Thursday, November 15, 2012
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
We don’t like to talk about it, but there is a dark side. If you’ve never experienced depression you would never know, never understand. Heck, I’ve been through it many times myself and I don’t understand it. For me I think that’s the hardest part about this illness, the utter lack of mental control. Not being able to trust your own thoughts. Is this real or fake? Rational or irrational? You don’t ask these questions out loud. Revealing the dark thoughts and emotions somehow make it more real, more terrifying. Revealing them to those you love seem to distort you beyond the person you want anyone to see.
I guess that’s always been my struggle. I hate anyone to see my weakness. Just proving I am what I feared: weak, incompetent. My greatest fear is that I am not enough. Revealing this huge weakness just proves it. Another symptom of the illness, emotions and thoughts lean towards all encompassing. I can’t just have a flaw, I am flawed. Uncontrolled my emotions can define me.
Over the years I’ve been able to put up a pretty great mask. What can I say, I’m southern. For years no one knew the smart, funny, popular, pretty girl was hurting so deeply, so profoundly. I’ve fooled many a doctor and counselor telling them what they wanted to hear. I told them all what they wanted to hear. Those dark thoughts and feelings so extreme I knew they would frighten “normal” people; they certainly scared me. How can I explain it?
I can remember many a night in grad school, a few times in undergrad, not being able to think. My mind felt like quick sand. Every thought took great effort and energy, like pushing through solid. Everything left me feeling so incredibly drained. Several times I’d lose track of time, only to find 30 minutes later I’d checked out staring at the wall.
It feels like a physical weight, a physical darkness pushing and holding you down. At first I’d fight it, but eventually the fighting gave way to numbness, emptiness. I would collapse in a fetal position, silently sobbing just wanting it to be over. Sleep felt like my only escape.
I would never wish such darkness on any other living person. Its horrible. However over the years I have found certain mindsets that can help pull me out of it, as well as ones that don’t:
-I’m not sure how to word this. Don’t put your fate or outcome on someone else. Somehow I think this one’s harder in marriage. But it is not up to someone else to pull you out of it. Blaming others for your state of being helps no one. Take ownership of yourself and your own outcome.
-Don’t watch too much TV. Sometimes you just need to check out and escape mentally, but too much TV can make it worse.
-Fight it. Fight like hell with everything you’ve got. It’s easier to said than done depending on how deep you are in it. Don’t wait until it’s more than you can bear before you stand up against it. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
-Change your environment to the best of your ability. This can range from as simple to going outside and standing in the sun for 5 minutes to changing jobs (I have done both).
-Write down positive truths. For me this is scripture. Anytime I come across a verse on who God says I am I write it down. Regardless of what I’m thinking I can fight the lies with this.
-Go through the motions. Try to find some normalcy in your day to day. It helps me to schedule things out.
-Take a nap, but don’t stay there. Set a timer and get up when it goes off.
For friends and family:
-Don’t ask us if we’re sad; it’s insulting. Being sad and being depressed are not the same.
-Don’t take it personally. Now is not the time to be a victim, it will only make us feel worse.
-Fight for us, especially when we can’t fight for ourselves. Let us know we’re worth fighting for.
- Do NOT discount the reality of the situation. In the past I’ve had some real ignorant assholes tell me that what I was feeling was not real. Do not judge something you do not understand. I can assure you it is very real. Making any statement in this regard will hurt your relationship with this person.
-Be honest with us. Speak truth into the darkness and lies that can cloud our mind. You aren’t allowed to say what we are feeling is stupid but you are allowed to say that a particular thought is a stupid lie.
-Don’t pretend like nothing is going on and everything is fine. It makes us feel like you don’t care about us.
-If you don’t know what to say, distract us. Suggest fun things to do, movies to watch, ice cream to eat, funny stories you’ve heard. Keep asking; don’t give up. My dad once chased me around the house and dumped maple syrup on my head to make me laugh.
