Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Let's Talk Feelings (and God)

One of the greatest challenges I faced during and after my first episode was a lack of feeling.

I could KNOW something in my head, but not feel it.

After my first episode and the "good meds" started working there was still some "numbness" going on.  I still wasn't quite right, even though I was so much better. ( I still remember a friend that I met after the episode telling me that she knew something was off when we first met.  Ugh!  How embarrassing!  She waited three years before mentioning this because it took me that long to confide in her about my breakdown.)

So I KNEW Hubby loved me but I still felt completely isolated in my own shell of skin sometimes;  I went through the motions of loving him, too, but sometimes the feelings just weren't there.

To further illustrate my point, let me tell you about something Hubby did for me.  He took me on a beautiful cruise.  This was my first time in the Caribbean, my first time on a boat on the ocean.   I remember standing on the deck of the ship just outside of Jamaica in a flowing blue sundress . . .seeing the blue of the ocean, the green of the island beyond and feeling NOTHING.  It was horrible.  I knew that I should be like those women on TV on the beaches in THEIR flowing sundresses . . .full of the desire to dance and to stroll happily through the surf, grinning from ear to ear and just amazed at the new adventure that we were about to embark on . . .and I could feel nothing.

This made me ANGRY  (numbly angry, but still).  Oddly, anger was something I could do.  Resentment.  Bitterness.  I could have those things.

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

I'm not sure when the breakthrough occurred.  There was never a magic moment when suddenly the scales tipped and all of the sudden I was feeling again.  It was so slow it was imperceptible.

But I've got feelings again!  Yay!

Part of the reason that losing my feelings was so devastating to me is because as a Christian, when I read my Bible, when I pray, all of the sudden concepts, ideas will jump out at me.  Helpful things.  Encouraging things.  I get excited.

All day long I'll have this thought that will sustain me.  I'll go back to God in little phrases "Thank you, God, for the sunrise!  Thank you, God, for letting us find the things that were stolen from us!  That was amazing.  Wow.  I still can't believe how that worked out . . .give me wisdom, God, for this thing with my daughter.  I'm sorry for my bad attitude.  Please help me figure out how to fix it."  And you know, He does.

But all of what I've just described to you in the two paragraphs above went missing when my brain chemistry went wonky.

I could forgive just about everything else, but losing THAT made me so mad.  If I wasn't a CHRISTIAN wife and mother, who was I?  Were all the people who lived without acknowledging God daily really on to something?  Some of them were very kind, good people.   I began to doubt that God even really existed.  I chose not to remember all the good things He'd done for Hubby and I over the years.  I chose not to try to read my Bible and pray.  It was too painful, because what if God didn't show Himself again?

I did continue to go to church.  I am a social person.  I like to talk and I like to get out of my house (hard to do when you don't work and you don't have excess funds for things like going to the gym or out to eat/out for coffee with friends).  This is part of what drew me back towards God, like a fisherman reeling a reluctant fish into his boat . . .I flopped wildly and protested with all my might.  But He caught me anyway, and now its like He's keeping me in an awesome saltwater tank with other really cool fish.  I know God again.  And I can read my Bible, pray . . .the whole nine yards.

I think the lesson I learned from all of this was DON"T stop reaching for what you know you want to feel.  Keep going outside.  Keep acting like you can feel love for the people who love you.  Go to church ( and find a GOOD one where the people are friendly and reach towards you, not a cold place where you are ignored).

Realize that just because you can't feel the feelings, it doesn't meant they aren't there.  Some things lie dormant until the sunshine touches them.  You'll get sunshine on your soul again, I promise.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why I Need Friends

Because two heads are better than one, because I can't be in two places at once and because, by George, I like to know that I'm not alone in this journey called life.

Two heads are better than one.  I'll confess:  I can't always figure things out.  Like last week when my daughter wanted to buy a ball gown and the woman with the gown was coming an hour towards me and I was going an hour towards her.  Where do you try on a ball gown!?!  The lady with the gown suggested a coffee shop. Ummm.  No.

