Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “God”

Complimented

When was the last time someone complimented you? Today? Yesterday? A week ago? A month? Can you remember when?

When was the last time you complemented someone else?

I believe it is John C. Maxwell who tells the story of his father who made it a point to compliment every person he talked to within the first 30 seconds of contact. That story impacted me greatly.

Being in the field of psychology has introduced and then reinforced the power of positive reinforcement above negative and punishment. But it was hearing that story that really hit home to me how valuable it is to speak into the lives of others. I have not become so adept as to manage it with every individual I encounter within the first 30 seconds of contact, but I am more aware of the concept now.

My mentor in college through my undergrad and graduate studies practiced positive psychology in most everything he did. I admired him because he was able to see the positive in every situation. That does not mean he didn’t see the negative. But isn’t it easy to see what isn’t working?

It seems to require a concentrated effort to procure the positive in what is otherwise termed a sinking ship process. My mentor taught me so much about choosing to work on what works in a situation. In our field we called it a cognitive reframe. In my human existence I call it…difficult.

My work is often with individuals in crisis of one form or another, generally dealing with mental health issues, but not always. I am good at what I do, because I see patterns in behavior. I am able to sort through the drama and find a source, but what I have missed in the past is the cognitive reframe. So, a few years back I began to work with the concept of helping individuals understand that no matter what they face in crisis, they can find something positive to move them forward.

That is how you find hope in the darkest of pits. You look for the light. On a spiritual level, I know that Yeshua is the light, but on a mental level, I am able to offer light to others sometimes by simply telling them they are fine just as they are, that the moment will pass eventually, that they are not alone, that they don’t have to have answers, and for those living on the outer edges of mental society…they are normal for where they are and what they are dealing with.

I hope that as time goes on I will be able to easily offer positive feedback to others. I don’t want to miss that individual who hasn’t had anything nice said to him/her for a long time, and my word could be the ending of that dry spell.

I know how refreshed my soul is when someone takes the time to speak affirmation into my life.  Do not you feel uplifted when someone says, “You have a beautiful smile,” or, “You are so smart!” Isn’t it nice to hear someone tell you matter? I know I do.  I guess it’s not just about being complimented and more about speaking life into another person.

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Resilient Hope

We have been trying for some time to kill the weeds in our driveway.  Man, are they ever resilient!  They can grow with no water and very rocky soil.  They seem to fight through whatever would kill most other vegetation, and even when we think we have killed them, they come back.  They never seem to die all the way down to the root.

Hope is a weed.

No matter what happens on the surface, it is very nearly impossible to kill it all the way down to the root.  It springs back with the merest of opportunities.

Thank God

I have had many experiences with hope- what I termed as the loss of hope.  I didn’t actually lose it.  It’s not like I misplaced it.  It just seemed to wilt and die.

So many times.

Life with mental illness is like riding a roller coaster where the lights have been turned out.  Living things do not grow and thrive in the dark, and neither does hope.

And yet…it does not die.

Along with illness comes the losses that are part of being alive, and losing people you love along the way can cause the loss of hope.  The pain is so intense it makes you believe nothing will ever get better.  This will always be the way of things, and hope seems, once again, to die.

But hope endures!

I don’t know how, but hope endures.

I have never seen a yard or driveway that did not have at least one weed.  I have never seen a life where there was not at least one possible glimmer of hope.  Just as we are guaranteed there will be days in which we stagger under the weight of our losses; the toll paid for drawing breath, loving, and simply being involved in life, we are guaranteed the possibility of hope.  It is one of those great mysteries of life.  It cannot be killed down to the root.

If you are one who has lost all hope, I can tell you I have been where you are, and just as I have the guarantee of being mentally ill every morning when I awake, I have the guarantee that hope endures.

Hope has become, for me, a lamp sitting on the edge of my darkness, and sometimes I sit in the dark minus the energy to reach over and pull the cord to engage it.

