Category Archives: bipolar/depression

Seeing the Positive Space

As an artist, you are taught to use contrasting colors to define your positive and negative space within a work.  Normally, you want to highlight the focus of the piece and shade the non-focal areas.  You want to draw attention to the positive.  I realize artwork is not always positive in the way of subject matter.  That is not exactly what I am talking about.  I am talking about the area to which your eye is drawn.  In the picture to the left, there are two images, one in negative space in one in the positive.  Do you naturally see one before the other?  Usually it is the positive space.  But the same is not true when I think of myself.

My husband and I were having a conversation while sitting on the couch yesterday morning.  I mentioned some things I was struggling with emotionally.  It seems I have had many struggles lately.  Nothing overwhelming, just many small things that make my mind whirl.  Specifically, I was talking about a hearing test I had recently that revealed I have low-frequency hearing loss.  I guess my husband had had enough of my whining because he said, “Holly, I want you to think about something.  You are letting all these negative things define you–whether it is your bipolar disorder or hearing loss or whatever else is wrong.  I want you to think of the good things about yourself and let them define you.”

I was suddenly fighting back tears.  The sad truth:  I couldn’t think of anything positive about myself that defined me.  I feel like I fall short on everything.  I feel like I am failing my children because I don’t spend enough constructive time with them.  I feel like I fail as a housekeeper because there is usually enough dust on my ceiling fans to plant corn.  I fail as an artist because I have no time to invest.  The same goes for being a writer.  Other than knowing I am God’s Child, Redeemed, I can think of nothing.

This is something I desperately need to work on.  I don’t have a resolution or a happy how-to ending for this blog post.  Rather, I want to ask you, “What positive things define you?”

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Fear of Giving

It is so easy to write that check to the church and feel like I have done my part.  It is easy to allow the ministry staff at the church to use that money to fund their ministries and feel satisfied.  They are the experts, they will know what to do and how to handle things.  But we are called to more than that.  We are called to give of ourselves.

I hold back.  Why?  I am afraid.  I am afraid of what others will think.  I am afraid I am not equipped.  I think, “who am I?”  I am afraid of someone thinking negatively of me because I did not perform well.  I can easily say that these statements flow from a place of low self esteem and insecurities.  But when I read them, they all start with, “I”.  The thing I need to remember is it is not about me.  I am just the vessel.  The fear of giving of ourselves becomes about our own ego.  I am guilty.  Nevertheless, I am racked with fear.

For the past week or so I have been really struggling with if I can make a difference.  Does this blog matter?  On one hand I feel like I have a calling, and on the other, I feel like I am underqualified and someone else can fill those shoes much better than me.  Many of these thoughts probably come from the fact that I am in the middle of changing some of my mood stabilizing medication and it really affects the way I view myself.  That is why I have not blogged in over a week.  Then God answers those questions for me very boldly.  I had not one, but four people ask me at church why I have not blogged recently, one of whom I do not really even know.  Okay God, I get it.

But I am still racked with fear.  So I have to ask myself:  “How would I live if I were not afraid?”

 1.  I would be more transparent.  I would allow people to see who I really am and the struggles of my imperfections.

 2.  I would be more willing to give of myself.  I would not be afraid of what other people thought if I spoke up and fumbled my way through explaining things.  

3.  I would offer myself more, and when not needed, not to take it personally.  

4.  I would minister without hesitation.  I think of a man named Alan who stopped me in Michael’s craft store a few months back.  He asked me to pray for him.  I told him I would do that, but what I should have done was pray over him right then and there.  But I was afraid.  Afraid of stares, afraid of being awkward.

I need to remember that God equips the called; not calls the equipped.  I need to remember that it is not about about me; that I am just the vessel.  Even Beth Moore has horrid criticism.  Jesus faced horrid criticism.  I will not be immune.  I need to plant my feet firmly in who defines me.  May I not be afraid to serve; may I not be afraid to give of myself. 

