Friday, January 31, 2014

No Judging, No Condeming, Only Forgiving

These two scriptures have been placed on my heart and in light of what I shared the other day I feel like I need to share them here today.
Acts 4:32-33 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.
We all belong to God. Everything we have, the good and the bad, belong to him and yet He has placed us together and asked us to share everything we have. 
Luke 6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

After all I wrote about on Bell Let's Talk day (click here to read it if you missed it) I am feeling most convicted of this... by talking about judging, I was judging.  By talking about condemning, I was condemning. And by forgiving, I shall be forgiven.

I wrote two days ago with honesty and transparency and I feel I need to do a bit of a follow up.
First of all I need to reassure everyone that life really is improving, that my faith in the medical profession is being restored, that I am happy and feeling good about life. My life may not be what I dreamed it would be 20 years ago...but then who has the life they dreamed of when they were in their late teens and early twenties.  I am so very blessed and can say, with honesty and sincerity, that being affected by mental illness, struggling with the issues I wrote about yesterday and even losing my son and a piece of my heart are blessings too.

But what I really need to share is what I was convicted with the other night when I came across the above scriptures in a novel I am reading.  I realized that a community can be made up of anyone, can be brought together for any reason and will always consist of people who have a wide variety of personality traits, skills, strengths and weaknesses.  The key thing to a community is it's definition....
a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common as well as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
If we truly have a feeling of fellowship and belonging then we should share everything, we should embrace everything and we should forgive time anyway. 
I realized that after I wrote about how it felt to live with mental illness in my home and how that affects me , I was really writing about feeling like I don't belong.
This is, sadly, something I have felt this for years.  I tried to fit in... too hard at times.  Maybe more then 'at times'.  I just never felt like I measured up to the standards I felt were set for me or in comparison to my friends.  There were always people better then me at everything. 
At the end of highschool I competed in the 'queen of the fair' competition in our hometown fair. I did it because it was the 'thing to do', because I had an interest in the fair and agriculture and because it seemed like fun.  I said right from the start that I was just doing it for fun, that I didn't want to win.  I said this because I knew there was no chance I would win.  Two of my very good friends were also competing against me. Both were more talented in music, more athletic, more popular and definitely stronger in school. I might have belonged in the contest but I didn't belong under the tiara. 
Imagine my shock when they announced me as the winner!  To this day I am not sure why I was chosen over my friends but I do know that I shared a piece of my heart in my speech and that just might have been what put me over the top.  I'll come back to what I shared later because it actually ties in to another realization that I had the other night. This is just one of many examples I could give of times where I convinced myself that I didn't care or didn't want something so that I could protect my heart from the hurt of failure or rejection.
The feelings of not belonging, not fitting in, not measuring up where all things I controlled, not that controlled me...but yet I let them and I fed them.  And in all honesty I should not be writing those statements in the past tense but rather the present.  I still do this...all the time.
But the thing about belonging, whether it is in a community or a family is that it is not a one way street.  If you expect to be accepted and included then you need to accept and include others.  If you want  support when times are tough then you need to offer support to others when they are struggling.
And that is something I don't do a very good job of I think... maybe initially, maybe when it's obvious...but as time goes on I get selfishly caught up in my own life and I forget to check in, forget to offer my ear to listen, my shoulder to lean or cry on.
And so now I am feeling completely convicted of being a judgmental jerk and a hypocrite.  If I can get busy with my life and be oblivious to the needs of others then why is it ok to judge others for doing the same.  And even worse, how can I condemn them for doing something that I do myself.   I can say all I want about how it feels to not be supported, understood or accepted for who you are not what you are going through or your actions but I've done it to.  I have accused others of not changing their way of thinking and complained of them not supporting me but I am guilty of this too...and I have made a promise to myself to change. 
And I apologize to anyone who might have been thinking this all along as they read my last post and felt a bit put off by my attitude.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Let’s Talk… Let’s Stop and Really Talk

So today is Bell’s Let’s Talk day

It’s an initiative by Bell Canada to end the stigma of mental health disorders, to raise awareness to the growing number of Canadians who suffer from mental health issues each and every day and to find ways to get everyone involved in supporting and advocating for those affected.