But I didn't have any better ideas . . .I hung up the phone and started calling my friends.  Who called their friends!   And one brilliant mom told me what to do.  We ended up in Kohl's where we tried the dress on with wraps ( and we did buy a wrap from Kohl's!)

Friends.  They just know STUFF that you can't even find on pinterest. :)

Also, if you live very long at all you are going to run into a situation where you WILL need an extra pair of hands.  I remember the day I couldn't pick my son up from school because I got stuck in traffic.  The unhappy voice at the other end of the phone made me realize that, eh, this was not okay.  I needed someone who could pick my kiddos up if something happened.  Just a friendly couch to sit on while they did homework . . .someone who wouldn't mind sharing a few after school snacks with my kids . . .sounds like a small thing but in reality, it is huge.  I starting looking for friends immediately after that happened.  And you know what?  It wasn't long before I got a phone call.  A friend of mine had a sick baby who had FINALLY fallen asleep on her lap.

I picked up her oldest child and brought her home . . .peeked in to make sure that my friend was okay.  It was easy enough for me and REALLY wonderful for her because disturbing a sick baby is just torture for mom and baby.

And lastly . . .I need to know that I'm not alone.  I check in with my online buddies daily.  I call my mom and sister on a pretty regular basis . . .and every time we move ( which is quite often, unfortunately), I look for real, in the flesh type friends.

This is because I need someone to walk with;  someone to hang out with at the pool while our adorable kiddos swim.  I need to know that someone else's dog jumps the fence.  I need to know that someone else accidentally missed out on that great sale last week.  And I need to know that someone else has gone through the really tough stuff and come out the other side okay.

This is what I find when I look for friends:  there's great people out there who want to share their lives.  Life is good, but its even better when its shared.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Three Qualities that Keep Me Alive and Stable

Before I get started, let me say that I am very fortunate that my doctor was able to find a magic drug that fixed my brain chemistry.  Not everyone is that fortunate, but I pray that someday everyone will have access to brain chemistry that lets them be in control of their brain the way they need to be to make decisions,  to understand what's going on in their heads and to flourish.

1. Acceptance.  I had to accept that I have bipolar II and that I have to have help to stay stable.
2. Dedication.  I have to keep working at staying healthy.
3. Vision.  I have a vision of what I'd like my life to look like and that motivates me to stay stable.

Acceptance. How did I get to the point where I accepted that I have bipolar II?  I think it took reading a lot about bipolar and joining a bipolar support site for me to be educated to the point that I understood what bipolar is.  Eventually I realized that yes, I feel the same way as other people who carry this label.  If I hadn't accepted that I had the disorder, I wouldn't have sought help and I might have become discouraged to the point of hopelessness.

Dedication.  I had to decide that I was dedicated to staying well.  For awhile it was easier to beat myself up than to build myself up ( I had worn some very destructive thought patterns into my brain), but the more I learned about what felt good and what didn't . . .the more I became determined that I didn't have to live in the gray place if I had the meds that would allow my brain to function.  I could obviously choose to think whatever I wanted when my brain wasn't broken.  I could still be negative with a brain that could concentrate.  I had to make a conscious choice that I was going to be positive and do positive things even when I woke up and was in a bad mood.   There was the temptation to believe that it was okay to be blue because I had bipolar BUT no, it is NOT okay because it can spiral out of control.    It's probably even more important for mentally ill people to guard their thoughts than it is for "normal" people.  I began to realize that I could allow myself to stay in that bad place and sink even lower, or I could choose to think on positive things and get myself busy and distracted so that the bad thoughts were banished.

