Thursday, December 29, 2011

A long-distance race

Dear blogging pals:

So long it has been since I wrote last! Such a change since I started blogging in 2006 and I had promised myself I would write a post every other day! And I did too, for a long time. It was a blessing to do so.

What has happened?

I guess life happened. Many things have changed for me. I ended up starting a ministry that is reaching far and wide. I'm grateful for how far God has taken Living Room.

Lately though I've been wondering how long I can keep leading this ministry. I've been having a lot of troubles. Loss of memory; disorganization; having normal or high moods followed very quickly by depression - often with suicidal ideation. Doesn't sound very good for the leader of such an important ministry, does it?

And I wonder: Is this the way it's always going to be for me? Is this a permanent condition caused by old age setting in? That is indeed a worry. But I mustn't just worry about this. I need to consider what can be done.

How I would love to find someone to take my place! Someone who I could at least groom to take over leadership from me.

My pastor recently very wisely pointed me to Hebrews 11 and 12. And I can see how with Living Room I blazed a trail like the Biblical figures described. What a great privilege that has been!! But I might not realize my goal. I never did actually expect to reach my goal of destroying stigma. All we can hope for is to reduce it, isn't it?

Yet I did hope and pray to have Living Room groups in churches readily available to as many people as possible. I hoped to start a movement towards reaching that goal. That was my prayer, whether voiced or not.

My prayer is that this will indeed be a movement that will catch fire. I pray that the Living Room candle that God helped me light will become a blaze of enlightenment in churches everywhere. I pray that all Christians living with mental illness will find themselves able to talk comfortably about their troubles with their church friends. I pray that they will be able to truly be themselves - truly authentic members of their church families, open about who they are and what they deal with. I pray for empathy and sympathy - the elimination of feelings of shame. I pray that the church will be a source of comfort for people dealing with emotional difficulties. And, if the source of the problem is medical, I pray that it will be recognized as such and that the church will - somehow - work with medical staff in seeing that needs are met. I also pray that medical staff will work alongside the church where spiritual help is needed.

Erasing stigma is a long-distance race, one I will personally not give up fighting as long as I am able. I'm sure I will not see the finish line in my lifetime. But I have faith that - with God's help - a better life for Christians with mental illness will be possible. In the way God has helped me, God will help others carry the cause to the finish line.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Stigma - how it makes me feel

I'm sorry for pursuing this topic just a bit further. But it's in my thoughts, and when it's there I must share. What better time?

Yesterday I felt much better about life. I was able to cast off the pain I had felt the previous day. God led me on a beautiful walk with Him, leading to a sense of gratefulness to Him. My time with God took me to a beautiful old hymn, one I love very much: How Great Thou Art. Hope you will have a listen. I shared the thoughts that led to this with friends. I wrote encouraging emails to people. All in all, it was a wonderful time and a sharing of God with people who were important to me.

Actually, as I write this post, I'm reminded of another wonderful song of praise. Great is Thy Faithfulness. Both of these songs easily draw tears from me. They so very much mirror how I feel about God.

But back to that ugly thing called stigma. Although I was up yesterday, this morning some thoughts brought me down again - though I don't plan to stay there. This morning I was able to pinpoint exactly what it feels like when I'm stigmatized. When people make comments like my friend did - the comment I wrote about in my last post, I was made to feel she doesn't think I'm worth anything. Like I'm not as human as other "normal" people. The things I do that are good don't count for anything. The good things about me are ignored.

Thing is, I know that I'm worth a bundle to God. He loves me just as much as everyone else and has blessed me by giving me a big job to do for Him. At times I feel too small - even unworthy - to carry such a load, but He has entrusted this work to me and I feel very grateful. Because it's obvious He does think of me as a person of great worth. How humbling that is and how I need to take care of myself so that I can continue working! How important to rest in Him in spite of the big commitments I have made, in spite of so often feeling overwhelmed!
How important to cast off this pain and to ignore people who are so in the dark about the truth!

I will pay no attention to this kind of treatment. I will keep my distance from the people who stigmatize me and cause me pain. And when I need to talk with them about something, I will treat them as warmly as I can, in the way I would want to be treated. Maybe one day they will come around. I will have to pray for them.

In my last post I mentioned that there were only three people who support me. But in that dark state I forgot many things. Looking at it today, I can see that there are many people in the church who love me and appreciate me. Yes, the church as a whole is very supportive. They see me as a worthy human being, a person worthy of their love. Most members of the church know what I deal with and will openly talk with me about it when we have one-on-one time. And they feel that they can talk with me about their problems too.

No way would I want to leave this church. It offers everything I need and believe in. I thank God for this wonderful Christian community.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The pain of stigma

I had always thought that I had been fortunate - that I had not been touched too much by the effects of stigma. But in the last little while, I've been deeply hurt a number of times by stigma and gross understanding about what it is to live with bipolar disorder. And one of the worst things is that the hurtful remarks were made to me by friends who I had considered supporters.

If it weren't for the friendship of three people in the church - people who are compassionate and caring and offer strong support, even though they might not always understand totally - I might have be tempted to leave this church, though it has done so much to encourage me and Living Room. I had just yesterday lauded the wonderful work of the church in supporting people with mental illness and how that has led to many Living Room groups.

But the poison of the remarks has been so very painful - more painful than the effects of the disorder itself. They are affecting me deeply. Though maybe it's the disorder - the severe moods - that make me especially sensitive. Never-the-less, it sickens me to have my pain and the pain of others who live with mental illness so grossly misunderstood.

What led to this post - amongst other things - is something a friend said to me this morning in response to my current problems with rapid cycling. She said "Your husband deserves a medal. Most husbands would have been out of there long ago." This isn't the first time she said this to me. She has said almost the same thing a number of times before and does it ever hurt! It has hurt me deeply.

By saying that she suggests that all I've been to my husband is a drain. That I haven't given anything to him. That I don't give anything back. And that is so completely false.

The truth is that I give a lot to my family, my community - and even the world. But when she said this it was as though that didn't count for anything. As though the only thing worth looking at was my mental illness. As though mentally ill people never give anything back.

As much as I'm able I pour out all I have in love for others. I pour out until I have almost nothing left to give. Then I have to refresh myself at the never-ending fountain of Jesus' love. I rest; I recover; and then I am ready to start working again. And resting is what I'm trying to do now.