Thursday, December 31, 2009

A reason to live

You know, I've just been thinking. I feel at my best when I'm doing things for other people. When I'm living for something more than just myself. When I'm feeding into other people's lives.

And isn't that the answer for all of us who have trouble finding a reason to live? Isn't that the best place to find a purpose for our lives?

Yesterday I started feeling somewhat down. I felt a need for something meaningful to do. So I put together that awful picture of the cross and the scrunched up woman (see yesterday's post). It didn't feel good. But later, when I posted something that I knew would lift up my readers' spirits, I felt so much better.

Today I want to get together with a friend who's feeling down. Although I care about how she feels and am sad for her, at the same time I now have a very clear thing I need to do this day. It's helping someone, and that gives meaning to my life. It gives me a purpose for the day. It helps me stop thinking about myself and about my own needs.

Where do you find purpose for your life? What gives your life most meaning?

Just sharing

Good morning everyone. I woke up this morning just wishing to share another picture. This one was taken in the Chilcotin area of British Columbia. Aspen trees in fall, with the colourful aspen leaves at the base. Almost look like flowers, eh?

Hope you'll have a great day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This is better

I hope my last picture didn't depress you too much. Just can't let that stand on its own. Here's a happier one.

Trying to be creative

MerelyMe, the writer of a blog on Health Central started a discussion today about creativity. I read it just after I had woken up from a nap, feeling very much called to do something creative. Writing some reflections. Playing with photographs. The writing did not come today, but the photography did.

This photo does not at all describe the way I feel or the way I've been feeling lately. It's a composite of two pictures I took many years ago when life was a lot harder and darker for me. I'd like to write something to go with it, but don't know if I should. Shouldn't we write something that reflects a feeling we have in the here and now? Wouldn't that be more honest than dredging out thoughts and feelings I used to have that are no longer part of my truth?

Or would this speak to others who may be in this place? Would it be of value to them?

Anyway, putting this together was an exercise. Perhaps it will fuel more honest expression, expressions that show where I am today.

Hope this doesn't depress you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sweet, sweet memories

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, ready to celebrate the coming of the New Year. I've been wanting to blog. Thought of it many times, but something always kept me from doing so. Laziness perhaps?

What I've been wanting to tell you is that the drastically untraditional Christmas I cooked, the one I was so worried about, though I kept telling myself I wasn't worried, had rave reviews. My daughter-in-law, a cook extraordinaire, award-winning food blogger and writer for the Food Network, even praised it up and down. How good I felt! How happily we feasted! And the wine, a BC Pinot Noir from Mission Hill was perfect.

Tonight we heated up and finished off the last of the sweet potatoes. That dish was so delicious I'd like to share the recipe with you. I based it on a recipe I found on but made so many changes to it I can honestly call it my recipe. The neat thing about it is all the spices: cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, which I used liberally. Now the quantities are approximate, since I didn't measure carefully at all.

Marja's Sweet Potatoes

4 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams) peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
ca 1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
5 tbsp margarine
ca 3/4 cup orange juice
1 slightly rounded tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
ca 1/2 tsp nutmeg
ca 1/2 tsp ground ginger

Arrange potatoes in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Combine sugar, margarine, orange juice salt, and spices in a small heavy saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour over potatoes; toss to coat. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for 50 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Uncover and bake until potatoes are tender and syrup has thickened slightly, basting occasionally - about another 15 or 20 minutes.

This is excellent with ham - for your Easter dinner perhaps?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The most important thing

You know, the older I get the less I worry about the foods I serve. The less I worry about everything turning out perfectly. I just do my best.

I wonder about how my meal is going to turn out tomorrow. How's all that sweet stuff going to go down? I wonder if my daughter-in-law, the gourmet cook and prize-winning food blogger, is going to laugh along with me if it doesn't all turn out as it should....if it's just far too much sweet stuff.

Actually, I do sound a bit worried, don't I? But not a nervous kind of worry. All will be fine.

The older I get, the more I look forward to the company and not the meal. The togetherness. The sharing. The enjoyment of time around the table, whatever the food.

Just some thoughts as I prepare all I can before tomorrow comes.

Have a happy Christmas day everyone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A sweet christmas dinner

I'm doing something outrageously different this Christmas. I've decided to have spare ribs insteady of our traditional turkey dinner. Somehow cooking turkey, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and all those things I've always done seemed awfully boring to me. Time for a change. Time for something more colourful.

I will make the spare ribs in the slowcooker. Have it going all day, making the house smell wonderful. Along with the meat I'm planning to serve rice, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, a broccoli salad, copper pennies (sweet sliced carrots) and pineapple. All sweet stuff, except for garlicky bread sticks made from a pane di casa baguette.
For dessert we're having cheese cake, cream puffs, Christmas cookies, and chocolates.

Good thing none of us is diabetic!

Neat thing about this menu is that much of it can be done ahead. I won't have too much cooking to do on the actual day. I can relax and enjoy.

What are you having this Christmas that's different than the traditional?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Radio interview tonight

I should have posted this earlier, but if you read this before 7pm PST tonight, please listen in when I'm interviewed on CJSF radio. You can get it online at live. Or check it out later. The website has links to previously aired broadcasts. This program is Sound Therapy, the December 21st edition.

I'm doing well. Busy enough but not too busy. Just plain enjoying the Season. Hope you're doing the same.

(Sorry. I tried to insert a link but it ain't working.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas peace

This year's Christmas time is so much better for me than the last several years have been. I'm so grateful. I can't tell you how happy I am about that.

You know, I think what's really helping is the gift my husband gave me last year. Not an ordinary kind of gift at all. He gave me permission not to celebrate Christmas.

I had been doing so poorly, struggling so much with depression, a depression that had started a couple of months before the Advent season. I was truly a mess. Out of concern my husband said to me: "Marja, we don't have to do Christmas this year. We won't send out cards, we won't decorate, you don't have to bake. All we'll do is buy a few gifts for our son and his wife and for your mom." It was such a release to hear him say that. To think I could just forget about all the stress and busyness.

The interesting thing that happened was that within days I started to want to do Christmassy things. We didn't do cards and we didn't put lights on the house. But I did bake a few of my favourite cookies. And we had a tree and decorated the house. I was free to do as I wished.

Then, lo and behold, I decided to make calendars for my friends, using my photographs and bits and pieces from the Psalms. Immersing myself in this creative effort gave me comfort. It took away stressful feelings, making me forget about everything else. I found refuge in the work and I ended up with some very creative gifts for a dozen friends.

I think one of the things that makes Christmas so hard is the expectations we have of ourselves and expectations we believe others have of us. It's that long series of "have to's" that make the season so stressful. Celebration needs to come from a heart that "wants to" celebrate. How else can we truly, with a happy heart, celebrate.

Christmas is a holy time. It's a time to worship. It's a time to love. It's a time to draw close to God and to each other. I'm finding myself wanting more quiet times than ever this year. And those quiet times interspersed between the busy times make the celebration even more enjoyable.

This year I'm enjoying every little thing. I'm busy, but not too busy. I'm taking the days one at a time, with some work and time with friends, and some quiet time to journal and pray, listen to music, or watch a Christmas movie on TV.

I pray that you, too, are able to celebrate the Advent season with a heart that is joyful and at peace. Try not to think about what you have to do, but what you want to do.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Last blooms

I love the look of frost on flowers - on any kind of vegetation actually. These are the last flowers in our garden. The last bit of colour, except for the hollyberries on the holly tree. Winter is really here. It's cold and there's talk of snow in the forecast.

Although most photographers would frown on photographing such poor, half-dead specimens I find a kind of truth there that we shouldn't overlook. Why are people so afraid of focusing on the dying? There's a beauty there. It gives expression to something all of us go through. And if a picture like this expresses something real, something we go through occasionally, then it's just as important to photograph as perfection. I believe in the candid, the authentic, truth. I want real.

