It’s Hard to Breathe

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It’s hard to breathe. The effort it takes to inhale and exhale seems too great. I hardly have the energy even for this automatic chore.

It’s hard to move. It feels as if I’m trudging though molasses with every step of my foot or wave of my arm. My body aches. My muscles, tired and weak, beg me to stop. Sit down and rest, they urge.

I’m trying so hard to keep up with everything you want from me, but I just keep slipping farther and farther behind. I just keep seeing all the ways I’m failing you. All the ways I’m failing me.

Lie down and sleep. Just sleep. Close my eyes and make it all go away. Just for a while. It’s all too much. The weight of the world. Or so it seems.

A simple conversation takes energy I don’t have. I can hardly muster a smile. Laughing is more than I can give.

Daily tasks are monumental. Somedays, clean hair and makeup are too much to ask. I’m ashamed to admit that these things are hard because they seem so simple.

If I just close my eyes, maybe it will all go away. Just for a little while. If I could just make it go away.

I’m supposed to be strong by now. I thought I would be. I hoped I would be. But out of nowhere, the darkness sweeps in and takes my breath away.

And now it’s hard to breathe.

Imposter

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Imposter! Fraud! You don’t belong!

These are the neon signs that I’m sure are flashing over my head from time to time. Well, more often than not, truth be told. Imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling that you’re not as good as you should be or as others might think you are. It’s that feeling that you’ve just somehow managed to skate by and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes for far too long. At any minute, though, the truth is bound to come out and a feeling of terror at the thought bubbles under the surface.

It’s exhausting trying to stay ahead of that impending disaster. The effort it takes to keep everyone from learning the truth is vast. How can I possibly be that good at covering this up for so long? Someone surely must see through this facade by now, right? Maybe if I’m just quiet enough over here in my corner no one will notice, and I can continue to slide by.

Have you ever felt that way? If you have, you’re not alone. I imagine you’re even in good company. I was thinking this morning about this. Maybe those of us with imposter syndrome need to start paying more attention to what others are saying instead of what they aren’t saying. Hear me out.

There are two areas of my life where I struggle to feel competent on a semi-regular basis. Singing and counseling. Sometimes I’m confident. Sometimes I’m not. I guess that’s probably normal, but I think the times when I’m not confident tend to shift way beyond typical doubts. I tend to tell myself I’m no good and that I have no business counseling anyone or being part of a worship team. But you know what? No one else tells me those things. In fact, others have told me quite the opposite. Others have complimented me on a job well done. Others have given me praise. Others have encouraged me and lifted me up.

So I started thinking, maybe I should believe them. Maybe I should start listening to what they are saying instead of what I’m saying to myself. And maybe, just maybe, I should think about this apparent facade. Maybe I’m not actually as good as I think I am at keeping up any charades. Maybe there isn’t anything to cover up. Maybe I’m just competent and doing a good job. Could it be?

Could it be that God has gifted me with talents and abilities that I’m just too insecure to see? I wonder what would happen if I started listening to what others have to say and started ignoring all those doubting and self-defeating thoughts that surf through my mind so often. What if God is just waiting on me to acknowledge what He’s already done so that He can do more? Maybe my own self-doubt is really what’s holding me back and God’s just waiting to bless my efforts as soon as I will allow Him the opportunity.

I think too often we put limits on God that aren’t really there. Our finite minds can’t comprehend a God with infinite power and creativity. The truth is, He has carried me through so many situations I never thought I could handle. He has given me abilities that I didn’t know I possessed. He’s already shown me, but still, I go on in unbelief. How much more must He do for me before I will finally trust and believe? How much easier and more peaceful would life be if I just had more faith?

“Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

The Bookcase

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Who would have thought that something as simple as a bookcase could bring me to tears? Not me, that’s for sure. But when I thought about filling those shelves with books and binders and all the things that would bring my office closer to being ‘finished,’ I couldn’t stop the waterworks.

With each thing in our home that we put together so that it’s complete and just the way we want it, we inch one step closer to being settled into our new home. In our new city. Away from the life we left behind.

With each box that’s emptied and each picture that’s hung on the wall, we step deeper into this new life, and I’m not sure I like it. I haven’t decided yet if I’m ok with it. I haven’t let go of my last life just yet. I’m stuck in limbo with my heart in one place and my body in another.

