Friday, December 16, 2016

To Anyone Who Struggles at Christmas

You need to know you are not alone.

Next to you in the store, the neighborhood, the church, the ball field is someone who is also struggling. Struggling at Christmas. Struggling with life.

So that is why I am writing this. Life is too short and too precious to waste on the inner turmoil. Today is the day to let the light in and trust you are loved.

If you've been around this blog you know I have been through it these last couple of years.

Two stays in psychiatric wards, one overseas. The very sudden departure from a home I loved. Knowing my precious husband and children had to do the same. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder which has wanted to cling about me like some dark hovering cloud.

I have been through it and that is why I can write to you about your struggle.

I write from the broken place of moves and transitions and mental illness which has severely distorted home. Where is home? In many ways, at 42 years old, I do not know.

And the holidays, they bring up all of the broken things. We understand that something beautiful is happening. Something beautiful we are meant to enjoy, but we just can't get there and why can't we? What is our problem?

We are pulled apart. One side tells us all of the things we can do to fix this. The other side tells us it cannot be fixed at all. Something is missing and we're desperate to find it.

Maybe it's how we don't want to bake those cookies for the neighbors because warm and fuzzy is far away. And we would need to feel at home with ourselves to find joy in this. But this peace is far from us.

Or maybe it's that we wish someone in the world would be our neighbor. Like the way Jesus tells us all to love neighbors as ourselves--fiercely, wholly, fully. But we can't imagine there is one tangible person who has that kind of love for us.

Maybe it's how we are tired. Tired of the same broken relationships either on the brink of volatility so we tiptoe around them, or they are withdrawn to the point of wondering if they have a pulse.

Maybe it's the self-loathing. Who are we anyhow and what do we have to offer? What can we bring that is 'merry and bright' to the Christmas table? Our burrowing thoughts say 'nothing, nothing at all'.

It's not feeling sorry for yourself to experience any of these things. It's real and natural and can I say it again?  

You are not alone.

But there's this too. It is not the quick fix, but the vision that can change everything. It's the one step we can take which becomes a trail which will lead us through our pain to the other side.

We remember the true light of Christmas.

We remember he came humble and frail.

We remember it was the brokenness of God which shed his blood.

We remember neither height nor depth can separate us from his love.

We remember because this is the truth of Christmas.

We can take this step. Together. For we are not alone.

I am here on the other side of this keyboard struggling just like you. Struggling to cultivate a fledgling sense of purpose. Struggling to remember how to be still and know the presence of God. Struggling for all I cannot find of holiday cheer. Struggling for the home that can be so hard to know in this journey.

Struggling as I miss my mother no matter how many Christmases she is gone. Her frail body in a hospital now 15 years ago, is the most meaningful Christmas I knew. We celebrated life. We remembered hope. We knew in the face of death there was One Love that could win it all back.

I am here just like you. And I am going to take just this one step like you. I am going to remember the good and let go of the bad. I am going to receive the moments whether busy or lonely and leave nothing to perfection or failure, but simply take it as it is.

And I will not forget how loved I am...just like you.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and Today

A caveat: The posts I have been writing are about the past of my struggles with bipolar disorder. While there is courage and sacrifice in sharing these pieces, I find it much harder to share 'today'. But it's what I am about to do. I am showing up...thank you for coming along.

I have come to the front of the meeting room, during the open mic, to share a piece of my heart with the one hundred women gathered for my church's retreat. As I wait for the woman ahead of me to finish, it happens.

The pounding of my heart in my chest so fully, I am sure I will need the hospital. Then there is the shaking of my body. Yes, my body is shaking. Not just my hands which is what is normal.

And of course, I want to flee. I don't have to go up and speak. I can simply return to my seat. No one is making me do this. Yet, I know that I must, because if I don't bipolar and its crippling effects will win. For all that is good and beautiful, I can't let this happen.

I debate about asking one of my friends to come and hold me up. It is that bad.  

Where, in all this tremulous moment is God?

