Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Vulnerability, Broken Things and Frozen Hands

Knees are tented in front, bent to hold my school book. College-ruled notebook paper sits atop the thick stack of European History.

I try to do my homework, but with each breath I falter. Why? 

Because these are the breaths I can see. With each draw of air there is a fine mist of too, too cold air. These breaths are the kind that find you though covered in a fluffy pastel-flowered comforter, sweatpants and flannel shirt. These are the breaths in an air which numbs your hands.

These are the breaths that surround your bed at night as you try to get warm. 

It's another month when the oil price is too high and the funds too low.

And these are the breaths shivering in naked shame. Because there is a rule somewhere, somehow, which calls it a secret. And I know. I can't tell a soul. 

On a June day, this one too warm, I will stand as valedictorian and give an address. No one will know the too cold nights with numb hands which lead to this day. 

And again and again it's the shame. The kind staying hidden deep in the caverns of the soul. It's the less-than of a thousand drumming voices. 

It's the broken world I cannot put back together. 

It's hard to write these things. To reach back in time and possibly hurt those I love the most. But secret shame is just this messy. We don't know when the feeling starts to sink in so deeply, but later we can see it there, suffocating our freedom.

And why do I write this part of my life? I have been talking about my journey with bipolar disorder, so how does this connect?

The truth is I don't fully know. Call it a 'hunch'. It's one I feel full liberty to follow, as I continue to make sense of my struggle, in the context of my whole story.

And I know shame is a primary adversary in the journey to overcome. It hovers ominous, wrapping around with the blight of stigma and landing me in the dung pile of 'less-than'.

For me, those days long ago, those experiences of a too-cold house, opened up new places in my soul. Some of those places were outlets of creativity, things like poetry, even theology. This creativity, particularly as a driving need, is a gateway to mania.

But, in these vulnerable days of youth there were more avenues leading towards the dark. Sometimes I think I would have cut myself, if the idea were out there. Sometimes I think I may have turned suicidal if not for the strength and presence of my twin sister.

The shame led to feelings I couldn't escape. It went so deep it felt like what I really was inside. It broke me within. It opened the door for the depressive side of bipolar.

And again, why do I write this out for all the world to read?

Because in the wake of a second hospital stay for bipolar disorder, Hope has called out to me.

The song is one of 'No More!' It's trumpet sounding and triumphant! 'No More Shame! Less-Than! Fear! Doubt! Worry! Pain! No More!' It's the Lion of Judah with fierce eyes standing between the Enemy of My Soul and me. He blocks every lie and destroys all fallen emotions. He releases to joy the deepest places taken over long ago by fear and shame.

When we go to the places in our story holding dark power over us, we find the former things gone and see, hear, taste and touch how God is doing a new thing. 

When we embrace this new thing we become His witnesses to the world.


Monday, September 26, 2016

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and The Other Side

I lay in my bed. Again. My youngest is a newborn and yes, I am a tired mama.

But, it's more.

It's gray and grayer in the cold outside. It's the kind that gets into your bones. There's a car in the garage and streets in the city that I haven't learned how to drive. 

And there is that dark, heavy cloak called 'Shame'.

I don't want to get up. Ever. And I am reading Christian romance novels. I buy the 99 cent ones. They are bad. Plot. Writing. Character development non-existent. How could I stoop so low? (Seriously)

But I am trying to be lost. Stay lost. I want to escape the overwhelming tidal affronts of motherhood, life overseas and looking like I am doing any of it well. 

I am desperate to climb out of this hell-hole. My fingers grip the cool mud as I slip and fall again and again, unable to grasp hold of 'up'.

When will this end?

For years I was on anti-depressants. After seeing my mother refuse to get help, I determined that I would, at least, get medication.

But, I also didn't...get help. I stayed on the minimum amount of medicine. I did it all through my family doctor. I didn't want to face the knowledge of a specialist. I would self-diagnose and self-medicate and somewhere call it all 'okay.'

I say this with all possible compassion towards myself and towards you. But I cannot express enough how important it is to face it. Face it all. Until you do, the unknown will wield great power over you.

Over the years, for me it was 15 between severe manic episodes, (these are full-blown breakdowns, sometimes putting you in the hospital), it was easy to believe it was depression.

But in that time, as I would later learn, I had many of the 'mixed episodes' that come with bipolar disorder. They were full of anger, and rapid escalation. They were full of...bipolar disorder.

And I was stubborn and strong against my need for anything more than anti-depressants. Because to me, bipolar was so much worse than depression.(please see note below) In fact, I couldn't even contemplate the idea of it.

