A Crazy Anniversary

Why am I so messed up? How much time have you got? Because it’s gonna take a while.

I’m trying to jump through hoops these days and it’s not an easy thing to do, especially without the aide of a professional psychotherapist. I plan on seeing one of those again in the near future, but finding one is a difficult process, especially when I’m diagnosed as SMI (seriously mentally ill) and dependent on the state mental health care system. I suppose I can have my parents pay for private care again, but I rely on my parents for too much already. I mean I live with them, for goodness sakes. Maybe I shouldn’t feel ashamed but I look around and see my peers living happily and independently and I automatically think there must be something terribly wrong with me and there is, technically. I have a mental illness.

I mean, I don’t look mentally ill. My speech isn’t slow or slurred. I have a college education. I enjoy reading books and listening to lectures. In fact, I’ve been told by psychiatrists that I’m of above-average intelligence. Of course, that only makes it harder to “fit in” with my self-sufficient, happily employed peers. They all have struggles too, they say, but they can cope with them and make it in this world while I’m almost 35 and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

This time of year only serves to remind me of how quickly and unexpectedly my whole world came crashing down. Twelve years ago I suffered from a severe manic episode while studying abroad in France. I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with me, but now I can easily trace the progress of the mania through my writings both in my diary and in emails.

It probably began around January 27, 2003 when I wrote this in an email:

This one thing is for sure, I’m in the right major (international affairs, baby!). There’s nothing more exciting I can think of than being in the midst of a changing world and knowing that this education will somehow help me to help it. And to think, what I’m doing now my great-grandmother never dreamed of. In her generation, being a career woman meant either teaching, or being a nurse or secretary. However me, I could be president. Although, I don’t know, an honest politician might confuse the masses who have never had one before. Ah well. Oh, and don’t forget, those of you who think I’m crazy: they thought the Wright brothers were crazy too. So go ahead and laugh, I say, I thrive on it! Just try and tell me it can’t be done and I’ll prove you wrong.

However this week I’m on vacation. Ah, but no, I am not going to travel to any far off lands. I have a lot to learn and do here. It’s all part of an unwritten plan (the unwritten part keeps it flexible because I’m still young, my ideas change frequently). Once more, it’s a beautiful day today! So beautiful in fact that I can wear my summer clothes again and you know what I feel like doin’? I feel like dancing!

The hypergraphia continues in my diary until February 5, 2003 and then the next time I see a date on any of my writings, it’s on paper from the psychiatric hospital in Thuir, France on February 10, 2003 (although I believe some of the writings without dates were written between February 6 and February 8).

Anyway, I’ve written about all this before. The point I want to make this time is, how do I find that girl within who believes she can do anything again? And what about changing the world? I’ve seen idealism fade in the hearts of middle-aged workers and I vowed long ago I would never let it happen to me. But what is it I’m best suited for in this world? What am I uniquely gifted at? What is my calling?

Faith and Hyper-Religiosity – Part 1

Sunday morning my hands trembled. I’d woken up before dawn, my mind racing. So I decided to walk to church instead of taking the tram. It was kind of a long walk but I had time. In the crisp morning air I walked past memorials to the dead from various wars. But these were all in the Esplanade where many people had died to read the Bible in their own language as well – students like me, only their names were never honored by plaques or statues. Nonetheless, their sacrifice was much more worth dying for than king and country, wasn’t it?

I arrived at church and sat with the youth. Throughout the whole service tears streamed down my face. In my mind I saw images of family and friends and the thought rose within me – Are you willing to give all this up for me? Without skipping a beat I felt my heart say yes.

I came home, climbed the stairs to my apartment and shut the door behind me. Then my body began shaking uncontrollably. As I trembled, the first thought to come to my mind was “God is speaking to me – I must write this down.” I then grabbed my journal and a pen, sat down at the table, and began to write “God is speaking to me. He’s telling me…” The pen slipped through my fingers before I could write any more and I began to feel my body gently pushed to the ground and pinned there. I was paralyzed and began sobbing and praising God (in French, no less). If my neighbors had been home they’d have thought I was dying.