Vision.  The thing about getting to the point that you no longer want to live is this:  you realize that you could "go there" again if you let yourself.  I had to make a conscious choice that I never wanted to get to that place again.  Part of that was dedication, but another part of that was vision.  I needed to think about the future and what I want to see in the future.  For me that involves goals like wanting to help my girls pick out their wedding dresses.  I want to hold my grandbabies.  When my second episode hit I had a baby.  I wanted to live for my fourth baby.  Instead of beating myself up and driving myself to a overdose, I told my husband what was happening and I made myself be around other people until the medicine kicked in and I started to feel like myself again, even though I was not my normal competent self and I felt self-conscious around other people.  But my vision made me be around people because that is what I needed to do to be healthy.  I was determined that my baby would know her mother.  I knew that if I didn't get help my baby wouldn't have the mother she needed.   So vision saved me.

So what qualities have kept me alive and allowed me to be stable?  Acceptance of the disease, dedication to staying well, and a vision of what I'd like the future to look like.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Longest Summer of My Life ( My Story, Part Seven)

The Longest Summer of My Life

There's a reason that all those happy commercials on television about depression medicine fixing people have disclaimers.  People like me are the reason.

I was one of the people who "developed suicidal tendencies".  

I was so drugged up that I staggered around like a zombie.  I could feel myself reacting too slowly . . .I tried to fake being normal . . .but I couldn't.

I was wooden and unwell.  That song by Matchbox 20?  "I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just a Little Unwell."  That was me.

And I was my own worst enemy because I was afraid to ask for help . . .I thought that I had already asked for help and it didn't work, so I just had to figure it out on my own.

Hubby thought I needed rest.  He thought that being alone in my bed was healing.  I didn't know then that being alone was the very worst thing for me.  I sat alone in my bedroom, upright, knees drawn to my chest, head bowed and rocked and the thoughts in my head were cruel and unrelenting. Condemning.

I was ashamed of myself.  I believed that my incompetence was my fault.  I had medicine.  I should be better.  But I was not better.  I was worse.  I began to believe that I quite possibly would never get better;  I was horrified by my lack of concentration.  I could not read to my two year old.  Going to the grocery story and trying to decide between cream of chicken soup or cream of mushroom soup was like trying to make pigs fly.  I could not pray.  I could not get anything out of my Bible.

I began to believe that my babies would be better off if I was gone.  I knew I wasn't taking care of them the way I believed they should be cared for and I thought that if I were gone someone else would step up to the plate.  Either my parents, or perhaps Hubby would remarry someone brighter and more capable than I.

Part of me knew this thinking was faulty, but the other part, the part that believed I was horrible and that the problem was MY FAULT and therefore I should be ABLE TO FIX IT BUT BECAUSE I COULD NOT I SHOULD DIE. . .was very convincing. 

I spent hours arguing with myself in my head.

Suicide really did begin to look like an attractive option.  I started to spend long periods of time daydreaming about the easiest way to die.  The problem was I didn't want anyone I loved to find me.  And I don't like pain.

I didn't realize that I was flirting with disaster.  Think about anything long enough and you will act on it.

I really wish I'd known that other people . . .amazing people had suffered from this very same disorder and lived wonderful lives  in spite of it.

I was in really good company!  Winston Churchill!  Abraham Lincoln!  There are more people in the long list of "People with Bipolar" but I didn't know that I had Bipolar . . .I had no idea that I wasn't the only person who had felt this way . . .

Abraham Lincoln once said "I am now the most miserable man living.  If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.  Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell.  I awfully forebode I shall not.  To remain as I am is impossible.  I must die or be better, it appears to me." ~ Pre Civil War Era.

I didn't know that there were times when his friends never left him alone because they were afraid that he'd kill himself.  ( From the book "Bipolar Disorder, Insights for Recovery" by Jane Mountain, MD.

I started losing the battle with myself.  One out of every five bipolar people kill themselves.  ( From the book, "I'm Not Crazy, Just Bipolar" by Wendy K. Williamson).

