Monday, January 9, 2017

42

We are the authors of this new story, 
so let our words be fierce,
so let our words be true.
Tyler Knott Gregson

One of the benefits of having a birthday so close to the dawn of a new year is that I'm still pretty focused on new beginnings. I'm a big fan of fresh starts - there's a lovely grace inherent in the thought of second (and forty-second) chances. Maybe that's why I've always considered the anniversary of my birth to be a good time to look back on the year before and forward to what's to come. 

I had a friend over a few weeks ago and in the course of our conversation mentioned that I'd be turning 42 in January. She looked at me incredulously and said, "I thought you were in your thirties!" (she's in her thirties) We then talked a bit about how old 42 seems. 

I guess it does seem old. Not old - mature. Experienced. Seasoned. After all, 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything (see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for reference - maybe one thing I'll do this year is actually finally read it). 

The funny thing is, I've never had less answers (and more questions!) than I do right now. This, too, is a phenomenon I'm noting as the years pass - I know less and less as time goes by. But - I am more and more sure of the few things I do know, and I'm not afraid to ask the hard questions, so that's a fair exchange.

Getting a handle on my mental health issues has been huge for me this past year - it gives me so much hope for the future! I've been thinking about all the things I've given up and failed at over the years. When interpreted through the lens of too-low lows (depression) and too-high highs (mania), everything makes so much sense. A lovely side effect of this is the lifting of a lot of guilt and shame. I feel so free, so light, so steady and ready to sally forth, quietly confident, into the great unknown that is 42. There will be challenges, I have no doubt - but I feel much more able to face them.

I sense a stirring of the soil of my life, that the furrows have been turned and are ready to receive seed that will grow into a beautiful harvest of health and freedom and growth and productivity and wisdom. I've never faced the future with such joyous anticipation!

So I'm asking for the impossible. As I mentioned in my New Year's post, I'm giving God my impossibles and asking Him to give me His. I foresee much stretching in the coming year as a result. But it doesn't scare me (much!). I know who holds me, who loves me, who fills me. With God as my rock, my shield, my stronghold, my refuge, and my deliverer, I have nothing to fear - so bring on 42!




Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Inevitable New Year's Post - Mission Impossible

Greetings and salutations, dear Friends! Poised on the cusp of another year, I'm compelled to share some thoughts. The notion of new beginnings has always held great appeal. The approach of a new year is such a good time to do some looking backward to what has been and forward to what could be.

Blogging can be so helpful! (when it's not stressful and guilt-inducing... ) I've just been scanning my posts from the past year, and they've painted a pretty vivid picture of what 2016 has looked like for me.

It's been quite a year - big changes, high highs and low lows, painful challenges interspersed with calm and peace and beauty, growth and lessons learned, joy and sorrow, fear and faith, fruitfulness and rest. Call me crazy, but I'm starting to see a pattern here - that's what pretty much every year looks like, with a few differentiating details. This is real life.

This year has been a defining one for me - literally. It was the year in which I was finally able to put a name to my mental health issues. Bipolar disorder. This has been huge! While all labels are not necessarily helpful, this one is for me. It fits. Life has indeed become better since beginning to wear it. With the addition of a medication that balances my brain chemistry, I've been experiencing less intense highs and lows, which both myself and my family and friends have come to appreciate. By adding that element to my mental health arsenal (and assembling a mental health arsenal in the first place), I feel armed and dangerous (in a good way!) as 2017 approaches.

You may recall that, rather than creating a long list of New Year's resolutions (that I'll be sure to break), I've started the practice of choosing a single word each year to focus my thoughts and give direction to my choices. This year, my word is IMPOSSIBLE.

It may seem an unlikely and even counter-productive word at first glance, but let me explain. It was this quote from A.W. Tozer that really grabbed me: "God is looking for people through whom He can do the IMPOSSIBLE. What a pity we plan only things we can do ourselves."  

My plans in years past have pretty much stayed in the category of things I could do myself. This year, I was inspired to make a list of the elements of my life that seemed impossible to change. There are seven items on my list. I wrote them on a cue card, folded it, pinned it on my bulletin board and wrote on the front: 2017 Impossible -> possible (nothing is too big for God!)



