael Kirby's calibre take an interest in mental health issues.

There was a time - not so long ago - that there was a stigma surrounding cancer as well. People avoided talking about it. Those who had cancer tended to keep it a secret, suffering in silence. I'm sure we will be able to reduce the stigma attached to mental illnesses as well. We might not be able to remove it, but there is huge room for better attitudes to those of us who suffer from it.

My church is an example of a place that is learning to accept those with mental illness. As I've been going through my recent trials, I've had much support. People don't avoid me. They ask how I'm doing. I get hugs. If only this could happen in all churches!

I felt crummy waking up this morning. But I took my shower early and I have a list of things to do today - all little things. I know that working on those and ticking them off as I accomplish them I will start feeling better. One of the first things I'll do is go to Curves for a much needed workout.

Hope you're all well and looking forward to the day.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Antidepressant skills

Two local psychologists, Dan Bilsker and Randy Paterson, have put together an Antidepressant Skills Handbook which is available to download online free of charge. It is available here. The book gives strategies for people with depression to employ, some of it based on the cognitive therapy approach. Individuals can work their way through it with the coaching of a friend or family member. It is also suitable for use by support groups.

I downloaded the 67-page workbook a couple of months ago, intending to make copies to use with a small group of Living Room members. Yesterday I decided it would be a good time for me to try the workbook myself. What better way to familiarize myself with it? I'm sure I'll be able to benefit from it right now.

One section that will be very good for me right now is the one on depressive thinking. That's probably my worst problem right now. The book helps you learn to identify and recognize depressive thoughts, seeing how they trigger your low mood. You learn to challenge these depressive thoughts and replace them with fair and realistic ones. You learn to practice more balanced, realistic thinking.

I don't usually have a lot of problems with negative thinking. I tend to be a very positive person. Yet when I'm into a period of depression as I have been lately, I tend to latch onto negative thoughts about myself. That's when my mood really dips.

I had a good day today. No negative thoughts at all. Finally tackled a huge mess in my bedroom. I followed a friend's advice and put on some good music as I worked. There's still lots to do, but it's already looking much better. It will be so good to come home from the cruise to a tidy house. What I did today is truly a huge accomplishment. I feel encouraged.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Regrets and shame have brought me down lately. I'm good one day, and then something triggers me to turn to those negative emotions and thoughts and I go deeply dark.

But, if I were able to get things into better perspective, the way I should and the way it's healthy, I would see that those negative things are really very small when you place them next to all the good things in my life. I have so much to be thankful for. And the Bible does remind us to think of the good and not to be anxious. And God knows what is good for us and we need to listen.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

In between the dark times, I have felt this peace, only to return to the dark again days later. A very troubling thing. Can I hang onto this peace, can I hang onto the good, those things for which I am thankful? With God's help and with supportive friends beside me, I know I can. But I have to make the decision to strive for this and cling to feelings of thankfulness.

It's not hard to think of things I'm thankful for. I'm really a very fortunate person (except for this darn bipolar disorder). I thank God for:
  • a husband who loves me and has endless patience with me
  • friends who love me and are supportive. I love them so very much.
  • plenty to eat, a warm comfortable home, all the clothes I need.
  • a cruise planned for January 7th. I know, you're all saying "How can she possibly not be jubilant about that?"
  • a talent for photographing children, work which gives me great joy, work which I will soon resume after a long hiatus.
  • the work God has given me to do. It's wonderful to have a purpose so worthwhile - a purpose I feel God designed me for. Thank you, God, for leading me to that.
  • a healthy body
  • an enjoyment of books and learning.
  • Sudoku puzzles that keep my mind occupied and off the negative.
  • playing Ticket to Ride with my husband. Thank you, God, for the challenge. I seldom win anymore, but it's so much fun trying.
  • a smart husband who enjoys the work he does. Thank you, God, that he's able to do it at home, close to me.
  • a pastor who is down to earth and wants to understand mental disorders. Thank you, God, for how he supports me and my work.
  • a God who loves me, no matter what - even when I get more negative than he wants me to.

Pressing on

It has been a very long time since I wrote here. Not much has changed since my last post. Guess that's why I haven't written. When I write I like to have words that will encourage and inspire and I've been having a hard time finding those words lately. Safer to just not say anything, eh?

I have good times when I function normally, alternating with times when I'm deep, clinging to negative thoughts. At times I lose hope. After all, this has been going on for three months now.

A series of stressful situations started this, Christmas - as usual - being one of them. But you would think it would let up after all the sources of stress have been resolved. It hasn't happened so far, but I am praying that it will happen soon. Thing is, I have to live my life and think positively, try not to dwell on the negative.

In past years I've always tried to learn from my moods - things that I could pass on to others. By encouraging others, I found I was encouraging myself. I remember sitting on my bed in the psych ward years ago working on Riding the Roller Coaster. I found satisfaction drawing from what I was going through, finding the good in the bad, and sharing it with the many others who I knew would be able to relate. Inspirational writing helped me cope with my own difficulties. That's one reason I've done as well as I have.

Today I don't have a book to work on, but I have this blog. I will try to write more often. I will try to use my writing to find the good in the bad and to share that good with you.

When I talk to my friend, expressing my feeling of shame over the way I've felt and behaved lately, she keeps telling me I need to move on. And I guess she's right. I certainly can't stay stuck here. There are things I've built my life on that require me to be strong. And I want to do those things. I want to help others who struggle with mood disorders. I want to help new Living Room groups form. I want to find the joy again - the holy joy I always feel after my Living Room meetings. I don't want to be a victim; I want to give.

I need to make Philippians 3:12b mine over the next while: "...I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." And in verse 13: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead."

I need to think of tomorrow. What can I do tomorrow to bring forward the purpose God gave me to live for - to help erase stigma - to help people with mood disorders?

What good can I find in what I am going through to share with you, my blogging pals? I want you to be blessed by what I have to say and it is my prayer that I will - with the help of God - do so.

I will write more - maybe even today - as I work towards this. I will find the good in the bad. I know God will help me do so. He always has and He will again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Living Room Christmas party day

In spite of the snow that kept a lot of people from attending our party, we had sixteen people. It was a wonderful, intimate time. Good food and good visiting. We finished all of Janice's turkey and almost all the stuffing. It was so good. One of our new members told her story about how her relationship with God started and how good He has been to her, in spite of her depression and MS. We sang all the six Christmas carols I had photocopied - really got into it, in spite of not having a piano to accompany us. Such a great time!

My motivation is pretty good right now, though I'm still struggling with depression symptoms. Negative thinking was a serious problem last night and then I woke up with it as well. That led to some truly depressed feelings. But through an email to my friend, I managed to talk - to reason - my way out of it.

I guess everyone has things they could be sad and negative about. Thing is, you don't need to dwell on it. I've learned that doing instead of thinking builds positive feelings. And thinking of how you can build into other people's lives takes the focus away from yourself. You then have a purpose that you can live for. And that's where true joy comes from. At least that's the way it is for me most of the time. In the email to my friend I sorted through these things, reminding myself of what I've know for so long. But how easily you can forget, eh?

Today's Christmas party was a good place for me to get out of my negative thinking. I love my friends there and it was just very good to be together. To do instead of think.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One day at a time

I had such a wonderful day yesterday. I started the day off baking my first batch of cookies. That energized me. Smelling the Christmassy spices emanating from my oven motivated me to do other things. My husband helped me wash all the dishes that had been collecting. It felt so good to feel well enough to do that. I carried on later in the day tidying the messy dining area, something I had previously felt powerless to tackle.

I felt so happy, so freed from the prison-like state I have been in for so long. Got lots of things done. Felt like Christmas could now really begin for me.

