Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

Depression

Sometimes people ask me what depression feels like, and this is what I say.

Depression is like a cat burglar – it creeps up behind ready to steal your most precious things, and although you see the shadow from behind it doesn’t occur to you that it might leap. And yet when it does you realise it’s been behind you for weeks. You started off running away from it, but as time goes on you get tired and can’t run as fast, and it catches up, jumps and covers you completely.

Depression doesn’t make me sad. I cry a lot more and at much smaller things – and at nothing. I cry a lot in self-pity – if only I were good at something, talented in some way. I wanted to do so much with my life – depression makes me think nothing I do is worth anything. But sadness isn’t the main character in my depression drama.

I spend hours asking myself what the point is of anything. The lethargy of inaction, giving up aiming to do anything productive because it won’t do anything anyway. When I’m ok I can see the ripples of my actions spread across the water of my everyday being. When I’m depressed there are no ripples. Every activity drops dead in the water, and I wonder why I bother doing it in the first place.

Depression makes me nearly scared. If I had the mental energy I’d be scared of everything, but as it is I don’t have the energy of thought to get properly frightened about the state of the world, because I know if I do it’ll be overwhelming.

The main fear of my depression is the fear of being found out. I feel the dread of having done something wrong, but I have no idea what it is. I feel like an imposter in my own life. A phoney, pretending to be normal when I’m not, but also knowing that I’m actually making a big fuss about nothing – why do I give my experience such gravity when everyone else has just as hard a time of it?

I feel guilty all the time – I have no good reason for feeling the way I do. So many people have so much more reason to be depressed.

None of this is really a response to real life. I can see that it’s not reactive. I know it’s my brain going screwy again, and that I need to do something about it, but I just don’t want to. I don’t want to admit that it’s managed to engulf me again. If I pretend it’s not there it might go away…

Will it…?

 

 

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Anxiety

Someone asked me what anxiety was like the other day, and it’s something I find hard to explain. But it goes something like this:

You wake up to a cup of tea and cards and cuddles, then have a wonderful morning out as a family. After an afternoon chilling out, you have a takeaway followed by snuggling on the sofa with a film. Then an evening with the hubster and cats, eating mini eggs and watching crappy telly before going to bed. Hubby falls asleep.

Then suddenly your chest feels tight, and you have to go and check on the doors are locked and make sure the children are still breathing. You try to pray and distract yourself but you can’t stop thinking that one day you may be without all the things that are important and you’ve no idea when or how that might happen and it all feels too much. After a perfect day all you can think is that you might never have that again, and the only way to start breathing again is to take tablets and hope you sleep.

That’s what anxiety is like.

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Scared of the Sun

This post is related to my previous post Fear of the Fog. I realise that the titles may now come across as slightly cheesy, but what can I say – I’m an alliteration junkie (please comment below with other words for ‘junkie’ that start with ‘a’…)

This past weekend I have had the joy of going away on our church’s women’s weekend. We had 70 women all in one place, being challenged by some amazing talks and taking part in some inspiring worship.

I also managed to have some relaxed and elongated time with my best friends, Beauty ICE and Lawyer ICE. Our normal prayer times are odd hours, grabbed from between jobs and school runs, so it was lovely to have some proper conversations, intense sharing, and laid back company with colouring books, knitting, and large bars of Galaxy chocolate.

On the Saturday, Beauty ICE and I went for a walk around the grounds of the conference centre, chatting and reminiscing. During our last women’s weekend away I was in the middle of a full blown nervous breakdown as I swung quickly and wildly from hypomania to depression. Beauty ICE (who from now on I’m just going to refer to as Natalya because it’s easy and there’s now no reason not to) was the person who bore the brunt of supporting me at that point, and I can categorically state that I was not fun to be with. My brain had suddenly swung into a major low before getting over the high – the result was all the negative self talk that comes with depression, but at four times the speed. It was hideous.

