Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Coping with anxiety

I've been learning breathing techniques at my CBT group and thought I would share. 

When we’re anxious we usually take very shallow breaths, cutting down on the oxygen level in our brain. This lack of oxygen will make you feel out of control, not able to solve the problems you might be facing. Breathing deeply will calm your brain and help you feel more relaxed.

When you feel anxiety coming on, change your breathing. Take a deep breath through your nose, hold it, and then let it go out through your mouth.

When you breathe in, you’re gathering strength. When you breathe out, you will relax.

In my CBT class we learned to use coping statements while we do this breathing. We repeat the same statement whenever we need to do our breathing. When we get tired of one statement, we try another one.

The following are some coping statements:

  • I can ride this through   - I don't need to let this get to me
  • I have survived this before and I can survive this time, too.
  • I will use my coping skills and allow this to pass.
  • Anxiety will not hurt me, even if it does not feel good.

But I’ve found something that works even better….much better. By making my coping statement a Bible verse or part of a verse, I encourage myself – not only psychologically – but spiritually. I’m turning to God, trusting Him to help me get over my fears. In the process I draw closer to Him. Every time I breathe and repeat a coping verse to myself, I’m practising His presence.


You will want to find your own favourite verses to use, but here are a few to get you started:

·         The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
 He makes me lie down in green pastures, (Psalm 23:1-2)
·         The LORD your God is with youhe will quiet you with his love. (Zephaniah 3:17)
·         The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. (Psalm 18:2)
·         Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1Peter 5:7)
·         “Be still, and know that I am God;” (Psalm 46:10)
·         Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
·         I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
·         Remain in me, and I will remain in you. (John 15:4)  
·         Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
·         Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
·         With God all things are possible… (Matthew 19:26)
·         “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) 
     [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God… (Romans 8:39)                                

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Living Room groups needed

I don't usually use this blog as a bulletin board, but feel I'd like to try it out as such, just for a couple of brief items. Eventually the Living Room website will have information like this, but it will take time.

I received an email a while ago from someone in Calgary, Alberta, who would like to start a group if she could find someone likeminded to work with her. Are you in Calgary?

We have also had lots of requests from people in Surrey, British Columbia, needing a group. Is there anyone out there who would consider starting a group there?

How about you? Are you interested in starting a group in your community? There's a huge need.

Living Room offers a safe place in a Christian setting for people with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders to meet and find out they're not alone. It is a community of people who want to make God part of their lives and a source of healing, while recognizing the medical basis for their disorder.

Feel free to email me at marja@livingroomsupport.org if you think you might be interested.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Giving and receiving

I discovered an amazing thing today. A good lesson to learn.

I've been feeling a lot of sadness lately because of some things I'm dealing with. Some of this sadness brings with it anxiety and fear. Fortunately I was able to get into an anxiety therapy group.

This morning I was waiting for the group to begin, talking to a lady sitting next to me. The things we were discussing made her cry (I didn't hurt her, honest). I myself had been feeling like crying all morning too. I stroked her back in an effort to comfort her. And you know, as I comforted her, I felt myself being comforted at the same time.

Truly amazing to think that we can help ourselves in this way.

I've so often "preached" how you can help your depression by thinking of others. And here, this proved it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Compassion for yourself?

I struggle every once in a while with an anxiety that I know stems from my childhood. When a friend I rely on for support has to go away I often panic. "What am I going to do without her?" This problem is not nearly as bad as it was. It seems to crop up most when I'm going through a period of depression.

This is a fear of abandonment, a terrible feeling that make me feel like a child all over again. I know this is the result of having to leave home often before the age of ten. I was frequently sick and in hospital. In the mid-forties and fifties parents were not allowed to visit, except for brief periods now and then. Being a shy and anxious child these were hard times for me. I was also frequently sent away to stay with someone when my mother was sick. And I clearly remember, when I was seven, eight, and nine years old, being sent away to a health colony for six weeks at a time. Parents were only allowed to visit once, half-way through our time there. It's only in the past few years that I have recognized how traumatic my childhood actually was and how it's affecting me today, at sixty-six.

Yesterday I was feeling that anxiety and I wondered: should I feel compassion for the little child that was still inside me, or would that be feeling sorry for myself? And should I then be forgiving myself for feeling that way? But I didn't do anything wrong, did I?

A friend who also suffered during childhood and is having trouble with her mental health because of it, told me, "No. It's fine to feel compassion for yourself. It doesn't mean you're necessarily feeling sorry for yourself at all. It only means that you should be kind and gentle with yourself." Thinking of it that way comforts me. We need to comfort ourselves, don't we? We need to allow God to comfort us.

And as my thoughts progressed yesterday, I realized that I have compassion for people at Living Room who struggle with anxiety. I can see that the things I'm going through right now are going to help me better understand their pain. And when I have compassion for others, am I not indirectly having compassion for myself as well?

