Dancing With Bruises

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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.dancer-feet

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.”

Isaiah 42:3

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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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Bedlam: Prisons and the Mentally Ill

Taking a Stand for Our Brothers and Sisters

 By Mark Earley, Christian Post Guest Columnist, Wed, Aug. 08, 2007
The least of these is my brother
The least of these is my brother

In the 16th century, London’s mentally ill were often kept at Bethlem Royal Hospital. The conditions inside the hospital were notoriously poor. Patients were often chained to the floor and the noise was so great that Bethlem was more likely to drive a man crazy than to cure him. The conditions were so infamous that the nickname locals gave the hospital—Bedlam—has come to mean any scene of great confusion.

Unfortunately five hundred years later, we’re still treating the mentally ill more like prisoners than patients. Fifty years ago, more than 550 thousand people were institutionalized in public mental hospitals. Today, only between 60 and 70 thousand are, despite a two-thirds increase in the country’s population.

Since there’s no evidence that the incidence of mental illness has dropped precipitously, the mentally ill who previously had been institutionalized had to have gone somewhere. While some are being treated successfully in their communities, at homes and groups homes, but for many that “somewhere” is behind bars. This last part shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Five years ago, the Washington Post told the story of “Leon,” a one-time honor student, who had 17 years in and out of jail on various drug-related charges. It was only after several suicide attempts, including drinking a “bleach-and-Ajax cocktail,” that Leon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Leon’s story was a microcosm of a larger problem: “Prisons and jails are increasingly substituting as mental hospitals.”

As one advocate for the mentally ill told the Post, “a lot of people with mental illness are charged with minor crimes as a way to get them off the streets.” In effect, they are behind bars for “being sick.” Fast forward five years and little, if anything, has changed. A few weeks ago, another piece in the Post discussed the same problem.

Psychiatrist Marcia Kraft Goin told readers something that should shock and outrage them: “The Los Angeles County Jail houses the largest psychiatric population in the country.” As with the earlier Post piece, the conclusion was inescapable: “People with [untreated] mental illnesses often end up with symptoms and behaviors that result in jail time.” You don’t have to be a “bleeding heart” to understand that this is an injustice—any kind of heart will do.

Not only are the mentally ill not getting the help they need, they are as lambs to the slaughter in our crowded and violent prisons. They are being victimized twice over. They’re not the only ones being victimized.

At a time when most state prisons are unlawfully overcrowded, there are better uses for prison beds than as makeshift mental hospitals. As Goin wrote, “treating” mental illness as a criminal justice problem costs “more than treating patients appropriately in their community.”

As part of its ministry to prisoners and their families, Prison Fellowship supports community-based alternatives to incarceration. Not only because it makes “financial sense” but because it’s what Christ would have done. In Matthew 25 he called the ill and the prisoner his “brothers” and he expects us to offer them something more than bedlam.

“There but for the Grace of God go I…” –Bryan

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From BreakPoint®, August 6, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved.  “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship.

Good Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethlem_Royal_Hospital

http://www.bethlemheritage.org.uk/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/etc/faqs.html

http://www.afscme.org/publications/6042.cfm

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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Making Pain Work for You, [Trials]

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“Then they went back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia. 22They encouraged the followers and begged them to remain faithful. They told them, “We have to suffer a lot before we can get into God’s kingdom.”

Acts 14:21-22, CEV

Paul and Barnabas, together are perhaps the most gifted men ever to minister the Gospel.  They have an amazing love for the Church.  They operate out of great difficulty, but the deep work they do, proceeds out of encouragement.  I looked at a dozen or so translations of the Bible–all of them translate this, “encouraged.”  Every single one!

Earlier in chapter 14, we can read about the brutality and ugliness they had to walk through.  It was very bad, beyond belief.  But these two never ever lose their love for the Lord, and for His people.  Their ministry continued to be full of optimism and comfort.  They simply can’t be poisoned by the nastiness and bitterness just days before.

