From a Mental Hospital Ward, [Crushed]

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take from me my shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  

Besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

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Handling a Diagnosis of Tardive Dyskinesia

 

Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) is a condition of involuntary, repetitive movements of the jaw, tongue or other body movements. It frequently is a side effect of the long-term use of antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It is almost always permanent. I’ve been told Vitamin E might help a bit.  Benzodiazepines have also been used with mixed results on a short-term basis.

Some examples of these types of involuntary movements include:[3]

  • Grimacing
  • Tongue movements
  • Lip smacking
  • Lip puckering
  • Pursing of the lips
  • Excessive eye blinking

(Wikipedia)

I recently was diagnosed as having TD after the use of Zyprexa. My version is my lower jaw moves from side-to-side, unless I concentrate on not doing it. I quickly revert to this involuntary movement when I’m not aware of it. I recently saw a video of myself (with my family) and sure enough there I was, doing the ‘jaw thing.’ It was very obvious. It was also very embarrassing. (I have the ‘lithium jitters’— where my hands always shake, but TD is different.)

There are a couple of things I might mention:generics7

1) I’ve discovered that there is a real social isolation with this TD stuff. To be doing this in public is “not acceptable.” I have had people come up to me wanting to know what’s my problem. Since I can’t control the movement I just say, “It’s my meds— they affect me this way.” In a way it’s like wearing a neon sign saying, “I’m a fruit cake.” Having a mental illness is stigma enough, but the TD just puts a new edge on it.

2) As a natural introvert the isolation has only deepened. (I avoid crowds and most social engagements.) I guess if the truth be told, I’m uncomfortable when others look at me strangely or whisper to each other. My standard ‘paranoia level’ has taken a new twist. I feel like I’m always compelled to explain. I guess I’m embarrassed when others are embarrassed.

3) I settle myself down in my faith to cope. I know I’m not alone in this– the Lord Jesus is always with me. He holds me tight through all these twists and turns. Since I isolate myself so much, I savor the connection I have with a few friends who have become inured to my condition. Social media helps out— Facebook is a gift.

4) One of the things I try to remember are the issues of selfishness and pride. I keep reminding myself it’s not about me all the time. One of the significant areas mentally ill people deal with is self-absorbed thinking. It seems it comes with the illness.

5) I try to keep a sense of humor everyday. It breaks down the mental pain to tolerable levels. We can take ourselves too seriously sometimes. Be more patient with yourself.

I certainly ask that you remember me in prayer. I’m in ‘uncharted waters’ (it seems) and I sometimes feel all alone with my mental illness and all its tangents. I want good to come out of this. (An instantaneous healing would be o.k. too.)

 

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Antidepressants for Believers?

What do you think of Christians taking antidepressants?

By Pastor John Piper, given on March 30, 2010

The following is an edited transcript of the audio.

What do you think of Christians taking antidepressants? I have been on them and have been accused of not relying on God.

That relates to an earlier question about how any physical or personal means that you use can signify that you’re not relying on God. So eating might be a failure to rely on God, because he might just fill your stomach by miracle, and you don’t have to eat. Or not sleeping would be a way of relying more on God, since you don’t have to have your psyche made stable by sleep at night. And so on.

God has ordained physical means. Aside from the ones that seem more natural, like food, there’s medicine: aspirin, Nyquil, etc. This water is helping my throat right now. [Sips it.] Was that sip a failure to rely on God?

Could be. “Just throw this away and rely on God! He will keep your throat moist. You don’t need to be drinking. You’re an idolater, Piper. You’re idolizing this because you’re depending on it.”

Well, the reason that’s not the case is because God has ordained for me to thank him for that. He created it and he made this body to need a lot of fluid. And it’s not a dishonor to him if I honor him through his gift.

Now the question is, “What medicines are like that or not like that?” Taking an aspirin?

My ophthalmologist told me about 4 years ago, “Take one baby aspirin a day and you will postpone cataracts or glaucoma or something.” He said, “I can see just the slightest little discoloration, and the way it works is that circulation helps.” So he told me to pop one of these little pills in my little vitamin thing. And I take it every day. And I just said, “Lord, whether I have eyes or not is totally dependent on you. But if you would like me to use this means, I would.”

My answer is that when you start working with peoples’ minds, you are in a very very tricky and difficult situation. But I think I want to say that, while nobody should hasten towards medication to alter their mental states—even as I say it I think of caffeine, right?—nevertheless, I know from reading history, like on William Cooper, and by dealing with many people over the years, that there are profoundly physical dimensions to our mental conditions.

Since that’s the case, physical means can be appropriate. For me it’s jogging. I produce stuff in my brain by jogging. But that might not work for somebody else, and they might be constantly unable to get on top of it emotionally. I just don’t want to rule out the possibility that there is a physical medication that just might, hopefully temporarily, enable them to get their equilibrium, process the truth, live out of the strength of the truth, honor God, and go off it.