I'm thinking of Jesus now and how He loves us. He has compassion for us, doesn't He? He loves the part of us that still hurts like a little child and He will comfort that child.

Trusting God in this way will go a long way to healing our anxiety.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rethinking madness

I recently finished reading Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift in Our Understanding and Treatment of Psychosis (Sky’s Edge Publishing, 2012), a book that speaks about the cause and treatment of psychosis, mostly in people with schizophrenia. Author and psychologist Paris Williams, Ph.D, claims that, with the right support, full recovery from this disease is possible and even common. 

This book's views are out of the box, promising to be controversial amongst many, especially the psychiatric establishment. In fact, it is anti-psychiatry.

As you read this, please realize these are not my views, but the conclusions of the author. Never discontinue taking medications without consulting your doctor.

Williams’ research led him to believe that psychosis is not a brain disease as has been thought. Rather, he came to see it as a natural process “initiated by the psyche and…closely associated with a profound reorganization of one’s understanding and experience of the world and of oneself – one’s personal paradigm, in other words.” (Page 132)

The author tells us that there is abundant hope for recovery, a view not supported by the medical establishment. Psychiatry has always claimed that schizophrenia is a chronic disorder that requires life-long treatment with antipsychotic medication. Yet Williams says that long-term use of these medications do not help. The person with psychosis needs a chance to work through things in order to recover. Antipsychotics, when used in the long-term, actually hinder this recovery process.

This book had two effects on me:

As a piece of work that challenges the status quo of psychiatric medicine it excites me. It offers hope where psychiatry says there is no hope. I like revolutionary approaches, especially when tired old approaches haven’t worked. A fresh look at things, whether in medicine, science, or religion, can be healthy. And, in this case, it would be good if we could use fewer psychiatric drugs. Side effects are often worse than the benefits.

But the book also instils fear in me:
  • There could be a serious danger if people who are on medications were to read this book and, as a result of what they read, decide to suddenly stop taking them. The results could be tragic.
  • Have I been wrong all these years when I’ve encouraged people to listen to their psychiatrist and take their meds?
  • Should the wisdom of our psychiatrists be questioned more?  
  •  Are some of our mental illnesses not biochemical in nature after all? And what does that mean to our treatment?

  • Is the very posting of this review on my blog going to have an adverse effect on people who might not be wise about how they manage their medication? Would they stop trusting their psychiatrist’s care? (I know how important it is to trust the person who is treating you.)
  • On the other hand, would suppressing this information, information which could lead to radical change for sufferers, be irresponsible?

Yes, I need to let you know about this book.

Having lived with psychosis in the past, I appreciate Williams’ description of it, especially through the accounts of the six research subjects he features. I could identify with some of them and their stories helped me see what might have caused my own breaks with reality. I can also see why I have recovered from psychosis, though I continue to struggle off and on with moodswings.

Not having been educated in this field, I found the author’s more technical descriptions of the source of psychosis a bit beyond me, but that didn’t take away from the book's usefulness.

I would very much recommend this book, especially to open-minded and free-thinking doctors. Why not give a copy to your psychiatrist?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

William Kurelek

A couple of months ago my husband and I had the great pleasure of seeing a showing of William Kurelek's paintings at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Wow!! What exciting work!

That evening we saw a documentary on his life and work called The Maze. It was followed by a discussion with one of the film makers and Kurelek's oldest son.

If you are lucky enough to live in Toronto, you, too can take in this film on Friday, October 19th. To quote the press release:

Brothers Nick and Zack Young produced, restored and reimagined their father’s unseen 1969 film about renowned Canadian artist, William Kurelek to bring this inspiring documentary to life.  This screening launches the 20th Anniversary of Rendezvous with Madness and is held in conjunction with the 150th Anniversary celebration of the founding of St Anne’s Church.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion exploring issues of art, mental health, and faith.
 Confirmed as panel participants in the discussion on faith and mental health are:  Dr. Kwame McKenzieRev. Gary van der Meer, visual artist Lisa Walter, filmmaker Nick Young
, and William’s son Stephen Kurelek.

William Kurelek’s The Maze is dramatically told through his paintings and his on-camera revelations. The film takes an intimate look into the life of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating artists, his struggles with attempted suicide and a self professed “spiritual crisis.” Kurelek describes The Maze as “a painting of the inside of my skull which I painted while in England as a patient in Maudsley and Netherne psychiatric hospitals.”
William Kurelek’s The Maze is a timeless film about an artist, his creations, his inner demons and the external influences – both good and bad – that shaped his work.