So this time, I had huge reason to be thankful for my stable state of mind. We walked, thanked God for the change, and had fun whilst we walked. We laughed and we yelled and we let our hair down with gay abandon, and arrived for dinner rosy cheeked and giggly, ready to eat, drink (juice) and be merry. For the first time in a long time I felt more than ok – I felt good.

But bipolar is never far away. I can never forget that it’s there, and it’s still not been long enough for me to relax and let my guard down. By the time we got to the evening meeting I was in panic mode. What if this was hypomania? Playing on swings, running through puddles and throwing snowballs isn’t exactly normal behaviour for me, and I didn’t even notice. The more I thought about it, the more frightened I became. I was on the verge of phoning every medic I knew just to check whether I should be doubling my medication, getting to A&E, checking myself in somewhere. Somewhere along the line, bipolar stole the fun.

Fortunately, sitting between my ICE ladies is the safest place to be. I can stress, I can cry, I can talk about the same things over and over again, and they never get stressed out about “what it might mean”. By the end of the session I was fine, and headed off to the team quiz in my normal, fiercely competitive way.

But it never goes. I like to think that one day I’ll be able to stop that level of overreaction and get to the stage where I can enjoy the good days and sit through the bad days without panic of relapse. But there is a fine line between self-awareness and paranoia, and whilst the former is sensible and necessary for continued health, the latter steals the joy, reminding me that I will never be normal again.

This post doesn’t have quite the happy ending I’d hoped, but it’s real. I’m coming to terms with the idea that this is what life is like now.

scared by the sun

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Fear of the fog

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It doesn’t take much to worry me when it comes to my mental health.

Today I feel low. I feel unmotivated, unable to concentrate, like I’ll never manage to achieve anything that’s of worth, and altogether too exhausted to go up to bed. Staying awake into the night and writing long diatribes is a key sign that Churchill’s famous black dog might be following close behind me. I find myself too scared to stop writing and go to bed, because then I might think, and that could lead anywhere. Or I might find myself completely unable to think, which is even worse.

The thing is, the fear of it can be just as bad as the actual thing. The memory of having been so ill not all that long ago (eighteen months can feel like forever or yesterday) makes me hyper alert to any possible symptom. The thought of being that unwell again induces a level of anxiety I normally only experience in an episode of depression, so I end up on a roundabout of doubt – am I anxious about becoming depressed, or anxious because I’m depressed?

As is always my key tactic, I try and work my way back to see if there is an actual cause for feeling low. I search the calendar for hormone surges or forgotten traumatic anniversaries. I look back over Facebook and Twitter to see what might have nudged me off kilter – social media can be cruel in its reminders of what I haven’t done or become. If I can find a solid reason why I might feel like mud, then there’s more of a hope that it will pass without effect, that it is just a normal bad day, like normal people have.

There’s nothing like experiencing what normal people experience to remind you that you’re not actually normal. In a bad few days a normal person can curl up, eat chocolate, and watch a movie that provides an excuse for a good cry. For me, any longer than a couple of days and I start getting antsy.

So, I start putting things in place. I stop listening to the news, and exchange sad Joni Mitchell music for something brighter. I make sure I go out, even if it’s just to the supermarket cafe, so that my four walls don’t become overbearing. I get up, I get dressed, I eat – I make myself do all the things that most days I hardly notice myself doing. I talk to friends – if my best friends don’t hear from me for a day, they come knocking.

It’s an effort trying not to get depressed when depression is one of the things you most fear.

But who knows, it might all be better tomorrow.

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Gone are the Words

I’m having a hard time writing. Depression makes my brain feel like fudge. CableGuy’s response to this was “yummy.” Me – not so much. It feels like everything is moving slower than it should. Unless it is a word or sentence that I want – then is slips away into the shadows, impossible to trace through the dense sludge.

