A Conversation About Mental Illness

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Recently, a couple of friends at church asked me how I am. They really wanted to know. It wasn’t just a “Hi, how are you?” greeting.

I told them about some recent struggles with my manic-depressive illness. They know that I’m mentally ill so talking about it wasn’t such a big deal. I told them that, with help from my psychiatrist, my moods lately are becoming less erratic and troublesome. I saw from their individual responses that people within the Church can be helpful in what they say because they’ve done some homework about mental illness. Besides, these ladies also know me personally.

Perhaps Christians are beginning to take mental illnesses as seriously as they do other chronic illnesses. Less often do they respond in a way that puts the blame for being sick on us. I’ve had some spiritual brothers and sisters say things they probably would never say to someone else who’s sick. I’ve been told I’d heal if I’d just “pray more” or “trust God.” I’ve been told I’m possessed by the devil.

I pray. I trust God with everything in me. But I still often struggle with more than one chronic illness.

Here’s how I explain the fact that it’s a chronic illness. My illness is no different from that of a diabetic. That is, except for the fact that my illness is behavioral you also understand that, in the event of a major episode, a diabetic’s behavior can be out of character too. What differentiates us is they have a chemical imbalance in their pancreas because it doesn’t produce enough insulin. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain because it doesn’t produce proper amounts of specific neurotransmitters. That’s a simplification, but one I hope most people can understand.

If we who have a mental illness don’t talk about them as illnesses, how can we expect others to? Approximately one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year. They have clinical depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety, manic-depressive disorder (bipolar disorder), schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder), post traumatic stress disorder, or one of many others.

I’m writing a devotional that’s faith-based and meant to help people with mental illnesses. Even we who have been diagnosed need to better understand our illnesses. Understanding can help us to navigate the changes we’re experiencing and to live better lives according to those changes. I want the book to help someone newly diagnosed or someone who’s been diagnosed with the illness for years.

We need to talk with one another about the diagnosis and any prescribed medications. We need to stay in touch with and use honesty with the doctors who have us in their care. We need to talk about the times we experience outpatient or inpatient treatment. And maybe most of all, we need to learn how to keep a balanced lifestyle to avoid the stress which can bring on an episode more quickly.

What I hope will be especially helpful for us is the idea that a family member or friend can also learn by reading the book with its accompanying essays written by people who have a mental illness. While the book is being written with my Christian faith as a foundation, I don’t see why anyone couldn’t learn at least a little from reading it.

There. This may have been your first real education in better understanding mental illness and accepting it as a disease. Please try to better understand us. Pray for us. We’re ill and sometimes feel hopeless. But we are certainly not helpless. Your support can make a big difference in making even just one single day more livable for us. Whether it’s a hard one or a not-so-hard one.

Be a blessing to someone today

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Foodie Uses Chocolate With Less Sugar

Making a decision for something more healthy but just as tasty, I decided to go for a chocolate and peanut butter treat that wouldn’t have as much sugary sweetness as those no-bake chocolate cookies I ate as a kid. Mom made them for us and I never complained. Smile. I learned to make them for my family too.

But as the years go by, I find I enjoy foods with less sugar or salt, so this recipe is what I do with my craving for no-bake cookies. It’s for a snack using almost all the same ingredients and it became a part of my recipe stash when my diet required more protein. “Doctor’s orders.”

With this one, I get the benefit of the chocolate and peanut butter flavors with added protein and less sugar. In fact, because I use mostly honey, I don’t get that sets-my-teeth-on-edge-it-has-so-much-sugar taste. I like them just as much as, if not better than, the old stand-by. Plus, I get my protein. Even better, when it says “No-Bake,” it also means no cooking on top of the stove. Easy-peasy.

 

As I say in almost every recipe I share, tweak the ingredients if you need to. I use whatever nut or seed butters I have on hand. I usually have tahini (sesame paste) available because I make hummus with it. For the ones pictured, I used peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini in amounts to add up to the necessary 1 3/4 cups. You can use whatever sweetener suits your own diet. I like raw honey and a little agave nectar.

