Processing Pain Through Poetry

 

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by Linda K

I wrote this poem a couple of months ago. I wrote it while trying to process the struggle of dealing with one sister who suffers with mental illness (bipolar disorder and bulimia) and other family members who don’t understand.

I have experienced seven years of major clinical depression myself, and over the last few years have come to the realization that ending up there again is not outside the realm of possibility if I’m not ever vigilant. But that doesn’t make the family relationships any easier, and I often feel like I’m the only glue or buffer holding things together, and I’m not doing a very good job at it.

I share this here to maybe give someone else the strength to keep being that glue or to appreciate the one in the family who is the glue or . . . well, frankly I’m not sure why. It just seems like something I need to share.

A note on the final stanza: I do not, in any way, wish that the person this poem is about was dead. Far from it. I’ve lost too many other family members, including another sister who died of cancer two years ago. But on the day I wrote this, that felt like it would have been easier to take than the present situation.

Impossible Madness

Why does it feel like I’ve lost you
when you aren’t even dead?

Why am I the only one
who wants to make amends?

Why does it have to be so hard
after all these years?

Maybe it’s the tears
mine and yours, and theirs,
that makes breathing and living
loving and forgiving so impossible

I guess sometimes families and madness
can’t survive one another

Because that’s what you are, you know,
mad, or crazy, or mentally ill
whatever you want to call it

It’s torn us apart
because you don’t understand
why they can’t begin to comprehend
what’s going on inside your head

It’s torn us—you and me—apart
because you’ve convinced yourself
that I don’t at all understand
what’s going on inside your head

You forget I’ve been there
that those crazy, mad thoughts
have been inside my head, too

But then you’ve forgotten a lot of things
all the times I was there for you
just to listen
and the times you were there for me

Forgetting the good
is a tragic side effect
of medications meant to help
Somehow they don’t erase
memories of the less-than-perfect moments

My greatest desire is to forgive
and to be forgiven
to live and laugh and love again
to mend what has been torn asunder
to heal the thoughts inside your head

But right now, in this moment
it feels like you might as well be dead
at least that would be easier to live with

 

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You can find Linda’s own website at http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

“Darkness is My Only Companion”

“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”

—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)

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Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.

*** 

In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, but ultimately meaningless, because random.

For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.

In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.

I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.

All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.

During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.

bad-times-333-300x250How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?

I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.

Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.

And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”

And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.

But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.

The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).

This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.

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“Darkness: My Only Companion”

Kathryn Greene-McCreight is assistant priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and author of Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness (Brazos Press, 2006).

On the web:  http://www.hopeandhealing.org/contentPage.aspx?resource_id=311

 

 

 

 

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Delusions of the First Person Variety

When I first watched the “Matrix,” I completely flipped out. It explained too much. It took me a month to recover.
I need to briefly share what delusions are like.  I’m going to flip the switch and flood the room with light, and watch the “critters” scuttle to find a hiding place.  I’m doing this to help heal myself, and for you to understand this awful state of mind.

First of all– definitions

Delusion n.
A false belief held despite strong evidence against it; self-deception. Delusions are common in some forms of psychosis. Example.  Because of his delusions, the literary character Don Quixote attacks a windmill, thinking it is a giant (that’s the dictionary workin’ it for you.)

Delusion de·lu·sion n.
A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence, especially as a symptom of mental illness.

Typically, my delusions have a common core of pride or self-centered thinking. For instance, I have experienced all of these:

  1. A woman loves me and she is secretly trying to be with me. This is very flattering and egocentric.  This  one can really mess with your thought-life. (Ego.)
  2. I’m the center of the universe, people really do not exist, except when they come into my life or influence.  [This one is a bit metaphysical.] See #7.
  3. I have special powers that ‘know” a person’s motives, plans and heart.  I am hyper-discerning.  The opposite can be true at times, where I become exposed to people, which necessitates me never leaving my room. I feel “naked” and of course, very uncomfortable.
  4. I get paranoid, thinking people are plotting with each other behind my back, working to destroy me.  Chat rooms, and Facebook are focal points for me with this one, but not always.  With this one I get really verbal, and I start zapping people.  I guess because it’s the internet I can do this with impunity.
  5. Clocks are always at the top of the hour, like- 7:00 am.  Or they are at the bottom of the hour, like 11:30 pm.  I call this “chronosynchronism.” I believe this is evidence that my life is orchestrated, purposeful, and this is evidence I am very significant.  This is my latest.  And it really isn’t super disruptive.
  6. I can read secret messages in books meant for me.  I also line up spaces in what I’m reading to form an unbroken line.  I compulsively do this.
  7. The big one is this, I am in my form of “The Truman Show”.  The universe is just a set and I am the only living thing out there.  Everything is focused on me (of course).
  8. I hear voices sometimes, but mostly a radio or sometimes the “dot-dash-dot” of a telegraph.  I think its trying to warn me in some code.  It can be persistent. And it can be disruptive. Paranoid that my giftedness is cause for the NSA to control me.
  9. My wife intends to poison me.
  10. Personal hygiene issues. Afraid of being murdered in the shower creates a super-phobia. I once went 6 weeks without showering. (I made my own eyes ‘water’, lol).