I’ve wrote about mental health issues before in my blog.  It’s been something that has affected my family for years.  I’ve always been vague…out of respect for my husband and our family and, well, because it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about and no one seems to take seriously.  And today I’m not going to be vague.  Today I am going to talk. Today it is time to give everyone who reads my blog a bit of a peak into my life and to be really damned honest about how the stigma really feels.
The thing about mental illness is that no two days are ever the same.  The thing about mental illness is that no two people are the same.  The thing about mental illness is that there is no easy answers, cures, fixes or solutions.  And the thing about mental illness, the thing no one ever really touches on, is that, though it is by no means contagious, it most certainly can lead to mental health issues in the loved ones affected by the person originally diagnosed. It sure has for me.

And that is my life.  No two days are the same, no two hours are the same some days.  Walking on eggshells at times has become the norm.  Not knowing what would set it off, not knowing whether a bad start to a day put the writing on the wall for a day from hell or a day of amazing learning experiences.  Wondering when the other shoe would drop has also become a way of life for me and I think that is the hardest of all...the unpredictability of it all. That and the knowledge that it didn't used to be this way, that the person I married isn't the person I am married to anymore much of the time and the memories of easier times are, at times, no blessing at all. 

When I first we first began dating I knew there was something different about him…something awesome.  He treated me with such respect and he had such an interest in what I had to say, what I liked to do…in my life.  I had met him before and, in all honesty, thought he was a self-centered jerk and a show off.  But that was in a group. That was in front of a crowd.  When it was just us or just a small group he was so different. So natural, so genuine, so real and honest. Back then, when we began dating, I had no idea why there was the two sides to him.  Now I know… because deep deep inside he was ill at ease with himself, he was unsure, he was torn… but when I say that was deep inside I mean deep…so deep that he had no idea that he even had two sides, so deep that he, to this day, doesn’t really see this about himself and he has no idea why it happens.  I was drawn to that one side of him, this thoughtful, compassionate, loving, caring and very unmasculine, at times, side.
After we spent a number of months together I saw the anger side come out and often saw the side his psychiatrist calls ‘the overwhelming certainty’ side.  But I didn’t understand it and it didn’t affect me…and really was so rare that it didn’t matter at all.  Back then he worked hard, had fun, had lots of casual friends (though very few really close friends) and always had a job or even two. 

