Monthly Archives: February 2015

Control Freak

I have to read whole books on how to let go. Then I have to read them again, and again and again and again. They sit on dust filled shelves, until I’m at the end of my tear-stricken rope all because I can’t control the finite details in my life. I read my Bible to be reassured that while I’m not in control, God is. I know this … because I’ve read it over and over and over … and I get out my, Stop Being A Control Freak book and start the process of letting go all over again.

I have to let go and let God to maintain some sort of life semblance and sanity and I say that in the loosest meaning of the word sanity… it’s more like a bloody shred of existence some days.

Letting go means I have to be done with it and not try to manipulate and control the outcomes based on my fear, lack of faith, with my crocodile tears, with my over- controlling, over-bearing personally that loudly, takes charge of things and people without permission. Without any sort of forethought I charge ahead, because to be still, to be stagnant was never allowed in my family growing up. We physically and mentally moved, my Father stood still for no one. He was always marching two hundred yards ahead, with only the end in sight and a family trailing behind him. He came to be lovingly known as Captain Ron. We sailed, hiked, biked, swam, ran, camped, kayaked, skied, played tennis, Frisbee, football, baseball and often all in one vacation. We didn’t stop to let things be, to let things go, to see and feel a moment, we moved. If things weren’t as we desired, if people weren’t as they should be … we bore the responsibility of making them what they should be or we thought they could be, as his girls we moved mountains with our small, thick calves and spirited naive. Captain Ron out-walked my Mom, after twenty-one years of marriage she hung up her hiking boots.

I am my Father’s daughter, I move …. In a desired direction, dragging bystanders with me, despite resistance, because I cannot be still even after 40 years.

I have to let go. It means I have to accept that God may do or not do as I see fit. It means I have to stop … I have to be still, even within my own racing, reorganizing, prioritizing, mind. I need to be still and not feel guilty about it. It means I need to be grateful for what I have received despite what I deserved and grieve for what I didn’t deserve but received.

Letting go for this guilt-ridden Midwestern, German girl, means giving back to God that which was never really mine by fleshly name or birth. Their ties with God began long before me, they are his lineage.

Letting go hurts … it means I see dirty grout, dirty souls on my tiles. It means accepting mildew-lined shower curtains, teenage-boy shoe odors, late night Science projects, un-matching socks, over flowing trash cans, incomplete homework, unmet needs, unshaven legs, and frozen pizzas and I can’t fix it all.

These things exist, I can’t hide them …. Despite my downstairs closest. I can’t by my own fruition change them, I only have two hands.

Letting go means that my best effort isn’t pretty, it’s damn embarrassing at times. Letting go means accepting that. It means my life isn’t orderly, my marriage isn’t always harmonious, my language isn’t always holy, my kids aren’t always respectful, it’s an all-out, unorganized, mess at times, in fact if I’m honest, a lot of the time. It means that I’m too tired for anything but honesty anymore before God and Man and at times if I want complete honestly and humility from another human being I go to an AA meeting instead of Bible Study.

Letting go means we don’t have to be the neighborhood picture-perfect Christian family. It means, I don’t put Christian Easter signs on my lawn, it’s under watered and our gardener is underpaid. I don’t hang Christian platitudes on my front door, it’s smudged with finger prints and the path way is littered with bikes, scooters and half drank juice boxes. I certainly don’t put the Christian bumper stickers on my minivan, because I will pray for your soul only after I’ve driven you off the road and then for my own forgiveness.

Letting go means, I no longer have the short or long list of well-meaning, but over-simplified answers and their attached Bible verses. Especially when it comes to marriage and raising children.

Letting go means, accepting that some of my children have diagnosis beyond my control and because of that others don’t get enough attention. It means knowing the neighbors can hear loud, spirited language floating up from the trampoline in my backyard. It means my six year old daughter spits like her brothers. It means that fish have been laid to rest in my backyard because of miscalculated PH balances, accompanied by hamsters that were over loved and underfed. Letting go, means honesty with my children and no pretenses, saying I’m sorry to them and accepting their apologies. It means trying to parent them with the same grace I’ve been shown by Christ.

Letting go means that while I can’t leave my children with a legacy of unstained-righteous choices and holy living, I can leave them the example Christ has made in my life. I can leave them with the example God gave with his 12 disciples, who had a letting go/sin spread sheet longer than mine, and he worked through them. And right here, right now, despite my/your/their mistakes, sin, pain, he can work, let him.

