Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Another Place

The first time it happened, I was about four years old. My parents were on a drive, and I was standing up in the back seat. My Dad told me several times to sit down, but I wouldn't listen. Finally, in order to teach me a lesson, he slowed down and tapped the brakes. Predictably, I fell in the floorboard of the car. Boy, was I mad. I said, "Stop this car and let me out!" Well, he did and I started walking down the side of the road. It was dark. I became scared. Finally, I told my parents that I would sit down, if they would let me back in the car. This was the first time that I ran away from home.

The second time occurred when I was nine. My mother was going to give me a spanking (surely for no reason), and I objected. I had decided that I was too big to get spankings, so I ran out into the backyard. At the time, we had a little guest house where Mom kept her canned goods. I went out to the house, packed up several jars of goodies (fruit) in a burlap feed sack, and headed for our neighbor's woods. It was the middle of the day, summertime, and all was well until I had eaten everything in the jars. About sundown, I started to get hungry and began to wonder what I was going to do with my life, now that I was on my own. I couldn't come up with any good plans. Home started to look more appealing, so finally I gave up on my plan to run away. That decision came with consequences. When I went back home, all of the doors were locked. I wanted to come in, but I couldn't get in because of my mean old mother. I beat on the back door. My mother said, "What do you want?" "I want to come in." "If you are ready to come home, you will have to take your spanking." I was faced with a tough mother and tough decision. I decided to wait until I was a little older to run away.

I was fourteen, when I ran away for the third time. My Dad and I had a bad argument. He was bossing me around and I didn't like it. I was too old to be bossed around. So, I decided to run away from home. I packed some clothes, grabbed my money and started walking. We lived about ten miles from the nearest town, so I cut across several pastures to save distance. When I reached the highway, I hitched my way to town. When I arrived, my Dad was sitting at the grocery store in his pickup. After talking for awhile, we decided to agree to disagree, and I went back home.

The fourth time I left home, I was a senior in high school and was eighteen. My Dad and I again had a really serious confrontation. We almost came to blows. I owned my own car then, so I told my Mom that I was leaving before we got into a fight. By this age, I was already beginning to exhibit signs and characteristics of Type One Bipolar Disorder. This time, my plan to run away was successful. I had money in the bank, got a part-time job and rented a teeny tiny apartment. I lived there for several months, until I enlisted in the Navy (again, running away) and graduated from high school (barely).

This pattern has pretty much existed throughout my life. One of the characteristics of Bipolar Disorder is a strong desire to run away from problems, and sometimes, people. We also run away from pain. We'll go anywhere, but usually we are drawn to some place that we've dreamed of living. Another place is always a better place.

I am the world's best armchair adventurer and traveler. My favorite section of the library is in the 917 section. That's where all of the books about interesting places are located. I love to read about Australia, or China, or Borneo, or Africa, or the Southwest, or...well, any place other than the place where I presently am. I get a bad "itch" to be somewhere else. Some place more intriguing and exciting and mysterious.

As I've mentioned before, 90% of all "bipolar" marriages end in divorce. Over the years, the closest that Teresa and I have come to divorce, was when I was experiencing mental anguish and just wanted to be someplace else. I wasn't wanting to leave her as much as I was wanting to get away from my pain of the moment. Perhaps I felt that she didn't really love me (how silly), and that she would be better off without me, so I began dreaming of a better place. Somewhere in the world where I could go off by myself, live like a hermit, avoid responsibility, hide out from society, and live until I die or the pain goes away.

Today, I know that "another place" doesn't exist. I understand my mental illness better, and I know that when I am feeling pain, it's because of my bipolar disorder, not because of any person(my wife) or any perceived problem. My "running away" fantasies are a clue to my mental state. These thoughts are only controlled by my greatest effort. I know theoretically that I'm beginning to fall prey to "stinkin' thinkin,' but my mind continually whispers that life is safer, happier, more exciting and less painful in another place. My wife, bless her heart, also understands and is sensitive to my moods, so she warns me and advises me and helps me to keep my head on straight.

Today, I know that running away is not an option. The place I'm in, is the place I need to be. With my wife, surrounded by friends and supported by a church family who loves me. For the moment, I don't want to be in "another place." This place is just fine. For today.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Slip Sliding Away

The message of Simon and Garfunkel's song has nothing to do with how I feel, but the title does. In the last week, I had noticed that I was starting to have trouble finding the words that I needed to communicate my thoughts. It's like playing with the toy where you have to find the right peg to fit the right hole, but in my case none of them seem to fit. I try the square peg, then the triangle peg, and then the rectangle peg, and none of them will go into the round hole. I'm aware of that much, so I look around for the round peg and it just can't be found, then I return to trying the other pegs. Nothing fits and I know it. I never fully lose the power to know that I don't know. Sometimes I wish I could.

