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Monday, December 28, 2015

Thank God for Cleveland Sports!

I am a Cleveland Sports fan!   I know some of you are laughing out loud and saying: “This explains the whole bipolar thing!”     Laugh if you will but we are a Cleveland Sports Family.
For seven years, I was a single mother of two children.   I divorced my first husband while pregnant with my daughter, so at the age of twenty-seven I found myself raising an infant baby girl and a two-year-old boy alone.   Bringing my daughter home from the hospital was traumatic for my son.   He had been the center of my world and suddenly, his father was gone and replaced by this crying baby girl who was taking up all of his mommy’s time.   To say he disliked his sister was an understatement.     He would pinch her and pull her hair every chance he would get.

I realized early that I needed to make quality time with my son.   I was now responsible for teaching this little boy about “man” things.   And let's face it,  I was divorced at twenty-seven, I had proven I understood absolutely nothing about men!    Every night I said a silent prayer to God to watch over my children and asked for guidance in raising them alone.   After putting the kids to bed one night, I started channel surfing and stumbled upon a Cleveland Indian’s baseball game.   The year was 1994, and the roster included Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, and Kenny Lofton.   That was it!   I would bond with my son through baseball!   So began the ritual of putting my daughter to bed, curling up on the couch and watching Cleveland Indian Games with my son.     I knew nothing about sports, so we learned together.   I took my son to his first major league game when he was nine years old.   I took him to the game to become closer to him, teach him simple life lessons and make a "memory".   Fifteen years later, my grown son took me to an Indian’s game to become closer to me, talk about life lessons he has learned and reminisce about special baseball time with me.     Thank You God for the Cleveland Indians!

Years later, when I remarried, I vowed to love, honor and cherish my husband...and become a Cleveland Browns Fan.   Bill and I entered into our relationship quickly and selfishly gave very little thought to the consequences it would have on our children.   So virtually overnight, my family of two and his family of three was forced to blend.   These were five completely different children.   Their ages spanned from seven to twenty; two girls and three boys and their personalities couldn't be further apart from each other.   My husband came from a family of seven and his mother bonded with her sons by watching football.   When she died, the tradition fell to my husband and when we merged our families, the football tradition continued with us. Sunday football united our family. Being a Browns fan is not easy.   Every year you begin with lofty dreams of winning the first Cleveland super bowl. By the middle of the season your praying for a wild card seat in the playoffs and by the end of the season, you're just happy with a win over the Steelers.   As bad as the games may be, it was a bonding experience for our family. Together we broke bread, laughed, screamed at the TV, rejoiced in the wins and sulked in the defeats.     But more importantly, we had the opportunity to see each other weekly, talked about our lives, challenges we were facing and grow in our love for each other.   Thank you God for the Cleveland Browns

Baseball is for my son, Football is for my blended family, but Basketball is MINE!   In 2003, I became a Cleveland Cavalier fan.   My husband jokingly says I'm a “LeBron” fan.   That statement is probably true, but in my defense I continued to watch the Cav’s play even during the “dark years” when LeBron was in “exile” in Miami.

Basketball is a bipolar person’s dream and the Cavaliers are my therapy!         There are over 80 games spanning from October to April and if you’re lucky, you get to go to the playoffs and your season extends into the summer!     The games help get me through the change of seasons and major holidays which are all trigger times for me. Basketball is fast paced and easy to keep up with during a manic episode. Watching the CAV’s play is like watching an action, drama and comedy all at once, and you can openly express ALL your emotions in a matter of seconds without judgment.

Does basketball add to my spiritual growth?   I don’t know for sure.   I do know my intercessory prayer increases when there are three seconds on the clock, we are down by two and Moe Williams has to make a three-point shot for the win.       When we make it to the playoffs, it reaffirms my belief in miracles and divine intervention.   I believe everything comes from God and so I thank God for creating LeBron James!

One thing I know for sure is that Cleveland sports have been heaven sent to me personally.   It was instrumental in building a beautiful relationship between my son and I.   It united a dysfunctional blended family, and it eases my crazy mind.     So yes.....Cleveland Sports adds to my spiritual growth. So today I pray to our Heavenly Father, "Thank you for everything You have given me....everything You have taken from me...everything You have left for me...and Thank you God for Cleveland Sports!

