Friday, July 22, 2016

On Vulnerability, Shame and Bipolar Disorder

Soon after I came out of the hospital in Hungary, March 2015, I felt the Lord nudging me to share the whole of my story including my journey with bipolar disorder. 

I was terrified. 

But as I have walked the year and a half since, including a surprise hospital stay in May, I have seen the Lord take away layer upon layer of both fear and shame. Jesus is saying, 'No more!' 'No more will these define your life. I am doing something altogether new.' 

It is this new story full of past days but with an eye toward hope and redemption that I will be writing here. I would love for you to join me in the journey.

I lay in my bed in the behavioral care center (aka 'mental ward'). My roommate, Sarah*, and I begin talking. She is of Jewish descent and also has bipolar disorder.

I asked her earlier, in the common room, if she would be willing to share her story with me. She said bluntly 'I don't want to share my story. I hate it.'

As we speak later, I hear her desperation. We have both been diagnosed in February of 2015. Since that time she has been frustrating doctor after doctor in search of the perfect recipe of medicine to make her whole.

At some point I break in and say, 'what you need, what we all need is hope; to know this isn't the end.'

Then I said, 'I am a Christian, and we share some Scriptures.' 

'We share a lot', she says. 

So I begin to speak of the angst-ridden cries of the psalms along with their jubilation and worship. The prophets like Elijah who at one moment defeat 500 false prophets and the next flee in fear. There is nothing new under the sun and nothing surprises God, especially the wild ways of bipolar disorder.

Then I ask her, 'Do you believe you can be made whole? Do you believe there is hope? Do you believe Messiah is real and is coming?'

She says she wants to believe and later tells me she has been thinking about what I said. I pray for her a lot, that she will find the hope of Messiah in her Scriptures and be ready for His coming. And too, that she would know hope and wholeness are real.

And I wonder how much of her desperation to be fixed is because the shame of mental illness is still so present in this world. For any one of us who are diagnosed, there is the intense desire to cast it aside. Often this results in people stopping their medicine with many heart-wrenching results. 

And I get it. It's like we want to prove the world wrong, that voice which is saying we are so broken, we can only live a 'less-than' life.

This conversation with Sarah highlights the need for other voices in this world to speak hope over the shame of mental illness. (and over the other places of misplaced shame)

I have known nothing more vulnerable than being in a mental ward. So far I have spent three weeks in two in two different countries and languages. All the while is the great distress of going somewhere I do not want to go. Dealing with a label I do not want to have. Taking medicine I do not want to take. (But I WILL take it and listen to my doctors, of this I want to be clear)

I have taken great comfort in the words of Hebrews 5, how though he was a Son, Jesus learned humility by the things he suffered. How could I expect anything less in my own life?

So I am learning to accept how the fallen realities of this world, like bipolar disorder, have touched me. This I seek to do without losing who I am; without losing hope. At the same time I scorn, or cast off, as Jesus did, the many layers of shame having bipolar could and would produce.

It takes courage to call things what they are. This isn't something I was ready to do here, on this anyone-can-read blog, until recently, after my second surprise hospital stay. But conversations like the one I had with Sarah are why I am talking about it all in the clear light of day.

Because we all need hope. We need to know we are not alone in our vulnerability and shame. For me it is bipolar disorder, for you it may be past abuse, or sin, a chronic illness or a dysfunctional family of origin that has left you so deeply broken. Regardless, to be human is to be vulnerable to layer upon layer of shame.

Because of this, we all need to know Messiah is coming and has come! He is making all things new. Alpha and Omega. First and Last. Faithful and True. The One who wipes all tears. The Living One.

And yes, he has despised shame so fully, he has uprooted its fallen, hateful power at its roots and says 'no more!' To your label, too, that thin thing that has placed shame on you, and become so much more than it is, he is saying, 'no more!' 

I hope you join me as I keep sharing vulnerably and trusting Jesus to bless and encourage us all.

A necessary caveat: Often, if I share with someone about having bipolar disorder, they feel the need to share about someone they know who also has bipolar disorder. Sometimes these are triumphant stories, very often they are not. While I cannot doubt the heart, I ask, for me and others, that you simply listen if you have the privilege to hear. And more, share your own vulnerable place, your label, that has nearly undone you. I would love to hear about that. Because I need to know I am not alone. I need to know my label is one whose shame, or stigma, can be removed in community. And you are the one who can help me.

*Name changed to protect identity


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Vulnerability, And the Shame of It All

Sometimes it all gets so muddied and so, we have to go back to the beginning.