They understand something.  What they have to say (as they minister that comfort) kind of boggles everyone’s thinking.

They said, “We must suffer many things to enter God’s kingdom.”

Comforting and strengthening, isn’t it?  Sometimes when I read this passage I can’t believe what they are saying!  It doesn’t make any sense at all.   I believe there are three things we must process to fully understand these verses.

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1)  What comforts us is not always comfortable.

 I’m slowly coming to the place of accepting pain and sickness as my personal doorway into the Lord’s kingdom.  I know my mental illness has opened an entrance into something wonderful.  My months of being institutionalized in different hospitals has seemed to have filled me with grace, gentleness and love–in other words, the kingdom. At least that is what I think.

2)  What we think is the best way often is not.

No one chooses one’s particular path.  If we could we would all be driving a BMW and our homes would be palaces, we would win the lottery on a regular basis.  Our children would be little angels.  We would never be sick, or have a chronic illness.  But–we can’t enter His kingdom, unless there are trials.  They have to be there, they must.  Somewhere it says,  if we suffer, we will reign.

3)  What we need from our elders and pastors is the truth.

 Often the leadership of the Church keeps this one in the closet.  They communicate very well other subjects that are enjoyable.  And we pressure them to do this, gently and subliminally of course.  And everyone wonders why we don’t mature in our faith.  Paul and Barnabas are tremendous leaders, but they don’t roll things in sugar, and their ministry carries on the sufferings of Jesus.

Often it seems, when God chooses to bless a man or a woman greatly, He will send a trial to prepare them deeply.

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My Mental Breakdown, [Kyrie Eleison]

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Lord, Have Mercy

Quite a few years ago, I was terribly manic. I had found my way somehow from Alaska to Cambridge, England. It was there I wandered the streets  talking to myself, lost and disoriented. It was 2002 and I had just gotten out of a mental hospital in Alaska, and was very medicated. I was by myself in a country I had never visited before. I realize I was behaving very strange. I kept noticing the stares and the whispers.

On one occasion I wandered into the English version of a Walmart– I was in a daze, but I clearly “heard” a 12 foot tree call out to me as I walked by. My heart surged with mercy. I would save it! I grabbed it and headed to the cashier. I slid it along, the tree was heavy and the check-out line was very long. It was a very weird experience. How I was getting it back to Alaska was never a consideration. What can I say, I was “gonzo-manic” now listening to talking trees.

Somewhere, somehow, I had gotten this CD and I slipped it in my Walkman. Sanity would slowly return and this CD, by Nick and Anita Haigh really brought me healing words and a Celtic melody. I love this song. I love the lyrics. The Holy Spirit used it to calm me.

I would meltdown several times after this. And there would be 3-4 more visits to a psych ward for my manic depression, but none would be as severe as my collapse in England .

“Kyrie Eleison” = Greek, “Lord Have Mercy”

Celtic-worship

Kyrie Eleison

Verse 1
Empty broken here I stand,
Kyrie eleison,
Touch me with Your healing hand,
Kyrie eleison,
Take my arrogance and pride,
Kyrie eleison,
wash me in Your mercy’s tide,
Kyrie eleison.

Chorus
Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison,

Verse 2
When my faith is all but gone,
Kyrie eleison,
Give me strength to carry on,
Kyrie eleison,
when my dreams have turned to dust,
Kyrie eleison,
In You O Lord I put my trust,
Kyrie eleison.