Friday, December 25, 2015

In God's Time

I’ve been unemployed for about six weeks and we are starting to feel the financial pinch of a one income household.     To help make ends meet, my husband took on some midnight shifts at the hospital.   This week he’s working Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after Christmas.    Our time together is limited so on Christmas Eve we decided to drive to the Valley Market Place for breakfast and to visit some of the Amish shops.   We love the Amish!    Living in Ohio, Amish communities are commonplace and we have developed friendships with many of them over the years.    After eating way too much food at the “House Restaurant”, we walked down to “The Stoltzfus Variety Shop”.   This is my favorite store because they sell rhythm clocks.      Now I’m not one to get excited about clocks.   I buy my clocks at Walmart and the thought of paying more than $15 for a timepiece makes me physically ill, but there is something about the musical clocks that mesmerize me.     Like little kids, we started pushing the test button on each wall clock.  The entire marketplace sounded like a crazy carnival carousel.    You never know what will happen when you press the button.   All the songs are different and each timepiece moves in a unique way.   I fell in love with this beautiful silver and white clock that had a rich dark wood frame.   On the hour, one of thirty songs would play and the dial opened up into six separate segments revealing white and silver plates bearing pictures of musical notes and guitars.   The Amish Storeowner was eager to show us his wares and I was beginning to feel a little guilty about taking up his time.  There was no way we could purchase something that expensive right now.   A clock is not a necessity, our Walmart special is working just fine!    I smiled at the nice store keeper and said, “One day we’ll buy one of your clocks!”   As the Amish Man walked away from us and back to the cash register my husband said, “Which one of these clocks do you like the best Seetie?”     A few years back one of the grandkids gave me a coffee mug branded with the word “Mammasita” on the side.    My Irish husband thought that was the funniest thing ever and began calling me “Seetie”.      Now, back to the story...I pointed to the clock I loved the best and my husband called over to the store keeper and said, “Do you have this one in stock?”    I got a little irked with my husband.  Why was he making this poor man leave his post and get a clock we couldn’t afford to buy.    Annoyed, I said, “What are you doing?”    He looked at me, smiled and said, “I’m buying you a clock!”    I was shocked and tears began to stream down my face.   I couldn’t believe he was buying this clock for me for Christmas.    We don’t exchange gifts, our focus has always been on our kids and grandkids.   Gifts for each other were always an afterthought.    

When I made the decision to quit my job in November, it was the first time I did not have a plan "B".   I made the decision after prayer and with the full support of my husband.    When I resigned from my job, I was emotionally and physically drained.   I remember tearfully saying to my husband “I’m not strong enough to fight this battle anymore.”   And his response to me was “You don’t have to, I’ll fight it for you.”   And he has fought for me every day since I quit my job.   He said, “You’ve worked your butt off for thirty years working in offices to support your family, you need a break, let me take care of things.”   For the first time in my life, I gave the reins to my husband.   I’m not a submissive type of gal, I like to be in control, but I couldn’t do it anymore.   I was exhausted, my mind was broke and I just didn’t have the energy to think.      For the first time in our married life, I let my husband “head” our home.   I allowed him to live as God intended.    I have to tell you that things have been a lot easier since I let go, let God and let Bill.         When I told my daughter about crying in the Amish Market, she seemed puzzled and said, “You cried over a clock?”   But it wasn’t about the clock, my tears of joy were about my husband.   It was about the love we have for each other.    It was about the fact that this man is working sixty hours a week so that I can heal my mind.   It’s about unconditional love.        Every time the clock chimes I stop what I’m doing, listen and watch in childlike wonder as the dials open up and spin around slowly to the music.    As I watch in amazement, I think about the love I have for my husband.       It’s incredible what life can be like when you let go of your illusion of control and let God lead the way.   I don't know what the future holds, but I have faith that everything happens for a reason and in God's time.      

Merry Christmas to all and   May God bless you and your families during the Christmas Season and throughout the New Year.   

Monday, December 21, 2015

My Morning Coffee with Mary

Most people agree that your mornings dictate the course of your day.   If you wake up five minutes before your alarm goes off and can enjoy a few moments snuggle into the warm arms of your spouse before you get out of bed.....a good day is ahead.     Sleep through your alarm, jump out of bed, trip over the dog and stub your toe on the bedpost, and you can almost expect your day to be "crappy"!    Since my bipolar diagnosis, I have learned the importance of a morning ritual, but I'll admit, mine has changed drastically over the past twenty-five years. 