In the afternoon I called my good friend who has been such wonderful support for me. I was all excited and happy about how my mood had turned around. But I was disappointed that she did not share in my happiness in the way I had hoped. She warned me to take one day at a time, realizing that these breaks from the depression have happened before, only to have the depression return again.

These last couple of months have been like that. Periods of non-motivation, even getting to the point at times of not wanting to go on. Then I escape and am able to function normally again, only to dip down again a few days later. A real roller coaster ride this has been.

I've learned though, that I need to have a manageable focus in place. One important thing to work towards at a time, not worrying about the rest. This week it's the Living Room Christmas party. One of our members offered to cook us a turkey. The rest of the dinner will be supplied by the others. I think it will be a good time.

I've also remembered to make a list of things to do for each day, setting manageable goals. This is something I've always advocated yet have somehow forgotten to do lately. Yesterday I managed to achieve all my goals. Truly a wonderful feeling to have done that.

I awoke this morning not feeling quite as wonderful as I did yesterday. But I have set my goals for today and will work on those, doing instead of thinking. (It's the ruminating - the thinking without doing - that gets me into a lot of trouble.)

And I will remember to live, knowing that God is my stronghold. With Him everything is possible, including the ability to prepare well for Christmas - to be happy - to smile - to love.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A roller coaster ride

It has been such a very long time since I wrote here. I feel bad about it, because this blog has always been important to me.

I've been on a roller coaster for about two months now - times when I've been okay and other times when I've felt very down, not knowing how I can continue, wishing I could get off the ride.

I've heard some people with bipolar say how they think they are well and will always be well. They've learned to handle life and their illness in such a way that it will never pose a problem for them again.

The truth is that once you have the disorder, you can never be sure of your wellness. The depression will always return. Meds need to be changed and the downturn will have to run its course. It can be very discouraging. You wonder if you can ever be counted on again.

I've been fortunate. I've had a lot of support - good friends and an understanding husband.

My pastor Don talked on Sunday about Bill Hybels' book, Holy Discontent. How we all have something in the world that we're not happy about. When this becomes a passion and we know that we want to do something about it we will know it's God's calling for us. I have that holy discontent. I want very much to make a difference in the lives of people with mental health problems. I feel called to help and erase the stigma that exists. I would like to help society - and especially the church - accept people like us better. I want to educate Christians so that they will treat people like us with compassion - so that they will know how to support us.

Yes, I have a holy discontent. Unfortunately my work has had to be put on hold while I try to just cope with my day to day home life...and with Christmas. How I long to be well enough - strong enough - to pick it up again. I'm working hard to get to that point.

As a result of the depression, it has been hard to motivate myself to do even the basics. But I do have good days when I can do some catching up. Yesterday was good. I was encouraged. In the evening, after a full day, I sat down and made a list of all the things I will need to do before Christmas.

Christmas will be toned down a lot at our house this year. My dear husband has even told me we don't have to have Christmas at our house this year. We don't have to buy a lot of gifts, we don't have to send out cards, I don't have to bake. That was a very good thing to tell me. It relieved the pressure I felt. As a result I'm now doing what I want to do, not what I have to do. And I want to celebrate as well as I can. I want to do some baking. I want to clean house and decorate it. I want to have a tree. I want this to be a holy time for us.

My friend Helen has helped me by pointing me to the Psalms to give me support and encouragement. And I read how "The Lord is the stronghold of my life." (Ps 27:1) I cling to words like those and find peace reading them. God will hold me up and give me the strength to do the things I need to do. And I know He loves me.

A couple of days ago I played with a baby. Loving that baby broke out good feelings in me. And I could see how I need to live my life out of love - love for my husband, my friends and family, and for God. I need to try and stay engaged with them. Feel their love. Return their love.

And I will live one day at a time, doing what is most important. Maybe this is the day I will turn around.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

At peace

Yesterday a wise person pointed me to some scripture that is helping me through this time. Reading it is helping me feel at peace - filled up. One thing she suggested I read often is from Psalm 37. I'll quote it here from the Amplified Bible:

Trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land and feed surely on His faithfulness, and truly you shall be fed. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give you the desires and secret petitions of you heart. Commit your way to the Lord [roll and repose each care of your load on Him]; trust (lean on, rely on, and be confidentalso in Him and He will bring it to pass....Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for Him and patiently lean yourself upon Him. (verses 3-5 & 7a)

I am learning to lean more on God and less on people. Things had gotten so I was reaching out to my friends so much, hoping they would fix me. But - and I should know this by now - only God can give me true rest and comfort.

The last couple of days have been better. Perhaps I am turning around?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Something's got to give

Today I decided to let someone else lead Living Room for awhile, as I give myself a chance to recover from this down period. It's for times such as this that I have a partner and co-facilitators. Janice, a faithfilled and enthusiastic person who will be starting her own group in Vancouver in January, will lead the meeting this Friday. If you know how much leading Living Room means to me, you will realize how difficult this decision was to make. But I believe it was the most responsible thing to do. I'm just not in good enough shape.

I seem to be having alternating bad and not-so-bad days. The bad days are really bad. On the better days I'm doing well when I can accomplish two or three things and eat a good meal. These better days are also when I visit my mom.

This afternoon I was feeling lonely and called a new friend from church. I am only getting to know her but know that she wants to learn about mood disorders and she wants to be supportive. She invited me over for a coffee and we had a good visit. After I left I felt refreshed, lifted up. Was able to go home and get into doing some laundry. How good it is to just talk to someone for awhile! Even when I'm depressed I need to be with people on a regular basis. With my husband away, I definitely need to make sure I don't isolate.

I'll just have to be careful I don't drag my friends down or just talk about myself all the time. Depression can make you so self-centered! Sometimes I feel downright sorry for myself. When I give into that I'm so ashamed when I realize what I'm doing. My depression deepens.

Tomorrow I'm having lunch with an old friend. On Wednesday I see my counselor, something I seldom do. Thursday I have my writer's workshop. Friday I have Living Room. Looks like I'll be well set for socializing this week. A good thing.

Now to make sure I get out to Curves and cook for myself, something I'm finding very hard to do. (Yesterday I had a bowl of cereal and a bowl of soup. And that was it. That was a BAD day.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A window of hope

My depression is dragging on, but in a roller coaster fashion - some days really bad, some not so bad. What occurs to me is that I'm actually in a position to learn a lot right now. I've been wanting to write about how a person can best support friends with depression. This is a mystery to so many. Yet to be able to give good support can be such a blessing for those of us who need it. I'm trying to keep track of what is helping me right now. This is the silver lining of depression. You can use what you learn from it to help others.

Yesterday was a bad day. How I wished someone would call me and toss me a lifesaver, an indication that they cared. With my husband off on a holiday I felt quite alone. I suppose I could have done the reaching out and called a friend, but I would have felt like I was being a bother. What could I say except to complain about how badly I felt? I did write a couple of emails letting friends know what I was going through. If I didn't do that I would truly have felt like I was sinking. We do need to stay in touch with people if we're to stay on the surface, don't we? That's how it is for me anyway.

I was relieved in the evening to receive a call from each of my sisters. They were compassionate. They know very well what it means to be depressed and they're aware that this was triggered by our mom's problems. I know they will stay in touch, tossing me a lifesaver when I need it.

What I was really thankful about was a call from a close friend who knew how I felt because I had emailed her. She spent some time talking with me, truly helping me with my pain. She did not advise me or try to fix me - just showed compassion. Neat thing she did: she suggested that one day, when we're both feeling better (this is the friend who is physically not well), we will get together and do some Christmas baking. That idea so appealed to me. If she had suggested we do it right then and there, I would not have been able - I would have felt pressured and turned off by the thought of it. But to think of doing this in the future appealed to me. It offered me a window of hope, something to look forward to.