If you read my comments on my last post, you will already know that the conference was a wonderful success for me. I met many people, made many good connections, even doing a radio interview with a university radio broadcaster. This was definitely a good place for me - and for Living Room - to be.

I said to my pastor today, "I guess I had nothing to worry about, eh?" But on thinking about that, I wonder if I would have prayed as earnestly as I did if I hadn't been worried about it. The worrying helped me to prepare in every way I could.

I thank God for being with me, for giving me the confidence I had prayed for. I thank him for the oodles of support I received. The oodles of prayer.

Now it's time to focus on Christmas. So good to be feeling well this year. The past two or three years were very difficult for me at Christmas time. This year is different. I've had a few problems in the past few weeks, but I think they were probably situational - stress related to the conference and my husband being away. Now there's nothing holding me back from enjoying the long as I take life one day at a time.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Staying balanced

I've been doing ok over the past couple of days. In fact, yesterday was wonderful. Living Room turned out so great, it left me feeling hugely blessed and at peace. I felt so good I didn't feel like going to bed till late Just wanted to continue experiencing the good feelings.

And tomorrow, the Into the Light conference. Every time I think of it I get butterflies. It will be such a big deal and I feel like such a very small person. But I don't feel the gross anxiety I did a while ago. I've come to terms and I'm now hoping to meet lots of people, people who might be interested to hear about Living Room.

Sunday morning will start with a 7:30 breakfast for consumers taking part in a consultation meeting with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. I've already met some of the people who will be there through email. Another person who I know will be there is someone who left a beautiful comment on one of my articles. It will be neat to meet her in person.

Can you believe, one of my biggest sources of anxiety - though it will sound to you like a small thing - is getting my three 24" x 36" posters up on the board. They're so curled and I think it might be a struggle. If I had someone with me to help it wouldn't be so bad, but I'll be on my own. I'll have to look for a friendly face and ask for help. One way to meet people, eh?

One person who would be amazingly wonderful to talk to if I only could, would be the Honourable Michael Kirby, the chair of the Commission, a huge fighter for the reduction of stigma. He will be there throughout. Might that be possible? Probably not, but I can dream; I can hope. One thing I know: I need to let as many people know about Living Room as I can. I need to highlight the importance of spirituality to mental health and what that means in the Christian realm.

I sound ok, don't I? Pretty solidly balanced, eh? Thank God.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Walking a tightrope

My moods continue to go up and down. And when I feel ok, it's as though I'm walking a tightrope, trying to maintain my balance so I don't fall one way or another.

Amazing how many symptoms there are to watch out for. And each time one of those symptoms shows itself, I have to put a different coping mechanism into place, read a different psalm, pray a different prayer.

There are the lonely feelings, the poor eating, overwhelmed feelings where I can't see how I can possibly manage doing the many things I need to do, unable to organize a list. Little things seem like big things. I've even had moments thinking I couldn't go on. Thank God those moments have been brief ones.

Not having my husband home makes all this more difficult. I'm not into a good routine, eat at odd times or don't eat at all. Eat weird stuff, not the kind of meals I'd have if he were home.

Being alone for such long periods makes it easy to sit for long uninterrupted periods in thought, unaware that I'm doing it. This thinking has often signalled problems for me. When it happens I need to remember Rudyard Kipling's line in his poem If. "If you can think but don't make thoughts your aim." When that line comes to mind I make the effort to "do" something. So important to stay active. The more I sit in thought, the more likely I'm going to get drawn down into depression. I wouldn't call myself depressed right now, but I am doing battle with many ways. The Psalms are a good companion right now. Psalm 18, 91, and 40 have been very meaningful to me in the past while.

I'm preparing for Living Room on Friday. Also preparing for the Into the Light: Transforming Mental Health in Canada conference coming up this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Living Room will have a poster presentation to make there. I'll have an opportunity to interact with conference attendees and tell them about it.

I will have to walk my tightrope well. Do all the right things. Stay well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I'm feeling remarkably better. And I know it's mostly due to the prayer I started praying a couple of days ago. I realized I had been trying to rid myself of my depression by my own power. Totally forgot that I couldn't do it on my own. I needed God's help.

Now I know it could easily come back. And maybe this is just one good day I'm having. And time I'll know what to ask God for, if I'll only remember to trust Him. I need to stay close to God daily.

Please don't think though that this means you can do away with the meds your doctor prescribed. Don't think it means you don't have to do all the other good stuff you need to do to keep you well, like exercising, getting plenty of rest, eating well, staying active, spending time with friends. You'll need ALL those things. We need to treat our whole selves: the physical, mental, spiritual.

And about that prayer: I wrote it in my last post but I have to say I'm embarrassed about it now. I've rewritten it and prepared copies with the picture of the sunflower for my Living Room crew. A cute little presentation. I rewrite it here, hoping that it will help you too, next time you're feeling dark and unable to free yourself from it.


I love you, Lord – you make me strong.
You are bedrock under my feet.
I know you are with me.
I know you can free me from the dark that keeps me captive.
Help me to let it go.
Help me to trust in your ability to loosen the chains.

I trust you and place myself in your hands.
Thank you for your love.
Thank you for making me strong.

Yeah, I'm strong!
Through you, I'm strong.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bedrock beneath my feet

I'm getting along not too badly. Hard to stay active though. I prefer to sit and think. To meditate. Or would you call this ruminating?

Yesterday I emailed a friend telling her how I see things piling up around me that need to be done. And it makes me feel butterfly anxious, knowing I don't have the motivation to do very much about it. I felt like I was enslaved, in chains, struggling to free myself. And when I wrote that, I realized that this was a big part of the problem. I'm trying to do free myself when I should be trusting that God can help me do that. It's wrong to think I can do this on my own.

I turned to Psalm 18 which has encouraged me to lean on God in the past. My favourite version of the first two verses comes from the Message:
I love you, God-you make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet.

And I prayed:
Thank you, Lord. I know you are with me. I know you can free me from this depression. Please help me to let it go-to trust in your ability to loosen the chains.
I trust you and place myself in your hands.

Thank you for your love and thank you for making me strong.
Yeah, I'm strong! Through you I'm strong.

Today I had a fine breakfast with a favourite friend. Now I'm getting the house into shape. And I'm writing to you, my blogger pals, and that is good. Tomorrow I'll pick up a friend who has been in hospital for awhile to accompany her on a six hour pass. Church will be part of it. It will be a fine day.

Things are looking up. And I know God is with me, making me strong. He is bedrock beneath my feet.

(Originally I wrote this post without the photograph. But I added it because to me it suggests prayer - an intimacy with God.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When we see things dimly

I've been reading Wayne Cordeiro's book, Leading on Empty: Refilling your tank and renewing your passion, and am finding it very helpful for what I'm going through right now.

Cordeiro says, "When we see things dimly, we invite depression, which can be defined as a perceived inability to reconstruct your future." When we're hit with depression we need to remind ourselves of what God called us to do in the first place. If we can focus on that, we can start rebuilding.

But what comes first: the depression and anxiety or the lack of focus? Or do the two come about simultaneously? Hard to say.

I do know that what triggered my present battle was a number of things, all of them causing anxious thoughts which led to depression. I have been seeing the work God gave me to do "dimly." Having a hard time focusing. I'm trying very hard to re-focus though, spending much time in prayer.

It's all about remembering what God gave me to do and why I'm doing it, isn't it? It's all about believing in it. I've made a list of my priorities and am meditating on them often. And I think my prayers are starting to help. Focussing on my calling is helping with the depression. It's helping me think more positively.

Cordeiro talks about Paul's trials with storms and snakebites. Yet he never forgot his divine commission to witness in Rome, as he had witnessed in Jerusalem. This gave him the confidence to withstand anything. I want to be like Paul.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Psalms as support

I'm not feeling very good at all. In a downward spiral again, though I have level times as well. But being alone, my husband away, doesn't help. A friend suggested I find some Scripture to help me. I turned to the Psalms. Had a bit of trouble finding something I could really latch onto that I found helpful, but eventually did find Psalm 6.