I guess all of these have things in common.  They are self-centered.  They are unreasonable and illogical.  They are compulsive. And yes, meds do work.  And the above list?  The delusions are only mild-to-moderate issues of delusional paranoia.  There are so many Christians and non-Christians who have worse. I once met a man who seriously believed he was Jesus. (And no, I didn’t worship him).

As a believer working out his discipleship, I’ve discovered that humility and openness is always the way of keeping one tethered to reality.  However, I have a fear that I will break loose and never come out again.  I MUST live in “brokenness”.  (So in a strange way, following Jesus Christ is easier.)

Also, I must be open to things that will invalidate my delusion.  Even if I’m 99% convinced, that 1% will cause me to consider thinking through a scenario.  Truth is your best friend when you are challenging a delusional paranoid.  But it has to be gently applied. Life doesn’t have be lived this way. Also, delusions will often ‘morph’ and change and take on modified characteristics. This seems to be part of the mental illness, but can also indicate demonic oppression (or both even).

A psychiatrist should be informed in most cases. Very often meds will be necessary to get your loved one through this time, but not always.

Praying for delusional behavior

People have prayed for me, more then I have prayed for myself.  Your intercession bridges a gap over this illness.  When you pray, you power up the energy cells and get instructions.  It may mean wait, or proceed.  Every person and situation is different. Prayer is always the best approach.

(So many delusions and so little time.) They will vary from person-to-person. An active prayer may help, “Lord, may it be the real me who touches the real You.” Remember, Jesus stands at the right hand of his Father praying for you [which can’t be all bad].

“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

Romans 8:34

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Depression Metaphors, [Rust]

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Trying to explain depression takes a great deal of effort. The explanations are seldom satisfactory and sadly inaccurate. Complicating the definitions are the two types of depression, which are quite different:

  • Mild (dysthymia)
  • Large (clinical)

Both of these are radically different and present a completely set of symptoms. Psychiatrists have diagnostic criteria they use to help them make a diagnosis that will be helpful to the patient. It is kind of a hit or miss judgement call, but there is some validity to their efforts. One of their main resources is the DSM-5 that standardizes treatment of mental disorders and provides a continuity of care.

Mild depression:

Imagine an abandoned factory. You walk inside and at once crunch over the broken glass. Dust covers everything and the once ‘well maintained’ machinery is now covered with rust. It’s damp and musty. You notice graffiti and an old clock frozen in time to 7:53.

Overall, it seems a bit grim and sad. The factory is in complete disarray, but a crew could come and restore it to a functional state. It might take some serious rehabilitation, nevertheless it could happen.

Large depression:

You enter the abandoned factory and are glad you’re wearing a hard hat they gave you at the office. The floor is pretty much impassable, looking up you see that part of the roof has caved in. The machines stand in place, but are hardly recognizable; the are misshapen blobs of rust. There doesn’t seem much of anything to salvage anymore. Things couldn’t get any worse.

Depression has many facets; but it’s always destructive. I find the idea of rust the most compelling. The rust is just oxidation; not even noticeable at first. A steel girder seems strong, but left to its own the rust slowly eats away at the metal. There are molecular changes happening. The integrity of the steel will soon be compromised. It can happen quickly.

I want to encourage to get your depression treated soon. If you have a loved one who struggles get help soon. There is a fallacy about depression that it is relatively  harmless— that one can deal with the ‘blackness’ without long term consequences.

If you are a Christian, you need to find help. You can’t ignore your depressive symptoms.

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Out of Darkness: The Kelly Willard Interview

kelly-willard-blame-the-one by Maryann B. Hunsberger | CT, originally posted 8/27/2007 

After a long absence from making music, not to mention a series of tragedies—including a divorce and her daughter’s suicide—CCM veteran Kelly Willard is back on the scene.

Since the early days of the Jesus movement, Kelly Willard has been a part of Christian music, recording with many of names associated with the pioneers of CCM before releasing her 1978 debut at the age of 21. With nine albums to her credit, Willard has also been featured on more than two dozen worship projects from Integrity Hosanna!, Vineyard, and Maranatha! Music. Now with the release of her new CD Paga, Willard is finally back on the scene, though she’s never been totally absent. She spoke to us from her Florida home about the things occupying her time for the last 15 years: her family, her recording career, her ministry, and a series of tragedies in 2004.