Today was good. I went to Curves and had lunch with my mom at the home, something I need to do more often. I'll try to use the light I'm receiving from my friend's window of hope to bake some fudge brownies tonight. They're a cinch to make and she loves chocolate. How good I would feel if I could give her some! Hope she will like them because she badly needs to put on some weight.

Maybe this window of hope will lead to others. I know I do feel like I have a lot to write about right now....Perhaps an article on support?...Perhaps a workbook to help others through their depression?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A wonderful phenomenon

Just a quick little post before I get the day rolling - as roll it must. I have lots I need to do.

I woke up this morning in true depressed form, feeling awash with negative thoughts and bad feelings. Can't help it, can you, when you're in the midst of depression? And how you become turned inward, even self-centered, forgetting the good things - focussing instead on the "poor me!"

But I have a friend who is going through great physical health problems right now. A couple of days ago, when I realized that, I saw how I needed to support her and help her. I had been looking for support from her for "poor me." I had failed to see her great needs, so focussed was I on "poor me."

Awful how depression can make you so self-centered. Though it's the nature of depression and I can't truly help it, it makes me feel ashamed too.

I've decided to support this friend by making some meals for her, helping her get some good food into her. People with physical health problems need our support and care every bit as much as those with mental health difficulties. They need to feel God's love in the same way. Perhaps the love and care I show her will encourage her appetite, encourage her to become better nourished. I hope and pray so.

And, you know, the wonderful phenomenon of thinking about my friend's needs is that I'm thinking less about my own needs and am feeling more positive about the day. The bad feelings leave me when I think of how I want to cook a nice meal for her today and bake some fudge brownies.

I know the depression is still with me, because I made this decision to help her a couple of days ago, but still wake up awash in bad feelings. Still have trouble tending to the big messes in my life and paying the bills. I've been on a roller coaster ride for over a month now and have decided to see my psychiatrist. Have an appointment for Thursday. Maybe I need a med change.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Love and depression

"The Lord your God is with you,...he will quiet you with his love."
Zephaniah 3:17

Knowing that God loves us and that others love us is so important, and when we're depressed it becomes even more important. Love comforts us and heals us.

I can so identify with that little girl in this picture. I feel like I need to be comforted in the way this girl is being comforted. I'm such a child. Is it just me? Or do we all, at times in our lives, not need that kind of comfort?

Last night a friend told me she loved me. How good it was to be told that! And I told her I loved her too. And how good it was to be able to tell her that! We connected. And God was in that. God was with us in that. Through her I felt God's love.

This morning, though I'm still fragile, I feel God's love and comfort. What really helps is knowing I have people who care about me, people who support me. I'm very grateful for them - very grateful for God's love, expressed through them.

Today I'll be getting together with my son and going to Mom's old place to do some more cleaning up. Fill the car up once more with boxes. After today, we'll maybe need one more time out there. It will be so good to get all that done. Of course, now I have a huge collection of boxes at my house that will need to be sorted through. We're giving a lot away, yet there are family things that need to be kept. I need to find a place for them. Lots of work! And - if you're familiar with my blog - you'll know how poor I am about cleaning things up.

Being with my son today will be good. I don't get the chance very often. Perhaps we'll have time at the end of the day to visit Mom together. It has been a couple of days since I saw her and I long to visit again.

I hope you are all doing well and pray that you too will sense God's love for you today.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A source of holy joy

I've been struggling. Struggling with a mild but painful depression that has been bothering me off and on for the past while. I know it's mainly the result of life stresses - my mom sick and then going into a nursing home and then emptying her apartment and looking for a doctor who'll look after her (seemingly an impossibility right now). That sentence kind of ran on, didn't it? Befitting the way I feel about this endless list of problems and things to be done.

Yet I am grateful too. Mom is in a good home within fifteen minutes of where I live. What a difference from her being 45 minutes away as she was. I'll now be able to visit her often, and without the stressful drive.

In this struggle of depression I've also struggled with a need for support, a feeling bad about burdening my friends with my sadness. I need my friends at times like this, yet something someone said in a comment on my last post particularly made me feel that perhaps I should not be bothering them. And the question I repeatedly find myself asking is: "Shouldn't God be enough for me?" What helped was something forwarded by a friend a few days ago, pointing out that the verse at the very centre of the Bible is Psalm 118:8: "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust man." Reading that helps me to lean a little more on God and a little less on my friends.

We who suffer from depression long for compassion. Within depression there is a yearning for God to fill us up with His love - to find refuge in His love. Yet often that love can be expressed through a caring friend. How we need that support from caring friends! To know they care. To know they are remembering us in their prayers.

When I think of friends of mine who have gone through depression, I want to be there for them. It would hurt me to know they're going through a hard time not letting me know. And when I do spend time listening to them, I feel the presence of God in a special way. And when I pray with someone who is deeply depressed, I feel God very close and my prayer is one I'm not praying on my own. It's through the Holy Spirit that I ask God to show this friend His love - to help this person truly feel His love.

So maybe it's not so bad to go to friends after all? To ask for prayer? To lean a bit?

My pastor Don Dyck and I talked about this. He thinks we sense God's presence more when we're there for people in depression because God is always present with the oppressed. "And when we are with them in Jesus' name and with his love and compassion we also become the presence of God to them. It follows then that as we do that we would experience the presence of God in a deeper more significant way."

Don concludes that it would be good if church were a safe place for people to come and give expression to their oppression, a place where they would be welcomed with open arms. Church should be a place where we are open to God's presence and what He wants to do among us and through us - where we simply respond in obedience to people's needs. "That's what it means to be a community of the Spirit...a community of faith...a community of God's people."

Living Room is a place like that. And I think that's what gives me the wonderful feeling I have after meetings. We talk about our troubles, yet we share in love and with compassion, in God's presence. When I go home I experience what I have come to refer to as "holy joy." It's the kind of peace and joy that can only come from God.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Unconditional acceptance

I'm reading a wonderful book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, a doctor who works in the slums of Vancouver on the Downtown Eastside. If you want to learn more about what it is to live with addiction and how to have compassion for those who do, this is a great book to read. Mate speaks honestly and humbly about his own struggles accepting and his own struggles with addictions of different sorts. In his words, " the core of all addictions there lies a spiritual void." (That's probably why twelve step programs are so effective.)

Because of my work with people at Living Room, what he has to say about unconditional acceptance really resonated with me. I believe unconditional acceptance is what really makes this faith-based support group work. This kind of non-judgmental approach is all too often lacking in today's churches. Thus the stigma.

Mate says, "Unconditional acceptance of each other is one of the greatest challenges we humans face." Lack of it is one of the greatest challenges we with mental disorders have to deal with.

As a leader and facilitator who often counsels people in trouble I liked what he had to say about reaching people. "...They must first sense our commitment to accepting them for who they are. That is the essence of harm reduction, but it's also the essence of any healing or nurturing relationship. In his book On Becoming a Person, the great American psychologist Carl Rogers described a warm, caring attitude, which he called 'unconditional positive regard' because 'it has no conditions of worth attached to it.' This is a caring, wrote Rogers, '[that] demands no personal gratification. It is an atmosphere [that] simply demonstrates I care; not I care for you if you behave thus and so.'"

Accepting and loving people for who they are, no matter where they are emotionally or spiritually, is at the core of Living Room. Living Room is a place where people can feel safe to be open about what they are dealing with. That's what makes it so effective.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The email that unstuck me

I don't know if all this is going to sound silly to you, but my final escape from my last depression came so clearly and so dramatically after I sent an email to over forty Living Room members last Sunday morning. Such power there was in that!

I want to share this email with you. But you must read it as though you are a Living Room member, perhaps suffering from some depression yourself.