How would you live if you were fearless?  

Mental Illness and Church

Two days ago via Twitter I heard the news that Rick and Kay Warren’s youngest son had taken his own life.  Rick Warren is the pastor of the Saddleback Valley Community Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life.  His book made a huge impact on me during some of my darkest days when I was holding strong to the belief that I was nothing.  His book influenced me to think that maybe, just maybe I was created for a purpose and was worth something–that I mattered and could make a difference.

I am not alone in being heavily influenced by this book and I grieve that their son Mathew did not believe there was more purpose to his life and chose to end it short.  I am angry that the illness won.

Depression is a master of lies about one’s self.  Just goes to prove how someone who is suffering can not seem to believe beyond the silent whispers, “you are worthless,” that depression breathes into your head.  It is a relentless onslaught to your mental faculties.

I speak from experience.  This hits home with me on a most personal level. Even though I do not know the Warren family, I grieve with them.  I grieve for all of us who suffer from mental illness that brings us to the point of suicide.  I am one of the lucky ones.  I survived my attempt.  But I have both physical and mental scars which remain.  God spoke to me that day.  For this first time I understood He knew my name.  It was a turning point.  But there were still days, months, maybe even a year of a desire to exit from this reality.  It was an every day struggle of survival.  The meds were not working.  Med after med failed me.  It took close on a year before I found the correct combination.  Every day that I was still here went down as a success at survival.

Saddleback Valley Community Church is a mega-church in Southern CA.  Despite being surrounded by thousands of people who knew and admired the Warren family, Rick said, “But only those closest knew that he [his son] struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.”

I grieve that only those closest to the Warrens knew of their son’s struggle.  I am in no way slamming their decision, I am grieving with them.  At the same time, I want to be an advocate for change.  In a society where it is okay to accept and sympathize with others’ differences, there is still a stigma regarding mental illness.  I think this is true especially in the church, where we are all supposed to be striving toward ultimate fulfillment and full of praise for the one who gave us life.  But the truth is that we are a bunch of broken people trying to find grace and peace.

My own experience with being bipolar and in the church has been similar.  I can recall quite a few sermons where those who went on meds to treat their symptoms of mental illness were called “having weak faith”  or “to think about what Jesus had to suffer.”  We were shamed for our illness and the desire to treat it.  So we tried to fake it and we kept silent.  And we suffered needlessly for years because of ignorance.

This is not true for the church I attend currently.  They have never shamed me.  Although, when I was at my worst, I don’t believe they were equipped to handle me.  They simply did not have the resources, and I was a full five gallon bucket of crazy with a splash of psychosis.  I was more than a handful. — And no one knew what to do with me.

With as prominent as mental illness is, and considering how debilitating or fatal it can be, I would like to challenge churches to begin a resource program for those who may come to you in need.  We need to know GOOD Christian therapist and psychiatrist for our area.  We need a list of treatment facilities for different things.  We need a way to know about the drugs we are taking to treat our symptoms.  We need someone who will hold us accountable:  similar to a sponsor in an A.A. program. Speaking of A.A. programs, churches should have a list of those, because those of us who are suffering often try to self-medicate in order to subdue the extreme symptoms of the illness.  It is time to step up and help those who need it–before it kills them.

Acquainted with the Night

“I’m irritable.”  I typed these words out to my psychiatrist in an email last week.  It had been a few days of feeling like I was going to start throwing plates across the room at any moment.  The intensity of the desire raises red flags within me.  It was an email that followed days of feeling like I was going to loose control with my children.  I have been on edge, irritable and easily angered.

The truth is that I am very frusterated with who I am.  I know that in Psalm 139:13 David says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”   I have to wonder about the meaning of that verse.  I wonder because my body is flawed; my mind is flawed.  I have bipolar mood disorder, and trying to keep a good head on your shoulders is sometimes very difficult.  Tweaking your meds is a constant.  I am very blessed.  I have been very stable for the past six or seven years. Some people go their whole life without that type of stability.  But this constant tweaking. . .I want to scream, “Why did You make me this way!  Why, if you are the one who wove me together, did you make me this way!”