It's almost as though you walk into your living room, and all of the furniture is gone. You know it's gone, but you don't remember why it's gone. The wife and kids come home from the mall, and she says, "What did you do with all of the furniture?" You reply, "I don't know. It was here just a minute ago, but now I don't know where to find it."

A preacher friend of mine told me yesterday that he couldn't imagine what it would be like to have difficulty thinking. Lucky him. I woke up this morning, after the week's cognitive struggles, to find myself depressed. Again.

I should have known that it was coming. The problem with the words should have told me that I was "slip sliding away." Losing my mental grip. I always try to hold to the positive view that maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this will just be a temporary glitch in the program. My history tells me that it's not likely, but in this case, self-deception becomes a survival technique. Holding carrots in front of horses is no different from dreams in front of depressives. Sometimes, I wish that I was truly in "La-La Land," where you are blissfully ignorant of what your problems are.

I was supposed to co-preach a lesson on depression this Sunday, but now that's not going to happen. My sermon will have to become an announcement. We will be starting our support group in a couple of weeks. You would think that if I could write, I could preach, but that's not true. When I write, there are no time constraints, and no listening audience. I can take as long as I want to finish my blog, and there's no one there to watch me or distract me or to fall asleep.

I don't know how long it will take me to get a new grip on my thoughts and my mood, but I will return as soon as I'm able. Meanwhile...I'll be Slip Sliding Away.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lessons Of The Garden

There are some benefits to being an only child, but let me assure you, the benefits come with a cost. When you are an only child, you are the one who has to do all of the grunt work. I carried out the trash, raked the leaves, mowed the lawn, pulled weeds, fed the cows and horses, washed dishes, cleaned the stalls of manure, and every other task that didn't require any technical skills.

If you have brothers and sisters, and somebody breaks the lamp, you can always say, "He did it!" But...when you are the only child, you are also the only one whose name is on the list of suspects. Who are you going to blame? Your evil twin?

There are some benefits, though. My parents put in a garden every year. Spring was always an exciting time for me, because I knew that soon we would have good things to eat, just popping out of the ground. Especially tomatoes. I loved them, and my parents would plant some cherry tomatoes just for me. I had permission to eat all of them that I wanted, and I can remember loading up my pockets, going to my tree-house and gorging myself on those little red delights.

If you remember your Bible, you will also remember that there was a snake in the Garden of Eden. He was called the Tempter, for good reason. I discovered temptation first in my Mom and Dad's garden. One year my Dad planted a miniature apple tree, and the next year it had an apple on it. Just one. I wanted to eat that apple so badly, that my father had to warn me repeatedly to leave it alone so that it could ripen. My Dad went out to check on the garden one day, and he found that the little green apple had a bite taken out of it. It was still on the tree, but tooth marks could clearly be seen.

My name was at the head of the list of suspects. Dad said, "Stormy, I thought I told you to leave that apple alone." "Dad, you said not to pull the apple, and I didn't. I just tasted it a little bit." Well, I had to pay for that bite, and believe me, it wasn't worth the price. Some of life's hardest lessons are learned in the garden.

Jesus learned some hard lessons in the Garden of Gethsemane. First of all, He was reminded of something that we often forget. He was fully and completely human. He was also fully and completely God, but it was His humanity that was put to the test in the garden. "Since the children (God's) have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity... For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest...(Hebrews 2:14, 17)."

Jesus bore the titles "Son of God," and "Son of Man." In Biblical Greek, the word "son" is huios, and it means to have the nature or character of someone or something. Therefore, Jesus had both the nature of God and the nature of mankind. He was "...made like His brothers in every way...(Heb.2:17)."

When we read about the life of Christ, we see Him described as a man who got hungry and could be tempted (Matthew 4:1f). He became tired (John 4:46) and thirsty (John 19:28). He could feel compassion (Matthew 9:36), anger (Mark 3:5), disappointment (Mark 8:17-21), brotherly love (John 11:1-3), exasperation (Matthew 17:17), indignation Mark 10:13), astonishment (Matthew 8:10) and grief (John 11:33-35). Jesus had family (Mark 6:3) and friends (John 11:1-3,11) and close companions (Mark 13:3). Our Lord, in His humanity, was exactly like us.