3Feb2003

I heard no audible voices that day but I felt beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was real and powerful and that he loved me and would always be with me.

After that things were never the same for me. I took the Great Commandment (said best by St. Francis when he said “preach the gospel wherever you go and, if necessary, use words”) and owned it. That is, I abandoned everything I owned to follow what I felt was God’s calling for me. I even threw my passport in the river to symbolize my faith in him and my belief that my brothers and sisters in Christ came from every tribe and every tongue and every nation. I wanted to show my true allegiance was to God and his kingdom.

Two days after the incident that left me trembling in my apartment, I was in a psychiatric hospital believing the nurses were giving me a lethal injection as opposed to much needed medicine. Convinced that I needed to be baptized before I died that night, I walked down the hall to the shower and drenched myself in cold water, then changed into a dry hospital gown, and counted the seconds until my demise to the rhythm of a slow-dripping leaky faucet.

If the doctors hadn’t medicated me, I would’ve believed I was the savior of the world. Already I thought I was invincible, that the end times were at hand and that I was to play a pivotal role in bringing together fellow believers.

brothers-and-sisters-ABrothers-and-sisters-b

 

So what do you imagine happened to my faith after going through something like that?

Well, I returned from France in a cloud of shame. I hadn’t finished the year I had started and I couldn’t talk about my experience with very many people. When I sought counsel at the church, pastors and other spiritual leaders attributed my experience to God or demons but rarely saw it as a mental illness. As a result, I also failed to see it as a mental illness. If anything, I thought, I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But doctors were telling me it was something different. They were saying I had bipolar disorder and needed to take medication. My secular and non-Christian friends sided with the psychiatrists and psychologists.

As time passed, my non-Christian friends began to make more sense to me than the Christians I knew. But I wasn’t ready to abandon my faith entirely. God, or at least a “higher power” was always a part of me and I still loved the words of Jesus even if I couldn’t quite prop him up as both a human and a deity.

I tell this story because I am disheartened my how the church dealt with my problems but still want to encourage church folk to learn about this kind of thing because a Christian has the power to make or break a brother or sister in the faith simply by how they treat that person. In my next blog I’ll write about some of the things the church could have done better in my very peculiar yet not altogether unique experience.

Six Times in the Psychiatric Hospital

This is how I got the label “disabled.”

Age 22/23

Thuir, France

After the police station and the ER, I was taken on a stretcher via ambulance to a psychiatric hospital somewhere in France. I was told I was sick, but I wasn’t sick. Still, the nurses and doctors forced me to take medicine and called my religious experience a delusion. The nurses told me it wasn’t normal to be sad and made fun of my firm belief in God. Then, without giving me a say in the matter, they sent me back to the United States.

Age 24

Flagstaff, AZ

I slit my wrists and I actually hit an artery! I might have died had the guy from Cyprus not rescued me and taken me to the ER. I thought they’d let me go home after the wound was bandaged but I was forced to stay and check into the adult psyche unit. After a few days I was let out, but on my own I reopened the wound. Two guys who cared spent nearly three hours convincing me to go back to the ER. I finally caved in after they told me I wouldn’t be forced to stay. But I was forced to stay until an official snow day when I was set free again.

Age 26

Phoenix, AZ

I tried to live on my own, but I had been hurting myself in secret. When my best friend came to visit the secret was no more. I found a broken shard of glass, sliced my wrist, and told her to fix the open wound since she couldn’t fix what was inside. She and her boyfriend petitioned me to go to Urgent Psychiatric Care. Two days later I transferred to St. Luke’s Behavioral Health. I was relieved to have time off from work but my friends didn’t call and didn’t visit. I felt abandoned.

Age 27

Phoenix, AZ

Eight stitches. I didn’t want to return to work so I dug a hole in my arm. I hated my life. I hated me but I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t know how to live.