General Public $15
For more information, go to The Maze.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Keeping margin in my life

A few posts ago I was considering starting an online Living Room., a blog that would try to do for people what real life Living Room meetings do for attendees. I've thought much about it, but today I can see I'm just too busy to take on another thing. Perhaps if I were younger and had more energy I could manage it. Is it common not to be able to handle as much when you get into your senior years? I'm really finding that I need lots of down times. Time to relax. Time without commitments.

Quite a few years ago my pastor gave a sermon that included the importance of building margin into your life. We should never be so busy that we can't respond to a friend in need. We should never try to cram too many things into our schedule. Breathing space is important.

Now at sixty-six I find that all the more true. I just can't do as much as I used to.

There are people in my life who I need to make room for: my husband, my 98-year-old mother, my friends, people from Living Room needing extra attention. I also need to keep room in my life for writing and for photography. There is also endless work to be done trying to plant more Living Room groups. Uggh!! I could use an extra me!

With all this going, it would be down-right crazy of me to start another blog, wouldn't it? What was I thinking of?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Mental health stigma declining

I received this press release from Screening for Mental Health, Inc. and thought it well worth passing on. It's something to celebrate. The world seems to be changing for the better. Although Depression Screening Day here in Canada happened last week, our friends in the US can still take part - this Thursday, October 11th.

October 9, 2012 (Boston, MA) - Most Americans are familiar with depression and do not attach a stigma to seeking treatment for it from a therapist. In fact, most Americans believe that depression is treatable and go so far as to say it would not affect their vote in a presidential election if they heard that a candidate had consulted a therapist for depression.

The public opinion poll findings released this month by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., a nonprofit provider of mental health screening programs, come as thousands of community-based organizations, military installations and colleges prepare to host National Depression Screening Day events on Thursday, October 11. Screening locations and anonymous online screenings are available at www.HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org.

“These findings tell us that our efforts to reduce stigma and increase the public’s knowledge of depression through events like National Depression Screening Day are having an effect,” said Douglas G. Jacobs, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder of Screening for Mental Health, Inc. “The goal of the program is to educate people on the symptoms of depression, assess their risk for mood and anxiety disorders and connect those in need with local treatment services.” 

The telephone poll conducted by Anderson Robbins Research surveyed 1,021 American adults between September 15 and 20 and sought to evaluate perceptions and knowledge of depression and mental health. 

Other key findings include:

·       Half (53%) of Americans personally know someone who has been treated for depression;
·       Nearly three-quarters (72%) say they’d be likely to speak with a health care provider if they thought they were experiencing signs of depression;
·       Two-thirds (67%) believe depression can be successfully treated most of the time;
·       Two-thirds (65%) say learning a presidential candidate had sought treatment for depression would have no impact on their vote. There were no significant differences with regard to political party identification;
·     Those who know people with depression are more likely than others to seek help themselves, (76%, compared to 66% of those who don’t know anyone with depression), and are more optimistic about the frequency with which depression can be successfully treated.

To continue to educate members of the public on the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide, and the correct course of action to take, National Depression Screening Day will take place on October 11.  As part of this 22nd annual event, community organizations, colleges and military installations throughout the nation will offer free, anonymous mental health screenings. This event helps individuals learn the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide; educates friends and family members on what to do if a loved one is at risk; and gives individuals the opportunity to talk to a mental health professional about their own or a loved one’s situation. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

A different person

Just a quick thought that occurred to me this morning:

It's amazing what different people we become when we're emotionally healthy. I can see it in myself. I can see it in a good friend I have who often suffers from depression. It's almost like our personalities change.

I don't know if I have much more to say about this. You have to experience my friend and me. You have to live with us to fully appreciate it.

...but maybe you can see it in yourself as well.

May God lead us to a healthy way of life, effective medications, and the ability to trust in Him.

That was a quickie, wasn't it?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Did I imagine when I started?

So often people ask me, "Did you imagine when you started Living Room that it would grow the way it has?" I know they expect me to say that "No, I totally hadn't expected it."

However, you know, I can't say that I didn't expect it. I think I did. I knew this was a big thing God was having me do. I knew that this was His work, not my own. So often I forgot that little detail, trying to do it on my own. And then, the fear and stress that resulted! The only way I could get my courage back was to remember that I was only God's footsoldier. Put one foot ahead of the other as God led. Be His instrument.

With God all things are possible. It's truly no surprise that Living Room has become what it is. And I pray that it will continue growing, giving Christian support to people living with mood disorders.

I want to share a dream I have and hope you will give me some feedback on it. I would love to start an online Living Room - in the form of a blog. The blog would deal with the kinds of topics we deal with at my Living Room group. Interactive discussions.

But I have fears. What if it doesn't work? What if I have trouble posting - as I've had trouble on this blog?

It would be a much different blog though, discussing how God can help us live our lives with mood disorders. I'm keen on these topics and have done a lot of work already developing such topics. I will ask how God has helped you...or not helped you. We will have to be honest.

Would you like a blog like that? It would be called Living Room Support.