Hubby had no idea how ill I really was.  One sunny morning I started taking pills.  I didn't stop until our terrier began barking.  I remember shaking my head and thinking that I probably shouldn't be taking all these pills.

I knew it was wrong and yet . . .the idea that I could take some pills and lay down and go to sleep forever . . .not have to hurt anymore . . .was such an attractive thought. . .

But the other side of me was uneasy about the pills.  I called Hubby, told him what I'd done.  He asked me what I done, how many pills, what kind?

When I told him and he googled it he started to swear.  

I'm not going to go deeply into the painful aftermath of that decision.  It hurts so much even now thinking about how I kissed everyone of my babies before I left to go to the hospital, how my mother asked me "Why?" when she arrived to stay with them . . .

The hospital was cold and bright and the feeling of being there was surreal. I was lucky.  They were able to give me a disgusting potion that took care of me . . .

I was supervised in the ICU because my doctor understood about the pysch ward freaking me out . . .

And Hubby begged her to find me a new psychiatrist.  Bless her, she pulled some strings and got me into see a doctor who wasn't taking new patients. 

Amazing man.  He was from Pakistan, very kind, very professional and he gave me my diagnosis:  Bipolar II.

He was spot on with the medicine that he felt would help me . . .Depakote.

Hubby says that within two weeks I was starting to be the person he knew before my life went to pieces.  But I came out of that episode feeling shattered and scared to death that it would happen again.  It would be years before I started to feel like God was really and truly on my side.

It would be years before I learned the fact that Bipolar II usually presents around age 28, ( I was thirty when mine manifested),

And years before I accepted that I didn't break my brain.  It was genetically pre-programmed to break.

I wish I'd known to be kind to myself . . .

I wish I'd known that even though I couldn't feel Him, God was on my side . 

And I wish I'd known that just because things aren't beautiful . . .

It doesn't mean that life isn't a beautiful thing.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hello, Mad Hatter ( My Story, Part Six)

I didn’t know that I was going to scare the doctor who had met me at age fourteen and seen me through some of the most traumatic, vulnerable and victorious moments of my life:  childbirth.

I wasn’t able to stop crying;  I couldn’t explain why I was crying.  I was mortified by my loss of control. . .”I just want to die” I said . . .which might be something that a teenager can say in a dramatic moment to a friend or your parent ( who would just probably roll their eyes and tell the teenager to just get on with things).  However, my doctor’s response was rather different.

“I think you should go talk to Dr. So and So” she said.  She gave me the paperwork to go see him and I just signed it without looking at it very carefully.  I was a snotty mess and at the time we lived in a small town just minutes from the “big” town that the doctor was in and I knew I was in danger of being seen by someone I knew.  This meant I was in a hurry to get into that new doctor’s office.

I saw but did not comprehend the security doors that we had to buzz to get into.  Thank God Hubby was with me because as soon as they closed behind me and I realized I was trapped, I began to freak out inside.  “Promise me you won’t leave me!  Promise me!”

His office was located inside the pysch ward.  Snippets of that ward stood out to me:  the messy board games in one area, missing vital parts.  The people who moved slowly, unknowingly around the furniture.  These were people like the ones I had known in nursing homes, in the group home for mentally ill people that I had worked in as a college student.  I did NOT belong here.  This was NOT me.  I felt I would die if I was left in this place.

Also, the receptionist ( who we did not have to talk to) who was flipping through a magazine and looking bored was someone I’d gone to high school with!  I knew who she’d first slept with.  I did not want her to see me like this.  I did not want to be this person who needed to be in a pysch ward.  Let ME OUT.

The doctor was small and in retrospect, I think I knew him from before, from a class I took at the local community college.  Maybe he recognized me, too, but it’s hard to say.  

He reminded me in that moment of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.  He was terribly twitchy.  It was not good to feel like I was placing my life in the hands of someone incompetent.  All I wanted was to GET AWAY.  I composed myself and did my level best to appear sane.

