Gospel Hope for Mood Disorder

“God wants us to know that he keeps us equally safe in joy and in sorrow, and loves us as much in sorrow as in joy. … Our Lord sometimes allows us to be in sorrow and both come from one love.” — Julian of Norwich

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This is the pattern:

I begin to feel desperately sad in every cell of my body, so I fumble for why… What could it be? Am I doing something wrong? Am I good enough? Do I belong? Am I loved? Am I where I’m supposed to be? Am I doing what I’m supposed to do? And if I am, why am I so grief stricken?

If I feel so lost and in despair, surely something it broken. Duh. Where is it? Let me at it! I pummel the darkness, feeling with brave fingers for a solid thing to put my hands around. I’ll fix it. I will. If I can fix it, I can un-sad myself.

I grasp for some new crack to patch. To make it right. To make me safe. To make me secure. To make me know, even if my insides say otherwise, that it is all going to be ok.

But every time, this pattern fails me. Like clock work.

My mind churns. My dissatisfaction grows. I hunt for the weak link. I look for it in myself. I look for it in those around me. I grow irritable with my people. I grow merciless with myself. I weigh myself down with the busyness of mending what seems so mysteriously broken. I grasp onto too many things. Take a job, sign up for a roll, begin a task, join a gym, try a project, make a new friend, practice a discipline, slow down, speed up, scramble for hope. Each avenue offers possibility. The possibility of wellness.

After a time, I find that the things I grasped, hoping to heal my desperation, have turned into new kinds of burdens, rather than sweet liberation.

What looked like an anchor of hope in a fretful emotional sea, can so often turn out to be a mill-stone around the neck.

Side roads with flashing arrows promising “Relief!” to the weary heart can so quickly prove to be muddy byways that suck at weary ankles. Adding weight to the weighed down.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination; calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting!” Isn’t the flavor of possibility just intoxicatingly sweet? A harsh and bracing cry that puts wind under our wings and lures us into the crisp sky! I have flown a million miles chasing that breeze. Looking for my place in the family of things. Thinking, each time, that a steady place might save me from the misery that wants to live within myself.

But the reality of sadness always rises again. The inevitable tides of depression come again. And again and again. Their black waters persistently inch over tender ground I’ve claimed for myself; consuming the harvests I planted in hope.

This is what it looks like to have a clinical mood disorder. It colors everything. Our feelings, our sense of hope, our sense of purpose and orientation and community and identity. Everything is compromised by this sneaky cancer of irregular moods. It’s a living and breathing kind of hell to know that how you feel has no basis in reality.

I have only found one answer. Or, really, it found me.

It. Is. Well.

It is well.

It is well with my soul.

It is. It’s already the truth. I just have to sink into it with a kind of liberal abandon.

When all around my soul gives way. It is well.

Laid down in green pastures. Restored in soul, if weak in body.

It is well.

 

My body chemistry is broken. It slips and slides into the wildest sort of despair, for absolutely no reason. My insides are wildly turbulent and rangy and slippery and grim. My internal weather is scared of its own shadow; and if it can’t see its shadow, it’s terrified it lost it forever. A constant cycle of certainty that all is doomed.

But it is well.

It is well.

It is well with my soul.

It’s already well.

Only when I begin to put down all the scattered, tattered pieces I have fumbled to stuff into my life, hoping to patch holes I can’t really find and restore balance I never really had… only when I say, “It is well,” do I begin to rest in the arms of Love.

God’s invitation has always been to come at your grimmest and bleakest and lay down under the soft feathers of his mama hen’s heart, and be at peace. No matter the circumstances. Even if the circumstances live inside your soul.

Enter in.

Rest yourself.

Surrender to love.

Love has made a home for you here which does not depend on you or anything you scramble to stuff into the holes and cracks and crannies.

Stop with the scrambling, the panic, the guilt, the fear.

He said, “It is finished.”

He said, “I am the way.”

He said, “I never leave the lost lamb to languish on the hillside alone. You are mine. Bought at a price. Nothing shall separate you from love.”