Putting books on those shelves is so symbolic that I just can’t make myself do it. I need to get my office put together so that I have a space in my home that is mine. A place I can go when I need refuge. But I haven’t even attempted to do so. It feels like I’m accepting defeat by settling into this house and making it a home. And I don’t just accept defeat. So I resist.

But what good is it doing to keep resisting? None.

It isn’t helping me at all to continue on in this pattern of unacceptance. I want to accept things the way they are. I want to integrate fully into my new life, but somehow I feel frozen and can’t seem to do so.

I guess, if I’m really being honest, I don’t really want to and that’s the problem. I want my old life back. I don’t want this new life. At least, I’m not sure that I do. Maybe, given more time, I will come to love it. But for now, I miss the old, familiar, comfortable life that I left behind.

I’ve got to get a handle on this. I’ve got to. It’s been six months. I didn’t think I would still be having this much trouble at this point, but it seems another wave of grief has washed over me in the last few days. I could just hold on tight until this wave passes, but I really just need to go ahead and deal with it. I need to find a way to accept things for the way they are and put some closure on the past.

Guess I better get busy figuring out how exactly to do that. For now, I think I’ll start with the bookcase. Who knows? Maybe it will even feel a little more like home when I’m done. And, isn’t that the goal, anyway?

Aftershocks

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The pain thunders in, rumbling after the big quake shook my life, crumbling it into pieces. These aftershocks are reminders of what once sought to destroy, and nearly did. They roll in, rattle and shake things up, and then roll out, leaving no destruction, but chaos in their wake.

They simply stir up trouble. They stir up memories. They stir up questions. They stir up answers.

The clarity that comes with them is troublesome because it’s something I don’t want to face. I don’t want to admit it. I don’t want to think about it, but I can’t help it at the same time. The depth and gravity of my illness was far beyond what I realized during the quake. And thank goodness. I imagine I might not have been able to handle it if I had known how many close calls there really were. If I had known how savagely the ground beneath my feet was shaking, threatening to break into a deep chasm. If I had known…

The questions that swirl up from the ground from the shocks leave me unable to move or breathe at times. They fill me with guilt and remorse and regret that I know I shouldn’t feel, yet… The questions come in rapid fire. Did you know how bad it was? Of course you knew. You saw it. You were looking from the outside. You lived with it and you knew what to look for. What did it do to you? How did you feel? I watched it break you. I watched it. I saw you and I knew it was my fault. I knew it was my fault but I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I kept leaning in. Leaning harder and harder. I couldn’t stand on my own. I couldn’t. But you were barely standing, either. Did you want to give up? Did you hope I would give up? That it would just be over? Were you mad at me? Did you even believe me?

I didn’t think the quake would ever end. It was relentless. And now, the shocks come and go so unexpectedly. Uninvited. What purpose do they serve? How long will they last? Will they stop? Those are the answers I wish I had. This earth shattering time in my life will never be erased from my memory but I don’t want to keep reliving it. I don’t want to keep being reminded of the damage it caused. The damage is permanent, like cracks in porcelain. The cracks will always be there. Damaged. Repaired, but not quite like it used to be. Do the cracks cause the aftershocks? Will they always?

Light in the Darkness

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It’s hard for me to write this. It’s hard for me to let you in and share with you how I really feel. But I get so tired of hiding. I get weary from pretending to be something that I’m not. Well, I guess that’s not entirely accurate. I’m not exactly fake. I’m actually genuine to a certain degree. By that, what I mean is that when I talk to you, I’m genuinely interested in talking with you. I’m happy to hear what you have to say. I’m concerned by what concerns you and overjoyed by what brings you joy. That’s real. I’m not faking those things. But that’s probably where the genuineness ends and the facade begins.

If you ask about me, I will probably tell you that all is well. I will give you a quick rundown of what’s happening in our lives. I may even let it slip that I’m tired or stressed, but that will be about the extent of it. I won’t let on that I spend a lot of time feeling sad and lonely. And I certainly won’t let you into my twisty world of darkness, which is where I feel most comfortable. It would make things awkward, wouldn’t it? You would be uncomfortable if I told you about it.

