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Monday, January 25, 2016

Our Lord's Gentle Caress

Over the years, I have developed a personal defense mechanism I liken to a sophisticated filing system.    When someone hurts or offends me, I forgive them by simply filing the pain away in an imaginary filing cabinet in my head.    I verbalize my forgiveness and on the outside, I appear indifferent to the betrayal, but deep inside my subconscious, I’m building a secret file against them!  I have over thirty years of business experience and filing is Secretary 101 so you can bet your "sweet bippy" that if someone hurts me or someone I love, I will accurately maintain that mental file until Jesus comes again!    

My husband is a recovering alcoholic and for the first seven years we were together he was active in his addiction.    As you can image, my husband’s file in my mental cabinet was overflowing, in fact, I’m certain he had his own drawer!    I  had worked in the chemical dependency field and was familiar with the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. When my husband made the decision to get sober through this fellowship, I knew about Step Nine and expected my apology immediately!     I learned quickly that my time isn’t God’s time.   My husband and I both needed to walk through our respective pain and realize the mistakes both of us made in creating the dysfunction that was our life together.        My husband made his journey through AA and I chose the path of Alanon.   When my husband made his amends to me two years later, it was not planned, but it was one of the most beautiful moments in our marriage.     He apologized to me, I forgave him and then I made my amends to him and he forgave me.    We told each other that we loved one another and the matter was closed.    It was at that moment I felt completely free; the years of anger and resentment were suddenly gone.    We gave each other the “soft caress” of forgiveness.   I’m happy to announce that my husband will have seven years sober in April and his  filing drawer has been purged and all the files shredded!  

The year 2015 was filled with tremendous emotional turmoil that ultimately led to my resignation from a job I loved.    My mind has healed substantially over the past few weeks and I honestly believed I had worked through my feelings of hurt and betrayal, but lately I have been reminded of past events and I feel the old wounds resurfacing.    I’ve deceived myself into believing my ability to “file” my feelings is forgiveness but in reality, I never work through the pain.      I need to remember my defense mechanisms are survival tools I no longer need.   

Like I said, over the past week I have been struggling with some old wounds but like most problems, I cried out to God for help.    God does indeed have a sense of humor and I felt as if he was having a little fun at my expense last week.     I have a free app on my iPad called “Jesuits”.   The Jesuits are a Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers who were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1534.    Their mission is to find God in all things and they dedicate their lives to the greater glory of God and the good of all humanity.  Our beloved Pope Francis is of the Jesuits order.    Let me just say,  I love the Jesuits!    They are in touch with what is happening in today’s society.   Their daily reflections are on point, thought provoking and relatable.   Not too shabby for an ancient order established almost 500 years ago!      

Now each morning for the past year, I've open this App, read the opening quote for the day, scripture reading, daily reflection, and prayer,  but last week my app got stuck on January 16th and refused to update.    I struggled with this malfunction for five days!    I tried all the standard electronic remedies; rebooting and reinstalling, but nothing worked.   I felt like Bill Murry in the movie Groundhog Day!    On the fifth day, I decided that maybe, just maybe, God was trying to send me a message, so I decided to read the January 16th post again.       The opening quote for that day was from Pope Francis “God forgives not with a decree but with a caress.”   The reading was Mark 2:13-17 about Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees because he was socializing with sinners and tax collectors and Jesus’ answered them by saying, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.”  The reflection for that day was entitled “Merciful Forgiveness” and the prayer encouraged us to be an "ambassador of mercy".    I think God was trying to tell me something!

I understood that God wanted me to forgive,  but I didn't know how, so once again, I turned to prayer.     It’s amusing how God keeps steering you towards the light.   Over the next few days, God took me on this crazy scavenger hunt for the truth, giving me little clues and urging me to seek the answers on my own.     The issue with the daily reflection application made me think about how I found the app.    I was facilitating a six-part adult faith formation series by Father Albert Haase entitledCatching Fire, Becoming Flame:  A Guide for Spiritual Transformation”.      Session three of this series was about prayer and Fr. Albert was teaching about the Examen, a spiritual exercise developed by St. Ignatius.   I was intrigued by the Examen and while gathering information about this unique method of prayer,  I stumbled across the Jesuits App.  See what I mean about God’s scavenger hunt!    Thoughts of Fr. Albert led me to grab his book off the shelf.  My intention was just to look at the table of contents and skim through the subjects, but instead, I randomly open the book to Chapter 26 “The Challenge of Forgiveness”.     Yes, I believe, God is calling me to forgive!    So I prayed, “Okay Lord, apparently my intricate filing system is not working.   You know I'm not always the brightest bulb in the pack so please, give me step by step directions on how to forgive!"    