Peer support is such a blessing. To hear people talk about their struggles with depressed thoughts and feeling and to realize you're not the only person to feel that way gives comfort. That must be why the Psalms are such a comfort during hard times. To read King David's words expressing his emotional pain is as good as an antidepressant, especially when he ends with praises to God. He helps me remember that God hears me and that He loves me.

O Lord, do not rebuke me in anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?
Turn, O Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.

and then:

The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer.

Psalm 6:1-4 and 9.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In defence of complaining

A couple of days ago a friend sent me photographs comparing how good most of us have it with how bad things are for some people. There was a picture of a plump, well-fed baby next to a picture of a starving baby, all skin and bones. Another picture showed a pair of Adidas shoes next to a pair of feet wearing sandles made from recycled plastic bottles. Yet another showed a child in a warm, cozy bed with lots of covers next to a picture of a child sleeping on a mat on the floor without even clothes to cover his body.

The purpose was to show how little we really have to complain about. We shouldn't be complaining.

It made me think of my friends living with depression, and how their complaints are often disapproved of. It made me think of the complaining I do when I'm in emotional distress. Should I be feeling bad about myself for expressing my pain?

It made me think of a friend who is right now in hospital because she found it so hard to live in the world, having to put on a face, having to act as though well, though she was suffering so much inside. I wish she'd feel that when she's with me she doesn't need to act. I wish she'd feel that she can be real with me. I wish she'd feel she can complain, to share what she's feeling if it would make her feel better.

Feelings and emotions run deep. We don't know how to show a person's emotional anguish in photographs. If we could, then perhaps we would compare this anguish with a healthy, happy mind, and see how huge the gulf in between is....and we would be moved to compassion by such an image in the same way we are moved to compassion when we see an image of a starving child. Because deep depression is extremely painful, painful enough to cause death (by suicide), as starvation can cause death.
Trouble is, emotional pain is a pain we can't see or imagine if we haven't been there. So then people slough it off as complaining over nothing. "Look at all you have" or "look how fortunate you are" doesn't cut it with a person in emotional crisis.
People with emotional pain "need to" share it with the friends who love them. They need our understanding and compassion. People in crisis find relief by sharing with someone who has understanding and compassion. They need to have a chance to talk, to let it all out. If they don't, the feelings will fester within and grow worse.

I guess that's what makes Living Room so valuable. It's a place where we have a chance to talk. A chance to "complain" where we will be understood and accepted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anxiety, depression, and prayer

My second post of the day. But I thought I needed to pass this along because it's important.

My friend asked me this morning whether I've prayed over my anxieties, all the stuff that seems to be triggering the threat of depression right now. And I realized that I hadn't prayed. Hadn't even thought of praying. Pretty bad.

She pointed out Psalm 37: 3-5 in particular, especially good in the Amplified version:
"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 the secret petitions of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord [roll and repose each care of your load on Him]: trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) also in Him and He will bring it to pass."
Reading that did me a lot of good. And yes, I need to take that to heart. I need to pray.

This morning I used the SAD lamp. It left me a bit "light" headed. So bright! Don't know which helped more, the lamp or the Bible verses and prayer. Methinks I should use both. In any case, I feel better today.

And, thank God, just heard this minute from another person, second within a week, wanting to start a Living Room group. Praise God!!

And that's what my work is all about, isn't it? Helping people receive faith-based support for their problems with mood disorder. Why worry about petty things? I have God on my side and He will care for my needs.


I'm starting to wonder whether I might not be having trouble with seasonal affective disorder. My depressions over the last few years have always started in October or November, the beginning of the dark winter season. And over the last little while, with the dark wet days here in Vancouver, I've felt myself dipping again. I've had to struggle to stay up.

Yes, there have been some triggers. My husband off on a trip this Friday, planning to be gone 21/2 weeks. Uncertainties surrounding the funding for the conference, wondering if I'm going to have to go alone, with no one to be there as support. Hearing that the friend I talk to almost daily will be going away for three months, starting in February.

But, somehow, when I imagine how it would be to be able to sit in my muskoka chair in the warm bright sun, I tend to think that I wouldn't be affected in this way. I think I'd be able to better withstand these triggers. I think I'll start using the SAD lamp we have. See if that will help me.

My counselor told me that the trip we're planning for May is not soon enough for a holiday for me. When I told my husband that, he thought that perhaps we could afford a week's holiday somewhere warm and sunny in January. Wow! Just the thought of it makes me feel better. I can imagine myself sitting on a beach or by a pool with a good book. How good that would be!

Yes, I'll try the lamp.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Living room at conference

An exciting thing is happening for Living Room at the end of the month. We have been accepted to present a 4'x8' poster at the Into the Light: Transforming Mental Health in Canada conference at the Hotel Vancouver. This is a national conference put on by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Vancouver Coastal Health, and Simon Fraser University.

This is exciting because it will be our first opportunity to showcase what we do in a mainstream national conference. An opportunity to highlight the importance of faith to mental well-being. An important opportunity to show what churches have it in their power to do, if they only would.

At certain times during the event I will be expected to be at the poster to interact with the attendees. I will, of course, have brochures with me to hand out, as well as manuals available for sale to those who are interested.

Over the last little while I've been designing three 24"x36" poster which will hang on the board. It has been a fun process. In doing it I had to learn to use Microsoft Publisher. Neat to see what I have the "power" to do using this program.

This creative work has helped me escape the dip in my mood that was threatening after the excitement of the open house was all over. Creative projects always do that for me. Good medicine.

I've posted the three posters here for you to have a look at, though I may still fine-tune them a bit. But I can't wait to share.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Help needed

A couple of days ago I received an email from someone with a problem that is so common. It hurt me to read it:
"I am a Christian, but I feel so very alone in my battles and struggles. I know I shouldn't, but I feel ashamed and embarrassed to ask for prayer related to my disorder. I guess I still don't want to "admit" I have it (bipolar disorder). In addition, I feel like a failure with regards to my career outside the home. Heck, I feel like a failure with being a stay-at-home mom and wife much of the time! I could go on and on, but what I really want to ask is what resources or support groups might be available to me that take into account that I have bipolar but I am also a follower of Christ? I need His strength, but I also yearn for the support of those who hold the same worldview/belief system."

So many Christians have this need. A need for support from fellow believers, yet afraid to tell them about their struggles with a mental disorder. Afraid that they're going to be thought of as a bad Christian. Afraid of being judged and rejected.

My heart goes out to this lady. If only there could be more Living Room groups for people like her. We need Living Room groups everywhere. And I pray to God that word of it will spread and that many more groups will be established. And I pray that the stigma within the church will be reduced. Please, God, help this happen.

If you live in or near Minneapolis, have a faith in Jesus Christ, and have bipolar disorder could you let me know? Or if you know of a faith-based support group in that area, please let me know so I can pass the information on to this lady. Please email me at It would be so good to get such support for her.

If you want to read more about Living Room check this article which was published recently about faith-based mood disorder support. Does this inspire you? Is God calling you to get involved too?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Feeling better

I'm feeling more normal today. Not so tired. More stable, even though somewhat at loose ends. Maybe all this fear I felt was for naught.

I can see, though, that I need to have something else now to focus on, something else besides Living Room. I've done such a lot of photography lately, and feel a need to let that rest for awhile. Maybe I will try to do some drawing again.

Although I had a meeting that took up the whole morning, the afternoon lacked a defined purpose. And that tends to be how it is now, no longer having that big purposeful creative focus of the photography and the open house to prepare for.

I've started reading Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro. Just the book I need to help me learn how to prevent burnout and help me deal with my too-much-of-everything life. I so need to build balance into my life and not overdo. And over the past little while I know I've been over-doing. Thus the threat of a crash.

I know many of you have been praying for me and I thank you for that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Can you blame me?

I've been worried about myself. Scared. And I'm trying to deal with this fear, because I know it doesn't accomplish anything. In fact, it will make things worse.