I am thankful for my meds and I would be okay with them  if it weren’t for the side effects.  In recent years, they have gotten to where they make me so sleepy.  I try tweaking my meds only to find myself sleeping half the day away and in a mind-fog the other part of the day.  No options seem to be acceptable.  I can’t be this irritable as my life-style.  I laugh at the funny quips from Facebook that say things like, “I say, you are about to exceed the limitations of my medication” or “I don’t need more medicine, I need people to stop pissing me off.”  I can relate to both.

I wonder if a more accurate way to say God wove me together has more to do with my creation of spirit and less with my body and mind.  God created my spirit in His image.  I am not so sure about my body.  I try to be at peace and find a light to light connection between my dim light source and the one who is light, pure light, without a trace of darkness.

Even in my frustration, I remember how far I have come, the days of being unstable, the days of intense emotional pain and agony.  I remember the soaring highs of chasing the sun and the darkness of the crashing lows.  I remember how utterly worthless I felt I was.  I remember being acquainted with the night in a most intimate way.

I am grateful that it has been years since I was intimately acquainted with the night.  I praise God that someone was able to make a medicine that keeps me stable.  Yet, it is not perfect and I still struggle.

I don’t claim to understand why, if God created me, was I created with bi-polar disorder.  I suppose the same reason why people are born without an arm, deaf, or with Down’s Syndrome.  I could blame it on genetics.  But we live in a fallen world where things are not perfect.  Humanity is not perfect and we have imperfect bodies.  But the soul, our light source, our made in the image of God, — I am not even sure that is perfect, but I know that my light desires the perfection of God.

I once said that I wonder if we are judged on how well we fight the demons of our lives.  I still wonder that.  It is easy to be good if you have no struggles in your life, but when put under pressure, we find out who we really are.  Maybe it is who we are at core that is judged.

If that is so, then being acquainted with the night has served purpose of which I have been made the humble servant of. Whatever path or obstacles you overcome, do it for God’s Glory.

Truth vs. the Lies that Infect Us

In her book So Long Insecurity Beth Moore states, “We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”

Sounds like a good theory in concept.  The problem is, is that sometimes, we do not know what truth is in regards to who we are.  A few years back my belief was that I was a most heinous individual.  I hated myself with such a great intensity that it was physically nauseating.  The song I listened to over and over again was “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been.”  I wanted to be beautiful, for there to be a grace about me that radiated, alas, it didn’t.  I believed that no one could really want to even talk to me.  I had nothing of value to offer.   I was too much of a disappointment to everyone in my life.  I felt I was a detriment to those around me.

So I holed myself up.  I could not look up at anyone, afraid I would see disappointment in their eyes.  I wanted to have an emotional beauty about me, to minister, to be an artist and a writer.  Could I dare define myself by such things?  The fear of failure during these years kept me in a silent jail.  I was only one who was unworthy of anything.  I allowed every negative action to affirm my beliefs.

Worse yet, during this time I had a woman who I thought was going to mentor me separate herself from me.  I was devastated and her actions confirmed every negative thought I had ever had about myself.  It was my ultimate confirmation.

Even now, years later, it is hard to believe and write anything to the contrary.  I believed the lies so long, they are ingrained into my very core.

How is it that I had every believed such things to begin with?  Who knows why I have such worthiness issues, but they plague me.

At some point during those years I decided I had to determine what truth was.  People are fallible.  Always remember that.  The things that come out of someone’s mouth are often flawed because of their own perceptions.  The only place to turn was to scripture and I had to believe it as if scripture were speaking directly to me.

So what is the truth?