I really wish that I could take my depression and describe it in writing. In my head it’s a piece that is, in turns, heart-breaking and heart-warming, with a trace of cynicism and a soupçon of humour at my own expense. But it seems impossible at the moment, and – even worse – like it will never be possible again. And somewhere under the lack of motivation resides a fear, that I might never be able to write again, and therefore lose a part of myself that I might never get back.

One of my biggest vices is jealousy of other writers. I spend most days wishing I had written things by other writers who say things better than me. Or (an even less attractive trait) have more readers than me. Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery fame has a good rule of thumb – if I’m jealous of another person’s writing, take a moment to feel it, but then share it. Because jealousy is just love in disguise. Jealousy is loving but then wanting. Generosity is than loving and then giving.

So, I now share part of one of Glennon’s descriptions of depression and how it affects her life and her writing. I chose it partly because her experience is so like my own, but mainly because she said it better and I am jealous. She writes about it in exactly the way I would like to be able to. So rather than loving and wanting it, I’ve decided to love it and share it. Here is a small section of her masterpiece, but please do read the entire essay here.

About depression…

“Every once in awhile – something scary happens to me. A black, heavy, murky fog sets in over my heart and my head. When this happens, I do not alternate between super high and super low. During these awful times I alternate between super low and super numb. The fog is so thick that even when I get still and try to find my way home to myself – I can’t. During these times, none of my usual tricks….quiet time, sunshine, exercise, friends, prayer . . .none of them help me find my way through the fog. I can go through the motions of the day . . . I remember what to do – pack the lunches, smile at the kids, sweep the floor, hug my husband….repeat. I just can’t remember why any of these things matter. The love, the life that usually infuses each of these tasks with meaning is gone. I become like a robot. I have completely lost myself. All I want is to disappear into a dark room. Gone is the joy, the drama, even the suffering that makes me, me. This state of mind has nothing to do with my dramatic personality. It is more like a complete loss of my personality. I’ve suffered this loss three times in my life. Once when I was much younger and suffering from bulimia and alcoholism. Once after my second child was born, and again about a month ago. I have come to believe that this loss of myself is what is commonly accepted as depression.”

About writing…

“I’m hesitant to medicate away my depression because I worry that my depression fuels my writing. What medicine does for me is help me to relax into life a bit. Craig’s perspective is that when I’m on it, I am the same Glennon, I just “struggle a little less.” I agree. I struggle a little less. And I also lose the feeling that if I don’t write I will die. This is how I feel when I’m depressed. Since I lose my joy and meaning, I come to the blank page to create meaning and joy, to get it back. Because I become desperate to make sense of things. And that desperation, I’m afraid, is what makes my writing good. So it scares me, I guess, not to be depressed. A lot of really good writers are depressed. But, as Craig says – “Honey, don’t a lot of good writers also kill themselves?”

The fact that Glennon can take the meds and still write like this gives me hope. Please, please, do visit Momastery. And please do read the whole of Home To Myself – much of what she writes about earlier in the article describes bipolar life to a tee.

Even though she doesn’t have it. Sickening.

I won’t be jealous, I won’t be jealous, I won’t be jealous….. Loving and sharing, not loving and wanting.

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Things I’ve learnt from my new friend.

This week, a hello-how are you-goodbye relationship with another school run mum has turned into a proper full blown friendship. And she only lives two doors down, which makes it doubly fab.

We were standing in her front garden a couple of weeks ago, having a conversation about someone, and she made a comment – “depression’s a bitch.” It sounded like something she knew from experience, so I asked her. Then, from almost nothing, I told her I had bipolar. “That must be a bitch too,” she said.

I hadn’t been in the greatest place – I have been fighting depression for the last few weeks, and, despite all my best efforts, it’s been getting worse not better. With depression often comes anxiety, and the school playground is like my kryptonite, which means that twice a day I have to gird my loins and force myself to drop MiniMe off with a kiss and a wave. One day, School Run Mum found me wobbling home, asked how I was, ignored me when I said I was ok, and scooped me up into her house for coffee.