Dear Living Room friends,
At our last meeting, after I asked for a show of hands, half - or maybe more - of you indicated you were feeling low, including me. And today I just feel that I want to share with you. I want to share with you some of the things I've been thinking about. Depression is something that seems to cling to you, isn't it? And it's so hard to get unstuck. Yet unstuck we want to be and unstuck we must try to be.
I've been praying for a way to get unstuck and today I pray for you to get unstuck as well.
This morning what occurred to me is that the greatest and purest source of joy is love - the love we can be assured God has for us and the love our friends and family share with us. It's also the love we at Living Room share with each other when we meet, a love that I know comes from God. It's a love we're able to feel because at Living Room we know we're accepted and loved no matter what - free to speak honestly what's in our hearts. Such a beauty there is in that!
And if we could only cling to the knowledge of that love and find freedom in it, eh? Freedom from oppressive depression. I'm praying that you will feel that love and the joy it brings. Because God loves you more than anything you can imagine. You realize that, don't you? And I know that if we ask God to fill us with that love and to help us share that love with others, joy will come again.
So, this Sunday morning let us pray together, for each other, pray that we will get stuck in this joy. That our hearts will find freedom.
And you know, in sharing this with you in love, I'm finding joy. And I thank you for being there, my friends. People who understand. People who share freely with me and with each other.
I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks on November 14th.

As I said in the letter, I found joy in the writing of this email - in the sharing in prayer with the others. I hope those who read it found as much healing as I did in the writing. And I pray that maybe you, my blogging pals, will also find healing here.

Ah! The power of prayer, eh? The power of love.

Friday, November 07, 2008


As some of you know, I've been rather depressed for the past few weeks. I'm happy to say, though, that last Sunday I came unstuck from this down period - free - motivated once more. I did something that clearly got me there, but I'm not sure I should tell you about that yet. Don't know if you'd believe that the little email I sent to a bunch of people could lift me up so dramatically.

I recently read something about indicators of depression that can be there, even though you might not feel sad or down. Did you know that not opening mail, not paying bills, not shopping for groceries can be a sign of depression? And how very long that has been a problem for me! I've probably been depressed for a lot longer than I realized.

When I'm well and on top of things, I plan menus for several days at a time, make a grocery list, and go shopping. Instead I've lately not thought about what to make for dinner until dinner time is upon us and I find nothing in the house to make. I've been relying a lot on ready-made Costco items: quesadillas, chicken pot pies, pasta with ready-made sauce. Not like me at all. When I shop it's for only a few items at a time. I was unable to plan ahead.

I believe that one of the many things that brought on my depression was having my life spin virtually out of my control: Mom sick and in need of a nursing home; trying to promote a book; Living Room and the establishment Living Rooms elsewhere. Sometimes I feel like I should have an office. Living Room is beginning to be an organization. I also concern myself a fair amount with the needs of individuals. It's all part of being a Living Room facilitator - a shepherd of sorts. And I do very much love that work. That work has not suffered. It has been hard to keep the household going, though.

Though I'm now feeling motivated and no longer depressed, life is still out of control. But today I realized that what I really need to do is to start making some lists. I've been far too relaxed about that. When I think of all the things I need to do that I'm not getting down to: UGHH!!! I've even been forgetting that I need to have all the stuff moved out of Mom's apartment within the next couple of weeks. UGGH! And there is writing I've promised to do and been forgetting about. Bunches of emails flagged that I need to tend to and am forgetting about. UGHH! Then there's my blogging. I feel very bad that I haven't visited my bloggin pals for such a long time and that I'm not posting more. (I've been emailing friends instead.)

Thankfully, Mom is now in a good nursing home, but she still needs some care from me to make sure she settles in well. I think that's another thing that has helped me get undepressed. I feel at peace, knowing she's now only fifteen minutes away - nice and close. I can make frequent visits yet not have it take up a lot of time.

However, if I'm not careful and get things under control, I'll be headed for another depression. I need to take control. I need to make lists - a list of everything that needs doing and lists of things to do each day. I shouldn't go to bed without knowing what I'll try to do the next day. These are coping techniques I've always advocated and look at me now - I've totally dropped my good habits - relaxing too too much. Tonight I will make a good long list of every item that needs doing. I will prioritize and make plans when to accomplish the most important work.

Wonderful thing is, now that I've escaped the depression I feel motivated, more able to make those lists, more able to take control of my life. Thank God!!

Tomorrow or the day after, I'll tell you about the email I sent to all my Living Room friends, an email that gave me joy and gave me that final lift out of depression. And a very dramatic lift out it was! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Please pray

I feel heavily burdened today for a friend, a Living Room member, who is in hospital. Her psychiatrist certified her and she is not allowed her clothes. On top of that, he and her therapist have turned her over to a new psychiatrist, withdrawing from her case.

This friend has bipolar disorder and has been depressed almost constantly for a very long time now. She has made multiple suicide attempts. Living on her own, she hasn't had much support - no one to help her with her day-to-day living.

She called me from hospital last night, very distraught, feeling abandonned. I can imagine how she must feel like she has been given up on and thrown away. It pains me to think of what it must be like to be her right now.

And I wonder if there isn't more that I can do, rather than giving her one-on-one support. I want to gather people around her to pray for her, to help her realize that someone still cares about what happens to her. Perhaps a Living Room meeting at the hospital - surrounding her?

So, if you pray, could you please pray for Marja's friend?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Roller coaster ride

King David wrote "When I felt secure, I said, 'I will never be shaken' ...O Lord, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed." (Psalm 30:6-7)

He must have been bipolar, don't you think? He knew exactly what it feels like to be doing really well and think your bipolar illness is totally under control, depression never to bother you again - and then to have it hit again. So unthinkable when things are good to believe it can happen again. But bipolar disease does not go away and we are bound to be affected again and again, no matter how good our medications and how balanced a lifestyle we lead. No matter how good our coping skills are.

My life has been like a roller coaster ride over the past few weeks. Not standing in a firm place at all. But it's not terrible either. I surface and do well in between the days of depression. Yet it doesn't take much to trigger the tears.

Nevertheless, I do sense God with me, even in the tears. And yesterday evening, wonder of wonders, after a bad day I was able to do a presentation, speaking very eagerly about Living Room to representatives from several churches. I wanted so much to have them learn about what they can do to support people with mood disorders. Nothing was going to hold me back. No one would have guessed I was in the middle of a depression.

Today has been a good day. Visited Mom (what a delight) and got a tiny start at packing up her things in the apartment. Tomorrow and Thursday I will be attending the 13th Annual Cross-Cultural Mental Health Symposium on Spirituality and Well Being at Simon Fraser University. I'm very excited about this. It should be a healthy way to get me out of the ruminating I've been doing.

Some of the topics:
  • The Vital Importance of Spirituality in Medicine
  • A Spirituality and End of Life Panel Discussion
  • Mindfulness, Meditation and Healing: Experiential Workshop
  • The God-Shaped Void: Spirituality and Addictions
  • Twelve Step Programs: Spiritual Awakening and the Path of Recovery
  • ...and lots more.
I look forward to this opportunity to learn and be inspired.

"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thank God!

I'm feeling much better this morning. Living Room always does that for me. It's healing.

Yesterday we talked about being in the company of Jesus and what that means. Is being in company with Jesus enough? Or do we need people around us to show us Jesus' love in order to truly feel it? I'm not sure I got across what I really wanted to. Don't know how the session went down with people.

When I asked for hands to see where people were moodwise, about half put up their hands for feeling down. I just hope that our discussion helped somehow. I hope it didn't hinder.

One thing I tried to bring out was that what we need is not just the receiving of love. Just as much we need to give love - to share God's love with others. In that giving we receive as well. We are blessed when we give. Did I get that across? I hope so.