It is well.

Today. Now. Forever. Already. Well.

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How to Enjoy Haggard Days

At a certain point in almost every day, I’m not sure why.

I’m not sure why we keep doing these things over and over. Over and over. So insistently. Waking up and feeding ourselves and consuming consuming consuming. And showering endlessly. I remember the words of Sylvia Plath, who, in a great depression, bemoaned the need to bathe… “I want to do things once and be done with them forever.”

But that is not the cadence of things.
It is not the tempo of life to perform once the necessary task and move on to more important things.
You get the feeling that the little things were always the more important things all along.

Why, God, are we repeating people? Cyclic and tidal and stationary. Endlessly in need of some kind of little caring here or there.

Why, God, did you give us bodies for houses? Inefficient, whiney, creaky, grouchy bodies. Bodies with back aches and inhaling/exhaling forever to survive. Requiring fuel. Requiring rest. Requiring washing and loving and looking at. Requiring requiring requiring.

And you called them the temples of your presence.

The great liturgical mystery of existence carries in it the secret of joy, I think. That we are to wonder and wander in the sameness. Our inclinations will always be to wander and discover! To unearth a new thing that will solve and solution us. And that is a beautiful thing. But also that we are to make a home here. In the sameness. In the wandering. In the never getting very far at all. To make a home examining the mysteries hidden in plain (very very plain) sight… that’s somehow the magical gift that gives meaning.

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Ecclesiastes has endlessly disoriented people because of a strange translation… it says in most Bibles, “Everything is meaningless” or “Everything is vanity.” Several Rabbis have taught that it ought to read, “Everything is transient.” Every little thing.
The last meal you ate.
The skin you wear.
The longing that seems to be the most meaningful thing now.
Everything is passing us by.

It should make us a little sad. It should! Death lives within the fabric of our existence, much more closely than we usually pause to appreciate. But it should also make us gaze deeper and gasp in delight. The author of Ecclesiastes says, at the end of all his examining of the things that drive people in this life (wisdom and wealth and pleasure and acclaim and religion) and he draws one simple conclusion: “Enjoy your life.” Everything is transient. Enjoy your life. In temperance and consideration. In awe.

At a certain point in each day, it feels harder than usual to enjoy life. I find this is a great moment to slow down. To see with new eyes that are a little less judgmental. I feel the goodness of the things all around me. The sounds of boys and birds and bugs and blossoms. The happy messes that color my world.

I hope you invite ease into your sore places. Maybe on the back of a long inhale or a gentle exhale. I hope you agree with yourself to Enjoy.

Especially on those haggard afternoon moments when everything is going sideways.

Three Wee Poems

A Kind of Salvation
Be saved, O my soul
from the sinking down.
From the even bigger fall into the shadow valley.
Be at naps, O my soul, a professional
and forget not all their benefits.
They are God’s hands; God’s own
Rest. And they are good.
Be not proud, O my soul, and full of it;
The certainty of unshakeable muchness.
Be small, O my soul
and surrendered
and handled
and pliable
and slower than your slowest breath.
Give up, O my soul
At least for a moment
yielded, O my soul, to the great salvation
The one with the pillows
And the mercy seat.

 

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Remember to breathe.
And water the plant; parched,
Poor thing. Forgotten.
And pet the cat.
Time is enough
For
slow
things.
Hold me. The moments.
One moment
In a skittering manic million
Be still.
Know the little knowings
Bit. By. Bit.
Inhale the mist of Love’s name.
Exhale.
Repeat.

 

Goodmorning Cat
The liquid swirl of cat tail on carbon;
tenderness on bone; this brush
is a whisper incarnate.
This is the stillness of a new earth’s inhale
This 5 am
This hello nod during the early service.
This shared liturgy of scoop and brew and pour and sip,
but first the pause, the promise,
the Lord be with you. And with your spirit.
The silent paw pads passing peace
with a flick.