When I preached on this one Easter Sunday a woman wrote me, thanking me that I took this approach. She said, “You just need to know that I live on these things, and I know what it was like 20 years ago and the horrors and the blackness of my life. And now I love Christ, I trust Christ, I love my husband, our marriage is preserved, and I’ll probably be on these till I’m dead.”

So I’m not in principle opposed. I just want to be very cautious in the way we use antidepressants.


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The Fellowship of This Misery

Severe case of Leprosy
“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Luke 5:12, NLT

Let’s jump right into this passage from Luke 5.  A very sick man desires to become well.  The Bible text reveals that his condition is agonizingly desperate.  His leprosy has advanced; he is covered with it from ‘head-to-toe.’  He is completely infected; he is ‘unclean’ and without hope. There is no treatment for what he has, doctors can do nothing, so he comes to Jesus.

We must emphasize this, the leper has no illusions of wholeness.  He knows it; he doesn’t need to be convinced, or persuaded by anyone else.  It occurs to him, that Jesus the healer (of lepers, and the like) may provide healing, or at the least a morsel of comfort.  This leper approaches the presence of Jesus, with such humility it is almost painful to witness. This man is completely broken; he has no hope, except Jesus.

There is a fellowship of misery–some of us are “card-carrying” members.

Our diseases differ, but they have affected us completely.  Our pain, and our darkness vary.  Some have physical pain, others have a mental illness.  When we meet, there should be a secret handshake or a password. We share a comradeship— we are all part of the same community.  We are a broken club of tired and decidedly unclean misfits.

How do we measure our pain and desperate darkness?  What do we use to measure it? For the most part, our lives have been destroyed. I think we can understand it by looking up at Jesus.  Lying in the dirt, we believe the unbelievable.  Our faith doesn’t activate his healing as much it guides it to our greatest need.  The presence of Jesus drives away the pain.  His love for us echoes into our emptiness. And he wants to do this!  He has come for us. He carries us through this.

I struggle with deep depression and despondency.  I have been on meds for a long time.  But when I come into Jesus’ presence, all this melancholy is driven out. He comes and injects a true hope into my spirit.  Am I a stellar example of perfect discipleship?  I think not.  (My wife could tell you this.)  But isn’t about us becoming “angels”, it’s about us becoming intimate with Jesus.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”   

–Mike Yaconelli

The leper would be healed by the authority (and touch) of Jesus Christ. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

“Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.” (v. 13)

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Battle Scars

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It is a bad habit to try to teach without personal knowledge. We can preach, but we do not possess. This is one of the occupational hazards of those of us in our profession. It seems to carry a horrible curse of spiritual sterility, that the wise believer ultimately sees.

It’s been 13 years since a diagnosis of Bipolar 1 was made. I believe I was BP in my teens. Life is a roller-coaster for me, up and down, with a twist or two along the way. I am now fairly aware at 56 that much of my earthly existence  has already been lived. Life can become such a grind. I’m tired and broken, and ready for eternity.

“One should go to sleep as homesick passengers do, saying, “Perhaps in the morning we shall see the shore.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

Billy Bray (a bearer of an unfortunate name) was an illiterate Cornish evangelist in the 1850s. He was heard to pray this: “Lord, if any have to die this day, let it be me, for I am ready.” By faith, I do understand these sentiments. I am ready to go as well.

I love collecting good quotes. (I also have a site at http://www.CrossQuotes.org.) But here’s two more good ones:

“God buries His workmen but carries on His work.”   -Charles Wesley

“If we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a “wandering to find home,” why should we not look forward to the arrival?”  – C.S. Lewis

Sorry if I’m being maudlin. But the battle is so long, and it doesn’t ever let up, does it? We all can become weary after a while. What we need is to be ‘shut in’ with the Lord. The Word reminds us:

Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”

 Acts 14:22

“Tribulations” are common, and each must battle through them. And without being melodramatic, we each must walk through the blazing furnace. But I can also boldly attest that there is more than enough grace for each of us. We just need to become desperate enough. (Which shouldn’t be too hard).

Armor is given. Wearing it means you’ll survive (and thrive) to see another day. Those who may suggest that the Christian life is a “bed of roses,” I would say that they haven’t read Ephesians 6. If there is no war, why would the Holy Spirit tell us to put it on?

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” 

Eph. 6:10-11

We are starting to finally learn we must fall in love with Jesus. He receives us with a massive kind of love. And His mercy meets us at every doubtful corner. You have His Word on it. Simply ask Him to come to you. 

*

Kyrie eleison, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy.)

