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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.

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