I get so many emails from people wanting a group in their neighbourhood - needing a group. This will help serve their needs.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

We are not alone forum - Oct 20

A must-not-miss event is coming up in Vancouver, Canada. If you're reading this and you live in the area you should definitely consider going.

Saturday, October 20, 8:30am to 3pm.
A forum for faith communities to talk about mental illness

Are you:
  • recovering from a mental illness?
  • caring for someone living with a mental illness?
  • part of a community of faith?

Keynote speaker: Craig Rennebohm, chaplain to homeless people living with mental illness and author of Souls in the Hands of a Tender God

For more information and to register go to the Sanctuary Mental Health Ministry's website at http://sanctuary-ministries.com/we-are-not-alone-forum/

I read Craig Rennebohm's book and loved it. In the words of Ezra E.H. Griffith, MD, American Journal of Psychiatry:
"Since 1987, Craig Rennebohm has ministered to people who are homeless and struggling with mental illness. In Souls in the Hands of a Tender God, he tells the evocative stories of those who desperately need psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual support, like Mary, who surrounds herself with bulging trash bags, and Jerry, barred from every shelter and meal program in Seattle. With gentleness and grace, solid knowledge and wisdom, Rennebohm reaches out to each of them, and their stories become like parables that explore mental illness and the spiritual heart of care and recovery."

Maybe I'll see you there?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Church of England time to change campaign

It was very refreshing to read a report online about a Church of England sermon written to counteract the stigma attached to mental illness. To read the entire report go to http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/341926

In part it reads: "Many of the people we read about in Bible stories might today be considered as having mental health issues.

"For example, ‘Would Jesus’ family maybe on occasion have said, ‘Cousin John is a bit odd, bless him!’ when John the Baptist took to his eccentric style of life?

"It has long been thought that King Saul, in the books of Samuel, was displaying mood swings that suggest he had bi-polar disorder and some think that St Paul’s Damascus Road experience was the result of some sort of breakdown or psychotic episode.

"Even Jesus was not immune to accusations about his mental health: there is a story in the gospel that tells of his mother and siblings attempting to take him home because they are afraid that he has lost his mind.

"Many of the stories of the Saints, too, have led people to discuss their mental health. "For example was St Francis suffering from a mental health title?"

Acknowledging how shocking these ideas might be, Ms McIntyre, a member of the General Synod, adds: "Some may find these suggestions disturbing or offensive even.

"Perhaps we need to ask why it would be so terrible to think that some of our most inspirational forebears might have experienced mental health illness.

"Do we mistakenly believe that God cannot or will not work through people with mental health illness?

"Do we think that mental illness is one condition that makes people less able to do God’s work, more unlikely to be able to articulate spiritual truth, and unable to participate meaningfully in worship?

"Who do we think ‘these people’ are? Statistics show us that one in four people suffer from mental health illness during their lives.

"That figure is based on those who go to the GP for help; the true figure is likely to be even higher.

"That means in a congregation of 50 people, at least 12 people will have experienced or be experiencing mental health issues.

"That includes the clergy and ministers, too. These conditions are part of human living; they are often caused by life experience such as grief, trauma and loss.

"These are things that happen to all of us and none of us should have to suffer in silence for fear of what others might think or say."

I sent this to my pastor, asking him, "Would you dare to preach a sermon like this?" Amongst other things he said, "I understand and support the need to remove stigma from those who suffer from mental illness. But I believe that happens as we learn to live out what it means to love and accept one another as Christ has accepted each one of us. And love and acceptance encompasses not only those who suffer from mental illness but those from differenct cultural and racial backgrounds, those who live and believe differently, those who dress and act differently, and on it goes. When we love and accept each other unconditionally in that way the stigma attached to any one group will fade."

What concerns me about the stigma people with mental illness experience is that so often their illness is blamed on sin or not being close to God. It's a medical problem that is too often spiritualized by well meaning Christians. It's not just that we differ culturally or racially, or that we live and believe differently, or that we dress differently or act differently. We have a medical condition. Except for Aids, people with other medical problems are not stigmatized on the basis of their condition.

I guess that what really hurts is the fact that we are too often blamed for something we can't help - something that causes us a lot of suffering. To be stigmatized multiplies our suffering in an enormous way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Living Room, my home

Hello everyone,

I've been writing prayers - conversations with God. This has been a wonderful, therapeutic activity and I hope to do much more of this. Thought I would share this one with you since it's about my beloved Living Room. I hope you enjoy it and learn a bit more about this ministry.

Lord, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I feel better at Living Room than I do anywhere else. It’s so easy to be completely myself there, not worrying about what people will think of me. That’s not how I’ve been in the past. In fact, when I was younger I had social anxiety disorder. I wasn’t comfortable at all in group situations. Afraid to talk to people I didn’t know well. Today I still feel somewhat that way in social situations.