Age 28

Flagstaff, AZ

Having moved back to Flagstaff to finish the degree I’d started in 2000, I found I couldn’t handle the stress of a living with a neurotic roommate, working the graveyard shift, and going to school. I checked myself into the hospital. I was let out after a few days. I promised not to self-injure. I stabbed myself. My best friend took me to the ER where I was forced to go to adult psyche again. Obama was elected president while I was an inpatient. I couldn’t vote.

Age 34

Tempe, AZ

I checked myself in so I’d be safe for a medication adjustment. While there, I caught a bug but the nurses and doctors proved inept at dealing with physical ailments and stayed focused on the mental ones. Not everything was fixed at that time. I still had to fight depression and endure medication adjustments at home. But nothing lasts forever.

The Condition of My Heart

They say I must accept some things just as they are
To stop my incessant wishing out there on yonder star
To stop naively hoping for a better change to take place
When it’s no easier a feat than to change a person’s face
But before acceptance of what’s in me can truly start
I must accept this condition; the condition of my heart

This constant nagging, irritation that cannot be seen
Not even through a microscope or an x-ray machine
A hardened heart of darkness with no hint of a reprieve
A chronic pain without a mark for no one to believe
Stirring up unstoppable tears from nothing and nowhere
It doesn’t matter where you go, the weight is always there
And whether the reason is true or a glorified work of art
I must accept what I can’t change, the condition of my heart

Starting and Re-Starting; Never Finished

I started writing my memoir when I was 23. Up until my 22nd year, my life had been pretty uneventful. I would often compare myself to my peers at church. Sometimes they’d be asked to give testimonies about how their lives had been a living hell but God had rescued them. I didn’t have that kind of testimony. Life had never been a “living hell” for me. Sometimes I’d imagine it was because it felt very hellish, but if I ever complained to these friends of mine, my feelings were immediately invalidated.

“Your life is perfect, Clara!” They’d say. “Your parents are still together, your family makes good money, and no one’s died before their time!”

So I came to understand that my emotions were only valuable if they were felt by anybody but me. But since I couldn’t easily control my emotions, I began to feel ashamed of them.

At the end of my 21st year and the beginning of my 22nd, I was at last beginning to take classes I felt passionate about at the university. French, of course, was most important but after French, a writing intensive course on human rights, as well as international politics, American politics, comparative political systems, Eastern European politics, and African politics. I should’ve excelled in every one of these courses, but I didn’t. Why? – Largely due to my lack of in-class participation.

I was afraid to speak because, if I were to speak, everyone would know how stupid I was and then I would cry for totally irrational reasons. Besides, I didn’t want to be the subject of anyone’s ridicule or pity, however the only way to keep from crying was to find a way to avoid a situation where crying might be a possibility.

If only I could predict such instances….

Somehow I managed to go to France on a study-abroad gig and I loved it! Even the dark, depressing moments far out-weighed the possible darkness State-side. I had no desire to return home but I invited my parents to bask in the glory of how much French I’d learned and how well I’d adapted to what I believed would be my new country. They, however, expressed strong concern and doubt toward me and my ability to succeed. They said they would not make reservations until after the first semester was complete and my grades were posted.

Their lack of faith in me hurt but I refused to let them win. I worked my butt off to ensure my grades would be worthy of their trans-Atlantic voyage. But in the end, I was betrayed by my own mind.

My parents made plans to visit but ultimately they had to cancel their plans when they received a phone call that I’d been hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital in Thuir, France – near Perpignan. I was very sick, they were told, and I needed to be repatriated as soon as possible. Not only that but someone from the family had to fly out to France to fetch me. My dad volunteered to be the one to bring me back to the US.