There are days, months, where I operate in the dark, riding the roller coaster with only shadows, a shell of my person, wishing someone would stop the ride.  There are so many moments, much like this morning, when the overwhelming sense of all that is wrong in the world washes over me and I am immediately in despair screaming internally, in the dark, asking when all the sadness and awfulness will end.

But I have learned that hope is a weed that never dies, and hope is a lamp that sits near me no matter where I am.  I must reach over and pull the cord.  Sometimes that is the only thing I manage in the course of my day, but pulling that cord is the beginning of a new view and of healing.

My blog image shows a child in a tunnel with a balloon and a butterfly standing on the word HOPE with the shadow of “There Is.”  This is the icon of my life.  Once upon a time I used an image of a ship in a storm about to go over the edge of a vast waterfall.  The thing is, my ship never went over the edge.  Even if I had ended my life at some point, my ship would still not have gone over because I was held by Yeshua (My Rescuer).

One day I realized that I have hope. I live in a dark tunnel every day that is my mind, and no one, not even my precious husband can get into my tunnel. But  I realized I have the choice to stand there with the light of hope or in the dark, and some days I do sit in the dark, but I KNOW hope is right there for me to turn on.  So my image has changed on my blogs, because my understanding of my life has changed.  Hope has a role to play, and I whether I water it or turn it on determines how much light I have for living, for it is always there– resilient hope.

 

Worth Living

I could write a blog about the things mental illness does in my life that makes it difficult to or not worth living, but what a drag, right?  There is more to life than mental illness, and though it is the lens through which I view all things in life, it is NOT life.

I have worked with so many people, encountered so many people over the years, who are completely unwilling to own what they are and what they have as a human being.  It is unfortunate, as owning everything is what ultimately gives us victory.  I have never encountered someone who has been mentally ill for a long time and says, “I ignored my illness, never was accountable for anything my instability caused or did, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.  It made all the difference in my ability to be healthy.”

I have observed in my own life and the life of others that hope and fulfillment come from fearfully stepping into ownership, and I do not count self-medicating as a means of healthy treatment.  It just can’t sustain stability, as the means are often unhealthy in themselves.  That is not so say that there are not varying ways in which to address mental illness, but self-medication will show results quickly, and most often those results leave the person in a much more compromised state rather than one of power.

One of the things I am most proud of in life, is the relationships I have.  It is very difficult for people with mental illness to sustain healthy relationships.  It is just so very difficult to live with mental illness, maintain stability, AND have someone close to you.  I have been so fortunate to have healthy whole people actually want to be a part of my life, and I truly believe just one healthy relationship makes all the difference in the journey.  When you can’t find hope, they can remind you it still exists.

The thing about mental illness is that it is like another skin.  I see people continually trying to shed it like it’s a coat, and they end up frustrated and much worse off by investing energy in something that cannot be changed. I still, after 25 years, struggle with the desire to somehow get away from it.  That is natural.  It is unnatural to have mental illness.  But when that is the way life rolls out, you must, at some point, if you want to have any quality of life, move on from that mind set.

So every day I face a new set of challenges just within my own mind, before I ever step foot out the door.  I am not a person who enjoys being around other people a lot.  They drain me, so I must pace myself.  It’s not generally something others do that makes me shy away.  I get overwhelmed by the constant stimulation that occurs when engaging in social settings.  I fake being outgoing and engaging for a while, but the cost is high, and I can only affect it for a while before I need to withdraw and regroup.

I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t very social, like I was a bad person because I didn’t want to run all the time.  But the truth is, I like being at home.  I like solitude.  I like my husband, I would rather engage with him than run out to a social setting with people I don’t know well.  There is nothing wrong with going out to engage with others socially; not at all, but I simply don’t need it.  I do not feel I am missing out on something or that I am lonely.  I have a circle of people in my life, and as far as I am concerned, they are cream of the crop.  Why would I need to go further, when I can be with them?

