Battle Scars

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

It’s been over 20 years since a diagnosis of Bipolar 1 was made. I believe I was BP in my teens. Life is a roller-coaster for me, up and down, with a twist or two along the way. I am now fairly aware at 58 that much of my earthly existence has already been lived. Life can become such a grind. I’m tired and broken and ready for eternity.

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

–Henry Ward Beecher

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

I love collecting good quotes. But here’s two more good ones:

“God buries His workmen but carries on His work.”   -Charles Wesley
“If we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a “wandering to find a home,” why should we not look forward to the arrival?”  – C.S. Lewis

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

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

Acts 14:22

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

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

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

Eph. 6:10-11

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

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Antidepressants for Believers?

What do you think of Christians taking antidepressants?

By Pastor John Piper, given on March 30, 2010

The following is an edited transcript of the audio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Hope for the Hopeless [Joy]

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12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

Romans 12:12

Three things are critical for the New Testament believer:

  1. To rejoice out of a real hope,
  2. a deliberate endurance,
  3. and a prayer life that is unceasing.

These three are vital for us if we want to be authentic saints. These three aspects must become foremost in our discipleship.

Of the three, the first is to rejoice out of a real hope is the most important. It seems like I take the most “hits” over this one. There is a constant erosion  over my joy and my hope. I encounter the false belief that I will be one of the damned. A variation is that I’m ‘cursed’ by God and my life from this point is always going to be hellish and miserable. Frozen like a mosquito in ancient amber.

For me, my mental illness is a sin– the sin of despair. I don’t insist on the right terminology or of definitions. Some believe these issues are demonic. Some wonder about the use of meds, or the value of seeing a psychiatrist or going into therapy. These are all valid, but it seems like polishing the brass rails as the Titanic is seeking.

I won’t try to give answers, because there isn’t a single one to be found. There’s a complexity about the human heart, and God’s sovereign plan that I can’t venture anything. I will only suggest we give room for our own misunderstandings. Perhaps it’s the presence of Jesus we can agree on.

Rejoice in hope,” goes a long ways to combat the enemy, our own fallenness and our own sin of despair. A ‘song to the Lord’ breaks our souls free and is the brokenbelievers true hope is the best antidepressant. But I vote we keep singing out of our cells (Acts 16:25).

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A Day in the Life of a Mental Hospital Patient

6:30 am. “Rise and shine,” but this is debatable– you simply just breathe and walk, in this kind of a desperate mental fog,  (Simply put, ‘there will be no sunshine for you today.’) But, this only just seems to really matter to us, who have no hope.  You exchange brief greetings with your roommate, which only just seems proper, even at this level.  We are given “ratty” old surgical scrubs to wear through out the day.

We head down ‘en mass’ to the cafeteria.  I see the servers on the line, I notice that they avert their eyes from us as we form a hungry queue.  Sometimes, they will give us choices: “bacon or sausage?”  To a mental patient, this can be a Gordian Knot of complexity.  So the line moves slowly, as we try to sort out this conundrum.

There is no coffee for us, as patients.  It has been two weeks for me, and I dream of a cup of hot coffee, with cream.  Some of the attendants drink Pepsi, although it is done hiddenly, but we all know it.  We resent their liberty, especially when we have none.  There is a question of equity, with us, which has been violated.

8:40 am.  We are all race to be the first in line for our morning meds.  It almost seems we are afraid they are suddenly going to run out.  I get my Seroquil, my lithium, my Zoloft.  Additionally, because I am ‘post-op’ brain tumor, I am given a mild stimulant called Provigil to help me think clearly.  I have no idea if it works, or not. (I rather have a cup of coffee.)

We then gather into a day room full of clunky and ugly furniture.  It is big, and the chairs encircle a grimy tile floor to make a large open space.  This is not an orderly place, as people are wandering about, some stare at the wall or at a fake plant in the corner.  It is noisy, some even shout.  Others just “rock” back and forth to a song that only they can hear.  A few of us lie in “fetal position” of hiddenness, just wanting to disappear.

The thought occurred to me one day, of a ‘giant aquarium.’  It was constantly moving, swirling about.  If you stopped moving, it meant that you were dead.  Everyone was moving, and oblivious to the others who were also moving.  This seems to explain much.  (You will need to accept the ‘aquarium’ idea if you really want to process the moment.)