Things I write when I’m a wee bit mad…

ONE
It still feels like slamming hard into a wall out of nowhere… even though I’m sure I’ve been laying the bricks for a long time. The bricks of sleeplessness, too much smiling, a lack of solitude. These are luxuries to the sane. They are oxygen to the struggling. The anxious, the moody, the manic.

It’s a shocking thing to suddenly collide with your own limitations.

Who put that there?

My 3 year old has been clamoring over me, screaming like an enraged baboon. Suddenly, very suddenly, and very completely, my resources were depleted. Not just the first wave resources. No. The deep, deep. The neurological, cellular resources. My body slammed to a halt. I instantly got dizzy. Everything went cold and weak. Everything went blank and self-preserving.

This is the edge of the earth… the place where all things drop off into empty space…

Surprise.

 

TWO
Cheese is really just a well controlled kind of chaos. A bacterial dance. A death march. A tug of war between life and loss. Death to dairy and life to the ravaging hoard of hungry microbes. What a strange delicacy. And it is an incorruptible truth of the universe that without it the world would be a worser place.

My experience of bipolar illness has made my life a kind of cheese cocktail of dying inside and bristling to an electric life on the very ground of my own despair. Like a mushroom that sprouts on a fallen log… I am both the oak-fallen, laid low, and the fungus rising out of the ground of my own unsteady story.

I am both life and death in myself. The many pieces rarely in harmony, but always in unity with each other. One whole person.

It’s taken me 30 years to realize that can be beautiful… the living and dying woven together so intimately. Like cheese. A strange delicacy.

Scant Seasons

I’m tired of being scant.

If I’m strictly honest, my real thought before putting pen to paper just now was, “I’m fucking over it!”

I’m tired of being tugged in all directions by people I can’t be enough for. And all I’m doing are the basics of home, husband, and hauling my child to pre-K. To each person, I give the best I have to give. It’s all I have. I’m a considerate driver on the road. I’m a smiling face in the halls. I murmur a sincere thank you to the teacher for all she does. I connect with the downtrodden mama who’s daughter shares my son’s school day. To all appearances I am overflowing with life. But I feel parched. Ragged and impatient.

While I calmly say good night prayers and cheerfully pour breakfast cereals, I battle against feeling rung out and shaken until the teeth I keep gritted together in a smile inside my head will surely rattle and fall out. Everything I have left to give feels thin. Insufficient to the task. I’m tired of feeling panicked often, fragile always, and desperate at the end of the day because all the evidence suggests we are sure to start over again in just one sleep.

If I was ample, I could absorb the little devastations of life — the spilled pills and stubbed toes and screaming 3 year old — and recover without losing my footing in sanity. I could take the badgering babes and the hammering of invisibility like a gentle inhale… and then exhale it away and continue in the meaningful work of maintaining the walk onward. Instead I frequently take minor injustices with the grace of a small earthquake. And everything falls apart.

If I had margin inside… White space around the paragraphs for typos and mishaps… I would be different. But I don’t. So I feel my whole body constrict in barely withheld rage. And worst, grief. Time is a terrible kind of thing to be robbed of by pointless interruptions about chalk and bugs and booboos and “watch my moves.” Or so my selfish heart cries.

I could be flexible. I could be calm. But I’m not. I’m stiff and flinchy. I’m brittle and prone to shattering.

I am not magnanimous or rich or abundant. I am not full or gracious or overflowing with good. If I ever appeared so, for a moment, I will probably pay for it by huddling in a ball of despair alone later on.

My every nerve is pulled to the twanging tension point and so very often they snap. And today I am tired of being this way.

I’ll recover. I’ll carve a shell of absolute silence out of my own internal chaos after kissing smooth baby boy foreheads goodnight…. and then putting them back in bed five times each. I’ll play my soul restoring songs. I’ll scribble a prayer with a haggard pen. I’ll try not to harm myself in my senseless grief. I’ll believe that it will pass like the tides and the weather and the seasons and the shadows of the clouds above. And it will. It always does. Darkness passes into light. To live is to be a thing that changes; ebbs and flows. Come quickly. Renew dry bones.