There was a time in the Garden of Gethsemane, though, when His emotions became almost overwhelming. "Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane...He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death' (Matthew 26:36-38)." Mark's account says that the Lord was deeply distressed (Mark 14:33). Luke records that Jesus "....being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44)."

When we look at the definitions for these Greek words, we begin to understand how difficult this time, just prior to His crucifixion, was for Jesus. He was "deeply grieved" (lupeo-extremely sorrowful), and "distressed" (ademoneo-almost overwhelmed with burden of mind), and "troubled" (ekthambeo-terrified), and "anguished" (agonia-in agony of mind; suffering severe mental struggles and emotions). All of these very human responses to mental stress contributed to His feelings of abandonment, as He cried from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me (Matthew 27:46)?"

Now it should be clear that Jesus has also had to deal with sadness and distress and mental anguish, to the point of feeling almost completely overwhelmed. This is why our Lord so well understands how it feels for us when we are depressed. He has been there Himself. Jesus is familiar with our struggles, for He was the Son of Man, and from these examples of His humanity we draw comfort and the strength to endure our most difficult times.

It's true, friends. Jesus knows and Jesus cares.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3f)."

So, pass it on.

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

Friday, June 15, 2007

Have You Heard The One About....?

Most all of us have been abused by a "joke" beginning with "Have you heard the one about two_____who entered a bar and ...?" An informal survey of Google humor would show hundreds of jokes about drinking and drunkenness. The use of alcohol is no laughing matter, especially when it is linked with bipolar disorder and unipolar depression.

Just in the general population, those who follow such trends know that alcohol use is directly related to 40% of all violent crimes, 40% of fatal traffic accidents, 75% of spousal abuse cases, and just about every criminal activity and accidental death imaginable. You don't have to be a "good" Christian to oppose the use of alcohol. Not even a thinking and responsible citizen would encourage its use.

I could tell you personal stories about my drinking and subsequent behavior that would scorch the hair off of your head. Most all of my shameful memories are linked to drinking. Up until I became a Christian at the age of 27, alcohol ruled my life. I had been a heavy drinker since the age of fifteen. It was at that time that I started having serious problems with manic behavior and depression. Mental health professionals would not find that to be surprising at all. They know that symptoms of bipolar disorder frequently emerge during periods of chronic drinking or during withdrawal.

People with bipolar disorder are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than the rest of the population. Comorbid bipolar disorder and alcohol use is commonly associated with poor medication compliance, heightened severity of bipolar symptoms and poor treatment outcomes.

There is evidence of familial transmission of both alcohol abuse and bipolar disorder, suggesting that a family history of bipolar disorder or alcohol abuse can be important risk factors for these conditions. There have been alcohol addicts on both sides of my family. This is especially true of my father's side, where many of my relatives are (or have been) alcoholics.

In addition to people with BPD, those suffering from unipolar depression often abuse alcohol. I can vividly remember that vicious cycle. You feel depressed and so you self-medicate with alcohol, thinking that it will make you feel better. Then when you sober up, you feel even more depressed, so you drink to forget how depressed you were before you began drinking to relieve your depression. Sound confusing? It is perplexing behavior to those who watch it happening to someone they love. Alcohol is itself a depressant and people who are depressed shouldn't drink it.

If you suffer from mental illness of any type and you drink, you are just pouring gasoline on your fiery problem. You, or someone who loves you, should inform your mental health professional of your use of alcohol (or other drug). Evidence suggests that 25% of people who commit suicide are dependent (mentally or physically) on alcohol and 50% have alcohol in their blood when they die.

Friends, this is a serious issue. The question is, "Are you serious about dealing with your mental illness in the most effective way possible?" If you are, then you will need to take a long hard look at your involvement with alcohol. I am certain that if my drinking patterns had continued the way they were, I would not be alive today. That's why I think that sobriety, a more stable mood, and a happier life go hand-in-hand.

"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine...(Proverbs 23:29f)."

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

Monday, June 11, 2007

Look It Up!!

I got a haircut last week and no one (besides my wife) has said a thing about it. I don't know why. My barber calls it a "Caesar cut." I don't know if that's because I look like a salad, or a roman emperor. There are many things I don't know.