When we live with love and compassion in our hearts, God is in that. We are then walking with God. We are in the company of Jesus. I do believe Jesus was with us yesterday, sitting at the table with us, in company with us, helping us with our discussion.

There are so many ways to cope with depression. But although showing our love to each other must be one of the greatest, I seldom see that in lists of coping skills. Why not?

In the sharing time we had the opportunity to share God's love with each other - to listen to each other with compassion - to show we cared. This is what filled me with the peace I went home with. It's this that helped me wake up feeling better today. I feel blessed. I feel God was with us.

I hope the others went home feeling similarly blessed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In the company of Jesus

I've been waking up sad every morning lately. Spending time with God in sadness. And I wish it were enough for me to simply sit and be in the company of Jesus for comfort. But I so often want to reach out to friends when I feel like this. God, who I know loves me and who I know should be enough, isn't enough at times like this. I want to talk to people. And so I now reach out to my blogging pals.

Having Mom in limbo like this, waiting for a nursing home, not knowing if a good one will come along, is hard. Time in hospital moves slowly for her and I know I need to visit her often to keep her spirits up. Can't phone her and I miss doing that. Visiting her means a 45-minute drive each way.

Living Room is coming up in two days and I've so wanted to talk on the topic of being in the company of Jesus. I want to talk about how He is real and with us and we can talk to Him, our Friend. And I do feel Him with me, but I wish that were enough.

Yet you know, I think sharing this with you is a good thing. I do feel Jesus close and feel Him closer in the sharing of Him with others. You, my blogging pals and Him, together with me. My support from above and below. I need both. In the reaching out to you here, I am reaching out to Him. That's how love works, isn't it? That's how God works.

It has given me comfort sharing this with you today, though I've sat with tears in my eyes, something that doesn't happen to me very often. Maybe a good thing. Good to be real. Good to feel. Good to be human.

Please help me pray that a good home will come available to my mom soon. Please pray that I will stay strong.

I do feel I'm in the company of Jesus, even in my sadness. And that gives me comfort.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Coulda' cried

Yesterday my husband and I were sent to look at a home that had offered my mother a bed. When we saw it I could have cried to think of my mother in a place like that. I could not imagine her there. It was awful - worse than living in a mental hospital in the sixties was for me.

The policy is that, because she is in an acute care facility where beds are needed for others, we need to take the first available bed. However, if we have good reasons to refuse a bed that comes along we have a right to do so. Yesterday we had good reason.

Susan commented on my last post about how emotionally and physically draining the process of moving your mother into a care facility can be. I'm already starting to feel that. And although I'm getting emotional support from my sisters and friends, I'm mostly alone in handling all this.

These days I'm trying to commit to as little as possible, though it's hard. When you leave too much time free, you only tend to stew about things. At times like this it's good to stay busy with things to take your mind off worrying.

I'm glad I've got Living Room and its people to focus on. This group is a comfort to me, especially the preparation of devotional material for the upcoming meeting this Friday. So often what I am personally going through and what I learn from it provides fodder and inspiration for things to share. How am I seeing God in all this? What is He revealing to me? How can we all find God when we face troubles? How can our faith help us cope?

If you pray, could you please remember my mom, Helena, and ask God for a good home for her, a place where she will be happy?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A day to putter

I'm looking forward to this day. Nothing big planned - a day to get little bits of work done - get little bits of reading in.

I've had such a hard time lately doing the things I need to do to tidy up my house. Today I will try to get at it. I have no big commitments; I have freedom to spend this day in the way I wish. Such a wonderful thing!

Yesterday I ordered some books off Amazon, some books I really thirst to read. I still have some books lying around here that I want to read too. Such a treasure to have so many authors, led by God, to share their thoughts and help us, the readers, grow and learn.

So today I will do some much needed work and alternate the work with reading - reward my work with periods of reading. Good plan, don't you think?

My mom is doing well and ready to move into a nursing home. Amazingly some beds are freeing up here in my own community. If all goes well and she is accepted at one of these places she will be much closer to me and I'll be able to visit often. What a blessing that will be!

But I'll need to be prepared to drop everything when a bed is found. Will have to move some of her things in quickly and make the room homey with lots of her favourite things. Then move her in and get her settled. Then I will have the month of November to empty her apartment. What a job that will be! What to do with all her furnishings and all the stuff she's collected over the years? There will be nothing straight forward about that. And what will make the job even more difficult is that her apartment is a 45 minute drive away from me. I will have to be well organized.

But today I will enjoy the peace and pleasure of doing things for myself.

"This is the day the Lord has made..."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Coming together

Thank you, Immi and PJ, for your prayers and encouragement. This morning is much better. I look forward to cooking, cleaning, and preparing for Bible study.

I visited Mom yesterday and she too was doing better - less confused and physically improved. I had a meeting with the social worker and we discussed how she has been over the past while - how she had managed with independent living and where she's at now. Our conclusion was that she should probably go into a nursing home. But we'll wait until she recovers more before making the final decision. My hopes and prayers are that she'll be closer to where I live - much closer.

Neat thing about Mom though is that she's still in good spirits. She even laughs a fair amount. Wouldn't it be great if that continued? Visiting means a good time for both of us.

I'm sorry I've been complaining so much in this blog. But when you have bipolar disorder, off days are worrisome, aren't they? You wonder if it's the beginning of something more severe. You wonder if you're going to be able to meet your commitments. And it's such a relief when you wake up feeling better, as I am today.

"This is the day the Lord has made..." And I'm thankful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I feel wired this morning. Had only one cup of caffeine and that did it for me. Why? I can usually drink three big mugs before that happens. I don't like this feeling. It's not the kind of peace I wish for in the early morning.

I had a good day yesterday. Felt good motivation. Yesterday followed on the heels of a wonderful Sunday: a spirit filled church service, a visit with Mom, and turkey dinner at a friend's house. Sunday was healing for me.

I pray that today will be a good day. Have been praying a lot this morning. Just wish I could feel more at peace. Wish my mood could be more stable.

Mom is not doing well at all and I know a lot of my unsettled feelings come from my concern about her. She's still in the hospital and I need to visit her often, though it's hard. She's so far away. We found out that she had a heart attack. She must also have had some small strokes. Her ability to remember things are zilch. When we tell her something, she forgets one minute later. I'm not exaggerating. She asks the same questions over and over. We answer and a minute later she asks the same question again. Today she will get an assessment to see what level of care she'll need. I pray we will find a good way of having her looked after.

So...yesterday I felt motivated. This morning it's an effort getting going. Perhaps a good workout at Curves will help...if I could just get myself dressed.

But now I must move. I must put one foot in front of the other.

"This is the day the Lord has made..."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A need to move

Living Room was wonderful yesterday, yet I was worried about myself going into it. Wondered if I could carry out the leading the way I needed to. Life has been so very complex, especially with my mother sick. We found out she'd had a heart attack. She will be in hospital a little while and how she will cope when she gets out is uncertain.

Before Living Room, I prayed hard, my friend Helen prayed with me, I solicited prayer from my pastor, and Janice, my co-facilitator and I prayed before the meeting. The complexities of my life have caused me to let a lot of little things go - some of them important little things. So I was worried about how I'd handle the devotional time yesterday. I feel somewhat disorganized. Yet I wouldn't say I'm depressed. I'm not down....I don't think.

God came through 100% yesterday. The meeting proved that God is real and that He'll show up when you ask Him to - and that He'll be there to strengthen you. Mostly leading Living Room is about sharing God's love and I was - in spite of all - able to do that - fully eager to do that.

We ended our devotional time yesterday with this piece of Scripture from the Message:

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.

That's so true!! All I had to do yesterday was to love people with the love God gave me to give. And the atmosphere was joyous. We were totally happy and "together." And that's the main thing, isn't it? The devotional went off fine.

