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
“He who masters his passions is a king even if he is in chains. He who is ruled by his passions is a slave even while sitting on a throne.”
Sometimes, I absolutely need a spiritual ‘wake-up call.’ The last few days for me have been taking on the general theme of freedom. It’s very easy for me to accept being a slave.
The bait that’s used is very desirable and attractive. (It’s hard to let such wonderful morsel go by without a taste!) I will sin– and repent later. But hidden deep inside me there is something very small, but very potent. It is a desire to be free from sin. God has placed that within.
Freedom, or that characteristic of walking unencumbered, doesn’t seem incredibly important, at times. But it is a question of identity.
As a Christian believer, am I really a child of the King, a prince in a spiritual world?
Royal blood was spilled to set me free. Is choosing to sin really in my calling?
Added to these concepts are many things that ‘trigger’ my Bipolar depression. Triggers are those things which set off symptoms, ‘kindling’ a sequence of events that leads to total catastrophe. All it takes is one–a lie perhaps, or a delusion that gets ‘airplay.’ I just slide right into the ‘paranoid’ trap set just for me. I essentially experience a total collapse of mood and emotion. Life will crash in all around me. I am left sitting in ashes, in a heap. I have become a ‘king in chains.’
My hospitalizations all have come as a result of giving myself over to ‘twisted thinking.’ My suicidal tendencies are often intensified, in part due to becoming enslaved. I become chained and held captive to these dark forces. Meds and ‘talk therapy’ can really help. But they are limited though to what they can do to push back the inky darkness. What does work are:
prayer, as intimate as I can make it
reading the Word, searching for insights
and fellowship, anything more than a handshake
There is a ‘recipe’ for freedom. But, I must initiate a believer ‘s response. I would like to suggest that “freedom” and “intimacy” are synonyms. You can’t have one without the other. Is Jesus real to you? Is His presence more-than-life itself?
Whoever you are–it’s time to get free. Really free. Fall in love with Jesus again and the chains will fall off. Unless you do, they will remain.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
1. Do not expect too much from yourself too soon, as this will only accentuate feelings of failure. Avoid setting difficult goals or taking on ambitious new responsibilities until you’ve solidly begun a structured treatment process.
2. Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what can be done, as it can be done.
3. Recognize patterns in your mood. Like many people with depression, the worst part of the day for you may be the morning. Try to arrange your schedule accordingly so that the demands are the least in the morning. For example, you may want to shift your meetings to midday or the afternoon.
4. Participate in activities that may make you feel better. Try exercising, going to a movie or a ball game, or participating in church or social activities. At a minimum, such activities may distract you from the way you feel and allow the day to pass more quickly.
5. You may feel like spending all day in bed, but do not. While a change in the duration, quality and timing of sleep is a core feature of depression, a reversal in sleep cycle (such as sleeping during daytime hours and staying awake at night) can prolong recovery. Give others permission to wake you up in the morning. Schedule “appointments” that force you to get out of the house before 11 a.m. Do this scheduling the night before; waiting until the morning to decide what you will be doing ensures you will do nothing.
6. Don’t get upset if your mood is not greatly improved right away. Feeling better takes time. Do not feel crushed if after you start getting better, you find yourself backsliding. Sometimes the road to recovery is like a roller coaster ride.
7. People around you may notice improvement in you before you do. You may still feel just as depressed inside, but some of the outward manifestations of depression may be receding.
8. Try not to make major life decisions (such as changing jobs or getting married or divorced) without consulting others who know you well and who have a more objective view of your situation.
9. Do not expect to snap out of your depression on your own by an exercise of will power. This rarely happens. Many churches and communities have depression support groups. Connect with people who understand depression and the recovery process.
10. Remind yourself that your negative thinking is part of the depression and will disappear as the depression responds to treatment.
“So Naomi and Ruth went on until they came to the town of Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, all the people became very excited. The women of the town said, “Is this really Naomi?”
“Naomi answered the people, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very sad.”
“When I left, I had all I wanted, but now, the Lord has brought me home with nothing. Why should you call me Naomi when the Lord has spoken against me and the Almighty has given me so much trouble?”
Naomi has traveled from Moab to her hometown of Bethlehem. People were pretty excited and her arrival must’ve brought out the crowds. It’s great for her to be around happy people who were genuinely pleased to see her again.
But a new Naomi returns. She makes it clear that something has happened. She has been fundamentally changed by the Lord. She can no longer be called Naomi (“Pleasant”) but insists she is now “Mara”. Her reasoning is painfully clear, she grasps the reality of her condition. “I am now Mara (“Bitter”), that is my new name. It’s what I’ve become.”
“Call me by this new name, because the Almighty has acted “bitterly” against me. I am not the same person I was went I left here. I am different, when I left here I was prosperous, everything was going very well. But now, its different, and I come home with absolutely nothing. And it’s all because the LORD has hurt me deeply.”
I read Ruth the other day, and something intrigued me by her perception, and of her theology that recognized God’s handprints on her life. I believe she was a broken person, and therefore essentially changed. I believe she had a measure of peace in seeing the Lord was in control of her life. She was becoming aware. Ruth was now attuned to the deep purposes of God.
It wasn’t fate, karma, or destiny after all. It was God!
With my many, many issues, I find a comfort in this. God has touched me, and I am not the same person I was five years ago. I know hard things, even bitter things, about myself and the world around me. I went out healthy and strong and have returned weak and empty. Bipolar disorder will do that. Pain will do that. God’s dealings will do this. He loves us far too much to allow us to go unchanged.
