Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “hope”

Viewing Christmas Through Grief

Every Christmas part of my viewing list is the movie, “Meet Me In St. Louis.” I love the music and imagery presented of a family united in their living, even when they don’t agree. I am inspired every time I watch this movie, along with many others on my Christmas viewing list, to gather my family to me and hold them close. This Christmas season, however, is one of the most difficult I can remember in my 46 years on this earth, and gathering my family to me will not happen this year. I feel I am caught in the bonds of remembrance, whose embrace is bittersweet, and my heart hurts with the reckoning of the way things are in relation to what I would like them to be.

This year we lost my 19 year old niece to suicide, and the impact of it will ripple through our familial structure forever; the devastation firmly seated with my sister and her family. There are no words; just no words to define what has happened here. I can’t even explain what this has done to our outside structure. If there were narrow roads of communication between us due to the erosion of time and life choices, the destruction wrought by this act has obliterated many of those narrow roadways between all of us, and all that remains are cavernous holes.

You see, when a tragedy happens, there is either enough integrity in the structure that it endures, or it simply blows apart, because there was not enough steel there to hold it together. Pardon my mixing of imagery, but this seems to need multiple visual constructs. For some of our structure there simply was not enough steel to hold things together. Love remains. We love one another, but love is not always enough contrary to pop culture.

I cannot speak for the other members of my family. I have an idea of where they are in the process, but when you have a family of introverts, with only a couple of extroverts seaming everything together, it is difficult to get everyone communicating, and introverts rather often feel misunderstood, because we tend to withhold who we are and tend not to express what really, deeply moves us.

So, for me, I find this Christmas season to be somewhat in opposition with the sorrow and hurt in my heart for my sister and her family, for my parents who lost a grandchild, and the rest of my siblings and me who lost someone we cared about and who feel impotent in the aftermath. I want to celebrate and wrap up in the ribbons of joy produced only during this magnificent season, but they are singed by the fires of grief that threaten to burn down every beautiful moment possible. And even though I need desperately to experience some beauty, it seems fitting and right somehow that more is lost in the blaze than the broken hearts that struggle through it.

I find myself at sixes and sevens as I pursue Christmas traditions. I see the family on the movie I referenced above, celebrating, and I want to make cookies and pies with my siblings like we used to; chatting animatedly and laughing together. But then I am pierced as I think of my little sister struggling to move through every day and find the meaning therein, most significantly through this Christmas season. I am held hostage as the two vibrant heart moments collide, and I just want to go back to bed.

My people tend to turn into themselves the more deeply we feel. I confess to be one of the worst offenders in this category, but I am trying to communicate with my husband and share with him the mixed up menagerie of exhaustive and conflicting emotions and thoughts impacting me during this season.

I have little rhyme or reason for expressing my own grief. I can say that I grieve more for my sister than for my niece, whom I believe is in heaven no longer suffering. It is possible to experience loss so deeply for someone else that you cannot function well through it. It is possible to hurt so bad for them that you are wounded from that alone. I had no idea.

But, I am learning. I am understanding that even now there are so many more ways the heart can be rendered incompetent in daily functioning. It is part of living. Having a heartbeat means it can be wounded, and that it can heal. That is the thing to look at.

So as I sit staring at my beautiful Christmas tree, I am reminded that the beautiful in my life does not come from the trappings that make it glow. What makes my life beautiful is what I experience and the fact that I am able to care enough to be grieved; the fact that even though we can’t go back to those carefree times of laughing through the messes made in the kitchen, we can endure and love another through the messes of life. Even if we don’t understand one another. Even if we can’t find the light in the dark. If love is there, “hope remains while the company is true” (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings).

God does not give up on his children. He does not do bad things to us. Stuff happens. I do not pretend to have the answers to the difficult questions. I quit asking a long time ago. What I know is that he has come through for me more times that I have suffered. I call him Yeshua (the Rescuer), because even though he has not removed mental illness from my life; even though I struggle every day, not with the normal issues in life, thought they press in, I have to grapple with finding reasons every day not to end my life. So, I know the price of suffering. I know who my people are, and regardless of what I do not understand, of what I have lost, of what my precious sister has lost, I know what I have gained and who rescues me every day.