There followed a three hour long talk about depression, bipolar, kids, and life in general, during which I opened up more than I ever had before to someone I didn’t know very well. SRM is a very good listener, and, it seems, completely unshockable. I learnt some very important lessons in that one conversation:

1 – I don’t always have to pretend everything is fine.
There are times when it’s not. There are times when it’s REALLY not. And actually, half the time I’m claiming to be fine, I look so categorically un-fine that there’s no point saying anything at all.
In truth, I don’t entirely understand why we do it – why we feel the need to be so constantly self sufficient. Why is it not ok to share with someone that you’re struggling with life? The number of people being treated for stress in this country is at an all time high. I don’t believe that a problem shared is a problem halved, but I do believe that a problem, when shared, loses some of its power and becomes – at least temporarily – a bit less all consuming.
And it’s only by admitting that I’m not fine that I can get some help. Today, SRM is going to the big playground to pick up our daughters, and it am going to the much quieter entrance to collect our sons. So simple a solution, and yet so helpful. And it would never have happened if I hadn’t stopped pretending I was fine.

2 – It’s not my job to educate people.
Ok, so I understand that mental illnesses can be a hard thing to get your head around if you don’t have one, and that I have first hand knowledge that I can share to make it easier for people to grasp. But actually, my time is pretty much taken up with trying to live with it, and dealing with how I feel is work enough for me. At the end of the day, if people want to understand bipolar, they are quite capable of doing it without me having to be teacher. And if they aren’t that interested, well, what I say isn’t going to make much difference anyway.
The caveat to that is that there are some things that only I can teach. Just as one diabetic will experience life completely differently from another diabetic, no two bipolar sufferers will have the same responses to situations. So, if I want support, I need to be the one to tell people how they can do that. I need to educate the trustworthy people around me as to what they can do to help me – not ‘people with bipolar’, but me. This education is how SRM knows that if I come out of the playground shaking and crying one morning, coffee and talking are good, but hugs are not.
It’s the difference between being proactive in my recovery and being psychiatry professor to the world and his wife.

3 – I don’t have to persuade people to accept me.
“Look! I have bipolar, but I’m normal! I have friends! I have normal relationships! Being bipolar doesn’t change who we are – go, have friendships with mentally ill people!”
This is something I hear in my head with monotonous regularity. I have this crazy idea that any relationships I forge can be used as evidence that relationships with people with mental health problems can be as valuable as ‘normal’ friendships. Getting people to accept ‘bipolar Abbie’ is part of a huge, single handed crusade to break down the stigma of mental illness. My mantra for a long time has been: “see – we’re just like you.’
The truth is, I’m using this as an excuse to hide the fact that, actually, I just want to be accepted for who I am. Me and bipolar – we come as a package. You can’t have one without the other. I feel like having put a name on it and called it an illness has suddenly made me scary and unpredictable and too much of a risk in the friendship stakes. What’s really funny about this is that actually, the symptoms have always been there, I just take drugs to reduce the severity of them. I’m probably saner now than before I was diagnosed.

4 – Fuck ’em.
Apologies – I realise that you probably weren’t expecting that from an overtly Christian blogger, but actually it was the most eye opening thing SRM said that morning. Two words completely altered my outlook.
I was talking to her about how I’d lost friends since I’d been diagnosed. Being seen as different and undervalued by people who never really knew me to start with doesn’t really matter that much. But there are some people with whom I used to be really close, who have somehow managed to completely erase me from their lives. Nothing has ever been said overtly, but there is a definitive before and after picture of their treatment towards me.
Until now, I have been making excuses – mainly from the three points above. And other well meaning Christians in my life have counselled me likewise. “They just don’t understand,” they say. “You need to give them time to get used to it. You need more opportunity to explain what it’s like to have bipolar. I’m sure they’ll accept you in time.”
It’s all very loving and Christian and understanding of other people’s ignorance – which I’m all for, for the most part. But I’m not willing to hang around waiting, hoping, hurting, until they make the effort to understand and deign to be friends with me again. My life is complicated enough without tying myself in knots over when they will accept that a friendship doesn’t have to change with a diagnosis. If they can’t accept me, then they weren’t really my friends to start with, and I don’t need them.
I said ‘fuck ’em’ again at home later (on my own!) and it was an almost physical release; I felt lighter just for saying it.