On one of my stays, weeks went by before I realized that this particular meeting actually existed, but I was very confused and seriously beyond any correction.  I was really struggling with clinical depression, so meals and meds was all I could manage.  When I finally figured this out, I quickly joined the fish bowl.  It was both good and bad.  But mostly good. Finally as bleak as it was, I started accepting reality.

11:00 am.  One thing you do notice is a lot of disjointed conversations.  You would speak to someone and 10 minutes later they would answer.  And for the most part, conversations would be muted, whispered to people.  As if there was a conspiracy involved, and a certain appropriateness must be taken. We were a paranoid bunch.

Sometimes an attendant would turn on the TV.  I can remember watching cartoons and just maybe I would think that they were communicating to me in code.  We did have a VCR for movies, but because one guy urinated into the machine, it shorted it out.  So, alas, no more movies.

During one stay (and there were several) I was suicidal.  The staff watched me like a hawk, sitting at my door out in the hallway. But I was desperate to cut my wrists, so I stood up in a chair.  I took down a clock and wrapped it in a blanket, to muffle the sound of breaking glass.  I managed to slash my wrists deeply and often, before the nurse came in my room.  For a moment, I brought an excitement to the staff.  And perhaps a certain meaning to me.

When you’re in a psych ward your days are beyond tedious.  One day is like the next.  The psychiatrist comes to see you for 10 minutes, and it is a high point of your day.  You discover that any new explanations, or treatment plans are done solely by the doctor.  That is one of the first cardinal rules on the ward.  Ask a nurse or an aide, and they invariably dodge.  But the psychiatrist “rules the roost.” Everyone follows his decision. This is useful to know.

1:00 pm.   Suddenly a young teen girl with schizophrenia, screaming and pounding her head against the wall has now becomes the focus.  Every couple of days this happens, and in a twisted way punctuates the drabness of the day.  She is artfully restrained by the staff and taken to “the padded cell.”  We are all told it is for her own protection,  but we as patients, we all rally behind her fight.  When she makes a break from the nurses we all cheer her effort and want her to escape.

The second cardinal rule of the floor is that you don’t “stick out” in any way. Creating an issue is never tolerated, whatsoever.  Demanding more TV time, or coffee, or a newspaper will hardly ever go over well.  Just before Thanksgiving, 2003, I timed my meeting with the pdoc to raise an issue of a fresh cup of coffee.  There was a nurse present at our meeting, and she had to respond to the doctor’s order that I was to be given coffee on Thanksgiving morning.  The next morning the coffee was delivered, but the nurse insisted that she would set in a chair next to me until I finished.  Nevertheless, it was a glorious moment.

3:00 pm.  I soon developed auditory hallucinations.  First, I kept hearing a CB radio, squawking constantly.  A few days later, I started to hear a telegraph, “dit-dot-dash.”  They both were very loud and insisting that I pay attention.  Also, I would have 3 or 4 moments of seeing black and hairy spiders climbing at me.  They were so real, and even volitionally know they were not real, I still panicked.

4:30 pm.  They’re other issues as well.  I basically hated phone calls from family.  When they did come they always seemed intrusive and seemed to work against the thinking on the ward.  When a few friends did visit, I would be abrasive and rude.  Wishing they hadn’t made the effort.  I imagined their hearts processing me and my need to be there, and it disturbed me.  Since I lived about 300 miles from the hospital, it took effort on their part to try to see me.  Looking back though, I wish I had been nicer.

8:48  pm.  Getting ready for bed.  It seems that is what I have waited for this all day.  These are moments I have started to live for.  Sleep = oblivion.  I fade to black, and life is paused.  There isn’t any issues for me to figure out.  For eight hours, I find peace,  Sleep is a deep mercy, a gift given to us from the Father.  Those of us, who struggle hard against the dark, understand the “gift” of grace in the form of sleep.  Depressives very often crave sleep. We often want to hide into it, as if doing so would solve our problems and issues. For me, sleep was the only time I was free from the ward.

I want to sleep, to close my eyes and to be gone.  I suppose that is true, for all of us who want to “commit suicide by sleep.”  We seek oblivion, and long for the moment when we can “check out.”  We want to be forgotten and overlooked. We deeply want to be erased, and move directly into forgottenness.

When we have been committed to the ward as patients, we will probably be shaken to our core.  Our insertion into a diverse floor of mental illness, will always introduce us to deep desperation. We are jolted that there is a darkness that is pursing us far beyond what seems is right.  We must call out to Him who can save us.

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kyrie elesion, Bryan

 

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