Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Before I had support

Many years ago, before I had the kind of supportive friends I have now, I spent months at a time in my bedroom. Only coming out for meals and to try to do small things like emptying a dishwasher or tidying a bit. Most of the time, though, was spent in the bedroom in deep depression. I don't remember at those times having anyone I could reach out to. My husband pretty well left me alone, immersed in his projects. Those projects are probably what helped him cope with my condition.

And I wonder, is it the support of close friendships - truly loving relationships with godly friends - that have kept me in more recent years from such very long isolated depressions? Is that how reaching out has benefited me? I don't know. I just don't know. All I know is that I have some very special friends now to whom I can talk about my feelings and thoughts.

Thing is, I feel I've been over-burdening two or three with phone calls and emails - to the point of clinging, something I'm very ashamed of. That isn't nice for anyone, even those who understand what I'm going through. I wish I could change, and yet I feel powerless to do that. Do any of you have such problems?

Not nice to think of yourself as someone who is a bother to others. It isn't like me to be that. I want to support others, not be a burden. And I do support many. I have supported many. Yet that doesn't count for anything when the tables are turned and I am the one who's having a hard time.

A couple of years ago I attended a meeting of suicide survivors - family of people who had committed suicide. The stories they told was that most of the people who had taken their lives did so because they hated so much being a burden to their loved ones. I hate that too. I hate being the kind of person who clings for dear life to her friends - searching for a way to have her needs met. So needing to hear that she is loved. How I despise that about myself! How I despise my self-centeredness at times like this!

I know this is all part of the depression I'm living with. These are symptoms many of us suffer when we're that way. I know I'm not alone. And yet I wish I could be stronger.

I've been focusing on scripture this afternoon. It helps me feel better, but the better feelings don't last. I just pray I can escape this soon, though these feelings have been such a big part of what I've lived with lately. I wonder if I will ever overcome them and become the strong me again. The supporter me.

The pain of being misunderstood

I have a need once more to talk about the need for understanding of people with depression. I've done a lot of writing on this topic, trying to build understanding for the sake of those who live with mental health problems.

Unfortunately, recent experience is showing me that it is impossible for a person to be fully understood by someone who has never experienced depression themselves. In actual fact, talking to such people about your pain is dangerous. It can lead to more pain than the depression itself. You set yourself up for rejection and we all know how painful rejection can feel. It can be worse than the depression itself.

The only truly safe people to talk with are those who have been there. Or - the very rare person who walks so closely to Jesus that he/she is willing and able to give himself fully and understand in the way He understood. To be compassionate, in the midst of not having been there themselves is a rare thing. It takes the person who is - for a little while - willing to put him/herself in the shoes of the suffering person and to suffer with this person - in the way Jesus did. Few people are able to do this. Everyone has their own life to live - their own problems. And, when we're depressed we do tend to be awfully self-centered - not a very becoming thing. In the midst of our problems, we do need to strive for other-centeredness.

This shows me how important it is for those of us who do understand, to comfort others in the way we have been comforted. To love in the way we've been loved by our most merciful Father in heaven. At least to remind each other of His great love for us.

We who live with mood disorders so badly need each other. We so badly need to encourage each other to go to that most compassionate person of all - Jesus Christ. He suffered greatly for all of us. He too was rejected by friends who didn't understand what He was going through. His disciples slept in the Garden of Gethsemane while He was suffering. Not willing to stay awake and be with Him. Not understanding the severity of what He was dealing with.

He knows what suffering is and knows the pain we feel. His pain was far greater than ours. He gave us His all. Can we give our all to each other? Kind of doubtful. We are human and self-centered, especially when we're in the midst of depression.

We need to turn to Jesus. But we also need our friends around us. As friends we need to show each other the love of Christ, because that's sometimes the only way we'll remember that He's there - through the hands of another Christ follower who will show God's compassion to us in real terms.

Let's reach out our hand to others who suffer, in the name of Jesus.

All the more makes me believe in Living Room, though at times it can be a difficult responsibility to bear. We who lead Living Room continually need to turn to God, the One who can strengthen us, in spite of our great weakness. It's God's work, after all. Not ours.

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

"His understanding no one can fathom." How wonderful to have Someone whose understanding is greater than we could ever imagine. We need to rest and find peace in that knowledge.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Where is God calling?

At the bottom of my emails is a quote I get something out of each time I read it. Always something else. Always new and different, depending on where I am in my life. And my life - like everyone's life - is forever changing. Always something different to focus attention on. Always different things happening. Some troublesome stuff; some good stuff. Joyful times and sad times.

But I'd better get to the quote. I want to share it with you and see how it might affect you in your life:

"The place God calls you to is the place where your
deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

- Frederick Buechner

Over the past few years God has called me to different places, each of them exciting and wonderful. Each of them a challenge. Each of them doing good in some way. Each of them bringing me to a place that straddled my joy and the need I saw in the world. It was always a narrow place to be - a narrow part of the road God took me on. Always a narrow focus to address some very particular needs.

I wrote a book called A Firm Place to Stand in an effort to help Christian readers (both those who have mood disorders and those who need to understand them) realize that it's possible to have a mental illness, yet maintain a close relationship with God. And - in spite of having a severe mental disorder - to actually find some meaning through the living with it.

And I started Living Room, a Christian peer support ministry for people with mood disorders. It started with a group that met in my church's basement and has now grown to ten groups in Canada. I'm sure though, that there are many more groups than this, judging by the many who have ordered manuals and down-loaded them off the Living Room website.

Now, at this point of my life when I'm reaching 65, I feel God nudging me again. Nudging me to make changes in what I do with my life. I feel nudged to return to my photography. I'm a child photographer at heart and long to spend more time using this gift God has given me. I've never mentioned my photography website here but would like to invite you to have a peek at an old site that I have up. Just to share with you this joyous part of me. Please do have a look at www.candidsbymarja.com.

And so I'm praying: "Where next, dear Lord? Where should I spend my next few years? How can I best serve you at this stage of my life? Where are You calling?"

And...what does Buechner's quote say to you. Where is God calling you today?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Mom at 96

Last week I took my camera when I visited Mom. I had wanted to photograph her for a long time. At 96 she still has such a wonderful spirit, in spite of her dementia. "Pleasantly confused" is what the staff at her home call it. How fortunate I am that she is still so good to visit!

In spite of her old age and her 25% vision, Mom will not put her crocheting down. She absolutely needs something in her hands to do. If she didn't she would feel useless. And she's not ready to be useless. So she makes afghans for babies, as well as some for adults.

The yarn she's working on in these pictures is not the easiest to work with. She complains about how it keeps splitting as she works. I've offered to buy some different yarn for her, so she can leave this project and work on something easier and more pleasant. But no, true to her spirit she is determined not to let this blue yarn go to waste. So she perseveres. I admire Mom's perseverance. She doesn't give up, even when things get difficult. I've seen her work for hours, trying to unravel a tangled ball of yarn, not wanting any to go to waste.

It makes me wonder, is that where I got my perseverance from? Is that how I inherited my never-giving-up attitude about the work I'm engaged in? Is that where I got my desire to always make new things happen? Whether it be photography or a writing project? Is that - together with my dad's equally creative spirit - how I came to be the person I am? I don't doubt it.

And, I mustn't forget her joyful spirit. She frequently feels lonely. Not many visitors, no friends left, fairly immobile. Yet she remains cheerful - most of the time - friendly towards the other residents in the home, not needing much to bring on a smile. She does love people. Something else I've inherited from her.

Today I feel fortunate for what my parents have given me. They weren't perfect parents - as, I suppose few are - but I need to be thankful. For they helped make me what I am.