I began reading Fr. Albert’s chapter on forgiveness and was enlightened.   I felt as if he wrote this chapter about me and for me personally.    In the opening paragraph Fr. Albert writes, “The simple truth is this:  you can never fully enter into your identity in Christ if you resist forgiving someone in your life.”   Wow!    Those are very powerful words.   In this chapter,  Fr. Albert goes on to outline a simple format to help you truly forgive and let go.    Ask and you shall receive! The following are Fr. Albert’s suggestions for forgiveness from his book “Catching Fire Becoming Flame”.  
1)    Ask yourself, “Whom do I need to forgive?  Why?”
2)    Recall the incidents of betrayal or hurt
3)    Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to empathize with their hurtful word or action.
4)    Make the decision to forgive the person.
5)    Recommit to that decision on a daily basis until your heart softens and you are set free from the grudge. 

Pope Francis is quoted as saying,  “God forgives not with a decree but with a caress.”   There have been so many times in my life that I have received the caress of forgiveness from our Lord.   I also realized that I haven’t been so willing to offer the same to those who have offended me.   A very dear friend of mine shared that she has difficulty praying “The Our Father” because the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” are too difficult for her to utter.    I now understand what she means.    Do I really want God to measure His forgiveness of me by the same instrument I use to forgive others?      

Over the next week, I plan on working through the steps suggested by Fr. Albert.     I know I need to reach in my mental filing cabinet and reopen that file.   The journey will not be easy but for the wound to heal I need to stop picking at the scab!     Fr. Albert stated, “Even though the gift (forgiveness) might simply lie in our heads, over time we will find it gradually making its way down to our hearts, where it loosens resentment and frees us from the past.”    God has taught me some valuable lessons this week.   He has opened my eyes to changes I need to make in my life and even gave me a blueprint on how to get the job done!       I am grateful that I have been able to feel our Lord’s gentle caress.

Albert Haase OFM, Catching Fire Becoming Flame:  A Guide for Spiritual Transformation, (Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2013) Chapter 26

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Invitation

I usually publish my blog entries on Mondays.   I write all week and then on Friday, after prayerful contemplation, I schedule the post for early Monday morning.   I do this because it allows me the opportunity to “back out.”   If you haven’t noticed, I’m a horrible proofreader.   I love to write but when I attempt to make corrections, I fail miserably.    So, I give my blog a final once over on Sunday night before my words hit the Internet.   This past Friday was no different, I scheduled my post entitled “My Crazy Catholic Cabinet” for publication on Monday, January 18th and for some unknown reason it posted immediately!  Realizing this snafu I frantically attempted to remove the post and reschedule it for Monday, but the program failed!    Right or wrong my words were out there for the world to see and I was powerless.   I looked at the clock, I had promised a friend I would attend a prayer service at her church at six o’clock, it was already a quarter past five and I wasn’t even dressed yet!   By five thirty the post had already been viewed by five people; the horse was out of the barn, there was no point in trying to close the barn door now.   Maybe that particular post needed to be seen at that exact moment.   Who am I to question the Holy Spirit? 

I previously mentioned  I had promised a friend I would attend a prayer service at her church.   I hadn’t talked to this woman in over nine years.   You see, we had a minor disagreement about a particular religious teaching.     Well, it was more than a little spat; it was a full-blown screaming match.   We had been attending a Pentecostal “mega” church together for about a year, but I was struggling with their teaching on “being saved” and eternal damnation.     I had prayed about my doubts and received a revelation I believed to be of God that supported my Catholic belief.   I was excited about my spiritual experience and was anxious to share with my friend how God had spoken to me.   When I shared my personal miracle, she became angry.   I was going against everything the Pentecostal church believed to be true.    I don’t know why I fought with her that day.  My usual stance was to surrender and accepted her truth no matter what.   This woman was like a sister to me.  I loved her, but this time, I stood firm in my belief and refused to retreat!   A few weeks later I left that Pentecostal ministry and began my journey back to the Catholic Church.    I am now certain my personal message was inspired by God.