Then, it all came down in the gray winter days of Budapest.

It was more than depression. Yet, it was also depression. It was what it was.

And it is what it is.

There is no {just} depression. There is no {just} bipolar. But there is also no {just} living.

In all things there is reason, design and purpose.

The reason I would not look further, deeper at my issues, is because I didn't see the purpose. I was afraid of what I would find. I was afraid it would take away everything I loved. I was afraid it would cripple me so I could no longer walk this life. I was afraid.

But, no more.

As hard as it is to walk this world with a label of 'bipolar disorder', it is much harder to walk surrounded by that menacing shadow of a great unknown. The kind that can tear everything you love apart, whether violently or in a slow, seeping death.

And so now I want to speak to you from the heart.

If the stones have been uncovered, make them into an altar. Let it become that holy thing that consecrates your life to God.

Give thanks for the journey. Trust in Redemption. The greater the pit, the mightier the rescue. Come fully into the light and shed the darkness.

Stop believing the lies of what your life will now be. Only God defines that and He promises a plan, a journey marked with Abba Father love, and that rider on a white horse named 'Faithful and True.'  
(if you are reading this and don't understand, please e-mail me at abigail (dot) alleman (at) gmail (dot) com)

And if you have been wondering if you are seeing everything clearly, don't wait. Talk to someone. Remember, though incredibly important, the power is not in the diagnosis or the medicine, but it is in bringing your fears into the light. It is in knowing you are loved especially because of your struggles.

It is God, in Christ, buying back every part of you to reflect the glory of He who loves you and knows all about you.

Beloved Children of God, won't you walk with me into the light?

*Note: If you struggle with depression, please hear me. I do not want to invalidate one moment of your pain. For me, it was the label, stigma and general mentality towards bipolar that felt so much worse. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and the Early Story

I lift my face towards the sun, warmth covering me. I am all of nine years old. 

The 'moo' of cows, which is more like 'maaaawwww' is darting through the background. I am wearing jeans, though the rays beat down hot and sticky. It's a Saturday morning and we are unloading the hay wagon. I am happy, full of the joy of together even though my hands are splintered and blistered from lifting hay and straw bails.

These are the days when life is happy and secure. Home feels safe and family tight. I think these carefree days will be my life forever. 

It's the shalom of a child, fragile and achingly beautiful. 

One year later, so much has changed. My shalom is an egg shell. Its fissures are like paths in a road forking left and right until the pattern is a chaos unknown. The shattering but a pulse away.

And I am different. At school I lay low, hunching shoulders. There is a burden I cannot know. It weighs down my coming and my going. I am focused on perfection, choking out the carefree. I am absorbing the sadness in the caverns of my childlike soul.

Soon will be gone the dairy farm where I have grown happy and unfettered. I can hold onto nothing of this way of life. So I determine, somewhere deep, profound, earthy and fierce, to hold onto everything else. 

And there is pain where there once was joy.

My name, Abigail, means 'source of joy' or 'my father is joy'. There is nothing of the sad ways in it. Yet in the pain and tragedy, so distinctly a part of this world, this life, I have known much grief. I have experienced it deeply until it would swallow me whole.

Yet when I do go back to what was my first joy, the carefree, how can I not see a touch of the heights of what would later be called mania? And when I go back to the grief, how can I not see the depths of what would later be called depression?

I do not go back to my childhood to let the dark, claw-like hand of a stigmatized bipolar slash through the honest emotion of a child. Quite the opposite.

The triumph and tragedy in my life, in those years, was acute. There was good reason to respond as I did.

But there was something else. There was the budding of a soul which would know the gift of experiencing the great emotions of life. Happiness. Pleasure. Peace. Sweetness. Despair. Sacrifice. Disappointment. Grief.

One day there would be hope too. The resolution of those early tragedies. But it did not come for a long while. Then was mostly desperation and the longing to be free. My soul was caged.

The pursuit of joy, like I once knew, was mostly found in intense study in an effort for perfection. When all was achieved, it was a facade at best. Then, the presence of sadness cloaked me as in my very breath when I was at home. I learned to numb it with Christian romance novels and TV. Very little could be found in between.

While my diagnosis of bipolar disorder didn't come until I was forty years old, I see its beginnings much earlier. And to me, this is one of the most shame-defying, freedom-sparking discoveries.

Bipolar does not define me. But if I let it be transformed by the hand that has made me, and named me, knows all about me, it becomes something altogether new. Its the signpost of redemption. The opportunity for my soul to gain the power of its God-given depth, through faith in the Perfect One, and buy back my story.

And that feels really, really good.

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