I've been worried that depression is round the corner for me again. And can you blame me? When I think of what I went through last year - six months of it! And when I see what some of my Living Room friends are going through...It's a scary thing and, with my disorder, is bound to return over and over again.

I pray to God that he will help me through this time of exhaustion and keep me afloat. I pray that he will help me trust in him, that he will help me remember that he is there and I don't need to fear. Trust. Please, God, let me trust.

Depression: so real, yet so unfathomable when you're doing well. So unfathomable to people who've never experienced it. Yet such a horrendously awful thing.

I place myself in your hands God. To keep and to do your will. Able to do your will.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weary and empty

I feel that I've poured myself out in every which way I could over the past while. I've poured myself into creating photographic items, poured myself into Living Room, poured myself into the support of people in trouble, poured myself and everything I had into the showing of my work and the party. I've had two sleeps since the party and I still feel tired. Worn out.

I can see that I'm going to have to work at not crashing. This morning I did not feel I could do anything, other than the laundry. Then I caught myself just sitting and thinking, about nothing much in particular. It was a dangerous place to be. If I let that happen for too long I might very well find myself caught in depression. It has happened many times like that before.

So I decided to go to Curves for a workout. It took some doing to get me out the door, but eventually I did go. It did me a world of good.

In the afternoon I had a couple of appointments and in the evening I visited a friend in hospital. I got through the day fine.

I think I'll try to get to Curves every day for the next while until I've passed the danger point.

Some exciting news is that Living Room is going to have a 4 foot high 8 foot wide poster at the Into the Light: Transforming Mental Health in Canada conference at the end of November. We will have a chance to interact with conference attendees and tell them about Living Room.

I'm awaiting delivery of a book I very much need to read right now: Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordero. I'm ready for a good serious read right about now. Actually, it's about renewing your passion. I don't think I've lost that, yet it would be a good read, I'm sure.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This is the day...

Just killing some time before it's time to go to church. Just trying to relax a bit. I spent the morning doing as much as I could to get ready for the open house. I'll do the very very last minute stuff when I get home from church. My friend will be coming to help with the final set-up: slicing the cheese and sausage, making the punch, putting the coffee on, etc.

"This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

This is the day I've been preparing for during the last couple of months and now it's here. I'm very excited, even a bit nervous, though I shouldn't be. I'm getting lots of support. One friend greeting, two friends making sure the table stays supplied with food, and my husband his friend looking after the cash. I'll be free to float around, talking to people, introducing people.

I pray everyone who comes will sense God's presence. I pray that they will feel welcome and want to stay for awhile to visit. And I pray that I will sell lots of stuff, that we will have lots to donate to our church's Connections Coffee House. It will be such fun to see how people respond to the pictures I've been working on.

One thing I thought about: Here is something I'm doing that is in no way connected to mental health work. So many people at church think of me only in that way. They think of what I do with Living Room. Now they will see another side of me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The eleventh hour

Well, the open house is almost upon me. Today I will do all the last minute things. The last minute shopping. Setting up all the stuff I'm selling. I'd like to do as much as possible so I'll be able to go to church tomorrow. No reason I can't, I figure.

This has been a busy week, with lots of mental health work to do: a heavy Living Room session yesterday (though a good one too). A friend ending up in hospital. Lots of time spent in support of people.

So good to have this happy occasion on Sunday to balance things out. Even though it too is stressful and a very lot of work, it's all good stuff.

I'm coming to see that we can deal with quite a bit of stress, as long as there's a balance between good stress and bad stress. They tend to cancel each other out. Don't you think?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Very early in the morning for me to write a post. But when you're moved to do it, you must move, mustn't you? Don't hesitate. Just do.

My house smells like Christmas, the wonderful aroma of cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, all mixed together. I made my speculaas last night, a Dutch Christmas cookie that I always make at Christmas time. I'm getting in the mood early. My open house is definitely going to be the pre-Christmassy party I wanted it to be. A few days ago I made shortbread cookies, another one of my Christmas traditions.

This morning my thoughts have been turning, as they have quite often lately, to what I'm going to do after this open house. Yes, I've got Living Room work to do. But what am I going to do that's creative? What am I going to do to balance my life so I'm not just doing mental health work?

I've also been thinking of how I will make Christmas the happy experience it should be. How am I going to avoid depression this year? And the answer I've come up with is that I need to think creatively about what I can give. What can I do to give to others to make their life better? If I can stop thinking about what Christmas will do to me and think of it as an opportunity to creatively give in some way, I think it will be more than bearable. In fact, I will love it.

My prayers have been full this morning of requests to God to lead me into a creatively lived Christmas season - a wanting to do good things, not feeling I have to live up to certain standards. A looking forward to...not a dreading. I'm grateful for the good mood I have now and pray that it will continue. And prayer does help, doesn't it?

Sunday, October 18, 2009


No, I didn't fall off the end of the earth. I'm here, just my emails weren't getting to me.

I'm sorry to everyone who left a comment going as far back as last Tuesday. I just discovered the emails to my blogger account were not coming in. Don't know how it happened. Something got shifted along the way.

The root of sin

Our guest speaker at church today was David Collins. He talked about the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, pointing out that the sins they committed were symptoms, they're not the root of it. At the root was something else. Quoting Ezekiel 16:49:
"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughthers were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things."

It was the arrogance and lack of compassion that was at the basis of it all. That was the sin. And we've all committed the identical root sin.

It happens when we think we're better than others or that we deserve more than others. It happens when we're angry at a person and not their behaviour. When we are, David Collins said, we're actually thinking that we're better than them.

The story he used to illustrate these points was the story of the prostitute who wept at Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair and kissed them, then poured perfume on them. Jesus was at the home of Simon, one of the Pharisees, when she did so. The Pharisee was disgusted, after all, this was a sinful, lowly prostitute. But Jesus said to him:
"Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven - for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

All this made me think once more how we need to try to put ourselves in the shoes of others. This is something I very much need to do in my work with Living Room. I need to remember what it was like for me to be depressed and unable to function well. Or what it was like to want to die. Or what it was like to need for someone to understand me. Actually, it's not too hard for me to do that, since I have experienced the pain of depression so often myself. Kind of a gift, isn't it, to be able to understand others who suffer? And I need to continue to be there for people who need me, to the best of my ability.

God has shown me his love again and again, through friends and through rescuing me from darkness. May I share that love with others.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Call me nuts

Today I'm listening to Christmas music while I'm baking. Call me nuts, but I think that's a perfectly okay thing to do.

At Christmas time everyone always talks about how we should celebrate Christmas every day. Why keep such a good thing reserved for only a few weeks of the year? Besides, maybe Christmas won't be so difficult to deal with if you celebrate it more often.

I've talked loads on this blog about how badly Christmas affects me. I think it's the stress of wanting to have everything perfect, yet being fearful of not reaching perfection. It's having expectations of yourself that are hard to achieve.

But if I started now, when it doesn't really matter a heck of a lot if things aren't perfect...Before all the craziness in the malls sets in...before the thick bundles of ads get dropped at our door...before the pressure of doing it all...right now is dumped on me?

So...I'm starting to celebrate Christmas now, even before you, my American friends, have had your Thanksgiving. Even before Haloween.

I'm calling the party I'm having on the 25th of this month a "Pre-Christmas Open House." And I don't feel pressure. I feel a great desire to make this a wonderful happy affair with people from various facets of my life coming together to mingle with each other and to look at all the photographic items I've been working so hard on. I so look forward to it.

And as I prepare I will play my Christmas music and celebrate. And I will keep celebrating for the next two months. Merry Christmas everyone!

Think I'm nuts?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Creating with a purpose

I've almost finished all my photography projects for the open house coming up on October 25th. My next project is going to be baking for it. I'll start as soon as I have a spare hour or two (not in the next couple of days).

All this made me think...about something I've known for a long time: doing creative work is so much more fun when there's a reason for doing it, when there's a purpose for the work, a good purpose. And being a fundraiser for a church ministry gives it a very good purpose.