Your last album was in 1990. What have you been up to all these years?

Kelly Willard It was a priority to be home with my husband and children, since I home-schooled both children. And although I stopped recording my own albums and touring to raise my children, I didn’t stop working in Christian music. I lived in Nashville, so I continued to do session work. I’ve done background vocals for artists, and I’ve done solos on praise-and-worship albums. I’ve always followed what was going on in Christian music, and I’ve continued to do as much music as I could.

It sounds like life has been busy.

Willard Very busy. My mother had Alzheimer’s, so we took her in and cared for her for ten years. I was responsible for her health while my children were growing up. I was home-schooling and doing studio session singing while caring for my mother. I haven’t done much since 2004 because of what life has been like since then.

What happened that year?

Willard It was the worst year of my life. On Valentine’s Day, my father died of pulmonary fibrosis. Later, in March, my 29-year marriage fell apart. I worked so hard on the marriage, even going to counseling. But the marriage fell out from under me because the spiritual foundation of the home fell short. My parents were divorced when I was 13, and I said I’d never divorce. It was so traumatic, because my marriage and family were my life. It’s been hard for me to accept.

Then my 18-year-old daughter Haylie fell through the cracks—on August 29, she committed suicide. She had severe depression and she stopped taking her medication. The divorce was a huge factor in her death. It’s the saddest thing ever. Whenever I sang locally in Nashville, Haylie would sing with me, and mher. And in October, my mother died from Alzheimer’s. So, it really was the worst year ever y son Bryan would play bass. She wrote songs and loved the Lord. Too much sadness just overcame for me.

Did you struggle with feelings of failure during this time?

Willard Totally and completely. For your child to check out of life is just horrific. It’s unthinkable, unspeakable pain.

Does depression run in your family, since it is usually a hereditary illness?

Willard Yes. In 1987, when we had just released Message from a King, my fourth album, I was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness. The medication back then affected me badly, so I stopped taking it. In 2002, the diagnosis was reconfirmed, but with a new name: bipolar disorder. I got on a newer medication and it has worked well. It helped me get through the trauma of the last few years. I believe my mother also had bipolar disorder, but it went undiagnosed.

 How did your son handle everything?

Willard Bryan was out of the house already. He had gotten an apartment when he was 18 with his friend Phil LaRue and a couple other guys—he played bass with the group LaRue. Then he began to court his wife Liz and they married. So they now live in Nashville and have a daughter Ariel. He’s 24 now and such a strong Christian—a singer, writer, and worship leader, traveling and playing bass for Jason Upton’s band.

What have the last three years been like for you?

Willard It’s been a time of healing. It’s a slow process and it has taken time, but it is happening.  I moved to Jacksonville Beach, Florida for support from Beaches Chapel, a church that took me in and helped me move on after my life fell apart. Haylie and I had sung there in 2002 and they had a real burden for me. When things got bad, Pastor Steve McCoy could see how fragile I was. He would call me in Nashville. He asked me to come down for six months, so I did. I went into weekly grief therapy with a Christian grief counselor for 18 months. I also began taking classes at church. The accountability to my pastor and my grief therapist and Jamie kept me alive, as there were times that I honestly didn’t want to live. But, God hung onto me, even when I felt like I couldn’t hang on.

I read a lot of books about heaven, and I get really excited, because reading them helps me live the reality of what our faith is all about. Also, I met Jamie Wellington at church and he became a friend who stood by me. Eventually, he and I got married and I still live in Florida today. God gave me a brand new start in every way.

Which at last brings you back to recording a new album.

Willard I began working on it seven years ago. I thought I’d never record another solo album, but the Holy Spirit impressed on me to involve my kids in making an album with me. That’s my son Bryan rocking on the bass when he was barely 18. His buddies Miles McPherson and Rob Hawkins also played on it. Haylie, who was 15 at the time, sang a duet with me on “Beautiful Jesus.”

Your daughter had a beautiful voice. Is it hard listening to that song?

Willard I made myself listen to it once, just the other day. I saw her on the other side when I heard that.

Where does the title for Paga come from?

Willard I listened to a teaching tape by Jim Goll called “From Prayer to His Presence.” He explained how the Old Testament priests would take incense behind the curtain and burn it as an atonement. This is called “paga” in Hebrew and it means “to make intercession.” When Jesus became our sacrifice, he made the way for our prayers, praises, and worship to become like that incense to the Lord. I wanted this album to draw people to the Lord and take part in that intercession.

