Some of us struggle with mental or physical illness. Some people don’t understand us and they walk away. This really hurts, and so we isolate ourselves even more. We might feel not only forsaken, but cursed. We may see ourselves as consummate losers. But these things shouldn’t separate us from our Father’s love. I think He loves “his special needs” children even more, lol.
But we must believe that we our transformation is happening, more and more, into the image of Christ. We are becoming like him (hence the word, Christlikeness). This is a long process, but it is happening! God has given his word. Don’t give up. Don’t give up on his plan for you.
I’m seeing lately that spiritual growth and getting older often work hand-in-hand (and why shouldn’t they?) As we get older, we will start having many different issues. When your 50 years old, you don’t have the same situations that you had when you were 14 or 30. Physically we grow and understand things differently, and this works into us spiritually. This blends or melds together, especially when the Word and Spirit are present.
“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 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 1:3-6, NLT
It is my wish for you that you could walk in your own shoes, and not somebody elses. Also that you would know the grace of God intimately. Being disabled means special efforts will often be necessary, but Jesus’ love for your soul will be molded to fit that disability. There will be no wheelchairs or canes, or even ‘seeing-eye dogs’ allowed in heaven. I imagine there will be a considerable pile outside the gates. Glory awaits.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
It’s strange to be in the position of being older. A whirlwind of days and nights swirl from this human drama, and I think I may be starting thinking about my exit— Lord willing, stage right.
I’m supposed to be a ‘veteran’ now– a mature believer. I’m not supposed to get stressed. However, age is a brutal teacher– and it seems we have to learn so dang fast, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. (Just the other day three teeth almost came out from the blast.)
Getting old is great in some ways. I only wish I could do it more gracefully.
On top of it all, it seems to me like my sin has poisoned the air that others must breathe. I have contaminated so much. You might just say, I have ‘soured’ everyone’s milk. “Learning to live with the regrets” is a class that we should add to the local high school’s curriculum. It certainly would be useful.
A old friend is celebrating her birthday so I volleyed a semi serious “tongue and cheek” regret at her. But then, I suddenly realized that there is a point when we realize that behind every older person, is someone else wondering what the hell has happened, and how did it get this way so fast? It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
As a Christian, I tentatively believe that this world I’m in, has folded open for me, and God has specified a direction. I do contend though, unbelief is easier on a certain level, but I do not intend to take any detours. Perhaps the real trick about reading a map in the car is that you most likely won’t get it folded back the same way ever again. You must learn to accept this. And as a rule, maps seldom reveal the best detours.
“I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”
Isaiah 46:4, NLT
I must admit to having a connection to “Bumble”, that crazy, loveable, abominable snowman in one of those schlocky, animated children TV classics from my youth. I guess I identify with that ‘misfit’ yeti– someone who finally sees the light, but only when all his teeth are pulled! Somewhere in that show he seemed almost good, but didn’t we all wonder for a while if he would come around or not?
I also wonder about the thief on the cross who got his ticket punched by Jesus at the last possible moment. When we finally make it to heaven, we will find him there laughing and celebrating like everyone else, just like he belonged. I guess grace does that to a person.
23″Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73, ESV
Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control. One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.” And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with Bipolar Disorder. But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence. There is no flickering, no jumping about. He is steady. He does not flit or fluctuate. He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.
He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’. We can experience many confusing days. We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude. It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts. Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.
There is a realization in verse 25.“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real.
The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places. This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’. He is completely over with the things of this earth. He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.
In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness. He understands the foolishness of his flesh. He knows that it is pathetic and feeble. There is absolutely nothing he can do about this. He has tried and tried repeatedly. His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes. He can hold nothing. He must stay under the faucet.
But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart. He has done this on an eternal level. What this means is this: He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him. The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.
27″For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”
Psalm 73, ESV
Proximity determines everything. Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum. Being close to Him confers life. Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death. The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’. This is a biggie. Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, and nothing good will ever come from it.
“Every man is as holy as he wants to be.”