To say the whole ordeal was a shock would be a grand understatement. But I still held something no one else in the world could hold or take from me. I held the memory of what really happened to me on the road to Thuir. It was inextricably fused with my brain; delicately engraved on my mind. It had been a very unique journey too wrought with dangers; paranoia lurking around every corner; spiced with a powerful mixture of innocence and hope. It was a religious experience, for sure. I finally had a testimony!

True, the details of this harrowing adventure have now been written many times over, but no rendition seems worthy of them. Furthermore, as I mature, the foundation of the story becomes clearer and clearer and I fear I cannot tell the truth lest it scar the ones I love. Still, just as Gollum’s ring “wanted” to be found, so too does this story want to be told. What do I do?

Experimenting

The Experiment

Acuff's-Start

Not long ago I was lured into an experiment through a vague yet enticing invitation to go on an adventure! There were very few details. All I knew was that risk was certain and success was not guaranteed.  Trembling with fear, I summoned my courage and responded to the invitation.

Within a short time, I had joined a Facebook group of over 2,400 other people who’d also been hooked in by Jon Acuff’s ambiguity. Jon Acuff, bestselling author, dubbed us “The Start Experiment” based on his newest book Start. As Acuff wrote in an introduction to all of us, this “experiment” is an attempt to answer this question:

But how do you build community in a rapidly disconnecting culture? 

STOP! – You had me at community.

The word “community” ignited an unbridled exuberance within me! You see, I was slow in becoming an adult. I had hated my 20-something self so much that I tried over and over again to die and failed. By the time I reached my 30s, I finally caught up with reality only to discover my friends had settled down and started families. If they hadn’t yet married they were at least on successful career paths or accumulating graduate degrees. But when I tried to reconnect with old friends, we found our paths had diverged too much for us to realistically have time for each other. For someone who struggled to find her self-worth, I certainly felt like an utter failure.

Sometimes I just want to scream I’VE ACHIEVED GREAT THINGS TOO! But it’s like screaming at statues.  My psychologists and my parents know me and they know how far I’ve come as well as how difficult my journey has been. But I’m afraid everyone else sees me as a grown, unemployed woman in her thirties mooching off her with her parents. I don’t blame them either. Without the context of my story, what else can they see but a loser who’s going nowhere?

I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who is legitimately “lazy” but I do know the pain of being looked down upon because I’m perceived as lazy. This is why my story must be told! It’s not about profiting from the life over which I had little control. I have an amazing story! My closest friends are sick of hearing about it because I like to tell it so often. I’ve tried to write it before but it wouldn’t let itself be finished because pain had not healed enough to end with hope.

Part of my story includes an "experiment" I did secretly in Fall of 2002.

Part of my story includes an “experiment” I did secretly in Fall of 2002.

The Dream

This year my father gave me my first iPad. Through this medium I became inspired to write my story in a new form, one which would have the capacity to hold audio and video recordings as well as scanned images. My archives are full of such things, spanning all the way back to my childhood. My life is thoroughly documented. All it needs is some beautiful narration and clever organization.

I’ve decided to write an e-book because an e-book doesn’t have the overhead cost of a traditional, self-published book. This allows me to give it away for free because I don’t want to wear long sleeves to cover my scars and pretend I don’t have mood disorder. I don’t want to create an elaborate story that may not be a lie but still leaves out a huge chunk of the truth. I don’t want to feel shame for being me. I don’t want anyone who has a mental illness to feel stigmatized. I want to offer hope and when I’m done writing this story, I have a million more unfinished stories waiting to be born.

The Stumbling Block

All this may sound great but the thing is, I kind of messed up on the experiment. I went on vacation with my mom who uses a walker to get around and needs special assistance. We had a great time! We visited relatives and I brought the camcorder and voice recorder and I collected stories from our family. I tried to escape now and then to get some alone-time, but it wasn’t happening. My dreams and my new community had to be postponed.

What does this mean? Should I give up and admit defeat? NO! Community is not immune to unforeseen elements nor are we all equipped to combat the elements alone. My story is empty without hope. If I can’t find hope, how will I ever be able to give hope to others? 