Chorus:
Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison,

Verse 3
When my heart is cold as ice,
Kyrie eleison,
Your love speaks of sacrifice,
Kyrie eleison,
Love that sets the captives free,
Kyrie eleison,
O pour compassion down on me,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus

Verse 4
You’re the voice that calms my fears,
Kyrie eleison,
You’re the laughter dries my tears,
Kyrie eleison,
You’re the music, my refrain,
Kyrie eleison,
Help me sing my song again,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus

Verse 5
Humble heart of holiness,
Kyrie eleison,
Kiss me with Your tenderness,
Kyrie eleison,
Jesus, faithful Friend and true,
Kyrie eleison,
All I am I give to You,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus (x2)

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Hear a version of this on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYAvDY5Fjj0

Download Kyrie Eleison (Love Have Mercy) 320kbps mp3

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A Failure to Understand [An Excerpt]

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Excerpt from “A Firm Place to Stand”

BY MARJA BERGEN

I’m disappointed when friends and family who know me well say things that reveal a gross misunderstanding of depression and how it affects those of us who suffer from it. One person close to me thought depression was something we bring on when we feel sorry for ourselves. Perhaps she thought we liked the attention.

Sufferers of depression would do anything to feel happy and vibrant again. When I’m depressed, many friends keep me at arm’s length. I don’t blame them. It’s not pleasant to be around me when I can’t find anything to talk about except my pain. Depression does that to you: It turns your thinking inward; all you can wrap your mind around is the misery you feel. You end up feeling very alone.

Another person complained to me about an acquaintance with depression who couldn’t manage to do anything more than lie on the sofa. “Couldn’t he just try and make himself do something?” she asked. Nothing I said could convince her that this was an illness that, like other illnesses, couldn’t be helped by simple willpower. Those who have never experienced depression find it difficult to understand how profoundly a brain disorder can affect the entire body.

A long time ago, when I was bordering on psychosis, my doctor put me in a seniors’ care facility for a few days to give me relief from the stress I faced at home. I called a close family member to let her know where I was. She advised me, “You’ve got to pull yourself together and be strong. You have to try harder.” That was insensitive. I was at the facility because I was doing my best to recover – I wasn’t living with eighty and ninety-year-olds for fun. She should have known I always try my best. When I’m trapped in this state, extricating myself is extremely hard. I need time and medication to recover. If I sound angry and hurt, yes, I was.

A person I worked with recommended strongly that I get counseling. “You don’t need those pills you’re taking. All you need is to talk to someone at my church.” She knew nothing about mental disorders like mine. She had no idea what I was dealing with. Again, I seethed, remembering how psychotic I was when I was first admitted to hospital. I could become sick like that again if I didn’t take the medication my mental stability depended on. Would this person tell a diabetic to stop taking insulin?

Christian psychiatrist and author, Dwight L. Carlson, writes, “There are legions of God-fearing Christians who – to the best of their ability – are walking according to the Scriptures and yet are suffering from emotional symptoms. Many of them have been judged for their condition and given half-truths and clichés by well-meaning but ill-informed fellow believers. ‘Pray for God’s forgiveness,’ some are told. ‘A person who is right with the Lord can’t have a nervous breakdown.’”

Fortunately, I have not been treated in this way. The church congregations I’ve belonged to were understanding, yet the stigma continues. It hurts me deeply that Christians who should be compassionate are often judgmental. Church communities need to learn the medical basis for mental disorders and how that differs from the spiritual. They are in the best position to help those in crisis. But when they don’t understand, they are in danger of doing a lot of damage. For Christians, there is nothing worse than to be told our emotional problems are our own fault, the result of unconfessed sin. We suffer so much already. Having to shoulder blame multiplies our mental anguish.

 

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1 Dwight L. Carlson, Why do Christians Shoot Their Wounded? Helping (Not Hurting) Those With Emotional Difficulties,(InterVarsity Press, 1994)

Marja Bergen has lived with bipolar disorder for over forty years. Her mission is to dispel the lingering stigma attached to mental health conditions and to encourage people to lovingly welcome the sufferers into congregations by understanding them better and supporting them in practical ways.

She is the author of Riding the Roller Coaster (Northstone, 1999) and A Firm Place to Stand: Finding Meaning in a Life with Bipolar Disorder (Word Alive). Marja is the founder of the growing faith-based support group ministry, Living Room.  Visit her website and her blog.

 

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