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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15 A.W. Tozer Quotes

A.W. (Aiden Wilson) Tozer began his lifelong pursuit of God after hearing a street preacher in Akron, Ohio, at the age of seventeen. He lived from 1897 to 1963. The self-taught theologian committed his life to the ministry of God’s Word as a pastor, teacher, and writer. Some of his books include Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, God’s Pursuit of Man, Fiery Faith, and Whatever Happened to Worship?

Tozer imageFor your meditations today, here are fifteen quotes from A.W. Tozer.

“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want. And in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

“I am thankful that justice is in the hands of God.”

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.”

“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion. I want all that God has or I don’t want any.”

“If your Christianity depends on a pastor’s preaching, then you’re a long way from where you should be.”

“Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart.”

“Rules for Self-Discovery:
What we want most;
What we think about most;
How we use our money;
What we do with our leisure time;
The company we enjoy;
Who and what we admire;
What we laugh at.”

“To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”

“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.”

“We must not select a few passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

“Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”

“We can be in our day what the heroes of faith were in their day – but remember at the time they didn’t know they were heroes.”

“God created the world out of nothing, can he not do anything in and through us?”

“We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.”

Acting on Affirmations

next-life-chapter-cropRead this quote all day until you have it memorized. Repeat it to your friends any chance you get. Type “amen” in the comments because you believe it’s true. Print it out and post it on your fridge. Do all those things if you want. But…

I’ve discovered if we don’t first deal with whatever is in the former chapters of our lives and get over what’s hurting us (resentment, regrets, open wounds, and unforgiveness, for example), real and meaningful progress in our lives doesn’t occur.

Affirmations are okay. But an affirmation is only something positive we tell ourselves which doesn’t become real in our lives until we’ve acted on it. Take for example one I found on a list for Christians:

“I see others as God’s gift to me.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I believe this so-called affirmation is true. But if, in my daily walk-about, I don’t treat everyone as the gift I believe they are, my words are hollow.

God’s promises are the same. He offers so much to us that we don’t have to work for. However, even though many of those promises are a faith matter, even the most recognizable work in our lives may be accompanied by His “Now, go.”

Read about a man blind from birth in John 9:1-34. He wasn’t healed simply because Jesus put mud on his eyes. Jesus put the mud there; God did His part. Then Jesus told the man to go wash his eyes in a pool and he’d be healed. When the man acted on Jesus’s instructions, he went home with the gift of eyesight.

A friend of mine says, “God feeds the birds, but He doesn’t throw the worms into their nests.” Quite often, we mustn’t be content to sit and wait for God to simply come through with our need. On the contrary, we’ll discover that there’s work for us to do which coincides with the work He’s already doing for us.

Go ahead and read your “last chapter.” Then ask God how He’d like you to deal with it. I’m guessing that for you, as it was for me, He’s expecting you to do something. Listen with humility to what He’s saying to you.

Then, “Go.”

And be a blessing to someone today.

“Socrates in the City” A Review

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas; copyright 2011; Blackstone Audiobooks; approx. 15 hours

“Socrates in the City” is a compendium of talks given in the forum of the same name that takes in place in New York City. This periodic event’s premise is based on Socrates’ words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m as pleased as I can be that I read this as an audio book because it meant I could hear the speakers and the questions in their own voices. I would have missed the nuances of each speaker’s voice and those of the audience members in the Q & A sessions.

Each guest speaker does, indeed, talk about the topics listed in the subtitle. These topics are what I call gritty. You may not agree or even understand the stance each speaker takes on his subject, but you’ll have to admit that they are people who challenge your thinking. They know the subjects and are astute to the fact that we might not be.

It was refreshing–their delivery of facts about their given topic, observations which form and affect culture, and their expressions of their individual opinions on the topic. They speak in civil discourse, something that’s lacking in our age of “power through social media.” The audience members asking questions following each speech prove that they are no slouches either.

Socrates in the City is a platform I respect because of the content and the method in which the content is delivered. Metaxas’ introductions often make me cringe with his attempts at humor, but his keen wit in these efforts outweigh the groaners, so I forgive him. In fact, a few of the speakers found his introductions of them clever.