When I was a single mom, my mornings were filled with chaos, yelling and a lot of crying!    Every morning I would wake up at six o’clock with the best intentions of creating a calm, loving atmosphere for my children.   The daily goal was always the same, get them up, fed, dressed and out the door by eight o'clock.      Remember the cartoon of Snow White, walking through the forest led by bunnies with bluebirds singing joyfully around her head?    That was the peaceful scene I wanted for my children every day.     Each morning, with the best of intentions,  I would quietly walk into each child's room and gently speak to them in a voice as soft as butter, “It’s time to get up."       But we all know where good intentions can lead.... and by half past eight I’m screaming at those same kids, “Get your young butts in the car, now!”   “Butt” is not the colorful word I used, but you must remember I’m not perfect and cursing was and still is an “art form” to me.    When the kids were little, there were so many mornings, we would be rushing out the door when I would suddenly notice that my daughter’s head and hands were bare.   It would be January in Ohio and this little girl would not be able to find her hat or mittens!   In desperation, I would give her my gloves which were ten sizes too big for her little hands and then jerk one of my son’s blue stocking caps complete with a car emblem over her head.   Yes, morning routines were more like a scene from "Terminator" than "Snow White"!

Twenty-five years later my mornings are quite different.   All the kids are grown and live on their own.   I get up before my husband, let the dog out, get the paper, make my coffee then I sit in my favorite chair and pray the rosary.    This is my quiet time with Mary.   I’ve learned over the past three years that the rosary is more than just a series of repetitive prayers.   Each day I meditate on a different aspect of the life of Jesus.   I begin on Mondays with the Joyful Mysteries:   The Messenger of God announcing to Mary that she is to be the Mother of God; Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth;  The birth of our Lord in a stable in Bethlehem; Jesus’ presentation in the Temple as an infant;  and Mary finding Jesus in the temple when he was twelve.     Each day is a journey through the life of Christ; The Glorious Mysteries, The Luminous Mysteries and then on Friday I reflect and meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries.   I  meditate on  Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; his scourging at the pillars, the crowning of thorns, Jesus carrying the cross to Calvary and His death on the cross for our sins.

When you think about it, Mother Mary was the only human being that was with our Lord his entire life.   She was witness to his self-magnification in Cana, his death on the cross, his resurrection, his ascension to heaven and she was in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended.   After my Rosary, I thank God for everything He has given me, everything He has taken from me and everything He has left for me.   Then I read my morning reflection and post the Jesuit pray on Facebook.    This entire routine takes me about thirty minutes.   I can’t help but think how different my life would have been if I would have started my day with this routine when raising my kids.   

The rosary is my direct connection to our heavenly Mother…she is my lifeline.   She helps ground me for my day ahead.     They say it takes thirty days to develop a habit.  Praying the rosary every morning, in my car, on my way to work had been my habit for three years, but when I became unemployed, I struggled to find quiet time to pray.    I’m now enjoying my new morning routine, what could be better than to start your day with prayerful conversation and coffee with Mary.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Maybe I'll Learn to Swim

To say that recovering from a bipolar depressive episode's hard is an understatement.    To me, depression is like being in a crowded public pool, chained to a brick, under eight feet of water and you can’t swim.   You’re afraid to open your eyes because you know it will sting.  When you find the courage to expose your eyes to the chemicals in the water, you may be able to see the light above, you might even float up enough to barely get your fingertips over the waterline,  but that heaviness keeps pulling you down.   You can’t breathe.  The pressure in your chest suffocates you and no one can hear you scream, everyone around you is joyfully playing in the water.   Nobody notices your struggle.   No one realizes that you are dying right in front of them.

Right now, I find myself recovering from a manic/depressive episode.   My husband was swimming in my metaphoric pool close to me, saw my fingers just above the water line and pulled me to safety.     Once again he is my hero.     After leaving my job as a direct result of my bipolar disorder, I began my journey back to sanity…but to swim in the big pool,  you need to get over your fear of the water.

For the first week following my resignation from a job I loved, I teetered between mania and depression.   It was physically and mentally draining.   I was sleeping only about two to three hours a night, my thoughts raced uncontrollably and the manic writing began.   Some of my writings made sense, but most were just jumbled disorganized thoughts, filled with hurt, anger and resentment.   I wrote for hours at a time.   My husband nicknamed me “Manny”.   He understands I write when I’m manic, but likes to remind me in a humorous way that I’m experiencing bipolar symptoms.   His sense of humor is one of the many things I love about him.    I knew from past depressive episodes that I had to keep connected with the real world so each day,  I forced myself to wash my face, brush my hair and teeth, dress and leave the house for at least an hour.   This was challenging for me because when I’m experiencing an episode, I feel as if everyone can see the “crazy” on my face.   I am severely paranoid, and afraid of everyone and everything.    During that first week, I began praying the “Our Lady Undoer of Knots” novena.    At this point, I was just wading in the kiddy pool.