I felt like I was on trial.  Speak well and you get to go home.  Mess up and you will rot in this place.

Doctor So and So had to leave for a bit so an intern came in.  She seemed quite sane and quite nice.  I have always been good at small talk and so we talked for sometime and the whole time we were talking I was sending her these little messages “Look.  You and I.  We are the same.”

I don’t know how or why it happened, but they did decide to send me home.  But first I was to stop at the pharmacy.

I wish I could tell you that Dr. So and So was a brilliant man and that he knew exactly which meds would turn back time and fix the fracture in my brain.  But that’s not what happened.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Long Road to Okay ( My Story, Part Five)

I remember being very energetic in January.  I kept my house sparkling.  I remember a phone call in March that made my normally laid back husband furious.  But then things shifted subtly and my sparkling self began to fade away.

There was a sense of desperation as spring progressed.  I found a copy of a Bible study book on depression and got a friend to work through it with me.  I tried to apply the concepts to my life but it was like holding water in my cupped hands and watching it slip through my fingers.

I had finished the round of probiotics.  I didn’t feel the need to see that doctor anymore.  She was wanting to hook me up and run currents of electricity through me or something like that.  I can’t remember anymore.  It’s all a little fuzzy, a little blurry . . .

Hubby was busy working two jobs.  My parents farm was abuzz with all the craziness that comes with life on a farm in the spring.  Baby calves, fields being plowed, corn planted . . .all of the farm equipment from last summer had to be pulled out and if repairs were needed, they needed to happen.

I was welcome to come over anytime, but I felt awkward and underfoot.  I didn’t want to bother anybody.  I start to isolate myself from the people who loved me best.

I was supposed to be homeschooling my second grader and kindergartner.  I was supposed to be watching my two year-old and I was doing my best.

But I felt so overwhelmed!  I found a online homeschooling group that was associated with the curriculum I was using with my kids and spent a lot of time asking questions of these faceless friends or sharing my wisdom about a particular situation.  

These friends helped but, still guilt began to creep in.  Something was wrong!  This should not be so hard.  Where was my energy?  What was wrong with ME?  I’d been to the doctor.  Together we’d fixed that probiotic issue.  So what was it?

Well meaning people assured me that mothers work hard!  Of course I was tired!  After conversations like that I felt that all mothers must be tired;  I must be normal.  But if this was normal, I didn’t like being normal.

I hadn’t EVER really been so incompetent and tired like this.  If this was normal motherhood I was in trouble.  Big trouble because once you give birth, let’s face it.  You can’t go back.  It made me really sad and beat my self-confidence down, down, down.

At this point in our lives Hubby was dealing with a really difficult work situation and I didn’t want to burden him with my problems.  I felt as though he had REAL problems and mine were somehow pretend, made-up problems.  And the last thing I wanted to do was be a problem for him.

So I thought that if I just read another article on how to think positively, or if I bought some more green leafy vegetables, or prayed harder, I could fix this.  There was a piece of the puzzle that I was missing.  I searched for it, but I could not find it.

I felt shaky and wondered how it was that people didn’t see how poorly I was functioning. . . but all I was showing anybody was small talk . . .so how were they to know?

Somehow I managed to keep the routines going:  food cooked, laundry done, the homeschooling checklists got checked.  None of it was done as well as I would have liked, but at least it was done.

And then it was June and time for Vacation Bible School!

I know that VBS is not something that everyone does, so let me just take a minute to explain how it works.

A church opens its doors and invites the kids from the community in.  For a week they are taught about God;  usually there’s a lot of music, crafts, games, etc.  

It was a big deal at our church.   I’ve been going to VBS since I was just tiny.  I loved it when I was a kid.  As a teenager I was a helper, and as an adult I was expected to teach.

Now mind you, we aren’t talking rocket science here.  I already knew all the Bible concepts that I was supposed to teach AND they gave us a very detailed teacher’s guide so we could tailor each lesson to our own personal style.