I want my children to learn that their thick calves are not meant to move mountains, instead they’re meant to bend so they can rightfully let go and give it to Christ, because he’s the one true mountain mover.

Hollow Days

Some days, weeks and months I go through the motions.

I prepare meals, assist with homework, go to church, attend baseball games, attempt intimacy and provide transportation when needed. I say I love you and try to embrace my children, my husband and my life that is. Some days this doesn’t feel like enough for me and I’m sure it’s not for them.

It takes all my emotional energy to just exist, but it’s not much of an existence. I’m hollow. I’m flat. I’m a shell of a person.   My life consists of doing things for others out of obligation.

I signed up for this/my life fifteen years ago, when I thought I had some depression and that is was completely treatable by my morning coffee and Zoloft. I signed up for a lot not knowing there would be times when I had little to give. That when there was so little of me left, I would cling onto my last morsels of self, for preservation’s sake. This naivete meant not realizing that having lives depend upon you for sustenance and nurturing and not being able give it freely, produces a tremendous amount of unbearable guilt.

Some of the fifteen years were better suited for that morning fix, or I was better suited for it. There have been a lot of days, weeks, months, and this last year that make me doubt my decision and myself, I call them my hollows.

I want to feel love and connection to those I’ve committed my life to, but during the hollows all I feel is an urge to flee. I know logically that fleeing would fix nothing, that I cannot be free of myself, that I have to put my big girl panties on and address it here in this life that I’ve committed to. I know that love is more than a feeling, it’s a commitment and that the emotion of love will come back after the hollows leave. And I stay. And it does.

I want to appreciate my life, I want to enjoy it. I have so much. I know I’m fortunate. Many have it much harder and are not as blessed, but this line of reasoning doesn’t help me at all, I wish it would. I read about young moms that die of cancer and their grief stricken families, and I want to grasp this … and tell myself to stop the bullshit in my head. I want to. I want to hold this knowledge so tightly that it frees me from myself.

My family can sense these hollow days, I am more distant, angry, sad or irritated. My husband will try to fix it, though I’ve asked him to stop. I try to just move forward with the best of intentions on these days. I try to reassure them that I will come back around on another day, maybe tomorrow. I tell myself this as well. I want it for myself and for my family, I want better. A better me. I want years, month, weeks and days with no hollows.

The Church’s Struggle with Mental Illness

Before moving forward with this blog, I would like to clarify that there is a distinction between the church and Christ, the latter of which my faith is in. And that currently I am in a church that does their best to embrace me even if they don’t fully understand my affliction.

Some churches still struggle to view mental illness as anything but an existential thought of one’s moral/spiritual compass.

At sixteen, I experienced this first hand in an evangelical church, it was the beginning of my first bout with severe depression. I tried to be happy … I went to church and followed their rules ….I prayed for their joy, their fruits of the spirit and I believed. I tried their prescription for me:

  • pray more, differently, with scripture in it, on my knees
  • stop sinning
  • volunteer my time
  • take communion, tithe
  • repent, confess
  • just put on a happy face,
  • have more faith, read my Bible more,
  • accept Christ’s healing

I NEEDED to believe. Nobody needs to believe more than the broken, nobody knows belief until their broken.

And while well intentioned church leaders questioned my faith, the quantity and quality of prayer and self –sacrifice, I was in ever, increasing deep despair. They seemed to reason that my depression was a result of non-repentant sin, thus I was causing my own depression. Now, at forty I have enough life experience to reason my way out of that box, but at sixteen I wasn’t equipped to handle this sort of bad theology.

It caused me years of continued and unneeded struggle, within myself and in my approach to wellness. Counseling was considered a last ditch option, and if it was to be done by a pastor on staff, not a licensed therapist. I value pastors for their theological knowledge and their pastor care, however I believe without the proper training/education they can do more damage than good.

Medication was also frowned upon, and so I spent years trying nutraceutials; 5HTP, St.John’s Wort, the range of B Vitamins, all to no avail. Finally after six years of this journey, that had more to do with my brain chemistry than my spiritual life, I met a Christian therapist that helped change this wrong perspective and put me on the right path. I am eternally thankful for her and others that do exist within Christianity and the walls of the church that understand.

So, what plagues some of our churches when it comes to mental illness? I would say, causation and stigma … old concepts that for much of the world have been distinguished but are still lagging somewhat behind in some churches.

