Makeup

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You know what doesn’t work?  Putting on makeup when you’re crying.  Eyeliner smudges, if it goes on at all.  Blush streaks.  And powder, well that just doesn’t work at all.  Once the powder brush gets wet with tears, all you end up doing is getting your whole face wet.

It’s just a mess.  I don’t recommend it.

Nevertheless, it’s what I did this morning.  Ridiculous.  Why didn’t I just have myself a good cry, dry my face, and then put my makeup on?  I don’t know.  Sounds pretty logical now, after the fact.  But then?  Well, then I guess it seemed like it was best to try to suck it up, push through the tears, and keep pressing forward.  You know, man up.  But the tears kept flowing.  They didn’t stop, even as I willed them to.

As I was getting ready for work, I was listening to some music.  One of the lyrics was, ‘this shall soon pass.’  As I looked at my bright green eyes (they get more green when I cry) in the mirror, I knew that wasn’t true, at least not on a certain level.  I mean, on some level, each circumstance will pass, of course, but overall…does it really pass?  Maybe not.

That’s how it is for those of us who suffer with a chronic mental illness.  It doesn’t just pass.  It stays with us, day after day.  Sure, we have good days.  And thank the Lord for those, right?  But the roar inside our heads or the ache in our hearts never quite subsides, does it?  It just lingers, sometimes very quietly.

And some days are harder than others. And on those days, sometimes my makeup is mixed with tears.

Maybe yours is, too. Maybe you cried as you applied mascara to wet lashes this morning. Or maybe your wife, girlfriend, or sister did. Or maybe it was the girl at the coffee shop who made your latte, or the girl who cut you off in traffic, or your child’s teacher.

Or maybe you don’t wear makeup, but you cried, still. Your tears are just as meaningful. Maybe you showed up to work or school with bloodshot eyes and a red nose, unable to hide the evidence. Whatever your circumstance, I think you’re brave.

I THINK YOU’RE BRAVE.

You showed up. Smudged eyes. Red nose. You showed up. You’re brave.

It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to cry. Just keep going. Tears in your makeup aren’t really a big deal, anyway.

Emotional Sunburn

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It’s difficult to express to others what it’s like to live with a mental illness.  Words fall short, if you can find any that seem even somewhat appropriate.  There have been times when I’ve felt that I’ve come close to capturing some aspect of what bipolar disorder is like, but in general, I feel like that’s a fruitless endeavor.  I’ve determined that it’s just a lonely journey that I’ll travel on my own, for the most part.

One way that I have tried to find people who can identify with me on this level is to join some groups on social media that are for people who are like me – for those who are bipolar, just like me.  So, I’m in a few of those groups.  It’s helpful to know that I’m not alone in what I experience.

Today, there was a question posed in one of the groups.  How do we describe what it’s like living with bipolar disorder?  The responses were fascinating.  I scoured all of them, and pulled out some of the most profound.  I want to share them with you.  I wish I could take credit for their brilliance, but alas, I cannot.

So here it is, what some with bipolar disorder have to say about it:

I feel like a living contradiction.

It’s like an emotional sunburn.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Medications only ‘lower the volume’ of the emotions I feel.

It’s total chaos.

Ever eat a pine tree?

It’s like living on a roller coaster with triple loops.

Living constantly surprised by yourself.

It’s like an endless, hopeless, lifecycle under an unpredictable dictator.

Your emotions carry you away with no warning.

It’s like I’m a yo-yo.

You won’t get it, so please just love me.

It’s like living in a boxing ring.

It’s waking up every morning, not knowing who or what I will be today.

Oh you like me?  Give it some time.  You’ll leave like everyone else…

Nightmare.

It’s never being able to trust how I feel.  Am I happy or is this hypomania?  Do I have a legit reason to be mad, or am I overreacting?

It’s feeling everything all at once.

Exhausting.

Lethal euphoria.

It’s like a sentence in hell.

Thunderstorm

It’s like wearing a slipper on one foot and a high heel on the other, creating an awkward rhythm as you go through life.  Constant up and down, not knowing how to make things even.

Rage and despair.

Laugh now, cry later.