Drawing together the four little points that came out of a three hour cup (and cup and cup and cup) of coffee has made me realise one thing in particular. If you aren’t happy when I’m not pretending to be fine, if you’re expecting me to educate you all the time without adding in some hours of your own, and if I’m having to constantly persuade you to accept me, you probably aren’t a friend worth keeping. This means my friendship group is much smaller than it once was, which is kind of sad. But it also means that I really do know which of my ‘friends’ are actually my friends. And I’m chuffed that SRM is on that list.

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Roller Coaster

I’ve not been here for a couple of weeks. This is mainly because I have been doing this:

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and this:

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and this:

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and this:

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It has to be said, I’ve never really been a fan of roller coasters. I like keeping my lunch in my stomach too much. But I am married to a thrill seeking husband and we seem to have spawned two children who take after him in that department. And the ‘family holiday where we do things together’ (which I, now to some chagrin, wish I hadn’t constantly insisted upon) apparently extends to fairground rides.

But, to be fair, I spend most of my time on a roller coaster, albeit in a slightly less joint straining, child restraining way.

Lots of people liken having bipolar disorder to being on a constant roller coaster. It’s a very good analogy – getting higher and higher, and more and more excited as you reach the top, only to lose the exhilaration all too quickly as you plummet towards the concrete of a seaside palisade. Fortunately, with a roller coaster, there is at least a little warning of what is to come. My experience of bipolar is that of blind corners, often unrecognised rises, and largely unexpected and unstoppable falls. 

The most analogous thing about this roller coaster for me was that when on on the pleasantly undulating slopes rather than extreme and invigorating climbs and drops, the car spun around. There was never a point at which you could just relax and enjoy the views, because you never knew which way you would be facing when the exaggerated excitement began again.

That’s my life. I have to be constantly aware, never losing concentration, trying to track every little twist and turn for fear of what might come next. I would like to be one of those sufferers who can see what’s going on with my moods, and predict their arrival based on minuscule changes of demeanour or the rolling of seasons of the year. Perhaps that comes with experience, with years of watching and waiting and willingness to record every mood change that comes to call. Perhaps if I was further on with that process they call ‘acceptance’ I would be doing likewise, rather than just being tossed to and fro, riding the tides as they come. That’s what you’re supposed to do, as a sufferer. It’s what all the blog posts and medical journals and self help group aficionados advise – the better you know yourself, the better your health can be.

Is it wrong not to want to have to do this? I feel like a stubborn little girl, stamping my feet at the idea that the rest of my life might have to be consumed by note taking, mood tracking and medication management.

I’m fairly well aware right now that the closer I move towards acceptance, the more I realise I’m not there yet. Each time I deal well with whatever mood change comes to call, I become more aware of coping mechanisms that need instigating and thought processes that need changing. Eighteen months down the road from diagnosis, I’m only just beginning to own the fact that I suffer from an essentially permanent mental illness (which for some sufferers becomes terminal) that will need long term (if not life long) medicating, and constant acknowledgment, awareness and observation. It’s only recently that I’ve actually been able to say with certainly that I have bipolar disorder rather than, “I kind of have bipolar,” or, “I had a sort of breakdown.” Many years of experience have helped me to use terms like, “I suffer from depression,” but I still don’t find myself able to say, “I was hypomanic,” or use the word ‘episode’ with regards to depression or mania – it is just too close to admitting I have this illness that comes in waves, like chapters of a book, with a cliffhanger at the end of each one. It’s hard to know how to end a post like this. Do I try and think of some witty comment, dramatic climax, piece of wisdom for others following the same path? Do I falter, writing on and on with ever more obscure simile? A roller coaster finishes it’s adrenaline fuelled circuit and comes to a stop, and a family stumbles out, all ready for the next party to clamber in.