I walk up to the stage and share. I am sure someone appreciates what I have to say, but more, it is my need to show up which prevails. To stand though I am shaking. A lot. It is another step in staring down bipolar and telling it, it will not master me.

One day later, today, I am making pancakes for my son's birthday. It is time to pour in 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. As I rush to do this, my hands start shaking again and I can't take it. I start to cry and feel bleak inside. Is this what my life will look like?

The truth is, I do not know how all of this will go. I don't know if I will always be on the two medicines which can cause tremors. I don't know if I will ever be able to speak in front of people, something I hope to do, without a significant amount of trembling.

I am crying inside and outside. It is a hard day. And these are normal for bipolar, depression, anxiety, Lyme's disease, Fibromyalgia, arthritis, grief and any number of other things. Yet, the question remains.  

What do we do with all of it? 

What I want to do is what I cannot do. I can't stop my medication. With bipolar, this will most likely lead to another episode and hospital stay or worse. I can't do it for myself, but more, for my husband and children. There is no comparison between shaking hands and mental stability.

But, what can I do?  

I can fight. In my heart and soul and mind and strength. I can fight for the love desiring to meet me in all of my moments. I can fight the lies about my worth which are so, so close. I can fight the broken inside me going far beyond the tremors. I can trust.

However, I want to be so very, very clear. This isn't an easy answer, but it is the only true answer. The alternative, for me, is to go quietly into the night. But that isn't an option when there's so much and so many to live for. 

Yet, when laid out, this war within myself is like the tendons of a muscle. The doubt, tears, struggle are all a part of it. So is the faith, hope and love in God. Some tendons are healthy, strong, supportive. Others are torn, ragged, strained. There is healing needed constantly and strengthening too. I will experience both a healthy muscle working together, and a weak one seeking to work at all.

Here is what I want you to know again and again. The shame is taken away (which is how I can write about this today). So are the fear and doubt. Jesus has done all of it when he died on a cross and bore all that came with the Fall of humanity and the world. So we can stomp our foot right on the destroyer, liar and killer. He is no match for us. We are overcomers and our future is sure.

Hallelujah, our story's triumphant ending is sure. And by the goodness of God, we can begin to live it today. Yes, we can, we can, we can! Declare it friend. Keep reading and walk with me in this. Just one step at a time...walk with me.

Monday, October 31, 2016

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and Showing Up

"Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." 

~ Brene Brown

It was too soon. 

And yet here I was. At church. Fragile and scared. But I was here.

Less than three weeks earlier I was in a hospital across the ocean. Since then, family had come and packed us to move back to Pennsylvania. I had met with a new psychiatrist and counselor and unpacked us all. It was a blur of time and space such as I never knew.

As we finished the closing worship song, I told my husband, 'I will just wait here for people to come to me.' I was still drooling from one or another medicine. It was embarrassing. Who would really want to engage me right where I was?

The first to come was a friend who I simply remember saying, 'it is brave for you to be here so soon.'

It was brave, I suppose. As I finished with some hugs, sharing as much as I could of how I was, I felt exhausted.

Would this be how I would always feel? Embarrassed? Ashamed? Alone? And yet, needing to step out again and again?

My journey of 'Less-Than' happened long before I was diagnosed with bipolar. Deep inside, I have always felt as though there was something wrong with me. I have always felt shame.

And I don't know why except to say it is what we all carry this side of Eden.

It has been my tendency to step out in a vulnerable way. And so, I have felt somehow, exposed. I never know how to keep it all collected inside of me. There is only the honest of 'how are you?'

And now there is bipolar. Something which I feel called to be utterly honest about. Something which people have many opinions about. Something which yet is a great unknown.

How do I walk this well? How do any of us with our labels? How do we have courage in a world of people 'being good' and 'doing fine'?

As Brown says, the answer is in 'showing up.'

It is also in wearing the white robe of Jesus. One Day we will this forever and ever. In That Day our beauty, purity and perfection will be for all of heaven and earth to see. We will no longer bear any shame, fear, doubt or anxiety.

