Being Mentally Ill During “Shelter in Place”

Q: How many people struggling with clinical depression does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None. They’re in a dark night of the soul and oblivious to any other dark.

Forgive the ‘dark’ humor, but using humor, dark or light, is how some of us with a mental illness deal with trouble. Someone diagnosed with clinical depression will probably identify with that attempt at humor and nod. “Yep, that’s about right.”

People who know me even a little know I’m a goofball. People who know me well know I’m also mentally ill. Then there are the people who know me so well, they’ve sat with me in the emergency room as I wait to be admitted to The Ward. A locked ward.

I use humor to deal with my struggles, no matter what they are. It keeps me sane (so to speak). And even in the emergency room, I make cracks about why I’m there and what it will be like during my stay. A behavioral health unit is a lonely place to be even when the unit is at capacity. I never look forward to being there. I’m not there because I want to be, I’m there because I need to be.

Now here we all are, in varied states of lock down. I’m hearing myself as I talk to myself use humor to get through the coronavirus crisis.

Being cooped up is hard for us all. Having a mental illness, I can multiply that difficulty exponentially because depression, mania, generalized anxiety, paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and other mental illnesses thrive on stress. I think we can all agree that being sheltered in place is stressful.

Years ago, I decided I could share the fact that I’m mentally ill with a chosen few people I knew wouldn’t judge me, try to change me, tell me why I was acting out, or any of the other “crazy” things people do and say to someone who has a mental illness. I made that decision for several reasons. Some of the remarks made or advice given offended me (which put me in a defensive mode). I felt shame. I was frustrated. I got sad. And when some of those people left me—I mean left me—in the wake of their ignorance, I felt isolated and betrayed.

I knew I couldn’t change those people and it would have to be me who did. So, I decided if anything could change, it was how I talked about mental illness, especially my own. Now I tell people and leave their reactions up to them. If the opportunity is there, I educate people as much as they seem willing to bear it. I don’t go around revealing my illness to the person in line behind me at the store. There should be a good reason to tell and a good reason not to tell.

I think this is a good time to tell: I’m manic-depressive, an illness that since the late eighties is called bipolar disorder. I use the old name because it describes the nature of the illness. I get manic and I get depressed. Sometimes simultaneously, but that’s another topic for another time. I also suffer with generalized anxiety and a mild level of OCD. When I’m very, very ill, I become paranoid, psychotic, and delusional. I know; it’s not pretty.

So, there’s my personal admission about my illnesses and you can do whatever you want with it. Here’s what’s happening in my world and might be happening for someone else who’s mentally ill.

I don’t minimize the way anyone is affected by being cooped up; it can crush your spirit. Isolation makes you sad, angry, frustrated, scared, and empty. We were created to be in community with each other. “It is not good for man to be alone,” is what God said when he created us. We’re social creatures.

Several months ago, after I’d been mood-cycling for a while (manic/depressed over and over), I hit bottom and the deep depression took over. I was like that for a couple weeks. Then mania came back, and euphoria became mixed in every single day, all day long. When I begin to feel the mood swings, I get to a point where I don’t go out in public. Sometimes I can’t even tell why I do it, but I hole up like an outlaw.

The ‘craziness’ got ramped up when I had to stay home for the sake of my (and your) health and the need to protect us from a deadly disease. Even if I don’t like going out much when I’m ill, I try to take care of myself by getting into the sunshine and practicing my social skills. This shelter-in-place thing changes that.

I miss going to church. I miss meeting weekly with my mentor. I serve at the Salvation Army soup kitchen and the population has dwindled there. I miss seeing “my people.” I can’t pay my bills to the apartment manager, pick up the recycling from the office, or just sit and chat with her. She’s become a friend and I miss her too. And you know what? My psychiatrist asks me about these activities when I see him because he knows they help me stay somewhat normal.

People who know me well know I’m a Christian and have strong faith in the God I believe in. People who know the facts know that we who have a mental illness and are also Christians aren’t necessarily ‘delivered’ from the symptoms completely. We do the best we can, then accept that it’s a chronic illness that happens to be a mental one. It’s in our brain, for crying out loud, and the most educated, smart, and compassionate experts admit the brain is the last frontier of the human body. Ironically, our brains haven’t completely figured out our brains. Go figure.

I’m trying to not be completely idle. But I can only rearrange the food in the pantry so many times and then it’s ridiculous. And right now, I need my pet more than ever. Scout the Rabbit isn’t technically an emotional support animal. He does, however, provide emotional support. (He’s putting in overtime right now, but don’t tell him. He’s not getting extra lettuce in his paycheck.) When I’m having super-crazy anxiety, holding him brings my heart rate down. Sometimes it makes me cry, but it’s a good kind of crying. He gives me someone to talk to. Out loud.

Right now, I think of my friends who are mentally ill and it breaks my heart knowing some of them are struggling like me. I believe we’re doing what we can, but some of us are having a hard time doing it in isolation. I’m by nature an introvert, but enough is enough. Having said that, I respect the shelter in place orders because I don’t like being sick. I may be mentally ill, but I’m not stupid. And, while I’m not afraid to die, I hope to have a few more years of life.

Anyone who has a chronic illness knows that stress exacerbates it and symptoms may flare up. I’m thinking of you guys too. Take your meds, get your rest, follow your doctor’s orders. I mean it.