I don't normally bake much. Don't really enjoy it. It makes such a mess of the kitchen. But now, knowing what I'm doing it for, I'm eager to begin. Have started planning what recipes to use. I want to make lots of tarts, cookies and squares and freeze them. I've invited at least 100 people to the party and we'll need lots. I don't expect all the people I invited will come. Have no idea how many will, so I'll have to be prepared. There will be an exciting end purpose for all my preparations and that makes it fun. It energizes me.

And when I think of it, I would never have wanted to make all the cards and bookmarks if there were no reason for doing it. I would not have done all this work just because. So much more fun to have it all culminate in a big party with neighbours and friends from all the different facets of my life.

My 95 year old mother feels the same way. She has been crocheting baby afghans, one after another and only now that she has decided to donate them to the sale is she finding real joy in it. She now has a purpose for what she does. Everyone needs a reason for doing the things they do.

The party is less than two weeks away now. It's drawing closer every day. How I look forward to it!

This bookmark is one of the twenty or so designs I'll be selling.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Mental illness and the church

I've been wanting to blog - much to tell you about, especially now that it's Mental Illness Awareness Week. But it's been hard to settle into it, though I will soon.

For now, though, I'd like to alert you to a superb article written by Frank Stirk for BC Christian News and Much of the article talks about my Living Room ministry. I'm excited about this. Happy about this, and hoping it will go a long way to reducing some of the stigma in the church. Please do have a look and pass the link on to others.

See you soon.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

What I learned from the suicide loss group

Second post in a day. Not often I do that. But there's something I learned from the suicide loss group that I want to share. In fact, I feel like broadcasting it everywhere.

I don't think any of us realize just how much we're loved. And especially not when we're depressed and our perspective is off. Even when we're told we are loved, we tend not to believe it. We can't take it all in.

And yet the love I saw expressed by those 24 people gathered to talk about the children, spouses and parents they lost showed me how much the people who took their life were loved so very deeply. The people who died might not even have realized it. What a tragedy!

And it makes me think of the people there. They probably didn't even realize how very deeply they loved. They didn't realize how much pain they could suffer.

I think we love our family and friends far more deeply than we realize. When we're so busy with our lives and there are so many activities and "stuff" to distract us from remembering our appreciation for each other we perhaps start taking each other for granted. We forget to let each other know how much we love each other. And we so need to do that.

Let us love God and one another - God's greatest commandment, and for good reason.

Drawn closer

A wonderful thing came out of the meeting with the suicide loss group on Sunday night. My husband and I have drawn closer as a result.

It was so good that we were able to be there together, both of us hearing all the stories of loss and the love these people expressed for those who had taken their lives.

Wes and I came face to face with what this might mean for him, were I to take my life, as I had so wanted to in the past. I came to see the incredible pain it would cause him. And he came to recognize how he can't take me for granted. He came to recognize how real such a loss could be. And me? I would never want to inflict such pain.

I pray to God that I will never be so self-centered that I will forget these things I learned....And yet, the reality of it is that when such emotional pain comes it's pretty hard to think beyond it.

Yesterday I was going through a hard time because of a friend's troubles. I was so worried about her and felt that I was the cause of it. I had been honest with her about something - though in a loving way - and she couldn't handle it. I caused her great grief. Now I feel I shouldn't have told her the things that I did. I so regret it.

Now I'm hurting too. But Wes has been so good. So understanding. So caring. He's so "with me."

Yes, that suicide loss meeting - though a tough experience - has done wonders for our relationship. I thank God for the opportunity to be there together with Wes and for what it has taught us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

For a friend

Please trust that God will change your darkness into light. Please know you're loved. We all care about you. I look forward to a coffee with you. Please let it be soon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Love and the pain of suicide

Hi everyone.

I gave the talk to the suicide loss group last night. And they shared their stories of pain at losing someone close to suicide. It was an emotionally charged time of three hours sitting in a circle - 20 to 24 or us. So many tears and I so deeply felt their grief. I still feel the emotions they left me with.

I spoke well, telling them what it's like to live with bipolar disorder and what it's like to be so depressed you want to die. I shared honestly, totally myself, transparent.

In the morning at church I prayed over this meeting. I prayed that God would help me share his love. And He did that for me.

Although this was a secular group I did tell the group a bit about my faith and how it helps me to survive. About how I need God. How could I not? But I did not dwell on it too much. We needed to address their feelings more than anything.

They were grateful to me for sharing and I was just as - or maybe even more - grateful to them for their sharing. I needed to hear and see the kind of pain they were suffering because I have considered suicide at times. I needed to see how their lives were forever changed by their losses. And I don't want to do that to the people I love.

God, please help me not to be so self-centered when I'm depressed that I forget the pain I could cause those who love me to suffer. Help me to remember - though it may be hard - that people do love me, even though my depression might tell me they don't.

The picture I'm sharing here has nothing to do with suicide. But it shows the bond of mother and child and love in the midst of pain.

I prayed for God's presence last night and He was there. His love was there in that circle. He was amongst us.

Thank you, God.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's a good morning

I felt like this preparation for the talk on Sunday was such a hurdle. Just couldn't apply myself. Yesterday afternoon I felt like everything I had to do was so complex and difficult. I had really started feeling quite down.

But in the early evening I sat outside for awhile with my cup of coffee. I asked God to please help me. Amazingly, after that I felt refreshed and ready to try again. I sat down to the computer and got a lot done.

What I'll do is read small portions from my two books here and there to fill out the talk. Although I don't believe a person should read a lot within a presentation, some things are best described in well planned words, like I have in my books. Besides, what I read will give people a taste of what's in my books, in case they'd like to purchase a copy.

This morning, once more, I sat outside and all the complicated stuff I'm dealing with now seems manageable. I'm ready to tackle it all. Thank you, God!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Speaking to a support group

I have something coming up at the end of this week that is not going to be the most straight forward challenge to tackle. I've been invited to speak to a group of around twenty people who have lost a loved one to suicide. They'd like to hear from me what it's like to live with a mental illness.

The thing I'm most worried about is how they will hear me. I don't know what it's like to be in their shoes. Will I be able to be sensitive to what they're dealing with?

One thing for sure is that I will encourage them to talk to me as well. As a person who has considered suicide herself, I need to hear what it might be like for the people left behind were I to die that way. Perhaps we could get a discussion going.

Thinking about it now and considering where the people in this support group are at, I can see that taking your life is a selfish thing to do. And yet, self-centeredness can't be helped when you're in the midst of depression. The pain is so great, it's hard to get past it.

What the people who I speak to can give me will be just as important as what I can give them I feel. I hope we will all be sensitive to each other. I hope understanding will grow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I'm having a bit of a problem deciding how to treat a confidentiality issue. Is it right for me to even ask a Living Room member to have his or her picture taken for an article on mental illness and the church?

Our policy is to keep everything confidential, even who does and does not come to Living Room meetings. But I've been asked by the editor of a newspaper which is doing this article, an article which will include a lot about Living Room, if I would supply a picture of some of the members. Now I just don't know if it's right for me to even ask them. Yet the cause is so good. Maybe some of our members would like to do this to further reducing the stigma. It would be their opportunity to contribute.

Just writing about it here has helped me make up my mind. I will ask one or two people and make it very clear they don't have to feel they're letting me down if they don't feel comfortable.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Enthusiasm for photography

My enthusiasm for photography has come back in a big way. It was slow in coming but now I'm quite eager to play with pictures again, especially focussing on using photos to make notecards and, especially, bookmarks.
In my bookmarks I get to combine my love for the written word with my love for photographs.

I'm also starting to revisit some of the photography I've done in the past. So I share with you today a few pictures of older people. I had made these in an effort to show that old people still have a child inside them. It was a project that I had hoped to publish but came to a dead end. But now I can publish them here, online. The wonders of the internet! Don't you just love it?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Awareness grows

Hey! This is post number 400! Think I should do something special to celebrate? Maybe go out for dinner? Have a bottle of bubbly tonight?