Stop the ride, I want to get off.

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News Of The Day

I got a text this morning. It was from a friend who had clicked on her Facebook icon before me, only to find that the legend, Robin Williams, had taken his own life. Like a true friend, she warned me that it might be a good idea to stay away from social media for a bit. She was right.

I’m someone who is consciously and decisively protective of my mental health – especially at the moment. I avoid any sites that might risk bringing me down, and despite following numerous bipolar, depression, and general mental health groups on Facebook, I am careful what I choose to click on and what I choose to avoid. I’ve given up Twitter altogether for the moment, because – as famously said by another of my favourite actors – “you never know what you’re going to get.” I am not willing to let my iPad dictate my emotions.

But today has got the better of me. I find myself clicking on every link and watching endless YouTube videos. I have heard again “O captain my captain,” “it’s not your fault” and “goooooood mooorniiiing Vietnaaaam!” I’ve even watched him singing with a gorilla. It’s hard to believe such a powerhouse is suddenly not there any more. It’s harder still to believe that someone who had such power over an audience, such an ability to draw out emotion, such humour as to draw people in, eventually lost the fight.

A poet who lived round the corner from where I grew up describes it perfectly: “I was much further out than you thought, and not waving but drowning.” Robin Williams always did a very good job of waving. He waved hard and fast, with innumerable affected voices, hilarious mannerisms, and what has now shown to be bittersweet slapstick. When life knocked him down he got back up again – and again and again and again it would now seem.

One of my best memories of seeing Robin Williams is probably different from everyone else’s. I saw him on a TV documentary, in a studio recording the Beatles song “Come Together.” Beatles producer George Martin, on retiring, chose his favourite songs, his favourite (not necessarily singing) celebrities, and gifted us with one of the best mash-up albums ever. Robin (I feel strangely comfortable referring to him by his first name now) was mesmerising, although I’m now unsure how universal a response that would have been. But I remember thinking, “how does he come up with so many voices, so many faces, so many ideas, so quickly? How does he keep up?” Of course, with my recently acquired, enforced knowledge of bipolar disorder, I can understand. I’ve felt that quickness of mind, rush of thought, challenge to get everything out. I don’t know whether his coherence in that slightly manic state was due to practise or plain giftedness. I’m fairly certain it was the latter, but thinking it was the former gives me at least a glimmer of hope that one day I might find an edge whereby I can harness what hypomania gives me rather than losing it all in a rush of words. (By the way, the documentary is here, and you can find Robin at 9.27)

I wonder how many more people will give up their fight to live today, after having had the news of Robin Williams’ suicide spread unexpectedly before their eyes as they opened their Twitter and Facebook apps this morning? I wonder just how many of us will have seen his face scrolling over and over and had the thought, “if he can’t carry on, how can I?”

I also wonder, how many people will make more effort to understand mental illness? How many people will take the step from believing that suicide is selfish and weak, toward finally seeing it as the final symptom of an invisible, life threatening disease?

I can only hope that the first number will shrink and the second will grow. That somewhere, from the fate of this funny, clever, troubled man will come a new understanding and a softness of heart towards those of us who struggle every day to keep going.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

(Stevie Smith, 1972)

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Storm Inside – Heartbroken

“Just because something is true doesn’t mean you should voice that truth in all circumstances” (The Storm Inside, p8)

I don’t know about you, but I think the Christian Church should be purveyors of Biblical truth. God’s Word should be the basis of everything we do and say, because it’s only through His word that any of us can learn how truly loved and valued and treasured we are. I say this at the beginning of this post because I don’t want what comes next to be taken wrongly.

