Category Archives: Spirituality

End-of-the-Year Hospital Visit–NO!!!

It’s the week before Christmas and all through the house,

the bipolar is stirring, ready to douse

all of the progress, all of the strength

gained through hard work

and too many hospitalizations.

 

imagesYes, it’s that time of year when my illness is triggered just by breathing in the air that there is a holiday. I’ve moved past being highly triggered by memories of planning, leading, singing worship during Advent and Christmas. It’s a memory I don’t relish but it doesn’t cause debilitating pain anymore.

Through the year, I’ve been working with my care team to make it through the year, to identify triggers and work to avoid them, and to develop schedules and habits and skills to provide resilience. We’ve worked HARD. I’VE worked hard.

And then it’s December. Or even the last week of November in preparation for December. We uncovered that it’s not just anticipatory anxiety that makes this month so very difficult. My mental stability is at risk. For approximately 30 years, I’ve associated this time with manic experiences of magic, mystery and mysticism. Nothing to do with Santa and children’s magic. Primarily it was religious mysticism in touch with mystery.

Of course, now I’m medicated and haven’t had those experiences in 3 Decembers. And, as most bipolar persons say, I Miss those Manic experiences. They felt good. I felt connected to the world in a deep way and able to see things that other people could not. I felt like there was meaning in life. Fortunately I never did anything foolish while in these manic phases. Surprising for a bipolar person! But I miss the experiences deeply, especially because they were a part of how I experienced my spirituality.

But…

trigger signReligious symbolism – all of it, whatever the religion – triggers my illness. It reminds me of my experiences. And can push me toward mania if my meds are not adjusted properly. And that next time, I might not be so lucky not to do anything foolish, since the illness is in full bloom now. The last manic experience led to much foolishness, religious foolishness, and it hurt people. So, mania is not the right thing for me.

And reminding me of what I had triggers anxiety that has led to suicidal depression. It would be nice to feel that I was under control, scheduled, with coping skills and resilience so that I don’t end up in the hospital ever again!

Now I can identify that religious symbolism and rituals trigger my illness. This is a huge sign of recovery!

It’s a sign of health if I stay away from the triggers.

 

brainWhich I suppose means my spirituality is on hold. Even though spirituality is a part of every person’s humanity. If ignoring and avoiding religious things means not being tormented, I will gladly give them up.

The torment of this week so far is enough to warn me off from anything else that remotely resembles anything religious – and I’m in a pretty healthy place!

Let’s hope for a hospital-free end-of-the-year.

Went to Church – Didn’t Die

I went to church on Sunday! There was a person to meet me to help me walk in and up to the sanctuary, and to sit with me. That made it so, so much easier just to have someone with me! After the service about 10 people talked with me, very glad to see me, wanting to catch up, inviting me to the women’s retreat. I felt that I fell right into the community I needed and had been missing. I can’t believe how much time it’s been since I was involved in programs…or worship…or community.

I had been scared to return to church after so many painful triggers while in worship, and feeling left out of community since the relationships felt superficial to me – not true friends. The latter may have been only my perception, especially as I was going through mood instability.

Yesterday, though, I had memories of former times, but they Felt like former times and just memories, not triggers. I was able to enter into the experience of worship as I am now. Which means with some attention difficulties. With memories of what I learned in all my religion classes that shape my understanding of the background of scripture and liturgy.

But I was present to the moment and even prayed that I might be open to what God might have in store for me by being there. Perhaps that was community – people sitting with me and checking in with me. Perhaps that was the feeling of raspy singing with my thyroid still making my throat funny (and I haven’t been singing much cuz not in church). Perhaps it was just being open and present – and not scared.

So I’m glad I went. I plan to go next week, unless I freak out between now and then. I’d like to go the women’s retreat, but we do have this cancer surgery thing that I want sooner rather than later. And I’m scared to go away and have spirituality in my face for two days. Could be too much.

I’m giving myself lots of credit for facing the fear of going to church, and going through with it, and having a great time. Progress.

Neurosurgeons and Cab Drivers

I encountered kindness from two wonderful men today. One was Dr. Koski, the neurosurgeon I saw 5 years ago and was checking in with today. Reviewing tests and symptoms, he explained in his gentle manner, that I probably have contracted hip flexors causing pelvic tilt, or responding to pain in lower back and therefore leaning forward. Or both. Leaning forward is from tilted pelvis, not from back. Which is good in a weird way. Because fusing down to S1, while still likely for me in the future, is still a brutal surgery. An anterior and posterior approach, loss of mobility including harder to get in cars and take care of personals. But if the surgery allows you to walk, the trade-off could be ok. But I’m  so young he wants to wait as long as possible.