Maybe I should just write a good, hopeful post.

I had a one hour interview yesterday with a writer from a major Christian newspaper. One of my recent Living Room updates that I sent to facilitators and facilitators-to-be had filtered down to this paper. They were impressed enough to decide to publish a feature article about mental illness and the church. The Living Room story should occupy a good part of that piece. Yes!!! Living Room is doing its stuff, some of the stuff I was hopeful it would do, helping churches realize they can, and need to, help people with mental illness.

I, together with a couple of others, am working on updating the manuals. That will be followed by an updating of the website. Both these things will have to be done quickly now so that all is done by the time the article comes out in early October.

I've been holding back writing about Living Room, waiting for this updating to be done. Don't want to send people to the website until it's where it should be. It would be wasted energy to send them there at this point. All my publicity will have to wait for a wee time.

And, by the way, the problem with my friend I wrote about in my last post is getting ironed out, thank God. I don't like upsetting people. And I don't like losing friends. Peace and harmony is far better.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Undying life

Today I was, once more, drawn into a place that felt ugly. A problem with a friend to whom I had lovingly talked about something she really needed to know. She didn't take it well and dumped a vehement response to it on me. I think I have lost a friend. I'm not used to being spoken to in an angry way like that. Guess I've been kind of sheltered that way...or I just have an awfully nice bunch of people in my life.

So here I am again with another time when I need to "move into God's Presence," that wonderful phrase my good friend inspired me with only a week ago.

I am living in God's presence when I'm in His kingdom, a place governed by His rule. The kingdom of God is the place where everything that God wants done is done, all things working for good. It is a place where we can share in what God wants to do in the world. It is a place where life is eternal, starting

Dallas Willard, in his book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our hidden life in God, quotes a beautiful version of John 3:16:
"God's care for humanity was so great that he sent his unique Son among us, so that those who count on him might not lead a futile and failing existence, but have the undying life of God himself."

So what can I do to help build God's kingdom, making this world a better place today? How can I live fully within an eternal life, even when I lose a friend?

I could live each day as a gift, where even the smallest creative act counts. I could make some more notecards, I could blog, and - oh yes - in between I could and should get my laundry done :) I will put on some good music and place myself in the Kingdom. I will do something good and wash away the bad.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Moving into...

Several days ago I was stuck in a pit, feeling dark and ugly. When I talked to my good friend about it, she said to me, "At times like this you need to move into God's Presence."

I know it doesn't sound like anything really that special for someone say, but it worked wonders for me. There's something about the verb "move" that is powerful. At least it was for me that day. To "move into His presence" is highly active, much more so than "being in His presence." "Placing myself in God's Presence" could have had the same effect. It's up to me to act, to do, to make the move from the depths to the surface. Yes, I thought, just do, Marja.

I started working on my notecards...or maybe it was the bookmarks. When I do that work (or should I call it play?) I feel I'm part of God's Kingdom. It's a good, positive thing to be doing. It's colourful; it's satisfying. The work feeds me. And it did again this day. Being creative does that for you and God did make us to be creative people - in His own image.

So...if you're feeling somewhat down, why not try to "move into God's Presence?" Put on some worship music and putter within that peaceful place full of light. That place where you know you're loved and cared for. That place where you'll give your Father pleasure.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Preparing for christmas

A few days ago I wrote in my private blog about how I had played Christmas music, hoping that getting used to that music would anesthetize me to it when Christmas actually does come along. Then I came to think it was probably not such a balanced thing to be doing. Pretty crazy, eh?

And yet...This morning I'm again listening to Christmas music, just a bit. The songs talk about peace for one thing and isn't that a good thing? And people always say how we should have the spirit of Christmas all year long. So then isn't it a good idea to play a bit of Christmas music outside the Christmas season as well? Just a bit to remind us. Just a taste of it.

I will start pretending it's already somewhat Christmas time. Then when it truly comes it won't be such an adjustment.

Sorry to be talking about Christmas already....again! Didn't I just do that a few posts ago?

Cleaning day today. Then I will visit my Mom. Then some Living Room work. And hopefully some work on my notecards and bookmarks. Tomorrow dear hubby comes home from his fishing trip. It will be good to see him again.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Poor Mom

My poor 95-year-old mom called tonight from her nursing home, very upset about the care she is receiving. She complained about being treated as a child, with disrespect. She is incontinent and needs to be helped with washing up. What that does to her sense of dignity!

Mom was moved to the floor she's on right now because she had been fighting with other residents. She has a very bad temper. And, as they always say, when you get older you become even more of what you were before. She had been hitting people and even ramming them with her walker. She gets SO angry.

Now, just from hearing her talk tonight, I feel she has probably been fighting with her nursing staff. Hard to deal with. The kind of person everyone comes to hate.

I try to help her understand how she needs to be forgiving. How she needs to cooperate. How she needs the care they're giving her. But it's impossible to talk any sense into her. Maybe I'll have to visit more often and try to give her some counselling. I wonder if that could make a difference.

Quite a day today: Mom as well as a couple of other people in trouble today - people who needed to be listened to. But I did do a fun photoshoot. This has been a day of many colours.

(The picture is of a 100-year-old taken years ago. Not my mom.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

And I wonder...

I wonder if it's really such a good thing to even think about the possibility of depression returning. Shouldn't we focus on the good stuff? If we keep our eyes on the good stuff - making beauty happen, being thankful for what we have, doing the things that make us grow - we wouldn't even have to think about depression, would we?

The Bible says it well in Philippians 4:6 and 8:

"Do not be anxious about anything...(and some more good stuff)...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

That's where I'm at this morning. Looking up, not even wanting to glance down.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Avoiding depression

Susan, the Wellness Writer, has been blogging about how to stave off depression. This is an important topic for me as I look forward to the approaching fall and Christmas season.

As I've said in previous posts, I've already been thinking about that season and wondering how I could possibly avoid going into a depression again. And I've been wondering if this will be possible for me. In spite of having written two books about coping with bipolar disorder, I still have a lot of problems. I've only in recent months been able to return to a normal me, after at least a six-month roller coaster ride which started in November last year. Obviously I worry about this happening again.

Susan says yes, I can. But I will have to have a good recipe for my day to day living. Susan's personal plan includes:
1. Hypnotherapy
2. Therapy
3. A sound, vibration and light healer
4. Learning to garden and volunteering to garden at a school
5. Working on a photography project with others
6. Exercise
7. Spending time with friends
8. Developing hobbies to do alone
9. Making her living environment brighter
10. Changing the way she celebrates the holidays with her family.

My plans?
1. Counselling on a monthly basis
2. Change my attitude - stop dreading Christmas, but look forward to it, planning fun things
3. Make Christmas presents
4. Make photographic items and have an open house so people can see them and purchase them if they wish (proceeds going to a church ministry)

Hey! I seem to be focussing on Christmas here! That wasn't my intent before I started writing. I had meant to talk about depression in general. But I do have Christmas on the brain now-a-days. Not good eh?

How can I avoid the dip I experienced on Sunday from grabbing hold of me and becoming full-fledged depression? I'll try to write about that tomorrow.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Keeping within limits

The holidays I had this spring and summer showed me how good it is for me to take time out to relax. They showed me how important it is to keep my life in balance. I decided to try not to get overly stressed again. I need to avoid getting depressed again.

A friend who I love and respect has promised herself not to do more than three big things in a week. She too tends to get into doing too many things, especially things for others, and becomes overwhelmed. Mind you, she doesn't have a mood disorder and is better able to cope than I am when that does happen.

This friend has become an example for me in many ways. I like the way she shepherds the people in her Bible study groups, caring for those who need it. In many ways I've come to live my life like her, at least in the way I care for people. (There are many ways in which I haven't followed her example, like in keeping a well organized house, though I'm working on it.)

I've followed her example, telling myself I'll only do three big things involving other people in a week. But something happened without any intention on my part. This coming week I have seven things planned - important things. UGGH!!! How did I get into this? How it does creep up on you, eh?

