Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

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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The Storm Inside – Disappointment…

“Life can deeply disappoint us. God’s word doesn’t shy away from it, so why should we?” (The Storm Inside, p27)

There are some things in life that severely disappoint us, to the extent that we question God regarding his love and power.

When MiniMe was six months old, I broke my upper arm – seriously, in three places. Recovery took a good eight months, and I still have issues with it now, when the weather is cold and damp, or when a small child swings on it, or when MicroBob goes dead weight on the school run forcing me to lug him home under my arm.

The broken arm was a huge deal for me. I couldn’t care for my baby on my own, and needed help 24 hours a day to look after her on the most basic level. What for some mothers would be a dream, for me, not changing a nappy for four months served as a painful reminder that God wasn’t doing what I thought he’d promised.

I was convinced that God would heal me. I knew he could do it. The God that I knew, from scripture and experience, could fuse the bones, remove the plates, screws and other metal work, and restore the situation in which I found myself. I was determined that it would happen – I knew God was capable, and I knew that the story of a miracle would rock the world of our local hospital, where I had been warned of the months of physio, pain killers and inconvenience.

It never did. God apparently did nothing to make it any easier – the recovery time was as long and painful as I’d been warned, and as time went on I lost hope that God would or could do anything or that he really cared in the first place. I asked over and over again those age old questions: How do we reconcile an all loving God who doesn’t show his power in our greatest disappointment, or an all powerful God who doesn’t love us enough to give us the desires of our heart?

Lots of people reminded me that I could learn things from this, that it would make me stronger, and that God would show himself to the people around me if I could just keep trusting him. But it fell like rocks into water. King Solomon had it right: “Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in the cold or pouring vinegar in a wound.” (Proverbs 25:30)

The truth, as Sheila Walsh says, is that “sometimes we act as if God is obligated to make all our dreams come true and give a happy ending to every earthbound tale.” (p39). We forget that we are in a spiritual battle, and that battles have casualties. This is why Jesus says “Take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:34b) – to remind us that even when we are the casualty of war, we know who the winner will be, and that every knee, whether it wants to or not, will bow before the King of Kings.

There is a happy end to the story. I have my arm back, and am able to look after both my children in the way I want to. In some ways I have been able to see more clearly how I want to raise them because I was forced to have a time where I couldn’t do my job. I got to know people I’d hardly spoken to before – people who had seen the problem and stepped up to help make it better because that’s all they could do. I found out that sometimes I have to rely on other people to help me, and that I can’t do it all alone. And it’s not lost on me that this was probably the practise run for being diagnosed with bipolar, where I often have to completely rely on others to know when I’m unwell, because I literally can’t see it for myself.

I still don’t know the answers. It’s still not clear to me why God didn’t do this one little thing for me when he is so powerful. And I’m still disappointed at times. I still don’t think the good outweighed the bad. And no-one was ever really able to answer my question ‘why’.

I’m also not going to claim that Sheila Walsh can answer my questions. She’s good, but not that good! She acknowledges: “We rarely teach disappointment 101 in church…” (p30) and never claims to have all the answers – a breath of fresh air in the church, where we think having the answers is the only way we will persuade people that God is worth their time. Sheila’s gift is that she doesn’t pretend, but she acknowledges deep pain and goes on to give us a crash course in moving towards a place of hope.

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Just another manic monday

The second Monday evening of every month sees me schlepping 15 miles over to my nearest bipolar support group meeting. I’ve been going for about six months now, and the relief every time I step foot through the door is something I would pay significant amounts of money for. Actually, scrap that – I would pay significant amounts of chocolate for it.

It’s not that it’s necessarily a fun place to be. Sometimes the pain in that room is palpable. Everybody there has had their world thrown into chaos by the evilness of bipolar, whether it’s their own diagnosis or that of someone they love. No, fun is not a word I would use.

It’s real. Everybody comes in exactly as they are, no superhero capes required. We sit in a circle, drink decaf coffee (caffeine is not good for mania), and just be. No secret identity, no hiding our actual selves. One of my favourite writers, Glennon Melton of Momastery fame, once said “It’s far braver to be Clarke Kent than it is to be Superman.” Our little room is full of Clarke Kents. Clarke Kents with a sense of humour – nowhere can you be quite as sarcastic and cynical and downright irreverent of mental illness than in a room full of psych patients.

