A Giraffe On Roller Skates, [Mental Illness]

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People will sometimes ask me, “What its like to be a Christian and to have a mental illness?” I’m not entirely sure I can really answer, but I do try. It seems almost always there are misconceptions, or even a stigma attached to their curiosity. But here goes.

It’s like I’m a ‘giraffe on roller skates’, It seems like I’m always lurching and tottering— always on the verge of total collapse. (It’s a wonder I’m even ‘standing.’) Careening from one side to another, I’m aware that I’m becoming quite the spectacle, and I imagine I hear whispers about the ‘splash’ I’m making today.

I’m uneasy and unsure. (Am I being inappropriate?) I seem to speak too loud and pressured, I feel conspicuous; like I’m slightly inebriated at a party of Mormons. I’m aware of nervous glances and uneasy whispers.

Welcome to the world of bipolar mania.

I have a mental illness. ‘Rapid cycling’ bipolar disorder is my particular ‘flavor.’ I’m on meds (and have been for some time) but it only seems to do is to take of edge off— but I’m grateful for even that small mercy. Over time I’ve been able to accrue some coping mechanisms.  Identifying my paranoia and random delusions is simple ‘Bipolar 101’. It has become the present state of my world.  I don’t always do it well— but I do ”do it’. (And I take my lithium daily.)

There is a learning curve to all of this. It must be discovered. I have tried ‘avoidance tactics’, and I suppose most of the time they seem prudent. But life can’t really be lived cloistered in your room. That is safe, but also very dull. The isolation becomes more toxic than ‘the spectacle.’

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and having bipolar disorder creates some problems. I’m aware of the incongruity. But my faith often uses these issues I face; they propel me closer to Him.

Being ‘broken’ has become a real blessing.

28 “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29, NLT

The promise of Jesus is for those who carry extra weights (like mental or physical illness). It’s for those whose ‘cheese has slipped off their cracker.’ It’s for giraffes on roller skates. Anything we bear is endurable, and easy. He carries us far beyond every weight and every burden. He alone gives rest to the troubled, and real peace to those troubled by their souls.

30″ For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

(verse 30).

What Jesus actively does is to puncture my pride, and then release His spirit and grace over me. But He also makes things ‘light’. The reality is that I bear nothing. All that He does is ‘light’. My blundering is seen and never belittled. But His grace only gets revealed in my weakness.

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Understanding Schizophrenia

Symptoms

By Mayo Clinic staff

There are several types of schizophrenia, so signs and symptoms vary. In general, schizophrenia symptoms include:

  • Beliefs not based on reality (delusions), such as the belief that there’s a conspiracy against you
  • Seeing or hearing things that don’t exist (hallucinations), especially voices
  • Incoherent speech
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Lack of emotions
  • Emotions inappropriate to the situation
  • Angry outbursts
  • Catatonic behavior
  • A persistent feeling of being watched
  • Trouble functioning at school and work
  • Social isolation
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated movements

Schizophrenia ranges from mild to severe. Some people may be able to function well in daily life, while others need specialized, intensive care. In some cases, schizophrenia symptoms seem to appear suddenly. Other times, schizophrenia symptoms seem to develop gradually over months, and they may not be noticeable at first.

Over time, it becomes difficult to function in daily life. You may not be able to go to work or school. You may have troubled relationships, partly because of difficulty reading social cues or others’ emotions. You may lose interest in activities you once enjoyed. You may be distressed or agitated or fall into a trance-like state, becoming unresponsive to others.

In addition to the general schizophrenia symptoms, symptoms are often categorized in three ways to help with diagnosis and treatment:

Negative signs and symptoms
Negative signs and symptoms represent a loss or decrease in emotions or behavioral abilities. They may include:

  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Appearing to lack emotion
  • Reduced ability to plan or carry out activities
  • Neglecting hygiene
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of motivation

Positive signs and symptoms
Positive signs and symptoms are unusual thoughts and perceptions that often involve a loss of contact with reality. These symptoms may come and go. They may include:

  • Hallucinations, or sensing things that aren’t real. In schizophrenia, hearing voices is a common hallucination. These voices may seem to give you instructions on how to act, and they sometimes may include harming others.
  • Delusions, or beliefs that have no basis in reality. For example, you may believe that the television is directing your behavior or that outside forces are controlling your thoughts.
  • Thought disorders, or difficulty speaking and organizing thoughts, such as stopping in midsentence or jumbling together meaningless words, sometimes known as “word salad.”
  • Movement disorders, such as repeating movements, clumsiness or involuntary movements.

