‘Bipolar’ Is Not My Name

I had my first therapy appointment the other day. It was great.

At one point, I rambled on to my therapist about cyclothymia and bipolar — the differences between them, which one I thought I had been “before” and which one I suspected I was becoming, etc.  When I was done, she said something very profound. I’d heard it before. But for some reason, when she said it, it hit me differently than it had every other time I’d heard it. I can’t quote her verbatim but the paraphrase is this: labels don’t matter. Labels are just one means to an end; overall, labels are simply a mechanism for efficient articulation, and the primary purpose of labeling mental health is to drive the treatment.

I’d heard that concept before, but this time it was freeing.

Bipolar is not my name. My name is……
Well.
Fae isn’t really my name, either. And I’m not going to put my real name out there. Alas, I have thwarted my own melodramatic point.

Let’s start over.

Who am I? (Hey, when you can’t pull off the melodrama, waxing philosophic is The Next Best Thing, amiright?)

But no, really—who am I?

Sometimes I’m happy-go-lucky, little miss free-spirit. Creativity flows through me like blood and my head is clear and focused. I’m motivated, productive, impassioned. I experience self-confidence and a zest for life.

Sometimes I’m depressed. Low-energy, unmotivated, apathetic. Brooding, pondering, stuck-in-my-head. Hopeless, discouraged, wrestling with the accuracy of my perceptions of life (my faith, who loves me, my worth, etc.).

In short, I’m moody.

I have a tendency to jump on bandwagons. To shoot my mouth off about things I feel strongly about. To start things I will never finish. To be “noisy” on social media. To disappear from the face of the earth for days on end. To over-book and over-commit myself. To give up too easily. To fixate on things.

In short, I have tendencies.

There are labels for some of the moods and tendencies I experience. Bipolar, OCD, paranoia, depression, irritability, anxiety — oh yes, and let’s not forget PMS.

But I am not Those Things. Rather, Those Things help to describe various aspects of who I am. And some of Those Things need to be treated because they’re harmful to who I am.

Sometimes, labels can act as a cage, even though they’re supposed to function as the gateway to freedom.

That day in therapy, these labels became irrelevant. I no longer cared if I could be “diagnosed bipolar” or if I was “mildly OCD” or if I “had depression”. It didn’t matter.

Inside the walls of that room, as I sat there blathering on, I was just me. I was me, acknowledging that sometimes I feel sad and hopeless and sometimes I feel great. I was me, realizing that I didn’t know how to handle sad and hopeless and I needed help. I was me, being me, understanding me, and getting me help.

If you experience things that feel harmful to you, I encourage you to get help too. It doesn’t always have to be professional help. Confide in a dear friend; ask for prayer; talk to your pastor; Google “what to do when I’m _________”. Don’t stick a label on what you’re feeling and then go on about your business; that doesn’t fix anything. The purpose of a label is not JUST to articulate what’s going on — it’s supposed to drive the treatment.

Don’t stop at simply acknowledging your tendencies—there’s freedom out there for the taking—because yes, sometimes we really are our own worst enemy and we have to intervene on our own behalf.

The Label is not The Thing. Bipolar is not my name. It’s just a label. ‘Life’ is The Thing and labels are just vehicles for helping us get from one part of it to another.

So don’t just sit there! Start driving. ;)

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A Letter To Myself

dear self,

we want to get better. it’s just that…sometimes you’re too tired or weary or…overwhelmed. so let me help with that by writing a nifty letter to you (aka me) that you can read when you’re feeling tired/weary/overwhelmed/something else.

first of all, we are not schizophrenic. it’s difficult to write to myself without getting all confused about who’s who, even though we’re just me. (see??) so to keep things simple, i am you, you are me, and we are we. got it? >_> uh. moving on.

we are going to set some goals. (i.e. Past Me is setting goals for Future Me—and don’t hate, cos Present Me is the one who’s gonna have to do all the work! yes, yes, i see the discrepancy there…but with every word typed, the author changes from Present Me to Past Me so…[those two might actually have a personality disorder…])

where was i? setting some goals. okay, yes. and you have a tendency to get…shall we say, over-zealous? oh uh-uh, it is ALL you, sister! i’m the one who keeps you in check! like i’m doing now! *cough* so anyway, you tend to get over-zealous so i’m going to try to keep this underwhelming. trust me, there will come a day (sooner than you think) when you will feel quite overwhelmed and perhaps even resentful toward me for setting these REASONABLE goals. thus, the letter to accompany it, with lots of encouragement and friendly reminders as to why we’re doing this in the first place.