Causation is an ugly road to travel, it leaves a lot of carnage in its path, and it casts blame. The church does exhibit leeway for causation for that which it comprehends. Obesity causes heart disease, but we never hear, please remove yourself from the potluck line or the church will not be able to visit you while hospitalized from your quadruple bypass surgery. Any smokers here? Sorry, there will be no offering taken to assist you with your medical bills for COPD. Alcoholics … when you have cirrhosis of the liver we will not pray for you, sorry. The church can relate to those struggles, we’ve all had too many doughnuts, toked up during college, sipped from a boisterous Cabernet and then found ourselves embracing the cold, hard porcelain truth. But there is a lack of understanding of mental health issues often in many churches.

In mental illness, there is causation, but it needs to be assigned responsibly; it’s brain chemistry, neurotransmitters, genetics, and circumstances … causes that are not sinful in nature.

Dear Church,

Why must we with mental health issues hide out? Despite the fact that it’s not just your congregations that suffer from this illness, it’s not just you’re laymen who are somewhat less theologically astute. In fact some of your pastors, theological professors, Vicars, elders, are bumping into each other in the pew with shit grins on their faces because they can’t admit they struggle with mental illness, because they cannot let you see them. They don’t want to be fired, held spiritual hostage, have their faith questioned, they don’t want their families embarrassed.

This illness is different in that it affects our cognition and ability to see ourselves as we are. We are already struggling from an eternal perspective. We question our salvation, God, our desire for life, it’s a heartfelt existential crisis … and we can’t think our way out of it, any more than someone with cancer can think their way out of cancer and into remission.

Please Church understand, we’re not stupid, we don’t want this, our neurotransmitters are functionally incorrectly at the current moment and we could use your help. We desire to live, we desire to have our paradise lost renewed, we want to find comfort within your arms, we want to evangelize with you for Christ … and some of us will do it in ugly sick places you don’t want to go. Please embrace us, accept us, send us out in faith knowing that Christ can work through our brokenness, some of our wrists have bled like Christ’s … we get it .. We’ve almost died to our illnesses, please let us live in peace … not just God’s peace, but yours.

Perceving Ourselves & Others

Perception defined

  • the way you think about or understand someone or something
  • the ability to understand or notice something easily
  • the way that you notice or understand something using one of your senses

Having suffered from mental illness since adolescence I question my perception often, both my self-perception and my ability to perceive others. It’s an all-out fight to be comfortable within my own mind. And as my beautiful son, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, navigates the world of adolescence I see some of this struggle within him.

I know my self-perception is based on where I’m at in my Bipolar mind. If I’m in my hypomania mind, I think I’m attractive, a diva in-her-own-right. I completely forget that I have National Geographic breasts, Lane Bryant jeans, a husband and enough baggage to keep the Brady Bunch at bay. I make eye contact, I smile, laugh, flirt. I’m a temporary unstoppable extrovert.

And then there’s the self-perception of the cursed, depressive mind that makes me see myself as the last hominid to walk the earth. I dodge mirrors and grocery store aisles, I just want to hide out in my home and not be seen.

The truth being, I’m sure something in between those two vastly different self-perceptions. Sadly though, these perceptions totally influence the way I carry myself from day to day and interact with others, my longings, goals, and motivations.  At times they can be bold lies that hold me back from success and personal happiness.

Here’s how the processing goes in my mind. What did she mean by her words? Why did she say that? Why did she act like that? And then I switch to questioning myself …. Was my response appropriate? Did I over react? Did I not understand correctly? To have to play these reruns over and over in my mind can be a taxing process.

This perception struggle has caused me to draw near to some when I shouldn’t have and push others away when I didn’t need to. I’m overly sensitive and perhaps a little paranoid at times. I take things personal, I act defensively, I internalize things I shouldn’t, and then I have to justify my irrational behavior.

My flawed perceptions have caused me to question the actions of people who genuinely love me. To give unsolicited advice, though well -meaning not at all desired. I’ve complicated business transactions and lost friendships and made a complete ass of myself publicly because of them. It’s downright embarrassing at times. It can leave me feeling like an outsider in the world and in my own mind.

I confess this not to self-indulge or have a pity party, but because I believe that even if we can’t change our brain chemistry we can teach ourselves to be better perceivers of others and ourselves. I’ve had to work on improving in this area for my own well-being and so I can help teach my Aspie son.