The Psalmist again deals with proximity. God draws a person, but coming near is always your choice. The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.” He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful. There is some effort that must happen. So he makes God his refuge. The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls. He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.
“I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength,“
In May 2011, this is what I wrote–
“I feel like I am going through a meat grinder. Pushed against my will (and desire) I’m finding myself in a place I’d rather not be. My therapist confirmed today that I’m in a “mixed state” where bipolar mania and depression come together. I compare it to two massive ocean currents smashing into each other. (please Google, “mixed state”).
I’ve been into this state for just two weeks and the urge to commit suicide is starting to become surprisingly strong. For my own safety, I’m almost thinking that it maybe time to go to the hospital again. I must tell you that these are places that you really don’t want to go if you don’t have to. (FYI, my particular choice is Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. It’s actually a somewhat “nicer” degree of miserable, and they have cooler art.)
I also get paranoid that people are attacking me and are plotting to ruin me. I am quite suspicious of Facebook and my depression chat. I believe that the people that I encounter there are trying to get at me behind my back. Social networking with these type of services can be a nightmare.
But, then there is also the grandiosity. I believe that I think clearer, better, and faster than other people. It’s like I have superpowers. I will think of myself as extremely gifted, superior to others. I paint and write poetry and do “noble” things.
But I also have tremendous anxiety, with racing thoughts, and even heart palpitations esp. when I am sitting trying to relax. I don’t sleep well at all, in spite of the sleeping pill, the Klonopin and the melatonin, and the Benadryl, (to make sure I do sleep).
I continue to take my psych meds like a good boy. But they don’t seem to work like they used to. I think they can’t handle this particular concoction of depression/mania. Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting better, but I never seem to get well.
The endless cycle of feeling really good and then feeling really bad is a challenging thing. It is difficult to have a stable walk of discipleship under these circumstances. I think being starkly honest and broken over my own fallenness is the key for me. (Now if I can only remember this.)
I know that I’m being very blunt here. Tact has never been an easy thing. As I read I remember the struggle, and how I couldn’t see a way out. I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who led me when no one else could. I wrote this post some time ag0. I’ve been reasonably stable, but I’m certain that putting it up now maybe timely for some. I’m in a better frame of mind the last several months.
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”
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.
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
Bruises seem to be part of life’s package to us. Some will be serious, most minor. But each are noted, and some will just have to be endured.
Dancers are some of the most wonderful people I know. Their gracefulness can be seen both on and off the stage. A dancer’s training is far from easy. By choosing to become dancers they have made a decision to absorb pain. Their toes and feet are blistered and bruised; they take constant abuse. Some must live with chronic tendinitis. Their feet bleed sometimes, and pain is their constant companion. Two things to consider.
They choose to dance. Dancers have an iron-will and a elegant grace. I suppose that is why they can dance.
The scars and bruises often become “badges of honor.” And they wouldn’t have it any other way. They would rather dance in pain, than not to dance at all.
Someone once compared depression as a “mental bruise.” I understand this. As depressed people, we must choose to walk out our lives from this pain. I know what it is like to bury myself in my bed for several weeks. My own mental bruise was simply more than I could take. There was a sensation of sinking into blackness, a sense of total and complete despair. I felt completely lost, and completely alone.
I prayed. I groaned, and I prayed. My sense of being totally lost was beyond comprehension. Dear reader, this was something quite real, and you must become aware of these things. Some of your friends are suffering. And it is a hellish and desperate depression.
To my Christian friends. Yes, I believe Jesus died for all my sins. He has forgiven me of much evil, I know that will live for eternity (with you). But mental illness is real, and like other illnesses it seldom is caused by evil or Satan. We would never say that diabetics are that way because of the enemy. Now the dark one will surely exploit it, but I think you give him far too much credit if you suggest he was able to initiate it. Satan just doesn’t have the spiritual “voltage.”
So, inspired by my dancing friends, and the Holy Spirit– I will make the choice to dance again. I’m pretty bruised, but I will try to ignore the pain. I would exult in my God, walk in His love, “leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2.)
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”
“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)
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.
How 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.