-When all else fails just hold us.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Stress is inevitable and typically out of our control. Most of us don’t think much about it, brushing it off as “just part of life.” While that may be true, stress can wreak havoc on your health. For me it is my number one trigger for extreme low’s and highs, but did you know stress can also:
-increase your blood pressure
-increase your LDL (or “bad” cholesterol)
-lead to weight gain (not just from stress eating, but stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol, which can lead to belly fat)
-lower your immune system
-lead to insomnia
-cause rapid aging (just look at any US president’s before and after office pictures; poor guys)
-cause an imbalance in your insulin levels
While we cannot always control the things life throws at us we CAN control how we react to stressors. And for me I can simplify things even further by saying I can control my bipolar by controlling my stress.
Here are some tips for controlling stress:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat 3 meals a day, each with lean protein, even if you’re not hungry.
- Go to bed at a normal hour.
- Add in some relaxation techniques.
- Learn to let things go.
- Set personal boundaries and guard them as your top priority.
- Have a mantra. Whether it’s a quotation, bible verse, or positive thought, when the sh*t hits the fan say it over and over. “It’s no big deal. It’s no big deal. It’s no big deal.”
When you change how you think about things, you can change how you respond, and thus change the impact of stress on your life. In a stressful situation, learn to stop and ask yourself why. Why are you upset? Are you being truly rational in your interpretation of the situation? (for those of us with a mental illness, it can be helpful to have someone you trust and respect to as this question to) How can you calmly react?
Stop. Reflect. Know yourself. React.
All of the aforementioned tips are scientifically backed and very important to stress management, but if I had to give the most important I’d say BOUNDARIES!
Easier said than done, right? But knowing and respecting your limits can be the difference between successfully making it through the day and nervous breakdown. (I might add I am very familiar with both scenarios, and there is no shame in the nervous breakdown! I don’t judge! J Sometimes you just need to freak out, but give yourself a time limit. Once you reach your limit move on and don’t give the situation more power on you than it deserves.) You are bigger than your circumstances. Our God is so much bigger than what you face!
As a side note: I found a great article on Yahoo! on 11 Warning Signs of Depression; I sent it to my husband (who is currently on South Africa). I think it has some great insights for those who live with or love someone with bipolar and depression.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
- notebook and pen
- "Redeeming Love" by Francine Rivers: Honestly this is my absolute favorite book! It's a parallel of the book of Hosea set in 1850's California gold country. Read it!
- "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis: Lewis has a way of explaining Christian beliefs in a very relevant, simple but mind-blowing way.
- "Out of the SaltShaker & into the World" by Rebecca Manley Pippert
- "If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat" by John Ortberg
- "I am Not But I Know I AM: Welcome to the Story of God" by Lougie Giglio
- Pray: talk to God, tell him how you feel (if you're confused or upset or angry or excited, ask Him for guidance and understanding, be honest), ask Him to grow your desire and passion for Him and His word, thank Him in advance for what He is going to do (He will answer you in His own perfect timing)
- Journal: It doesn't need to be wordy or eloquent; you can use bullets. Record what you're learning, questions you have, the desires of your heart, prayer requests and praises for what the Lord has answered.
- Read: There is no substitute for the Word of God. Dig into it, follow a study or outline if you'd like. Go through a commentary for a deeper study of a particular book of the bible you're interested in.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
My relationship with Christ is the glue that holds my crazy mess of a self together. He is Stability when I have none. Reality when I can’t see it. Truth when all I hear is lies. He is what I cling to in my darkest moments; that still small voice that tells me to “hold on just a bit longer. I have a purpose for you in this. It will get better.” When my mind tells me I’m worthless, he calls me “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 13).
(side note: fearfully here is from the Hebrew “yare” which can be translated as “stupendous, admirable…wonderful of illustrious deeds”. Practical translation: I am made by the Creator of all things, and He made me wonderful and admirable!)