He offered some possible hope in seeing a physiatrist who will work with physical therapy, trigger shots, facet joint shots, and non-surgical wholistic approaches. I called and made an appointment – got in tomorrow. Great! Let’s get started on this pain management so I can stop wanting to cut body parts out!

As I travelled today, my thoughts raced and I felt so overwhelmed with the stress of staying aware of my surroundings so I would know how to react appropriately in public AND limit my pain. It was a lot. Plus stress from yesterday’s nervousness in the job interview. Plus the huge pain blow of going to the concert on Sunday. I’m exhausted, AND at the end of my rope. I used many coping skills to make it through the day and be as present as possible to get the most information I could from the appointment. But by the time I got on the train home, I felt significantly destabilized. My center is off. My mood is off. I’m having suicidal thoughts and desires. I can’t handle this and I can’t handle heading down this path again – whether the excruciating physical pain or the excruciating mental pain. I’m repulsed. But feeling the spiral pulling me down.

Then the driver of the cab I took from the train station home had comforting words for me. A kiss from Spirit, especially in my destabilized mood. As he asked me questions, I revealed I was disabled, had worked as a pastor and in libraries and offices. He asked about the disability, I said brain disorder, and when he pushed I said bipolar disorder. He eventually told me his daughter was depressed and cut during high school, a situation that led to a marital split from his wife. The daughter is doing better now but still has to be careful. He encouraged me to stay with the meds and to know that God wasn’t done with me yet. That it’s important to keep going on and push forward. And even when he was contemplating suicide, he was able to remember that his son would never forgive him and he was needed here to be a light and kind to people in his life, what he thought was his Christian job. Amen to someone who gets what it means to be a Christian! Amen that he was able to minister to me when I’d been thinking terrible thoughts all day.

Now if that feeling would last longer than 5 minutes, that would make my day. Still destabilized. Nicht gut.

Greetings to My Online Family!

I am full of gratitude for my online family. I have a wide-ranging network of 400+ people I know online (several overlap among Facebook, twitter, and the blog). This week alone I received help from my online family in several ways. Since I’ve been out of the non-religious workforce for several years, my mind blanked. And I asked my online family for questions to ask in a phone interview. Several poured in!**

My online family, who knows my story and my struggles of the last many years, also gave me repeated encouragement to do the interview and that I can hold a job. They helped me through a panic attack last week because of increased chronic pain that incited plans to hurt myself. I didn’t think I could handle it, but with my online family and the support of my professional care team, I avoided a hospitalization – yay!

Through the internet I feel connected to people I never get to see, or don’t get to see often enough. Real connections. Real care. Real prayer. Real help. I know these friends are there on the other end of the line offering their real opinions and snark, and their real care. I wish more of my immediate family were online since I tend to update my status and converse online more than make phone calls. I never have been a phone person, and I took to the internet as soon as it burst onto the scene in the 90’s.

I also had the chance to be with my online family while my church of affiliation, the Presbyterian Church (USA), met for its biennial General Assembly. Many of us presby-geeks watched the live feed from the website and tweeted our comments and hopes. Several friends were there in person and tweeted what was going on when we couldn’t see or hear or figure out what was going on. We felt like we were part of the family reunion feeling that usually goes along with General Assembly’s 4,000 people in attendance. When votes didn’t go the way the Presbytery of Twitter (as we called ourselves) wanted, we took solace and hope in others who held hope and encouraged one another.

Another way I find help from my online family are mental health websites with a conversational feel in the content and comments. I get support to live healthily and without anxiety about my illness because of folks like Natasha Tracy, my favorite blogger. She blogs @ Bipolar Burble and Breaking Bipolar and Bipolar Bites. Yes, it is several sites. Two are two different mental health sites. She rarely repeats herself and so I find help by following her musings and reports from the medical community for cures and treatments.

Thank you again, my online family! I couldn’t do this without you!

** Some questions to ask during an interview

  • What is the X factor you’re looking for in the person in this job?
  • How will you know if this job is being performed well?
  • What challenges about this job do you think I should be aware of?
  • Why do you enjoy working there?
  • What about serving the clients is important to you?
  • What are you excited about in what you’re doing?
  • What’s the best part about working here? worst?
  • What makes you look forward to coming to your job in the morning?
  • What would you like this organization to look like in five years?”
  • Is the position likely to grow full-time anytime in the future?