Nine days later my ups and downs were not as severe and I started to complete tasks around the house and eventually ventured back to my Zumba classes.   Nothing can lift me up quicker than dancing fast and singing Spanish lyrics to songs that I don’t understand.    The only Spanish word I know the meaning of is “Hola!”      I took advantage of quiet time in the mornings to pray the rosary, read the morning scripture passages and listen to Catholic Radio while doing my housework.    I was now putting my face in the water and blowing bubbles!  Life was beginning to look up.

I’m now in week four of unpaid unemployment and five days into a Novena to St. Jude for financial relief,   but the enormous bricks are no longer chained to my ankles.    Applying my make-up and curling my hair is now a part of my morning routine.   I have added a daily walk to my exercise regiment, and I have embarked upon a quest for a new Catholic Parish to call home.   Mother Mary has undone my emotional knots and I'm confident St. Jude will intercede for financial relief.   I’m letting go and letting God, floating on my back, basking in the "Son".   Maybe next week, I’ll learn to swim.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My Faith Story

Hi, my name is Sandy and this blog is a series of personal reflections as I travel in my faith journey.  I’m not an angel, in fact, I’m far from it.  I have made some pretty bad choices in my life.  I’m not a religious fanatic who “Suddenly found Jesus”!  I was saved through the Sacrament of  Baptism into the Catholic Church when I was seven years old.   I reaffirmed that belief in the sacrament of Confirmation when I was fourteen, but like many teens, I walked away from my faith.  The further I separated myself from God the more painful and sinful my life became.   In 2006, my world came crashing down around me, I had hit my spiritual bottom and found myself in the psychiatric ward of a Catholic Hospital.    It was at that time that I was diagnosed as being bipolar…thus the title “Crazy Catholic Woman”.   My diagnosis explained the erratic behavior, the lack of morality and extreme ups and downs I had experienced in my life, but my guilt and shame kept me from returning to my Catholic roots.

I then began my spiritual journey, but I was “looking for God in all the wrong places”.   I started attending an evangelical church, which gave me that boost I needed to reboot my spiritual GPS and lead me back to Christ.   But I  convinced myself that I didn’t need medication to treat my mental illness.   I told myself that I was simply an immoral person who needs Christ.  God would heal my mind!

A year later, I became confused and disillusioned with the teachings of this evangelical church.   I felt uncomfortable with their anti-Catholic rhetoric and after a year of faithful, twice a week attendance, I left the “church of what’s happening now.”   Like an alcoholic who again begins drinking after a time of sobriety, my life again started to spiral out of control.  I still was not treating my mental illness and was hanging on by a thread attempting to be “normal”.   I had succeeded in making the outside appear “together” but my thoughts were racing, I was not sleeping and I was in a constant mental battle to go off the rails.   My spiritual GPS was also trying desperately to locate a sound signal.   I was off the spiritual path again searching for something more.

In 2007, my Spiritual GPS directed me to a job opportunity as a parish secretary in a Catholic Church.   I became close friends with the church bookkeeper who led me back to my Catholic faith.   She never judged, she never pushed, but her love for the Church and her Christian Stewardship way of life attracted me to learn more about my faith.   My bookkeeper friend died only three years after she had entered my life.   My faith helped me to accept her untimely death, but I miss her deeply and keep a small picture of her taped to the visor in my car.   I do a lot of praying in my car and every time I pray the Rosary, I look at the photo of my dear friend and know that she is praising God right along with me.

In 2011, I took a job at a new parish and my role within the office dynamic changed quickly.  I was no longer the parish secretary I was now a Pastoral Assistant.   I took on the duties of organizing the Rite of Christian Initiation Program and eventually headed the entire Adult Faith Formation Program for the parish.   I was the Catholic, who "knew" I believed certain things but couldn’t explain “why” I believed them.     Having to teach my religion, forced me to learn my faith.

At this point in my life, the spirituality was now established, but my mind was still not healed.    I wasn’t treating my mental illness and in December of 2012, I found myself depressed and on the edge of suicide.   I remember getting ready for work one morning, looking at myself in the mirror and sobbing.   My husband found me crying and lovingly asked me what was wrong.   I didn't cry in front of my husband very often.   I hid my despair, I saw it as a personal weakness, but that day I couldn't hide anymore.    I will never forget my reply “I’m tired of feeling this way, I just want to run my car into a tree and be done with it!”    He put his strong arms around me and said, “Maybe you need to talk to someone who can help you.”

