Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Outlaws And Monkeys

When I was about twelve, I became very interested in my "family tree." I asked my Mom and Dad for information about my ancestors, but they really weren't a lot of help. One day, my Dad said to me, "Stormy, I really don't think you want to do too much research on our family tree. If you go back far enough, you will find my relatives hanging from the tree by their necks and your mother's folks hanging by their tails."

Still, I never lost my interest. Knowing more about your family becomes especially important if you have a chronic depressive illness. Most of the scientific community believes that heredity is an important factor in diagnosing and understanding chronic depression. This is especially true in regards to Bipolar Disorder.

When discussing, with a doctor, the likelihood that you or someone you know has a mood disorder, I would advise that you research your family (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) and learn all that you can about the incidence of mental illness among your relatives. This will not be an easy task. In all probability, your family members will not be eager to disclose any problems that they or others might have with mental issues. In fact, they might become angry, resentful and defensive.

Fortunately, that was not the case in my family. I found that the more forthcoming I was about my own struggles, the more open they were about theirs. I think that there is some comfort in discovering that someone else has the same issues. After initiating the conversation, I found that many of my relatives suffered from some form of mental illness, ranging from chronic depression to schizophrenia to bipolar disorder. This was true on both sides of my family. In fact, it would have been a miracle if I had NOT had a mood disorder.

The older generation tended to describe depression as having a "nerve problem," or experiencing a "nervous breakdown." My own elderly mother had been hospitalized, but didn't realize that she had been treated for depression until I discussed it with her. Even I have had doctors who prescribed antidepressants without explaining what I was being treated for. The issue of stigma affects physicians as well as their patients, sometimes influencing the amount of information given to their patients.

I wish I had known about my family history before I married. Knowing what I know now, I would be reluctant to bring any children into the world who might possibly have as a big of a problem with depression as I have had. This is not to say that I don't love children, or that I'm not glad to be a father. I am, but I am concerned about my sons and my grandchildren and any mental health issues that they might have in the future.

I would hate for any of my descendants to claim that they were "ancestrally challenged."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Do You Know?

Two psychiatrists went duck hunting and the first pointed overhead and said, "There flies a duck." The other psychiatrist replied, "Yes, but does he know he's a duck?"

There's a touch of reality buried in that joke. We don't always know who or what we are. Self-identity is especially confusing for people who have Bipolar Disorder and those who know them intimately. Because of the nature of this disease, it's difficult for all of us to separate the disorder from the essential person.

I remember that during the late sixties and early seventies young people went in search of their self-identity. Probably every generation has wondered what place they would have in the world and how people would be able to distinguish them from other humans or with what words they might be described to strangers.

Self-description can be as important as how others would speak of you. I strongly believe that when we say, "I'm Bipolar," then we have made a serious psychological mistake. If we do so, then we have added to the confusion and the difficulty in separating the disorder from our core personality and character. We become our illness, not just a person afflicted with the illness.

I can think of no other disease whose patients would identify themselves so closely with their medical condition. We would certainly be surprised if someone introduced themselves saying, "Hi. I am Cancer, or I am Diabetes or I am Heart Disease." That would sound pretty strange, but people with BP disorder will usually say, "I'm Bipolar," as if that tells others (and self) who or what they truly are.

It has long been acknowledged behavior among men for one to ask another, "What do you do?" This is usually an attempt to find a basis for relationship. Men generally judge another man's identity and worth by what they DO (occupation) rather than by what they ARE in terms of character and spirituality. Test it. The next time you are in a situation where you are being introduced to strangers, see how long it takes for someone to ask you the "do" question.

The obvious problem with that is that people are much more (sometimes less) than what they do. What do you really know about me if I say that I'm a husband, father, veteran, horse trainer, college student, minister, bartender, high-voltage lineman, salesman, counselor, bus driver, expert rifleman, document analyst, businessman or hamburger cook? I've been (done) all of those things, but does knowing that get you any closer to identifying the essential me? Does changing occupations change my personality or character?

Is it any wonder that people who have Bipolar Disorder are continually having an "identity crisis?" There is surely a place where the illness ends and the true person begins, but we struggle with locating the line. Our medical professionals and our loved ones have difficulty determining which behaviors are attributable to the disorder and which are an expression of personality and character.