But I was terrified by the idea of helping this year.  I felt weak, like I wouldn’t be able to walk around and be all energetic.  And the idea of trying to string one concept after another together in front of a room of kids . . .of trying to answer all their questions.  I didn’t think I could do it!

A special speaker was coming in and Hubby was very busy with work and getting ready for this Bible School because after all, he’d done lots of them in the past and the church needed him/expected him to help with this one.

I waited until the last minute to tell him that I couldn’t help.  It was hard.  I burst into tears.  I buried my face in his shoulder.  

He was kind.  He shushed me.  He told me we’d go see the doctor who had delivered all three of our babies.  She’d figure this out with us.  It would be okay.

And he was right . . .but neither of had any idea about the journey we about to embark on:  the long road to okay.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Please Pass the Butter ( My Story, Part Four)

I may have felt alive and ecstatic, but I knew something was off.

Part of it was my loss of appetite.  It’s not normal to live on spinach.  

I didn’t really think that my new VA-VOOM personality was a problem.  In fact, I kind of wondered where I’d been all my life.  Though even I had to admit that the way that the songs on the radio seemed to be full of special messages just for me . . .that was different and new and maybe not quite right? 

Oh well!  Who cared!

I didn’t want to go to my regular doctor.  I think I knew that she’d probe and find out about the blues that had plagued me earlier and I didn’t want to think about them anymore.  They were in the past!  I wanted to know why I was losing weight and feeling different.  That’s all.  

We found a doctor who was more into the holistic approach towards medicine.  When I told her that I’d dropped a dramatic amount of weight without trying in a short period of time, her eyes got very, very serious.

She did some testing and declared that I had candida.  I did not know what that meant.  As best I can, let me tell you what she told me.  Basically, candida is the “nice” way of saying “yeast infection”.  We all have yeast in our bodies, but sometimes the yeast goes nuts.  
It was in my gut.  And there it was sucking all the nutrition out of me.  Everything I ate, it took.  I was starving in my own skin and didn’t even know it.

Fortunately the doctor had a remedy.  I don’t remember everything I left her office with that day but I do know that I was put on a high powered probiotic.  She explained to me that in your digestive system are “good” guys and “bad” guys.  She said the bad guys were winning and I needed reinforcements.  Thus the good guys, probiotics.  They’d kick candida’s butt for me, or else.

Or else what?  She wouldn’t say.  “Go home and research it” she said, instead.

My family all sighed in relief.  My brother confided that I was so skinny it scared him.

My dad, the stockmen, said that when calves went off their feed probiotics made them better.

I took my medicine and was a good patient.  

And no one said anything about my abnormal cheerfulness.  If any of us had known anything about Bipolar at that point we might have know what was coming.  But we didn’t.

We just smiled and nodded at each other and passed the butter.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Walking on Sunshine ~ (My Story, Part Three)

Ministry.  What can I say?  There is a certain comradery among ministry folk.  They take care of each other.  At least that is how it was for us.

It was a beautiful thing the way someone would pop in with a box of groceries, or a pile of kids clothes that were perfect for my children.  We, too, tried to encourage other ministry people.

I’ll never forget the phone call that one of our friends had suffered a stroke at age thirty-nine.  This particular friend worked in an office of a non-profit.  My husband spent days unraveling the mess he left behind . . .computer information that could not be accessed because no one else knew his passwords, for example.

So that’s what we did.  We did church camps, Bible schools, helped build churches.  And I prayed, and read my Bible and tried to be thankful for everything.

Looking back, I can see that my moods started to plunge long, long before I had my first full-blown episode.

I can remember a sweet friend asking me how I was at church.  I burst into tears. I didn’t know why.

About this time we decided, again, to move.  We had two small children and a third one on the way and even though our ministry friends were great, our income was sporadic at best.