It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate river – exciting and amazing, then all of a sudden dark, scary, and you have no idea how far it will go.

It’s like being in a funhouse maze and everyone expecting you to walk a straight line through it.

It’s being at war with yourself.

It’s like the universe keeps taking shots at you, and you hate yourself for it.

It’s like driving a car from the back seat.

Beautiful chaos.

I fly, I fall.

It’s being emotionally everywhere all at once.

I just love how descriptive these are.  I can especially identify with the funhouse maze analogy.  There is this unspoken expectation that I will be normal, that I will keep up, that I will be able to handle life – just like everyone else.  Some days I can.  But other days…not a chance.

And when the universe keeps taking shots at me, I do sometimes hate that I’m not able to handle it.  Strange how I blame myself for something that is completely out of my control.  Looks like I’m not the only one.

Living contradiction, emotional sunburn, unpredictable dictator.  Just brilliant.  So many things in my life are polarized.  They contradict.  I am a living contradiction.  And emotional sunburn?  Wow!  The pain of feeling everything all the time is just like the pain of a sunburn.  That’s so perfect.  So perfect.  And it does sometimes feel like I’m under the rule of an unpredictable dictator.  I never know what’s waiting for me around the corner, and I certainly don’t have much say in the matter.  I am my own dictator.

You know, it’s funny.  I always have this sense that my life is full of chaos.  I keep thinking that once things calm down, maybe then I will be able to find some peace.  Maybe then I will finally be able to heal a little bit more.  Maybe then things will get easier.  Maybe then.  But maybe the truth is that the chaos is coming from within.  Maybe the chaos is me, which, for someone who craves peace and quiet, is not good news.

I can’t run from it.  I can’t calm the storm that rages within.  What I can do, though, is keep the surrounding atmosphere as calm as possible.  And that’s what I try to do.  I don’t always do it perfectly, but I try.  This is my way of trying to find that ever elusive peace.  Sometimes I catch a glimpse for a little while, and I hang onto those moments for as long as I can.  It’s in those moments that the emotional sunburn heals, and the dictator takes a short break.  It’s in those moments that the chaos rests, and beauty peaks through.  Those moments between the noise are when I feel most like myself – the old me.  And those are the moments I cherish most.  So I guess this is the beautiful part of my chaos.

IOP

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You give me the creeps. When I think about you, I cringe. You haunt me. I know you were good for me. Twice, even. But…

It never fails that when I hear a song that reminds me of the time we were together, I cry. Well, if I’m alone I cry. If I’m not alone, I wish I could cry. It happens in an instant. I get this sick feeling in my stomach and the tears fill my eyes. I just get transported right back to that place – that place where I was when I needed you. I get taken back to the time when my world seemed to be nothing but turmoil. I couldn’t trust myself. And everything was scary. I go back there, and I don’t want to.

Just yesterday, I was driving in early morning traffic down the same familiar highway that lead me to you, and it happened again. I shuddered. Suddenly I was on my way to you. The sickness returned. I don’t want you. I don’t need you. Not now. Hopefully not ever again.

You’re good. Don’t misunderstand. I appreciate you. I have mad respect for you. You helped me. You taught me. You gave me so much. I mean, truly. But…

I need that to all be in the past. I don’t want the memory of that to creep in and take over like it’s all brand new and just now happening. That’s too much.

So, can you just stay in the past? Can you not be in the songs? Can you not be on the highway, in the traffic? Can you just be in the background of my mind, and wait until I am ready to visit you? Can you do that? That’s what I need from you now. That’s all I need from you now.

Stuck in the Middle

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I bought a new book just a few days ago.  It’s for a Bible study that I’m about to start.  This morning, I had a little extra time before I needed to get ready for the day, so I thought maybe I would pick it up, and get a head start on reading.  As I walked across the room to grab the book, I felt that familiar nudge from the Holy Spirit telling me not to read that book, but to read another – one that I had started a while back, but hadn’t read in a while.  This happens to me often, and when I read what God urges me to read, it is always exactly what I need to hear.  So, I went in search of this other book, It’s Not Supposed to be This Way, by Lysa Terkeurst.  (Side note, if you’ve had any kind of disappointment in your life, do yourself a favor and read this book).