But today I'm having trouble getting myself moving. It will be an effort to put one foot ahead of the other, to do the laundry - perhaps go to Curves. Then this afternoon I need to go and see Mom. Yet it all seems like an awful lot of effort. Dear God, please let this not be the beginning of a down swing.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


I feel a bit like a nun - have felt like that for quite awhile now - tied to the work I do, paying little attention to the world around me. I never watch TV. Don't keep track of the news - not via radio, TV, or newspaper. There's an election coming up and I don't have a clue who to vote for. After 36 years as a serious photographer, I've cut photography out of my life. So glad about that, even if it had always given me such joy.

My friends and my church are very important to me though. They're my support system and I stay in close touch with them. Unfortunately, my contact with blogging buddies is slipping. I feel bad about that.

There are just so very many things at me and I think that letting so many things slip away is my way of coping. Because I am coping. Though I have so many things going on, I don't feel stressed. I've learned to deal with one little thing at a time, shutting everything else out...things like cleaning up the kitchen, planning meals, paying bills...opening mail, for that matter :) I'm finding it's becoming more and more important to write down every little thing I need to do. If I didn't I'm sure I would forget important commitments.

Now I'm up against something else: My mom is in poor shape. She is terribly confused and sleeping most of the time. I'm so happy that I was able to arrange for health support workers to come in and check on her morning and evening. Even then, I had a call this morning that she had - in her confusion - taken all today's pills yesterday. Was that why she was too weak to even have a shower this morning? I'm sure someone will now administer her medications.

What really makes me sad is that Mom is starting to live in the past. My sister visited today and Mom said how much she misses the family. She asked for my dad who died years ago. She's so dreadfully confused. Feeling alone. I want to love her like a mother loves her young child.

Yet Living Room is coming up this Friday and I'm looking forward to it. We will talk about relationship with God, drawing from The Shack and Philippians 2:1-8 for inspiration. If it weren't for Living Room and what it means to me, would I be coping as well as I am?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Meeting God at the shack

I am doing better - not bad at all. And I think part of what has colored my world in the last few days is The Shack by William P. Young. This book intrigued me because it's a Christian book that made it as a #1 New York Times Bestseller. I wanted to see what it was that drew such a large readership. Last night I finished reading it and today I feel like I want to start reading it all over again. It's so rich!

This fictional story illustrates so well what God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are like. It describes their character so well. And it shows not only how much God loves us but how we can have a relationship with Him. This book has touched me deeply. It has given me hope for myself and for the many who have been reading it. Hope also for the many lives these readers touch, because it's through learning how to have a better relationship with God that we can have a better relationship with everyone in our lives.

I feel like I've grown spiritually through the reading of this book. And I pray that God will help me hang on to this change for the better. I pray that God will help me stay closer to Him, as I do this morning.

Saruya, the character that portrays the Holy Spirit part of God says, " will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don't look for rules and principles; look for relationship - a way of coming to be with us." In meeting God along with the main character, Mackenzie, I have learned to look at Him in a clearer way.

At Living Room I've always considered my biggest job to be helping members come to understand how much God loves them. Now I want to go a step further and help them learn to have a closer relationship with Him. I want to help them understand what God is really like.

I wish I had the time to tell you a lot more about The Shack. I feel that what I've shared here is terribly inadequate as a description. But you will have to read it for yourself. Eugene Peterson said this: "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good."

My mom was admitted to hospital yesterday, badly confused. I will be visiting her this morning. Please pray that she will get the kind of care she needs. Please pray that she will not be too anxious.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The deep

I'm feeling not too bad at all this morning. I pray that this upturn will continue and that the depression won't pull me under to too much extent.

It's interesting to see how depression grabs hold. Increasingly I've been grabbed by pensive moods. My husband will catch me repeatedly, head in my hands, just sitting there, thinking - in the deep. At church I go deeply into worship, pulled into prayer. Gradually I'm pulled under until it becomes hard to actually do something. I'd rather just sit and wallow in my inner life.

Being aware of this helps. And - again - my friend's question yesterday helped: "What are you going to do for yourself, Marja?" Her suggestion was kind, encouraging me to "do" something that would benefit me and make me feel better. I know that what I need right now is to "do," instead of wallowing in thought.

It helps to write down my thoughts - to have a beginning and end to them instead of allowing them to roam around endlessly within. To bring them out onto paper, perhaps share with a friend.

I've also alerted some friends and they are encouraging me, letting me know they care. That comforts me.

Sometimes I think I'm making a lot out of nothing. Yet the onset of depression has been a real one, and sharing my fears with others and taking "action" is encouraging me to escape the deep before it totally pulls me under. I need to stay on the surface and be in the world if I'm to do the work I've taken on.

I have a list of things I'd like to do today. Nothing too difficult. Some pleasurable things and some things that are chores. I think I'll be alright. I'm not afraid. And I know God is with me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Never invincible

When you've been doing well for a long time, it's hard to believe that you could ever be depressed again. But with bipolar disorder you're never totally in the clear. It's bound to come back. Here I am with two books published on how to live with bipolar disorder - how to cope - how to be strong - and here I am with depression looming again.

I feel down, teary, tired, not up to doing very much. I've also been overly worried about some things - overly negative. This is discouraging.

What makes it harder is that my 94-year-old mom isn't doing well. She's terribly confused and did something to the phone so that she can't use speed dial anymore. Last week she got over-wrought, not able to call anyone, feeling isolated and anxious. I think she has forgotten to go down to meals a few times, which means she doesn't get fed. This is not a care facility. The only people looking after her are those who give her a bath twice a week and those who do a bit of cleaning once a week.

So, on top of feeling depressed I feel stressed, wondering what we will do about Mom.

I'm going to have to simplify my life as much as I can. Re-prioritize a few things. Allow lots of room to try and get some care for Mom. Allow for extra time with her.

When I told my friend that I was into a downward spiral she asked me, "What are you going to do for yourself?" That's a very good question for a supporter to ask. It made me think - made me think I need to strategize a bit instead of just complaining and feeling sorry for myself. I need to reach outside myself instead of staying caught within.

I will try to do some chores and reward myself with lots of pleasurable things. I will:

  • arrange for better care for Mom.
  • find someone to go for a walk with me.
  • go to Curves more regularly.
  • spend some time ironing, while listening to my favourite music.
  • read my new book, The Shack.
  • spend more time blogging.
  • plan some really easy but tasty meals from my Up Recipes for Down Times recipe booklet.
  • play Ticket to Ride with my husband.
  • shop for things we'll be donating to homeless people in town. (things that will make life on the street more bearable)
  • journal my thoughts.
  • email notes to my friends.
  • read my Bible.
  • pray and ask God to see me through, asking him to stay close and to help me remember that he loves me no matter what.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I will not be put to shame

This morning I read something in Isaiah 50:5-7 that was perfect for me to read at this time. Isn't it something how God will give you words like that when you most need it? Words that you might at any other time overlook? I've copied this into my journal and plan to look at it often:

"I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame."

Fighting stigma takes that, doesn't it? You have to be willing to take a stand, let them at you, and not run away - ever. And we can do that because "the Sovereign Lord helps [us]." And God has taught me that I need to fight with love, not with bitterness. That's what keeps me feeling at peace, in spite of that rather vicious comment yesterday. "The Sovereign Lord helps me."

Life has been moving hard and fast. I'll be getting lots of opportunities I think to do some stigma busting....but perhaps I should just call it "educating." Yesterday, that comment on Then an invitation to speak at a mental health awareness workshop for churches. And this morning I had a call at 5:15 asking me to do a pre-interview for a syndicated radio show. I also had a conference call with four people from a church in Victoria, wanting to know more about Living Room. They're considering having a group at their church. I've had about forty requests for review copies of the book, mostly from the U.S. Almost feel like I should have an office somewhere.