Some things that have helped me improve in this area;

  • I try to give myself time, and not be rushed into making a snap judgment. I ask more questions, and jump to less conclusions. I try to listen more and talk less. Sometimes this makes me look like a dumb ass, but I don’t care, I would rather allow myself the time to come to a conclusion that I’m comfortable with than have to apologize later.
  • I choose my friends more carefully. I take more time to get to know people and put less of myself out there right away. I’m a little more cautious especially when making friends with women, their behavior and words are much more difficult to interpret and easier to misinterpret and they’re pack animals. Men are a little easier to interpret, and if you misinterpret their words or actions they’re more forth coming with it, which I appreciate. At least, this has been my experience.
  • I get a trusted outsider’s view. I’m fortunate enough to have a devoted husband and best friend who let me process with them. I’m able to get second or third opinion’s on conversations or events when I’m just not sure if I got it right. I’m not suggesting all processing should be external or involve others, but at times and in important situations it can be helpful.
  • I read a lot. In the area of perception, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz has been extremely helpful to me. I don’t agree with all of his philosophies but was able to see myself in a lot of his self-limiting beliefs and thus make mental changes in my thinking.
  • Lastly, and the hardest for me. I try to take myself less seriously. I try to laugh at my mistakes more and sometimes share them others. I’m hoping in doing this that I will have more joy in my life and that my children will learn to navigate perception, humility and develop a sense of humor.

 Happy Perceiving my Friends

The Art of Self Medicating

What do you call a meeting for people with Bipolar Disorder?

A.A.

It’s my joke, and I’ve earned the right to tell it, it’s both funny and sad.

I struggle with both Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder and according to statistics I’m not alone. Apparently, alcohol is the self-medicating drug of bipolar disorder choice, it’s reported that 60 % struggle from both.

I was Bipolar first, but didn’t have a diagnosis. The alcoholism diagnosis came in the form of an ultimatum from my husband, it was my family or the drink. In hindsight, when someone gives you this scenario and you need time to think about it, it’s pretty evident there’s a problem.

However, in my mind it wasn’t that simple or obvious. Drinking was when I felt ok, I laughed, I socialized, I had something to contribute and I had a lot to forget. I felt like I was being asked to choose between my sanity and my overwhelming daily reality and frankly that was no choice I wanted to make.

I want to say that I graciously made the right choice immediately, but I did not. When you are drowning, it is hard to let go of an imagined life preserver. I struggled with this dilemma for a few years, not all of it bad mind you. I wasn’t an all-out drunk, I was more of a binge drinker (AKA …following the cyclical torments of Bipolar Disorder) so I could handle myself for months at a time, drink occasionally and at times responsibly. But over time drinking was no longer fixing my problem, it was complicating my life to the point that I could no longer deny it.

Self-medicating, unfortunately causes as much if not more damage to ourselves and our families. We do it, unknowingly and knowingly. We realize that something within us is broken and need/want to fix it but aren’t sure how and why.

I’d like to interject at this point about my children. They have been such a paradox in my life, their existence has caused me the greatest amount of anxiety, and stress both personally and in my marriage.  But without their existence I don’t know that I would have chosen sobriety and even life for that matter. I want things for them that I feel I don’t deserve, so I push ahead for them.

I want to say just not drinking helped me, but A.A. touched me, it’s an incredibly beautiful example of courage. I needed to hear REAL, BOLD HONESTY. A.A. was no bullshit, no pretenses, it was people being real publicly. It’s uncomfortable at first to hear people openly talk about their lives and I cringed every time someone raised their hand to share. But after a few meetings it became my salvation. I felt so fortunate to be able to hear peoples’ stories, their grief, heartache, self-discovery, and second chances. In this one room, for this one hour, once a week, I didn’t feel alone, I felt connected to something tangible. Maybe it’s something you can only comprehend and appreciate after having desperation eat away at your heart and mind for years.

After 40 days of sobriety things began to become clear. I had developed some healthy habits in place of drinking; exercising, writing, reading my Bible but I was still just the shell of a person looking to fix within me that which was broken. Time went by. I prayed, I cried, I annoyed the hell out of my husband, pastor and friends and finally I was given an answer. Three individuals/professionals in my life approached me separately within a seven day time period and told me/diagnosed me as having Bipolar Disorder II. And I’m now beginning the next phase of this journey.

I want to say to you, that no matter which side of the bar stool you’re on, no matter where you’re at in your life… there is hope for this illness. Sometimes it comes in the way of blatant honesty around a table with strangers. Sometimes it’s the courage you find for the ones you love. I implore you to take that first step and begin your journey of wellness

Two Speeds

Being Bipolar is like having two speeds. Low and High, and nothing in between.