About two years ago, I began a quest for my own identity. I was confused myself. My method was to locate all of my old school annuals and personal letters and report cards and notes of encouragement that I have received from family, friends and co-workers. Then I began to read them carefully, compiling a list of key descriptors related to my personality or character traits. After hours of analyzing and making notes, I began to see that some remarks were consistent from childhood through adulthood. There were certain personality and character traits that most people saw, no matter how old I was or what I was "doing" or where I lived or how depressed I was.

Even though my methodology was less than perfect, I believe that I now have a better understanding of myself. I now have one more tool to battle the insidious nature of Bipolar depression. I am not "Mr. Mood Disorder." I have a name, a personality, a character, a history and an identity uniquely mine. I also have a personal manifestation of a serious mental illness. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter whether or not I am understood by others or even myself. There is One who knows me better than anyone can. The One who identifies me as His beloved child.

"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all of my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. ....Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain (Psalm 139: 1-4, 6)."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Things Worse Than Depression

Yes, there are things (many?) worse than depression. I'm experiencing one of those right now. Sunday, minutes after I awakened, I began to sneeze uncontrollably. One after another after another. Teresa covered her ears and the dog started to bark. My sneezes are of the Olympic variety. If they ever form a team of sneezers, I'm sure that they will make me captain. And when the dust has settled, I will wear the gold.

If I don't catch my sneezes in a towel or something durable, I'm likely to blow a hole in the sheet rock. I sneezed outside one time and the tornado sirens went off. It's no fun being a champion sneezer. It's hard to find people brave enough to be your friend.

As you probably have guessed, I have a bad cold. Three days have passed, and I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. Some twisted person has called this the "common" cold. It's only common if someone else has it, but if it is yours, then it's uncommonly bad.

As I reclined in bed last night, I contemplated the meaning of it all. Now, I know that God has a purpose for everything that He created. I don't always see the purpose, but that doesn't change the fact that God has His reasons. Seriously, why did He have to bring into being the leeches and mosquitoes and chicks and tiggers? Some would say that we could also do without snakes and spiders and rats. Where can I find meaning in all of this?

I don't know. (Three of the most important words in the world.) What I pondered was the question of why the Creator created the "common" cold. Great advances have been made in science and in the treatment of cancer and diabetes and heart disease, but we have failed to find a cure for the cold. Why is that?

One possible answer has come to me. Maybe God created the cold to keep us humble. No matter how beautiful or strong or intelligent or rich or powerful you are, you still have no control over a cold. You can't buy it away or wish it away or even pray it away. At some point, you have to be humbled by that. As it is written, "A man's pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor (Proverbs 29:23)."

Some of us (maybe all) have to be broken so we can be mended. Pride is at the root of many of our problems. Pride creates a barrier between us and God. I believe that throughout the history of mankind, more wars have been fought because of pride that any other reason. Maybe the common cold is the Lord's form of biological warfare against all forms of pride. I don't know (three very important words).

I do know this. The common cold brings me low. It breaks me in ways that nothing else can. Truly, if I had to live with a cold for as many years as I've lived with depression, I would probably step in front of a bus. There are definitely things that are worse than depression. I thank God that my colds are of reasonably short duration. If I had to live with one for a very long time, I would certainly be...well...depressed.

["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Friday, March 16, 2007

Can't Live Without Them

You can't live with them, and you can't live without them." This old saying especially speaks to the heart of those who have a friend, co-worker, or family member who has a major chronic depressive disorder. In my last blog, I tried to express the feelings and struggles of those who are mentally ill. Now, I want to share a list of ideas that I've compiled for you caregivers.

01-Knowledge is power. The first step needed is to gain as much knowledge as you can about your loved one's illness. I can't overemphasize the importance of this.

02-Join a support group. There are other people sharing your struggles. Check with DBSA and NAMI for a local chapter.

03-Don't try to "fix" mental illness. It can not be done. The goal is control, not "fixing."

04-Find a medical professional that you can talk with on a one-on-one basis. If possible, go with your loved one to his/her appointments with their doctor. Try to be interactive in their care.

05-Find time for yourself doing something that you enjoy. This is to be done alone or with people other than your spouse. Be especially careful, though, that you don't develop a romantic interest in another person.

06-When your partner is in a healthy mental state, talk quietly with them about your needs and hurts. Don't confront or be judgemental, but be frank.

07-Remember, "this too shall pass."

08-Allow yourself time to reminisce about the good times. Look forward to new ones.

09-View your loved one's illness as something that you have to fight as a team.

10-Spend quality time with your extended family or church friends.

11-Allow yourself a special treat occasionally.

12-Don't try to always be the "strong one." Have a good cry.