A couple of months ago, my ‘real’ was hardly there. I was so low that I could hardly move, and every sentence took an age to formulate and full minutes to get out. My fellow groupers just waited, bless them. They looked at my greasy hair and the rings under my eyes, and knew it had taken a week’s worth of energy just to get to the meeting. They fed me chocolate chip cookies, and gathered around with their love and acceptance. No pretending, no making it better, just letting me be.

This month was different. I was doing well. My meds had been tweaked, the mood stabiliser was kicking in, and I had not only washed my hair for the occasion, but could be a part of the conversation with whole sentences. Somehow, no one was depressed, which is a rarity in a group of bipolarites – normally we illustrate the whole swing of emotion. It was actually turning into a pleasant evening.

Then Jen arrived. Jen for whom Jenny or Jennifer is just too long to say because there are too many more words that need saying right now. Jen is always balancing on the edge of fully fledged mania, but tonight it was like she’d thrown herself off the tightrope and somehow managed to fly. She turned up as if coming to a meeting was the most amazing way to spend her evening, telling us all about how much better she felt than last time and what colour the sky was, and how it was far too long since she’d seen her relatives in Iceland.

But she wasn’t talking sense. Her brain was moving too fast for her speech to keep up with, so each thing she said was completely unrelated to the last. Letting slip that she hadn’t slept in over a hundred hours was the last nail in the dazzling multi-coloured mania coffin.

There’s only so much you can do when you’re in a support group where by definition you’re all as messed up as each other. We managed to phone the crisis team and get someone out to see her, and got her home in one piece. By the end of the week she’d been sectioned.

The bugger with bipolar – and so many other mental illnesses – is that you can be ill without really knowing how ill you are. Especially on the manic end. So every time I see someone who is manic and low on self-awareness, the fear kicks in. I am made aware all over again that I could become that ill, and the only solution would be for all my super support people to take control away from me. And it suddenly hit me that this thing is forever. Jen is in her late fifties, and still doesn’t completely have a hold on what’s going on in her head. I’m 34, and could have another forty odd years of this, never knowing when I might become ill again, or how bad it could get. Or whether I will have friends around to bail me out. Jen seems to be all alone at the moment. Her son is the one having to deal with her. I don’t want my kids to have to deal with me.

And the other thing that has really hit me is that she’s a Christian, and yet still has bipolar. She has bipolar, and she’s a Christian. The more I say it, the less I understand how those two things can go hand in hand. It’s not that I think we should be immune because we love Jesus, but I do think that there are some issues where we should be provided a get out of jail free card. If we are running the race set before us, it stands to reason, in my mind, that there are some obstacles we’d be better off without. Bipolar makes it so much harder to persevere. My path is blocked my my brain. Do not pass go, do not collect $200….

The verse that I quote to myself every day is 2 Timothy 1:7 – that God gives us a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. And yet, looking at Jen tonight, I’ve realised that I can’t rely on it. There might be times when my mind is not sound, and that scares the crap out of me. Back in January, when hypomania came a-knocking, I would have said I was making perfect sense, but then, that’s what Jen would have said about herself this evening, and it’s scary that I could get like that again without seeing the signs or doing something to stop it. I know in theory that I have to accept that this is an illness, and that I have to figure out a way to live with it and treat it and not let it overtake me, but in practise I’m just not sure how I do that. It’s so easy to say of Jen tonight that she’s ill, and needs treatment, but for some reason I think I’m making a big fuss about nothing, or that I just have a personality flaw that I can talk myself out of.

If only there were a neat, tidy, straight-edged answer to all of this. I really wanted to have a final, witty paragraph that put the proverbial cherry on the sweet and sour sundae of bipolar. I guess part of growing up is finding that life isn’t simple. When MicroBob does a puzzle, he always looks for the straight edges first, then follows them until he has the entire picture in front of him. It seems that as we grow up we need to get used to the funny shaped puzzles that don’t fit together the way we expect, and just hope that the picture is just as beautiful when we get to the end of it.

And hope that no pieces are lost under the sofa – that’s a whole other blog post!

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