My husband, parents, and siblings just happen to be my closest friends.  It’s nice when the people you are related to are also your most intimate friends.  I also have friends I am not related to.  Not tons, as I don’t need tons.  I have a few I spend time with occasionally, but my love for them is deep, and I know they love me.  I feel honored to have friends like I do.  I don’t deserve them, and I will always be there for them. It’s important to understand what true friendship is.  A lot of times, I think mental illness robs us of our “healthy things” equilibrium, and we end up adding people into our lives as friends when they really only want to sabotage us. We must learn the difference.

Some of the friends I have, I have had for 15 years and more.  They have grown with me, experienced loss with me, prayed for me and I for them.  Some friends are newer in my life, but they overwhelm me with their kindness and grace to me.  When I first started my new business, my friends came to me as clients and would tip me more than the cost of the service!  It’s not about the money.  It was their way of showing they believe in me, that they have my back, and they want something better for me.  I have friends who have come to me for services whom I know can’t afford to, and I that humbles me.  I reciprocate as I can, am compelled to do so, and am just so stinkin’ blessed to be able to try to give to them in a way that shows how much I love them.

My husband.  I can’t even start with him, as he is a shield in my life, and the ballast in my continual wave-tossed ship, and there are not enough descriptive words in the world to describe what he is in my life and my heart. My family, well, there is none like them.  We have traversed this thing for so long, they keep it real for me and let me know when I need to check myself.

These are what healthy relationships look like, and I can’t take credit.  God blessed me with wise and caring people who were willing to hang in when others bailed.  I cannot express how much better the journey is with a select few than alone.  So if you are thinking you don’t want to put in the work to find stability and balance in your life, consider the reward of healthy relationships that is waiting for you.  This is one of the biggest rewards that make life with mental illness worth living.

The Monster in the Guest House

Over the years I have attempted to describe my special brand of mental illness with vivid imagery like, the monster in the guest house, so as to lend someone who has never experienced mental illness a way to identify if even just a little with what goes on in the life of a person with major mental illness.  I’ve no idea how successfully I have managed to do that.  I know that when I do speaking engagements I often get feedback from those kind enough to listen to me in regards to the vivid imagery I use, suggesting that they have in some way been able to relate.  That positive reinforcement compels me to look further for ways to help bridge the gap to understanding, because stigma exists out of fear of the unknown, and the best way to ameliorate fear is to educate.

The icon I have used that I feel best defines the existence of bipolar disorder in my life has been the monster in the guest house.  I have written this out before, but I have had so many different venues for my writing that I am unable to find my original writing, and there is the fact that I was also writing a dissertation whilst writing blogs, and some things disappeared in the process and my wearing out laptops and not getting everything saved beforehand.

So, without further ado…

My life with bipolar is like having a monster show up on the doorstep of my house, insisting that it is going to move in.  That is what happened at 22 years old.  Now, I wrestled and fought this monster, but I was poorly armed, so while it rampaged in my house, tearing everything apart, I began to search for reinforcements.

There really were no human beings able to help me. They had never seen such a monster, and their response was that I simply control it or pretend it was not there.  But the monster could not be controlled, and I could not pretend it was not there.  It not only tore up my house, but it was a shape shifter and would alter its appearance to look like me, then run out of my house and do things others could see.  They would think it was ME doing those things.

I found a doctor who gave me some magic pills and told me that he could not see the inside of my house or the monster, but the more I explained to him what my house looked like, what the monster was doing, and how I was feeling, he could better help me.  I was relieved to have someone in my life willing to help and who seemed to be able to plot a course for killing the monster.

What I came to realize was that the monster was so attached to me and to my house, that if I killed him, I would also die.  Many times I very nearly killed the monster.  Many times I nearly succeeded.

I decided that I would not be a victim.  I would be a warrior.  I armed myself with as much information as possible, and though the magic pills did not work, I continued to search for ones that would.  I became strong in my knowledge, and authority on the monster.  I became powerful in my abilities to trick the monster, and finally after 10 years, I found a magic pill that helped.

I was able to take the magic pill and close places in my house in a way that rendered the monster limited in its ability to access them.  The magic pill was not a cure, but it was a powerful weapon in limiting the monster, and eventually it only had access to a couple of rooms in my house.