Temporarily Disabled

Dead-Ending

I’m not disabled.

Perhaps this is why I appear perfectly normal when I chat with strangers who’ve only known me for 5 minutes. After all, I’m not limping or dragging an oxygen tank behind me. I’m not confined to a wheelchair or aided by a service animal. I’m not visibly disfigured nor do I have slurred speech. Nope. From the outside I’m just one-of-the-crowd.

Neither was becoming “disabled” my intention. I just wanted to forget the bipolar-depression label I’d been branded with and waltz confidently into the professional world most of my friends had already settled into.

I witnessed friends successfully earning their keep with far less world experience than me and no family to catch them if they fell. They perfectly personified that “bootstrap” mentality we Americans are supposed to be known for. Moreover, my friends assured me there was nothing they were capable of doing I couldn’t do as well. With all my heart I wanted to believe them, but it sure didn’t feel that way.

Twenty-something Clara spent many nights praying for the courage to end her life. She wanted to prove she could be a grown-up, pay her own bills, and maintain her dignity and pride. Unfortunately, those pesky emotions, particularly the depressive ones, left her feeling useless, worthless, and alone. Sometimes she couldn’t concentrate at work. Simple tasks would weigh her down and she’d burst into tears without warning regardless of where she was or who saw her. When she was unable to meet everyone’s expectations, she decided her life was too much of a burden on everyone else.

For three years following university graduation I labored for my independence.  Meanwhile the self-inflicted scars and visits to the ER and adult psyche unit steadily increased. Two psychiatrists (one in Scottsdale and one in Flagstaff) convinced me to apply for disability so as to take the pressure of work off my shoulders for a while. The social security disability people accepted me almost immediately.

Since I’ve been on disability, the urge to self-harm has completely gone away. Also, I’ve been able to help me family, especially as my mom’s back has deteriorated and she’s been bedridden at times, in and out of surgery, and can no longer drive a car.

Disability is not my gateway to the “American Dream” nor is it something I like to boast about. I don’t like the idea of receiving handouts when it’s obvious I’m not void of talent or intellect. But I’m a bit cornered. On the one hand, I have a sense of security. On the other hand, deep down I know it’s a false sense of security.

Truth be told, those of us with mental disabilities are not trusted to be given our monthly checks personally. We need a guardian to take charge of our money and I’ve chosen my dad. Yes, he’s the most honest, respectable, reliable guardian I could have ever hoped for, but he won’t live forever. So my dream is to earn enough money before he leaves this world to give him the reassurance that I’ll be taken care of when he’s gone.

I listened to a podcast recently from This American Life about the increase in people applying for disability nowadays. The reporter, Chana Joffe-Walt, said there were basically only two ways to get off disability: to die or to turn 65 (in which case you’d switch to a different government assistance program).

I won’t lie, but to think those were my only two options made me cringe. Could it be that hopeless?

Sorry but I can’t believe I’ve been shoved into a hole with no other way out.  I may not be able to do a regular “9 to 5” routine as my friends do but I’m not going to allow myself to lay waste as though I have nothing valuable to give this world.

There are a few obstacles, as in any good story, but I think I’m ready for the challenge. The biggest obstacle is – and always has been – me. That’s where psychiatrists, psychologists, dialectical behavioral therapy, prayer (lots of prayer), and this blog come in.

This blog is a tool for me; an outlet. Here I can express myself and layout my best thoughts and ideas in a place where others can find them.

Long ago I thought my story wasn’t worth seeing through to the end. I was wrong.

Do you have any ideas for myself and others like me?

 

St. Francis and Me

St. Francis and Me

My St. Francis journal from 2005.

My St. Francis journal from 2005.