so, without further ado, here they are:

1. exercise a minimum of 3 times a week.
i know, i know, you want to exercise EVERY DAY! remember what i said about being over-zealous? no? *points* right then, so 3 times a week is quite REASONABLE. go every day if you want to, but only 3 days are required to achieve this goal.
aaand…THE REASON WHY is because
a.) you’ll feel better in your body
b.) it will help fend off depression.
there will be weeks that you won’t want to exercise AT ALL. please, please, pretty-please DO IT ANYWAY. i really promise that it will stink to make yourself do it but i ALSO really promise that you will not regret it. not once. SO DO IT.

2. try to cut out sugar as much as possible.
i know how you do with ambiguous boundaries so let me get more specific. (no, i am not blaming everything on you!!! we’re the same person! stop—would you just let me finish please?? man…)
a.) only eat straight candy twice per week, preferably with a day or two in between. single portions, ONCE per allowed day.
b.) only drink tea with sugar twice per week, preferably with a day or two in between. want more tea than that? use honey. or stevia.
c.) limit the rest of your sugar intake to cereal in the mornings and one sugar-with-fat dessert per DAY—only on weekends (cereal all week but dessert on weekends).

THE REASON WHY: we have discovered that sugar negatively impacts your moods. you will FEEL BETTER if you moderate considerably. note that this goal leaves plenty of room for sweets! so there’s no need to get all mopey and hyper-focused on sugarsugarsugar-i-want-sugar-now-and-all-the-time! no, i know you. i AM you. we totally do that. so don’t.

3. GO TO SLEEP!!!
i shouldn’t even be writing this right now. i should be enforcing this goal. but we’ll start tomorrow, cos if i don’t finish this now, you’ll use that as a reason tomorrow for completely ignoring this whole thing and i know you think you want to do that, but you really don’t. Present Me wants to, no doubt. but Future Me definitely does not. (Past Me could care less.)
so. go to sleep—the goal is specifically this: go to sleep by 10pm. absolutely no later. c’mon, the self-discipline will be good for you. (seriously. we are way too lacking in that. see, i blamed both of us that time so you know it’s bad.) 10pm—phone off, lights out. there is absolutely NO REASON not to meet this goal every night!!! even your Bible study is over by 8:30pm!! in bed at 10pm! period. (no kindle. no phone. no nuthin’. close your eyes. at 10pm.)

THE REASON WHY: this one is the most obvious but i know on your night-owly nights, you’ll need it spelled out for yourself again: you. feel. miserable. if. you. don’t. go. to. sleep. before. midnight.
capice? or is it capiche? capeesh? whatever. you know what i mean.

really truly, self, i am not trying to steer you wrong; i know you can hear the wheedling sincerity in my tone right now. (sorry. i know wheedling annoys you.) you will really feel better if you do *just* these three things! really.
really better, physically and emotionally. and the sense of accomplishment from meeting your goals will be bonus. you’ll start to feel like maybe you’re a teensy bit self-disciplined! it’ll be great! really, it will.

so when you feel like giving up, give yourself some grace. don’t give up for more than a day. read this letter to yourself. make your darling husband read it to you in a funny voice (cos if nothing else, the endorphins from laughing will do some good). grace for a day, push yourself the next. okay?

you won’t regret this. i promise.

i have just as much to lose as you do, if i’m wrong. and you know i’m not. ;)

love,
me, myself, and i.
aka The Royal We

Look At All The Tiny Mirrors

kitten_lion_mirrorGod is not like us but we are like Him.
God is not like us, but we are made in His image.

I have often made the mistake of thinking that being like Him means I can look at Him and see myself. But this is not true. In fact, it is so incredibly NOT true, that the earth should shake with the weight of its falsehood. It’s a falsehood, and it’s weighty because so many of us have bought into it at one time or another.

We buy into it and then we make God small. We look at Him and think we see ourselves — our anger, our selfishness, our weaknesses. But God is not like us.

He does not get angry like we do. He is not selfish like we are. He is far from weak.

When we fail and fail and fail some more, He does not get frustrated, angry with surprise that we still haven’t gotten it right. He does not turn His head in disgust because His expectations of us are unmet. Frustration, surprise, disgust, unmet expectations – these are not characteristics of God, they are characteristics of US and He is not like us. We are like Him but He is nothing like us.