13-Try not to take unpleasantness personally. Most of the time, it is their illness speaking, not them.

14-Let the people around you know when you are going through an especially difficult time.

15-Don't have high expectations of someone in poor mental health. You are setting yourself up for disappointment.

16-Do not turn to alcohol, drugs, or extramarital sex to take away your pain and frustrations.

17-Laughter is always good medicine. Rent some comedic movies and invite your friends to watch them with you.

18-If necessary, do not hesitate to see a marriage counselor, but do it when your spouse is mentally stable. Make sure that your counselor is knowledgeable about mental illness.

19-Don't get entangled in a "blame game." This situation is not the fault of your partner, not is it yours.

20-Make sure that God is a big part of your life. He knows, He cares, and He will strengthen you.

I will give you some more suggestions in the future. If you have anything that you believe would be helpful, please post it in the comments section.

"The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:5-7)."

["I'm so low I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Depression and Marriage-#1

Statistically, 90 per cent of all marriages involving a spouse with Bipolar Disorder end in divorce. That truly is a shocking statistic. Having just celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary, my wife and I have beaten the odds. Up to this week. Up to this day. Up to this hour.

We don't take our marriage for granted. It has been in jeopardy many times due to my depressive illness. At times, I've wanted to quit. At times, she's wanted to quit. Fortunately, we've never both wanted to give up at the same time. We realize that if we had not had God in our lives, our marriage wouldn't have survived. He is the glue that has held us together, even when we were not sure that we wanted to be together.

Any depressive disorder takes a tremendous toll on the relationship between husband and wife. Marriage can be difficult under any circumstances, but chronic depression or manic behavior can be a killer.

Speaking from a personal perspective, when I am depressed, my emotions are all skewed. What I see and what I feel are not always reflective of reality. I become especially sensitive to what people say to me. When no harm or criticism is meant, I still hear it in the voice of my wife. It's not really there, but my depression creates it. My depressive imagination tells me that she wants a divorce. I imagine that she would rather be married to someone else. That may be true at times (I'm afraid to ask), but my irrational thinking process concludes that she feels that way all of the time.

I wouldn't blame her. I really wouldn't, but I would be deeply hurt if she left me. You see, those of us with depressive disorders often feel that we don't deserve to be loved. We think that we are unworthy of love, because of the impact of our disease on other people. We may think and feel irrationally sometimes, but not all of the time. When we are thinking clearly, we still have to accept the reality that mental illness puts an almost unbearable strain on relationships.

Guilt is the monster that consumes our self-respect. We think, "He/She would be better off without me." Those thoughts are dangerous. I believe, after much reflection and study, that feelings of guilt may often be the driving force behind suicide. I know that I come closer to the edge when I'm feeling guilty than at any other time. Those thoughts have to be fought. The reality is that our spouses probably don't feel that way at all. I know that Teresa doesn't, but I don't always believe her. I may think, "She won't admit it, but she really thinks that she would be better off without me." That's my illness lying to my brain and my heart.

I once announced to a preacher's group that I would have to leave ministry due to my depression. Following our meeting, one of the preachers asked me privately, "Do you ever feel like running away?" You see, he too had a depressive disorder. Running away from marriage and intimate relationships is a fantasy often held by those with mental illness. We believe that dropping out of marriage and people's lives is what is best for everyone concerned. Then our spouses can get on with life. A life without us to complicate everything. Again, those are feelings of guilt riding on the back of our irrational thinking.

I know, intellectually, that my wife loves me. She's proven it over and over again. She has been faithful and tolerant and understanding. She has been loyal and supportive and steadfast. All of the above are characteristics of the Biblical form of love.

The "Agape" love spoken of in the Bible is a "doing" love, not a "feeling" love. We don't always feel loving, in an emotional sense, but we can always seek the best interests of others. That is how God defines and demonstrates love.

Paul wrote, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4)." A careful reading of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, will show us that
Agape love is not a fleeting feeling, but it is something that we do and something we are. When we love others, even our spouses, in this manner, we are most like God. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)."

Teresa and I have beaten the odds. We have demonstrated our love and commitment to each other year after year. Our marriage has been refined in the fire and beaten on life's anvil. With God as our glue, we will have many more years of life with one another. In spite of my depressive disorder. Maybe even because of it.

["I'm so low I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Friday, March 09, 2007

Just A Note

We're mostly moved, but my internet service will not be in order until Tuesday. Please tune in then, as I plan to discuss the important topic of How Marriage Is Impacted By Depressive Disorders.