One day I met a brain wizard. He was a doctor of cognitive behavioral practices, and he taught me how to take a thought and remake it into a better functioning thought.  This was valuable, because the biggest power the monster had was to take thoughts that roamed freely in my house and turn them into twisted ugly things that didn’t come close to their original structure.  They would turn on me and attack like little rabid dogs. The brain wizard helped me grab hold of those twisted thoughts and remake them.

I realized I could act on the monster’s weakened state, so I kicked it out the door of my house and locked it in the guest house.  I told it I may never be able to kick it off my property but I was not going to allow it to destroy my house any longer.  I locked it up, and with the magic pills and the skills taught by the brain wizard, I have managed to keep it there…

For the most part.

After so many years of battling the monster, my house is not the same.  There are scars, gouges, from where it sliced through walls.  I have rebuilt the furniture many times, and the appliances work, though not as well as they used to. It is not a pretty house any more.  Things are tidy, but often the walls shake with the monster’s rage and attempts to break out of the guest house, and things fall and break. There are fewer rooms to secure these days.  The last time the monster broke out of the guest house, he broke down more walls, so the house is pretty open.  And though the memory room still stands, there is no longer a door.  That is the room that the monster likes to wreck, and it is the room it takes me the longest to restore.  In fact there have just been too many things that have gone missing from that room.

I feel that for the most part I have been fortunate in my dealings with the monster.  I have had people move in around me who are good neighbors, people who help me watch the guest house and alert me when things are looking unsettled.  Mainly, though I have a Being in my life that is unafraid of any monsters life can produce.  I was angry at the Being for a long time.  I thought he had put the monster on my property, but I have come to realize he has orchestrated all the weapons I have obtained, and the beautiful neighbors who help me are there by his design.

Here’s the ironic part.  The Being has helped me realize my life has more meaning because of what lives on my property. I am a more dimensional, humble, and empathetic person because the Being didn’t kill the monster but helped me submit the monster.  Some days I stand guard very well.  Other days I struggle to make it to my post from the sheer magnitude of stress caused by having such a creature on my property, but I continue in my precarious existence, and I attempt life with grace bestowed on my by the Being and those beautiful neighbors.  I find I have a light of hope walking back and forth between my house and where the monster is housed that reassures me that there is more good for me than bad.  I find I can employ  gratefulness and identify with others, and I believe I am able to do those things largely because of the presence of the monster in the guest house.

Mind, Metaphor, and Getting Tethered

It’s been too long.  It’s not that there was nothing to say, I just didn’t know how to say it.  I am ever at my best when seated with “pen” in hand, as I am not really as adept at verbal exchange as I pretend.  And, well, I have been missing a piece of my self, my soul.  I have been adrift for the past year; just feeling really at sixes and sevens with me, but there have been a few exchanges and events of late that have brought me round to remembering that the best way to get tethered to what matters again is to delve into the depths of me and what has been going on in terms of changes on my lifescape.

I have been in an all out war with mental illness for the majority of my life.  I have been a public speaker about my experiences with major mental illness, a writer, and I have worked with people who are mentally ill, as well as those who have a mentally ill loved one in their lives, for nearly two decades.  Living with mental illness rather than succumbing to it is an ongoing battle that never ends.  It permeates every single function and every singe moment of the day.  It destroys, erodes, overtakes, distorts, fractures, and decays every part of a human life…

If allowed.

In my twenties I found myself adrift on the wreckage of my life in a vast ocean of psychotic malfunction and biological disruption.  There was no compass.  The basics like cognitive control and all the other evolved limbic functions like memory, social acuity, and self-comprehension, were no longer present.  I was adrift on a vast ocean, small and insignificant, on the surface of huge illness that would never fully divulge its secrets, much like the oceanic metaphor I am using.

I determined I would either dive off that piece of wreckage and end my life, or I would commit to living the most “normal” life I could possibly procure for myself.