So, this Christmas, as I straddle the fire flow burning a black chasm through my memories and traditions of Christmas, I am reminded of what remains through it all: Faith, Hope, and Love.

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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.

Words Like…Intimacy

I am a person of words.  I have always been so, according to my mother.  I enjoy taking words and using them differently than what is usual.  It has always been a game for me and something that keeps an over active brain occupied.  I am forever looking for ways to define life in a unique way.  This in combination with my background in psychology leaves me looking for patterns in society and vocabulary in which those patterns are defined, and my current focus is on how our society is defining intimacy.

The translation of intimacy seems to have streamlined to the external and focuses on sex.  Sex is certainly one expression of intimacy, but I hope we know there is so much more to it.  There are words that live outside of what I hear being used to define intimacy.  There are moments that far better define the act of intimacy, and those moments should be articulated in our society.

I hear people talk about love and sex as if they are mutually inclusive.  You are not loving someone if you are not having sex, and maybe the most concerning is the idea that sex is the definition of love, so you can’t love without having sex.

I’m not really concerned about the sex life of the person next to me.  What I am concerned with is this ideology that sex and love are mutually inclusive and yet…

We use the two terms rather easily as though they are both disposable, used and easily tossed away. It is a dichotomy that causes me some dismay and seems to create confusion.  You may be reading this and scratching you head at what I am saying, so let me see if I can better articulate what I looking at here.

I can have sex.  I can enjoy sex with someone.  That does not mean I love them.  It means I allowed them access to my body, rendered myself vulnerable on several levels to explore a physical moment.  That does not mean I love that person.

I can love a person.  I can feel my heart nearly explode with love every time I see them, and yet I can choose not to have sex with them.  Because I did not have sex does that mean I love them less?  In not having sex, I choose not to fulfill the body, soul, and mind experience that should accompany loving someone.

Intimacy is a further expression of knowing someone so well and caring so deeply for them you express that in multiple ways.

So here is the thing, intimacy is not about sex. Intimacy is defined in the dictionary as a “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group,” and, a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.,”  

I would combine the two definitions and say, “a close familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with detailed knowledge or deep understanding of another person.” The definition in the dictionary does render “sexual intercourse” and an “amorous act” as definitions of intimacy, but I should hope the term is far more dimensional than that.  We have many ways of expressing the act of sex, so let’s look at intimacy with a bit more depth.

Intimacy is weathering a loss with another person, learning about them and self through the storm, and one day down the road, looking at them across the table in a group of people, and suddenly only the two of you are in the room.  You and that person share a moment of such intense knowledge of one another because of what you have learned about one another through fire that you transcend the moment and physical space to become joined in a single moment through a single moment.

Intimacy is being in a place that is uncomfortable, in a situation that is uncomfortable, having your partner brush a finger lightly along the outside of your hand and suddenly everything shifts and that one action levels the playing field.

Intimacy is knowing a person so well you know what not to say to keep from hurting them and what will take them out in a fight.

Intimacy is about building something with another person, whether they be a lover or a loved one, to the point where you trust they know you nearly as well as you know yourself, and if you ever needed them to make decisions for you, you know you could trust them.

Intimacy is about sharing, sacrificing, exposure, loving, living, wanting, giving, strength, passion, intricacy, need, selflessness, vulnerability, empowerment, knowledge, patience, faith, trust, hope, longing, self-control, vitality, tenacity, perspicacity, transparency, and surrender.

Sex may be a big part of intimacy, but it is not the definition, and I feel a need to write this out, because we are losing the value of intimacy.  I think people don’t want to fight for it.  It is less messy and doesn’t take as much time if we do not focus on intimacy in relationships;

but then what is left?

I watched a movie many years ago.  Can’t think what it was now, but what stuck with me was something the main actor said, “I want someone who knows me so well, he knows what kind of toothpaste I use,” and I remember thinking that if I were to ever commit to someone I would want him to care enough about me to learn what matters to me, my idiosyncrasies, and my processes; who I am; my details.

I have a few intimate relationships that I value above all things.  They have taken time to build.  They have weathered so much of my life with me.  These people, I hope, I will never have to go through life without, and of course, my most intimate relationship is with my husband.