1000 Thoughts Before Breakfast

When I can’t do work in a focused way to create something visible, everything goes wibbly-wobbly. Which is just another way of saying, “Children make me crazy.”
 
Before kids I was definitely a “Self-A-Holic.” When my uneasy bits reared up (which is always) and told me that life is mostly empty, short, strangely essential, and weirdly meaningless… When I woke up realized we only get one of these, but it’s really really hard to know what to do with it… I didn’t pick up a bottle to drown the confusion. I tamped it all down with work. If I was efficient, focused, intelligent, and strategic, I could make something out of my one effervescent life. Then it would be worth something. Then waking up in the morning for 80-some-odd years would make sense. I needed the pillar of my own creative power to rise up and serve as a touchstone for my vacuous sense of unease with the world.
 
And then I had children.
Which, they say, is the most significant thing you can do…
Which is probably true, actually, but that makes me feel twitchy.
 
The constancy and impermanence of all the things we do to raise children is destabilizing. Every morning the same endless needs rise up to be met and then pass away invisibly into time. 
A whole life can be poured out in half-eaten breakfasts. A whole life can be measured out in beds made and unmade and made and unmade. Little sock seams and spilled milk and time fillers and bickering and microscopic booboo kissing. This becomes the texture of time itself, and I start to say things like, “Everything is meaningless” and “What’s the point.” 
A whole existence can be unspooled into the tapestry of humanity. One little life in a long line of DNA. Maybe that was always the thing that mattered. Somehow the stuff we do on top of it wasn’t the point. Even though it felt like it. I feel like i’m pouring myself out into the gene pool. And right now I’m in the deep end.
To survive, I have had to “put down the bottle” of Self and understand the texture of time differently. My life isn’t a fragile thread slipping through scrambly fingers at warp speed, barely holdable. My challenge isn’t to grab it and make it into something that dignifies my own worth. Nope. It is not so lonely. It is not so desperate. We are being woven together.
One thread of time on top of another, our lives are being united into a story much bigger and beyonder than a Self-a-Holic like me. When I lay my small thread into a great united tapestry of threads stretching forward and backward through time and lashed to the heart of God (wherever he may be) I surrender small me for bigger we. I think this is a more accurate view of the world. I think this is a more reasonable way to live.
So I lay it mindfully. I lay it with as much love as I can muster. I know that it is tiny and dull by itself. I know it is only a gasp, a lurch, a fumble, a spark. But I believe that it is essential in the tapestry. Because we hold each other together. And everything is beautiful by and by. Breakfast upon breakfast upon breakfast, world without end, amen.

Loneliness Has A Lesson For You

In the loneliness of life there is a strange invitation: To stand naked and alone, and know that you are enough.

In the safety of friends, in the cradle of community, we can draw comfort from our lovely qualities. I’m so friendly. I’m so helpful. I’m so entertaining. I’m so creative. I’m so self sacrificing. I’m so wise. Therefore I am a good and lovely person. But when we are lonely, we stand stark and uncomfortable in the dreadful sense of our own Being, distinct and separate from all the other beings; then, there, in the spotlight of our own strangeness, if we have the radical courage, we can know that we are complete.

That’s something different.

Somehow we can’t get to that strange place of individual essential worth until we sense that we are alone.

This isn’t the selfish, stiff-necked, individualistic way of being “Complete” that is so common in Western society. This isn’t the, “F- that. I don’t need nobody!” seething self-containment. This is the way of being whole which knows that it is really part of a bigger story. “Here I am. Created by God. One wee thread in the tapestry. United to you. Pieced together in a story. Luminous and meaningful just as I am, because he loves me. Enough.”

Loneliness corrupted makes us want to curl into a ball of shriveling self-worth. “Nobody loves me; I am unloveable.” and “I don’t know my place in the world, so I don’t have a place anywhere.”