Cognitive signs and symptoms
Cognitive symptoms involve problems with memory and attention. These symptoms may be the most disabling in schizophrenia because they interfere with the ability to perform routine daily tasks. They include:

  • Problems making sense of information
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Memory problems
When to see a doctor:

People with schizophrenia often lack awareness that their difficulties stem from a mental illness that requires medical attention. So it often falls to family or friends to get them help.

Suicidal thoughts and behavior

Suicidal thoughts and behavior are common among people with schizophrenia. If you have a loved one who is in danger of committing suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.

 

For more info, Mayo Clinic has more on its website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/schizophrenia/DS00196/DSECTION=symptoms

 

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The Grind

 Sometimes the only way out is through. 

Often there is so much of  ‘life’ that we must try to handle. There’s far too many things that confuse us. Faced with many issues beyond our control, we seldom seek the best answer. We are hoping just to survive reasonably unscathed through the latest intense conflict.

Mental illness has its unique trials. Those of us afflicted know the instability it brings us. We go from crisis-to-collapse everyday, (and sometimes even before lunch-time!) Some people have no concept of how much energy it takes just trying to appear ‘normal.’

Sometimes sadness is the best we can do. Trying to find a positive note seems empty and futile. I know a woman who must battle with pain every day. She has to manage every minute of every day with her handicap. She is a wonderful Christian, and she still exudes a gentle faith in her Savior.

We may seem cursed in this life. But Jesus died for this. His love for you is constant and sure.

Sometimes however the only way out is through. We simply must go through the many issues that face us. We must plow through such darkness, that has no precedent. We are the rescued ones, but only because he has made us so. The lost are now found. And we were really, really lost.

We go through, but not without grace. We may step through, but not without pain. So much of our confusion rides on a fascination with the ways of sin and darkness. The ways of the “dark one” may enchant us, but never fulfill us.

We can rest in that we are our Father’s foremost concern.

“He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Ps. 23:3).

We can puncture the surrounding evil by a simple decision to be faithful to Jesus. Darkness may pursue us, but it will never defeat us. We advance through this pain to the glory of God. He alone can make us triumph.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”

Philippians 1:6

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

— Anne Lamott

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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 Inertia, [Apathy]

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“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”

Helen Keller

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As I suffer with manic depression I have come to see that much grief comes not from mania, and not from the debilitating depression. These are both substantial, but my biggest issue has to do with the inertia that lies between these two poles. There is a paralysis– an apathy that immobilizes me. And this is as bad as any other state of mind.

“And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.”

1 Kings 18:21

My passivity is disturbing, and bipolar disorder is as much of “detachment” as it is of extremes. I sit and stare, not able to motivate myself to get up and do something. I’m not really depressed, but nor am I manic– I’m just “there” unable to find energy to do anything. Life just rolls over me.

Perhaps the most deadly sin is this “faltering between two opinions?” We are content to just sit and watch with no commitment. We’re content to let things just roll on by as we sit in our inertia and passiveness. This is the part of my BP that scares me the most (or at least it should.)

If you suddenly went up in flames I wouldn’t stir. Yes, it would get my attention, but I probably wouldn’t do anything, (I’d probably just take notes for my book.)

Inertia is not just a part of a mental illness. It effects normal people as well, and there are degrees of it. The average person it seems will avoid making a real decisive decision at all costs. Inertia can be encountered in any church (ask a pastor who tries to get volunteers) or workplace.

In his day, Elijah cried out for a decision from the Israelite people. I have to believe he was disturbed not only by the idolatry– but by the passiveness of the bystanders. Their neutrality was a big issue.

Joshua would call out to a passive people these words:

“But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15

I know my own heart, and I know my own spiritual paralysis. Rather than commit myself, I would rather settle down on a sofa and just let things happen. I’m quick to point out how those in the arena are doing it all wrong. I’m ready to criticize, but unwilling to volunteer.

Mental illness is filled with ordinary things, but often in the wrong proportions. When we do things it is extreme or not at all. My own apathy is just a mirror of what happens in the hearts of normal people.