Over the past nine years, we played a silly game of cat and mouse, but we couldn’t escape the reality that we shared a thirty-five year history.     I was present at the birth of her son,  and she witnessed the birth of my two children.   Over the course of our thirty-five-year friendship, we had experienced traumatic life altering events and been a source of support for each other.   She was Godmother to my first born child and I was Godmother to her son.    Unfortunately, we are both extremely stubborn women, so over the past nine years, we avoided one another at all cost.   I don’t know why we acted so childish, maybe it's not for me to understand.      When she sent me a friend request on Facebook last week I was shocked.   I hesitated at first and suspiciously asked myself, “Why now?”  A devout Catholic friend of mine once told me “In times of uncertainty take three deep breaths and say a prayer to the Holy Spirit”, so I did just that and then clicked “accept.”        

A few days later,  she sent me an invitation to attend a Women’s Praise Night at her church.    Once again, I was apprehensive, but I prayed about it and accepted her invitation.   Later that evening  I told my husband about the invitation to attend the Women’s Praise Night, he surprisingly said “Maybe this will be good for you.   You can be with other women, share your thoughts and beliefs, I think it’s a good idea.”   His reaction was shocking because he wasn’t her biggest fan.   My husband doesn’t react kindly to  “in your face” evangelization tactics and viewed her as a, for lack of a better word, “Jesus Freak”.    I sensed his prompting to accept her invitation as a sign from God!  In fact, this was a “call the Pope” bona fide miracle!

After my blog publishing drama, I rushed out the door at ten ‘till six to get to the Praise Night.    I prayed all week and played out all these scenarios in my crazy mind.   Was I walking into a Pentecostal ambush?   Should I dig out my Catholic apologetics notes and prepare myself for battle?    My friend and I had not parted on good terms.   Maybe she heard I had suffered a mental breakdown and was looking for an opportunity to repair my soul and bring me back to her way of thinking.    But, the more I prayed, I felt the Lord moving me to abandon my anxiety and just accept what would be.   If you haven’t noticed yet, “accept” seemed to be the word of the week!

When I entered the church gathering space, my friend was nowhere to be found.     Apparently, she was picking up a few more women and was on her way.     It was a very welcoming atmosphere, the lighting was dim, candles were placed decoratively around the room and appetizers were being served.   I didn’t know anyone so I was a little nervous.   Believe it or not, I tend to be a bit shy in new social settings.   After a few uncomfortable minutes, I reluctantly put on my "big girl panties" and began shaking hands and introducing myself.     As I talked with these women, I noticed a distinct theme… they were broken and they were searching for something outside themselves for answers.    I could relate to their pain, I had been there, but my faith had led me past that emptiness.   I wasn’t the same broken woman I was ten years ago.   When I suffered my breakdown in 2006, I was spiritually bankrupt and felt God had abandoned me.  When I experienced my depressive episode this past October, I was confident that God was with me, helping me carry my Crazy Cross.   So the nagging question returned,  “Why had God brought me here?”  

When my friend finally arrived, she hugged me and then disappeared.   I became frustrated.   For the next half hour, I would seek her out,  she’d introduce me to another woman and then disappear.   We hadn’t spoken for nine years and this was our grand reunion?   So I prayed for guidance and felt compelled to stay.   I had already stepped through the looking glass, I was now curious about what was on the other side.   So I accepted the Lord’s guidance and stayed.     

Modern praise music was playing as I walked into the sanctuary.   I knew what to expect, this wasn’t my first rodeo!     I had been a member of a Pentecostal church before; I had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and received the gift of tongues.   The scripture reading from Matthew 18:20 repeatedly came to mind - “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them".  I thought to myself, "I can pray alone at home or pray here with a group of women….I guess I'll stay".    At first, I sat quietly in my pew and just observed.   Women were scattered everywhere throughout the Church.    Some were sitting prayerfully in their seats, others cross-legged on the floor and still some standing hands lifted in praise.     There was even a woman sitting at an easel painting a picture.    It was at this moment that I had a choice, walk out because the chaos was uncomfortable or stay and praise God.   I decided to stay.  