So I read a couple of chapters, and find myself in tears by the time I’m finished.  Once again, I’m blown away by the perfection of its timing.  Sometimes I think God somehow has me wait to read to things until He knows it’s the right time.  Anyway, this section of the book is all about being in the midst of your situation.  Maybe you’re not still in the worst of it, but you’re not yet in the healing, or resolution, of it either.  The author compares it to walking a tightrope.  It’s such a frightening place to be.  Afraid to look forward because what if you never make it to the end?  Afraid to look back because what if you regress back to that place?  Afraid to look down because what if you completely fall?  It can be terrifying to be stuck in the middle ground.

The next chapter goes on to discuss how God uses your longsuffering to prepare you for exactly what He has for you to do.  He prepares you for glorious things, but in His way and in His timing.  Enduring the pain is part of the process.  The  middle is part of the process.  The end is part of the process, too.  But the suffering is not the point.  The suffering is just how we learn and how we grow.  It’s necessary, but it isn’t the point.  The work that comes from it is the point.  This is where I can get bogged down and struggle.

And this is where it starts to get good.

Just yesterday, I was talking with my counselor about how I’m in this funky place where I feel kind of stuck in the middle.  I’m not in a really dark place.  I’m not in a really manic place.  But I’m also not in a peaceful place.  I’m fidgety and agitated.  I’m in a place of unrest, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  And I’m not really digging it so much.  The thing I like least about it is that I feel like I can’t really dig in and do the work that God has for me to do.  I feel somewhat blunted and stifled.  I feel disconnected, so doing the work is more difficult.  She challenged me to try to look at things with a different perspective, which is good, so I’ll be doing that.  After reading these chapters today, I think that may be a little easier.

I’ve been so focused on what I can do when I’m in one particular mindset that I think I’ve missed some of the preparation that God has been doing in me along the way.  I think I’ve missed so many of the other things I’ve learned, so many of the ways I’ve grown and changed.  And, if I’m being completely honest, I think maybe I’m scared.  I think maybe God is telling me that I’m ready, and I’m still thinking that I’m not.  So maybe I’m looking for reasons to not show up and do the work.

Maybe.

It’s definitely something I will be thinking about.  One thing is for sure, I feel more equipped and more courageous that I did yesterday.  I just love how God steps in with His words of wisdom when we need them the most.  And I’m so thankful that I have the sense to listen.

Trapped

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Inside.  I’m trapped inside and I can’t get out.  I have to be in here for my own good – for everyone’s good.  But – it’s miserable in here.  It’s small, and I can hardly move.  I can hardly breathe.

The pill bottle.  I’m trapped inside the pill bottle.  Or at least, that’s how it seems.  The pills.  They keep everything so small, so boxed in.  I can’t be in a box.  I can’t live that way.  I’m going crazy.  I need to feel.  I need to be free.  I’m no good like this.

Like this.

Like this, I’m just taking up space.  I just go through the motions.  I do what is expected.  I work when I’m supposed.  I socialize when I can’t get out of it.  I laugh when it’s appropriate.  But that’s it.  It’s all on the surface.  It’s all forced.  None of it is genuine.  None of it comes from a place of joy or passion.  And that’s what is missing.

Passion.

This disorder that I have – this thing that is sometimes a gift and sometimes a curse – is the thing that has allowed me to learn and grow beyond anything I ever thought possible.  It’s because of my experience with this that I want to help people who also wrestle with it.  But there’s a problem.

I can’t when I’m in the box.

I’m blunted in the box.  I’m so numb in the box.  I’m so detached in the box.  I don’t have the desire to help.  I don’t have the passion or the creativity to write when I am shoved into that tiny pill bottle.  I can’t tap into past experiences when the pills take over.  I can’t rely on past hurts.  I can’t recall how I felt.  I don’t feel anything.  So what do I do?

I can’t have this all be for nothing.  I can’t have gone through all I’ve gone through and not be able to access it when I need to.  Yet – I can’t stay in a place where I can’t function either.  So, what?  What do I do?