I like your cover of “Charity.”

Willard As far as I know, nobody has recorded that song since Jamie Owens Collins recorded it for her first solo album in the ’70s. Which is bizarre, as it’s a great song.

What changes have you seen in the Christian music world since the Jesus movement music in the ’70s?

Willard The ’70s brought a surge of Christian music with Love Song and all the groups from California. It was a great movement of music. But about 20 years ago, I remember Christian radio changing and sounding just like secular radio with DJs trying to act and talk cool, trying to be hip. A lot of the music seemed to lose something. Then, a little more than ten years ago, I saw a revival begin. Very fresh worship and praise music was coming out. Artists like Delirious, Jars of Clay, and Matt Redman were singing about relationships with the Lord again. It was encouraging to see a turn back to simple relationships with Jesus. That’s what everyone loved about early Christian music when people just sang about what Jesus was doing in their lives and they invited others to come along. It’s gotten back to that in much of Christian music.

For more information about Kelly, her music, or concerts:  http://www.kellywillard.com/index.html

 

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Mental Illness Concerns, [Illness]

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As with anything, those of us with mental illness have much to consider. I believe that God will direct us through these issues. And these are not static things. It isn’t “one and your done”– these are ongoing. They never get completely resolved; you must get used to this. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive.

  • Stigma— One of the basic hazards that comes with a mental illness.
  • Medications– This will be a stretching time as you must determine what  is best for you, your family and basic functionality. There will be many opinions and many issues that will arise. Your patience will be required (but isn’t it always?) Oh, and vodka is not considered a med.
  • Church“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” should be our mantra, we need fellowship.  It is easy to just go it alone, but we will suffer a barrenness which we will see in our hearts. (I’ve chafed at this from time to time.)
  • Therapy— To go or not to go? A good therapist is worth their weight in gold doubloons, but a bad one can be hard to tolerate. Also, a  Christian may not always be the best for you personally. My current is a unbeliever, but is very respectful regarding my faith.
  • Marriage—  A faithful spouse/friend is key to managing your mental illness.
  • Family— They will feel the brunt of your issues. It is good to be aware of this and adjust to their needs. Above all, don’t flog yourself for your failings. Trust in the Lord to redeem things.
  • Work— Surprisingly, some employers have little tolerance for your issues, but the law is they can’t discriminate against a mental illness. I hope it won’t come down to that.
  • Social/friend-– Finding other mentally ill believers is priceless. When I meet someone who also struggled with severe depression I give them a big hug.

We have the joy of combining our discipleship with our illness. This is a formidable task. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit stands ready to give you wisdom. You will discover that it really isn’t the big things that you will struggle with the most, but the littler issues that can ‘rock your world.’ (I’m beginning to wonder if “grittiness” should be added to the fruits of the Holy Spirit?)

The Lord truly will accommodate your illness with His power and grace. He always does this for His children.

“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose.” 

— Alan Redpath

These are only some of the areas that are effected by a mental illness. A good pastor, or a therapist can do wonders when things are out of whack. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture, and the Word will assist you. Having people pray for you will be a necessity and may provide you relief and restore your sanity. Just remember, when you feel like all is dark and you are buried, actually you’ve been planted.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6, NLT

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Are There Benefits to Being Bipolar?

Bipolar people can be different
Originally Published on July 20, 2010 in “Psychology Today”

Let me start by acknowledging what is well known: Manic Depression or Bipolar disorder can be a devastating illness. Affecting at least 1% of the population, it can, untreated, result in suicide, ruined careers and devastated families. Bipolar disorder is often accompanied by alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, criminal and even violent behavior. I acknowledge this, because I do not want to make light of the burden this illness places on people’s lives, their families and communities.

On the other hand, the history of the world has been influenced very significantly by people with manic depression (see website www.wholepsychiatry.com for details).They include:

“It seems clear that for at least some people with Bipolar disorder, there is an increased sense of spirituality, creativity, and accomplishment. It may be that having bipolar disorder holds great potential, if one is able to master or effectively channel the energies, which are periodically available, to some higher task. This would of course presume the ability to abstain from harmful drugs and alcohol, to have good character, and at least some supportive relationships and community networks.”
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 It might be helpful to consider a reconceptualization. Perhaps instead of it being a disorder, we can think of people with bipolarity as having access to unusual potency. This potency will find a way to be outstanding-either in a destructive way, or in a constructive way. If such a choice is presented to the person, perhaps it can open some doors.
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Originally Published on July 20, 2010 in “Psychology Today”

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”

Romans 8:28, nlt

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Sourcehttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/health-matters/201007/are-there-benefits-having-bipolar-disorder

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