I need to take myself in hand. I need to be more careful. But it IS amazing how things crop up. Will have to try to whittle this down. I need to keep some time for myself.

Thanks for listening to my complaints. But I'm hoping that by writing here about this I will be able to commit myself to better live within my limits.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Christmas in August

I've been thinking so much about Christmas lately. Planning already. Trying to sort out how I can make it a good time instead of the horrid time it was last year.

For so many years now I've had a hard time dealing with Christmas, the stress of it always causing depression. I hate all the pressures that come with it, all the traditions that need to be lived up to. My life is busy enough as it is, without Christmas. Just can't deal with all the extra time and energy Christmas requires.

And yet I believe in celebrating the idyllic Christmas. I want that. Perhaps I'm expecting too much from myself to make it that way?

Anyway, I'm preparing for it now, hoping that I will sidestep problems when the holiday time is truly upon me.

How can I celebrate Christmas this year, without bringing on the depression tha comes along with it? Those thoughts are with me all the time now-a-days. I'm making plans.

I've started my Christmas shopping (though only one item so far). And I'm making notecards and other photographic items, planning to have an open house near Christmas when I can show them off and have them available for sale. I'll probably do that towards the end of November. The proceeds from the sale will support a church ministry.

Making the notecards is something I'm very much enjoying. It's a wonderful creative exercise, an outlet I really need. Something to distract me from the mental health work that tends to consume me. A healthy hobby.

I'll be making most of my gifts. If there weren't a Christmas time I wouldn't have as good a reason to be creative would I? And isn't Christmas all about being creative? The baking, the cooking, the decorating, the entertaining.

Christmas. I will look to the positive in it. I will look forward to and plan the good. Starting now. Little by little.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A balancing act

Life is a balancing act, isn't it? Trying to find balance between work and play, solitude and being with others, quiet times and busy times. I've been working hard to find such a balance now-a-days.

My last holiday showed me how refreshing it is to have down times - times away from responsibilities, times to spend in a book or just quietly reflecting. I remember how depressed I was for so long, how hard it was to get motivated. Today I feel very motivated. I've once more got lots of irons in the fire. But I want to stay motivated and not become overwhelmed with it all. I want to make sure I take lots of down times to keep myself fresh as well.

As you know, I get up very early in the morning, so I do have some valuable down times then. Time to spend with my Bible and in prayer. Time to remember what's important to me and what I most need to spend my time doing.

My mental health work, especially Living Room, takes up most of my time and energy. This is what's most important to me. It's what I believe God made me to do. I also have a 95-year-old mother who needs my attention on a regular basis. I need to spend time with my husband. Then there's the household. And there are my friends. And my reading, so important for my growth. ...and then there's my blogging, something that I've unfortunately had to slow down on considerably.

I want to keep the refreshed feeling I had following my last holiday. This means that I will have to be careful not to get too busy and to keep some time for myself.

The last two weeks were very busy. To make up for it I'm trying to keep this week quiet. I need to do some creative work, something I had promised myself to make time for. I want to print some of the photos I took on our holiday. I also want to turn some of those photos into drawings. They might become Christmas presents. Christmas??? Uggh! Hate the thought.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Someone to come alongside

I shared something with Living Room facilitators and supporters that I thought would be good to share here as well.

One thing that contributed to the depression I've recently recovered from was that I felt overwhelmed by all that Living Room brought me: people to support, interest by others - far and wide - to start up a group. A few weeks ago I even heard from someone in Pretoria, South Africa, eager to start a group.

"This kind of work is not something a person should be doing on her own," I thought to myself. I felt alone and burdened, finding myself unable to do more than absolute essentials. Depressed. I felt a need for a team, or at least a partner, to come alongside me and walk with me through this adventure and its responsibilities. I complained to my church and asked for prayer to help someone materialize.

And here I'll quote the letter I wrote to Living Room supporters last Thursday:

"God answered the prayers of my friends, but not in the way I had thought He would. My depression did lift and I learned to trust God again. Once more He gave me a 'firm place to stand,' as He has so many times before. And God showed me that my thinking had been all wrong. I'd had entirely the wrong perspective. Living Room is not my own work at all. It's God's work. And I am the one who has to come alongside Him. That's the kind of trust that Living Room was built on. That's the kind of trust in God that gave me the courage to do what I've carried out up to now. God is the One who created Living Room.

"The beautiful thing is that I no longer feel alone. I no longer find the work a burden. Amazing what trusting God can do for you, eh? With Him all things are possible. Through Him our weakness can become strength."

Friday, August 07, 2009

Images of life or death?

Hi everyone,

We've been back from our holidays for several days now. About time I wrote a post, eh?

First of all I want to thank Paula Joy, Merelyme, Di and Nancie for your kind good wishes when I went on vacation. And it WAS a wonderful time we had. Two days of busy photography sessions at Barkerville and the rest of the time total rest at a lake 26km off the main highway.

The time at the lake was so absolutely quiet, the bees and insects were the most notable sounds. And that humming came to sound almost as good as the songs of the birds. The bees did not bother us and we saw only the occasional mosquito. Lots of damselflies and a variety of butterflies. Oh yes, I guess we were a couple of times surrounded by cows. And their muching of the grasses was very noisy. And they did crash around a lot in the trees behind our site. But a little dog belonging to a neighbouring camper chased them away when they became a nuisance.

Our favourite place to photograph at Barkerville was the cemetery, a most interesting place. Some of the graves have been there since - well, the oldest one had a date of 1863 on it. The neat thing was that long ago plants had been planted there and, with no one to care for the graves (this WAS a ghost town), had all grown wild.

I loved photographing there. Found it meaningful in some way, though I can't put my finger on why that is. I've included some to show you here. Are they images of life or death? To me they're images of life - beautiful weeds growing in profusion all around the crosses.

Do these pictures say anything to you? Can you help me find the words to express what's so special about weeds and crosses?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Down the road again

I need to write just a bit to let you know that tomorrow we are, once more, off on a trip. We truly are taking advantage of our motorhome this year and I'm finding it very good to have those breaks away. Used to be I'd be too lazy or simply not motivated enough to do all the work getting ready to go. But the last couple of trips were so good, so beneficial to my mental health, that I look forward to it more and more. And it's good to have those times with my husband. The only thing that worries me now is what am I going to do when the summer is gone? I'm so enjoying the good weather and the opportunities to get outdoors.

I look forward to the time this holiday will give me to read. Perhaps I'll even be moved to do some writing. I'll also bring my camera and sketchbook. Isn't that what heaven should be all about? The opportunity to learn from the thoughts of others. The opportunity to be creative, to use the gifts God has given me. These are things I need to make sure I always make time for, even when I'm not on holidays.

There used to be a time when I wondered what possible use there could be in doing artwork. Wouldn't my time be better spent doing God's work? Doing "useful" things? But I'm learning that God made us to be creative people. He had good reasons for this.

I'm starting to look on the creative work I do as a form of worship. What better way to worship than to lie on the ground, focusing your camera on a little wildflower, admiring its beauty, wanting to share that beauty with others? What better way to worship than to watch a baby's every expression as you spend time photographing her?

Earlier this week I photographed a toddler. I didn't do as well as I'd like, but the experience of spending time with this little girl, fully attentive to her, was wonderful. I will have some more wonderful times making the prints.

So early tomorrow morning we'll be off again, for ten days this time. See you all when I get back. Hope that you too will find the time to do the things you best love to do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A butterfly visits

I think I'd better write this story before I go to Curves. I've been meaning to tell you about this for days now, but first I wanted to make sure enough people had a chance to read my previous post. After that I always found some things I considered more important to do. However, it will give me such pleasure to share this with you. Mustn't wait any longer.

On our last holiday with the motorhome we stayed at a lake in an out of the way place, 26 kilometers away from a major road. Very few people live there and only the occasional car or logging truck passed on the gravel road. There was only one other party camped at the lake and they were at the far end of the campground. We didn't even get to meet them.