We’d go back to my hometown and Hubby would get a  job that would pay the bills and help out at the church I’d grown up in.  My kidlets would get to know my parents.  It would be perfect.

Yes.  And the sadness that had been plaguing me was probably due to us being away from family and our financial problems.  We were going to be fine, just fine.

For a little while we were fine, just fine.  I had our third child, a gorgeous little girl with a full head of dark hair.  I didn’t tell anybody how I’d have these disturbing thoughts that she was going to fall off the changing table or slip under the bath water.  I was super careful with her.  To this day I don’t know if I had a touch of postpartum depression or not, but it’s very possible.

Discontentment started to boil up inside me.  Restlessness.  Unhappiness.  I could not pinpoint the source, but I tried.  I found one of my old friends and we sat for hours discussing my unhappiness.  Finally she told me what she thought I needed to do:  kick Hubby to the curb.

Well.  That was the end of that friendship and a really good life lesson for me.  Don’t say anything about your husband behind his back that you wouldn’t say to his face.

I decided that I would positive think my way out of this dilemma.   Along with this attitude change came an incredible surge of energy.  I cleaned like a banshee.  I lost weight because all I ate was spinach and the occasional hamburger.  ( Hey, I wasn’t hungry!  Eating was too hard!)

That song, Walking on Sunshine, by Katrina and the Waves?  That's how I felt.  I was alive!  Beautiful!  Happy!  I forgot all about being discontent.  I forgot about being irritated at Hubby, at other people.  If they didn't like me . . .that was their problem!  So happy!

I’d never been a big shopper, but suddenly I developed a lot of pleasure finding beautiful things.  I bought presents for people just because.  

I remember feeling oh-so-charming.  I called up aquaintances forgotten and made a fool of myself, I’m sure.

I flirted shamelessly with Hubby . . .overwhelmed him with kisses.

Years later I asked him how he felt about that version of me.  He said “I just wanted my wife back.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Calm Before the Storm ( My Story, Part Two)

Bible College:  four years of academically challenging courses in the cold Midwest.

I showed up in my knee length, modest skirts, a country mouse going into city mouse territory in many ways.  I'd never dreamed that people could dress "modestly" and look so good.  It was a bit intimidating and I must say that I am afraid I was too quiet all four years . . .I went to class, went to work and developed an ever closer relationship with my boyfriend.

If I had it to do over again I'd have joined more fun clubs and I'd have gotten off-campus a lot more and really enjoyed getting to know a different part of the world than I was from.  

At this time I was head over heels in love with my then boyfriend;  we dreamed of being married and in our own cozy nest.  But I couldn't see sacrificing all the hard work I'd put into earning a degree.  We talked about it and decided that we could do both:  be married AND get me through school.

We headed back to school and our mission was accomplished . . .along with a surprise.  We weren't just a party of two anymore.  Baby was en route.  We moved back to my hometown and both of us worked regular people jobs.  We hadn't really thought about exactly what we were going to do after school, but friends and family had some suggestions for us.

Hubby's family was all about ministry. It was assumed that Hubby would be all about ministry, too.

And really, why not?  Hubby loved youth ministry especially.  He loved running the games, organizing weeks up in the mountains, the skits . . .and he was good in front of a crowd.  He knew all the right answers to questions about the Bible.

So when a call came in asking if Hubby would move his little family a few hours away, he said yes.  It seemed like we wouldn't have been asked if we weren't supposed to go.  Hubby and I and ministry.  Yes, it seemed natural.

We learned some life lessons at that first job;  met some people I'll never forget and pushed against a new door that swung open.

The church had sent us to check out a new Bible College in California and Hubby was very impressed.  He hadn't finished Bible College, and so we left that position to allow him to pursue his degree.
Meanwhile I prayed and did my best to be a good Christian.  We saw cool things happen, like when we moved from the middle of the country all the way to California so Hubby could finish Bible College and we had no furniture except a bed.  We only had a semester left and it was just the two of us and the baby.