1.  I am worth rescuing.  (My theme Psalm is chapter 18)

2.  I am a reflection of the Creator.  (Gen. 1: 27)

3.  God has plans for me. (Jer. 29:11)

4.  He rejoices over me.  (Zeph. 3:17)

5.  I am holy and without fault in His eyes. (Eph. 1: 4, Col. 1:22)

6.  My story can be used for His Glory.  (Eph. 5:14)

I can only allow God to define me.  It is His truth that sets me free.  If I start defining myself based on what others think of me, then I become paranoid and lost in the insanity of it all.  I have my doubts and setbacks.  My last blog entry can attest to that.  But I know that God knows my name, and regardless of who I am in relationship with humanity, I am precious to Him.

What truths do you base your life on?  What lies have you believed?  How do you allow those things to define you? 

When the Waters Rise

IMG_1003When the storm comes and settles upon you.  In very literal terms right now we have some flooding.  Nothing like the flood of May 2010 which I wrote about just a few posts ago, but we do have some flooding going on.  Generally speaking, flooding comes from too much rain too quickly.  The murky water just keeps rising and rising.

In less literal terms, I can relate emotionally.  I feel murky water rising within me.  I question who I am all over again.  What is my purpose?  Perhaps I don’t question who I am as much as I once did, because I know Whose I am.  I question if I have the strength and resolve to follow through with it.  Can I keep going when the world is telling me “no”?  Can I keep believing when I don’t feel worthy?

Going back to the first paragraph, “flooding comes from too much rain too quickly.”  Perhaps that is it.  I have had to much “rain” in my life too quickly.  It has rattled me; doubt rises in me like the flood waters from the river.  Usually in check within its banks, but today overflowing and spilling into all areas of my life.  Am I a good mother?  Am I a writer?  Am I an artist?  Do I minister to others?  Am I worthy of such pursuits?  Can I do such things when I feel like my personal life falls apart from time to time?  Who am I to think I should do such things?  Do I have the strength to give to these areas in my life?

leave-it-to-beaver-1980Honestly, I want to retreat to where it is safe.  I want to be a wife and mother and not worry my “pretty little head” about such things.  To live in simplicity and not rock the boat.

Some days, I want to be more like June Cleaver and less like Beth Moore.  Today is one of those days.

We all question ourselves from time to time, but currently doubt has risen and flooded into me and it has settled.

What do you do when the waters rise and you fill with doubt?

The Pain of Beauty

As women, we go through great pains in order to be Beautiful.  Although I am not much of a froo-froo girl, I still endure my fair share of torture.  Take those eyebrow waxings for example–ouch!  And although pedicures are a way to pamper oneself, I have to admit they hurt a bit.  Then, we don elaborate jewelry before we leave the house and have a ritual of putting on make-up every morning, oh, and the hair.  Living in the South where “big hair” rules, taking the time to do hair can take up most of the morning.

We do all this to feel beautiful.  It is a woman’s yearning to be the Beauty.  To feel like she is Beautiful.  John Eldridge in Captivating describes a woman as Beautiful when she is “fully present” and at “rest” within herself.

But how does one come to be at rest within themselves?  John Eldridge answers this question as well.  He states (paraphrase), “that a woman becomes Beautiful when she knows who she is.”

About eight years ago I had no idea who I was.  I really had no idea of my own identity.  There are many pages in my journal from that time where the words, “Who am I?” are sketched across the top or off to the side.  I felt lost without an identity.  I didn’t know who I was, yet, I felt that I was more than just a wife and mother.  The questions of “Who am I?”  and “What is my purpose in life?” haunted me day and night.  It had to be more than just who I was in relation to other people.

I was not at peace or at rest within myself.  I was anything but beautiful.  In fact, I ducked and dodged other people because I thought I had nothing of myself to give.  No light to bear.

During those years I hated myself intensely.  I hated the void of who I had become.  I lived in fear of being asked to do things, and more fearful of just being a wallflower and no one noticing I existed.  But wallflowers have to bloom, right?