Metaxas ends this audio book with a talk on his most recently (at that time) published book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Having read “Bonhoeffer,” it was a pleasure to hear the author explain a little about his writing and research process and some high points in the biography to look out for. Truly, “Bonhoeffer,” though a monster of a book, has been listed as one of two of my favorite biographies to date. The book Socrates in the City: Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” is fairly high up there on the current list of favorite non-fiction too.

Doxology = Praise

Praise God

from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him,

all creatures here below.

Praise Him,

all you heavenly hosts.

Praise Father,

Son,

and Holy Ghost.

Amen

The word “doxology” has roots in the Greek language. Doxo, meaning opinion or glory and logia, meaning oral or written communication. It follows that anything calling itself a doxology would mean praise.

Growing up in church, I sang this ‘song’ with everyone, usually prior to the sermon. I had no idea what praise to God meant. I do now. The song isn’t sung at the church I now attend, but I don’t hold ill feelings about that or expect my church to implement the practice. Gratitude to God is encouraged through other means.

I wrote out the lyrics to this particular doxology not only because it’s the one I’m familiar with. I chose to write them in that fashion because seeing then this way forces me look at the phrasing more carefully. As with many songs with which we become familiar, the meaning can get lost in that familiarity.

To me, prayer itself is a form or worship. Beginning a prayer glorifying God and with expressions of praise is how I most enjoy hearing prayer. I may start conversations with God by asking questions or expressing frustration, but eventually, I get to the part where I recognize his wonder and thank him for how he works in my life.

Sometimes, I even sing the words.

Father, I’m grateful for a God who is who he is and, surely, “I AM” is how you define yourself. When I know “who” you are, I’m more likely to give praise to you. Help me to always, in addition to my questions, requests, and emotional expressions based on difficult circumstances, be aware enough to show the gratitude you’ve taught me is necessary for a fruitful life. Amen

Prayer: An End in Itself

An excerpt from “I Think I am Happier Than I Think I Am,” by Reverend James O’Leary

“A few years ago, on a radio talk show, the host was talking about the subject of prayer and cloistered nuns who were dedicated to prayer. The host could only think of one reason to pray: to beg God to change His mind when He was about to send evil on the world.

The host thought for people who prayed, “Thy will be done,” this was a contradictory exercise. In one breath we pray, “Thy will be done,” and in the next, “Please don’t do this. Change your mind.” The radio commentator was using deadly logic. I cannot fault that. But his starting point was wrong. To presume that the only reason we pray is to get God to change his mind is nonsense.

The lives of cloistered nuns are not spent coaxing God to send “goodies” to us instead of pain. The nuns are not professional beggars. The primary reason for prayer is to commune with God. Just to be consciously with God is the reason for prayer. When we spend time with God, we fulfill and enrich ourselves. We become who we really are and who God wants us to be.

The radio host had a cheap idea of prayer and a cheap attitude. It strikes me that we Catholics sometimes talk about prayer in such a way as though we are trying to get something God does not really want to give us. This gives a wrong impression about prayer. We speak of prayers that “really work.” It sounds so utilitarian; like magic.

Prayer is simply spending time with God. What cloistered nuns do is spend a lifetime with God. Of course, we can ask God for favors. But if that is all prayer is for us, there’s something wrong. My suggestion: we pray for God’s will and the power to carry that out. We never ask God to change His mind. We don’t have to. God only wants what is best for us.”

 

 

 

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.

Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

Thanksliving

Last year on each day of November, I tried to post something I’m grateful for. Didn’t want to mess with that this year. Basically, I’m grateful every day.

This jar sits on the windowsill by my desk. It’s getting filled with little slips of paper that have expressions of gratitude for, oh, just a lot of little and big stuff with which God blesses me. I take them out every once in a while and read them to remind myself of how faithful He’s been. When it gets full, I toss them.

This week I put in a piece of paper expressing gratitude for a thoughtful friend who invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. “What are you doing Thursday? Got any plans?” Well, no, as a matter of fact, I didn’t except maybe to go to a local spot that is serving a traditional meal for free. Figured I’d see lots of people there that I know.

When you’re single and your family lives far away, the holidays can be hard. I’ve spent many of them alone. Not complaining, but I surely am grateful for people who recognize a small need and respond.

I suppose this jar reminds me that we can practice thanksliving all year long.

Be a blessing to someone today.