We have weathered big storms together, and though sex is certainly a part of that, what glues us together in the big life storms is not that act.  It’s all the other things that express knowledge and understanding of one another.  There are times when sex heals us, but far more often its a look of intense knowing, a shared history, a touch that says, “I’m here,” the hug that expels the day, the kiss that leaves the soft promise of things to come, and the verbal expression of, “I so love you,” through tears of pain and grief that somehow leaves comfort as it lingers.

That’s intimacy.

 

 

 

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.

 

The Waiting Room

I have been exploring the waiting room. I spend a lot of time here; more time than in any other place. The waiting room I am referencing here is an icon for the time I spend waiting on change in my life. As an expert on change leadership, I find it interesting that the models that address change for organizations do not include waiting. It is so easy to put all the focus on the traumas of change, and there are a lot, but in my personal walk, I find the waiting to be the most difficult. Sometimes when I am waiting I truly cannot stand where I am at. I desperately need change that seems to be elusive.

Other times I know change is about to occur. I can feel it in my bones, and all indicators point that way, but the process seems to pause. It takes a deep inhale and then refuses to exhale for much longer than I care to wait. And finally, sometimes I am waiting in the midst of change. The change process has started and then stalled. I cannot really say which type of waiting is most difficult for me. I have experienced all three types, and I really just cannot pinpoint which is worse, but one thing I can say with certainty, all types happen to me. They were a part of my past, are in my present, and will continue in my future, I am certain.

So what is the point of waiting? Well, if you wait something out, you persevere, right? And that perseverance sustains to an outcome at some point. Okay, fine, but what about when you are finding it nearly impossible to wait? I could give lots of glib responses that we have all heard. Waiting develops patience. Waiting helps us grow. We have to trust Abba in the midst of waiting. We have to have faith and hope that it will all work out. While all of these responses are true, my visceral reaction is…BLAH! I know all the typical responses, and yet they produce little in the way of answering two questions, “Why do I always have to wait?”, and “What is the benefit of waiting?” These two questions may be kissing cousins in terms of content, but they are uppermost in my mind every time I end up in a waiting cycle.

I know very few people who love to wait. There are some who seem to manage it better and are better equipped to maintain while waiting for the bus to start moving again. Bully for them. I don’t happen to be one of those individuals, and every time I begin waiting for another period of time, I am no better at it than the last time. It is most likely a character flaw I have, no doubt. In large part, though, I have decided that the previous questions are rhetorical. I have not procured any answers as to why I have to wait other than that waiting is part of life. For those on a spiritual journey along with the flesh and bone type, waiting is often part of learning a lesson that cannot be obtained elsewhere and is vital to the next change. I have to relearn every time that I must give over anxiety and fear of what I cannot see and relax with a trust that Abba’s timing is perfect. And to be honest, if I had no Abba to trust in, no faith or journey for my soul, I seriously doubt I would sustain through waiting times. It is simply not in my nature to be passive, so waiting on the exterior to meet up with interior experience is just not something I can do without Abbas’ reassurance that he’s got “this”.

As to the benefit of waiting? I think the benefit of choosing to wait rather than plow ahead, as I am want to do, exists in an outcome that is better timed, embellished with more advanced skill sets that are obtained only in the waiting period. But, while I can provide rationale for my questions, I am no more comfortable with the process than before.

I guess my point here is that waiting is a necessary part of the human existence whether we do it well or not, whether we understand it or not, and whether we learn life lessons along the way or not. In writing this little circular essay about something I detest, I have somehow managed to reconcile my will with doing so once again. And THAT was the point of the exercise.

To those in the waiting room…Since we are here once again, maybe we should leave some notes on the walls and chairs to remind us about the process the next time. Maybe we need to graffiti the place so that next time we will know we survived the last time, and not only did the waiting leave a mark on us, but we left our mark as well. In doing so we will move from passive orientation to active, and that suits me fine.

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.

Madeleine L’Engle, Icons and Idols, and Carrier Fisher

I am a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle.  I prefer her nonfiction to her fiction and have read her books over and over in past years.  Currently, I am rereading “Penguins and Golden Calves.”  This is one of my favs of hers, because it addresses the differences between icons and idols.