Naturally, the best part to me is the chocolate. I suppose if you don’t have the protein powder, you can adjust with a little more cocoa and a little more oatmeal. I’ve never tried these without the protein powder, however, so you’re on your own there, friends.

Eat Hardy!

Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we’re sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself.  I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

Helping Hands

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” ~ Jesus Christ

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.” ~ Charles Dickens

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” ~ Paul, the Apostle

“You have not lived today unless you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~ John Bunyan

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.” ~ King Solomon

“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” ~ W. H. Auden

People struggle. You do, I do. Everyone experiences hard times. People are grieving. Others are weary. People face health issues to the point of death. Some struggle with a crisis concerning their child. That child may be one with “special needs.” Adults are caregivers to an elderly parent or guardian to an individual who can’t help themselves.

Since we’ll all struggle at some time, remember how difficult it can be. Some people, for whatever reason, find it hard to ask for help. Don’t go through it alone and don’t let someone else. Pray for that person, but put feet to your prayers. Platitudes will not help. A helping hand will.

Be a blessing to someone today.

I Can Only Imagine

This past Sunday, the Church behaved as a church should. Well, my church did anyway.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing the downward spiral that naturally and always follows mania. My diagnosis is complicated and it took years for me to understand it. True depression can be inexplicable. If someone asked me, “What’s wrong?” I could say, “Nothing” or I could say, “Everything” and both answers would be correct.

Having manic-depressive illness is something I’ve accepted, but being mentally ill sometimes always stinks.

Now about the Church being what they’re supposed to be…

I went to church under the influence of a medication I took for anxiety the night before. Sleep was eluding me, so I took the med the doctor prescribes “as needed.” It was surely needed. The anxiety was crippling and I only got about three hours of sleep because I was so agitated. I drove to church seeing double. It helped if I closed one eye, but driving one-eyed has its limitations. All through the sermon, Pastor kept splitting in two as he moved about the stage.

Between services I told our spiritual growth pastor I probably wouldn’t be able to write the sermon study because I hadn’t been able to concentrate and I had scanty notes. I gave her the lowdown. She must have moved into action right then. Brothers and Sisters began to approach me to let me know they would make sure I got home safely.

Imagine a church body that in a crisis acts like Jesus. I felt no judgements on me for being sick. The people involved treated me as if I had a “respectable” illness. They touched me just like Jesus was willing to touch the man with leprosy. They spoke to me without condescension. I was given time to just be comfortable until church was over and they could help me get home. I could almost hear them saying, “(Let’s) Go in peace.”

I wish every church body could understand––or at least try to accept––mental illness as a real sickness. Too many times we hear people tell us we could be healed if we had more faith. People suggest we pray more. I’ve been told I’m possessed.

Listen. I have faith in the healing power of Jesus. I pray. I trust God will get me through the tough times because he already has on numerous occasions. But Jesus didn’t heal every sick person he came into contact with while he lived here, walking around preaching the Good News. Maybe I’m one of the people God has decided to not heal. He hasn’t healed my good friend who’s been insulin dependent for over 30 years either and I know she prays and has faith in God.

It’s okay I’m still manic-depressive, even though, as I said, it stinks. Because I’ve experienced peace when I should have been crawling the walls. I’ve been able to read my Bible and know the words are meant for me right then, in the scattered state I’m in. Or in a funk so deep I’m reminded of King David’s “pit.” Those are the times when nothing can make me leave the house except maybe firefighters insisting upon it.

Helen Keller was an amazing woman. Read her autobiography some day. For the most part, she had a good attitude about life and didn’t let being disabled hold her back from what she wanted to accomplish. My disability isn’t the same as hers. But I find these words of hers something I relate to and am grateful for.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

What will it take for God’s people to be more accepting of the poor, the uneducated, the ‘sinners,’ the foreigners, the criminals, and anyone who’s just plain different from them? I’m not sure, but I experienced on Sunday what I believe Jesus had in mind.

Love.

Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we are sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned:

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself. I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

 

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.