Saturday, October 29, 2011


One of the things we talked about at Living Room yesterday was our tendency to become self-centered when we're depressed or when we're high. How can we try to start thinking of others at times like that? Is it possible to become other-centered by thinking of how we can help others with their needs?

I know I've tried many times. But the success has been short-lived. Sometimes I'm able to help my depression improve a bit by trying to do things for other people - by trying to put myself in their shoes and seeing their needs. But the better feelings are usually only temporary. Of course, much depends on the depth of depression I'm experiencing. When depression is only starting to descend, I may well pull right out by turning my attention to the needs of others.

One person present, a person who does not have a mood disorder himself, suggested that having a good friend show us how we're thinking too much of ourselves might be the best kind of support we could have.

But, I responded, "You have to be very careful how you tell a person that. I've been told that by a number of people in the past and it made me feel awful. It made me feel even worse about myself than I did before and deepened the depression." I believe it could even drive a person to take his life, especially if he's told so in a way that he might consider uncaring or critical. After all, self-centered thinking is not something a person with depression can easily control. It is one of the symptoms of this illness.

My best support comes from a close friend who does not in so many words tell me that I'm thinking too much about myself. Instead she helps me search for things that I could do to bring me out of myself - get me out of my negative thinking pattern. Play a game with my husband, do a Sudoku puzzle, go for a walk with a friend, work on a creative activity.

It takes a very special person to know how to help a depressed person, especially if this person has himself never experienced depression. How hard it must be to understand if you've never been there yourself!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


This morning I was thinking how a life lived only for yourself is an empty life, a bit of a continuation to what our Living Room devotional tomorrow will focus on. We will start our meeting with the following Scripture from the Message. Such a good thing for us to think about! Do you find you do better emotionally when you spend some time thinking of others' needs and responding to them, instead of thinking of your own needs alone?

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places

"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.”

Isaiah 58:9-12 (the Message)

Friday, October 21, 2011

How things are changing!

I remember a time not too many years ago, before I wrote A Firm Place to Stand, before Living Room, when I tried to interest various seminaries in town in having someone speak to their counselling students about mental illness. Nothing happened. There was no interest - or maybe I didn't have the credentials - no clout to have my thoughts seriously considered.

But how things are changing!! On November 9th Dr. Sharon Smith will be presenting a three-hour lecture at Regent College in Vancouver on mental health recovery in the church. Caroline Penhale and I will be speaking as well. I will tell my story and will talk about the Living Room support ministry.

Faith communities are more and more starting to see that they have a role to play when one of their congregants struggles with mental illness. And the medical community is more and more starting to recognize that a person's faith plays a big part in his physical and emotional well-being. Sharon Smith of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries is playing a big role in creating better understanding in both worlds.

How I welcome these changes!! Thank you, God!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Harnessing the passion

That talk Dr. Kathleen McGarvey is giving tomorrow night about mental illness on the streets has me all riled up. And all I've seen is the poster! I haven't even heard her speak yet!

Last night I so passionately felt I needed to do something - to write something that might make a difference! But I was too overwhelmed to do anything at all.

I just so feel there are things we can do to prevent people from becoming homeless! There are ways we can support and encourage them. There IS hope. Maybe not for each person, but for many. What can Christians do about this problem? How can Living Room help?

I talked to God this morning and have come up with some ideas to harness my passion and actually do something useful - small as it might be in the big scheme of things. But if each of us did something small, wouldn't it add up to something significant?

This morning though, God showed me that I'm still rapid cycling. The announcement of this event alone shot my mood way up. Another trigger. And I was hoping I would be able to avoid triggers!

I've decided I should not go to that event tomorrow night. I would just be asking for trouble. I'm high enough as it is.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mental illness on the streets

I'm doing so much better. Have I stabilized? We'll see. But for now I'm good and I thank God that I can continue working, unencumbered by a lot of negative emotions. Not high and not low.

On Thursday night I'm going to an event sponsored by the Mood Disorders Association of BC. The title of the topic is Mental Illness on the Streets: What can we do about it? What a worthwhile thing to discuss!

Psychiatrist Dr. Kathleen McGarvey will tell us that a person with a serious mental illness has a 70% possibility of being unemployed and may face discrimination from landlords when seeking rental housing, both of which may result in living with their illness on the streets.

Dr. McGarvey is on the Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACT), part of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

What I'll be interested in is "How can I help?" "Is there anything that we as individuals can do to create a better world for those who live with mental illness?"

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I've been getting myself into a lot of trouble lately - easily triggered to flare up. Sometimes with over-the-top joy and excitement. Sometimes with pain and deep sadness. And I'm sure my husband and friends must find me pretty hard to deal with now-a-days.

Last night I was so grief-stricken with something that happened that I couldn't do anything at all, though I have so much to do. I was hungry, but even eating would have been too much trouble. I couldn't see how I could possible prepare a devotional for Living Room tomorrow. Just not in the right frame of mind.

I've been very busy with creative activities, things that brought me comfort and joy. Yet there have been roadblocks put in my way to selling them. I had hoped to raise some much needed funds for church ministries. But my church doesn't believe in fund-raising. It leaves me with little I can do to support the projects financially, something I feel very bad about.