I closed my eyes, listened to the music and prayed.  At one point I stood up and just felt the warmth of the spirit around me.     It was good to be with women of God and be free to praise Him this way.       I was reminded of  2 Samuel 6:12 “Then David came dancing before the LORD with abandon."  Sometimes a little chaos is good!       About a half hour into prayer I opened my eyes and caught a glimpse of my friend.   She was in the front row, praising God with her entire body.   Her hands were lifted high and I was positive she was filled with the Holy Spirit and interceding for every woman in that room.     I felt a sense of pride.   This is my friend and she is doing exactly what God willed.   She is literally traveling to the deepest, scariest sections of our city and bringing women out of the darkness and showing them the light of Christ.   She is saving souls and changing lives.   My friend is a voice crying out in the wilderness.   Seeing her Friday night filled my heart with joy.  

I had to leave before the service was over, but as I drove home, I thanked God for allowing me the opportunity to praise Him with my dear friend.    I also thanked him for revealing to me that I was on the right path.   You see, today my faith is strong.   Over the past nine years, I have discovered that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the Catholic Church.     I witness a miracle at every Mass when bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.   I experience the presence of Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration.   Where else in the world can you go and know you are indisputably in the presence of Jesus?    I have held hands with women in charismatic prayer and witnessed the miracles of those prayers.   I have had the Word of God revealed to me in Catholic Bible studies.   I have been inspired by the words of Catholic evangelists such as Mother Angelica, Father Albert Haas, Johnnette Benkovic, Chad Judice and Hector Molina.    I am a Catholic woman, strong in her faith.  

My friend and I have traveled very different paths but I believe that our time apart was what God intended.    God directed my friend to join a  smaller ministry where she could grow and bring people to our Lord.   God moved me to learn more about my Catholic faith and bring them to our Lord through the Church.    Both paths lead to the ultimate truth…Christ.   I’m glad I accepted my friend’s invitation.   Last night, I sent her an invitation to have coffee and talk.   Perhaps, this time, we can agree to disagree on what divides us and build on what unites us....our love of God.   I wonder if she’ll pray about my invitation and accept.  

My Crazy Catholic Cabinet

I have an old-fashion country china cabinet in a small room adjacent our kitchen that my husband has named the "Crazy Catholic Cabinet".    You see, we love garage sales!   Sadly, my husband and I enjoy going to the garages of complete strangers, rummaging through their junk and then paying them money to take their junk back to our house.       I think it’s the thrill of the hunt.   My husband is proud as a peacock when he can purchase a shoe box full of nuts and bolts for fifty cents.   Me, on the other hand always have one eye open for Catholic art.     I’m not talking about a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci; I’m talking about carelessly discarded statues of the Blessed Virgin or Saints, religious Icons, crucifixes and such.       To me, there is something sacrilegious about selling Mary for a quarter out of a garage.    My husband understands that if there is something Catholic for sale, we’re bringing it home.  

As I look upon my collection, I realize it is, in fact, one Crazy Catholic Cabinet!  If you survey my explosion of faith, you’ll  catch a glimpse of personal photographs scattered sporadically throughout my chaos.     In 2002, during a manic episode, I loaded my children in my car and drove from Ft. Lauderdale back to Ohio with just the clothes on our back.   We lost everything, but what I regret most was the loss of our photo albums.    All the memories captured on film of my babies, my mom, memories of my High School years, everything lost.   This is why I cherish my family pictures today.  Every picture tells a story so I choose carefully the images I share.   I display these pictures to spark curiosity and conversation.  I want someone to ask me, “Who is this person and why are they important to you?”        How fitting it is that I should have these precious snapshots among my statues and icons of Jesus, Mary, and the Saints.  

Just as my personal photos bring to mind special memories,  my statues, and religious artifacts are reminders of the “superheroes” of our Catholic faith, those extraordinary human beings who lived and sometimes died for our Lord.     When I returned to the Church in 2007, I had misconceptions about the role Saints played in our faith.    I thought Catholic Saints had lost their relevance in today’s society.   What could a person who lived six hundred years ago, possibly understand about life today?  Didn’t Saints live pure, chaste, lives and spend all their days doing good deeds and praying?  Then I learned an important truth; every Saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.    Does that mean it’s possible for anyone to become a Saint? 