But at Living Room I’m an outgoing hostess. I love welcoming people as they come in. All of them are dealing with some kind of mental health condition: depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. I want to make them feel at home – fully accepted. The greeting is not anything I have to work at. It just happens.

Why is it so easy to be myself at Living Room? Why does the welcoming come so easily and naturally?

Is it because of what I used to pray shortly after I started following you Lord? Many times I asked you to fill me with your love and to help me share that love with the people I meet. I recall the warm glow I felt inside as you filled me up. Was it that prayer that started it all?

Whenever I prayed this prayer in the morning, you always answered. As I went through the day I was able to share your love with others, without effort. It wasn’t anything I did. I know it was your doing, God – you working through me. Thank you so much for this. It has made such a difference in my life. I learned the truth of the statement “to give is to receive.”

Lord, these days I don’t consciously offer up that prayer anymore, but it seems like I don’t need to. You know that I long to share your love, especially with those who suffer in the way I myself do. I know what people who come to Living Room need. So many are feeling the effects of stigma. They are hungry for acceptance and understanding. They need what I need. Open arms – the kind of love you showed the sick and the outcast.

You know God, although I can speak reasonably well about the things I have a passion for, I’m sometimes not a very fluent speaker, often unable to recall the simplest of words. It seems to be getting worse the older I get…or is it all the meds I’m taking? Yet at Living Room, though I spend about 45 minutes speaking and leading an interactive devotional time, I feel completely at ease. Although I stumble, fishing for words, I get the message across, just being myself.

Stumbling on my words is not such a bad thing at Living Room though. When the group hears me doing so without embarrassment they easily join in the conversation. When I come across authentically, everyone is encouraged to be authentic. They, like me, can relax at Living Room, sharing openly and honestly.

Thank you, God, for Living Room, our home. What a gift you’ve blessed us with!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

William R. Marchand on "Is wellness possible?

At the end of William Marchand's Introduction to his new book, Depressions and Bipolar Disorder (Bull Publishing) he offers a message of hope: "You can expect to get well. Sometimes it takes a little time, but almost everyone with a mood disorder can get better and stay well for life."

That sounded like an extremely optimistic statement to me. I've lived with bipolar disorder for over 46 years and, although my life is reasonably good, most of the time I could not be thought of as stable. I don't think I ever have been, not for any length of time, in spite of learning how to cope well enough so I thought I had wisdom to share, which I did in my books and do in my Living Room support groups. I asked Dr. Marchand to what extent we could hope to be well. Here is his answer:
That's a great question. It is certainly true that many individuals do not achieve full remission (that is - extended periods completely free from symptoms). However - I think of being "well" as having minimal suffering. I do think it is possible to significantly decrease suffering - even when experiencing some symptoms. One approach to that is through practicing mindfulness and decreasing focus on self and symptoms and instead developing the ability to maintain moment by moment awareness of the here and now. Along with this often comes enhanced compassion for self and others as well as greater concern for the wellbeing of others and less attachment to self (also see my answer to the questions below). Of course, one may likely achieve similar results following spiritual traditions that do not involve mindfulness. That said - the evidence for the benefits of mindfulness is extensive and it can be a secular approach to recovery or a component of any spiritual/religious practice.

The book includes some very good explanations of mindfulness therapy, something I had heard about but had not had the opportunity to truly familiarize myself with. I really like how it teaches us to focus less on self. Isn't that one of the worst things about depression? That tendency to be - what I genterally call - self-centered. I've talked a fair amount in this blog about the value of othercenteredness - thinking about others instead of self.

This led to another question:

How important is it to create a meaningful life for yourself? Speaking from experience, I think I have less problems with moodswings when I know I'm doing things that will benefit other people. Maybe this is a spiritual question. I know the Bible teaches us to serve mankind and to try to make a better world. Dr. Marchand's answer?
I haven't seen any research about this - but my own clinical experience is that it is very important for individuals to be engaged in activity that feels meaningful to them. I strongly encourage altruistic activities for individuals that I work with. Along those lines - as I mentioned above, a lot of evidence (which is consistent with many spiritual traditions) indicates that decreasing attachment to self/ego is a critical component for recovery. Thus - I think enhanced concern for others and less concern for self is a key component of recovery.

I LIKE Dr. Marchand's thinking! Don't you?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New guide for recovery

It's not very often that I write about secular books here, but a new book has been drawn to my attention that I want to share with you. I highly recommend it.

Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Your Guide to Recovery (Bull Publishing) was published in May by William R. Marchand, MD. It's a comprehenisive book on the topic. You could almost call it a manual. The author himself suggests reading portions as required and not necessarily reading it cover to cover, though eventually you should try to work your way through it. There is so much good information and advice there.