Creative projects bring me much joy, but part of the joy comes from the knowledge that I'll be able to share them in some way. Part of the joy comes from knowing I'm doing something useful. I don't get much joy from creating photographic work if it's only for myself. I want to share. I want to use it to earn money somehow - money that I can donate to a good cause.

Fortunately I have a good friend who understands emotional pain. She has been there many times herself. She gave me some Psalms to read and they have drawn me closer to God. They have helped me talk to God, though that had been so hard to do.

One passage she led me to was Psalm 116. It's proving to be beneficial to me and I will share it at Living Room tomorrow. There might be others experiencing pain in the way I am. Together we will seek God's presence.

Friday, October 07, 2011

It all started in november, 2006

I did some research this morning to find out when exactly the idea for a global Living Room initiative came to be. What I found was a post I wrote on November 26, 2006. How passionate I was back then!! I'm still passionate, though I think some of the frustration and anger I felt back then has disippated. Today there are 16 Living Room groups and more are in the process of forming.

I'm republishing that post here, because there may be some who might benefit.


I was going to tell you about how amazing Living Room was yesterday. I was going to tell you about how at peace I felt when I came home and how I felt God so close. He is really at work in this group. There were 12 of us and we connected so well. It was hard getting everyone to go home so I could lock the church.

I was going to write a whole bunch about this until I read Misha's post tonight. It got me all riled up - though not in a bad way. The fiery determination welled up again, to continue working at what I believe so strongly in: better support by the church for people with mental disorders.

The Living Room group is an example of how the church can provide tangible support for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. I believe our group is a germ of something, something I hope will spread to other churches (even many?).

A snapshot of our meeting: At our group we start out by helping ourselves to lunch - all finger foods - and we sit around a big table, covered with a tablecloth with a sunflower pattern. Usually we have a flower arrangement in the center. Yesterday we had candles. For extra nibbling, there were cookies, grapes and, as always, a couple of dishes of chocolates on the table. We gradually get into the meeting. The atmosphere is so good.

But I'm describing. And that wasn't my intention. I wanted to talk about how I believe that the body of Christ, the church, will eventually learn how to help those of us who struggle with mental health issues. God is so much at work in Living Room. I know this is the kind of thing God wants us - and all Christians - to be doing. Calls are trickling in every week from people who are interested in receiving faith-based support. There have been others showing an interest in starting groups at their own churches.

This would be such a wonderful way to reduce stigma.

Guidelines for a group: The groups need to be facilitated by someone who has a mood disorder himself. When the group leader shows his vulnerability, talking briefly about his own struggles and how God works in his life, others are encouraged to open up. This kind of facilitator is the key to a good group. Churches need people with these problems to work with the pastor in organizing such a group.

And there should be a connection with a secular mental health agency which would make sure the medical angles are appreciated. This is to discourage totally spiritualizing the problems members face. There has to be an appreciation of the medical AND spiritual. This is of UTMOST importance.

I believe we're onto something. And I pray for God's continued guidance. It's He who helps me want to persevere. I know it's Christ who taught us to love each other unconditionally and I believe that Christians want to do that. They only need to learn HOW to give the support we so desperately need.

So...I've ended up describing Living Room after all. I'm glad I did, because I feel good about my group...and maybe this will inspire others.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Humility and vulnerability

I sent a letter to Living Room facilitators tonight, as well as those who have indicated they might like to start a Living Room group sometime. I'm going to share it with you here, because you never know what leaders might be hiding out there - maybe some who haven't even realized such work might be for them:

Over the past two days I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, a conference featuring some very inspiring speakers, each addressing a facet of leadership. Patrick Lencioni and John Dickson had some things to say about "humility" and "vulnerability" that I would like to share with you. These two qualities are, I believe, very important for Living Room facilitators to have. Those qualities can make all the difference between having a so-so group and a truly successful and vibrant support group.

Dickson said that humility is "the noble choice to forgo your status and use your influence for the good of others before yourself....Humility is beautiful...We are attracted to the great who are humble."

Lencioni told us how we are called to vulnerability - to being real - to being honest about who we are. "That's how we draw people to us."

Isn't it Jesus' amazing humility that draws us to Him? Isn't the love He showed to all - us sinners and the outcasts of His day - that makes us love Him so much? As followers of Christ, we are called on to imitate His humility.

One of my favourite Bible passages is in Philippians 2:

" humility consider others better than yourselves....Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
...he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!"

Dickson explained to us how we consider a humble person trustworthy. Through story he showed us how humility can inspire us. And don't we all trust Jesus? And aren't we all inspired by Jesus' great example?

One of my favourite books on leadership is In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen. I'm tempted to quote long passages from it here, though it's just a small volume. But I'll try to control myself. Nouwen writes:

"When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits. ..The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader."

Yes, as facilitators of a peer support group, we have needs in the same way that the people we serve have needs. We should not hide those needs, but be open about them, as we expect group members to be open. We need to model the kind of authenticity we expect others to have. When we as leaders are real and don't hide things, others will follow our example. I try to do that in my own group, and how freeing it is to be able to be myself with them!! How freeing it is not to have to look like I've got it all together!

May God bless you in your work.