Loneliness redeemed invites us to stand up, lift our eyes “to the hills from whence our help comes”, and know the strength of being essential as we are. Beautiful because we we are created in love.

Loneliness corrupted makes us say, “No one loves me. I will withdraw.”

Loneliness redeemed says, “I am loved alone. Unvarnished. Endlessly. So I can love unlimited.”

Loneliness corrupted drives us deeper into ourselves and away from others.

Loneliness redeemed drives us deeper into ourselves, and we find something universal there. A shared value. A shared bewilderment. A shared hope. And low and behold we find ourselves able to connect to the great big family of humanity after all… giving from a more firmly rooted place of being loved incorruptibly.

I think loneliness finds us all at some point in time. Introverts, extroverts, ambiverts. City mice and country mice. But when loneliness finds you, I hope you find love. Your truest identity.

Sundays Make Me Cray

Big groups make me feel lonely. There are faces and voices and hugs and hand squeezes and tiny brownies and coffee cups and communion. Lots of it. It’s lovely. It’s just enough to make you long to really know and to be known. Suddenly, you know you’re not alone, and you want to feel certain about your place in the beautiful human tribe around you. Where do I fit in here?

A big group around you suggests, “You might have a place here…” But then doesn’t tell you what it is. There are too many. There is not enough time. There is a schedule. Everything is a skim over the surface. A bevy of moving bodies, swirling in and out like tide eddies. And I feel my “Other-ness” keenly. We are not one. We are all so many individuals. We are all a bit isolated in our own skin. What a muddle!

I know this most personal of experiences in my own head is common to many people. The Lonely Hearts Club has full membership. And yet somehow we still struggle to find our places.

Longing to be known and understood is probably what makes us the strangest of the animals. We could have just been a herd, or a flock, or a school. But no! We had to complicate things. We had to be wistful. We had to be lonely. We had to fumble for meaning. We had to be wonderers and wanderers and weirdos.

So we stand in crowded rooms and feel desperately alone.

What gives?!

I feel most at home behind a book, while writing, or wrapped deeply in a one-on-one conversation. Or when you give me a specific task. Like painting your kitchen! (Thanks Sarah.)

Perhaps there are clues hidden in our natural inclinations about how to be rooted and grounded in a sense of place and purpose? Perhaps what feels like home to us really is home? Can we discern our truest place in the world by looking at the satisfactions and safety zones of our own hearts? Should we be focusing on faithfulness to our natural strengths and inner patterns? Or should we be stretching ourselves to new lengths and breadths? Either way, somehow this only seems to orient us to ourselves. There is something else needed to orient us in our communities. And I haven’t found it yet.

I feel utterly disoriented at the moment. Homeless in my own skin and uncertain of where to turn. Things seem too big and too small. People seem too many and too few. If someone would love me and need me and want to be my friend, I could respond well. They could press me into a shape. I could conform. I could know my place.

This is the definition of co-dependency isn’t it?

Yeah probably.

Everything is confusing. I don’t know where to put my hands.

Sincerely,

Sunday Mornings are A Lot

 

 

 

Friday.

I had a panic attack while buckling my kids into their car seats. Critical mass was reached. No one can survive this without a crack, can they? Let’s not drive while we’re hyperventilating, said my better judgement.

I sat still with my hands on the wheel. Calming myself. They screamed at me. “Go! Go MOM!!! Come ON!!! GO!!!!”

I forgot the appointment to get the prescription I need to function without having panic attacks. I forgot because my mind is already strained. Strained at the seams. I’m holding too many things in the flimsy, filmy, fraying silk pocket of my ability. But there’s nothing I can put down. Is there?

I wish I was a good solid canvas satchel. Wouldn’t that be better for everyone? Why does the Maker who Makes Things make silken people? People who feel everything and break open and fail so loudly? I want to be solid. But I forget things. I get overwhelmed.