An icon is something that is a reminder of something else.  It is like a bookmark in a book on a certain section you do not want to forget.  When you look at an icon you can be transported back to a place in time.  An icon can be a reminder of something else that you hold dear.  My wedding band is an icon for me, for when I look at it, I am reminded of a moment when my husband proposed to me, but it is also a reminder to me of the love we share and the promise I made to him to always consider him when making decisions.  This is a difficult thing for me, as I was single for many years before I met him, so the symbol is important to me.

An idol is something altogether different.  An idol often starts out as an icon, but then obsession takes hold, and suddenly that which was a reminder of something we valued becomes more important than that what it was put in place to help us remember.  An idol is dangerous because we can waste time and energy on something that takes us so far away from the reality of our own lives and who we are that we become lost in, not living, but in existing for the thing we are idolizing.  Sometimes it is a person.  Sometimes it is money.  But more often it is less obvious and, as such, more dangerous.

I find it fortuitous, my reading Madeleine’s book at this time.

If you have been involved in my writing or have been on my Live Mental page, you will know I am a fan of Carrie Fisher.  She has been an icon for me about having longevity with major mental illness.  She constantly reinvented herself and her life over the years, and she was always very candid about her battle with mental illness and, by extension, drug addiction.

When she passed away, I was quite sad.  I felt like I had a kindred spirit in her; someone who has traversed this dangerous road of mental illness ahead of me.  She was inspiration for me to keep going at times when I have felt I was all alone in the dark of this living black night, and suddenly, she was gone.

When Carrie died, I confess I was relieved her death was a result of something normal, a heart attack.  When I say normal I am quantifying with natural causes vs. suicide or drug overdose.  I could rest in the fact that she ran her race, and though it was still early days, she had had a very full and vibrant life, conquering her demons as they came.

You most likely know that the toxicology report came back to reveal drugs in Carrie’s system, and not the kind you use to legally and effectively control bipolar disorder.  I was really heartbroken.  I was a little surprised at the impact the new information had on me.  I felt betrayed.  How could she do such a thing!  She had been clean for so long, as far as anyone knew, and now the focus will shift from her valiant experience with mental illness where her heart just finally gave out, to her death potentially being impacted by drugs in her system.

It seemed sordid to me, and I just really wanted my icon to have died from natural causes.  I realized this morning, as I was reading Madeleine, Carrie Fisher had been an icon for me, representing the hope that it is possible to live a long life with bipolar disorder and die of causes not related to the illness.  Nothing wrong with that, but what I realized was that I made her a bit of an idol in my life.  An idol can garner worship.  That is where obsession factors in, and when I become consumed with the grief of a person’s passing, whom I never knew, and angry with her because of her choices before her death, I have crossed a line from reminder into something unhealthy.

Carrie Fisher started out as an icon of hope for me and ended up an idol I was holding responsible for letting me down.  Not good.  But seeing it is all it takes for me to reconcile the difference.  I can be sad that she, in fact, struggled with drug addiction all the way up until her death.  She did not conquer it.  But she was human, and there are many things we do not ever manage to conquer in this life.

Life is about finding balance and knowing what it feels like so that when we do go to one extreme or another for a time, we can recognize it, make an adjustment, and get back to balance, because it is a familiar place to us.  Icons help with that transition.  For me, they remind me of what is valuable.  I have many physical icons in my world.  I have a rock my friend, Lynn, gave me during a time where I was under so much stress I was collapsing both physically and mentally.  It is a symbol of the tangible being, because it is so solid, and it is an icon of a person’s ability to care about another person enough to give as a means of alleviating pain.  I have many icons that are reminders of people who are no longer with me, and I have icons that remind me of things I have achieved so that when I am doubting myself, I can look at them and remember I have made accomplishments.

I cannot recall ever intentionally embracing and idol in my life.  I have not found any healthy reason to do so, but that does not mean I have not idolized.  I know that slowly, subtly, some things have become idols in my life.  But my test is always, “If I were asked to, could I, would I give this up?”  If my answer is, “No!” I have a problem.  It is rare I have struggled violently to give up something I have made an idol, but it has happened.

Do you have icons or idols in your life?  Next time you find yourself overreacting to something ask yourself, “Is this an icon, or is this and idol?”  Icons promote health.  Idols promote decay, and I’m grateful to have both Madeleine L’Engle and Carrie Fisher as icons, contributing to MY health.

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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