 I recently had the privilege of reading through the gospel of Matthew aloud with a friend and of all the amazing things that inspired me, this was tops: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matt. 19:26)

My focus on the impossible this year will be two-fold: I'm giving God my impossibles, and asking Him to give me His impossibles for me. I can't think of anything more exciting and scary, can you?

Happy New Year, my dear Friends! May 2017 be your best year yet - filled with deep peace and overflowing grace, much laughter and gentle lessons, great contentment and real joy!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Highs and Lows

Last night, I got to experience the highest and lowest of life - all in the span of about four hours. My head is still spinning a bit, my emotions reeling from the wild roller coaster ride.

I decided to attend a concert, to be held in one of the classier venues in our city, right in the heart of downtown. Coinciding with the decision to attend was the decision to take public transit. (I'm not a fan of driving in the city at night - or any other time, really...)

So I walked to the nearest bus stop and sat on a bench to wait, a little nervously. (There was a time that public transit was the only way I traveled, but that was several years ago. Now I take the bus a few times a year, max...) Already on edge, I just about had a heart attack when a cat was trying to cross the road and narrowly escaped being hit by a truck - right in front of me!

The rest of the bus trip was uneventful, thank goodness. Until I got downtown, that is. I got off at the right stop, but then I didn't know where I was in relation to where I needed to be - only a few blocks away, but more than enough to stump a directionally-challenged person like myself. So I started walking.

It was then that the juxtaposition of life hit me hardest. There, in the midst of enormous modern skyscrapers and old architectural masterpieces, resided the lowest of the low, the down-est and out-est. The homeless, the wanderers, the ones who had squandered their chances or never had any chance at all. And you want to know something? No one accosted me, no one asked me for anything...but more than one of these poor folks actually looked me in the eye and smiled as I passed by. It broke my heart.

I finally found my way to the concert hall and was immediately accosted by the opposite extreme - the wealthy, the well-off, the affluent, the comfortable, finely-dressed folks who had extra money to spend on tickets to a Christmas concert. And I was one of them.

The concert itself was lovely, the impeccable harmonies lifting praises to the heavens as obscure melodies and familiar carols were sung. My soul was well-nourished by the time the final notes had ceased. To say that the evening was a study in contrasts would be a bit of an understatement.

Kind of like my life these days.

(If you're still with me, Friend - bravo! You'll find a revelation in the following lines.)

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you'll be familiar with my struggle with depression over the last few years. (Your support has been so empowering, by the way - thank you.) At the urging of family and friends, I finally gathered the courage to see my doctor a few weeks ago.

My doctor's a great guy. Very thorough, very efficient. He asked a lot of questions, had me fill out several mental health surveys and BOOM! Diagnosis: mild to moderate bipolar disorder.

Say whaaa? First of all, I one hundred percent didn't expect a diagnosis on my first consultation about this. In fact, I was kind of anticipating/hoping the doctor would say it's nothing to worry about, go ahead and get on with your life, or something to that effect to suggest that I really was okay. And bipolar disorder? Of all the things it could have been, I sure didn't foresee that.

Looking back, I'm not sure why it was such a shocker. I mean, there is a family history of mental illness, diagnosed and not, that goes back generations, and includes bipolar disorder. I guess if I had actually taken the time to find out what it was when it emerged in our family, I would have seen the symptoms in myself much sooner, and may have been spared some hard things.

Do you know about bipolar disorder? Boiled down, it's regular life interspersed with extreme highs and lows, or mania and depression. "They" believe it's caused by a chemical imbalance, serotonin and dopamine specifically. It's a spectrum disorder, with a wide range of severity and occurrence of symptoms. Generally speaking, someone with bipolar disorder has higher highs and lower lows than the average person - whoever that might be :)

I've experienced a wide range of emotions as I've processed this new label. I expect there will be more to come, but for now I've landed on acceptance. A very good, very wise friend gave me a great way to look at it - that we're trying this label on to see how it fits. If life gets better wearing it, maybe we keep it. If not, it's not a problem to take it off and try on something else.

I feel good about having taken this step towards health and wellness and knowledge. I'm happy to have the opportunity to be an ambassador for mental health, to help break down communication barriers and stereotypes and stigma. I'm anticipating the positive changes that will come in my life as a result of this step in the right direction. I'm thankful for a God and a family and friends who have never and will never give up on me, who give me strength and courage and hope in the face of what could be seen as a bleak outcome. I'm choosing to anchor my soul to hope.