His desire to be worshiped and loved by us is not motivated by selfishness or conceit; it’s motivated by love of the strongest and purest kind, love that knows that our ultimate happiness will be found when we delight in Him — delight, which IS love and worship. He desires our love and worship because He desires our joy. He wants us to experience joy and He has created us to be most fulfilled in Him. But I have bought into the lie before, that God desires – no, demands – worship because He is the Ultimate Selfish Being. And I shudder that I have ever thought such an atrocity. The most beautiful thing is the way God has loved me DURING my own atrociousness. Is that selfish of Him, to love me when I am thinking the absolute worst of Him that I ever could? No, it’s love, it’s love, it’s love. He loves me selflessly even while I shake my fist and accuse Him of being selfish for wanting me to delight in Him…But He is not selfish and He is not conceited. He is not like us.

He is not weak like we are, incapable of changing this evil world, incapable of assuaging all pain. I look at Him sometimes and think I see myself; I think I see Him failing to overcome evil with good, failing to heal hurts and comfort the broken. But He is not failing at that, I’M failing at that. He is, every day, working good out of evil (who can do that??), turning Satan’s horrible acts into vessels of love and hope (really! Who can do that??) and He has even promised that, in the very end, He will make ALL THINGS RIGHT. Now, He is either the worst kind of liar or He is a majestically powerful Being who is capable of strength that could turn every last atom of my physical existence inside out. He could do that, but He doesn’t because He loves me. He makes it very clear in His word that He HATES sin, hates it and He will destroy His enemies with a vengeance, and EVEN THOUGH I have sinned terribly against Him, more than once, He doesn’t turn my atoms inside out — He loves me. Do you know what that’s called? Do you know what it’s called when strength is restrained? It’s called gentleness.

God is not like us. He is not sinful, He is not self-seeking, He is not condescending, He is not mean or cruel or hateful.
But we are like Him, made in His image, so that everywhere you look are little mirrors walking around, mirrors reflecting God’s Person.

His creativity, demonstrated through millions of painters, dancers, sculptors, and architects.
His physical strength and capabilities, demonstrated through base jumpers, breakdancers, gymnasts, and athletes.
His nurturing and compassion, demonstrated through nurses, mothers, pastors, and The Good Samaritans that pop up in every disaster.
His talent, demonstrated through musicians, vocalists, composers, and conductors.

We love because He loved first.

We love art and music because God loved art and music first.
We love creating things in groups and with our bodies because God loved creating things first.

God is not like us, but we are like Him. Look around you and see all the tiny mirrors, the laughing, the dancing, the practical jokes, the hugs, the romance, the reaching out, the creative expression. Look at all the tiny mirrors and see tiny reflections of God.

Tiny reflections of a powerful, larger-than-the-universe, creative Being who LOVES…

This God loves me.

He loves you, too.

I know this more fully than I know anything else and I do not know it fully enough.

The Yoga-Pant Years and What A Good Mother Looks Like

God has blessed me profoundly by surrounding me with wise mothers from early on in my own motherhood. This was something I totally took for granted until I started a community moms group and had my eyes suddenly opened to the stress, anxiety, and insecurity that most mothers face on a daily basis.

I had been oblivious to the judgemental nature of “other mothers”.

I had been unaware of controversies ranging from cloth diapers vs. disposables to what brand of sippy cup you use. (I am not even joking.)

I had been mercifully sheltered from society’s idea of The Perfect Mother and was virtually skipping down the lane of Young Motherhood. Not that I didn’t have my share of troubles, mind you. But I took them in stride as normal setbacks, oblivious to the fact that hundreds of mothers in my community were daily feeling like they were “bad moms”.

Shortly after starting the moms group and realizing that I’d practically had a fairytale existence when it came to being a young mom*, I discovered a new passion: freeing moms up so they could enjoy their blessed roles as mothers.

I was constantly telling them, “There’s no one right way to be a mom. If you love your child, you are a GOOD mom!” But I often felt like I was swimming up-stream against a massive down-stream current. Occasionally, it felt like I was making a difference, but mostly it felt like I was talking to a wall. The culture of motherhood as it’s portrayed in television, via celebrity mothers, and through our own unrealistic expectations (of ourselves AND of others) is so utterly pervasive. I eventually realized that, like a lot of other freedoms, it had to be grasped by choice. It’s cliché but it’s true: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it.