I’m not Catholic and, until fairly recently, I was quite adamantly against Catholicism. That’s not to say I didn’t like Catholics. Regardless of my disagreements with many of the church’s theological positions, I always felt Christ moved within Catholicism just as much as he moved in any other Christian tradition. For example, I’d known about Mother Teresa my entire life. She was the humble little nun in Calcutta who’d managed to inspire the entire world with her Christ-like love and compassion for the poor, the weak and the dying. No one could deny the spark of the divine living within her. She was brilliant yet humble, sacrificing everything to love and care for a people no one else dared to approach. If I could just have a touch of Mother Teresa’s faith, I knew my life would have meaning and purpose beyond anything I’d ever known. Once I saw a documentary wherein a reporter asked Mother Teresa who would replace her when she’s gone. Casually and without hesitation, Mother Teresa responded by saying anybody can. She knew her strength was from God, not her and God can use anyone.

Later, when I was just a sophomore in college, I felt compelled to read the old stuff by saints who lived after the apostles but before the Protestant Reformation. I began with St. Augustine’s Confessions. Through his words, I encountered God’s grace. This man had been a pagan and had lived with a woman who was not his wife. He had hurt many people through his selfish actions, but ultimately, he repented of his ways and gave himself up to Jesus.

More than a thousand years later, God was using Augustine to speak to me. His words convicted me to let go of my materialistic ways and live in simplicity. It was never an easy task for me. I still wrestle with it to this day, but at least I began to question my way of life and the way of life the world seemed to be trying to sell to me.

In my youth, particularly my twenties, I struggled to find myself. I tried to stay open to new experiences and ideas, but I never stopped believing in this loving God I’d forged a relationship with in my adolescence. Within the secret chambers of my heart and mind, I walked and talked with God. There were no audible voices or physical manifestations for me to hold onto. If God spoke to me, it was through the gentle impressions he lay on my heart and mind or the encouraging words of a friend or stranger.

The year I took a one-way ticket to France, I willingly opened my heart to as many new experiences as possible. In return, pieces of my heart I didn’t want torn open were painfully ripped apart and exposed to the elements. I could no longer ignore them.

I may not have been aware of it at the time, but I’d gone to France not only to learn a new language and “better” myself as a whole, but to lose myself as well; to be transformed; to die to who I was and become someone else. I was clearly running away from something. But since the one I wanted to run from the most was me, it didn’t matter how far I went. All my buried secrets, hurts, and fears would catch up with me in the end.

The more I tried to suppress all I hated about me, the more those hidden emotions fought to be free. All I needed were a couple of inciting incidences to weaken my resolve and drain my power to suppress the pain inside. Of course, nothing crushes the spirit like feeling you are alone in your suffering. My first three months in Europe, I’d been with friends. Then I came alone to Montpellier, rented a studio apartment, and discovered a crippling, new definition of loneliness. Though it was partially self-inflicted, it was still harsh, isolating, cold, and empty.

To ease the pain, I began reading the Bible again. Talking with God, whether it was just in my imagination or real (I’ll let you decide), became my primary way of expressing my thoughts and feelings. And even amidst the multitudes of tears, I’d lay in bed, covers pulled tightly over my shivering body, imagining the strong arms of a loving Father-God holding me, stroking my hair, and wiping away my tears.

My parents sent me a little prayer book and one of the prayers was the prayer of St. Francis. I looked at it for the first time and thought, this is was Jesus meant when he told us the last shall be first and the first shall be last – this is what he meant when he told us the peacemakers and the weak and poor were blessed and would inherit the earth.

With no one to keep my sanity in check, I began to lose my grip on reality and, soon  after my final exams ended in January, I broke. I threw my passport into the river, renouncing citizenship to any man-made political system and aligning myself with God’s kingdom – a family comprised of believers from every tongue and every nation.

Then I gave away all I had save a small backpack containing only the bare essentials,  – including a Bible – but no money and no identification. Then I walked with unspeakable joy, not knowing where I’d go but trusting God would show me the way. As I walked I sang and when night fell, I continued to walk and sing until at last I was intercepted by the police.