I may be excessive, but my own issues have made me aware of what is happening in others.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

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Instability and the Believer

I feel good, too good— and it concerns me.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I’veBipolarArt4 been down this road before.  I guess this is my big issue with Bipolar Disorder (BP);  its unpredictability, the way you  fluctuate.  You get up in the morning and you immediately have to start analyzing your mood.  “Am I more depressed than I was yesterday, or I am speeding up?”  For  BP persons we never can be too sure.  We are always in a state of flux or movement.  As BPs who are believers in Jesus, it seems like we have broke “every rule in the book.” This disorder almost demands hypocrisy– which instills a lot of guilt and shame.

About 35 years ago, a visiting pastor to our church came up to me and prophesied. This was long before I was diagnosed with Bipolar.   I can’t remember much, but I do recall him saying, “You are as unstable as water”.  I tell you, I was quite concerned about this; and to make it worse I put a real negative spin on it.  It was stability that we emulated, and frankly, water is not the best metaphor to describe your life.  Rock, yes.  Water, well… not so much.

But I can see now that instability has made me a deeper, more tolerant person.  I give a lot of latitude to other’s shortcomings.  I know how difficult it is to process life and to face issues.  Because I do this “yo-yo” thing, I can accept inconsistency as a normal part of life.  I realize that I’m not perfect, nor is anyone else I know, but I’m learning to make allowances for it.  Sometimes, just being aware is half the battle. And I suppose, understanding God’s grace would be the other.

On a practical level, I’ve also determined that caffeine really can activate me.  The anxiety and mania really intensifies when I load up on my ‘vanilla lattes.’  Coffee elevates me up almost to the point of being superhuman, but I also get real flaky.  I get terribly self-conscious and paranoid.  But, sometimes it’s a real hoot!  (Sorry, but man, I do love my coffee.)

Well, I’m running out of things to comment about, and I’m thinking that I’ve said quite enough.  But, if you’re struggling today, please let me know.  I will pray for you and connect back on some level.  Whatever your issue, we are in this together.  God answers everyone who calls to Him. 

12 “And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. 13 For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. 14 And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.”

Philippians 1:12-14, NLT

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&

kyrie elesion.

Becoming Manic: What You Can Do

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Top tips for coping

These are a list of things that people who have difficulties when they become high or manic have found helpful:

  • Try to get some sleep. Going without sleep has been shown to cause manic states and make them last longer.
  • Eat well. Don’t go without food or eat high energy food. Eat slowly.
  • Use relaxation techniques.  Quiet prayer works well right now.
  • Stay in bed even though you feel compelled to do lots of things.
  • Don’t act on your ideas. In a few days time you may see things completely differently.  Emailing friends now is dangerous. (I know).
  • Don’t buy anything expensive. Some people have found it helpful to give their credit cards/check book to friends.  (I tried to buy a 7 foot potted tree in London, UK once, because it was lonely.)
  • Use medication, herbal remedies, or other things that slow you down and/or help you sleep.  Think “speed bumps”.
  • Take relaxing (rather than high energy) exercise e.g. walking, swimming.  This is a must-do.
  • Make a plan for each day and keep to it. Don’t plan to do too much.
  • Try to do things slowly rather than quickly. Talk and walk consciously slower than you feel driven to.
  • Challenge any grandiose ideas you might have about yourself.  You must do this!
  • Reduce any pressures or stresses on you.
  • Cut out stimulants e.g. coffee, sugar, chocolate, fizzy drinks, alcohol. Some anti-depressants (e.g. the SSRIs like Prozac) can have stimulant-like effects – discuss this with your doctor and consider stopping them.

It may be helpful for you to make a plan about what to do before you get really elevated. You know yourself best, so build as many things into the plan that you feel will help you not do things you may later regret. It may be helpful to draw up a plan, and a list of ‘warning signs’, with a trusted friend or mental health professional at a time when you are not ‘high’, but that can be put into place as you or others notice your warning signs.

Some people believe that ‘getting manic’ is a response to not thinking about or facing things that might be quite frightening or depressing. It might be helpful to ‘get connected’ to such things, by talking and thinking about your life and some of the root causes of some unhappiness in your life. You could do this with a trusted friend or mental health professional.

 

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