Not necessarily, I think blooming is a choice we make.  We have to pursue the blooming process.  I did.  I wanted more than what I had, so I chose to learn to bloom.

I started hearing God through the voices of my children.  They taught me so many lessons during that time.  They taught me that it is okay to involve God in the minute details of my life.  That if I ask God for something as simple as to make the bees in our yard go away He will.  They also taught me there is Beauty in imperfection.  That was a very important lesson for me to learn.

I also discovered that God knew my name and that I undoubtedly belong to Him.

The Psalms repeatedly speak of God pulling the Psalmist up from the mire or the pit of despair so that others can see and be amazed at what God can do.  It takes a journey of dark to light to have a testimony.  Those who have made this journey can bear so much more light to those who have never walked the darkened road before.

“Weeping may continue through the night , but joy comes in the morning.”  Psalm 30:5

It is God’s desire to pull you up out of the pit of despair.  He wants His glory to be seen through you.  God’s desire is for you to reflect the ultimate Beauty–His Beauty.

What “pit of despair” has God pulled you out of?  I want to hear your story.  

Do we really need the mask?

“Don’t beat yourself up because you need help. Instead, come to Me with all your neediness,” Jesus Calling.  

I know someone who refuses to go to church not because she doesn’t believe, not because she has done something awful, not because she doesn’t think it important, but because she thinks she needs to get her life “right” before she can go.  While I respect her not wanting to appear hypocritical, my heart aches for her and her misunderstanding of what “church” is.

Yet, I believe her thinking is all too common.  There is a popular belief that people who go to church are perfect, if they aren’t perfect, then they are hypocrites.  So we all go around wearing a superficial, perfect mask and we are afraid to admit our failures.

I used to have a similar belief, especially in regard to those who are in a position of power within the church.  If you were to be in ministry, for example, then you had better not have any black marks against you.  Ministers were those who had it together and were leading perfect lives.

Then I met ministers who confessed their shortcomings and failures.  They would talk about their woundedness that either they had caused or that they had been on the receiving end.  They were human, they wore no mask, and they let me see them in their humanity. I was astounded.

Then I began to study the great leaders and heroes of the Bible.  David had an affair, had the husband of the woman whom he had impregnated killed in order to cover over his affair.  Moses killed a man before God called him to lead the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery.  Jonah ran away from God.  The  Apostles didn’t believe.  Yet, they were all called.

I struggle with bipolar depression and yet, I have been called.  I am not perfect.  I may fail you in my humanity.  I mess up.

Church is not supposed to be about a bunch of perfect people.  We wouldn’t need Jesus if we were perfect.  No, Jesus came for those who are sick.  Church is about us being a better person tomorrow than we are today. It is about helping each other find their way on the journey.

Even if you are a messed-up person, it is okay to go to church.  You are not going to ruin the track record of the church.  Come to Jesus with all your neediness, all your imperfections, all your shortcomings and failures.  His grace is big enough.

So What?

By all standards, I have been a very fortunate woman.  I have the all-American life–A house, four kids, a husband who works hard and loves me.  I get to stay at home with our children.  Our daughters do ballet, karate, and summer camps.  We live in a small town where community is important.  But below the surface, I ask myself the question, “So what?”  What if I have it all, but there still seems to be an element of life that is missing.  Like there is something more to be had.

In the book I am working on I start it out by stating, “I have always wanted much more than this provincial life.”  I always seem to have had it all.  I have been blessed with solid, stable things around me.  My parents were together until my father passed away a couple of years ago.  We never really moved.  I never had to change school systems.

So What?

I still wanted more than this provincial life.  What is it that we yearn for, even if we have it all?  There is still something missing to our life.  We try to fill it with things–someone’s love and affection, someone treating us with value, or maybe we stay so busy doing good deeds that we fill the void with the good feeling of being there for others.  So What?

I have had it all.  Yet I have also experienced the horrors of depression.  I kept asking myself, “why?”  I had everything I could really want.  So the question of “So what?” haunted me.