(based on Genesis 1:26-31; Genesis 2:4-25 and Genesis 3

Picture a perfect world full of promise. The lions and the bears draw close as velvet paws touch the tender skin of human hands. Man and Woman, named Adam and Eve, hand-in-hand dive into the deep. They are fascinated by the speech of the dolphin and the magnificence of the whale. Upon the land again, feet trod over ever dew-like moist of grass. Eagle eyes (and perhaps flight) hone in on the open skies as sweet and clear songs of wonder see-saw back and forth with the winged creatures of the air, great and small alike. They cultivate and enjoy Life wherever they go.

God walks in the cool of day upon the same ground. It's holy gracing humanity and through this the whole universe. And Adam and Eve know nothing but the deep breath of a world in order, right, true and glory-filled.

And they are naked and unashamed. 

Their dance of oneness is a celebration of all that is. No couple has ever 'had it all' like they do. Vulnerability in its depth of innocence, bold declaration and wild freedom is their prized possession.

But too, tragedy and its insidious fallout is a tinge of impure air, a smidge of shadow, a blade of too cool grass away.

The pain that comes into humanity's story is what darkens beauty for all time, tainting our purest imagination and truest innocence. It steeps our shame over all the generations and crushes our vulnerability. It begs us to ask if there were no shame, would we ever fear vulnerability? And can we ever get it all back?

This is why we must go to the beginning; to the dawn of time and the first human relationship

What went wrong?

'Nature soaks every evil with either fear or shame.'                                                                                   Tertullian

 It could be said that Adam fails to love, care for and teach Eve as he is made to do, even before he lets her eat the fruit.

In Genesis 2, the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is given to Adam. It comes before Eve is formed. What she says to the serpent is that they must not eat it or they will surely die. She does not say the name of it. Does she know? Would that make a difference? since they are innocent and free from evil.

Yet, I think Adam is to be her teacher as he shows her the beauty of the garden. He has been with God and named all of the living creatures. She is to learn of the wonder and knowledge of God in great part through him. In her joy of exploration the whole creation will come to life. Above all others he is to bring her to life. She is the crown of creation; the fulfillment of the image of God spoken into all the world. 

And in her naivety, for she is newest to the world, she is the most vulnerable.

And he knows it. That serpent, the Great Liar, is waiting for the perfect moment. It is only after the Fall that he slithers like a snake of today. I wonder if he wasn't beautiful of appearance in those fateful moments. Whatever Eve might know or not know of the tree, he distorts its meaning irreparably.

Adam is there but he doesn't speak. She eats. He eats. They fall. In an achingly slow heave the whole of the earth knows it is broken with no knowledge of when it will be whole again.

All that is good is marred. Adam and Eve have fallen the farthest. They cover themselves for they know the are broken; wrecks that have wrecked it all. They have failed each other, their accord shattered. So great disorder has come upon the earth.

Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

And they are naked and ashamed.

Perhaps before their minds can contemplate fear stemming from separation from a holy and good God, or a discordance with all of creation, they know shame. They have the knowledge of good and evil and they know they have done evil. It cloaks their souls and hearts and reaches to their bodies. 

Just as shame is a first emotion or sensation after the fall of man, so it is where the deepest healing and wholeness comes through the work of Jesus Christ.

And the only way to see that wholeness in our lives is to experience the height of vulnerability without shame, fully independent of others' responses. And the only way to do that is to become so fully identified with Christ that the healing of our brokenness, pain and sin unites us with his righteousness.

This is the power of the Cross, for there Christ knew shame yet Hebrews 12 says he scorned, or despised it. I picture his redemption that spans eternity entering every shattered moment, especially the first. He stands in between the lies of Satan, and Adam and Eve's root sins of disobedience, unbelief, willfulness and passivity and breaks their power. 

He says 'no more!' to the storm of shame that ensues. His redemption is so complete it heals every naked root of vulnerability, forcibly resisting the shame hovering to clothe instead with His redemption. He promises to so fully restore oneness between God and humanity and between man and woman. He has broken Satan's power and stands at the roots of the Fall with the ferociousness of the Lion of Judah, and the power of the risen and exalted King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And he covers instead with his wholeness, freedom from sin and triumphant love.
Why have I written so many words and gone back to the root of shame?

A couple of months ago God started speaking to my heart saying, 'No more!' 'No more shame. It is done.' A week or two later I went into the hospital a second time in fourteen months for bipolar disorder. And yet, on the other side, those words of 'no more!' stand, because redemption is just that powerful and strong. 

In the coming weeks, I will post more on my journey of vulnerability and freedom from shame.