One afternoon, while my husband was out on the lake in his boat, catching his many fish (it's a very good lake for that), I was sitting in my comfy chair reading a fluff book. (A "fluff book" is what my friend calls a book that entertains but does nothing much else for you.)

The air was clean and warm with enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitoes away. Not too warm either, just comfortable. I listened to the sound of the many birds in the trees and bushes around me. I felt at one with nature. I felt God's presence.

At one point I looked down at my left hand as it held the book and, at the base of my thumb, noticed a tiny, pale blue butterfly with dotted wings. I sat very still and it stayed there for a bit. Then it moved to my forearm. Then to the front of my Tshirt. Finally, after this little visit it flew away. I was delighted, even more feeling united with nature, united with God.

My husband doesn't believe in God and he cynically said, "Do you believe God told that butterfly to come to you?" But no, that's not it at all. It's just that I sensed God's presence in it and the rest of all nature that surrounded me that day. God was in the trees and in the birds and in the breeze. He was in the warm sunshine. He was in the butterfly. And I became part of all that. God was in me too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Quiet time with God

For some reason I've come to love the outdoors more than I ever have before. I was always an indoorsy kind of person. But this year, with the good weather here, I've started sitting on our patio early every morning, even before I get dressed. Our patio is like an outdoor living room. We're so fortunate to have it. And here I sit for a couple of hours, starting around 6 am (sometimes even earlier), with my coffee, journal, and Bible.

I listen to the many different birds, chirping and calling around me. I enjoy the flowers. I feel the freshness of the air - maybe a slight breeze. And I thank God for it all. And in that quiet I sense God with me in a very real way.

So many times, in my small group, I've expressed a desire to feel God's presence. I've struggled often with it. Now I've found that sitting quietly in the midst of nature, fully aware, helps me to feel God's presence. I feel at peace.

I write a bit in my journal, read a few verses in my Bible, and I talk to God about whatever comes into my head at the time, both in words that I speak in my head or write in my journal.

Because I start my quiet time so early, I don't need to concern myself with what I need to get busy with. My stomach will tell me when it's time to have breakfast and get the rest of the day moving. No need to worry my mind over the day.

Each morning is like a little holiday. Each morning is time away from my worries. Each morning is time with God. It refreshes and prepares me for the day.

I was going to tell you about a little blue butterfly that came to visit me, but got side-tracked. That will have to wait. It's a delightful story, so I hope you'll come back to "hear" it.

Praying that you will find peaceful times too.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Yesterday morning I was reminded of the fact that I will never be a completely stable person. I thought God had answered my prayers and the prayers of my friends, bringing me to a return of joy and - I thought - stability. However, I've discovered that the great joy I was feeling was actually a bit higher than I should be. I started organizing all kinds of social functions - four within five days. Looking at my calendar, I realized I was going overboard - not very stable at all.

I called my pdoc and he has adjusted my medication: less prozac and more loxapine - quite a bit more loxapine. The need for this saddened me. I felt frustrated, knowing that - once more - my feelings, those very good feelings, were not a normal thing. Frustrated that the wonderful joyful feeling wasn't anything to be too happy about.

Yet today, sitting on my patio in the early morning, God helped me see that none of us are really stable. What I should have prayed for was a stable "place" - "a firm place" - to be. I should have asked for God's strength to be with me - God, the bedrock underneath my feet.

And I do have that strength today. I feel motivated. Today those giddy feelings of my heart dancing within me are somewhat subdued. So thankful for that, even though it had felt good. Yet it's kind of hard to accomplish things when you're so drunk with joy as well.

One thing that this dramatic mood change has given me is a deeper appreciation for God's power. If I were always stable and comfortable wouldn't I end up taking God for granted? I now realize the only person who is truly stable is God Himself. He's the only constant one. If I trust Him, He will give me what I need to do the work He has for me to do.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sheer happiness

Wow! Over the past little while I have found out what happiness truly feels like. I've been removed from that feeling for so long that and I've become so unfamiliar with it that I actually feel kind of high, though my friends say I'm acting quite normal - just the happy Marja they haven't seen for a long time.

Looking back over the past 8 months or perhaps longer - perhaps much longer - I can see that I've been depressed, even though at times I thought I was doing alright. I wasn't doing alright. I had forgotten what it was to be truly happy.

Truth of it is that my husband had to help me with many things that I should have been quite capable of doing on my own. I've needed him so much - with cooking, shopping, cleaning, paying bills. For a long time I've been avoiding shopping, buying only as few things as I could get away with. No big shopping lists for me. Though the motivation only completely disappeared during the times I was extremely low, which happened a lot, I was very often only moderately motivated. And at those times I thought I was doing quite well. I was coping.

But things could have been much worse. I was able to keep my commitments. Living Room continued, though I had to lean on others to do the devotionals a few times. I was able to keep supporting people, though there was one time when someone asked me to pray with her and I had to tell her I couldn't. I was having too hard a time myself.

I'm grateful that God brought me through as well as he did. I'm grateful I have a ministry that is of utmost importance to me, one that gives me a purpose to live for. I'm grateful that I was able to keep clinging to God, even though I didn't always trust him as much as I should. Grateful for my husband and friends who supported me. Yes, things could have been much worse.

Today I know what joy feels like. I'm energetic, motivated. Eager to continue the work God gave me to do.

With other people in place to carry on the responsibilies of my group, I'll have time to spend the next while doing some of the broader Living Room work. Work on the manuals, the website, and - hopefully - some more writing.

I thank God for where he's brought me. God IS good.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Is this the "normal" me?

First of all I'd like to thank Susan, Paula and Tart for your best wishes while I went on a little holiday. Didn't get them until I got back, but it was nice to come home to that, knowing you were thinking of me.

I want to write about how much better I'm feeling, but think it would be best if I simply copy here an email I sent to some friends letting them know:

"Helen, shortly before we left on our holiday I wrote this to you: "Helen, I don't know what's normal for me anymore. I've been abnormal for so long that I can't figure out who I'm supposed to be."

Wes and I had a wonderful time away. A good time together. It has been a long time since I've felt as good as I have lately. This started in the days before our trip (when I wrote the above) and was especially so while we were in the Chilcotin. I woke up each morning with the old familiar feeling of joy and gratitude for my life. I feel so much more alive than I have for a long time. I feel motivated and strong. And I know this is the work of God in me, the result of a lot of prayer. I want to thank you so very much for your prayers. It's amazing how God works.

When I woke up each morning with my heart dancing within me I suspected I might be getting manic. I asked Wes how I seemed to him but he told me that I've simply become the old Marja again - enthusiastic and very alive. So this is who I'm really supposed to be? So this is what's normal? If that's so, that person has been "lost" for a very long time. But neat how God helped me not to suffer too too much. I was able to function most of the time - though not as well as I should have - but I also went into the depths many times.

Several weeks ago I wondered how I would be different once I emerge from these episodes. Because you can't go through this stuff without changing somehow. I've always found it that way. That's why - after it's all over - I never regret having gone through it. When you're in the pit you can't think of anything except that you want to die. Yet I DO come out of it and God refines me through the experience. I do believe God has a purpose for all I go through. Today I'm so much better equipped to help people like S.... I so know the feeling of riding a roller coaster, helpless to make it stop. That feeling of hopelessness. Hard as it is, I need these experiences now and then if I'm to do the work God has given me to do. I only hope he'll give me a rest from them for a while now. I need to have a chance to work. I need to be capable of strength for awhile.

While we were away I read about David's life in 1st and 2nd Samuel and I read the Psalms (esp meditated a lot on Psalm 18:20-24 in the Message). And I prayed that I could be like David - to have that kind of courage and fearless trust in God. It's something I'm working on."

Boy, do I ever need to visit all your blogs and catch up to how you're doing. I'm so sorry that I haven't been feeling up to it. I haven't been able to put too much in my life lately. Hope I will do better now.