When I began facilitating RCIA sessions I had no clue how to broach the subject of Catholic Saints.    I was one of those Catholics that knew we did certain things but didn’t know why we did them.     All I knew about Saints was that we had a slew of them, and non-Catholics didn’t like our statues.     How was I to explain something I didn’t understand myself?     So, I began to read everything I could find about Saints and I made some amazing discoveries.   I found we have modern day saints; they aren’t all from the dark ages, and these people were just as flawed as we are today.    I learned that our Catholic Icons and Statues are teaching tools.   They are artistic images of members of our spiritual family, and every fine detail of an Icon or statue tells a unique story.   

One of the Saints that touched my heart most was Edith Stein.   Edith’s life story revealed to me that our Catholic Faith celebrates, supports and empowers women.  It also affirmed that it’s okay to question the meaning of life and existence of God.  St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) a Patron Saints of Europe was born in 1891 in Breslau, Germany to a devout Jewish family.  In her teens, Edith doubted the existence of God and proclaimed herself an Atheist.   She was one of the first women admitted to university studies in Germany receiving her doctorate in Philosophy in 1916.   Being a celebrated philosopher, Edith was continually searching for the eternal truth.   While vacationing with friends, she was unable to sleep one night and stumbled upon the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.   She stayed up the entire night reading this book and after she was finished proclaimed “This is the Truth!”     Edith Stein converted to Catholicism and was baptized into the Church in 1922.   

Although she desired to enter the Convent of Carmel, out of respect for her mother, she postponed her decision.  Edith’s Conversion devastated her mother.    She viewed her conversion to Christianity as a betrayal of her Jewish heritage.   Her mother was quoted as saying, “Why did you have to get to know him (Jesus Christ)?  He was a good man—I’m not saying anything against him. But why did he have to go and make himself God?    Edith became a teacher in the Catholic Schools and the leading voice of the Catholic Women’s Movement lecturing throughout all of Germany.    At the age of forty-two she entered the Carmel Convent of Cologne and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a combination of two very important Catholic “Superheroes”, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John the Cross.   Edith’s sister, Rosa, joined the order shortly after their mother’s death.

After the Kristallnacht in November of 1938, the Carmel sister of Cologne feared for Edith’s life and she for theirs as harboring Jews, even Jewish Converts was punishable by death under Nazi regime.   Edith and her sister Rosa sought sanctuary in a Carmel Convent in the Netherlands.    After a Dutch Bishop spoke out about the anti-Semitisms of the Nazi’s, the Gestapo immediately began arresting all Roman Catholic Jews.       Edith and her sister Rosa were arrested and transported to Auschwitz.  Before her death, Edith continued to be the face of Christ to everyone she encountered.  “It is said that she showed great courage and remarkable strength on her journey to Auschwitz.   She would help feed and bath the children whose mothers had given up hope.   She also expressed a willingness to offer herself along with the sacrifice of Christ for the sake of her people, the Jews and also for the sake of her persecutors.”   Within a week after their arrival at Auschwitz, Edith and her sister Rosa were put to death in gas chambers and their bodies buried in an unmarked mass grave.

There have been several icons painted of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and I've attached a copy of an icon by artist Lu Bro.   This image tells the story of Edith Stein.    Almost immediately your eyes are drawn to  the yellow star of David painted on her chest symbolizing both her Jewish Heritage and the persecution suffered during the Holocaust.    She is clothed in the traditional garb of a Carmelite nun signifying her religious vows and commitment to our Lord.   The book she is holding indicates her vocation as a teacher and author.  The most haunting artistic expression of this icon is the vine of roses intertwined with barbed wire.    This unforgettable image symbolizes her martyrdom at Auschwitz.     From this single visual tool, I can tell you about the life of this remarkable Christian woman.

Just as we have a communion of Catholic Saints, I have a communion of earthly Saints who have been instrumental in shaping my spiritual life.   The pictures I have on my Crazy Catholic Cabinet are of my personal Saints.   On my shelf, I have a favorite photograph of my mother.   In the photo, she is sitting at her desk at work with her hands perched on her keyboard.  Her eyes are a soulful dark brown reminding me of the love and compassion she had for everyone with whom she came in contact.   Her beautiful bright smile can still bring me joy on my most miserable day and reminds me of her welcoming nature.  She judged no one and welcomed everyone.      A professional photographer didn't take this picture.   A co-worker popped his head in my mom's office and snapped the picture unexpectedly, but it captures the essence of who she was.     When I see this “icon” of my mother, I'm reminded of the sacrifice she made working full-time to help support her family.   Every time I see that picture, I am mindful of the love she had for her children and the lives she touched working in the city school system.   It reminds me of her faithfulness to God and the Church and beckons me to follow in her footsteps as a woman of faith.   