Shame and guilt and anger and hopelessness all descend as once. The four horsemen of the apocalypse. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t weep. I couldn’t possibly go on living like this… so messy and broken and mucked up. The realization hit me randomly. That I had missed it. Son dumped all his clothes on the floor and we were talking about responsibility and cleaning up after ourselves. And it hit me in the gut like a sock full of sand. And then I slowly, slowly lost control.

And now I’m ok.

We ran our errands. I cried most of the way there, but then I numbed up. I got baby-sized ice cream cones for the boys. We went to the post office.

How is it that we can be mostly alright and totally shattered all at once? Like some kind of broken snow globe within an unbroken snow globe in the puddle of a bigger broken snow globe.

Nice blobs of that fake snow fall gently around the statue of my life, as they should. They are lovely. It is good. And then there are also chunks of glass clanking up and down. Chipping off an elbow or a nose, here and there. I guess they’re ok too. I can’t get rid of them anyway.

I can’t make sense of this. I have no destinations to wiggle toward out of the morass. I am just sitting in the middle of what seems to be the inescapable mess of my own being, marveling at the strangeness of it. Wondering, Why me? And, How did it happen?

I have to feel my way forward with the written word, or it would be necessary to cut myself open to let all the giant feelings out. There are too many to fit in one medium sized body.

I’m not as crazy as I sound. But I’m worse than I appear.

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

 

 

The Terrible Gift of Fatigue

Tired and Desperate seem to go hand in hand a lot. You’re desperate because everything is fraying around the edges, and everything is fraying because you’re tired and can’t keep up. If you could bring order out of the chaos, you wouldn’t be desperate. But it would require MORE energy. Which you don’t have. And to keep giving out of a scorched dry place will only make you more desperate.

And round and round and round she goes. Where she stops nobody knows.

But she stops. She always stops.

There’s always a big, fat, unwanted, inconvenient STOP somewhere right in the middle of everything.

You can sort of feel it coming… your body warns you…

Tired tells you to slow down. Desperate tells you to work harder.

I don’t know what the answer is. Except to do less. Do fewer things with greater completion. Little things with great love, or some such inspiring bumper sticker phrase.

Unfortunately it usually feels like the only things you could possibly cut out are the things that are giving you life (creativity, friends, exploration, baking). And the things that make you insane are the things you can’t abandon (Eames and Oliver).

This is the cycle that always spits me out on the shores of depression.

When I’m finally so tired that every emotion begins to feel like sadness… that’s when I know I’ve pushed my luck too long.

This is when I start to crave some WINS to lighten the load. So I hustle even more. But it’s inevitably when I start dropping balls and failing. Which helps absolutely ZERO. Which makes me emotionally exhausted.

I know there’s a Narrow Way that leads to life. Few find it, I’m told.

I think the Narrow Way is humility. Surrender. Sovereign rest. Humbly bowing to who we are. Because he made us. Knowing who we are and what we are capable of, and saying, “Ok” with as much grace as we can manage. Open handed.

Ok, I’m not everything I want to be.
Ok, I can’t do everything I want to do.
Ok, I can’t fulfill every need I would love to fulfill.
Ok, I can’t reach every goal I set.
Ok, I can’t control all the outcomes I want to control. Because limits are real. No matter what our culture tells us. And this irritating thing is true: “We plan our way, but the Lord directs our steps.” Dagnabbit.

The Narrowest Way there could ever be is to be exactly who we are made to be. With all the interwoven pieces of our strengths and weaknesses. No matter how much we want to reject the wibbly-wobbly bits and the incongruous.

Sometimes I have to physically act out this prayer with a very real bow of my head (or my whole self if it’s a particularly grabby day): “Lord, I accept. I bow in humble submission to the amount of energy you have given me. To the emotional capacity you have given me. To the physical ability you have given me. I trust that it is enough for the work you have given me to do. And when it isn’t enough… you haven’t given it.”

Maybe my deep emotional and physical limitations are the gate posts of the narrow way? My mightiness is lovely, but it is my limits that bring me into focus. Somehow, in some weird way, submitting to them leads to rest.

But I don’t wanna.