See you then. Go with God and He will go with you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Twisted Wisdom

No, I haven't forgotten you. I've just been hip deep in moving and photography (the birds are coming back). Here's some entertainment, until I return.


A psychiatrist was addressing a group of people who had all had experiences with the supernatural. He asked, "Who here has seen a ghost?" Everyone put up their hands. He then asked, "Who here has spoken with a ghost?" Half of the audience put up their hands. Then he enquired, "Who here has touched a ghost?" Ten per cent of the group put up their hands.

Finally, he asked, "Who here has kissed a ghost?" One little man in the back of the room raised his hand. The psychiatrist looked down from the podium at the little man and said, "Do you mean to tell me that you have actually kissed a ghost?" The man meekly replied, "Oh, No! I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you very well. I thought you said goat."


For Those Who Take Life Too Seriously

01-I just got lost in thought. It was unfamiliar territory.

02-42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

03-Remember that half of the people you know are below average.

04-For every action there is an equal and opposite criticism.

05-The sooner you fall behind, the more time you will have to catch up.

06-A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

07-If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments.

08-How many of you believe in telekinesis? Raise my hand....

09-If all of the beautiful girls in the world were crazy about you...they would be..well..crazy.

10-Ten days ago, I was ugly, broke and unpopular. Today, I'm ten days older.

11-A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Don't mess with a teacher!

12-A woman's work is never done, unless she's single.

He who laughs last, laughs longest. He didn't get the joke.

["I'm so low I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Spring Fever

Just about the time that I was starting to get "spring fever," I woke up to snow flurries. Spring and fall are probably my favorite months. I can remember how excited I would get in the spring, when I was a little boy. After the Robins came and the grass had two or three green blades of grass, I would beg my mother to let me put on shorts and go barefooted. Then I would run and jump and fly through the air with the greatest of ease. The grass would tickle the bottoms of my feet and everything smelled so fresh and clean. This was also the time of the year when I would get my hot weather haircut, sometimes called a "Burr."

One springtime Saturday morning, when I was about five, my Dad and I went to the barber shop to get our spring haircuts. I had been watching Daniel Boone on television and I decided that I wanted to get a "mohawk" cut. Our barber argued with me, trying to talk me out of getting such a radical cut, but I insisted that I wanted a mohawk. Finally, he asked my Dad what to do, and he said, "If he wants that kind of haircut, give it to him." I had a super Dad. Our barber thought about it for awhile, and finally he said, "Stormy, I know your mother, and I just don't think I want to give you a mohawk." That was the end of that.

In the springtime the days are getting longer and the sun is getting warmer, and everyone seems to be in a better mood. There's a scientific reason for that. For some people, there is a phenomenon called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or "winter blues." Approximately 500,000 people will experience a mild to moderate depression in the winter. SAD usually begins about mid-Fall and begins to abate in the spring. Symptoms can be fatigue, loss of interest in normal activities, craving foods high in carbohydrates, social withdrawal and weight gain.

It is believed that sunlight affects the amount of Serotonin in our brains, which in turn affects our mood. This neurotransmitter is essential to good mental health, and most medical professionals agree that a low level of Serotonin is usually the cause of common biological depression. The more sunlight a person is exposed to, the less likely he is to develop S.A.D. Office workers and people who live in the extreme northern parts of the world are usually seen to be more affected by this lower exposure to sunlight. They might develop "cabin fever," and in the spring they will feel a boost in mood due to the sun's stimulation of Serotonin production. This is the reason why treatments of sun-like artificial lighting have shown to be significantly effective for relieving Seasonal Affective Disorder.

S.A.D. is an additional element to the kind of depression that I experience throughout the year. I can usually predict that I will have some improvement in mood when the days grow longer, and I'm exposed to more sunlight. Consequently, I nearly always get "spring fever" at this time of year.

We've had fairly warm weather (60s) for the last two weeks, and I now see just a hint of green showing up in the meadows. The bird and animal activity has increased, and the skies have a more dynamic blue quality. Therefore, photo opportunities are on the rise. As I drove around town this morning, I could see the heads of Daffodils peeking up from the ground. Springtime is nearly here. Yah000000000!!!

Our move into town is nearly completed, and while I will be leaving the Golden Finch and butterfly weed territory, I will be nearer to some horse ranches. New subjects for my photography hobby.

May the Lord bless your life, as He has abundantly blessed mine.

["I'm so low I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]