The cover promises that the book will help us:
  • Understand biological and psychological causes
  • Become empowered to take charge of your recovery
  • Find the best treatment approach for your situation

Many self-help books have been written for people with mood disorders, often by people who themselves live with a disorder, my own books included. But it's refreshing to see the topic dealt with by a psychiatrist - a book not written for other professionals, but for us, people who live with depression and bipolar disorder. Although Dr. Marchand is obviously a very learned man, being a clinician, an academic (teaching), and a researcher, the book is not hard to read.

I found the tone of the book compassionate. Obiously the author very much cares about the people he wrote it for. He wants us to benefit. He truly wants to make a difference in our lives.

Many people will say that the entire cause of our disorder is biological, but Marchand has a better explanation. Here is a sample of how he reads our disease.

"...these are biological disorders, just like diabetes and high blood pressure....mood disorders are also psychological conditions. However, in regard to brain function, 'biology' and 'psychology' are best  understood as different aspects of the same underlying processes. That said, we will likely never be able to completely reduce the complexity of human psychology to an equation describing the underlying biology. I think it is still important to recognize that biology and psychology are not opposites but rather interacting processes that cause mood symptoms." (P.116)

Another thing that interested me was Marchand's discussion of the patterns of thinking about ourselves that develop when we are depressed. He talks a bit about where they come from and about mindfulness, a therapy that can help us with this problem.

At the end of Dr. Marchand's introduction he wrote, "You can expect to get well. Sometimes it takes a little time, but almost everyone with a mood disorder can get better and stay well for life."

Wow! That is hopeful news, isn't it? I wasn't sure whether I could accept that. So I sent Dr. Marchand some questions. In the next post I will publish his response to me on this and a few other things.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Lithium and tremors

I haven't written here for a while (sorry), but a bunch of things are piling up and I expect to write a fair amount in the next week or so. This includes a review of a new book by William R. Marchand, MD. Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Your Guide to Recovery. I very much recommend it and will talk about it in future posts.

But the uppermost thing on my mind right now - something that has been such a pain - is the tremors I've had since I started Lithium. I've had tremors for years. Maybe essential tremors; maybe because of meds. But five months ago when I started lithium the tremors became so pronounced that it's hard to write or to photograph children. Both activities that are such an important part of my life.


A couple of weeks ago I was pouring boiling water into a carafe and I had one of the jerky tremors I often have and poured the water on my wrist instead. It created a nasty burn. My legs are affected as well. Last week I was trying to help some people out carrying things down some stairs. I had to give up because I almost fell several times - just could not do those stairs without hanging onto the bannister. I have a hard time doing the circuit at the gym, because changing machines is such a clumsy ordeal for me. Speaking engagements can be embarrassing as well. People think I'm looking awfully nervous and that's embarrassing. As a result, I get more nervous than I would otherwise.


I'm preparing to do some entertaining today and the stress of it is increasing the tremors. How am I going to manage slicing the fruit to decorate the frozen cheesecake I'm making? Or chop the broccoli? I just got some new sharp knives and now I am afraid of using them. I'll have to ask for my husband's help. Yet I know he's getting tired of me becoming more and more dependent on him.


Yet the lithium has kept my mood so beautifully stable since I started taking it. What if I came off it and were to go on another less effective drug? What if I were to return to the rapid cycling I was experiencing before I went on it? No way would I want to go back there.

Maybe I should go on yet another drug - a beta-blocker to reduce the tremors. Some people have good success on them. I've tried propranolol but didn't like what it did to me. Maybe there's one that would work better?

Or should I just aceept this and live with it? I recently read Michael J. Fox's story. Isn't he a lot worso off than me? Yet look at how well he accepts it.

Have you had such problems with lithium? What did you do about them?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Living Room: the need we fill

We all know how important it is to have Christian friends who will pray for us and support us when we’re going through troubling times or when we’re sick. People undergoing mental health problems need such support as well. When a person has depression he or she often needs someone who will have faith for her at times when God seems distant. And yet, all too often such support is not available to them.

As someone who relies much on Christian friends to help me with my mental health issues, I can see how tragic it is not to have such support. And yet it happens frequently. It hurts me deeply to know this. It doesn’t just hurt, it makes me angry. Lack of acceptance of people with mental illness is not what Jesus wants for us.

At Friday’s Living Room meeting someone who is having a very rough time shared how she has not had Christian support at all until she started coming to Living Room. Churches she has attended have not been open to hearing about such problems. The pastor of the church she currently attends knows of her illness but has warned her not to let anyone in the congregation know about it. “They wouldn’t understand,” he says. As a result she has had no Christian friends with whom she can be open about her struggles.

A while ago she spent three weeks in hospital. She didn’t feel she could tell anyone from her church, so had no one from church praying for her or visiting her. How alone she must have felt!