The next day I made an appointment with a counselor I had seen years ago.  I sat sobbing in her office as I told her about where my life had taken me over the past twenty years.  After an hour-long conversation, she looked at me and said, “Sandy, you're bipolar.”    Of course, this made me cry even harder!   “But I don’t want to be bipolar!"  I said,  "I don’t want to be on medication for the rest of my life!   Can’t I just talk through this depression with you. I don’t want to be crazy!”    She smiled and said, “Honey, you're not crazy, you have a chemical imbalance and once you get on the right medication you will feel so much better.”   She referred me to a psychiatrist who confirmed my diagnosis and prescribed me a new medication used to treat bipolar disorder.  Within a month, my mind was clear.  I was able to sleep, focus, and listen.  It was as if I had been trapped in a dark room and then suddenly the curtains had been flung open and the sun was permitted to shine!   

Managing my bipolar symptoms continues to be a daily struggle.  Contrary to some belief just taking medication doesn't take away your bipolar symptoms.   So, to recognize my triggers and manage my symptoms,  I meet with my counselor about six times a year and see my psychiatrist quarterly.   I take my medication daily, keep track of my moods and pay attention to triggers and symptoms of relapse.  

Although I have been able to manage my bipolar symptoms,  stress continues to be a big trigger for me.    I recently left my full-time job due to the enormous stress involved in the position.    After years of writing business letters, newsletters and press releases, I have made the decision to write for me.    People with bipolar often have creative "super powers", some are artists, actors, and musicians.   My bipolar "superpower" is writing, so I decided to use my "powers" for good and share my bipolar struggles and my spiritual journey. 

This blog is about what living with bipolar disorder is like for me and how God continues to work in my life.    Please know that the opinions expressed here are my own.  I am not a theologian, I'm simply a Catholic Woman, who is trying to live her faith and get to heaven.     Enter at your own risk!   My mind is like a roller coaster ride.   Some days I'm high energy other times, lower than low.     I might offend you one day and inspire you on others.  Take from this blog what you want and leave the rest.  I hope you enjoy reading the reflections of this Crazy Catholic Woman.

Embracing My Crazy Cross

Catholics often talk about “embracing their cross”.       I viewed my bipolar disorder as the cross I had to carry.   The imperfection I suffered as a result of original sin.   It’s effortless to embrace a cross that’s easy to carry.   When my bipolar is stable, I can carry my cross from here to California and back again.   But, when hit between the eyes with a manic or depressive episode, you are paralyzed under the weight of that cross.

I realized that I was in trouble about six months ago.   I wasn’t sleeping but was full of energy….symptom number one preceding a bipolar episode.   I was crying when I was alone, at home, in my car, in the office…symptoms two.   I started a blog….time to see my therapist!     I often see my therapist when my symptoms begin to interrupt my life.   My therapist helps me figure out what is real and imagined and how to manage my symptoms.   After my visit, I discovered that my work pressures were real, and my coping skills were not working anymore.   I realized I needed more than just therapy; it was time to pull out the big guns, so I turned to our Blessed Mother.

My mom died in 1999 when I was thirty-three, but in the past three years I learned the power of intercessory prayer and my devotion to Mary increased.   My relationship with my earthly mother was beautiful.   I shared with her my joys and pains, laughter and anger, worries and triumphs.   When I was a child, my mom was a buffer between my father and me.   If I did something wrong, she would often intercede on my behalf and lesson my punishment. If I wanted to have a special privilege and I was afraid to ask my father, I would go to my mother, and she would have that special way of asking my dad for me.   So you see, invoking the intercession of Mother Mary was a natural progression for me.

I prayed the rosary every day on my hour long commute to work.   I would talk to Mary as I would speak to my earthy mother and my relationship with her grew.     My conversations with Mary focused more on my "cross" as the pressures of my job increased. The day of my resignation I said “Mary, please talk to our Heavenly Father about my crazy cross.   I know that my cross doesn’t even compare to the cross your Son carried for our sins.   I know that I’m a sinner, and I know God has a lot of other things to worry about right now.   Our world is in such turmoil, my problems are minor, but this cross is too heavy for me to carry.   Your Son carried the cross for the sins of humanity but he is God, and I’m not, please intercede for me to our Heavenly Father.   I need help carrying this cross; I can’t do it alone anymore.”

God answers prayers in unexpected ways.   He didn’t respond by lightening my workload or opening the eyes of my employer to be more accommodating. God answered my prayer by giving me the strength to stand up under the weight of that cross.   He gave me the courage to say “enough is enough”!   He stood with me, and I have no doubt that he sent two of his craziest angels, “Goodness & Mercy”, to get me safely home the day I resigned.   Since my resignation, I continue to feel God near me every day.   As I begin this new journey of unemployment and personal discovery, I realize that for the first time in my life, I have choices.   I continue to pray the rosary every day, and I'm eager to discover what our Lord has in store for me.     So with the help of Jesus, I’m leaning into this “crazy” cross.   Thank you, Mother Mary, for interceding for me!