God is not malicious, but He is very thorough. And all that He does is for our good.
There are distinct times when the Lord works to bring us to Christlikeness. That involves a refining and the smelting process. Crisis becomes the ‘new normal’. This is never “pleasant” and it’s almost always “bitter.” Naomi was finding this out first-hand, to the point of even changing her name.
“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.”
I’d like to encourage you to recognize (and announce) your weakness and your brokenness to the Lord in prayer. See God’s hand in your bitterness. You’ll be surprised at the release that will come to you. It shouldn’t engender anger, but surprisingly it can bring you healing and salvation. It helps to understand. Consider the following:
There often two sides of living–the life we’ve lived and the life we’re becoming. Both are filled with grace and they’re as different as ‘night-and-day’
God is stealthily working good on our behalf, even when things are awful. He has full authority to do so.
He’s always (lovingly and passionately) trying us; probing to see if we draw closer to Him when we’re tested. He is patient when we fail our tests. Every test will be repeated until we overcome it
We can’t escape Jesus’ work in our lives. He is the Master Carpenter. He is building a cathedral!
“God rescues us by Breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance.”
“Do the things that show you really have changed your hearts and lives. “
Matt. 3:8, NCV
When we evaluate change, the Biblical definition is crisp and solid. It has everything understood in results (or fruit) and less to with my posturing. Just simple words or emotions aren’t enough when we consider authentic transformation. We can’t relate to feelings, they need actions to become visible. You may feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ when you think about Jesus, and yet somehow that’s not enough. Especially if you’re beating your wife.
Actions do matter. Your actions will define what you believe about God. What you decide to do, will delineate what is really real. Jesus made it clear to his congregation that their definition of repentance needed adjusting.
I struggle with many things, I seem to be a magnet for all things dark and lost. So this proper way of evaluating reality will become a tremendous blessing those of us with ‘mood disorders.’ My feelings are definitely mercurial. I really can’t trust them. So I won’t.
Thomas Merton once said that we’re so motivated to climb the ladder of success that when we finally get to the top we discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall all along! To waste your life to climb one more rung is incredibly tragic.
And yet, down deep, I do understand. I don’t like it, but it truthfully seems oddly rational and real. It seems to be something God would do to lovingly correct us. If I place my bets on what I think God wants, and behold, I discover am completely mistaken. He delights in confusing the proud in heart.
We need a basis on what is real, and important. It may shake us, but the result is being able to realize what is the truth. Our feelings, and idealistic ideas are like a bucket with many holes. What we receive from Him can’t be maintained–it runs out almost as fast as it collects.
We must recalibrate our senses. We need to rearrange many things, and completely reevaluate our momentum and focus. These seem to be abstract and vague ways of making determinations like this, but if we get honest we realize that these things are critical.
“No one can sum up all God is able to accomplish through one solitary life, wholly yielded, adjusted, and obedient to Him.”
“I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:6, CEB
I was ‘saved’ in my early twenties. With that salvation came a sense of what really was true. And perhaps a real hope of what life could become. I’m now 55, I can only shake my head. It certainly has not been as rosy as I first thought. I blame myself, and go on to understand that maybe this is the way it was supposed to turn out.
But my walk with Jesus has been real. I haven’t given up on my pitiful faith and I haven’t apostatized. And yet I am aware of a confusion, and a disconnectedness that is a bit odd. I sort of realize that my soul has been hunted, and that I’m vulnerable.
But I can’t let go of Him who I call Savior. It certainly has not been easy. Sometimes it seems that I am perhaps the most troubled of all His followers. I’m sure some of you might understand.
You see, I have a disease called “loving Jesus” from which know I will never recover.
The promises that have been given to me can’t be diminished or revoked. He has dedicated Himself to reaching me. I’ve been told that He not only plucks me out of my darkness, but His intention is to heal and balance me. My confusion is not enough to sidetrack His will.
I don’t know what my future holds. But to be honest, I don’t anticipate anything magical, or some fantastically creative spirituality. I do not think things will suddenly get bright all of a sudden. But I can tell you this much, that I will never turn from His grace or goodness. I hang on them as a shipwrecked man clings to a log, out in the middle of the ocean.
I am most unorthodox, I know. I do not fit the mold of the average believer. I am too blunt, direct and disconnected. I have considerable issues, compounded by my mental illness. But I do know Jesus. He has come to save the broken-hearted, and come as a physician to a very sick soul. I trust Him to fix me. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes us:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
It seems we stand on the threshold of a real and authentic life. For some, we must work especially hard to understand this walk of authentic discipleship. Unquestionably, we must trust in His love. But being stable and established will not save us. (Although, it would be nice). Salvation has always been by grace through faith.
My dysfunctional life doesn’t incur His rejection, the opposite is true. He loves losers, and looks especially on losers who know they are very lost.
I especially want to encourage my brothers and sisters who struggle with a mental illness. You’ve been dealt a severe blow. Others will never understand your “limp.” But Jesus does. You have a gift to bring to the table. He can pour much more grace into you. Don’t be discouraged by the resistance coming out of your thinking. You are especially His. He holds you with a transforming love.
This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press —
Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”
Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.
Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.
Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”
A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.
That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”
Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.
Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.
But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.
Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.
Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”
Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.
Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.
People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.
Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001 Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632 American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600