I’m just so extremely proud of my church’s attitude of acceptance towards people who suffer in this way. So very thankful that my church has supported and encouraged the Living Room support group program. Thankful for the support I personally receive.

This lady is only one Christian of many with mental health issues, one of many who are starving for spiritual support – support too often lacking in churches. Living Room fills the hole for them.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A tree planted by the river

Lord, I feel like I’ve been arguing with you and I don’t feel very good about it. I set out to find your truth and all I did was look for loopholes. I wasn’t open to listening.

Ever since I started following you I have found you and your Word trustworthy. You have helped me so much – when I’ve been stable, but even more so when I’ve been in trouble. Forgive me, God, for throwing so many questions filled with doubt your way.

I want to focus instead on the tree you talk about in Jeremiah 17.  How much more uplifting it would be to talk about that tree!

This is what you told us in verses 5-8:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

That fruit in the last verse reminds me of the fruit Helen talked about. The fruit of joy we experience when we stay connected to you. The fruit we have when we keep trusting you. You promise we will be like that tree, planted by the river, its roots easily reaching down to water. Even in years of drought, we will stay alive and produce fruit in season.

…and now I need to question you again, Lord: What about the long depressions some of us go through – depressions that last several seasons – when it really seems impossible to produce fruit? When we even start wondering why we’re living. Some of us never escape the illness. Will our roots be able to keep drinking from the water where they’re planted? Will you help us find reminders of your presence?

I believe you will, Lord, with others’ help. If we can reach out to godly friends maybe they will help keep our roots planted by the river. Trouble is, I know that many depressed people who follow you, don’t have friends like that who will be understanding and compassionate. That’s the tough thing.

Pastor Don quoted Gordon Fee yesterday during his sermon: "Joy does not mean the absence of sorrow but the capacity to rejoice in the midst of it." We can have that capacity if we keep trusting in you, like trees firmly planted by the river.

That kind of reminds me of David as we see him in the Psalms. In many of his writings he is obviously having a hard time - probably depressed - and yet, in most cases he ends by rejoicing in God.

If all of us could only be like David!

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Dear God,

I don’t like myself very much right now. Who do I think I am anyway, making such a big deal over something my pastor said? Am I actually cut out to be an activist, a shit-disturber as my husband Wes likes to call me?

Somehow I don’t think all this disagreeing and fussing over things makes me a very attractive person. Why can’t I just be sweet and easy to get along with? I worry that some people are getting tired of me, especially my pastor. I write him far too many emails. What a nuisance I am! I’m embarrassed, but can’t seem to change. He's one of the people to talk to about spiritual things.

I’m not the person I used to be: quiet and submissive, respectful, not getting too upset about things. What happened, God? Is the person I am today the person you intended me to be? I’ve changed so much from what I used to be!

Looking back I can see I became a different person 25 years ago when I decided I couldn’t do life on my own anymore. I made you part of my life. That’s when all the changes started to happen. It’s all your doing. Amazing all the things that have happened!

Lord, without you I would not have had the courage to start my writing career with Sick, But No One Brought Me Flowers for the Vancouver Sun. In one fell swoop everyone in my church – everyone who knew me – learned I had spent time in a mental hospital. You made it possible for me to start writing honestly about things people had for far too long kept silent. You took away my fears. You made me the teacher I always wanted to be, educating the public about mental health issues.

In you I found someone I could trust and lean on when things got tough. I was always unsure of myself, shy, but you made me into a leader. How encouraging it is now, during down times, if I can remember that I don’t live life for myself alone.

I became healthier. I don’t remember too many psychotic episodes since that time. Of course, that’s largely due to improved medications too. But didn’t you make those possible as well?

I thank you, dear God, for all you are. I thank you for your boundless love. I thank you for giving me a life worth living. It’s really you doing all this work I’m part of now, isn’t it? It’s not me at all. I’m only your instrument – your pen, your voice, your hands and feet. And I hope I have a bit of your heart in me too. How can we work for you without your heart?

Maybe I should not dislike myself so much. You, God, made me into the person I am. I guess it’s ok to get angry about injustices. You do that too. It’s probably ok to disagree with my pastor. He’s wise but not infallible. Maybe I should be proud to be a shit-disturber. Not a very polite handle, I know, but wasn’t your Son one too?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

This is the day...!

This morning I was thinking how wrong it was that I had been thinking so much about depression and suffering. That's all I seem to have written about lately. It would be so much healthier to think and write about joyful things.

Good Friday was truly "good" for me. Pastor Don had us focus on all the things I've been meditating on lately. His prayers helped me come to terms and talk to God about them.

But now it's time to think of Easter and the resurrection. It's time to focus on joy. The daffodils are blooming outside and the sun is shining beautifully. Time to start writing about happier things.

I wonder if I'm even capable of that. Writing about joy is something I haven't done for a long while. Yet I must try. For my health's sake, I must try.