In retrospect, I think I likely did more good than I’ll ever realize. While freedom is something to be chosen, it can be helpful to have someone yelling about it all the time—makes a body more conscious of its existence, for example. ;)

I decided to write this post after reading a blog post by another mother who outlined what a day for her looks like. She’s a mother of five and has very solid goals and values for her family while also being a writer and a team-player wife.

At one point, she mentioned that she showers,dresses, and puts on make-up every day because she believes she feels better when she looks better and it’s beneficial to her family when they see her looking presentable. She added that it doesn’t take that much effort to put on clothes rather than yoga pants. But it was the next part that I loved her for—she wrote:

(NOTE: while my children were very little, I wore yoga pants daily, no makeup).

It was a breath of fresh air! Why? Because there are some things that I know in my gut I’ve just got to give myself permission for and it’s SO NICE when that gut-grace is validated by Another Mother!

I’ve heard other mothers exonerate the benefits of getting dressed and putting make-up on; Fly Lady even advocates tying your shoelaces. And I tried that; I really did. But it just wasn’t edifying for me—and by proxy, it was unedifying for my family. I was less likely to clean house if I felt all done up; I didn’t want to get sweaty after fixing my hair! And jeans are not comfortable for getting down on the floor multiple times a day with my babies. Getting nice shirts spit up on or smeared with boogies made me a frustrated, irritated mommy. We’re not even going to talk about the agitation of having mascara running down my face when frustration and stress gave way to tears!!!

In other words, hearing an older, more experienced mother acknowledge that she started off in yoga pants freed me up even more than I already had been. It took away the last niggling bits of doubt & guilt and replaced them with the drops of grace I’d been missing.

And that’s what I want to impart to mothers everywhere, at whatever stage they might be in: whether you’re in the Yoga-Pant Years, the Bridge Club Years, or something in between, give yourself permission to do it WELL, not perfectly. Do it in a way that edifies your family, regardless of pressure and perspectives from the status quo.

What does a good mother look like? Well, I’ve seen all kinds: frazzled and yoga-pant-wearing, pristine and accessorized, exasperated and helpless, tender and wise…but they all have one major thing in common—they love their kids and they regularly sacrifice their own needs and desires to take care of their children’s.

THAT’S what a good mother looks like; don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. ♥

*I use the term “young mom” to mean “new mom” or “mom of littles”. It does NOT mean “young in years”!

ENOUGH.

The enemy likes to play this game with me: he chases me with legalism until I rebel and throw myself into the arms of permissiveness; and then he uses guilt to chase me back into legalism. Back and forth, like a poor little ping-pong ball.

Today, God said, “Enough.”

No matter where I am mentally and emotionally, Jesus is Enough.

No matter which side of the Should Fence I’m on, legalism or permissiveness, Jesus is Enough.

No matter how many flaws a sister-in-Christ has lovingly pointed out to me, Jesus is Enough.

No matter how oblivious I am to God’s Kingdom today because I’m too distracted by own agenda, Jesus is Enough.

It’s true that Christ’s death on the cross gives us the power to overcome sin and the flesh. But all too often, we forget that’s not all. That’s not all Jesus accomplished; how could it be? It wouldn’t be enough, since we continue to sin anyway.

No, Jesus’ sacrifice in taking all our sins upon Himself was not just about giving us the power to break away from them; it was also about giving us the freedom to fall.

I can fall down because of Jesus…and I can get up and go forward because of Him, too.

When I am walking upright, I am walking in the power of His death and resurrection—but especially His resurrection.

When I fall, I fall on the power of His death and resurrection—but especially His death.

Jesus is Enough.

The world will surround us with Shoulds when Jesus has poured out Enough. Embrace Him back today; His love is true and will be sweet to your soul.

Happy Valentine’s Day. ♥

An Awful Lot of Scandal: Part Ib

Jesus with meHis footsteps come on the heels of those whose hands are dipped in blood, in lies, in adultery and prostitution. HIS hands are clean, untainted by any kind of evil whatsoever. But does He strut? Does He take this opportunity, handed to Him on the silver platter of centuries, to rub it in the faces of those less righteous than He?

No.

His pace is meek, His dignity unassuming and humble. He is preceded by men with tarnished reputations and He is surrounded by them as well, but He taunts no one. He does not make a noisy celebration of His own exemplary example. He does not say, “See, this is what you should be like and I am better than you for being so.”

No.