Do I worship the picture of my mother?  Absolutely not!   But I do treasure it and hold it in high regard.    Do I sometimes look up to the heaven’s and say, “Mom, I’m struggling, please ask God to help me out today”?   You betcha!          You see I’m certain my Mom is in heaven communing with our Lord, and I have faith she intercedes on behalf of her little girl.  My Facebook newsfeed overflows daily with prayer requests from friends and family.    If I can ask ordinary people on earth to intercede for me for some trial or tribulation in my life, it seems only natural that I would enlist the prayers of Saints in heaven.  I’m sure, some might find my way of thinking too childlike or simple.    I’m not too big on “theological” explanations, so this is my way of making sense of it all.  

So as time goes on, I will continue to ask St. Anthony for help when something is lost, St. Dymphna when I’m struggling with Anxiety and my mother when I need a little divine intervention.   I also will continue to add icons, statues and crucifixes to my Crazy Catholic Cabinet and unique photographs of loved ones who have passed and I know I am truly blessed to have my own personal Communion of Saints.

Sources: retrieved January 15, 2016 retrieved January 15, 2016 
Global Catholic Network retrieved January 15, 2016 retrieved January 15, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

Recovery Road

I struggled to write this week’s blog.  Every week I strive to create something meaningful that will touch someone’s life….. but also, keep the text short.   I have to remind myself that I’m not writing a least not yet.      The common theme that kept resurfacing was my first psychiatric hospitalization.   Although it was my "only" inpatient stay, I refer to it as my first because it keeps me in check.   It reminds me that if I don’t follow my treatment plan, I could very well find myself back in the nuthouse!

As I attempted to write over the past few days, I found myself reliving the painful consequences of my bipolar episodes.   Episodes…that’s a funny term.   It’s almost as if my life has been reduced to a sitcom or drama depending on which mood I am experiencing.   When I’m manic and try to write my “Great American” novel, I often divide my book into chapters according to the men with which I have had relationships, significant life changing events, jobs I have had, or by the painful consequences of my deeds.      These subjects alone could easily be expanded to a six-part book series!    Hey,  maybe I can entitle my saga “Fifty Shades of Crazy!”  

I don’t want to bore you with a litany of my past sins, that would only embarrass my family and shock friends.    If you want to know how I “qualify” as being bipolar, message me and we’ll talk.    I’ve added a separate page to this website with a list of signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder.   I will say that I have experienced EVERY symptom on that list.    When I was admitted to the hospital in 2006, my symptoms were so severe that I was experiencing hallucinations.        The first night I spent in the hospital, I saw a white rabbit donning a black top hat on the cart next to my bed.   Seeing the rabbit didn't frighten me; what terrified me most was that I waved to him and he waved back.      I don’t ever again want to revisit that chapter of my life.  

Over the course of the past twenty years, I have learned some valuable lessons about my recovery that I would like to share.   

Lesson #1:  BEWARE OF NON-MEDICAL ADVICE!   I’m talking about unsolicited advice from family and friends.    I know when I was first diagnosed, it was difficult for many people to accept I was bipolar.   I had caused tremendous pain and brought incredible shame to my family.    I’m sure it appeared to outsiders that my bipolar diagnosis was simply an excuse for bad behavior.    I’ll admit, when first diagnosed I experienced a great sense a relief because after years of mental torment I  finally had a medical cause for my symptoms.       It's against human nature to believe in something you can't see.   We demand physical proof! There is no definitive medical test to prove or disprove bipolar disorder.      There's no magic blood test or scan to say without a doubt that you have a mental illness.   The harsh reality is that it can take years to successfully diagnosis.        So it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around something they can’t physically see.  You can't put a cast on a broken mind.

Upon release from the hospital, I was filled with self-loathing, fear, paranoia and anxiety.    Many well-meaning people came to me with cures or remedies for my mental illness.    When they told me I didn’t have a mental illness, I believed them.   I trusted them when they said I didn’t need medication.     So I combated my mind alone for seven years, riding the violet waves of manic-depressive moods until the battle became so overwhelming that I perceived suicide to be my only solution.
My advice would be, listen to your health care providers, follow their direction, and take your medication!    As your mind clears, your decision making will improve and you will be able to repair the wreckage of your past and build trust and relationships again.      