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English Pigeons

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

Psalm 32:8

In April 2002, I was sitting in this cavernous waiting room at King’s Cross in London, England.  I was waiting for a bus to Cambridge, UK.  I sat all alone, and stared at the tiled floor at my feet.  The doctors had warned me not to travel alone, but I had disregarded their restrictions.  I was taking several psych meds and felt somewhat stronger than I had in months.

As I sat there staring at the floor, within my field of vision, came several pigeons.  They were fat little guys, apparently thriving on bread thrown out to them.  Several very large windows were open, and these pigeons seem to have no fear as they took advantage of a meal from bored travelers.  I remember their audacity and resourcefulness as they came up just a couple of feet  from my chair.

Depression had followed me like an old friend all the way from Alaska to England. I had pushed my limits and was completely drained and quite confused.  I was crying out to the Lord, very desperately.  All of a sudden, a pigeon came across the floor and “presented” himself, right square in front of me.  I was amazed that he was crippled, one of his feet was a twisted claw.  He had been profoundly injured in such a way, that he would never be the same.  He was damaged, and yet somehow he survived.

It was like receiving a lightning bolt.  I understood for the first time in a long time, the Father’s love and care over me.  I saw the pigeon, and I saw myself.  It was a moment of a reassuring grace.  In the ‘mega-hustle’ of 13,614,409 people in London, and in the midst of my profound mental crisis, I knew God’s caring touch.  A grace much greater than all my sin and confusion. He was just letting me know that He was close.

Later that day, I found myself walking the streets of a busy Cambridge with its great universities.  I was all by myself, and I had gotten hopelessly lost.  I was terribly manic, and my meds just couldn’t keep the lid on.  I felt people staring at me, I was talking out loud to myself, disheveled and thoroughly confused.  I just kept wandering and talking, for hours.  I desperately needed psychiatric shelter.  But I was all alone. I knew no one at all.

I kept walking past the many universities, and churches.  They were very beautiful, but I was lost.  I then remembered the damaged pigeon, completely oblivious to self pity. I started to call out to the Father out of my confusion.  Within a few minutes I found myself sitting on the top level of a double-decker bus, with the driver aware of my problems who specifically guided me to the place I was staying.  I was being cared for. I think he was an angel sent to my aid.

I have come to realize that this trip to England was not for me to see Big Ben, Parliament or wander the academic centers of Cambridge University.  Rather I was brought there to meet a certain pigeon, who was waiting to meet me, and pass on vital instructions.  He shared things that I need to know.  The history and landmarks were nice, but I’ve forgotten much.  But all I really needed was somehow given.

P.S.  Two things:

  1.  If you can avoid it, don’t travel alone.

  2. Never call pigeons, “rats, with wings.”

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The Sheer Hopelessness of Mental Illness

This was written in March of 2012. Right or wrong, it was where I was at with my illness. I hope it will bless, and bring hope into that situation that seems very hopeless:

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 34:18

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Depression can feel hopeless.

I’ve seemed to have settled down into a blackness that defies all explanation. I’m dodging being hospitalized, and they can’t put me where I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be locked up again.

It’s the hopeless/helpless thing, a “one-two punch” that is the most devastating to me. It crushes and pulverizes until I lie in this sad pathetic mess I’ve become. Dante had it dead-on when ascribed the gates of hell with the words, Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” In hell you’ll know what despair is really like. Perhaps heaven and hell really do start here?

And there was another writer, just as clever, said something along these lines, Shut up! Unless you have been lost in this particular section of hell before,  just be quiet.” And perhaps we should? Nothing can trump personal experience. The survivors, if you can find them, will understand what I’m saying.

How is it,
People fear the dark?
Not me, I’m reconciled
as every day I see
the blackness grow,
I’ve come to terms with it,
it knows I know.

–Rod McKuen, Alone

Hopelessness swirls me around and I feel like a bug going down a drain. Thoughts of suicide are becoming more concrete and despair is becoming a frequent visitor.  Mental illness is frightening. Those who have experienced it, will learn not to say anything, but pray.

Durability may ultimately prove to be the most significant factor in this “mixed state” of Bipolar Disorder that I am wandering through at the moment.  Can I outlast these demons that plague me? My irrational mind plays tricks on me, I see mirages of wholeness and peace, but they don’t seem  real. It is a big, fat lie. It is nothing but a delusion, or a trick of the brain.  And yet something inside of me steadfastly hopes for God’s grace and mercy. 

I know that Jesus has conquered the dark. I must hold on to Him. I must let this darkness go.

Up and down, side-to-side, where it stops, no one knows?  But God…and right now He isn’t saying. Jesus hold on to me. I hold on, by faith to the promise given to me—

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

I don’t mean to be this raw. Sometimes I just let it “all hang out.” I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m too open. I just wanted you to have a picture of a “broken believer” and more so of the grace that saves me.

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