Rather, He does the most astounding thing. He does a thing that the most righteous of human beings have never even contemplated. He takes His exemplary example, His righteous reputation, His flawless life and He walks up to me and says…

“Let’s trade.”

…What?

“You are drowning in regret, swathed in a past that is rife with wrong, more so than with right. But I have come, and walked upright and righteous — see? No stains. So come, let us trade.”

You mean to say…You’ve done all that work of righteousness, not to illuminate and chastise my own unrighteousness, but to trade….righteousness for unrighteousness?

Yes.

His footsteps come on the heels of those whose hands are dipped in blood, in lies, in adultery and prostitution. HIS hands are clean, untainted by any kind of evil whatsoever…

Some would say it’s the greatest scandal, that this King would give up His reputation in exchange for one like mine.

I say it is The Most Beautiful Scandal Of All.

Just Do It.

I’m getting it over and over: do something with your writing. For the last several months, I’ve been getting this message but like a shy 1st grader getting a compliment on her dress, I just smile and nod. In my head I think, “What could I possibly do with my writing? I don’t feel driven to write a book—I barely feel driven to blog!” But the message came yet again today; every time it comes, I’ve felt that little nudge that comes from the Holy Spirit but honestly? I’m waiting for Him to push me. Nudges are so easily mis-perceived, you know? I mean it IS a nudge, it’s slight and barely there, so later I wonder if maybe I was making it up after all…but of course, God gets through all that by nudging me over and over so many times that I start to realize, I am NOT making this up.

Or, like today, He nudges me and then He follows up with another one, a little stronger but not quite a push.

One more person to add to the list of People God Has Nudged Me With. And I had the same response: “Hm. But what? I don’t know what to do…” and then I let myself get distracted with something else. Funny thing was, God didn’t. And since I was expecting Him to let me get away with distracting myself (like He has been the last several nudges), I totally didn’t see it coming:

“Have you walked this path? Deep within the recesses of your soul you know the Lord is leading you to do something in particular. Though the impression is unrelenting, you’re at a significant crossroads in your life.  Should you or shouldn’t you?

I’ve stood in this threshold as well, transfixed by the possibility of what could be yet mired in the fear of being wrong. How will I know this is what I am to do, I wonder. I don’t want to get it wrong.

The thriving Believer encounters this on a regular basis.  But even the Israelites who had the benefit of messages given directly from God, from God’s anointed and from God’s angels still wondered if indeed they had understood correctly.

Zechariah’s response in Luke 1 doesn’t surprise me. The angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, appeared to Zechariah explaining he and Elizabeth would have their long time prayer answered. A child.

What were his first words? “How shall I know this?” I see a lot of me in that answer. It’s rife with doubt and hesitation. And it cost him. He couldn’t speak until the baby was born and named John.

Yet we are called to trust, to a life buoyed by ardent belief. Ebullient faith.” (from http://wp.me/p24pA6-aM)

Okay, so God wasn’t letting me table it again this time. Phooey.

Earlier in the post I just quoted, she talks about how her husband prayed and asked God to confirm it for them four different ways. It was on the tip of my tongue to do the same thing, but I could almost hear God audibly say, “Uh-uh-uh…” and I sheepishly realized I was STILL just trying to find a way to table it; because God had already confirmed it and I knew it.

“Okay God…what am I supposed to do, really?”
Just start writing.
Really? That’s all?
But of course that’s all; I keep forgetting that doing what God nudges me to do is not about pulling off some amazing fireworks display of whatever He tells me to do. It’s not my job to wow anyone or get published or anything. He hasn’t been nudging me to put off fireworks, He’s been nudging me to “do something with my writing” and if I’m honest, I haven’t been doing anything. I put words in my blog when I think I have something worthy of telling the world—and yes, that’s doing something with my writing but that wasn’t what He wanted because it was manufactured and polished. He wants all of my writing, the unpolished, the heartfelt, the what-seems-to-me-to-be-meaningless writing, all of it.

Because it’s not my job to put on a show; that’s His job and His alone because He’s the only One who should ever be ooh’d and aah’d at in the first place.

So I have absolutely no idea where this road is going to take me but I’ve finally made my choice; I’m going to write and I’m going to wait and see what God does with it. And I know that, whatever it is, it’ll be exhilarating cos that’s the really interesting thing about God: when He uses you to bring glory to Himself, He makes it exhilarating and always, always in the end, worth it. Almost always painful, too, but still exhilarating—and the joy makes up for the pain, kind of like giving birth…

So here we go.