But you know what? I'm staying stable through all this excitement. Quite amazing I would say. Thank God, eh?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Christian condemnation

This morning someone going by the name Warrior Princess left a comment on an article I have online right now at The piece tries to show how mental illnesses are illnesses like any other - diabetes, heart disease, etc. etc. I was trying to educate, to eradicate the stigma.

I think that most Christians are starting to realize that being mentally ill does not mean that there is something spiritually wrong with you. Yet there are still many who totally misunderstand and believe that to be mentally ill is to be possessed by Satan.

There are varying degrees of this kind of thinking. Warrior Princess's views are at the extreme end. Her attack of people with mental illness is a scathing one. It shocked me and I'm trying to find the best way to reply, praying that I'll be able to speak to her in love, and not with the kind of fighting attitude she has.

Eradicating stigma is a fight, but as Christians we need to use love as our weapon of choice, not attacking with cutting words that will hurt. Even when people hurt us, we should try not to hurt back. After all, as followers of Christ we should treat others with love, even our enemies. And this person I'm talking about is, after all, a fellow Christian - a sister-in-Christ.

A couple of days ago someone who has for a long time been suffering from depression and anxiety wrote to me, saying
"I feel so condemned by the Christian community because everything I am is what you are not supposed to be as a Christian."

This person is hurting terribly from the symptoms of her disease. Yet the condemnation she feels from fellow Christians hurts almost more than those symptoms. We need to educate Christians so that they will more fully understand the medical nature of mental illnesses. This is so very important if we want to lovingly encourage hurting people in their faith.

I needed to share this you, in preparation for my reply. Please pray that understanding will grow. Please pray that people will open their minds enough so that we can educate them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I don't believe in "If" anymore

This excerpt from my book A Firm Place to Stand has been on my mind lately and I felt I really wanted to share it with you. It is a reflection on how I used to try to survive with my symptoms and the difference believing God has made to me:

With the greatest determination, I used to cling to what was left of my mind’s composure. I felt as though I were hanging from the edge of a high rooftop, white-knuckled, panicky with fear. How long can I hold on like this? Can I maintain my strength? What will happen if I let go? Exhaustion overwhelmed me. Far below was the hard ground and no one to catch me if I fell.

But I did fall – quite often. These experiences were devastating and difficult to recover from. The support I received from family, friends and my doctor was helpful, but I was alone in the battle.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem If was like a bible to me during many years of my illness. I described in Riding the Roller Coaster how meaningful this poem became, how I patterned my life after its good counsel, how I carried it with me for many years. It encouraged me to become a productive and responsible person. I still think highly of the poem and try to go along with most of its advice. I follow through on my dreams, don’t worry about what others say and try as much as possible to “…fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” But I no longer listen to the challenge Kipling leaves us with these words:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will, which says to them, “Hold on!”

For twenty-three years, I tried to live out those lines when I was in crisis. I tried with my best willpower to survive the mental turmoil that overtook me. I was determined to be strong, hanging on to whatever I could, but not finding much of substance. Those were times of anxiety and fear.

Coping with crisis finally changed for the better when I could no longer deny that God is real. I realized I didn’t have to depend on myself alone. I could relax my grip and trust in someone much stronger than me.

The faith I learned to have in a God who loves me too much to let me go helps me cope better with stress. Extreme difficulties no longer develop as often. Sometimes I still have a fear of falling, and for good reason. But today I have a Bible that tells me, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NLT) Remembering this gives me comfort when I need it. I am not as afraid anymore.

Challenging periods will always be part of my life. There will be times when I’ll have trouble. I may even fall. But I know that when I do, there will be someone there to catch me and stay with me as I recover. I’ll never be alone again.

Hanging on the wall across from my bed is a photograph of a child’s small hand resting comfortably on her father’s big hand. Underneath are the words from Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” During tough times, I look at that photograph and feel a sense of peace. No longer is there a need for white-knuckled fists, no longer a need to rely on my own inadequate strength.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Praise God!

I heard from someone in Victoria last night, wanting to set up a conference call with me because people in her church are planning to start a Living Room. And one of the co-facilitators from my own group is planning to start a group of her own in Vancouver. I've been praying for a group there. My prayer is being answered.

There are now five Living Rooms and another four in the planning stages. Thank God! The movement of this much needed ministry is spreading.

Between Living Room and promoting my book it's beginning to look like I have almost a full-time job. And that's a lot for me, someone who was never able to have a career, not able to work because of the severity of her disorder. I pray that all will go well and that I'll be able to meet all the demands on me.

I'm thankful that I wake up early and have a couple of hours of quiet time to spend with God and reflect before I start the day. That really helps a lot. And I have learned to focus on only one job at a time, not worrying about the big picture but only looking at the portion I'm working on.

Yesterday was a big day. I partnered with the Mood Disorder Association of BC in presenting a workshop for a group of new support group facilitators. So good to have this partnership. Vikki Rogers did a wonderful job of teaching and guiding us through role playing exercises. In the afternoon I had time with the facilitators of the Christian groups (seven people) and we discussed the spiritual aspects of facilitating Living Room.

My own group in Burnaby is starting a Bible study which will meet every Friday that we don't have a regular Living Room meeting. For some of our people Living Room is like their church, because they have had bad experiences - feeling judged in regular churches. Every church needs to have an opportunity for Bible Study. Someone in our church has volunteered to teach the class, so we are able to meet this need.

Please understand if I don't blog as much as I used to or if I don't always visit your blog. My work load seems to be increasing all the time, and sometimes it's wisest for me to spend my free time with my husband, with a friend, or with a sudoku puzzle. We have to keep things balanced, don't we?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


At Living Room on Friday we're going to talk about trust. Being able to trust in God - to trust our ability to be well - to trust our doctor, etc. etc. It's so important to a life of peace. It's so important to our health.

When I start getting symptoms that indicate a depression might be coming on, it's important that I can trust that it won't happen. When I trust and rely on God to help me avert it, I have a much greater chance of staying well. Someone - and I'm too lazy right now to check the source - once said that when we fear God we need fear nothing else. Of course he did not mean to "be afraid" of God; he meant to believe in God and his power - to be in awe of God.

To have bipolar disorder can bring on a lot of fears because we have had so many bad experiences of depression, mania and psychosis. The slightest indication that something is going wrong can bring on anxiety, making it even more likely that it will.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus speaks poetically: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear....Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"...(I won't type out the entire piece.) But then Jesus says, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

Jesus is not saying that we will have immunity to the problems of life, but by trusting God instead of ourselves, we will have confidence in spite of them. When we seek the kingdom of God we will find purpose, power and direction. We forget about being anxious. We trust where God is taking us. It's through faith, hope and extending God's love to others - as God loves us - that we will experience this kingdom of God - this kingdom where God's rule prevails.

I've spent a fair amount of time reading various authors' thoughts and explanations of what Jesus meant by "the kingdom of God" and "the kingdom of heaven." Jesus mentions these phrases over 80 times in the gospels. It's something we should try to understand. Too often we overlook these phrases, assuming that Jesus is talking about what we'll experience after we die. But Jesus did say, "The kingdom of God is upon us." We can start experiencing the kingdom of heaven today by submitting to God's rule and being the kind of people he intended us to be.

I got kind of side-tracked here, moving from trust and anxiety to the kingdom of God. But that's just how my thoughts travelled today.

Did I make sense? What do you understand about the kingdom of God?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Can God accept me?

I had a comment on my last post from B. I want to address the questions she poses here, realizing that there may be other people with similar problems. You sound like you're in deep pain, B., and I hope this post will help.