But what if that Day were Today? What if the truth of Jesus became so real, we walked, here and now, in all He has for us when we are face to face?

Does it sound too far-reaching? Too lofty?

I don't think so. At least not completely. And I know the path for getting there is lined with courage. We show up in church when we are not ready to see others. We take with grace the pat answer of our condition. We love even in our overwhelming 'less-than', because that is how we know the love of God.

We believe He is with us, in us. He is the Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End. The First and the Last. And He owns our stories, our lives. Now and Forever.

And He showed up. Like no one ever has. He came in fragile humility. He received every misunderstanding of who He was. He loved when given nothing but anger and hate in return. He could do all of this because He knew who He was. And He would have us walk His way.

So, bring it all. Your shame. Your doubt. Your fear. Your anxiety. Let's show up wherever we are because we know the real story. We know how it ends. And so we are free to really, truly live.


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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and How to Endure

 The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care,
    and their inheritance will endure forever.
~Psalm 37:18 

It's the days of confusion which run into the dark of night. I have lost count of it all since those two weeks in a Budapest hospital. I cannot tell you when I started on this medicine or that one.

All I know is that it takes time, some times until eternity, to feel like yourself again. 

As the night descends, I feel myself start to shake. The darkness and the fear return. Irrational and bold, it slashes through my mind.

I ask 'how will I rest my weary head and sleep?'

There is only one person I want to talk to. My Daddy.

I call him. We talk briefly. Then I ask him to pray. He knows I am scared. He knows I need God's peace. And so He storms the gates of Heaven.

He speaks of the beauty of Christ's work. The fullness of His victory over evil. The power of redemption. The glory of the life to come.

He does everything in his power in Christ, to stand between me and evil. It has done something beautiful to anchor me to all that is good of God.

Yet still the night is cold. I shiver as I lay my head down to sleep. I ask my beloved to put his arms around me and pray me to rest. It comes. But the battle remains.

And all the while, yes all the while, I am being held.

How can I struggle so when the Lord is faithful holding me near?

The bipolar is part of the reason.

How can I trust my mind when it ought to be a dear companion, but has failed me when I needed it most?

How can I trust God, when He did not intervene to save me from the hospital?

How can I trust my husband, when he is only human and can't heal me?

In these moments I realize I must simply endure. Endure the dark of night. Its seemingly endless parade of thoughts that choke out the sleep. Endure the medicine changes. How it strips my dignity, the side effects which leave me unsure. Endure the label. All of those conversations and this whole bipolar is the proverbial elephant, but somehow, I try to keep it all normal.

Endure when I feel abandoned by God because He has not taken it all away.

Endure and learn. Learn what it is that God is always holding me. He owns me forever. He sees the end from the beginning. I am safe in His grasp. Learn the dignity of standing on my own two feet no matter what bipolar throws at me. Learn people love me and see me as {much} more than I see myself.

Learn God has not abandoned me but is allowing this pain to craft me into the image of His Son. He is the master and knows exactly what He is doing.

Let my Dad and my husband love me, even though they cannot take away the diagnosis or its pain.

Rest in all that is greater than me. Trust the divine plan. Fight. Fight. Fight.

So that in those dark nights when I am shaking, I see clearly the promise. There is another side of the ocean of pain, uncertainty and struggle. There is a heavenly shore. I am being held by hands which will feel more and more sure the further I go. There is no doubt where my journey will end. Jesus has given everything to make that true. 

One moment, one breath at a time, beloved, we will endure. Hallelujah, we will endure.

{Lots of people liked this post, my last post at a 'A Life Overseas' here it is!}


Thursday, August 11, 2016

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and Wholeness

I talk to her, this new psychologist/therapist, with my head cast down. 'Yes, bipolar runs in my family' I say. It's a statement that squeaks out of my mouth with this oppressive weight of...shame.

She says the first, second and third time I see her, 'I want you to look at bipolar as a good thing; to reorient your thinking.' I start to see how she is saying 'God knows He made you this way. It is not a surprise but by design. You can learn to embrace it.'