There is more to this provincial life than having it all.  What makes our life go from being ordinary to extraordinary?  What is it that we are searching for?

We are searching for fulfillment.  It has been said that a woman who is confident in her purpose, reveals Beauty.  I don’t think we are searching for fulfillment from ourselves as much as fulfillment as to our purpose.

It is an amazing life.  To be fully alive, not by doing, but by being.  It has taken me forty years and many stepping stones to realize what God has in store for me.  “Life is not about finding yourself, it is about discovering who God created you to be.”  These two things are very different.  I used to say, “it is time for me to grow into my own skin.”  I felt so out of place within my own body.  Slowly, I am beginning to grow into the woman God has designed for me to be.

I don’t want you to misunderstand me.  I didn’t find myself because I went looking for myself.    I found myself because I started searching for who I am in relationship to God.  I discovered I am His daughter, His Beloved.  When I discovered these things then other things started to fall into place.

If you are not at a place where you can see yourself as Beloved, then I want you to pray that you can begin the steps to that journey. But be careful what you pray for.  You may be taken for the journey of a lifetime.  Sometimes we are ready for such a journey, other times not.  But finding your purpose in God is well worth the risk.

Dreaming Big

A few weeks ago my family went to Disney World on vacation. While there, my oldest daughters kept asking me, “Mommy, are you not having a good time?”

“Of course I am.”

“Well, you don’t look like it. Smile.”

This conversation repeated itself several times during our trip. My nature I am a rather introverted, serious person. But I do like to have joy in my life. I thought I was having fun, but my daughters’ comments made me rethink that.

I rode Small World After All, check.

The little girls rode Dumbo, check.

We had lunch, check.

We met Tinkerbell, check.

I was going through our whole vacation and instead of enjoying the moment, I was on a mission to get my to-do list checked off. I was a woman on a mission to have fun at Disney.

It is not that I didn’t have fun. I did. In fact, I had a great time. But I didn’t have joy, or excitement about me. I was simply content.

Many of us go through life simply being content. It is where we are comfortable. It is a safe place to be. But it is not where the magic happens.

The magic happens when we open ourselves up to allow God to work through us. When we completely relinquish our lives and surrender control.

I know there are external or internal things that make a difference. You may be experiencing divorce, you may be grieving, or worried about a child who has gone astray. Then there are internal things, like depression and heartache. Those things are not seen.

However, all the elements still have a control factor. Where we want to control the circumstances and the outcome. Truth is, we can’t. We can only choose how we respond. I know that, and yet, I choose to live in my comfort zone because it is safe. It is familiar. But it is not where I find my true purpose for living. It is not where I find Joy.

If you could dream big, what/who would you like to be? I don’t mean who, as in, “I want to be just like so-and-so actress when I grow up.” But you, visualize who you can be, all that you can be. Who you were be if you were not frightened to live outside your comfort zone. Dare to dream big inside your own mind.

I am scared to dream big in my own mind. I am scared of setting goals and then failing. If I don’t articulate the goal, then I can’t fail, or at least that it how my logic works. I don’t want to fail. That is very scary for me. So I live my life daily, not thinking of seemingly impossible goals.

I want to challenge you today to visualize in your own mind who you would like to become. Not the labels that have been placed upon you, but who you could be in God’s perfect world. Really visualize her. This week, take one step to become that woman. It may be just keeping that visual in your head is difficult for you. Or maybe, maybe you could write it down somewhere—in a private journal perhaps. It takes years, sometimes a few decades to become that person. God is constantly molding and shaping us into the person He wants us to become, if we will surrender our will and lives to Him. Maybe that is your first step—surrender.

I have dreams that I don’t like to visualize, because I am scared I am not good enough to make them come true. I have to remember it is not me. I am just the vessel, I have to let God work through me. That gives me peace because it means it is not totally up to me. It is up to God to use me.

What are your dreams when you dream big? Do you dare to leave them in the comment section?