I felt like . . .who needs furniture?  We'll be okay.

But during chapel one day the Dean announced a free loveseat and couch to whoever claimed it first.  Hubby hurried to the front but he was too late.  A few days later the Dean pulled Hubby aside and asked if we still needed furniture.

Turns out that one of the bachelor's in the church had taken a job in Massachusetts and asked the church to take what they needed of his stuff and distribute the rest.  We got a dining set, living room set and even decorations, including fiscus trees.  I was thrilled.

But the icing on the cake was when a friend told me that she really thought baby should have a dresser and so she'd been praying for one for my little girl.  And guess what?  Out on one of her walks as she was praying she spotted a dresser at the end of someone's driveway.  They told her that if she wanted it, it was hers.  She took it home and painted a darling Peter Rabbit mural on the face of that dresser for us.  So heartwarming!

We were pretty much poor as church mice and that continued after we went into full-time youth ministry again.  But I was doing my Bible reading and praying and trusting that it would all be okay.  Even after our house burned to the ground I was fine.  By this time we had a second child but I was so thankful that we had all escaped with out harm that I wasn't angry about the fire and what we'd lost.

People were so wonderful!  They poured out their love to us in an amazing array of financial gifts and physical offerings such as clothes, pots, pans, etc.

We didn't know it then but losing all your stuff in a fire is small potatoes compared to some things that can happen . . .but we were about to find out.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Girl Before the Diagnosis, ( My Story Part One)

I didn't always have the diagnosis  "Bipolar II".

In fact, I didn't even know what Bipolar II meant when the doctor looked into my eyes and said "This is what I think you have."

I remember being angry after my diagnosis because I consider myself a fairly informed person and none of my reading had prepared me for my first bipolar episode.

My parents always had Reader's Digest, Prevention and other magazines laying around the house and so I'd read.  And read.  And read.  And yet, if I DID read about bipolar, about mania and hypomania, I sure didn't remember it.  Depression, yes, but not the other end of the spectrum.

But honestly, even if I had read about Bipolar, I would have thought, "Oh!  Wow.  Sure glad that's not me.  Poor girl."  And I would have put the article behind me and just moved on to the next thing.

So who was the girl before the diagnosis?

She was a mother and a wife, and before that, she was a little girl who thought her life was the cat's meow.

I do remember thinking that I had it made when I was a kid because I grew up on a farm.  I loved all of it. . . hours and hours of time spent outdoors with horses and cows; rides in the tractor or pick-up with my dad;  swimming in the irrigation canals and eating really well because my mom cooked from scratch everyday and we gardened and raised our own meat.  

But my life was a little lonely . . .

This is because my dad had two passions:  farming and church.  And those were the only things I really knew, and the church was very small.  ( I went to school at the little church school which was also very small, about eight children!)

Every Sunday as a child I went to church and always I heard the same message "God loves you!   He wants you in heaven, but you can't get there on your own.  You need Jesus.  He paid the price for you to go to heaven.  But it's a gift and you must reach out and take the gift.  Admit that you can't get to heaven on your own, that you aren't good enough and ask Jesus to take away your sins and live in your heart."

Seemed like a pretty good deal to me, especially as God is love and all powerful and would never leave me.  So around the age of six or seven I prayed a variation of that prayer.

My life got a little less lonely when I entered the public school system at age fourteen.  

I knew from all my days at church that I was supposed to be telling other people about God and inviting them to church but I had a hard time with that concept because our church tended to be a bit embarrassing and sometimes people in my church would say rude things about other kinds of churches and so I was very quiet about God at school. 

But when I was sixteen a new pastor came to our church, a kinder, gentler man and he brought a kinder, gentler spirit to our church.  I began to think that maybe church people were okay.  This pastor got us teenagers off to Bible camp and around other Christian kids.  And I fell in love with the "Son of a Preacher Man."  I was eighteen and he and I left for Bible College together.