Fear prevented me from telling anyone who I was or where I was from. Not knowing what else to do, the police took me to the hospital and ultimately transferred me to the nearest psychiatric hospital to where they found me. In this case it was Thuir, France (near Perpignan)

What was the point of such an insane journey? To show others the love I tried so hard to find for myself, but couldn’t seem to find in other human beings. I wanted to love Mother Teresa style. But I was a little too eager back then. I wasn’t ready for that sort of thing because in order to give love, you have to experience love and know you are valuable. Love your neighbor as yourself – this phrase is meaningless if you cannot see yourself as God sees you.

My dad flew to France to liberate me from the hospital and bring me home. I still felt “called by God” to do something, but what I couldn’t say. I had a vague notion the challenges in my life had only just begun but I had no way of knowing the full weight of it all. However, the first blow following my first stay in a psychiatric hospital was the “stigma” attached to mental illness.

Soon after I returned to the States, I began volunteering as a receptionist at a mission organization that helped send missionaries to the Muslim countries around the world. I found a book there entitled Waging Peace on Islam and one of the first chapters hooked me in instantly. The chapter was called The Mad Monk. It was about one of the first people to go to the Muslim world as a peacemaker. This man was St. Francis of Assisi and he most definitely earned the title “mad.”

To begin, St. Francis was said to have rejected his father’s wealth all the way down to the clothes on his back. He did this in a radical public display wherein he stripped naked in front of everyone and returned his clothes to his father.

Francis had visions as well. The first one he misinterpreted as sign that he should take up arms and fight in the Crusades. But then he deserted and came home. This is beautifully portrayed in Franco Zeffirelli’s film Brother Sun, Sister Moon.

There were other stories as well, stories of Francis preaching sermons to the birds, hiding out in a cave when his visions became too overwhelming, and ultimately suffering the “miracle” of stigmata. He inspired St. Clare to form a band of sisters very similar to the brotherhood Francis had begun. It is said she and him were very close and, in their later years, she would tend to his wounds, the wounds caused by his stigmata.

Knowing that Francis became a saint despite his alleged “madness” brought comfort to me. The world was so different in Medieval Europe than the world we live in today. Imagine if Francis had been born in our generation. Would he be considered crazy and sent to a psychiatric hospital as I was? Would he have been court-ordered to take psychiatric medicine and would all his marvelous visions of championing the poor and living as he felt called be discredited? Many missions and humanitarian organizations will not risk sending someone who’s done time in a psychiatric hospital to a poverty-stricken country to help the weak because we could be considered a liability. We don’t want to risk potential suicides (although essentially that’s what’s killing most of our soldiers these days). Would someone like me even be able to pass the ordination process in churches where women are ordained as preachers?

These questions used to plague me. I hated them because they seemed to greatly limit my possibilities. The problem was, by allowing these things to bother me, I was putting limits on God. St. Francis has made a greater impact on the world since his death than he could ever dream of in his life. And, in the Catholic tradition, you can’t become a saint while you’re still alive. St. Francis probably never knew God would use him in such a profound way to encourage and inspire others, such as me. When all is said and done, St. Francis was just trying to be obedient. He believed God for the impossible. Can you believe God for the impossible?

Why Do I Exist?

Stormy-Sea

This happened more often than I would’ve liked. A professor would assign group projects and then release us young and unsuspecting students out of our seats to find a partner. I would usually freeze for a minute and survey the room while my body filled with a sense of fear and anxiety. Where do I go? Is anybody trying to find me? It took everything within me not to burst into tears because those I really couldn’t control and they were super embarrassing for a 20-something woman to have to explain.

It was like this time when, as a teen, I went to the water-park with my friend’s church group. I knew maybe three people but I gave it a shot anyway. Somehow we became separated and I was wandering the park solo. It was night and despite the fact there were people everywhere, I felt completely invisible. When I reconvened with the group later for departure, no one seemed to notice I’d been alone to begin with. I wondered, in my fragile, adolescent mind, does anyone care if I exist or not?