Lesson #2:   BE HONEST!     Honesty with your doctor and therapist are of utmost importance.    There is no need to be ashamed or embarrassed.      To accurately diagnosis and treat your illness, they need to know all the symptoms.    I usually sought help with my family doctor when I was depressed.   Typically, my symptoms of depression were so clear-cut that I was immediately prescribed an antidepressant. I wasn’t honest about my other symptoms, the ones that manifested during a manic episode.    In my defense, I really didn’t consider them to be “symptoms”; I thought I was just a reckless, immoral person who just needed to learn how to control her behavior.   In my situation, antidepressants without a mood stabilizer are dangerous.    They eliminate the depressive symptoms but tend to throw me into a manic state.      Symptoms of depression brought me to a therapist when I was twenty-six years old, but I was too ashamed to tell her what I had done in the past, and as a result she was unable to properly diagnosis my illness.  I often wonder how different my life would have been if only I had been honest with that therapist.  

Lesson #3:   YOU HAVE CHOICES!    It took me about a year to realize that I have a choice as to where I receive my treatment.    I love my therapist and have developed a trusting relationship with her.   You rely on your therapist, counselor or psychologist to help you develop tools and coping mechanisms to manage your symptoms.    Usually, psychiatrists are utilized primarily for medication management.    I don’t recommend changing your doctor or therapist every time you don’t agree.   Remember, they are the experts, not you, but you do have choices.   In my own experience, I had been seeing the same psychiatrist for two and a half years.   The appointment process was horrible and her staff treated me as if I had an infection they didn't want to catch.     If my appointment was at 9 o'clock, I often would sit in the waiting room for two hours before seeing her face to face.   My time with the psychiatrist would last a total of three minutes, she would write me a prescription and schedule my next visit.    My psychiatrist was so overbooked that she sometimes forgot my diagnosis.   During my last visit with her, she asked, “What are we treating you for today?  What’s your diagnosis?”   At that moment I knew it was imperative I change psychiatrists,  but I  didn’t just pick a name from the yellow pages.   I consulted immediately with my therapist and asked for a referral.      I now have a new psychiatrist and she has been wonderful.

Lesson #4:  DON’T STOP TAKING YOUR MEDICATION!   This is probably the most important lesson I have learned.   Just because you’re feeling better doesn’t mean you’re cured, it means the medication is working!     You are feeling better because your moods are stabilized!    

Lesson #5:   FORGIVE YOURSELF!   Don’t dwell on your past but don’t forget it either!    It’s important to remember how far you have come in your recovery.   Forgive yourself for your past sins.   Being Catholic, the sacrament of reconciliation is an excellent tool for me.   Just an FYI, You don’t need to be Catholic to see a priest for confession.

It has been ten years since my first breakdown, I still wrestle with my past, but I can’t let it dictate my future.    All I can do now is continue to treat my illness to the best of my ability, move forward and strive to be the person God intended.     Every day, I submit myself to the will of God.  I ask Him to let me be the face of Christ in everything I do and say.    I’m not always successful, in fact, sometimes I fail miserably, but I know He is by my side to pick me up when I fall,  lead me back when I stray and keep me on Recovery Road.

Monday, January 4, 2016

An Amish Taxi Driver or a Zumba Instructor

Now, what?   I've been unemployed for seven weeks, my mind is unclouded and I’m feeling as sane as a bipolar person can be, but now what?    I will be fifty years old in March and I am at a crossroads in my life.

For many years, I lived with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.   This left me with a messy trail of mistakes and reckless decisions, not  to mention broken relationships and broken hearts.  I usually changed jobs while in a manic state but always had another opportunity lined up.   Most decisions were not well thought.    When manic, you’re grandiose and firmly believe everything you do will be a success.    Unfortunately, this is almost never the case.   Even my decision to go to Business College after high school was a manic decision.   I didn’t know what to do with my life, and I was terrified of failure.   I had never been one of the "beautiful people" in high school, so my self-esteem was in the toilet.    My mind raced so much it was impossible for me to pay attention, read and study, as a result, my grades were mediocre at best.    Six months after graduation, my mother gave me three choices, get a job, go to school or move out.    So I felt going to school would buy me enough time to formulate a life plan.   