He sees me in my darkest place when I’m too ashamed of how I feel to let anyone else in, and He loves me still. He fights for me when all my fight is gone.
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14
This may be one of my favorite verses. It comes just as the Israelites are fleeing Egypt with the Egyptians hot on their heals. Man, do I know that feeling. Running as fast as I can, trying so hard just to pull myself together. I quickly become just like the Israelites complaining again, “Lord you’re not doing this the way I want; this should be easier. This is so unfair!” At times the weight of depression can be so overwhelming, a bit like an enemy army charging straight for you.
For those unfamiliar, bipolar has two “poles”: mania and depression. Mania is typically very high highs, feelings of euphoria like you can conquer the world, while depression is quite the opposite. I’ve had to explain this a few times to my wonderfully stable husband that me being depressed doesn’t mean I feel sad. Everyone experiences different symptoms but mine vary in the following: numbness/no feelings at all, zombie-like state (I have a really hard time thinking or talking. I can hear others talking around me but I’m so checked out it doesn’t really occur to me I should respond to them. And if I do respond it often doesn’t make a lot of sense.), intense fatigue, no motivation, irrational and dark thoughts, overly tearful, lack of appetite, hard time sleeping, and feeling weighed down (It feels like you’re trying to function in a swamp, every thought and movement is made with great effort.) It’s estimated almost 10% of American adults experience this, though my guess is its actually much higher.
I don’t tell you this to shock you or make you feel sorry for me; I really don’t want your pity. But I do want you to understand what its like. If you’re experiencing this I get it; I love you and want to point you to Hope and a Light in your darkness. If you know someone going through this love them, don’t judge them, don’t try to fix them. Be their prayer warrior. Walk next to them so they know they are not alone, even though that’s how they feel.
It’s an unspeakable comfort to know I don’t need to just try harder; I’m only asked to be still in the presence of my God. The theme of “stillness” is woven throughout the bible, and as any good literary teacher will tell you repetition means its IMPORTANT. But I think there’s an important distinction to be made here. There is a huge difference between being passively still and being actively still. Yes, I realize the phrase “actively still” does sound like an oxymoron. Let me explain. J Actively still means you actively let go of yourself, of your plans and expectations, and actively seek God. Immerse yourself in His word and allow it transform you and you mind. Let go of who the world says you are and even of who you say you are; seek who your Creator says you are. He knows you inside and out. Let Him define you. His word calls us beautiful, wonderful, loved. He gives us unspeakable worth. Worth that is not contingent upon what we do or don’t do, but upon the price His son paid by dying on the cross for us in our ever broken state. Oh, how He loves you.
I realize I start to sound kind of preachy toward the end. But because my illness makes me that much more aware of my shortcomings, I am so much more grateful for my relationship with my Father. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Saturday, January 14, 2012
(This mosaic was done by a close friend's incredibly talented mother, Kathy Dublin. It makes me happy!)
Let’s get back to business. Eventually I want to describe a little more of the ups and downs of bipolar, but for me talking about the downs require me to go into a darker place. I learned from one of my counselors a while back that individuals with bipolar often tend to quickly forget the fast mood changes. It’s a kind of coping mechanism. So once I’m out of the down I have a hard time really remembering how bad it was, and vice versa. When things are good I feel invincible, like things have never been bad and will never be bad again. Or when I’m down all I can see is the overwhelming hopelessness and it feels as if it will never end. So for the time being I’ll hold off a bit longer. (Try to keep your mind as positive as possible.) Also, I’m trying to be really careful about what I share. I want to share my experiences, but I never want to detract from God’s story in all this.
So moving forward, I want to do a short series of posts on things that have helped me manage everything. Here are some bullet points:
- Physically/ Exercise
Feel free to ask questions along the way! (I realize commenting on a blog about mental illness may feel a little awkward, but I would like to hear from you. Comment anonymously if you like.)