I glanced through my notes tonight, trying to find something to focus on in my writing. In doing so, I scanned through the medical records from my last, inpatient hospitalization. When psychiatrists diagnose patients, they sometimes have to give them two or three diagnostics. It’s mostly an insurance thing. Here’s what they wrote for me in November of 2008:

Axis I: Bipolar I

Axis II: Borderline Personality Disorder

Now “Axis I” is the most dominant and then the rest are organized in descending order from most prevalent to least prevalent. For those familiar with bipolar disorder (or manic depression as some call it), that’s actually the one most associated with creativity and it’s quite manageable when properly medicated.

Personality disorders, on the other hand, are much trickier. Borderline requires a very specific kind of therapy called dialectical behavioral therapy which is a very intensive out-patient ordeal but isn’t offered in very many places and therefore difficult to enroll in. I took an abbreviated version of it when I was still self-injuring, but even that was a tremendous time-commitment. Most of my “classmates” dropped out leaving maybe two of us at the very end.

I think for the most part I’ve “outgrown” my personality disorder as I’ve read many borderlines do. But when I realize I’m not getting anywhere when it comes to liking people and getting people to like me back, I think maybe this personality thing is still troubling me.

Here is the diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder. There are 9 but you only need 5 to get the diagnosis (from http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&Template=/TaggedPage/TaggedPageDisplay.cfm&TPLID=54&ContentID=44780)

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating.)
  5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.
  6. Affective [mood] instability.
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.
  8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or sever dissociative symptoms.

 

What does all this mean for me? It means I need to find a way to get people to like me which doesn’t involve me acting all weird and stuff.  But here’s the thing. I’m not always aware of how what I say might affect others nor do I always think before saying weird things to people.

On a similar token, I can’t love others if I can’t also love myself. I’ve learned it’s not vanity to love yourself in this context. It’s just treating yourself with the same respect and dignity you want to treat others with. This means I have lots of therapy ahead of me still. I wish I could say I didn’t need it anymore, but to be honest I’ll probably need it all my life.

My goal then is this: to find a purpose for my life – one that’s tailored to my individual strengths and weaknesses (none of those generic purposes that somehow always land on the bestseller list).

Pity the man who dares to love me…

I’m not sure how “drunk” I actually was when I wrote this. What I can tell you is that I wrote it in 2007 with an inkwell pen while sitting alone in my one-bedroom apartment. It’s an expression of deep sadness and emptiness, feeling painfully unwanted and unloved. I was 27 when I wrote this and that apartment was the last place I bled so badly even I couldn’t tolerate it anymore. Twice I took myself to the ER for stitches because there was no one willing to help me. The very last time I cut my wrists I was in such shocked I couldn’t tell anyone. There was blood splattered everywhere. I worked second job at Target, but called in sick that night and never returned. My left armed ached for days, but very few people knew. I never cared about the danger I put myself in back then. The transcription of this note is below.

mustI’m drunk now, taking the fiery liquor to quench my depressed spirit. Alcoholism. So my quest ends here, does it? What kind of fool am I? I have no one to turn to. I live in a world that’s all my own where I perceive a lack of genuine friendship and love. Love is self-serving anyway. It’s all about me and what I can get out of it. There’s no concern for the other person. And I pity the man who dares to love me. For one day I’m doomed to take my life. Old age was not meant for me.

Am I an artist? That depends on how I capture my moods. If I simply lay on the couch then there is nothing in me to give. If I sit and let my hand do the thinking it will allow for multitudes of beautiful words. Like how much I want your love and know I’m not worthy of it.

I’ve never proven I can love. My relationships have been short and tumultuous. I don’t want to work tomorrow at something I don’t love. But Edana’s coming, so I will not take the poison until after she leaves.

The alcohol has greatly affected me. But I have the feeling that the drink simply brings out the feelings that are already in your heart. I must die.