When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a writer.   I had won a contest at my elementary school and my short story was featured in the school newsletter.   I thought I had a gift.   That same year I was humiliated publicly by my teacher.   I was writing a story for our English class and she grabbed my rough draft and began reading it aloud.   As she read my unfinished essay word for word with misspellings and bad grammar, everyone laughed at me.     Then she looked at me with contempt in her eyes and sneered, “You will never be a writer.”   Ashamed, I gave up my dream of writing that day.   While in business school, I was told by my instructor that I should find another field of study because my poor spelling and communication skills would never allow me to succeed in business.  Maybe these teachers were wrong.   Over the years, I have supported my children and my entire family on the wage of a secretary.   I have bolstered the careers of many through my writing and communication skills.  I have helped build companies from the floor up, but always have remained in the background.    Maybe now it’s my turn to shine.   

This is the first time I’ve made a decision with a clear head.   My husband has graciously allowed me the opportunity to discover what I want to be when I grow up.   I sense he may be apprehensive about some of my money making ideas, and with good reason.   When I had my breakdown in 2006 and lost my job,  I decided to make “Foo Foo Flip Flops.”   I worked for weeks crocheting these fluffy summer shoes in the hopes of selling them at a profit.   I was sure I would make thousands of dollars and build a foo-foo empire!   I created business plan projections, brochures, business cards and displays, but then the depression hit and along with it self-loathing and despair.     I gave up overnight.   It was as if a fire hydrant bursting with water for days had suddenly been shut off.    That is what a manic depressive episode feels like to me.   You're on the top of the world on the highest mountain overlooking God's glory, and then drop over the edge, fall to the bottom of the ocean, and find yourself deep below, buried under whale poop! 

After my 2006 breakdown, we moved twice and I worked three part-times jobs.   The stress of these major  life changes led me into a  manic episode and I then decided to become a wedding planner.   Over the course of three weeks, I complied a thick three-ring binder filled with a business plan, brochures and business cards.   I even built a website and got my minister’s license online!   Then came the wave of depression, and I became too afraid and anxious to continue.   I officiated only one wedding, and then put my three ring binder of dreams in the closet next to my box of Foo Foo Flip Flops.   

Recently, I made a list of activities I enjoy and previous jobs I have had.  I’ve acquired quite a repertoire of job skills over that last thirty years, but do I really want to go back to an office?   Or a better question would be, CAN I work in an office again?  The pressure, stress, and office politics has been too much for me to bear.   Do I really have the mental strength to play the business game?

Luckily today, I have choices.   Instead of fixating on past employment, I decided to concentrate on the things that bring me joy.  Zumba made my top ten list.   I have been taking Zumba classes regularly for two years.   I love the feeling I get from exercise, it helps to eliminate stress and keeps my weight at a manageable level.  It's been an incredible tool in controlling my bipolar disorder symptoms.   That's it!  I’ll be a Zumba instructor!   Wait a minute....reality check.. I just remembered catching a  glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror during class.   Did you ever see that episode of “Seinfeld” where Elaine is dancing?  Well, unfortunately, that’s me!      Maybe becoming a Zumba instructor isn’t such a good idea.  

Another favorite thing I love to do is visit Amish Country.   We live twenty minutes from Mesopotamia and thirty minutes from Middlefield, which are large Amish communities.   Maybe I’ll be an Amish Taxi driver?   They always need drivers to take them to Walmart!   I’m still seriously contemplating this idea! 

The number one thing I love to do is write.   Am I good at it?  Not according to my elementary school teacher.    Can I make money at it?   Well, so far I’ve made a whopping seven cents from my weekly blog.   My husband jokes and says he’s going to leave me for a gal who can bring home, at least, a dime!   Is it something I enjoy?  Yes, most definitely!  Right now, we are surviving, our bills are paid and we have food in the pantry.   I have lived poor for thirty years, so in a way, I've been training for this moment my entire life!    Until I discover which road to take, I’ll continue to pray my rosary, trust God, and write my weekly blog.  

Today, I have a clear mind, I'm not manic, I'm not depressed and  I'm confident that with the help of God, I can be anything from an Amish Taxi Driver to a Zumba Instructor.   But being human, I tend to be impatient.   I want results now!   I want a clear sign from God on what to do with the rest of my life.   So today, I cry out "Come on God! Give this crazy Catholic girl a break and show her which path to take!"      Hey, that rhymes, maybe I'll try poetry!