I don’t like where I am now.  I bounce.  I feel good.  And then I don’t.  I feel bad.  And then I don’t.  There’s no explanation.  There is just constant change.  Change is the constant.  But there is this energy that I feel.  I feel it bubbling.  I feel it inside, not allowing me to rest.  I feel it keeping me from being at peace.  There is a war within me.  The truest parts of me are fighting to be set free while the pills are fighting to keep them bottled up.

The pills are both the problem and the solution.  How can that ever work?  How will that ever work?  How will my insides ever be at peace with that?  I don’t think they will.  I don’t see how I will ever have peace like this.  I don’t think I can be well the way I want to be.  It doesn’t feel right.  It feels like a bandaid trying to hold together a broken bone.  It will never work.

And I don’t think I can be both well, and help on the level that I want to help, at the same time.  Maybe I need to take a look at what my role as a helper is supposed to be.  Maybe I’m coming at it from the wrong angle and trying to make something fit that isn’t supposed to fit.  Maybe I’m onto something here.

I’ve had so many people pray for healing over me, but I’ve just never felt it in my heart that that was God’s plan for me.  Maybe wellness needs to look a little different than I have been thinking, too.  Because, to be honest, I don’t feel well.  I feel more stable, but stability doesn’t feel like wellness to me.  I don’t think I can put words on that to make it sensible, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Maybe.

I just know I can’t stay trapped.  This is not wellness.  This is madness.

5 Things you never knew about depression

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The more you try to fix it, the worse we feel.

When you have loved ones who are feeling depressed, it is a perfectly natural tendency to want to cheer them up. That’s totally understandable. The problem with that is that you can’t just cheer away depression. The more you try and fail, the worse you feel. The worse you feel, the worse your loved ones feel because they can’t give you the one thing you want. They just can’t cheer up, snap out of it, or get happy, and seeing the look of disappointment and defeat on your face every time your efforts fail, only deepens the pain they feel.

Depressed people look just like you and me.

People who live with depression generally still function normally. They have families and jobs, and carry on just like everyone else. They smile, they laugh. You would never know they suffer the way they do. Depression doesn’t have a special look to it. It doesn’t require that a person stay in bed and cry or sleep all day. It doesn’t require that a person be unable to function normally in life. Instead, it wears a mask. It hides behind smiling faces, and successful careers.

Depression isn’t just sadness.

Depression can present as sadness, but it can also present as anxiety, anger, irritability, fatigue, numbness or a host of other things.  Many times, these symptoms are present in any number of combinations.  It can often be overwhelming to experience so many differing emotions or sensations at once, which leaves the depressed individual feeling restless and unsettled, only exacerbating the irritability.  Sometimes, it all becomes too much for a person to handle, and the body’s response is to become somewhat numb to the overwhelming emotions it has been experiencing.  This leaves the person feeling very detached and disconnected.

There are different types of depression.

Not all depression is the same.  Some depressions are brought on by circumstances – perhaps the dissolution of a relationship, or the loss of a job.  Other depressions are more biological in nature, and are the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.  Some depressions require medication treatment, others do not.  Some depressions are relatively short-lived, lasting a few weeks, or months; whereas, some suffer from depression for years, or even throughout their whole lives.  Every person’s walk with depression is unique, and should not be compared with another’s.  What is true for one person, may not be true for the next.

People with depression want to get better.

Though it may not seem like it on the outside, we really don’t want to be depressed.  We don’t want to feel this way.  We don’t want to be tired and blah, or feel sad and cry, or be angry all the time.  We want to feel better, we just don’t know how.  Sometimes we just don’t have it in us to try any harder.  Sometimes we do all the things we are taught to do in therapy, but we just don’t feel better.  Be patient with your loved ones, and assume that they are doing the best they can.

Background

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We all know what it means for something to be in the background.  It’s not in the forefront.  It’s not as prominent.  It’s not as important.  It isn’t that it’s unimportant, just less important than something else.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be in the background, depending on the circumstance.

But what if you’re a background friend?  You know, someone whom you are friendly with when you see them, but aren’t really close to beyond that.  Someone whom is part of your larger friend group, but you don’t really know that well.  Someone you work with.  A background friend falls somewhere between acquaintance and close friend. Many times, being a background friend is just fine.  These relationships serve good purposes.  We need background friends.