Low speed is not enough to accomplish what I’ve committed to. It doesn’t supply enough energy for the physical and emotional needs of a husband, three children, and pets. It doesn’t quite cover the laundry, dishes, and baking, cooking, volunteer commitments. Low speed means I can forget about a social life, even talking on the phone is cumbersome. Forget about exercising, having sex or any activity that requires much of anything. It means grocery shopping seems over whelming, and planning meals in my head hurts.

Low speed means constantly disappointing those in your life because you can’t quite keep up with their expectations, and you already have to deal with your own self-disappointment. It means less hope and seeing all of my flaws in 3D. Low speed is critical and self-defeating. It means doubting the quality of what I’ve previously done and grieving what I need to get to but can’t.

Low speeds means I’ve made social commitments I can’t fathom following through on, and promises I made to the kids to take them to do things. I feel despair at this speed for my children, that I’m not enough, that I have nothing to draw from and give them and I don’t know how to explain it in a way they can understand. I want to explain it though, because I don’t want them to internalize it, my illness is not about them, it is not their fault. Low speed means I think about whether I should leave my children to my family to take care of, so they have a chance at a happy childhood. At low speed I feel angry at my husband for not contributing more around the house and with the kids, for not being able to make up for my deficit.  I need help, but I’m too exhausted and embarrassed to have to ask.

AND THEN SOMETHING STARTS FIRING IN MY BRAIN, TELLING IT TO GO … AND I’M ONTO HIGH SPEED JUST LIKE THAT.

High speed. With racing thoughts, and jarring movements. This speed means that everyone around is annoyingly and irritatingly slow. It means less sleep and much more worrying and analyzing. It means being defensive and overreacting. It means certain volumes of noise are unbearable, especially repetitive noises. It means no details can be processed or focused at great length.  It means intense workouts, it means that time goes by quickly. It means socializing and talking nonstop. It means driving quickly and not as carefully.

High speed means euphoria, big ideas and plans, intermingling in my mind all at the same time.  It means I finally think things are coming together, that finally there will be some sense completion. I don’t want this feeling to end, that I don’t want to go back to low speed, I’ve spent too much time there already, in high speed I feel like I’m accomplishing the list in my head. I view myself as finally coming to be, because there’s a chance I’ll actually achieve some of my goals since I finally have the emotional and physical energy to do so.

This speed can be volatile and hard on my family. I bark orders, want things done correctly and quickly. I have patience for no one. I don’t want to sit and snuggle with my children, or read them a book, I have things to do. It means impulsively making decisions and then regretting them. It means being to open, revealing myself intimately and then later wishing I hadn’t. It means drinking and fantasizing about hugely optimistic goals for myself. This speed takes me from my children as well but in a more selfish, all-consuming way, and sadly with less regret on my part.

Just having been diagnosed correctly, FINALLY. I’m hoping that there will be a middle speed possible with mood stabilizers. I’m not anticipating perfection because from my twenty-plus years struggling with mental illness, I know its trial and error, while Science tries to catch up with the creator.

.

My Secret Kills

I have a secret that kills.

It almost killed me so I’m sharing it, in hopes that you, your spouse, one of your children, your grandchildren, a friend, a coach, a teacher, a pastor … Someone you love can benefit from the knowledge and experience I’ve gained … That you/they can know you’re not alone …

That the secret is better NOT kept because it’s already too dark. I’m telling you because the only thing harder than living with a secret, is not living at all. I’m telling you because 25 years is too FUCKING long to not understand what is hurting and killing you. Because 25 years of decision making on false pretenses … is too many, it involves spouses and children and other that should/could be spared. (For you Mathematicians …I was 17 when hospitalized and misdiagnosed).

I’m telling you my secret so you can have the courage for yourself or someone in our life who needs to be honest. I’m telling you because I know of others who would rather die than be honest and I’m not one of them. I’m telling you because I know everyone has secrets, and I’m ok embracing yours. I’m telling you, so you can understand the brains is such a significant organ that when it doesn’t work correctly…You are not able to think you’re way out of it … Because everything that allows for your cognition and processing isn’t working correctly, no matter how intelligent or intellectual you are.

My secret is that I have FINALLY been diagnosed correctly with Bipolar II Disorder. We are grieving and rejoicing in this truth. That’s my secret.