B. wrote, "I did things as a result of my impulses and emotions and feelings from my mania that I was so ashamed of, but I didn't feel I could tell anyone at my church." When we're manic we often do things we're later ashamed of, things we would not do if we were stable. But because we do it as a result of our disorder, doesn't make it right. It's true that we need to fight our impulses and get medical help to prevent us from this. And when we stabilize, we have to try, in whatever way we can, make things right. This would include asking God for forgiveness. But God will continue to love you. You are His child, and he will forgive.

B. ends her comment with "My relationship with God has been very distant since last summer, and things have changed a lot in my life (for the better). I still wonder though; can I assume that God would still accept me? Am I even sure I believe in God or that He's worth my heart again, after such a deep feeling of abandonment?"

I need to tell you, B., that God will always accept you and love you. He may not accept what we do, but he never stops loving us. He will forgive if we, with all sincerity, ask for his forgiveness. God realizes that you did not do the things you did because you wanted to sin. He realizes that you have an illness that made you do them. He will forgive.

B., you said something that I think is completely the wrong way to look at things. You said, "I still believed that Christian attitudes had to be a reflection of God's attitudes, and if they would judge me for sinning because of something I couldn't control, God would too; if they couldn't accept me, how could God?"

God does not follow people's examples. It is not people's place to judge. We have all sinned. How can we judge others?

Remember the Pharisees who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery? Check out this story in John 8:1-11. I think it will do you good.

Jesus said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone." One by one the men left. Then Jesus said to the woman, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

God does not follow people. If people are not accepting of you, that does not at all mean that God won't accept you. God does not listen to people's judgement. He is in charge, not people. We can trust God to always be there for us, to always love us, to always want the best for us, to always help us when we want to do better. God can transform you if you will trust him and seek him each day with all your heart.

I hope this has helped, B. I hope you don't give up on God, because He will never give up on you. His love is unconditional.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Misconceptions - UGGH!!!

Canadian Christianity has another excerpt from A Firm Place to Stand up. The title is Misconceptions and in it I outline the problem many Christians have, spiritualizing mental health problems like depression. I spell it out really well.

But, lo and behold, someone comments - compassionately enough - but totally NOT getting it. She writes, "
Surely, it is spiritual if you break it down to the very root cause....Perhaps a multi action plan would be of use. Spiritual instruction, positive confession, meds and human support."

This is the kind of stigma that exists amongst many Christians. This is the reason many people with mental illness feel judged when they go to church. This is the reason many stop going to church and end up receiving no encouragement in their faith.

I feel so frustrated. Here I spell it out so carefully and it has done no good. I feel I need to return a comment of my own and will eventually do that. First I need to cool down and talk with my two close friends. And - wouldn't you know it - they're not home. And I need them.

I'm just glad I have you out there, my blogging pals. And please, if you feel as I do about this, please write your own comment on that article. I would very much appreciate it. A lot of people read that website and many of them truly don't understand. They need to be educated. Can you help do that?

I feel angry at the stigma, not at the lady who shows the lack of understanding. And I feel even more determined to bust that stigma. Will you help me?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

An illness like any other

Michelle's difficulty with accepting her diagnosis of bipolar disorder prompts me to share an excerpt from my first book, Riding the Roller Coaster. Throughout the writing of this book I held in mind the people who were newly diagnosed and how hard it is to come to terms with it and how hard it is to learn to cope.

An Illness Like Any Other

"What consoles me is that I am beginning to consider madness
as an illness like any other, and that I accept is as such."
- Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother, 1889

We always think of mental illness as something that happens to other people, not to us. To be diagnosed with depression or manic depression is a scary thing. But how we cope with our mood disorder is largely determined by how we look at it. If we can accept it as the illness it is - an illness like any other - we will be ready to move ahead with our lives in a positive way.
The negative view much of society has of mental disorders is partly due to the fact that people do not understand there is usually a physical basis for these illnesses, often in the form of a chemical imbalance. This imbalance is treatable with medication. With effective treatment most of us can live close-to-normal lives. Mental illness is an illness like any other.
In fact, mood disorders are comparable to other illnesses, such as diabetes. A diabetic is not to blame for his or her illness. Neither is a person with a mood disorder. Just as diabetes can cause serious disability and even death, so can mood disorders. Diabetics often require the use of medication to maintain stable blood sugar levels. People with mood disorders also require medication, in their case, to maintain emotional balance. Finally, as is the case with those who have diabetes, if people with mood disorders take their medications regularly, chances are they will live a close-to-normal life.
Nevertheless, because of the fear of having a "shameful" condition, or of being labeled by society, many don't search out the help they so desperately need. What results is much unnecessary suffering by people who could otherwise have been helped.
In recent years much research has been done and doctors, mental health associations, societies and libraries can provide much information. Mood disorder self-support groups are an especially good source of information. Here we can find pertinent literature and discuss affective illnesses with others who have problems similar to our own.
As we come to terms with our disease we learn to understand how imperative medications and other treatments are - how they form the basis for our well-being. Once we have the physical aspects of our illness under control, we can prepare to take charge of our lives and make the most of the strengths we all have.
As we walk with our friends and acquaintances, we should walk with self-assurance. In that great family of individuals who suffer from personal problems, sicknesses, and handicaps, each of us is a unique yet ordinary member.

Note: I wrote the above ten years ago. It was utterly unthinkable to me that a person with bipolar disorder could manage without medication. I know it has never been possible for me. I also know that the majority of people with bipolar disorder that I come across - and I meet many in the work I do - medication is necessary if they are to function normally. However, I also know that in the blogs I've read there are a number of people who are making it without or with very little medication. I would not recommend trying to persevere without medical care at the cost of being unstable. Bipolar disorder can cause a lot of damage - to our finances, our relationships, our safety, and even the safety of those around us. It needs to be adequately managed. Medications can make a good, productive life possible.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dear Michelle...

Yesterday I received an email from Michelle, someone who is suffering feelings that are very common to people with mood disorders. I'm not sure whether her diagnosis is unipolar or bipolar disorder. I just know that she has been depressed for the past five months. I'd like to share with you what she wrote so that the many of you who I know probably feel similarly can benefit from this as well.

Michelle wrote:

"I was diagnosed with a mood disorder years ago and was on meds with no real luck. I guess I seem to always think I'm just weak and a moral failure. Was this true for you at one point too? I know I need to be on meds now, but I'm breastfeeding my 6 month old, but I'm a wreck! I try to hold things all together and can manage but things are crazy.

Anyway, I just wanted to write b/c I found your website and I don't know anyone with a mood disorder and it is lonely and isolating to feel so different than everyone else i know who are consistent people."

Dear Michelle,

I'm sorry you haven't had any luck with medications. That can indeed make things tough. I hope though that you don't give up. There are new meds coming out all the time. Eventually you may find something that will help you. You say that you need to be on meds but are breastfeeding. If that means that you're not taking meds so that you can breastfeed, I wonder if you shouldn't reconsider. When I had my baby I stopped breastfeeding so that I could go back on medication. There was no way I could emotionally have been the kind of mother I needed to be without the medication. If you're not doing well right now, I would suggest you discuss this with your doctor.

You asked if I ever felt weak and a moral failure. I think I feel that way every time I get depressed as well. That's one of the worst things about depression. If you're feeling that way, I hope it will make you feel better to know that this feeling is simply your depression talking. Being depressed does not mean you are weak. It simply means that you have an illness - an illness that affects your thinking, making the usually optimistic you feel pessimistic.

I'm sorry you're feeling so lonely and isolated. That too is a symptom of depression. But please realize that there are many many people who suffer like you do. You are not alone. Why not check and see if there is a support group in your area? There's nothing like having a place to share time with others who suffer as you do. One of the best benefits is the realization that you are not alone. That in itself is a relief to know and will be a comfort to you.

I wish you well Michelle and pray that you will soon recover and be able to thoroughly enjoy your baby.

Take care,