And so I have been seeking to do that. But it is hard.

I have met many new people this last year. Because God has made me quite transparent, if I don't share about my bipolar, I feel like I am hiding something. It's a deep part of me that longs to be known.

Yet, once I do, I can feel the label, oh this label, sticking harder to me.

I love names, but not this one. 

The name, bipolar, feels so very not enough and yet too much. As I have thought on it, I am convinced that it will have an altogether new name in Heaven. Something so beautiful, it would hurt our ears to hear it now.

I love this analogy in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. It is one of my favorite books; a journey between Heaven and Hell. There is a man with a grotesque lizard sunk into his shoulder, speaking lies constantly. He is asked if he is willing to kill it. He seems unwilling, afraid of what will happen. But the transformation happens anyway. And instead of killing him the lizard becomes a white horse and with it the man will ride the heights of Glory.

So bipolar will be for me One Day. And for you, your label may be the same or something else altogether, but the God of redemption promises to transform it into what is altogether new.

Yet, even more, God is giving me the courage to believe that this transformation can happen now.

To believe this, is to crush the power of the Enemy to hold my life ransom while I await Heaven. And for all I hold dear, my husband, my children, the ministry God has given me, I must stand against evil.

Not bipolar, but the lies that make a mountain which keeps me from dreaming and loving and living.

When I hear the word 'bipolar', I think of something that wants to tear me apart. It wants to pull me to the heights or plunge me to the depths, all the while reconstructing what is real.

And yes, in this, my Savior is standing between me and this web of lies, this mountain of doubt, this hand of the Destroyer. His fierce eyes stare down the Enemy. His passionate love pierces my heart. 

With all that He is, He says 'no more!' 

It's that drum I will beat again. 'No more shame. No more doubt. No more darkness. No more fear. No more shadow. No more pain. No more!!'

Yes here. Yes now. And yes how.


In part, yes. 

Because I am tired of stories of people believing or hearing from others that they aren't trusting God if they take medicine. Medicines, are things we have that people didn't have years ago, Precious, beloved Christian people who died or who completely, irrevocably went crazy. 

The proper medicine keeps us here in this world without premature exits. It gives us what we need to lead a 'normal' life. And I will be so bold as to say to their shame God is saying 'No more!'

Yet we know. Oh how we know. Medicine cannot liberate our soul. It cannot make us whole.

And here is the magic and mystery. As we take on the label and don't live our life running from it, we see it becoming something beloved, leading us again and again and again to our Savior. It is the staff of humility, a reminder of who we lean on. It is also a way of coming home to just how God made us.

As I was sitting and listening to my psychologist, I felt the faintest glimmer of hope. Later while I was walking and listening to Tim Keller's book on prayerit turned to full light. 'God made me bipolar, and this is what that means!'

My whole life I have struggled with being too much. Too emotional. Too driven. Too moody;) Too smart. Too awkward. The list goes on, and well, you get the point. 

Tim Keller was talking about the various elements of prayer. As he talked about the psalms he was saying how no one person could have written them. It took the extroverted and introverted, the sanguine and the melancholy, the right-brained and left-brained. (This is a loose paraphrase) 

I am not saying I could have written all of the psalms, but all of the various, diverse, polar-opposite parts of me can understand the psalms uniquely. 

For I have acutely experienced the heights of joy and the depths of pain. I love poetry and the symmetry and order of math. I have both shouted a psalm from the mountaintops of Barcelona and taken it deep into my soul in the dark of a Budapest night. 

When I asked my psychologist, 'can I really, genuinely be all of these things?' Emphatically she said 'yes!'

I am bipolar and yet I am not. I am whole. I am God's. I am bought with a price. I am ransomed uniquely for the joy of His Glory. 

I am infinitely more than a label and yet, if I let it, this label can lead me home and to a white horse.

For it leads me Unto Grace. Unto Joy. Unto Life. Unto God.

(when I picture myself whole and God's, this is my prayer and joy to taste in part)


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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