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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