Fast forward a few years.  A kid or two, a house or two, money stress, job stress, marriage stress and, most of all, kid stress.  As time went on all of these things created a person that was very different at times from the man I fell in love with, the man I married.  There were angry moments, moments that weren't really moments for they lasted hours or sometimes days. And there were sad moments, dark times, silent times, lost times. For a long time I sat silent about the problem though I never sat silent through the anger…let’s be honest, I don’t know how to be quiet long, I don’t like to be told I am wrong about much and I am ‘good’ at arguing.  And there in began one of the biggest downfalls of our life... the volume and tone of our conversations, the words used, the attitudes taken.  It began to cause tension between us but it also began to push people away.  
Eventually I did speak up, eventually I did point out what I saw, what I felt.  And eventually he did ask for some help, was given some medication for depression and sent on his way.  
Fast forward 3 more years and add in the stress of an unplanned twin pregnancy, a significant medical diagnosis, the loss of a child, the hospitalization of myself and the premature birth of our surviving twin and you get a recipe for disaster when you are already struggling with your mental health and have done nothing except taken medication for it.  
The bottom fell out and the medical profession tried to put it back together with a quick assessment, some more medication and a few therapy sessions.  Bandaids...that's all we were given...bandaid solutions.  
And so it comes as no surprise that eventually the bottom really fell out about a year later and he hit rock bottom....heck our marriage hit rock bottom. Life sucked for a long time in this phase.  Some things were absolutely awesome... we found Christ and were born again. We found an amazing church and amazing friends and felt loved and supported.  And that was a very good thing because at the same time as those new relationships were forming, others were falling apart (and continue to do so it would seem).  I began opening up to others and being more honest in hopes that I would gain support, help, empathy.  Sadly, this is where I learned that this stigma of mental health goes beyond a lack of understanding.  It puts blinders on, it forms opinions and judgements and it can rip friendships apart. 
And we were still coasting through it all, despite a formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder because the medical professionals were still just offering bandaid solutions.   
Until one day an amazing Christian counselor offered ideas, solutions, the name of a doctor, a step by step plan with assigned jobs for both of us to help implement it.  And best of all, a new diagnosis, a much less 'life limiting' diagnosis, a much more treatable diagnosis was discovered. 
***and add in edit here after many have read this and it's become obvious that I didn't make this part clear*** He wasn't bipolar, he never had been bipolar.  This was and still is one of the most frustrating parts of this. We wasted 4 years of our lives trying to figure out what was 'wrong' with him...why nothing got better really despite being on meds for this disorder that seemed to be so threatening, such a life sentence.  We learned how much had been done wrong, how little had been invested in helping him.  But we had to move past that and work at discovering what the real problem might be.  That isn't really easy to explain or understand but simply put he doesn't regulate his emotions properly and they are all kind of messed up in his head, 'disassociated' to be exact.  It very well stems from incidents that are many many years old and were formed very early in his life.  There are some other things that go with this that cause him to be very 'certain' of himself...over certain, blameless in his mind etc and when all is said and done these things have created major struggles in maintaining relationships with family, friends, supervisors and bosses, co-workers etc.
But slowly, very slowly, things have started to move forward.  There were bumps in the road, there were further stresses...job losses, money troubles, family dynamics and relationships..but all in all, the road to recovery seems to be one we are on.

And so why am I doing this?  Why am I sharing this very personal information about our life ???  Because I am tired.  Tired of making excuses, tired of being embarrassed, tired of trying to explain only to know that it’s falling on deaf ears…that the judgements won’t go away no matter what I say, no matter how hard I try to explain.  I am tired of the looks. Tired of the silence that has come from friends who used to be there.  Tired of the comments.  I just want to talk about it without feeling unheard, unwelcome, unsupported.  I just want to feel like it doesn't matter that mistakes have been made...each day is a new day.  I just want to feel like I am not being held accountable for things I have no control what so ever over.  I just want the love and acceptance that I once had from friends and family to return and not be based on anything but who I am inside. 

I found this great article that really goes into the reasons why the stigma around mental health disorders is so damaging.

You can read the full article here but I am going to comment on a few parts of it.  
One thing that really jumped out at me was this statistic....Just under half of Canadians thought that a mental disorder was just an excuse for poor behaviour .  That is what people don't seem to understand... this poor behaviour...the displays of anger, the inconsistencies, the things that come off as rude, selfish or inconsiderate.... for so many people suffering from a mental health disorder there is little to no control of those things.  It's not intentional, it's not controllable.  And very often it isn't even something the person is aware of.  
There are some great ways to help end this stigma, end this attitude that really only leads to judging:
Address differences that prevent people from taking part in communities: Poverty, lack of affordable housing, lack of education opportunities and lack of meaningful work are a few of the social factors that affect well-being. These factors may be both a result of poor health and a cause of poor health. 

 Support everyone’s right to work: It’s no wonder that the right to employment is identified as a human right by the United Nations. Work gives us purpose and meaning. It’s also tied to income, which is tied to other social factors.
 Promote direct personal contact: Meeting and interacting with people with mental health or substance use problems is one of the best ways to improve attitudes and behaviours. The key here to me is interacting, getting involved, checking in on the person and their family. 
 Look at mental health problems as a part of our shared humanity: Fear, prejudice and discrimination lessen when we talk about mental health problems as an understandable response to a unique set of circumstances—not just as biological problems. You can't turn your back on it and hope it will go away.  If you share any part of your life with the person affected or their family then you share this part of their life too.
Help people be heard: We need to encourage and empower people with experiences of mental health issues to be leaders in any efforts, such as anti-stigma programs and research. This includes supporting people and connecting them with peers. When people relate to each other’s struggles and want to see changes, they’re more likely to share their stories and protest when they see injustice.