You might say that in a lot of ways, I'm an agnostic. That word comes from the Greek term a-gnosis, without knowledge. An agnostic is a not-knower. That much I do know, or at least I think I know. Some mornings I get up not knowing much, but at least I know that I don't know. That's better than being a person who thinks he knows it all, while the rest of us know that he doesn't.

You may have heard that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." That's actually a misquote of Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism (ca.1709), in which he says "A little learning is a dangerous thing..." When I teach a Bible class, I will often start by saying, "Much of what we know, just isn't so." And I have a Dictionary of Misinformation to prove it. I believe that there's nothing more dangerous than ignorance. Some may even be so bold as to say that if you are ignorant, you might justifiably be called an ignoramus. I don't know about that. That's pretty strong language.

I was taught (and now teach) that the key to learning is repetition, repetition, repetition. My teachers were not the first to come up with that idea. The apostle Peter wrote, "So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body...And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things (2 Peter 1:12-15)." You see. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

I'm aware that I've mentioned before how important it is to educate yourself about mental illness, specifically depression and bipolar disorder. As Peter said, "I will always be ready to remind you of these things." Now, when I say educate yourself, I mean that you have to assume responsibility for acquiring knowledge of these things (and others). It's not likely that anyone else is going to teach you, so you will have to teach yourself.

My Dad only had an eighth grade education. In his generation, that was about the equivalent to having a high school diploma. Even though he eventually became an electrician, he frequently impressed me with the extent of his knowledge about a variety of subjects. One of my strongest memories is of him sitting in his chair reading, with a dictionary on the floor beside him. When I would be reading my own books, and would run across a word that I didn't know the meaning of, I would say, "Dad, what does this word mean?" His reply was always the same. "Look it up."

That was his method of teaching me to teach myself. It worked for him, and it has worked for me. We have had the same philosophy about self-education. As a child, one of the best presents I ever received was a set of encyclopedias. I nearly always had one volume in my hand, one in my bedroom and another in the bathroom (yes, I do). Even now, I keep at the ready my dictionary, thesaurus, personal library of reference books and more importantly, my computer. I'm a person who wants to know. Now, not only I, but all of us have a world of knowledge at our fingertips. If we don't know much about depression and BPD, it's because we don't want to know. We have at hand books, magazines, pamphlets, DVDs, support groups, and the WWW. There is no excuse for ignorance. Don't be an ignoramus.

This is another of my attempts to motivate you to "get in the know." Educate yourself. Look it up. And give other people the benefit and the blessing of your knowledge.

"The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out (Proverbs 18:15)."

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

Friday, June 08, 2007


At our house, there are several repetitive conversations. Before we get to that, though, I've noticed that one general difference in men and women is how they wash their bodies clean. Women, for the most part, take baths. Men, for the most part, take showers. What I can't understand is why a woman would want to sit in that old dirty bath water when they could just as easily wash it down the drain? Yuck! I suppose they might say that they aren't as dirty as we men are, and therefore, they don't really have dirty water. I say, "Pooh!"

Everyone should admit that showers are more sanitary, refreshing, and conducive to a healthy society. I know, because I shower, and I would never consider sitting in dirty water. I'm a responsible member of society, and as such, it is my moral obligation to urge showering upon every human bean in our overly crowded, grungy and grimy, messy and mucky, yea, even scummy and scuzzy world.

Which brings me back to a conversational deadlock. My office is somewhat near to the upstairs bathroom. It's the place where all of the dirt (hopefully) goes down the drain. The other night, in an attempt to maintain the ties that bind, I asked Teresa a question (I was just trying to keep open the lines of communication). She followed with this one. "I don't know why you insist on talking to me when I'm taking a bath (in dirty water)." I quickly rejoined, "I don't know why you insist on taking a bath while I'm trying to talk to you." There are times in every marriage when men have to take the intellectual highroad of facetiousness. Like now.

There are some questions that will never satisfactorily be answered, but there is one question that I'm frequently asked, and I will try to answer it today. "What resources would you recommend to people struggling with depression or BPD?"

I've not read every book on the subject, but I have read every book that came to hand. In my personal library, I have 19 volumes and several pamphlets that deal with some aspect of mental illness. Some of those are very helpful, and some just take up space. I have also read everything that is available at the public library, every place that I have lived. So, all in all, I've probably read 50+ books on mental health issues.