I was very naive.  I now understand that if “normal” exists, it is not in my sphere.  I had two things going for me,  my loved ones, and my God.  Not the God that is in a white robe with a long beard, awaiting the opportunity to smite me if I step wrong.  That God would be rendered absolutely worthless to me.  Not some nebulous universal thing that plays games with me, using chance and karma as a way to get even with me or devise a series of rewards if I pull the magic ticket or do something it agrees with.  I have no patience with such nonsense.

I needed a meaty God who would roll up his sleeves and get dirty in my life;  a God who would sit with me in the darkest, thickest, most horrible depressions (medicated depressions, mind you) that were so very despairing and hopeless that I would want to pull my skin off in order to balance the horrific pain in my mind that came from nowhere, suffocating every single light in my world with black night.

I needed a God who could break through horrific despair that left me crying out in so much pain, tears could not flow, with a handful of pills in one hand, and the other hand pulling at my hair trying to find release.  I needed a God who could handle rages that came from nowhere allowing no release; a God who would comfort me, help me find answers, and NOT condemn me.

I found him.  I found the God that helped me function not only as a viable human being, but a human being able to perform at an extremely high level of functionality, with healthy relationships, and accomplishments that mean something to me.  I found a God I am not afraid to let see every single part of my vast and open mind that alters between dark void to colors and movement so prolific as to make the Borealis appear blase’; a God that not only loves me anyway but shows me magnificent things about that which was presented in my life to destroy me.

I very much admired Carrie Fisher.  I’m not really a fan of heroes in human beings, but I have very much valued her honesty in dealing with mental illness.  She was authentic and raw, something that is very valuable in a disease that is stigmatized. I find that, since her death, I am less tolerant of excuses and behaviors from people who refuse to be accountable for mental illness they are dealing with.  I suppose the reason for the correlation between the two is because I considered Carrie a success in living with major mental illness, and in her death I find I am less indulgent of stupid mindsets regarding mental illness.  I struggle every day to function in a way that others take for granted.  There are times when I have been at work and only a few hours earlier it was uncertain as to whether or not I would commit suicide.

I maintain balance as precariously as any tightrope walker.  I stay on a schedule.  I toss unhealthy people out of my life like debris on fire, even if I like them.  I say “no” a lot, because I owe it to myself, my husband, my family, my friends, to set boundaries with myself an others in order to maintain that balance I must have to function.  My life is a series of enormous and vibrant spikes stretching beyond view but confined in a space no bigger that than a plastic milk crate.  There are no continual social interactions with limitless potential for more in my sphere of living.  I am constantly over stimulated in my work environments, where everyone else is unaffected.  Some days when I get home, I put in ear plugs to just have a break from continual noise that permeates our cultured in every crack and crevice.

I had a conversation with a young woman some time back where she assured me she had bipolar disorder.  It was cavalierly said, and I confess it rankled.  I do NOT have a casual existence with bipolar disorder.  It has become the poster child for every outrageous behavior, an excuse to be and do whatever with, “I have bp, so I can’t help it.”

Only abut 1% of the population has bipolar disorder, and just as I fall into the 1% category of those in the country with a doctorate, I also qualify in the bipolar category. One I’m proud of.  The other distinction, I could certainly do without, and it annoys me when people who have no bloody clue toss it about like a hall pass to behaving any way they like.

I am medicated, have been for nearly 25 years.  It would take about 5 days without medication for me to be rendered incapable of functioning in the world at large.  Even with medication, I am forced to make major adjustments, especially since I also have agoraphobia, a very severe anxiety disorder. I don’t have the option of partying a little too much.  I don’t have the option of staying up too late several days in a row.  I don’t have the option of jumping from one social event to another.

IF I want to be able to do all the things that healthy functioning adults do, I cannot do a lot of the things that healthy functioning adults do.

I also find I am really, really intolerant of people feeling they need justification or proof of my mental illness.  I told my mom the other day that no matter my age, 23, 34, or 50, those of us with mental illness will always be expected to expand or prove just how mentally ill we are in order to do the things that keep us the healthiest.  The difference for me is that the older I get the less willing I am to humor other people’s requirements for justification.