But first, I think we all need to go back to the beginning.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On Vulnerability, Being A Twin, And The Lies Which Define {Part 2}

I was given one of the greatest gifts possible. I was born a twin. Since we’re identical, something we didn’t find out until we were 33, we spent our first few days inside our mom as one. Then we split carrying the same DNA, yet becoming two people. Crazy and a bit freaky, I know. 

And we have lived this life with many shared experiences but two distinct stories. One of the treasures of being a twin is how we were there for each other simply by…being there. Growing up, there were some hard, long years filled with pain and despair. 

Many times I remember how we didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t talk about any of it. We just knew we were both going through all this hard. As a true gift, being twins kept on giving.

And yet in this world even the best gifts can be corrupted. For us, it was living in a small town, being in a lot of the same classes, showing in the same 4-H shows, playing the same sports. Well, you get the idea.

As everyone around us tried to find our differences, it bred this natural, near constant comparison. Abby’s face is more oval, Sara’s face is more round. Abby is a tomboy while Sara is more prissy. Abby is the emotional one, while Sara holds her emotions inside. These things were true, at least on the outside, but they also became the roles we filled.

As we moved through adolescence in both junior high and high school, our home life grew worse. We both found our worth outside of home, in how others perceived us, particularly in school. We shared achievements in grades and sports. 

We both knew how we wanted to be defined, yet we desperately wished we didn’t have to choose opposite things to distinguish ourselves.

Our senior year, it became as clear as neon lights lighting up downtown. I was our class’s valedictorian and she was the Homecoming Queen. They were these two unique and coveted things for high school girls. It was like we were two halves of a glorious whole, or so it would seem.
I got the awards and recognition I had wanted. Honors for which I had worked hard into the wee hours of the morning. She got a sense of beauty and popularity which was seemingly effortless, and to me, just who she was.
But there was more. It was the dark underside of success, and particularly twin success. 

There was the lie we each carried. Both spawns of a gift distorted, twisted and abused. The whole world saying, 'if one twin was one thing, the other was the opposite'. It wasn’t the fault of any person or community. It was simply what comes from the vulnerability of being human. It was the precious innocence, beauty and love given to us by the One who made us, snatched away. 

At its most sinister, it was the lie whispered in the dark of night by a cruel voice determined to steal, kill and destroy. 

It’s almost 24 years since we turned 18 and graduated high school. Yet the lies, oh those powerful lies! I believed, and can still believe ‘my lie’--I am the ugly, outcast one. And ‘her’ lie is that of dumb, lazy; an under-achiever. (If you know her, you can ask her about this lie.)

To be human is to be vulnerable. 

It is only recently when I have found the courage to face the devastating effects of this lie of ugly and unwanted. Insidious and ruthless, its path runs into some of the deepest places of my heart. It has made me ashamed and desperate. It has led me to do foolish things, to give parts of myself away. It has pushed me around as it takes and takes until there is so little self-worth left.

I have tried so hard to not feel ugly any more. I have tried so hard to be liked and known by everyone. I have tried until my head has spun crazy and my heart has hollowed.

Why do I share all of this?  Am I looking for some kind of affirmation? For someone in this world to give me a worth I still doubt I have?

That would be a chasing after the wind. It would only take more while giving nothing in return.

I share this story because vulnerability has given me two paths. For the lies that wound and make us weak have found us all. To know this means we all have a choice. 

We can choose to spend our lives, our energy, focused on the lie. We become consumed by it. Either we give up and let it name us. Or we fight it until there is little tenderness of spirit in us.

But if we look unto Jesus we see the fullness of vulnerability and a different choice. 

His life, his love, took away the power of every lie. Yet, as he walked this earth he did not tirelessly seek to prove to the world the truth about himself. He knew who He was. He knew the truth and it set him free. It made him strong enough to face all of the lies. Yet, it made this God-man vulnerable enough to have those lies touch the inner places of his humanity. It’s how he could be tempted and tried, in every way as us, yet without believing the lies. 

I am human. I am vulnerable. I choose to reflect that vulnerability by sharing the dark places of my story. I can choose this because there is something deeper at work in that same story.

It is the glory of redemption. It is the hand of God. The One who creates, forms, redeems and calls by name, saying I am His. His love is stronger. His truth runs deeper. 

How we walk the path of vulnerability is our choice. 

To choose well is to be invited into the heart of God and each other. It’s to come home in the shared calling of the prodigals, sinners and saints. It’s the grace to be free and wrapped in wild and sure love forever. 

It’s the fulfillment of our desperate longing to truly live.


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