It’s just not acceptable.

Especially in the Christian world. Whoa! We are basically taught that we are supposed to be joyous because Jesus has given us the greatest gift we could ever imagine. We are supposed to live our lives seeing the bright side of things, being positive, being thankful…you get the idea. And if we don’t? Well, something must be wrong with us. Something is amiss, for sure.

Don’t misunderstand. I love Jesus with all my heart and soul. He is my best friend. I am in awe of Him. Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings about what He’s done for me in my life already. My life would be meaningless without Him. There are many, many days when I am so overwhelmed by Him that I literally weep. I just can’t contain the emotion I feel for Him. I think you get the idea. I love Jesus with everything I have.

And, I put a lot of energy into practicing thankfulness and concentrating on positive things. I make a concerted effort to focus on joy. I redirect my thinking on a regular basis so that I don’t go down a negative path. But these things don’t come easily to me. I just don’t naturally feel thankful or positive or happy. I don’t ooze joy. I’m not perky. I’m not a ray of sunshine.

And I have felt guilty about this for years.

I have berated myself for years about the fact that I don’t find joy easily and that I have to work at being thankful. I’ve wondered what was wrong with me. I’ve questioned what I’m doing wrong. I really do have such a close relationship with Jesus, so why haven’t these things started to come more naturally to me? I have the Holy Spirit in me. Shouldn’t He be guiding me in these things?

These are all questions I have wrestled with for so long.

But maybe that’s just not who I am. Maybe it’s ok that I’m not a ray of sunshine. Maybe that’s just not who God made me to be. Maybe He needs me to be another kind of person in order to accomplish His will for my life. I don’t know, but it feels like such a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulders just to consider that maybe I don’t have to conform to the Miss Positivity role.

Maybe it’s enough that I try. Maybe it’s enough that I have the knowledge, even if I don’t have the feelings. Maybe. Come as you are, right?

Come as you are. Interesting concept. Do we practice this, though? Do we really? Can we truly be open to accepting people as they are? Or do we want them to conform to what we think Christians should be like?

Be honest.

Because I am a faithful Christian and I know Jesus, but my mind can be very dark. And I would venture to guess that if I shared with you some of the things that I think about, you would run as fast as you could in the opposite direction from me. If I let you into my deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings, you would think I was weird. You would think there was something wrong with me. You might try to get me some help. Or, you would just stay away.

Maybe I’m just scared. Maybe I’m not giving you enough credit. Or maybe I’m speaking from experience. Yeah, that’s probably it. Either way, I keep it to myself. My out of the box, unacceptable thoughts and feelings. It’s sad, though, because what I want in this life is to be understood. I want kinship with someone who wants to hear what I have to say. Someone who genuinely cares and even understands the darkness that invades my mind.

The thing about the darkness is that it isn’t necessarily sadness. Sometimes it is, but many times it’s full of creativity and emotion that is begging to be shared. But the fear of rejection creeps in so I don’t share. Every once in a while I will, but then I may regret it and feel foolish for having done so. It’s a whole up and down cycle. But it’s in the darkness when I do my best writing. That’s when I can depict what life with mental illness is really like. And to be honest, I think that’s the purpose God has given me. So maybe I should just be brave and share in spite of the unacceptable nature. Maybe I should just embrace being weird. Maybe I won’t be accepted by many, but neither was Jesus, so what’s there to fear?

Jesus is the light in the darkness. He has pulled me out of the darkness many times, but He allows me to go back there just often enough so I can tell you about it. So maybe I should.

Death

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She lay there, on the ground.  Rain beating down upon her lifeless body.  She wore a white gown.  It had long sleeves with lace at the cuffs, neck, and hemline.  It was very delicate and feminine, and now heavy with rainwater, clinging to her body. 

            She was on her side, the swimming pool behind her.  Her legs were bent, her hands clasped and under her cheek.  The contrast between her dark hair and her pale skin struck me.  Her eyes were sunken but wide open with a fixed gaze in my direction, though not looking at me.  She wasn’t here, but somewhere beyond.  Her lips were a purplish red.  I don’t know if she was breathing.  She was so still.