So if you are mentally ill, focus on health and balance.  Do not spend your time trying to convince other people that you are as sick as you are.  Because the truth is that they won’t believe you anyway, and I have found that people who require you to show them that you are in fact in need of being different because you have a very serious illness, are the people who tend to be least capable of maintaining health and balance in their own lives.

Resolutions to Live

dexter

I do not do New Year Resolutions.  Nor do I attempt to drill down the previous year into a few paragraphs.  The first, because I fail enough without setting myself up for failure right off the bat, and the second because, well, because I tend to have selective memory and a vivid imagination which does not perhaps produce the most truthful of accounts.

One thing I do need to do is be authentic, and since this blog is about mental illness and mental health, generally (hopefully) in tandem, I want to be very transparent in my presentation if it might help someone else.

I began 2016 with the worst month I had had in 10 years.  I stood one night with a bottle of pills dumped in my hand, ready to go into my mouth.  I would have done it.  I am not afraid to die. It was the only time the madness stopped and there was silence in the decision. Sometimes the alternative, living, is much harder to contemplate than dying.

One thing stopped me.

It is funny what the mind will do when chemicals run amuck; what the brain produces as rational in the completely irrational.

As I began to lift a 60 count bottle of pills to my mouth, I looked at my dog.  Dexter.  There he sat looking up at me, and I thought, “I can’t do this.  He will never understand why I am gone.”

Dogs are very sensitive to changes in those they love.  Dexter is very aware when I am not quite right.  He sticks close.  He followed me into the bathroom and sat watching as I flushed the pills, and then followed me back to the living room and sat on the couch with me as I cried.

I was crying because I had to go on living.  I was crying because I was in a place I had not been for a very long time.  I was broken and sad, not because my life was broken and sad, but because my brain is broken, and I tend to be sad because of its brokenness.  And I was so very tired.  Tired of fighting with everything I had for something I wasn’t all that interested in hanging on to.

The newest thing to promote the erasure of stigma with mental illness is a semi-colon.  Have you seen the advertisements?  You get a tattoo or a piece of jewelry with a semi-colon to show you have conquered suicide.  I told my husband I would have hundreds of tattoos with semi-colons if I were to show how many times I have overcome suicide.  I am a veteran of mental illness,

And yet…

I was just there again in November and December.  Fortunately, I have a sister who is in crisis intervention and who walked me through it this time.  It didn’t change much at the time.  I still have to live on the “me” side of my brain, and when it is malfunctioning, it’s ugly, and I can’t get away from it. We came up with a game plan and I held on to the hope it would work.

I am fortunate.  I have a lot of family who love me, especially a husband who supports me and is very much on board with helping me find balance.  My biggest issue is me.

I am able to write this blog because I’m past the worst of it.  I’m back to rationale.  I have three degrees in psychology.  I am an authority, personally and professionally, on bipolar disorder.  I have a high IQ, love passionately many people, and am loved passionately.  None of that matters.

The thing that matters most for me is that I trust God with all of it.  I know I can trust him, because we have been walking this illness out for nearly 30 years.  I can’t generate hope on my own.  I can’t beg, borrow, or steal it from someone else.

But I have to have it to keep going, and I get if from him.

I’m better, but there is no “well” for me.  I will always, as I have since I was a teenager, have a tenuous grasp on stability.  I understand my pathology more than most, and I do not believe in sweeping things out of the line of sight.  I know that things others take for granted are just not going to be part of my experience if I want to maintain sanity.

So be it.

I want to make sure that those who deal with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder understand that this illness is not going to work itself out.  It’s not going to go away, and it will most certainly kill you at some point through impulsivity or despair.  Respect it, but don’t let it own you.  Educate yourself, and don’t underestimate it.  Whether you deserve it or not is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that you manage it.

So a new year, for me, is not about resolutions but about being able to say I ran yet another year’s race, dragging mental illness along with me kicking and screaming, and I’m holding steady for the next.

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