Sometimes, although the Bible is full of truth and love, the way we use it is not. We take verses and throw them at struggling people because we think that it will somehow help them out of their situation, and turn them into the Christians and church goers that we think they should be.

“God didn’t give us His Word to use like a weapon or some kind of Hallmark card we can pass across the fence and keep some distance. It is meant for encouragement, not pat answers in the midst of pain.” (p8)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had all sorts of verses thrown at me out of context, that have been supposed to encourage me but instead just made me feel worse. As a bipolar sufferer, this is my favourite: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:6, italics mine). I’ve had this one trotted out to me in all guises, from the well meaning church elder to widely distributed books and courses.

I’m not quite sure what my response to this should be. Perhaps people are expecting me to jump up and shout: “Hurrah! The Bible says God gives me a sound mind! Now I know that, I’ll no longer have bipolar! I shall stop all my meds and give up therapy and frolic in daisies for the rest of my life!” Is it any wonder that our churches have a far lower ratio of mentally ill to mentally well people than the rest of the population?

Shelia Walsh’s example of what she calls ‘arrow verses’ is: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). It gets trotted out whenever anyone puts their hand up to say that life is hard and it gets them down and they just wish it would stop, and it hits like a poison arrow into their pain, implying that if you’re not being or feeling strong, then you obviously aren’t relying on Christ’s strength. That can hurt almost as much as the original pain, and make us feel isolated and misunderstood by those closest to us – exactly how the enemy wants us to feel.

So how about we stop throwing out-of-context verses at our struggling brothers and sisters, and just agree with them that life is hard sometimes? How about we stop trying to make each other feel better and just allow one another to feel?

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The Storm Inside – trading the chaos…?

20140120-131612.jpg“Here is the Hope that you’re looking for. Here is the Truth you need” promises author Liz Curtis Higgs.

Quite a promise for a book I haven’t started yet. The praise for Sheila Walsh’s newest book goes on for three pages at the front, with names as big as Amy Grant and Joni Eareckson Tada applauding it. Even Kay Warren, who lost her son to suicide last year, says “Sheila understands.”

I’ve been given the privilege to be a part of the launch team for Shelia’s latest book: The Storm Inside: Trade the chaos of how you feel for the truth of who you are. Part of this privilege is the opportunity to read the book earlier than everyone else and let other people know what I think of it.

I’m a huge fan of Sheila Walsh, but even I wasn’t sure that she could achieve what the cover claimed. So much of my life is dictated by chaos – the chaos of bipolar, of managing and preventing mood episodes, and the frustration of being told that God has a plan for my life that must include this illness I struggle with.

And yet, as early as the introduction I am somehow convinced. In her intro, Sheila writes about a speaking event that saw her talking to a group of women in full time Christian ministry. Many of us would be intimidated by such a group of women – I speak to groups fairly frequently, and this certainly isn’t a gig I envy. And yet Sheila’s perception was not of a group of totally sorted women:

“I thought of the women I would speak to in just a short while and wondered if Christ’s promised gift of peace was tangible to them today or if they were facing such devastating storms that peace felt like a distant dream.” (p.xii)

A ‘devastating storm’ is exactly how I have described having bipolar disorder to people with little or no understanding of what it’s like to live a life dictated by moods that blow in unexpectedly, wreaking havoc and leaving confusion and desolation in their wake. From the first few pages this seems like a book I can get on with, written by a woman who understands what it’s like to have your world turned upside down by mental illness (Walsh spent a period in a psychiatric ward when ill with severe depression, and is open about still taking medication). I am left feeling understood by someone I’ve never met.

On the first page, before Sheila’s writing even makes an appearance, Christine Caine, founder of A21, tells me to “read it as soon as you can.”

That’s me told then. In I delve….

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