If you don’t have a chronic illness, being restricted in your social life means you too must take care of yourself, especially your mental health. Just because you’re not mentally ill doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. (hahahahaha-more humor.)

I’ve said my piece now, so excuse me. I’m going out to the living room to work on my stand-up routine.

Be a blessing to someone today.

“Fruit Flies in Our Faith” a Review

Fruit Flies in Our Faith by Annie Paden; Angel Faith Publishing; copyright 2018; 188 pp.

 Through a look at the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, Annie Paden teaches how to both nurture and share love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Her premise is simple: we all need a close relationship with God to let the Spirit work in us to develop the fruit. We, however, will resist the teaching or experience trouble, which distracts us.

Through personal stories and opportunities to reflect on our lives, the author shows us how we can better see what God has in store for us as we grow in grace. The persistent and pesky “fruit flies” will submit to pest control when we submit to the leadings of the Spirit.

Each chapter describes the various aspects of one fruit, helping us to understand how God will use it and refine it in us. She starts with an anecdote related to, for instance, kindness. She leads us into “Nurturing Fruit,” with examples of ways to grow by applying what God is saying to us.

In the “Sharing Fruit” section of each chapter, Annie’s ideas for working with others describe ways to put feet on our faith. They’re simple ideas that anyone can carry out. In each section, she supports her ideas with scripture.

Finally, each chapter includes questions for reflection and study.

Fruit Flies in Our Faith is targeted to women and both new believers and mature believers can find support and maybe even new ideas for growth. I think she does a good job of encouraging women in a way that’s relatable. Used as a study guide, it could provide an opportunity for a group of women to honestly share the challenges, struggles, and joys of producing fruit.

4 of 5 stars

This review was requested by the author in exchange for a contributor copy.

A 3-Word Prayer For Serenity

The graphic below shows a prayer, commonly referred to as the “Serenity Prayer,”* attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr and reportedly written in 1926. Niebuhr was a Lutheran pastor and theologian.

After knowing only the first four lines of the prayer, which I learned in 1984, it wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the entire thing. Even though at the time I hadn’t made a decision to follow Christ, the words made sense. Years after that, I was reciting the whole prayer from memory at a weekly small group.

Today, I believe the three most important words of this prayer aren’t, as some people choose to see them, acceptance, courage and wisdom. They are

“God, I surrender”

For me, surrendering to God creates a serenity and peace I can’t otherwise know.

SerenityPrayer with gull

*Usually Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is quoted using only the first four lines shown here.

Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

A definition from Easton’s Bible Dictionary states that

Goodnessin man is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19)

When I read what Jesus had to say to a rich young man, the idea of calling myself  ‘good’ seems prideful. Can I call myself “good?” Or is it up to others to call me “good?”

If agathosune is “uprightness of heart and life,” perhaps I’m better off letting others make the judgement call. After all, Jesus, in his deity, gave all goodness to God alone. He could have claimed it, but in his humility, he glorified his Father.

As I continue to learn about how the Holy Spirit works in me to produce fruit, definitions from several sources help me to understand. I’m glad that Easton’s dictionary uses verbs like choosing and following because it implies that I must be aware of what’s going on around me.

I also appreciate that, to be considered “good,” I must be deliberate, firm, and persistent. Indeed, Mr. Easton, being “good” is not a mere passive quality. The Spirit leads; I listen; I obey.

Ultimately, the fruit of the Spirit called “goodness,” like each other fruit, is defined by the Holy Spirit himself as he works in us to make us “good.” With the Spirit working in us, we’re able to live a fruitful life. We Love, we exhibit Joy and Peace, we act with Kindness, and we can be Good.

So far, so good.

Be a blessing to someone today.

 

Fruit of the Spirit 3: Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

 

“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.” Psalm 119:165

In the list of fruit which will be evident in our lives as we submit to the Holy Spirit, “peace” is mentioned third in line. But that doesn’t mean a person must tackle and be mature in “love” and “joy” before he can obtain peace. The Spirit begins working every single fruit in us as soon as we give our lives to Christ and decide to follow Him.

And if you’ve read my thoughts on Love and Joy, you understand that we don’t “tackle” them as if we need to strive to exhibit the fruit. Jesus says these are for the taking when we are surrendered to His will.

Think about this: If Jesus told us that it’s His peace He gives, and not the kind of peace the world gives, wouldn’t you want that? The peace the world offers is fleeting and, more often than not, based on emotions. At its most basic, that peace is a lie from Satan.

With the peace of God, our condition can be calm, not anxious, regardless of what’s happening around us. Do you know someone who seems to always be at peace? How do you respond when your circumstances challenge your inner life?

Jesus, we offer ourselves to you and trust you. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to grow us and mature us in the grace you give; a never ending grace. Your peace is what we want and we ask you to protect our hearts from the peace the world offers. We come to you for rest and worship you as our Prince of Peace. Amen

The Fruit of the Spirit

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25

“The fruit of the Spirit wasn’t intended to be a list of goals for us to produce–it is the Holy Spirit through us who produces fruit.” ~ Dan Kimble

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“Therefore, as God’s people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

When “Holding On” is Unhealthy

Heavenly Father, I’m holding on to something which I need to release to you. Give me strength to trust your love. I want to be free and receive your blessings and the only way to do it is to believe you will do what you promise. Give me peace about this decision because I’m fraught with fear of the unknown. I pray this for your glory and in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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.

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.