But what about when you think of someone as a close friend, but they think of you as just a background friend?  What about when you used to be more than background, but now you’re not?  What about those times when you find that you don’t have anyone who isn’t more than a background friend?

What about those times?

I was talking with a client a few weeks ago, and she mentioned feeling like she was a background friend to everyone, and that even the people she considered close friends, seem to only consider her as background.  And I immediately and deeply related to what she was saying.  I had never thought of it in that terminology, perfect as it is, but I’ve felt it more times that I care to admit.  And honestly, I’m feeling it today – the solitude of the background.

The background is a place where the phone doesn’t ring or chime with calls or messages.  Facebook doesn’t light up with notifications. Invitations to social gatherings don’t come.  In fact, unless you initiate contact with others, you’re pretty much in isolation from the outside world.  The reason?  You’re just in the background.  You’re not in the forefront of anyone’s mind.  You’re not the person that anyone thinks of when they want to say good morning, or wish a Merry Christmas.  You aren’t the person they check on in the middle of a bad storm.  You aren’t the person they share a funny joke with.  It isn’t that they don’t like you.  It’s just that you are in the background, so you aren’t on their radar.  They aren’t thinking anything negative about you.  They just aren’t thinking about you at all.

The background is a lonely place to be.

The truth is, everyone has a place where they fit.  Everyone has a place where they are more than just background.  The key is to find that place, and to nurture it.  We can’t spend our energy trying to make a background situation into something more than what it is.  We will do nothing more than exhaust and frustrate ourselves.  So, next time you feel lonely because you’re stuck in the background, just remember that your place is out there waiting for you.  Perhaps you just haven’t found it yet.

Cotton-headed

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That’s what it feels like – like my head is full of cotton.  I’ve been trying to figure it out, and I finally did.  Phew.  Now I know.  I’m a Cotton-headed Ninny Muggins.  Just like Buddy, the Elf.

About a week ago, I felt a mood shift from some crazy form of hypomania to some strange form of normal.  It’s been so weird.  I don’t really feel too low.  I don’t feel too high.  Not anxious.  Not irritated.  Not the usual things that I feel.  But, I don’t feel quite right, either.  I have just felt a little…discombobulated.  Yep.  That explains it.

My head is just not clear.  I can’t think very clearly.  I feel cloudy.  I feel like there are a bunch of cobwebs in my head that I need to clear out, and then maybe I can think through things more coherently, more thoroughly.

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to see some specialists and have some really high-tech imaging done of my brain.  The hope was that we would be able to see exactly what’s going on inside my noggin so we could zero in on how to better treat my symptoms.  I think we got some good answers, but now I’m on information overload, and I don’t even know how to take it all in, much less process it all.  In fact, I think I’ve just been avoiding it a little bit since I got home from all of my appointments.

There are so many things yet to do.  Read this.  Watch that.  Get these labs done.  Take this test.  Drink this.  Don’t eat that.  Take these supplements.  This is good.  That is bad.

STOP!!!!

Slow down.  I can’t keep up with all that.  One thing at a time, please.  I can feel myself becoming stressed with trying to figure all of this out.  In fact, I think I can almost feel myself becoming revved up again, which is a tell-tale sign that a mood episode could be on the horizon.  So, that means I’ve got to take it slow, and really prioritize these things.  I am my best advocate for my own care.  I am the best person to know what I’m feeling, so I’ve got to pay attention to what’s happening inside.

This is true for all of us.  No matter what we’re going through, we have to be our own advocates.  We have to look out for our best interests.  We have to make sure we are taking care of our own health – both physical and mental.  If we don’t, who will?  This is what I’m learning.  Everyone has his own agenda, including doctors.  Every doctor will want you to follow his protocol, but ultimately, you have to do what you know is best for you.  For me, I’ll get to what the doctors are asking me to do, but I have to take my time, or I’ll push myself right into another tailspin.  In the meantime, I’m taking baby steps towards my goal of a healthier me.

What about you?  What steps are you taking towards a better you?