Then I thought of a verse from the Psalms that has always meant a lot to me. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Perfect to focus on at Easter time. And - at the same time - I thought of an activity that brings me almost more joy than anything. I LOVE marrying my photographs with favourite Bible verses, making bookmarks with them, and then sharing them with others. Two favourite things coming together: photography and Scripture.

So...I've made a bookmark to celebrate Easter. We will put one in each of the bulletins at church tomorrow. In every way a source of joy for me and - I hope - for others too.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

An attitude of joy?

Lord, I’m confused. And every time I think I’ve sorted things out, I find someone or something that says I haven’t. Yet I’d like to be clear about things like this, because how can I pass understanding on to others if I don’t have it myself?

My pastor recently said that “our attitude in the face of hardship and suffering reflects our confidence in God (or lack thereof).” He had been talking about the “joy” expressed in the letters Paul wrote from prison. Joy, in spite of hardships.

I started thinking about the depression my friends and I often face. How would it be possible to have an attitude of joy at times like that, when all you’d like to do is to die?

Does Pastor Don consider that I don’t have confidence in you when I’m in the midst of depression? I feel a strong need to defend myself. I consider myself a fairly good Christ follower. Can I help it when depression comes upon me? Can I help it when all I can do is think negative thoughts? And I remember with compassion the people in my support group who feel at times that you have abandoned them. Their pain is immense.

In times past I’ve bravely thought how I need to go through depression once in a while if I’m going to do the work you gave me to do – if I’m going to follow my calling to support people who, like me, have a mood disorder. It’s true, I know how to be a good supporter and advocate because I’ve struggled with depression myself. And, I suppose being able to do this gives me joy. It has given my life meaning.

Yet over the last couple of years my experience with depression and the desire to die has been worse than I would ever want to experience again. It was impossible to have an attitude of joy. Even when the episodes were past, I wondered if the benefits were worth what I paid.

But am I thinking of myself too much, Lord? The central purpose of Paul’s life was you and his desire to serve you. He wasn’t concerned about himself. …and I would like to be like Paul. I too want to serve you. The purpose of my life is not me or my own well-being…at least I try not to let it be. But maybe too often it is?

You endured unimaginable suffering as you hung on the cross. You also felt abandoned, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). No joy there, was there? Yet you willingly endured it, knowing the good it would do: the transformation, or redemption, of humanity.

So, if I’m truly your follower shouldn’t I willingly endure depression, knowing it will eventually help me have greater compassion? It will enable me to help others in a special way. And in that there’s joy.

Lord, help me have the courage to withstand future episodes when they come…because they always do come. Help me to follow you wholeheartedly, even when it hurts.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Waiting patiently

I had a coffee today with a friend who's depressed. She told me about a course she's taking at a mental health facility. At this course she's being taught to accept depression when it happens - to go with it and not fight it. Not that you don't look for a way out, but just don't get all upset about it. Accept it as a fact for your life at this moment.

It makes a lot of sense to me. When I've been depressed it's the fighting it - looking for a way out but not finding it - that makes me feel worse. This attitude is most likely to bring on thoughts of suicide.

I'm reminded of what David wrote in Psalm 40:
1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD
and put their trust in him.

It's all about waiting patiently, isn't it? Waiting patiently while trusting God.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A reason to celebrate

I have a reason to celebrate.

For quite a while I had been wondering what would happen to my photography. My tremors were so bad I honestly thought I might have to give it up. But now that my psychiatrist is reducing my loxapine, the shaking is starting to be less of a problem.

The mornings are still quite bad, but later on in the day they are less so.

Wednesday I decided to photograph my friend's two-month-old baby. And - lo and behold - I got quite a few sharp ones! Thank you God!! Thank God for my new psychiatrist - someone I didn't altogether trust at first but who seems to know what he's doing after all.

I'm grateful. Now I need to line up some shoots.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dealing with the shame

I talked to someone this morning who recently received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. And, in talking to her, I was once more reminded of how ugly the stigma attached to mental illness is.

This person is afraid to tell anyone she knows, afraid they will think differently about her. She feels she needs to keep what she deals with a secret.

I feel so bad for her! Believing you have something to be ashamed of is terrible. And - as many have said - dealing with such shame can often be worse than the illness itself.

I just hope and pray that she will at some time have the courage to come out and be honest about the disorder she deals with. I pray that she will use it as an opportunity to educate the people she knows. To rid the world of stigma we need to educate people - tell them the truth about mental illness. With one in five people having a mental illness of some kind, it's important that the world be educated about it so that - hopefully - people will be in a better position to give support.

If only more people would speak out! It's starting to happen and that's good. But we need to make mental illness a part of everyday conversation, including - and especially - in church. It's so important to be able to openly tell your church family, without the need to feel ashamed.