Upcoming Changes or Returns to Origins?

I’m at a loss in my spiritual life. I’m not sure of God or how God acts in the world. Lots of ennui. Wish I could benefit from a caring community, but am not able to participate in it unless I return to church form and language that doesn’t feel like my authentic language anymore, and it triggers deep pain of memories in that structure. I’m also entertaining thoughts of the Divine Feminine, which could be the God I’ve known all along, but not heard in language within the patriarchal and bureaucratic church. I don’t know where I’m heading. Just waiting.

Dave and I want to move back to California, our home. The land, the ocean. It speaks to me and makes me feel more centered. This plan is still a few years off though since we are broke. And I need some time for stability to be solid before uprooting everything.

In the last couple days I’ve been looking at sociology of religion Ph.D programs in California and Oregon. I’ve been interested in sociology of religion since my Reformation Christianity class as an undergraduate. Then my interest blossomed completely in grad school. I’m not completely sure what my target topic is – a good reason not to pursue more graduate work at this time. So far I’m interested in how the mainline churches are shifting so slowly to be relevant to a 21st century world, culture and people. Another reason not to pursue study at this time is that I still have latent but deep interest in advocacy and empowering work for women. And in studying the Divine Feminine. So you can see how it would be nearly impossible to write a Statement of Purpose with diverse interests that I haven’t narrowed down yet.

I’m hoping that when I find some spirituality again, whether the traditional form and inclusive language I loved deeply, or some other form or language, then I’ll know a bit more where I might be heading for Ph.D work too. Or maybe just some direction in my life at all.

Of course I still have No Freaking Clue what my future looks like. I’m able to look about a week into the future at a time. I’m still laying foundations and habits to sustain a stable and average life for myself. Concentration and focus are still elusive, as is stamina. And I’ve still got no real hope at this time. Seriously. I don’t feel hope or inspiration. I find a little joy in a few activities. But music or stories or conversations that used to lift my mood – nothing. In fact, they are almost irritating. So without even inspiration or mood lifting activities, hope is elusive. So even as I dream of California or Ph.D work, they are ethereal, as is my spiritual life. Nothing to grab on to. Just disappearing images in the fog.

Lovely.

Stop the Blasted Triggers Already!

I had an interesting day today, full of triggers I only vaguely expected.

First, it was rather triggering to hear stories of other folks who are self-injuring or on suicide watch. I had to stop, remind myself to be in the present moment where I am safe. I don’t have to think about that or feel scared. Just be. Just wait for the moment to pass.

I could have spoken up and asked the person to stop talking about that. I guess that’s the next step for me: to advocate for my needs, not just notice my own needs and try to take care of it myself (a feat that is new and progress in itself).

The second trigger was the one I sort of expected but still got blind-sided by. I loved reading Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass, and was looking forward to talking about it with other smart people who care about churches and congregants and new and old followers of Jesus. And then, of course, the whole conversation just reminded me that I’m not in the same context as the rest of the folks. I don’t have a congregation I’m currently working with. I had good things to say about how it explained my experience, my hope for the church because of this work, etc.

What bothered me more was that I felt triggered by the conversation though. Since I found myself encouraged by the book, I wasn’t expecting to be triggered into panic so much. Especially not to feeling so sick to my stomach. But just talking about churchy things, or hearing about how slowly the church really will be to change and move into this new paradigm – it hurts. I wish more for the church. I wish folks in it would move faster so that others could be included. I wish it would move faster so I could find a place in it. It’s like there’s no place for me anymore, to serve or to be fed. (not a totally rational thought, I know) Dare I break out of church and find a different path and others to walk with? Maybe it served it’s purpose for a while in my life, and now I need to look elsewhere?

Just some thoughts on today. Wish I didn’t still feel sick to my stomach though…

Not Normal

When a pastor tells you (well, a congregation), that not even death can separate you from the love of God that will never let you go…

…It’s not normal to contemplate suicide. And whether that counts. And whether it will bring you closer to God or just into beautiful nothingness.

Just sayin.

Gist of sermon was to sum up the gospel: we’re supposed to know we are embraced by the love of God that will never let us go and we are tossed out into the world to share that same gospel in as many ways as possible. To be a follower of Jesus is to have a jubilant song in your heart, your heart burning, as those Emmaus disciples and let your life burst forth from that. (Paraphrasing, of course!)

And because I don’t have mystical religious experiences anymore, I don’t know how to have a jubilant song in my heart anymore. My heart doesn’t rise and fall with passion for the world and people. It just feels broken.