            She must have been cold lying there in the rain.  Was she cold?  Did she care?  Was she even alive?  I couldn’t tell.  I just sat there staring at her.  Not helping her. 

I sat in my chair under cover from the storm.  Hugging my knees, I rocked back and forth just a little.  I was cold just looking at her.  Why didn’t I help her?  Why did I just sit there and watch?  Unmoved.

I couldn’t because I wasn’t really in that chair.  I was really lying on the ground in the rain.  I was the girl in the gown.  Was I dead?  Had I died?  If so, did I care?  If not, did I want to?  What reason did I have to keep fighting?  He was so good to me and they still needed me.

GET UP!  The girl in the chair began to yell at the girl on the ground.  She began to care.  She began to do something.  PLEASE!  DON’T DO THIS.  IT’S NOT TIME.  Yet, she still just sat there, unable to get up.  And she just lay there, unable to get up.

But then the girl in the chair saw Him.  He had been there the whole time, but she just hadn’t seen Him.  He was dressed in white and had this radiance about Him.  He walked to her on the ground, picked her up and held her.  He knew she couldn’t do it herself, so He did it for her.  He carried her over to the chair with the girl in it.  The chair I sat in.  He gave her back so the two could become one again.  The girl on the ground and the girl in the chair.  He breathed life back into her. 

He never spoke but she could feel His love for her.  She felt safe in His presence and somehow knew she could go on with His help.  I knew I could go on. 

Are There Others?

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I’ve been stable for nearly a year. There was a time when I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to say that. Stability. And for a whole year! Wow! I can hardly believe it. It feels good, I must say.

It was just before Thanksgiving last year when I realized that for the first time in a very long time, I felt normal. Not up. Not down. Just normal. And it was amazing. I could take normal breaths and smile normal smiles. I didn’t feel like I was looking over my shoulder, waiting for something bad to happen. I was just enjoying each blessedly normal moment as it happened.

Now, understand that when I talk about stability, I’m not talking about the absence of bipolar symptoms. I wish that were the case, but it isn’t. No, what I’m talking about is more the lack of crises in my everyday life. I’m talking about the lack of absolute chaos that had previously befallen my life. For me, stability is about my overall well-being.

No longer am I constantly in fight-or-flight mode. No longer am I constantly enveloped in gut-wrenching depression. No longer do my moods swing from high to low at the drop of a hat. This kind of chaos doesn’t define my days any longer. And while this kind of chaos is thankfully a thing of the past, I do still experience depression and hypomania, just to a lesser degree.

Stability did not come easily. In fact, sometimes memories of the days of darkness and sickness still haunt me. They creep into my mind and threaten to take me back in time. And I wonder – am I the only one who feels this way? Are there others – others who have been to the places I’ve been but are now stable and healthy? Do they remember? Do their memories haunt them like mine do me? Do they get a sick feeling in their stomach when they think about it? Do they feel violated by the mere thought of them?

And even more, do they miss it? Do they miss the days when they could feel everything deep into their bones? If I’m honest, sometimes I do. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s just a part of me that I can’t explain. And I really do wonder, are there others out there like me? I feel like there have to be. I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

To be bipolar and to feel everything so deeply is a gift, in a way. It’s also a sacrifice to put it in a box and choose stability. Anyone who isn’t a member of this exclusive club would have a difficult time understanding that statement, but if you get it, you get it. If you, like me, have chosen stability, I salute you. It’s glorious in its own way, and it truly is the best option we have. We know what lies on the other side. Some good, some bad. It’s a difficult thing to give up. It’s a difficult thing to deny that part of ourselves. Still, though the darkness sometimes calls to me, I choose laughter and light.

Sunday

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For many years, I’ve looked forward to Sundays. It’s the day of the week when I’ve been able to come together with my church family for a few hours of fellowship and worship. It’s been a time of joy for me for a long time.

But then we moved.

I said goodbye to my church family, knowing I would have to start all over with a new church family. I’ve done this many times before, but it seems harder this time. Not only do we have all the weirdness of COVID to deal with, but I have my own personal issues and baggage to handle, as well.

See, I’ve always dealt with social anxiety. At times it’s been nearly crippling. At other times, I’ve managed to push right through it and go about the business of being social anyway. Right now, I’m somewhere in the middle.