Using an Okie/Arkie method of citing, here are some that I would recommend. (1) The Depression Sourcebook by Brian Quinn (this helped me self-diagnose my BPD); (2) The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns (excellent for psychological depression); (3) The Lies We Believe by Frank Minirth and others; (4) Dealing With Depression Naturally by Syd Baumel (with caution); (5) Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide by David Miklowitz (very good); (6) Love Is A Choice by Frank Minirth and others; (7) The Natural Health Bible by Steven Bratman; (8) New Hope for People With Bipolar Disorder by Jan Fawcett; (9) Worry-Free Living by Frank Minirth and others; (10) Mosby's Nursing Drug Reference (in words you can understand); (11) Prescription For Nutritional Healing by Phyllis Balch; (12) Surviving Manic Depression by E. Fuller Torrey.

There are many other good books out there. I would check first at the local library, and then I would read all of the reviews on Amazon.com. Then you will be better able to decide what you want to purchase for your own library.

Coming Soon: I will share with you some websites that I have found to be helpful.

On a sadder note, another one of our members lost a son to suicide this week. This is what motivates me to be involved in this ministry. That, and my own personal needs. If you and I can help even one person, it will all be worth the time and effort. Get the word out. Do what you can to support hurting people.

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

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Good News/Bad News

A church of Christ preacher made an announcement to his local congregation. He said, "I have some good news and some bad news. This last week, I baptized seven people in the river. The bad news is that I lost two of them in the swift current."

It's unfortunate that so much of the news today, even the good news, is mixed. Frankly, as a bipolar sufferer, I'm always a little hesitant to talk about the positive things that I have happening, for fear that I will in turn have to announce that the situation has changed. That's an issue that people who have BPD (or chronic depression) have to deal with. Is what I'm now experiencing a permanent condition, or will it prove to be temporary?

Over six weeks ago, I mentioned a recent study and consequent debate that challenged the historical approach to treating BPD. March 30, 2007-"According to the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder, a large placebo-controlled trial of community-dwelling patients with bipolar depression who were receiving mood stabilizers, adjunctive antidepressant therapy did not reduce symptoms of depression, neither did it increase the risk for mania."

"One group of experts was saying, 'When you get depressed, you should add an antidepressant,' and another group of experts was saying, 'When you get depressed, if you do a really good job with a mood stabilizer, you don't need an antidepressant.'

"This study proved that the latter group (the anti-antidepressant group) was correct, and that it is perfectly reasonable to treat patients without the addition of an antidepressant, as long as you are doing a good job with mood stabilizers."

Studies and conferences of this nature sometimes only add to a BPD patient's confusion. We might say, "If the medical professionals can't agree, who can we turn to for advice about the proper treatment of our disease?" This question only serves to emphasize how important it is for us to play a proactive role in reaching a conclusion about how to best stabilize our condition.

Shortly after I read this article, I spoke with my psychiatrist and passed on this information. You might remember that I had been having an increasingly serious problem with rapid-cycling. My moods were beginning to make a radical change at least twice weekly. Each time I swung into the depressed part of the cycle, I became almost incapacitated. My depressions were horrible. Also, I was becoming terribly discouraged.

My psychiatrist and I decided that it was worth taking a chance on this new approach to BPD. Since I was taking Wellbutrin for depression, I was able to immediately discontinue its use, and increase the level of Lamictal, my mood stabilizer. We increased the Lamictal dosage from 300 mgs to 400.

Within two days my depression began to lift. When I say "lift," I do not mean that it ceased to exist. The most encouraging change was that I was no longer rapid-cycling. On a scale of 1-10, with 5 being a stabilized mood, I went from a depression level of 2 to a level of 4-5. The question is always "How long will this last?"

The caveat is that this treatment approach might work for me, but not for you. As you know, everyone has a metabolism and a brain unique to them. The biochemical structure of our brain changes over time, so that what is effective at one point in time, may not be effective at another point.

Because of these things, I want to temper this "good news," by warning you to seek the advice of your medical professional before making a change in your medications. This is always the wisest course to take.

You might wonder if I would ever go against my doctor's advice. At this stage in my illness, because of the historical problems I've had with treatment-resistant depression, I might take a risk that I would not advise others to take. From my personal point of view, I dont' have much to lose and possibly much to gain. I promise to periodically tell you how I'm doing.

May God bless you. I'll talk to you again, soon.

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

Monday, June 04, 2007

Busy, Busy

The last few days have been like a whirlwind. I have some encouraging news to share with you, but I will have to wait until tomorrow. Until then, you have my best wishes and prayers for your health and well-being.