Ending the stigma, finding acceptance, empathy, compassion and even understanding has to come from within.  It isn't up to the person with the mental health issue, it isn't up to the family of that's up to you.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Finally Finishing this up...

So I came back here today to get back to write about something that I read in a devotional that really spoke to me and tied into love...the last theme for my advent project that I never finished...what can I say except I got busy, distracted and lacked motivation.  Christmas prep came,  my awesome brother from Saskatchewan and his family came, Christmas came, illness came (uggg) and some awesome time with family and friends came. 
Anyway, what I discovered when I came back is that I had written and posted some blog entries and dated them to post in the future back around Dec. 19th and none of them posted...looks like I scheduled the date and then forgot to hit post.  So please go back and read those posts
December 20
December 21
December 22
December 23
and then come back here later (hopefully sooner then later) and read my final post on love below.  Thanks!

I read about this sculpture from The Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire which is one of England’s best-preserved medieval monasteries. For hundreds of years, Carthusian monks lived there in solitude, devoting themselves to prayer. The priory’s ruins are impressive, but this more modern monument caught the eye of the writer of my devotion's attention.

At the center of this church stands this sculpture.  Known as the Madonna of the Cross, it depicts Jesus’ mother Mary lifting her newborn Son to heaven.  As the author points out there are many striking aspects to the sculpture—like Mary’s posture (determined rather than distraught), and her expression (serene rather than anguished). But perhaps the most striking feature is that she stands in the form of a cross.

 Simeon told Mary when he met her shortly after Jesus' birth that, “a sword will pierce your very soul” (Luke 2:35).  She knew her calling would be painful but just how painful was never revealed. Simeon's prophecy was fulfilled in John 19. Mary stood looking at her Son—now lifted up on a cross (Luke 2:25). He was suffering and she loved Him beyond words. Even then He was concerned for her well-being (Luke 2:26-27). The sword had pierced her soul.
But there was a reason why the sculptor depicted Mary as looking serene. “She is looking beyond Calvary to the resurrection,” he says (see Luke 20:1-18).

The question in the devotion was this...
As I reflect on today’s verses and Brocklesby’s sculpture, I ask myself: Will I, like Mary, accept the suffering inherent in my own divine calling? And will I look beyond that pain to God’s promised victory? 
How else did Mary suffer for being the mother of Jesus? In what ways might you suffer for Him today?

And as I pondered this I was struck by the realization that I may very well have something so much in common with Mary.  'Will I, like Mary, accept the suffering inherent in my own divine calling'?
If my divine calling is to be someone who offers support to others in need, who relates to others because of the pain my heart has suffered and because of this pain, intuitively knows what a suffering parent needs to hear and can share Jesus with them so that they too may find comfort...then I guess I have accepted it.  I didn't want too, I fought it so often, hated so many of the moments of it but yet I have always felt that this pain was necessary to become who I am today, who God wishes me to be.
Can I look beyond that pain to God's promised victory?  I guess I can...I don't really see that I have a choice.  I came to Christ, for the most part, because I was afraid I would never see Cole again if I didn't.  I didn't get the option to choose to be a loss parent but I did have a choice in how I dealt with, what I did with that pain, where I allowed God to take me.  I pray each day that it will take me home.
I felt such a connection to Mary's suffering but I also felt such a connection to this sculpture and the reason behind why it was created.  My situation was different, I was never able to offer Cole up to the Lord in this way, never able to lift his body to God and show that I accepted his fate and mine.  But after the initial first few hard years I feel very much more determined and serene then distraught and anguish.
And why is that... Love.
The love I have for the son that holds such a dear place in my heart.  The love I have for the way he has transpired my life.  The love that I have for the Lord who didn't allow my suffering but instead allowed me comfort in my suffering.  The love I have for the Lord who gave us his son and the suffering of his son so that I may one day see mine again.