My guess is that, if I didn’t tell you that I have major social anxiety, you’d never know. You wouldn’t know that I feel so awkwardly out of place sometimes that I just want to crawl into a hole and never come out. You’d never know that I don’t like going into stores because I feel like everyone is staring at me. You’d never know I won’t get up and walk across a room full of people unless it’s an emergency because it will draw attention to me. You’d never know I have trouble eating in front of people. You’d never know that my heart pounds at the thought of speaking up in class. You’d never know because I’m really good at hiding it.

Back to Sunday. Our service this last Sunday was beautiful. It focused on the body of believers, and those who lead us, as family. There was talk of the many years of service that have been accumulated between the ministry team. It was a lovely tribute to them, and a beautiful statement about the church family itself.

But as I sat there, tears began to roll down my cheeks.

That awkward feeling of being out of place and not belonging began to creep up again. I’m new here. I haven’t shared in the years of togetherness and family with this church that was being talked about. I felt like a foreigner.

And the thing is, there is no telling how long I will feel that way. What I haven’t said about my social anxiety is that it keeps me from talking to you. It keeps me from introducing myself to you. It keeps me from joining a group conversation. It keeps me from getting to know people and making friends.

So, how will I move past this awkward stage where I feel like I don’t know people? How will you know that I have my head in my phone because I don’t want to sit here all by myself with no one to talk to, but I don’t have the courage to talk to you first? How will you know that I’m lonely and wishing I had a friend?

I don’t know the answers. I just know that living with social anxiety is tough.

Bipolar Rage

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Unless you’ve experienced it, you won’t really know what I’m talking about. I can try to describe it for you.

Something happens to trigger anger. Your initial reaction might be ever so slightly elevated, or it might even be normal, but very quickly it escalates into something that is over the top for the situation.

Example: Last night, my dogs kept waking me up, wanting to get out of their kennel. Their incessant whining and crying was more than I could stand. By the time I had thrown off the covers, unlocked their kennel, walked into the living room, turned on the light, and opened the dog door, I was ready to throw down with some dogs. I was yelling (and probably some not-so-nice words, too). I was huffing and puffing, and stomping around – because this was the best tantrum I could throw at one in the morning without waking everyone else up. Suffice it to say, I was really angry.

Fast forward three hours and the whole process starts over again. More crying from the dogs and I have to get up out of bed again. Again. Sidenote: I do not get out of bed to take care of animals. It’s a hard rule. My rule has now been trampled on twice in the same night and I am livid. My heart is pounding and I am ready to throw things at these dogs. My disdain for them is growing by the millisecond. The yelling continues and only gets louder. I’m surprised no one else woke up.

More crying as soon as I put them back in the kennel. This time, I remove myself from the room and sleep the rest of the night on the couch. Problem solved. Sort of.

You would think that would have been the end of it, right? No. I have been harboring hateful, vengeful feelings toward these dogs all day. I loathe the sight of them. Thinking of having to take care of them makes my blood boil. Feelings of wanting to throw and hit things have not gone away.

What is wrong with me? Why can’t I calm down? It wasn’t a huge catastrophe, after all. It was just an annoyance. Why so angry? Then it hit me. I was experiencing bipolar rage. It comes in, quickly escalates, and then refuses to dissipate. It clings on for dear life, not allowing you to move on from the anger you feel.

It’s kind of scary, actually. As with many of mood states of bipolar disorder, you sometimes don’t care about the consequences of your actions when you’re in the middle of an episode. Same was true here. Thankfully I didn’t act on it, but I truly didn’t care about the dogs when I was raging. No one could have talked me down by trying to be sensible. My anger was too strong.

Today, the only way out of it was anti-anxiety medication. I rarely take those because they throw me for a loop, but I felt like today was a day when it was truly needed. Sometimes grounding and breathing exercises work. Sometimes distracting myself works. Sometimes prayer helps. But today, it was pharmacy that helped.

If you know someone who has bipolar disorder, remember that bipolar rage is a real thing. It sneaks up on us at the more random, and usually inopportune, times. As much as we try to handle it, many times it gets the better of us, and we may need an extra helping of grace in these moments.